Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sometimes to get the best, you have to travel off of the beaten path. Where Teddy's barbeque adventure took him to the clusterf*ck that is Midtown Manhattan for Virgil's BBQ (you can read below how that ended), I knew of a place a little bit out of the way that I was hoping to prove worthy of the trip. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a restaurant that I know very well from my days back at
It was somewhat difficult to get a reservation at the time we wanted, but since our group could be considered giant with 13 of us in tow, we happily took the 2:00pm spot. Lines spilling out onto the street corner and into the indoor bar area welcomed us when we arrived and a steady flow of people flooded it's cavernous, wooden interior all day. This was a great sign, but as you know, butts in the seats doesn’t necessarily spell quality all the time in
Filling up on appetizers might have been a poor idea for several Dinosaur Bar-B-Que amateurs in our party. When the hubcap-sized main course plates were slid in front us, sighs of "Daaaaamn" and "Oh no, I'm in trouble" traveled down the table like fallen dominoes. Personally, I always welcome a good eating challenge. After performing the proper pre-meal calisthenics, I dove face-first into my Tres Hombres, which is pulled pork, ribs, beef brisket, 2 sides and cornbread. All the meats were super tender and glistened with moisture, as good barbecue should be, and had the signature pink smoke ring to boot. I went for the hand-cut fries and coleslaw as sides, but their mac & cheese, potato salad, chili and Syracuse salt potatoes all got stuffed-mouth, head-nodding approval from the group.
Although covering barbecue in sauce is taboo in some areas of the country, I couldn't resist the lure of the Wango Tango sauce (their spicy version of the house barbecue sauce) and a perky little habanero-garlic number which came in a smaller bottle that bore a number of skull & bones. They went on and in everything, including my friend's purse on the way out (remember kids: stealing is wrong).
Drinks, appetizers, main course, and coffee went for less than $35 per person. For that price, everyone was full and content beyond words although alot of the food ended up coming back in styrofoam containers.Room for one more? Go'on Then!
Dinosaur version2.0 - Harlem does the original spot justice with quality food, attentive service, funky decor (complete with foot stomping blues music and graffiti-littered bathrooms), and in my mind stands up with the best barbecue joints in all of
Monday, November 19, 2007
We checked in at the desk and had a brief wait for a table, which we expected. It was a good opportunity to drink a quick beer and check out the clientèle. While sipping a Boston Lager in the crowded bar area, I spied a fabulous low-rent Isaac Hayes, complete with 'budget' ruby rings, wheelbarrow beard and suit from Men's Warehouse. More bizarrely, next to us stood a couple who didn't say a word to each other for 20 minutes while they waited for their table. I did notice his Adidas track suit and sneakers though, and I calculated that his silence and the track suit could only mean one thing: International barbecue athletes come to train at Virgil's. After somebody started shouting my name, we were seated upstairs on a large table covered in a myriad of bottle and red towels containing cutlery. Our waitress was a very cheery sort considering she'd been on the floor since 9am. She took our drinks orders and said she'd be back to take the food order. I was with a friend Paul, who is a Virgil's regular and he said I should opt for one of the BBQ platters.
I was concerned about the presence of cutlery, I mean BBQ should be tender enough to be eaten with mucky digits right? But then I remembered that all that smoky meat does come with some sloppy sides - BBQ beans, potato salad, biscuits. They could also substitute chips (ahem, fries) and some other stuff like cheesy grits and coleslaw but if this was REAL BBQ then I'd try to be as REAL as I could (unlike the Isaac Hayes knock-off downstairs) and go with tradition. Potato, beans and biscuits it is then. I also saw 'Trainwreck Fries' on the menu, and despite a fairly accurate description of what these things are the menu, I was still curious and ordered a plate for the table. What turned up was exactly as described: A large plate of chips, covered in bacon, cheese, green onion, jalapenos and ranch dressing, like a sort of chip-based pizza without the tomato sauce. Well they were alright, but I suspect somebody just PR-ed the hell out of something they made when they came home from a mammoth piss-up and threw everything in the fridge on a plate, baked it and covered it with sour milk.
Now firmly in the BBQ spirit (drinking cheap beer, watching the Knicks lose on a flat screen telly and inhaling burned meat) our main plates arrived. The ribs on my platter were the best bit, all succulent with tiny lakes of translucent fat hidden between strata of smoked pig, but the 'brisket' was drier than Gandhi's flip-flop and tasted like tree bark seasoned with rain water. Not pleasant. The sides were just OK, The beans reminded me of Heinz Beans with some smoky bits chucked in there, the biscuit was a very crumbly affair and didn't hold up well when I tried to use it as a vehicle to get the beans from the plate into my mouth, but the potato salad was good. (If you can mess potato salad up, you're really in the shit.) I sneaked a couple of forkfuls of cheesy grits from the wife's plate, which were not at all cheesy. I also tried her beef steak, which tasted of, well, steak. Not bad, not brilliant.
Is it REAL BBQ? Well I think so. It tastes like all the other BBQ joints I've been to in New York, so it must be real. I even pinched myself in the restaurant to make sure it was REAL. Yes - It's definitely there. The ribs are the high point, almost everything else is plain mediocre. Some dishes are horrific and that brisket will suck the saliva out of your mouth faster than half a brick of alum. You should go to Dallas BBQ, spend a fraction of the money you'll spend here and get great BBQ of similar quality.
In late 2004, residents of Park Slope were disappointed to hear that their posh neighborhood restaurant spot, and
Into our entrees, a whole sea bream was shown to the table, and was then whisked away for a deft filleting. It was served with bright sauce of cherry tomatoes, white wine and Meyer lemon oil. We tried a lusciously moist pink lozenge of salmon and a moist, perfectly seasoned organic chicken, which came as leg and breast embellished with a delicious jus made with preserved lemons, ginger, saffron and coriander leaves. The accompanying chick pea fries were executed perfectly, with a crisp jacket and fluffy interior. The final entrée presented was an exuberant dish of braised short ribs, truffled taro root mash and taro root chips The meat literally dissolved on contact with the tongue, and then washed over it with a soft beefiness, its flavor spiked with musky truffle and lubricated with that rich mash, loaded with butter. Our food was paired up nicely with a delicious pinot noir and a magnificent ‘Shardana’, a 2000 red from
The service was very efficient and seamless, with each course seemingly melting into the next one. If you’re lucky enough to have the energetic Jay wait your table, as we were that night, you’re in for a treat. Not only is he damn good at what he does, he possesses a wealth of information about ingredients, cooking techniques and wines, and we delighted in picking his brains.
Friday, November 16, 2007
* Calabaza and Vanilla Soup
* Chicken liver - cognac parfait, pickled Concord grape jelly
* Artichoke and ricotta tart, dandelion and radish salad
* Wild salmon with dill and Pernod
* 'Hill & Mountain' - Duo of wild boar, truffled potato mousseline, haggis cream/spiced apple butter
* 'Potted' Cheshire cheese
* Caramelized bananas, bacon ice cream, salted peanut brittle
The salmon dish was a model of simplicity and spoke volumes to the importance of good ingredients and balanced flavors. As it rested in the Pernod and dill, the thin round of salmon became infused with a beautiful herbal taste and seemed to cook and soften ever so slightly in the acidity. If it weren't for Teddy's intended purpose for this thin piece of fish, I bet the dressing would act as a terrific marinade for a thicker filet. Uncomplicated, straight forward in preparation and plating, and one of my favorite dishes of the night.
The meat balls were formed together with bacon fat, ground boar shoulder meat, and pepper then shook around in a scorching hot pan to cook through and form a little textured crust on the outside. The duo was plated on a smear of truffled mashed potatoes. It tasted as stunning as it sounds and looks. Both preparations were perfectly juicy and had a unique taste that only wild meat can deliver. A sweet and rich apple butter was a last-minute substitution for the ambitious and head-scratchingly odd haggis cream. Confession: I did give the haggis more than a few tastes before siding with a sauce that did not make our chef’s face cringe with horror. I think that’s a safe rule to live by.
The stop-gap course after the main event and before the highly anticipated dessert was potted Cheshire cheese. The cheese was whipped with butter and sweet port wine and molded with a walnut crust to form a dome. It was more than satisfactory for the sixth frame of a lengthy meal, but I selfishly had my eyes on the next course….Teddy’s tour de force dessert.
First of all, I love bacon. I love it by itself, on things and in things. When I saw bacon ice cream on the menu, when others might furrow their brows in skepticism, I was overcome by intense feelings of curiosity and unbridled joy. It more than lived up to all of my expectations. However, the ice cream did not steal the show. It was an integral part of the three pronged attack:
2) Bacon ice cream – extremely creamy, infused with bacon flavor and sprinkled with ground bits of crispy bacon within. I probably couldn’t eat a bowl of this by itself (I’m just downright lying to myself about that), but when mixed with the other 2 components, created the quintessential sweet-savory dessert.
3) Peanut brittle – delightfully crunchy and became lodged in your teeth if chewed quickly, or melted slowly with a smooth peanut flavor.
I enjoyed the hell out of this meal (all 4 hours of it), and look forward to the next bar-raising evening for the Thursday Club.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
After selecting some wonderful specimens (baby bellas, portabellas, oyster, chanterelles) I headed back home and grabbed a bottle of Samuel Smith's British Porter from D'Vine on the way. After downing my beer in record time, I set about baking my swag. But when I remembered I had some one of those cheat pie-crusts in the chiller, baking them was the last thing on my mind. I wanted pastry! So mushroom tart was the only way to go.
Now this recipe really is a piece of piss. And I'm not even going to give weights and measures - just eyeball the stuff. Barring a moment of complete abstract madness, you can't balls this up. I whizzed 2 large handfuls of my mushrooms in the processor and threw them into a skillet to stir - you need to get as much moisture out of the damn thins as possible, and you'll be surprised how 'wet' they are. Keep stirring and don't let the buggers burn. Low heat, please. In another skillet, I fried half an onion, and some garlic until soft. Add this to your other skillet with the drying mushrooms in. Season the whole lot well - they'll need plenty of salt - and keep the whoe thing turning until almost dry. In the empty onion and garlic pan, add some more olive oil and slice a large portabella into eight equal slices, for decoration. Saute these until lightly coloured on both sides. Reserve. In the processor, mix a cup of creme fraiche (or half a cup heavy cream, plus half a cup of sour cream) with a whole egg, an egg yolk, some chopped herbs (I used tarragaon, chives, parsley) and some grated parmesan, about a handful. Season well with black pepper ONLY. Blend the mixture for a few seconds. (*For a devilishly decadent tart, add a teaspoon of truffle pate, or, if you're filthy rich, some freshly shaved truffle.) Dump the dried mushroom/onion/garlic mixture into the processor and blend for 2 seconds. You want to have some texture left in the mushrooms, so don't overdo it. Pour the mixture into the tart case, and bake at 450 F for about 18 minutes, or until mixture is almost set. Remoce from the oven and press the large cooked slices of mushroom on to the surface of the art in whatever pattern you want. Press them into the mixture so the top is even all over. Bake for another 2-3 mins, then remove and cool for another 20. Slice carefully with a razor-sharp knife.
I ate mine with a green salad of arugula and mache and Good Lord, it really was stunning. I could convert fungi-phobes with this stuff.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Thursday Club regulars Teddy and Boogie were in attendance as well as Adam’s new flat mate (and Thursday Club virgin) Jason. It’s incredible that we have two Jason’s in the club who are so strikingly similar but if you need to tell them apart then you’ll notice that new Jason has slightly fuller eyebrows and smells like Brazil.
So this week’s menu (which I got whilst drunk on the Wednesday causing me to nearly eat my phone) was as follows…
Trio of Pizettas (shredded duck confit, apple & cheddar – “Greek” with olives & feta – Spicy Marinara, smoked mozerella & basil)
Mini Potato Dauphinois with Crumbled Kielbasa & Braised Broccoli Rabe
Parmesan and Herb Crusted Snapper Filet with Garlic Cream Sauce, Black Pepper Biscuit & Micro Green Salad
Baked Banana Crumble with Mixed Berry & Balsamic Reduction
Now as you may have picked up from previous entries of mine, nothing says “welcome” quite like some stray meat hanging about on a table that needs clearing up. Now when that stray meat is duck confit then that’s a seriously big welcome and frankly I don’t even remember saying hello to people until there was only bone on show (fnarr fnarr).
The assault on the vino began (along with the ritual promise for someone to blog the wine which will probably never happen) as the first course hit the oven. Undeniably, I have a poor grasp on languages (I am English and it is my God given right not to learn other languages) but I assumed that Pizzettas were going to be little pizzas. Apparently not. Adam had been doing his homework and found out that the direct Italian translation is actually “Pizzas for hungry oil rig workers” and hence we were treated to a kilo of majestically topped dough each. It may have been a clever ploy to soak up the 5 pints we were all clearly on the wrong side of but it was very welcome. Old clever noggin’ had been to hit his local pizza gaff to secure the dough which was pretty thick and rose up a bit to much (for which I’m sure there is a scientific reason that I neither know nor care about) but the toppings were luxurious enough not to care. The smoked mozzarella was seriously tasty with just enough spice in the marinara to keep it interesting. The duck confit was good (nothing controversial there) but was made by the pairing with the crisp apple. But my hands down fave was the Greek – nice salty feta and big juicy black olives…all good stuff for building up more of a thirst.
Next up was the dauphinoise which was beautifully executed with a good crispy top, perfectly al dente spuds and enough cream to drown a cat in. Faultless stuff and I remember helping myself to a cold slice in the early hours of the morning and being happy with life all over again. This was my first taste of kielbasa (which I actually thought was a fish…yes, laugh away yanks) but I’ll certainly be back for more. I may have been spoiled as Adam told me it was the finest kielbasa in Brooklyn but I was certainly impressed and it turned the dauphinois from great to exceptional. You could see chef was going for some yin & yang with the creamy tatties and sharp broccoli rabe with lemon but the broccoli turned out to be as bitter as a 50 year old dumpy mother of four who had been dumped for a 20 year old waif.
Next onto the snapper which was perfectly cooked and literally melted on contact with my gob. The parmesan and herb coating gave it flavour without overpowering the snapper and I could have snaffled them up for a good couple of hours. The black pepper biscuit (scone for the English readers) was a touch of genius as pepper and butter were equally, yet separately, prevalent in every mouth-watering bite. The garlic sauce came out a little thin but had all the flavour you would expect and the micro-green salad was good but I never thought I would see the day that it would appear on the Meat Monster’s menu.
Unusually, Boogie had been awake throughout proceedings but the end of course three signaled his traditional weekly twat-nap. With over 30 minutes to wait whilst thick slices of banana went extreme sun-bathing with only brown sugar for protection (an unwise decision in anyone’s book) it was time for the awake Jason to show us his party trick.
You may think that an unemployed man may want to set aside $800 for things like rent or food but this king of coffee “invested” his in a coffee maker that may double as a NASA satellite at the weekend. However, the sweet nectar that this thing produced was quite beyond your average cup of George. Kudos to the barista although I was regretting my equivalent of 6 coffees at 5am whilst laying in bed and trying to recreate the sound of an entire marching band with my teeth.
Onto the final course of sweet, molten, mushy bananas (in a good way…I am from the land of mushy peas don’t forget and they are holy food) topped with a tasty mixed berry and balsamic vinegar sauce. A great finish to an exceptional meal. Well done fella – you have done the ginger population proud.