Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quintessentially English

I came across a remarkable pair of plump breasted partridges in Mulberry Meat Market in Chinatown recently and I really fancied knocking up something reminiscent of English country cooking. After a brief glance at the Beeb's comprehensive food section, I noticed that Stein and Fearnley-Wittingstall advocate the use of chestnuts and cabbage in partridge dishes. Rather handily, I had a half can of chestnut puree in the fridge, so I set about creating something of my own with these two chaps as an inspiration, and I came up with:

Duo of partridge with chestnut cream and buttered cabbage.
(Serves 2)

It's a bit complicated, this one, so I broke it down into 2 day-stages.

DAY 1 - Prep the birds, and make the bird stock.

You will need:
2 whole partridges (including giblets and head and feet intact)
1/2 an onion, chopped
1/2 stick celery, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
sprig of thyme
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
5 juniper berries, crushed
5-6 whole black peppercorns
cold water

Remove giblets and take the heads, necks off the birds. Then cut away the backbone, leaving you with 4 plump legs with nice curly feet, and two breast sections of bird. Keep the breast meat on the ribs, it will retain flavour and moisture much better during and after cooking. Refrigerate the meat.

Chop the heads, neck, other bony bits and giblets and brown gently in some olive oil in a small saucepan over a medium heat. When they have some colour, add the vegetables, garlic, thyme, juniper and peppercorns. Stir regularly, and when the veg has some colour also, add cold water to just cover the bones and veg, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Strain the stock into a container with a lid and let it settle. The fat and impurities will collect and solidify at the top. This should be removed the day after with a spoon, before using. You should have around 2-3 cups.DAY 2 - Complete your dish

You will need:
1/2 an onion, chopped
1/2 stick celery, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
sprig of thyme
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
5 juniper berries, crushed
the two partridge sections
warmed partridge stock (about 2-3 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tin of chestnut puree*
4 partridge legs
1/2 a leek, mostly white parts
half a green cabbage, shredded
2 tbsp butter
ground black pepper

*You can find chestnut puree at most good grocery stores.

Gently sweat the first 6 ingredients (the same as for the stock preparation) in some olive oil, stirring all the time until the veg is just soft. Season the inside and outside of the breast section with salt and pepper, and ma
ke some room in the saucepan so you can brown the breasts. Place the breasts skin side down and get some colour on them before turning over and repeating for the insides. Add the stock so that the meat and veg are just covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the meat and set on to a plate to rest for 10 minutes while you complete the next steps.Reduce what's left in the saucepan over a fierce heat. When you have about a cup of the liquid left, stir in the cream and reduce again slightly. Add the chestnut puree. You might want to break it up a bit before adding it to the pan. Whisk aggressively until the chestnut puree chunks 'melt into' the sauce. Reduce to a spoon-coating consistency and adjust the seasoning.

While the sauce is thickening, pan-fry the legs: Season the legs on both sides, and brown on both sides. Hopefully you left plenty of skin on the legs so it browns quickly and crisps up. When the legs are almost cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes each side, add a knob of butter and when it starts to foam, spoon over the legs to further crisp the skin and leave a slightly nutty flavour. Remove to a plate to rest for a bit.
Heat a touch of olive oil in a saucepan, add leek and fry until soft. Add shredded cabbage and stir for a minute. Add about 1/2 cup tap water and stick a lid on. Leave to steam for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and lots of ground black pepper and swirl in 2 tbsp good butter at the end.

TO PLATE: Pile some cabbage on to a plate, remove the breasts from the ribcage, (2 per person) and place on top of the cabbage. Cover with the chestnut cream. Place the crispy legs on top (I like to have the knarled fried claws pointing skyward from the plate, for extra effect.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Is it a special occasion?"

I read Alex Witchel's article in the dining section of the NY Times this morning, and it struck a familiar note.

Some tables in restaurants are clearly better than others, and when I call well in advance to book one of the better ones, whether it's a special occasion or not, I don't expect a rather dim response.

"Will it be a special occasion?"

I beg your pardon?

"Well that depends entirely on the quality of your food and service doesn't it?"

And you'd generally expect somebody whose job it is to take reservations to know whether they can or can't provide a good table.

"We will do all we can to accommodate your request."

If you get this response, you have to make a call whether this is the kind of restaurant you want to be eating in anyway.

"Can't you just look in the book now, or are you waiting to see if somebody rich and famous walks in on that night and wants it instead?"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alphabet City Wine Co. (100 Ave. C)

It's not easy finding a good wine store in the East Village, let alone one that is literally a stone's throw from your apartment. Normally, I'd have to schlep over to Astor place (Yeah, I know, not that far; but I'm a lazy bastard) to Warehouse Wines or Astor Wines. So, you can imagine my delight when the guys from In Vino opened ABC Wine Co. I'm not quite sure how they did it. I used to see the gated storefront all the time & then, presto; instant awesome wine shop!

They've only recently opened, but have a very impressive selection of international wines, most of them being moderately priced. Local & micro brew beers are possibly on the way (pending licenses, etc.) The staff know their trade, the decor is awesome (I particularly like the little sitting area) & with time, I'm sure that the inventory of wines will grow leaps & bounds.

Check the store out if you can... Also, have a gander at their blog.

Le Paris (1812 Rue St.-Catherine Ouest, Montreal)

Day Two of our Montreal extravaganza started off very, very slowly. Still trying to shake off the booze & meat marathon of the previous night, it took us quite a while to drag ourselves out of bed. We finally got ourselves going & had a nice walk along Rue St. Denis, stopping at a few bars to play pool, then off to our favorite hangout; Thursday's for some pre-dinner drinks (they have a club in the basement, the aptly named; Thursday's Club... Fitting, eh?)

There was some confusion in locating Le Paris, a Montreal gem since 1956. We got dodgy directions & ended up at some dump called Cafe Le Paris. After a quick visit to an internet Cafe, we were on our way. There was some sort of mix up regarding the time of our reservation. Were the Gods aligned against, trying to keep us from a tasty meal? We were offered a seat at the piano & given the choice to eat there or wait till our table opened up. We were eager to get off of our feet & booze down our gullets, so we sat at the piano, facing perhaps the campest piano-player in existence. The (3rd generation) owner came by to explain the menu (which took far too long, he really prattled on & on).

Our table was soon ready, so we moved to more comfortable seating & started ordering. We ordered 4 starters & shared:

Malpec oysters; Served on a bed of sea salt & accompanied by a raspberry vinaigrette & lemon. These oysters were salty, juicy & very delicious. The plating alone let us know that we were in for a treat.

Fromage de Tête; Even though we had had some the night before, I was so excited about this dish. Ever since I went to The E.U in the East village & was disappointed to find that it was removed from the menu. Now was my 2nd chance at redemption! It was packed with gelatinous flavor & a hint of mustard while the meaty sections were very dense. This pig must have died happy for the fromage to taste so well.

Calf Brain; Feeling adventurous, there was no way I was going to leave Montreal without having tried this dish. I'm not sure if the rest of the gang shared my enthusiasm. While everyone tried the dish, I basically went berserk & scraped the plate clean. 'Here you go luv, no need to wash the plate!' The easiest way to describe the texture & taste would be cream cheese or a soft boiled egg white. Covered in capers & lemon, the brains were buttery, fatty & creamy. I was in 7th heaven!

Mashed Cod; Our final appetizer was great as well; salty, tasty & smooth, yet surprisingly firm, it basically clung to your fork. Very good stuff!

We took a bit of a break in between courses, both to compose ourselves & to ponder the delicious dishes that lied ahead.

Sid had the Beef Bourguinon.

Teddy opted for the Saucisses de Toulouse.

Adam got the monstrously large Steak Tartare which was a hubcap-sized plate of goodness.

Still on my offal kick, I ordered the Calf's Liver Meunière. I was greeted 2 delicious crescent-shaped strips of insanely tender calf's liver. Rich, flavorful& pink, the amazing taste was unobstructed by the sauce. It was served with bar far the best mashed potatoes I've ever had in my life!

I think by the end of the meal, we were fighting off the urge to fall asleep at the table. 2nd night in a row that we over-did things a bit. We left Le Paris contented & slinked off into the snowfall of Montreal.


Recently, meat maestro Teddy stopped me as I was coming back from walking our pooch and told me he had a surprise for me. It seems the day before Teddy broke his sausage cherry by using his brand new sausage making machine. He ground his own pork and put them in the casings he spent all day tracking down in Chinatown. He tried to lower my expectations by telling me that they were too "garlicky." Serena, who had some of Teddy's sausage the night before (clever) told me she liked it just fine.

Now, the question was: "How should I prepare them?" Teddy, knowing I'm trying to lose weight, suggested baking them but that seemed sacrilegious to me. And a simple fry wasn't good enough. I settled on a braise. When I'd gone to London years ago I had some sausage that I still dream about from these French brothers at a Camden Market food stall.

I could never find the right kind of sausage here in the states so I figured Teddy's was as close I was going to get. It wasn't close to their recipe (if anyone has it- send it to me!) but it was good for inspiration.

I started by using my new favorite Le Creuset by browning those babies in some olive oil.

Next, I threw in whatever veg I had on hand: some onion and sweet potato.

I let those cook for about five minutes and deglazed the pan with a shot of Port.

I then added a little chicken stock I had left over in the fridge and threw it all into a 350 degree oven for about forty minutes.

The final result was a tasty looking sausage and a not-so tasty looking gruel that looked like something out of Dickens novel.

No matter, the gruel was pretty tasty but the sausages were fucking brilliant. The braise made them as tender as hell. But, the great thing was the casing's integrity held it all together and yet, inside, the meat was almost crumbling out. It was perfect. Suzanne and I gobbled them up with some string beans (still trying to be healthy). All in all a great treat for a cold January night…thanks Teddy!

Blue Ribbon Brasserie (250 5th Ave., Brooklyn)

Continuing my food-filled weekend, I ventured out to Park Slope last week to test out the seafood mecca Blue Ribbon Brasserie. It was a busy Saturday night, so we knew we were in for a wait. Luckily, we know the bartender & managed to snag some primo seats at the bar pretty quickly. There were 5 of us, so we decided to just order a bunch of stuff & share.

We started with 18 oysters & half a chilled lobster. Having already begun to stuff our collective faces before I remembered my camera, this picture really doesn't do the plate justice. I preferred the East coast oysters (the name escapes me) & I'm not much of a lobster man, but I did manage to beat the rush & get to the delicious claw meat before the vultures descended.

Next up was the Escargot; they did not last very long. Extremely tasty & slathered in garlic, oil & parsley, we eagerly mopped up every last bit with the country bread that accompanied the dish.

We moved onto some Steak Tartare which was good, but nothing to write home about. I'm a bit biased here as I'm not a big fan of egg yolk (raw, cooked, whatever) & the yolk was already mixed into the tartare. The cross-cut chips were very good as well.

Pierogies were next on the menu. Half were steamed, the others were fried, I couldn't decide which of the two I preferred, but they were good, nothing special.

Which happily brings me to the final entrée that we ordered, a massive 40 oz. Black Angus steak:

Served with Mash & sautéed spinach, I had to do a double take... We basically picked the thing clean to the bone, it was that good. Blue Ribbon is best known for it's seafood, but this steak was to die for! Bravo!

Just when I thought I possible couldn't eat more, out came dessert, Chocolate Bruno. This rich, flourless cake was served with 3 flavors of ice cream & drizzled with chocolate syrup. Heaven on a plate!

We finished this excellent meal with shots (probably not a good idea considering how much we had to drink already). Dining at Blue Ribbon was an amazing experience, check it out for yourself!

Belcourt (84 E. 4th St.)

On the corner of 4th Street & 2nd Avenue is a newly opened French bistro which I've come to love. I've been there a few times before, without my camera, so I'll blog the excellent lunch I had last week, then mention a few memorable dishes from my previous visits.

The decor screams of French Bistro & the food doesn't disappoint. The joint is only a few months old (it opened in October, I think) & it has a great ambience. The large windowed doors that run along the street-facing sides all open fully, so I can imagine that this place will be awesome in the spring/summer.

We sat down & were given a rather small lunch menu. Not exactly what I was expecting as the dinner menu is vast, but I was able to find something I would enjoy. Each dish is accompanied by a beer or cider pairing, which I thought was pretty cool.

I opted for the Boudin which was paired with an excellent cider. I'll admit that I expected something a little more filling, but the boudin was tasty, especially with the sauerkraut & grain mustard.

Both Stefan & Alesha got the lamb burger which was massive. As soon as it was set down on the table, I thought; "Man, I should have got that!" Luckily, Alesha only had half of hers, so I got a chance to taste it. I really enjoyed the burger & I hope to fire up my meat grinder in the near future & give the lamb burger a whirl. This dish was accompanied by Dogfish Head, an Indian Brown Ale.

All in all, lunch was very good & I enjoyed myself. On the dinner menu, I recommend both the Sweetbread & Octopus appetizers; these are absolutely amazing. If you're in the hood, check Belcourt out.

Monday, January 28, 2008

My version of cioppino...

It's a bit odd when you wake up with something very specific on the mind. On Sunday morning I woke up thinking about cioppino. I've no idea why. But even more weird was the fact that I had recorded a program called 'Tyler's Ultimate' that morning while I'd been fast asleep, and the subject matter had been cioppino. I couldn't quite work out what was going on. Had my brain logged into Food Network's airwaves in the early hours and downloaded some ideas from the ether? And then to top it off, my friend's Bro had made the same dish yesterday for a dining club up in Buffalo. I wonder what will be next? This a freaking me out.

In order to purge the demons from my head, I should just get on and cook it and stop thinking about voodoo stuff.
I admit I took some inspiration from Tyler in terms of specific ingredients and I strolled down to see my local fishboy who, as always, dropped whatever he was gutting at the time to say hello and shake my paw. (Ocean Fresh @ 3rd St and 7th Ave is still my favorite.)

"OK mate, I need something special - I'm making cioppino."
"What you need for that my friend?"
"Gimme some of those cockles, a handful of mussels, some of those big shrimp (king prawns) and a nice thick slab of halibut please."

He dealt me some fantastic fish. It's very important to develop a good relationship with your local fish man.

OK then, down to business: Here's how you construct your cioppino, a San Francisco classic apparently.

Gather together:

1 onion
1 stick celery
half a green capsicum
1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
2 stalks of thyme, leaves only
1 can San Marzano tomatoes (in fact, any crushed tomatoes)
1 handful of cherry tomatoes
1/4 bottle of white wine

1 handful mussels
1 handful cockles/Cherrystone clams
1 handful 'Tiger' of jumbo shrimp/prawns
1/4 bottle of white wine
2 teaspoons each of minced parsley and dill

Big ocean-meat bit in the middle
2 large ingots of halibut/black cod/bluefish, skin removed if you like
1 tbsp butter
2 teaspoons each of minced parsley and dill


Right, get yer sauce on. Dribble some olive oil into a big saucepan/Dutch oven. Saute the first ingredients of the saucey stuff over a medium heat, until they soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add yer tinned tomatoes and add about 1/4 bottle of white wine. Bring to a boil and reduce by roughly half the volume over a low heat. Congratulate yourself with about 1/2 bottle of white wine in a big glass, and perhaps nip outside for a cheeky smoke - this reduction stage might take a while, roughly 20-30 minutes. Throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes while the sauce is still hot, and cook for about 10 minutes. You want the cherries to soften and only just develop fissures in their skin, so that they *POP!* in the mouth like little capsules of summery water when you eat them. Set the slightly cooled sauce aside.

Get yer shellfish cooked: Set a pan on the stove, at 'particle accelerator' heat. Toss in your cockles, mussles and whatever else you got from your friendly fishmonger. Shake it about a bit. Add the remaining 1/4 bottle of white wine (you did leave some, didn't you?) and add two stalks of thyme. Put a lid on the pan and shake while the wine boils and creates some steam. Count to 30. Check to see that the bivalves are wide open, and the shrimp/prawns are pink and sexy-looking. Don't overcook them. Strain all the shellfish, reserving cooking liquor, and set the shellfish aside. Shell the mussels and add them and the reserved cooking liquor to the tomato sauce (there shouldn't be much, about a half cup) and stir a bit.

Get yer haibut on: Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, until it just about shimmers. Season those firm white fillets on one side and plop them, seasoned-side down, into the oil. Season the other side while they're cooking. When you see the fish change from translucent to opaque about halfway up the fillet, about 3 mins, guess what? It's time for the flip. Reduce the heat and cook the other side gently, for about 2 mins. Please don't overcook the halibut! Just as you can see the two opaque sides nearly meet in the middle, toss in 1 tbsp of butter. When this has melted, spoon it over the fish, like you were basting a joint in the oven. Baste for 30 seconds, then remove fillets to a plate to rest.

The butter should start to brown a bit, and it's at this point you want to throw the parsley and dill in. Cook for a few seconds, then toss all the shellfish in and shake them to coat.

To plate it up: In a deep bowl, ladle some of that delicious tomato sauce, plop a big chunk of halibut in the middle and spoon the shellfish and browned-herb butter around the fish and sauce. Serve with some rustic toasted bread and a really gutsy bottle of red of white.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gripe # 4

My fourth gripe of the day, not necessarily to do with supermarkets, but all markets: To all purveyors of fish and poultry in the USA - Leave the skin on please.Most customers with any tastebuds would prefer their chicken and fish with the skin on, and we're more than capable of taking it off ourselves if we really don't want it. Leave it on and at least give us the damn choice.

Supermarket Gripe # 3

"Excuse me Mate, where can I find a ladle?"

"I'm not sure, Sir, all the kitchen equipment and tools are above the normal shelves, and spaced around the store on every aisle. You'll have to walk up and down every aisle until you see what you need."

"Mmm. That's a great system. But, and please forgive me for making such a sensible suggestion, wouldn't it be easier to have all of those things in one place, say in one aisle, perhaps at eye level?"

"We don't do things that way, Sir."

"Yes, I know. Well, thank you , you've been most helpful."

"Have a nice day, Sir."

Supermarket Gripe # 2

SUPERMARKET OWNERS - Those wafer-thin and frankly useless bags every big supermarket carries, you know, the really cheap ones? Can't you just have sturdier bags? Instead we have to triple-bag wafer thin ones to stop stuff spilling all over the road on the way home. It might even cost you less money if you only have to buy one bag instead of three....?

Supermarket Gripes...

To be honest, I try to stay out of supermarkets as much as possible. For a number of reasons: They kill small businesses, they kill quality and choice, most are a terrible eyesore, covered in paper posters telling how synthetic cheap their dismal food is, and frankly they are noisy and unhygienic. These are all good reasons to dislike them I think.

On the odd occasion that I do have to go into one, there are other things that really piss me off. Welcome to a new series where I, being the miserable git that I am, get a few things off my chest.

Supermarket Gripe # 1: Why don't people pack their own bags at checkout?

There could be an obvious answer: Because people are paid to do it. Indeed, there are some supermarkets that employ people specifically to put your stuff in bags. But when there isn't, why don't people pack their own shopping? The poor, pimply mother of 3 who's checking goods has to scan, scan, scan, and then stop scanning to put things in atom-thin plastic bags, then go back to scanning, and then some more packing in thin bags. And all because you want to stand there, staring at her, poised with your bit a plastic at the top end of the swipey thing, ready to say 'credit' or 'debit'. Is there anything wrong with helping the poor girl? Helping yourself? Helping me? Speeding up the queue behind you?

Here's an idea: While she's scanning shit, you can pack some of it, eh? Brilliant! Guess what? You'll be out of there quicker, I'll be out of there quicker, the girl on the till will appreciate your help, efficiency will soar, it could even be good exercise! So there's so many reasons to pack your own shopping, not just to keep my temper from boiling over and me lashing out indiscriminately in the supermarket with a head full of hot blood.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jeffrey's On Essex ( 120 Essex St., Essex Market)

Today, I have a renewed faith in society... You might remember the hellacious time I had trying to procure fine meats (see post here) in the East Village last year. I braved the cold this afternoon looking to get some lamb for the club meal that I am cooking tomorrow. Shunning Whole Foods, I headed to Essex Market & was lucky enough to meet Jeffrey Ruhalter, 4th Generation owner & proprietor of Jeffrey's on Essex.

Extremely knowledgeable, friendly & courteous; just what you want in a family butcher. Even though he didn't know me from Adam, he treated me like a lifelong customer. After buying 3 baby racks of lamb, I moved onto 2 giant New York Strip steaks for me tea. Jeffrey asked me if this was my first time shopping there & I replied yes. With a smirk on his face he promptly told me that if I didn't accept the gift he was about to offer me, then I wouldn't be able to shop there again. I accepted... 6 beautiful frenched lamb chops. He reccommended that I bread & lightly fry them. "Meat Popsicles!" He exclaimed!

The meat selection there is excellent & Jeffrey clued me up on all of the other delicacies that I could order with 1 days advance notice; ostrich, venison, elk, alligator, to name a few. you bet your ass that I'll be going back to Mr. Ruhalter for all my meat needs! I suggest you do the same.

Teddy's Magic Roundabout

It was a serendipitous call from Teddy informing me that he had too much food for his Thursday meal and would I be able to forsake my diet (honeymoon, holidays, and Packers games had taken their toll on my physique) and come down for some goodies. Since, I couldn’t leave a good friend in a tight spot I said yes. And, then I saw the menu:
Wild mushroom soup, with truffle-porcini vinaigrette
Potted Scottish salmon, pickled cucumber, toast
‘Special’ homemade black pudding, and pork hock bacon, with apple, celery & tarragon risotto
Pan fried sea bass, crab-infused mashed potatoes and shellfish velouté
Chocolate and chestnut cake with Amaretto ice cream and Amaretti crumbs
I knew I had made the right call. I could even convince my lard-addled brain that I was eating healthy. Fish! Veggies! Fruit! Blood Sausage! (maybe not so much on the last one).

The meal started with a delectable wild mushroom soup, Teddy’s own recipe and worthy of any celebrity-chef glossy cookbook. I’m a big fan of mushroom soup ever since I lost my mushroom virginity at a small café back in Milwaukee. Since that fateful day, I’ve vainly tried to find a soup that matched that version’s flavor, consistency, and creaminess. Teddy’s might have been the one. Creamy, without being overbearing and thick, without turning into porridge, the soup showcased everything a mushroom is; rich, meaty and earthy. A good start.

Next up was the Potted Scottish Salmon. Being a born and bred, true-blue, flag-waving patriot of the new modern colonizers I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Brits with their “Potted This” and “Potted That” just doesn’t exactly make my mouth start watering. But, after this excellent delicacy I’ve changed my tune. Hail Britannia! Sealed by a thick layer of hardened butter the salmon was a delicate mix of poached and smoked salmon with some always welcome dill. Spread upon a toasted baguette and with the added crunch of the pickled cucumber we were all scrambling to get as much of this as we could. It was the perfect light treat to have right before the house specialty: the Black Pudding.

Teddy keeps saying he should start selling his black pudding. I couldn’t agree more. He has become quite the master of blood, seasonings, and grains to make a first-rate blood sausage. Some of you out there unfamiliar with this blog might be appalled by the notion of eating congealed blood. My advice: Man up and try it! It’s fucking delicious. The sweetness of the apple rings added a crisp, autumn-like flavor to the meal. The pork hock bacon added the salty zing. It was all served over a risotto that had just the right amount of “bite”. My only regret is that I didn’t remember to take some home with me (stupid booze!)

As if the boudin noir wasn’t a main course in itself next came the sea bass. Like many, when I go to a restaurant I crave meat. I always see fish as a step down. A sort of red-headed step child to a blood red porterhouse steak. I might have been wrong in this assessment since I practically inhaled Teddy’s sea bass. Served with the exquisitely crisped skin on top, I took a generous forkful of flaky bass along with the crab-infused mashed potatoes, which were covered in a velvety smooth veloute. This was high-end restaurant quality food that you would easily pay an obscene price for. I had to restrain myself from licking the plate clean.

After we all breathed a sigh of contentment came the dessert. The Amaretto ice cream with crunchy Amaretti crumbs was perfect. Maybe it should have stopped there because I found the cake too dense and liquored up for my taste. But that’s OK because if Teddy had made an any more perfect meal I might think he’s some sort of cooking cyborg from the future determined to make us slaves to his flawless cooking style. Hell, even if that is the case then I, for one, welcome our new gastronomical overlord.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

To Your Health (cough cough)

It could have been the change in temperature, or the sleep deprived, party-filled end to 2007. No matter the lame excuses, I was sick. With everyones' crazy schedule pushing Thursday Club to the back burner as of late, nothing short of a freshly severed limb would keep me from the first meal of the new year at Grant's. Here's what he served:

Scallop Ceviche with Melon, Chile & Mint.
Butternut Squash, Apple & Onion Galette with Stilton.
Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Chile Mustard Sauce, Bourbon mashed Sweet Potatoes & Carmelised Onions.
Rum & Butter Glazed Grilled Pineapple with Vanilla Scented Mascarpone.

The sickness I mentioned seriously impaired my sense of taste and smell so I was glad to see a lot of potent, hard-hitting flavors in every dish. Especially the spicy parts which cleared my clogged head nicely.

The scallops were doused in a sweet-sour citrus marinade which cooked them slightly, forming a thin membrane on the outside that gave way to the silky flesh of the fresh scallop inside. The mixture of chopped mint and chunks of jalapeño created a unique combination of tastes and added a nice bit of texture too. The sweet, juicy cantaloupe and excess sauce on the plate was especially tasty as it soaked up all the flavors of the dish.

Grant kept the meal rolling with a "dainty" galette. Like a mini homage to Mount Vesuvius, the overstuffed crusty butter pocket spewed a combo of soft, roasted squash, beautifully sweet caramelized onions and a sharp pungent slick of Stilton. A lesser group might have had the ingredients layered on a bite-sized cracker for a small pre-meal nosh, but subtle as a major coronary blockage, Grant went for the gusto and it proved to be delicious.

The pork tenderloin cuts were small in girth which really shortened the cooking time and helped the great, flavor-packed crust to see more of the meat. Peering into the spice cupboard, I noticed from all the half-empty jars that pretty much everything went into this spice rub. It was hard to decipher each individual taste for me, but it's not a stretch to say that a pinch of everything, and two pinches of the hot ones makes for an ass-kicking combination. From that mixture, what wasn't massaged into the pork was used to make the finishing sauce that coated the pork and a heaping bed of bourbon sweet potato mash.

Dessert didn't stray from all of the previous dishes when it came to big flavors. The grilled pineapple bursted with juice and was super sweet even without the aid of extra sugar. And of course, no dessert is complete without a liberal soaking of alcohol and thickened this case, rum butter and a fragrant vanilla Mascapone. It all became a melted slurry from the warmth of the fruit, but that didn't prove to be a problem. It just made the finger (or tongues for some people....ahem) equally as useful a untensil at our forks.

I think the old adage goes something like, "Feed a cold". I can't argue with that. After four healthy sized courses, I was feeling better than I did earlier. But definitely ready to call it a night though.

Ah, Molly the dog, always one step ahead of us.

She did have plenty to drink to be honest......

Thursday, January 17, 2008

East Village Cheese (40 3rd Avenue)

Hidden among the hustle & bustle of 3rd Avenue @ 10th Street is probably my favorite cheese shop in New York. The windows are covered pretty much entirely by hand written notices advertising current specials & new cheeses, but once you enter, you know that you're in cheese heaven. EVC is pretty much a neighborhood institution. If you live in the area & want cheese, you'll be going there, no question.

The place is normally very busy, with the line for the cheese/meat counter going all the way to the back of the joint & if it's close to a holiday, the line might double back on itself. I tend to go early in the morning when there's less of a crowd. The staff there work very fast & there are a lot of them behind the counter.

Despite the fact that the place is cash only (which can be a pain in the ass if you're making large purchases) & often packed, the real appeal here is the prices. EVC is basically a clearing house for cheese makers. I'll be the first to admit that the cheese & meats are not always the freshest, but they sell at ridiculously low prices & in such large quantities that they are able to be competitive. I recommend that you eat whatever you buy there within 2-3 days. Don't let this put you off though, the cheese there are delicious & at the advertised prices, you can't go wrong.

Besides cheeses & meats, EVC also stocks crackers, fresh breads, oils of all kinds, tomato sauces, etc. It's basically a food lover's deli as well as an awesome cheese shop. My favorites there are the Asiago, Fontina & Manchego cheeses, as well as the Taramasalata. Check the place out...

A few spreads that we have set up from EVC, both around $40.

X-Mas Day; Stef & I @ our parent's place.

Last Night; Cheese & wine @ the crib.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Le Gamin Cafe (536 East 5th St.)

I've been going to Le Gamin off & on for quite some time as it's one of the few really good lunch spots in my 'hood. The decor is French Bistro & ever since they took over the building next door to expand the dining & kitchen areas, dining there has been much more comfortable.

I really love the coffee at Le Gamin, it is consistently among the strongest I've ever had which is perfect for waking up after a heavy night out on the town.

Today, I went with my brother Sous Chef Stef. Le Gamin specializes in Crepes (both sweet & savory), so I went for old faithful; the Coq au Vin Crepe. Wrapped in a delicate crepe, the Coq au Vin is deliciously rich & flavorful accompanied by seasoned rice.

Stefan went for the Grilled New York Shell Steak with fries, a salad & grilled endive. I tasted his dish & there was really nothing exceptional about it, not to say that it wasn't good, just your standard steak.

My only real problem with the place is the long wait to get food. We were lucky today as it wasn't that busy which is why I normally only go for weekday lunch. Dinner or weekend brunch services can lead to a frustratingly long wait for your food. Are they perfectionists back there, or just understaffed? I still Like Le Gamin & suggest you check it out.
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