Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Game is On

Venison had arrived recently from Buffalo, bloody and swaddled in medical packaging. Elk and oryx had been hunted in Montana, skillfully butchered and dispatched with haste to New York state. My freezer had swallowed up all feral meats gratefully.

Today, events conspired. It's my day off. I have all this game. I have a sixer of Montreal's finest St. Ambroise ale. It's snowing outside and the tree is up, lights a-twinkling. I'm in a seasonal mood. I want to make sausages. But I want to make something for the Christmas table. We have 13 people coming round. How can I turn 4lbs of stag and antelope into delicious sausages, replete with seasonal twist and oodles of cheer?

Piece of piss.

Soak about 1 metre of natural sausage casing in warm water to get rid of some of the salt it no doubt came in. Run some water through the lumen of the skin too, to wash the salt from the inside. Let it soak some more while you have a beer and get the rest of your gear together.

Take 1lb each of ground venison, oryx and fatty pork sausage meat and whack in into a big, cold bowl. Add: 1 tbsp kosher salt, a few twists of the pepper mill, 1 tsp red chilli flake, 3 loving spoonfuls of Tiptree finest mincemeat, 2 tbsp Chivers or Frank Cooper's orange marmalade, about a tsp dried thyme, 2 tbsp unsalted butter and mix like Billy-O with your hands, punching the meat and squeezing the mixture through tensed fingers. Get it all mixed in, go on. Get 'postal' on it. (If you're feeling really fruity, you can bang in a few drops of Drambuie, like I did.) Test the mixture for seasoning and fat content by frying a little bit in olive oil. If it's good and to Sir's liking, you can move on to stage 2.

Take care to make sure the mixture stays chilled (a cold mixture restricts bacterial growth) and even put the bowl in the freezer for a few to chill it again. If you do this, you'll time to pop open another cool beer and pat yourself on the back.

When the mixture is cold, set up your sausage apparatus. (I tend to keep the non electrical parts of the sausage machine in the fridge or freezer, to keep them cold. They won't warm the mixture when it's passed through into the skins.) Load up yer nozzle with the casing, push enough sausage to the front of the nozzle so you don't end up with an air banger, and switch her on. If you're careful and not too pissed, you'll end up with about 1 metre of delicious, inspired Christmas-flavoured sausage. It does help when using a sausage stuffer if you have a sober buddy with you who can do the plunging or the forming bit.

Let the buggers chill, wrapped in butcher paper, in the fridge for a day or two to let the flavours meld. I will leave mine in the fridge today and bang 'em in the freezer tomorrow. The eating will take place on Dec 25th, of course, and they will flank a delicious roasted goose.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Song 7.2 (117 2nd Avenue @ 7th St.)

Every time I pass this place, it seems to be closed, so I was glad that it was open a few days ago. My buddy Dan & I sat at a booth & flicked through the menu. The decor is very 'Student Union'; it looks like the type of place college or highschool kids would go to meet up after school & gossip of whatever. There are photos of customers everywhere, graffiti on the tables & atrocious Korean pop music blaring.

The place was pretty empty & the staff were all sitting around a huge pot stuffing their faces while we looked at the menu. Honestly, I expected a lot more. The menu is mainly comprised of 'tapas-style' small dishes & large pots to be shared, none of which looked very appetizing. I decided on the fried meat dumplings & a small plate of eel. Dan got a seaweed salad & spicy mackerel.

Looking absolutely nothing like the items on the menu, our dishes arrived. My eel had some sort of funky, tracing-paper looking oddity on top of it & Dan's mackerel, well, um. I'll admit that the eel tasted very good, minus the 'paper', but I really didn't care for the dumplings. Dan was still really hungover from the night before, so after poking around a bit, he decided to take the food home.

The place is generally pretty busy at night, so maybe we were just expecting something different. The meal ended up being insanely expensive considering the portion sizes. I'm guessing that the thing to do would be to eat there in a large group & get those massive hot pots. I can check song 7.2 off of my list, but I won't be going back there.

Chocolate Bar (127 E. 7th St.)

[Updated; now closed!]
Hidden among the boutiques & boarded up stores on 7th street between Ave. A & 1st Ave. is Chocolate Bar, essentially a candy store for grown-ups. I was walking down the street yesterday in the freezing cold & decided to stop in for a much needed hot chocolate.

As soon as you enter the small store, the delicious smell of chocolate hits you right in the face; Yum! I ordered my hot chocolate & looked at some of their wares.

Candies in awesome Anime-style & graffiti wrappers, cakes & other morsels of goodness. There's a small seating area in the front, but I got my drink to go. As someone who grew up on Nesquik & Swiss Miss, I can honestly say that this is the best hot chocolate I've ever had (I'll admit that I haven't been to Max Brenner's yet, but that place has a totally Starbucks vibe). It was incredibly rich & the texture was amazing. You could immediately tell that this was made with real chocolate & not granulated, freeze dried crap. I didn't have much time to check out the rest of the menu, but bet your ass I'll be going back there again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Naural Harvest!?!

While trolling the 'internets' aimlessly (which is what I do all damn day anyway), I came across this true gem; Natural Harvest: A collection of semen-based recipes. Yes fellow readers, a jizz-cookbook. I was disgusted yet slightly intrigued, so I read on, making sure I had a bucket nearby.

"Semen is not only nutritious, but it also has a wonderful texture and amazing cooking properties. Like fine wine and cheeses, the taste of semen is complex and dynamic. Semen is inexpensive to produce and is commonly available in many, if not most, homes and restaurants. Despite all of these positive qualities, semen remains neglected as a food. This book hopes to change that. Once you overcome any initial hesitation, you will be surprised to learn how wonderful semen is in the kitchen. Semen is an exciting ingredient that can give every dish you make an interesting twist. If you are a passionate cook and are not afraid to experiment with new ingredients - you will love this cook book!"

So, for 25 bucks, you can own this 61 page cookbook, but if you ever see this on the bookshelf of someone's house you're eating at, I'd run for the hills. Then again, if you've got nothing in the fridge, this book could put a whole new spin on 'eating locally'.

I'm pretty sure Andrew Zimmern has one of these in his house & maybe a paperback for the car. If you saw last week's Bizzare Foods, he took his dad out to dinner in Maine for some chowder laced with the 'culinary money-shot'; fish splooge! Huzzah!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ishikura Sushi (67 1st Avenue @ 4th St.)

Bracing the cold last night & refusing to wait on line at Takhachi, my brother & I walked a few extra blocks to Ishikura Sushi (formerly Kura Sushi) as a friend had recommended the place. Luckily the place wasn't very busy & we were seated at a spacious booth right away. With hands warming on delicious green tea, we took a look at the menu.

Honestly, everything looked good, but I don't know why the menu is so extensive. There seemed to be a lot of dishes duplicated in different sections, which made ordering somewhat difficult. Stefan opted for the Blue Crab Miso, while I just got a regular Miso soup to start. Stefan was thoroughly unimpressed with his soup, which he said had way too much vegetables in it.

The sushi that we got was extremely fresh & beautifully prepared. The salmon & tuna were both amazing. The service was good (our tea & water glasses were never empty for more than a minute or so) & I liked the decor. Ishikura is definetely a place that I'll be checking out again.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Monday Mayhem!

Last Monday was a day of firsts for me; the 1st time I cooked on a Thursday Club scale for a non-club meal, the 1st time I made Osso Bucco & the 1st time I cooked for my parents. Trust me, that last 1st was a major hurdle that I've finally overcome, but based on how the meal turned out, I think that Momma & Poppa Boogie feel that it was well worth the wait.

1) Spinach Soup

The first course was prepared by my brother, Sous Chef Stef. It was particularly good with an excellent texture, topped with a bit of cream & chives. We wolfed it down with lots & lots of deliciously warm, butter-drowned bread. A great start to the night.

2) Bone Marrow w/Parsley Salad

My feeble attempt to duplicate Fergus Henderson's signature St. John's dish. I think that the marrow itself came out very well, it's pretty hard to screw them up, mind you. Just a bit of salt & pepper & some olive oil. Brilliant! Unfortunately, I screwed up & bought the wrong type of parsley for the salad, I really didn't like the texture. I'll have to try this again.

3) Tomato, Avocado & Mozzarella Salad

A simple dish to clear the palate before the main, I think this came out very well. I added a little basil to the plate & topped it with olive oil & some excellent Balsamic vinegar that I found lurking in my pantry. Simple yet effective.

4) Osso Bucco w/Rice

This was my first attempt at Osso Bucco, so I wanted to make damn sure that I didn't screw it up. I'm pretty sure that I braised it for way too long, so that the meat literally fell off of the bone. It made presentation somewhat difficult, but the flavors were great. I really enjoyed this dish, particularly scoffing down the leftovers 2 days later!

5) Saath Padar Pastry

I found this wacky dessert recipe from the Ny Times dining section & decided to try it out. What a mistake... I think that this is the only truly unedible dish I've ever served since I joined the Thursday Club. I'm not much of a dessert guy, but this dish bordered on the ridiculous. It's basically puff pastry stuffed with coconut, pistachios, almonds, sugar & cardamon. It ended up tasting like cardboard & was as hard as Wolverine's adamantium skeleton (comic book nerds rise up!). Thoroughly dissappointing.

A good meal all in all. My parents finally got to see what Thursday Club is all about & hopefully we'll be able to get Andre-Pascal to cook for us one of these days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cherry Poppin' Danny

The time had finally come for Dan's first meal. With his hectic work schedule, he picked Saturday to play host at Pete's apartment. With Pete, Boogie and myself in attendance (and Pete and Dan's respective ladies rolling in later on in the evening), this is what the menu looked like.

Freshly-baked focaccia with chicken liver pate

Crispy chicken, romaine lettuce and gorgonzola in a caesar dressing

Fresh Linguine with homemade meatballs

Braised rabbit with red and green peppers and puree of potato with truffle

Frozen lemon mousse with English cream sauce

This was a bit altered from the original emailed menu, but as history shows, your first meal rarely goes as planned. It started with a slight delay of our arrival, 8:00 instead of 7:00. No problem, he just needed a bit more time to finish things up. When we strolled in, onions were in the pan, bread was in the oven and Dan was hovered over multiple cookbooks plotting and planning his next move. Things got off to a rocky start when the focaccia failed to rise and turned out a bit on the crispy side. The extra cooking time waiting for the little bastards to rise had turned them into a WWF-style prop......the kind that Hulk Hogan would hit a masked opponent over the head with. Needless to say, after trying to crunch through a few bites, they ended up next to vegetable peelings and egg shells in the trash (with a resounding thud). Good thing a back-up loaf of crusty bread was there to scoop up the warm, rustic chicken livers that were mixed with butter, aromatics and a touch of red wine.

In true Thursday Club style, Dan's salad course had meat in it. The chicken was marinated in a lemon herb mixture which drew comparisons to a Chinese lemon chicken (combo meal L5 anyone?). That comparison ended when I got hold of a forkful of rich melted gorgonzola, crisp lettuce and a punchy caesar dressing. As light as our salads get around here I guess.

Up next was the soup that wasn't. Seeing Dan meticulously peeling a monstrous butternut squash could only mean one thing, squash soup right? Well.....apparently he made a wrong turn in Albuquerque and ended up with a soup less fit for a king and more fit for the sink. Again we had a chuckle, but immediately Dan shouted from the kitchen, "I swear I will make something edible tonight", and another course was in the works.

The pasta course that followed was one of my favorite moments of the meal. Fresh linguine with a bare-bones red sauce (Sunday gravy to some Italian Americans), racquetball-sized meatballs and a bright handful of basil leaves. Straight forward, but an awesome course.

The meatballs were especially good. A great crust on the outside, and moist and flavorful on the inside. Not the easiest move to pull off. Also, toasted pine nuts in the meatballs......can't wait to try that little trick.

Definitely starting to get full by this point, but Dan kept on plugging away in the kitchen while we slowly shoveled more and more into our mouths. The rabbit course was again a simple preparation. Baked bunny bits with sweet green and red peppers and mash. But this was no ordinary mash, it had an aggressive dousing of truffle oil to go along with the commonplace butter and cream. Some at the table thought it might have been a bit too much truffle, but in my mind you can't really have too much of that taste.

Now fully redeemed from the nights' previous gaffs, Dan stepped on the gas and blew us all away with his dessert. A quick peer in the freezer to make sure that the semi-freddo didn't turn completely-freddo and we were in business. It was a top dish that even a full stomach couldn't stop me from finshing. The English cream sauce was so frothy and rich, it played perfectly with the tart lemon base. It almost had a sweet hollandaise feel to it.

Contently stuffed we pushed away from the table and Dan's maiden meal was in the books. Despite all the kind-hearted ribbing, everything turned out just fine in the end. But, I'll have to wait until next time he cooks for that soup I guess.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Game On!

So the gang regrouped in Park Slope a few days ago for Houman's second foray into this gluttonous little club of ours. I missed his first, gut-busting, meat-inspired meal, so I was eager to see what our boy could do. I'll admit, that when I got the menu via email last Sunday that I began to salivate; Pavlov's dog style. Continue reading & you'll see why. With enough beer & bottles of wine to sink a ship, we eagerly sat down and waited for the onslaught.

1) Asheh-Anar w/deer meatballs.

Translation in Farsi is literally "Soup of Pomegranate", but I think it should have been 'Fucking Awesome'. The flavors were sweet & sour with a subtle dill taste. The meatballs were incredibly lean (this is my first time eating deer) & were a perfect match. This is exactly the type of soup you'd like to come home to after a walk in the cold. Thank goodness for the end of summer!

2) Walnut wrapped in date and smoked bacon.

Now, who doesn't love pork? The double smoked bacon has crispy, slightly burnt edges & provided the 'savory' to the dates 'sweet'. The walnut added a satisfying crunch to the trio. We didn't bother with utensils; this is finger food at it's best!

3)Duck leg on a bed of brussel sprouts w/mustard & garlic confit.

Every time that I make a similar dish, I cheat & buy my duck already confit'ed' (is that a word?). The fact that Houman went through the effort of doing this in house speaks volumes. Meat literally fell off of the bone with super-crispy skin & a delicious outer layer of fat. I'll admit that I am NOT a fan of brussel sprouts, but these were amazing!

4) Braised Oregon Elk w/haricots verte with garlic, anchovy, shallot sauce.

I was really looking forward to the main course & it didn't disappoint. Firstly, the portions were massive. I'm not sure how big this beast was, but put it this way, there was a whole lot of meat on the plate. Braised in veal stock with bacon & veggies, the sauce was amazing. I found the meat to be a little on the tough side, but hey, I'm a pansy. I particularly liked the vegetables; the beans & capers were a marriage made in heaven.

5) Baklava.

An instant classic. Houman made his Persian style, with ground lemon-salted pistachios, walnuts and almonds. They were sweet, crunchy, crispy & delicious. Served warm with a tooth-decayingly amazing honey. Yum!

We left the meal full, drunk & happy. Nice work dude... Game On!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Teddy's Offal Night Part Deux

Writing about the wonderful experiences we have eating Teddy's offal dishes brings me great pleasure. Thoughts of this meal invoke fond memories of grown men eating what far too few people are willing to enjoy. Teddy is incredibly passionate about this type of cooking. As with many talented chefs, he sees it as a way of showcasing his craft. And it is no small task to do justice to his offal-y creations with words.

The word offal is said by some to be derived from the bits and pieces of an animal that "fall off" while it is being butchered (the story goes that "offal" is then derived from "fall off"). The word is obviously susceptible to plenty of jokes, and so it certainly hasn't helped with waking up the masses to enjoy this type of cuisine. And it is probably a good thing really because chef Teddy was able to cook for his mates for next to nothing because offal is offal-y cheap. Yet, there is one other reason you may not see it much, and that is because it actually can be pretty nasty if it is cooked incorrectly. I mean, we're talking about delicate organs here - if you overcook them or don't know what to do with them, they really can taste like shit. Think of how much you hated your mom's overcooked liver. Also, unlike muscle or flesh, organs tend to be much more showing of a chef's talent. So when you see it on a menu or someone wants to cook it for you, they're telling you something about themselves. And you need to listen.

CRISPY PIGS EARS. The ears were braised in trotter gear for about 3 hours, then sliced and deep fried to allow for proper break down of the collagen. Not much needs to be said here. They were fried. They were chewy. They were "unctuous" (man foodies are really loving that word). They were delicious.

Another ingenious idea Teddy had was to provide butter inside hollowed out veal bones (which were of course properly boiled down, after the morrow was eaten I'm sure, to provide the sanitary dish). We had actually chatted about what we can do with marrow some time ago, and Teddy apparently came up with a few ingenious ideas (see the dessert). But he also found a wonderful thing to use the bones for. This man wastes nothing.

TROTTER CAKES, with fennel & bacon, maple butter glaze, apple ginger and prune relish. This was by far my favorite meal that night. Most people enjoyed the next dish (Oxtail on toast), and I'll give that dish proper acknowledgement in a minute, but these trotter cakes and relish were one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Chef Teddy explained the dish as one of smoked bacon, fennel seed and parsley with the scraps of trotter all suspended in their own jelly and maple glaze. Every bite provided for a delightful and mildly sweet, porky flavor with just the right give. Since I'm half-dutch, I love ham, especially maple glazed ham. If you can imagine a deconstructed maple glazed ham, reconstructed into little cakes, and with much more flavor and texture, then your only part way there. And the combination of this dish with the apple, ginger and prune relish was just genius. I mean, this is the kind of dish that makes a restaurant famous. It was that good.

OXTAILS ON TOAST, with tomato confit, horseradish cream. Ok, so I said I would give this a proper acknowledgement since it was the group favorite. A simple description is oxtail braised for about 3 hours and served on buttered toast with horseradish cream (which is essentially horseradish and creme freche we are told). It's simple, but it took alot of time to make (which is the common theme on these dishes tonight I've noticed). And it has that sweet, fleshy taste that I love so much about oxtail. You know, I feel guilty writing about this dish because it struck such a high note with everybody else. I did think it was a superior dish, but I was still thinking about the trotter cakes and relish. Sorry.

At this point in our meal, Adam arrives (tardy bastard) after giving some of the local boys in chelsea some gymnastic lessons. I hadn't seen Adam in some time, and he's toned down some (you know, lost fat, gained muscle from all his rompings in the gym with the boys). So perhaps the jokes stop there before he kicks my ass.

CURRIED KIDNEY GRATIN, with beef dripping toast. OK, what do you say about a dish that reinvents the way you think about an organ that has passed uric acid for an entire animal's life? I mean, we all enjoy a good steak and kidney pie. But that is a less adventurous dish, as you can hardly tell what you are eating. Here, you have large chunks of the organ, reminding you what you are eating and sharing the limelight on their own in a curry sauce that is spiced just perfectly. Any carnivore would thoroughly enjoy this dish. This is not "adventurous" eating when you consider that the flavors are all familiar, and not what you would expect from offal. I suppose if you love offal and the rich taste of offal and you hate curry, then this dish might not even do much for you. But for me, it was a very welcome creamy curry flavor with chunks of delightful kidney that taste like, well, I guess steak. I slurped down every bit of the curry sauce. Teddy shows me his source of inspiration for this dish, which comes from a recipe derived from Anissa Helou, kind of a hero to Teddy.

ROASTED PIG'S HEAD. Hand made tortillas, radish, red onion, crema, salsa verde. The theme music from 2001 Space Odyssey begins. The chef presents an entire Pig's Head, split in two, braised for 3 hours and chilled in trotter gear, finished with a sweet maple glaze, served with fresh radish, sour cream, red onion and salsa verde (a very nice spicy variety with tomatillos, cilantro, and vinegar). These sides helped cut the fatty pieces of head flesh; Teddy explains that all offal needs to be cut with something to provide balance. The dish arrived, and a couple of people started to tear pieces off, and within 1 minute we were full-on cave men devouring the head, wrapping fatty, sweet, unctuous (there is that word again) morsels in freshly made tortillas. We probably should also give a thanks here to Guanita (sp?), who works with Teddy and initiated his inspirationto to prepare this dish. We should credit Guanita's wife for supplying the amazing freshly made tortillas. But the biggest thanks goes to Chef Teddy who did something amazing with a $12 head (yes, Pig's head is that cheap).

BONE MARROW CUSTARD, Lemon-almond gremolata. Ahhhh, bone marrow. I love bone marrow. I appreciate it's buttery flavor that accompanies a piece of toast. And I fear Teddy and I had conversed a little too much about the other uses of bone marrow. Perhaps it is just something best left to being roast in a bone, or served as part of a pasta dish (see Teddy's last Offal night; that dish was amazing). Does it belong in dessert? Well, I can say that I really appreciated this dish, and I did enjoy it. The custard was unlike anything I have had. Well, actually, it was supposed to be a custard, but it was torched and so became a creme brulee instead. However, the marrow ensured that the texture was a bit grainy, almost the same as the texture of cheesecake. Teddy did not want it to be a thin, slippery texture, but rather firm so that we cold taste the bone marrow. He confirmed that this should be thought of more as a savory a traditional british after dinner dessert, and not a sweet. But, I think I had an expectation in my head that it was going to be more like the marrow that is roasted in a bone, which is obviously impossible if you are baking it in a custard. I just wish I ate this custard thinking rationally... knowing that it was a savory baked good. If I was thinking rationally, and not completely entranced by the previous courses, I may well have been thinking a little more clearly to enjoy this dessert more. As I write this, my mind wanders back to those delectable trotter cakes... mmmmmmmm....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Persimmon (277 E. 10th St.)

I had a chance to check out Korean hot-spot, Persimmon, located on 10th St. between Avenue A & 1st a few days ago. Chef/Owner Youngsun Lee honed his skills at Momofuku & has now created a prix fixe 'neo'-Korean experience in the East Village.

The menu is seasonal, changing every two weeks & will set you back $39 for 5 courses per person. They are currently applying for a liquor license, so are no longer BYOB, a shame as some booze would have really improved my meal.

I started with the fish cakes & Dan got the sliced beef with melon sauce, both of which were good. We both selected the Bossam or pork belly for the next course which I'll have to admit was amazing! Simply cooked, yet delightfully fatty & flavorful, this was by far my favorite dish.

I followed with the massive Salmon & Rice pot which I really enjoyed. The small dishes that came with the mains really added to the experience. They included kimchi, roasted baby garlic & tiny fried fish. I'll have to admit that the next 2 courses really didn't do much for me; a small soup with mushrooms & a watermelon dessert.

All in all, I enjoyed the food there. The staff were attentive (we sat at the bar, right by the kitchen) & friendly. I'll definetly be going back when they get thier liquor license & the menu has changed (hopefully the Bossam will still be on there!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to impress your mates....

Purchase a fresh pig's head from 'Los Paisanos' and slice the bugger into two equal pieces, right through the nose.
Purchase four pigs trotters and cut them all in half.
Borrow a huge cast iron pot, big enough to hold all your piggy parts.
Find all sorts of vegetables and herbs, a bottle of white wine and enough water to cover your piggy bits, and throw into borrowed pot. Bring to boil. Simmer until everything is brilliantly soft.
Remove trotters and let cool. Use to make 'trotter cakes'.
Let head cool in stock overnight, strain and reserve stock the next day, dry head thoroughly and brush with molten maple butter, and glaze and burnish in a fabulously hot oven until Mr Piggy looks like he's had two weeks in Greece with a case of Hawaiian Tropic bronzing oil. Hey fucking presto.
Serve with lots of wine and bread.


Bussaco is the new incarnation at the old Black Pearl spot on Union Street in Park Slope. Scott Carney, the owner, has a fine pedigree having cut his teeth and made somewhat of a name for himself at Gotham B&G under the mighty Alfred Portale. Carney has employed an equally ambitious chef, Matthew Schaefer, also with an impressive background having spent time in the kitchen at both Aquavit and Le Bernadin. There's no doubt that these two gentlemen know how to run a restaurant and kitchen. Whether they can do it together in that spot remains to be seen.

An exemplary martini was made at the bar by a knowledgeable young chap, who explained the restaurant's water policy of double-charcoal filtering and carbonating tap water. Guests pay $4 for an unlimited quantity. It would be shame if more restaurants don't follow their example. Who on Earth wants to pay $9 for a nicely-shaped bottle of Norwegian glacial fjord juice when you can drink pure water for next to nothing?

The space is fairly large for Park Slope, and it does have a nice airy feel, but it suffers terribly from bad acoustics. There is literally nothing to absorb sound and conversations bounce around the walls freely. This would be no bad thing for a professional eavesdropper or spy, but on the night I went, there was a rather too happy bar crowd and I ground my teeth every time one young lady in that crowd let rip with her atrocious guffaw. I am sensitive to noise, I know. I suggest some nice Persian rugs from up the road to damp the noise a bit.

The menu is well thought out and leans heavily on what can be found at the Grand Army Greenmarket or from local producers. A crab chowder contained more than sufficient crab meat and smoky bacon adrift in a creamy shellfish broth mined with potato. A crisp roasted quail breast shared a large white plate with a circle of foie gras mousse and pickled peaches. The peaches won over the other flavours, I suspect because there was not enough foie in the mousse to counterpoint them and assert the quail but it was a well though out, cohesive dish. Scheafer's roast pork with crispy skin was slightly dry on presentation and continued to dry out while we ate. It took us a while to find the crispy skin, until we spotted a tiny blackened disc of a porky nature, which we assumed must be it. These tiny problems will iron themsleves out, for sure. My bass and Manila clams in lemon-herb broth was wonderful and the kind of thing you'd expect to get at Le Bernadin: Perfectly cooked fish, plump juicy shellfish and a broth contrasting and supporting both protein elements. The pastry chef, Deb Snyder from 50s eyesore Lever House doesn't let the side down, perfecting both an apple-caramel bread pudding (and I know my bread puddings) and a chocolate cake with toasted almond ice cream. Domestic and international both feature in an interesting and sensibly priced wine list.

Service was very efficient, and the waitstaff smiled a lot which is nice to see. They were a little over-attentive though, re-filling our water glasses after every couple of sips. My attempt to put the bottle on my side of the table next to the wall to prevent this was useless. They simply reached across us and our food to re-fill. I can fill my own glass, thank you. It was almost like they had nothing to do and felt they needed to look busy. I can understand that. For a restaurant with some buzz about it, the place had roughly 20 guests in a space for about 60.

And this is one of the reasons I fear for Bussaco. Despite the pedigree of both owner and chef, they have opened another 'New Brooklyn' restaurant in Park Slope, a neighbourhood with too many of this ilk already, and this amid the current financial turmoil. I do wish them the best of luck, and sincerely hope they make it, because I like the place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Not a Chappuccino In Sight…

As a Brit, there is something magical about the smell of Indian food. For me it invokes a bunch of memories ranging from great nights with good friends sat around a big table in Brick Lane (the “go to” place for a decent yet cheap ruby in East London) to childhood memories of watching WWF (as it was still called) wrestling as an 8 year old with Shak (my neighbour in Blackpool) as his mum kept us well away from losing our virginity by stuffing an assortment of deep fried Indian treats down our throats. So to walk through the door of JC’s place with a pair of very open lungs was a real nostalgic treat as vapours of cumin, cardamon and cilantro tickled my belly and brain in equal measures.

Now every executive chef will agree that nothing gets the taste buds going like a good smoke and surely it is only the archaic smoking laws here in NYC that stops every meal opening with a fat one. To accompany the Glastonbury inspired amuse bouche was a tribute to the Queen Mother (god rest her soul) – a self-poured glug of Bombay Saphire Gin with a token splashette of Tonic. 15 minutes into the night and already things are going paradoxically both fantastically well and utterly pear-shaped.

As soon as JC’s delightful missus had been dispatched with $20 and orders to keep herself busy for a few hours, the eating proper could begin. Chef JC had the following five course South Asian inspired extravaganza for us…

Poppadoms & Chutneys
Red lentil & Carrot Soup, Homemade Naan Bread
Seafood Bhaji
Tandoori Chicken with Black Lentil Sauce, Herb Pulao, Rocket & Mango salad
Cardomom Kulfi

Now even just typing all that makes my rectum emulate Eric Idle’s eye (know what I mean?) but JC resisted the temptation to make us five courses of molten lava and I can truthfully say that Wednesday morning was free from the anticipated “ring of fire” scenario. That’s a big “Bravo” in my books straight away.

Anyway, down to business. What good Brindian (British Indian) meal doesn’t begin with a veritable tower of poppadoms served with an assortment of dips? JC rustled up four homemade dips for us from scratch of mango salsa (damn good), mint raita (extraordinary, I could have drunk it by the pint), hot green chilli dip (nice stuff, would have liked more heat) and a cucumber yoghurt dip (nice and refreshing). It’s basically Indian Superbowl food and the poppadoms resemble light tortilla chips which have been shallow fried in oil to result in a perfectly glistening vehicle with which to drive half a pint of dip straight into your gob. Indeed they are so light that it feels you could eat a thousand of the little buggers but caution and restraint are required as they are like a tardis made of tampons wrapped in a Shamwow (don’t deny you know what I mean) and overindulgence can leave you too full to enjoy subsequent courses. The Curse of the ‘Dom has claimed many victims but none, I am pleased to report, last Tuesday.

One thing I am most excited about with the turn of the weather is the return to some thick, warming, hug-in-a-mug soups and JC began the season with a fine puree of carrots and red lentils spiced enhanced with the regular Indian spice blend. He really nailed this one and the homemade naan bread (an unleavened bread which he topped with poppyseeds) was the perfectly authentic mopping up tool. He was even thoughtful enough to give the diners their choice of crispy or extra crispy bread…well, that’s how I’m choosing to report it. Two courses in and two ethnic riots (the British equivalent of a home run).

Course three was a seafood bhaji (think chunky pancake) made from salmon, turbot and shrimp if my memory serves me correctly. I’m used to the protein content of a bhaji being basically irrelevant because of the over-riding spice blend but with these bad boys, JC managed to keep them extremely light (which is pretty impressive for a deep fried ball of ingredients held together with batter) and the individual flavours of the seafood remained well and truly in tact. Yet another great dish from JC Jaffrey.

The inevitable Thursday Club over-eating groans were beginning to become audible around the table but luckily we had a while to wait for the final savoury course. Unfortunately we filled that time by chugging more beer and smoking our heads off…not exactly the 45 minutes sleep we probably all craved by that point. Still, when the main course arrived we promptly all fell on it like starving animals. What appeared was well worth waiting for – a baked tandoori chicken breast (a marinade of yoghurt, lemon juice and a variety of spices that results in a piece of protein that is the same shade of pink as Hello Kitty’s undercarriage…I assume). Whilst this colour occurs only in nature as a way to entice bees to flowers and men to oral sex, the resultant flavour (of the chicken, not the minge) is truly incredible. If there was a downside, it would be that Teddy’s piece was a little underdone but, quite frankly, that serves the fat bastard right for jacking the biggest piece. Serve it to me next time JC, you know I’ll just swallow it whole and not say a word (insert your own gay gags here). To accompany the chicken was some herb pilau (tasty with a nice bite) and some black lentil sauce that came out more like a puree but still had great taste. A thoroughly enjoyable dish.

So what do you need after all that rich savoury food? That’s right, an even richer dessert. Without the aid of an ice cream machine, JC had managed to whip up an extremely tasty cardomon kulfi (think cardomon infused ice-cream made with condensed milk) served with some Indian sweets (not recommended by the ADA). Despite being fuller than Pete’s Book of Tall Stories, we all wolfed down this hypnotic sweet treat and I can honestly say it was the finest Indian dessert I have had the pleasure to savour.
No surprises for what happened next - we retired to a local juicer to put another nail in any remote chance of feeling human on Wednesday morning. Thanks for a fantastic meal JC.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Porchetta (110 East 7th St.)

After reading NY Mag's review of this new 'pork-centric' gem in the East Village, I decided to go try some for myself. According to the 'omnipresent' Wikipedia, porchetta is; 'a savory, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition'. A pretty accurate description if you ask me.

The location is small, offering maybe 6 seats at counters, so I think it really lends more to takeout, but I still ended up eating there. The menu is small & concise, offering vegetarian options & a few sides, but I was really only interested in the pork, so I ordered the porchetta plate (who needs bread anyway?)which came out to about $13. Before I left my house, I did a bit of research & found mixed reviews & some complaints, mainly about price, portion size & what some whackjob described as 'inedible gristle'. I found none of the above to be true.

Served with beans & greens, I found the pork to be incredibly moist & flavorful. I particularly enjoyed the spice rub on the pork - the fennel added so much to this dish. Being a pork aficionado, I ate every bit of the succulent fat before polishing off the rest of the meat. I'll have to admit though, that the sides really didn't do anything for me - I was all about the pork. Now if only they would sell it by the pound!

The decor is minimalistic, the staff are engaging & friendly & the food is top notch. I'd recommend Porchetta to anyone who likes pork, or just good food in general. Rest assured that I'll be going back there.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

9th Street Espresso expands!

I've always been a fan of the coffee at 9th St. Espresso, but not such a fan of their crowded 700 E. 9th St. location. So, I was really stoked when they opened a Thompson Square branch at 341 E. 10th St. (between Ave. A & Ave. B). Gone are the crowds & tables packed with laptops & people pretending to work. The new spot has a much more 'take-out' feel. It's still the same great coffee, but minus the clutter. The stark white decor & high counter running along the length of the store give the space & airy feel.

But what about the coffee? Oh yeah, the coffee, it's pretty damn delicious, probably the best in the city in my opinion. A little on the pricey side, but the baristas really know what they're doing & the consistency of the Hair Bender blend used for espresso is amazing. One cappuccino is all you need to kickstart your day. Check it out if you are in the area (they also have a location in Chelsea Market).

Black Iron Burger (540 E. 5th St.)

I've been watching, with a lot of interest, the remodeling of the old Bouche Bar, so when Black Iron Burger opened up, I knew I had to go & check it out.

As soon as you enter the place, you know that the owners mean business. The location is small, but they did an excellent job with the decor. They have a wide selection of great beers & I was glad to see that there wasn't a Bud Light tap in sight.

I ended up getting a beer & a burger with blue cheese, quite possibly my favorite topping for a burger. Served unpretentiously on a plate & wax paper with tomatoes onions, lettuce & pickle, visually, it looks great. I wasn't 100% sure what to expect, as this was my first time there. I thought that the burger was good, not great, but I had 2 major gripes; Firstly, the bun. Maybe I'm just fussy, but I found it a little on the hard & dry side, no matter how much I drenched it with ketchup. That's the best way I can describe it.

My second & far more startling gripe is that we (I went with 2 friends) were never asked how we wanted our burgers cooked. This is fine if you're at McDonald's or like burgers that have been sitting under a heat lamp all day, but for a restaurant that's specializing in burgers, this is unacceptable. I like my burgers rare to medium-rare, so I found it to be overcooked. That having been said, I think there must have been some customer backlash as a friend that recently went there was asked how he'd like his burger cooked. Bravo.

They're still a new restaurant & are probably ironing out the kinks. It's no Corner Bistro, but is a decent, inexpensive option for burgers in the East Village, comparable to Royale. I'm definitely going to go back there & see if anything has changed.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin