Week two of my Thursday Club induction and already I’m on blog detail. Pen in hand, between mouthfuls I drunkenly scribble notes in Teddy’s hastily requisitioned notebook. A few days later, when the hangover wears off and my brain starts functioning again, nothing becomes clearer. The notes remain largely illegible. Those I can decipher don’t make much sense either, and I’m struggling to remember anything that wasn’t committed to paper. The Dark ‘N’ Stormies and Sake Bombs that topped and tailed the night are two notable exceptions.
I’m no food critic anyway, and I’ve read enough of AA Gill’s restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times (London) to know that I can fill three quarters of the piece with something quite tangential, before doubling back on the unsuspecting reader via a quick metaphorical shortcut to cover off the food.
But if I’ve learned anything in my brief Thursday Club career, it’s this: the club exists for friends to cook, meet, eat, drink, and show their appreciation by blogging about it. It would be not only a disservice to the Club but, more importantly, disrespectful to our hosts – who tonight are J Boogie, with Stefan as his sous-chef – if I waffled on for ages about the bar from Crocodile Dundee, which is on J’s block.
So I will try to re-connect the synapses that were so easily and willfully destroyed by the ravages of the Dark ‘N’ Stormy storm and the Sake Bomb explosions. (Although here we are, a couple of hundred words in, and I’ve yet to name drop so much as a crudité.)
The warm up begins with several pints of Guinness in one of my favorite haunts, Old Town Bar (45 E 18th between Broadway and Park). I like it because it does what it says on the tin: it’s an unassuming, old, authentic pub, reminiscent of many London boozers. Before we head for J’s Alphabet City crib there’s time for a quick overview of Teddy’s genius idea for a breakfast sausage. (Having just bought a sausage making machine, he is keen to experiment with the apparatus.) His plan is to combine a full English breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, black pudding, fried tomato, and – for me the killer app – toast, in a sausage casing. I forget if there was actually sausage in there too. Perhaps not. There may be untold metaphysical repercussions of creating a sausage within a sausage. Regardless, and Myer’s of Keswick’s chipolatas aside, New Yorkers are so bereft decent sausages I think he might be on to something big.
In the sixth paragraph we finally arrive chez J and are greeted with highly charged and very quaffable Dark ‘N’ Stormy cocktails: Appleton Estate Jamaican rum, ginger beer and lime. This is my weapon of choice in the highball department and I encourage you to request one from the mixologist next time you find yourself in somewhere like Milk & Honey, where it tastes so fresh it’s like they brewed their own ginger beer on the premises, and comes with a delectable lump of candied ginger on top.
The menu is as follows:
Potato and leek soup
Tuna and salmon tartare served on endive
Pistachio crusted baby rack of Lamb, goat’s cheese mashed potatoes, Bordelaise sauce
Bread pudding with crème Anglaise
The soup is to be served with Gruyere croutons and the fantastic smell of the toasting cheese has us all gagging to get going. The Guinness has created a huge stomach void and I’m starving. The soup is delicious and barely touches the sides. I imagine that on a cold winter’s night such as this, in other Lower East Side locations nearby, there are people much hungrier than me drinking free soup with better manners.
I confess I remember little about the tuna and salmon tartare except that it arrives served on endive shaped like an edible Japanese shamoji rice spoon, which is just as well because I could eat a spoon. And I do.
Deviled crab from the Boogie Man. How appropriate. And just as appropriate is the way we succumb to gluttony. Incredibly moreish. I for one have (at least) thirds. The crab triggers a debate: which is the better picnic food, deviled eggs or deviled crab? For me, leave the picnic eggs to the Scots. The crabs belong in hell. And that’s a good thing.
I’ve heard that J’s forte is his meat dishes and so I’m particularly relishing the thought of the baby rack of lamb with pistachio crust. When the roasting tin comes out of the oven I do a double take. There must be a whole lamb in there. I have never seen so many ribs sticking out of one piece of meat. It’s top quality, from Essex Street Market, but through my Dark ‘N’ Stormy goggles it could easily be from Terminator, looking as it does like a robot arachnid (a-rack-nid perhaps) standing on its many legs, flesh cooked to perfection but mechanical rib-legs unaffected by the heat and marching relentlessly onwards in its war to annihilate the human race… (Er, what was I saying earlier about tangents?)
Luckily – and literally – the nightmarish vision is butchered by J and Stefan and gives way to an altogether different dreamlike experience: lamb cooked with such a light touch, so pink in color, as to be almost ethereal.
As I tuck in I’m told off for using my knife and fork. Everyone else is tearing tender flesh from bone with hands and teeth. (I defer to cutlery for the wonderful accompanying goat’s cheese mash and Bordelaise sauce though. As much as I enjoy eating with my fingers some food just doesn’t allow it.)
To finish it’s bread pudding with crème Anglaise – custard to us Brits – and I don’t know anyone British or otherwise who doesn’t like a good old bread pudding. It’s delicious and laced with rum-soaked raisins, which I’ll be willing to bet were still grapes before they met the Appleton. As I wolf it down I realize it’s a close call to determine which is more potent – the pudding or the Laphroaig single malt whisky we’re drinking as an accompaniment. Either way I am getting yet still drunker.
Later, we leave and head to Satsko. Tiny, funky bar… Sake Bombs… Pretty, young Lower East Side chicks drinking $100 bottles of sake with balding Wall Street bankers… From here the memories are fragmented and strewn over the evening like shrapnel. Call the bomb squad and evacuate the area. J and Stefan’s work is done, but the long and arduous task of rebuilding the synapses, picking up the pieces and reassembling them for the blog is just beginning.