Monday, April 28, 2008

Gourmet Super Saturday

The ‘Thursday’ in Thursday Club lost a little bit more relevance this week when a bunch of fortuitous events aligned to enable a gaggle of TC regulars to meet at Teddy’s crib for what was advertised as Gourmet Super Saturday. For the downright miserly contribution of just $30, the Brooklyn Braiser put together a calorie-tastic menu of decadence for those fortunate enough to be either single or free from Macy’s duty for the day. The royal menu read…

Whipped Duck Egg Custard with Truffle, Chive Chip
Panache of Sea Scallop & Calamares, Caviar, Tobiko, Sauce ‘Nero’
Lasagne of Lobster, Sauce ‘Americaine’
Risotto of Wild Squab, Duck Confit, Shaved Goose Foie Gras
Crispy Confit Belly, Apple Gelée, Colman’s Mustard Sauce
Chocolate Tart, Rum & Raisin Ice Cream

Now clearly such a menu requires a great amount of prep and hence Teddy spent his Friday night in the confines of his kitchen. The rest of us, however, continued about our regular Friday night missions of drinking our own body weight in ale (or Appletini’s in Adam’s case) and therefore arrived at the meal with a little less enthusiasm about the forthcoming booze and food fest than our host which really ate at him throughout the afternoon…especially when the Boogie’s now traditional twatnap became epidemic. But I guess it is important to note that this is always going to happen for a Saturday gathering (Teddy, tell me you wouldn’t do the same?!) and, on the plus side, we were all fairly wasted again after just a few glasses of plonk…happy days.

So we started with the obligatory speed-smoking and some bubbly (a great Cava that Adamski picked up for just $10…if he could post the brand then that would be useful) before moving onto an aperitif of Negroni. I think it had Gin, Red Vermouth and Campari in and whilst my mouth was enjoying the taste, my throat and belly weren’t of the same opinion but luckily (especially for Mike who was sat opposite me) my mouth won the battle and it stayed where I seem to put most things…in my belly.

Course one was a dish made famous by The French Laundry and Per Se’s Thomas Keller (considered by many to be the most talented chef on these shores, if not in the world…if there is such a thing) – Duck Egg Custard with Truffle and Chive Chip. Just one spoon full of this set the tone for what was to be an outstanding meal. The canary yellow, slightly warm custard was both smooth and luxurious and the not-so-subtle addition of the truffle oil was a real bit of food heaven with every bite. The chive chips provided some contrasting texture and were beautifully executed but they were really only The Pips with the custard taking the Gladys Knight role. My favourite course of the meal but there was some pretty stiff competition to follow.

Course two combined beautifully fresh scallops (compared to a recently showered Ariel’s undercarriage) topped with a touch of caviar with the petite tentacles of some calamari all swimming in a lake of Sauce Nero. Now despite looking like the aftermath of an oil tanker run aground, the squid-ink based sauce was a real delight with a nice balance between the inevitable fishiness and the aromatics in the sauce (shallots etc). The only downside to the dish was the dye effect from the squid-ink based sauce which left us looking like we’d just stumbled out of a Cure concert. Two dishes down and two home-runs.

The nice part of having this on a Saturday was that we were in no rush so proceedings so far had taken up the best part of three hours and we were still only 40% through the meal. The wine was taking a hammering and Mike was good enough to keep us up to date with the number of sheets to the wind he was at all stages (for the record, he finished 6 sheets to the wind). Next up was the Lobster Lasagne. Three sheets of pasta no bigger than a tennis ball were separated and surrounded by succulent chunks of freshly poached female lobster (Teddy wanted the eggs – what a man does in the confines of his own home is his business) and covered with a gruyere based béchamel which was then topped with Sauce Americaine made from the lobster stock. Just the picture tells you how damn good this dish was. Seriously, take a good look at it. You want to bite into it, don’t you? You want to lick the screen. Come closer and smell me. You’ve been bad haven’t you? Sorry, I got a bit off track there.

So, 4 hours in, 5000 calories down, half a pack of smokes each and easily enough booze to prevent legal driving for another 24 hours…and we’re still only half way through. Next came the dangerous course as there was basically an unlimited amount of fois gras to ‘shave’ and top our dishes with. Yes, you read that right – an UNLIMITED amount of fois gras…makes your breadsticks and salad offer at Olive Garden not seem so fucking special now eh? Now for me this was a mistake as I am undeniably greedy and I am sure that I had about 1/4 lb of the stuff but I was fascinated at the way that the frozen shards quickly melted into my beautifully pink roasted squab (which almost had a subtle liver-like flavour that surprised me) and wonderfully creamy risotto (with a nice amount of bite to the Arborio). A great dish but a meal in it’s own right and I think this one did the most damage to us as it was followed by a round of twatnaps. Furthermore, when I was awake and feeling rather nasty at 4am, this was the first dish that crossed my mind – not the gallons of booze weirdly. Not that it wasn’t a fantastic dish (because it clearly was) but it’s a bit like getting sucked off at a funeral – pleasurable in it’s own right but there’s a time and a place for that sort of thing.

OK, the end is in sight now – at least that is what I kept telling myself. Teddy is still slaving away and his complaints about the unappreciative audience (the majority of whom are asleep) are becoming more vocal with comments like “I’m not doing this again”. Still, out comes another humdinger of a course to send us all both a little deeper into food coma and a little closer to food heaven. The pork belly was perhaps not as crispy as it could have been but the firework display coming from the pan made it obvious that there was a good deal of moisture in the pork and fry-master Adam had a job containing the truffle-infused tater-tits (they were larger, rounder and more pleasurable to nibble on than their commercial cousins, hence their name) but the dish came together nicely when bathed in the mustard and tarragon sauce. This represented the last of the savoury dishes and, whilst I’m not tarragon’s biggest fan, it was subtle enough in the sauce to make the whole thing pleasant. This was probably my least favourite dish but this is only really because of the vast comparative strength of the rest of the menu and if I went out to dinner and paid $20 for this dish alone then I would by no means feel aggrieved.

Dessert was a rich dark chocolate tart accompanied by home-made rum & raisin ice-cream and a molten blob of raisin caramel that set to a fantastically gooey lump that was a real treat to eat (and continue to discover in my molars for the remainder of the evening and eat all over again). A strong finish (accompanied with a fruity little dessert wine) to an exceptional meal and not a Fererro Roche in sight. Great execution from the big guy – bravo.

Fortified with some coffee, we then went on to ruin Jessica’s birthday party and then a few of us went on to ruin some people’s night in Manhattan. Really a rather splendid and productive way to spend a Saturday if you ask me…

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Food Tour of the (Cold and Soggy) Islands

Riding the exposure of English chefs/TV personalities Gordon Ramsey (badass), Jamie Oliver (not so badass) and Rick Stein among others, the UK is making their cooking philosophy known and making a serious dent in the global culinary landscape. However, debunking the stereotype that the best England has to offer can be found in your local, yet "Authentic" Harry McDrinklots Pub is a tall order. Enter Grant. His menu was packed with UK classics with a few twists and turns. Here's what was on tap:

Amuse Bouche - Home-Made Guinness Bread Pinchos with Corned Beef and Mustard Glazed Cabbage (IRELAND)
Appetiser - (Beef & Lamb) Haggis, (Pureed) Neeps & (Duchess) Tatties (SCOTLAND)
Soup - Cawl (Leek) Shot with Welsh Rarebit on Home-Made Chili Bread (WALES)
Main - Cod, "Balti" Chips, Minty Mushy Peas & Tartare Sauce (ENGLAND)
Dessert - Apple & Blackberry Crumble Trifle (ENGLAND)

You can barely tell from the picture, but there's bread under the heaping mound of moist corned beef and sweet-tangy cabbage. The beef cooked slow and low for hours and hardly needed the knife treatment it received to shred it. Fingers would more than do the essential sign for a quality slow cooked meat.
The quintessential Irish dish, minus the need of silverware, and Guinness-based bread to get all the topping in our mouths......that, my friends is a good introduction to UK cooking.

Appetites intact and geared up for the next course, we dove into the haggis. I was well versed on haggis, what it is made of, the cooking process, etc. but never had the dish before tonight. Ground lung, tounge, heart, brisket meat, oats and spices were cooked in the oven instead of boiled in a sheep's stomach (a tough item to find in the city).

The obligitory dram of Scotch was replaced by half a bottle of white wine applied in the 'bottle to lips' technique. It did wonders for keeping the haggis moist. For people who lack the adventurous spirit to try haggis, but want to know what it's like.......I instantly likened it to a corned beef hash minus the potatoes.

Grant complied with the age old law that neeps and tatties are the only allowable accompaniments to haggis. Any deviation from this rules is punishable by a night in the box and 2 weeks on kilt scubbing detail *shudder*. The creamy pureed turnips and soft mashed spuds with a crisped, broiled top worked great with the richness of the various animal parts. Clearly, there's a reason for their eternity of partnership. Excellent dish.

The smell of yet another type of homemade bread wafted out of the kitchen, but this one was drowned in a creamy cheese sauce. Those little toasts acted like sponges and slurped up all the cheese they could handle.....don't worry, additional cheese was spooned on top to make sure no morsel was left behind. The rarebit and cawl combination was comfort food at it's finest. Halfway in between a stew and soup, the cawl was packed with intense flavors of leek, stewed shredded meat, and was really filling.

Based on my last showing at Grant's place, I was going to have to play my cards right if I wasn't going to end up on the floor.....again.

Some beautiful pieces of cod were portioned out, battered and ready to hit the fryer. The batter was thick enough to stand up to a scorching pot of oil, but thin enough keep the fish the star of the dish. Served Jenga Master style, the twice-fried chips stayed crisp and had true potatoes taste.....imagine that, right? A subtle touch of curry flavoring was a nice addition and brought in another common English flavor to the dish. Mushy peas not only added a bright green to the plate, but had a great clean and fresh flavor to balance the fried items. Malt vinegar was dribbled across everything and if the prior courses didn't pack every inch of my stomach would have been a treat to mop up with some more homemade bread.

Obviously, the night would not be complete without a traditional fruit crumble. This version was layered loaded with clotted cream so every bite had a touch of sweet and tart fruit, crunchy sugar mixture and thick creamy......uh, cream. With all the previous dishes being very savory, the sweet finale was hit the spot.

With a good number of our group hailing from England, it was good to see Grant keep it real with some solid English/UK grub. None of the meat was boiled until hitting Sketcher-type consistency, all of the vegetables still had taste and were recognizable, and I'm certain anyone who previously doubted the cuisine from the cold, damp islands across the pond would be pleasantly surprised with the results....and would owe a heavy drinking, violence prone nation an apology.

Great meal, awesome time......Slainte.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gettin' dirty with Uncle Boogie

In this week's episode, JB decides to explore his inner Acadian and takes us off-piste with a culinary spin through the southern territories of Louisiana and E. Texas, scraping up wild vegetables and assorted amphibious life to cook along the way in true Cajun fashion. It would come as no surprise to see frog's legs and crawfish on the menu, as well as etoufee and a classic macque choux. More chicken livers (will we ever be set free?) and oxtail soup also featured, but sadly JB had circumvented the snazziness of andouille and boudin, the backbone of any good Cajun dish. That was OK, thought I, one of the chaps is bound to embellish their dining tables with a foisin of pork soon enough...
  • Sauteed chicken livers Orleans
  • Oxtail soup
  • Crawfish etoufee
  • French fried frog's legs
  • Chicken macque choux
  • Jelly rolls w/ coffee and Bourbon
This is the maybe the third time in as many weeks I've had to eat a plate of chicken livers. I do like them, I really do, but I think I've just overdosed on them recently. Grant forced a plate of them on us all a couple of weeks back, and as admirable as they were, it's difficult to eat half a pound of them. But here I was again, attempting to devour another plate of distorted chicken guts. They were pretty good if I was honest, creamy, crumbly, highly savoury, but for crying out loud, I'm just so bored of them.

Ennui turned into excitement the moment I caught a whiff of the oxtail soup. I must have looked like a Bisto kid. As a chap who dearly loves the arse end of the cow, my first instinct is to give oxtail a comprehensive braising and shred the results over mashed potato. I've never made oxtail soup, so I was well chuffed that JB set about doing something different with what is undoubtedly the magisterial prince of offal. What a noble soup it was too, a great pot of smoky brownness with a patina like bureau leather, and floating in it, gobs of melting tail meat.

I've seen Emeril make etoufees (literal translation - 'smotherings') on his annoying TV show, so I had an idea about the method. Make a blonde roux, bung in a handful of the 'holy trinity' mirepoix, perhaps tomatoes, crawfish, sweat down to create a fully flavoured stew. I was not dissapointed with JB's version, the craw meat was not overcooked, and the sauce had an orangey flavour with a delicate peppery heat - very authentic. I could have done with some crusty bread to mop up the juices because the rice really didn't do a good job. It tasted like it'd been cooked in a car wash. Perhaps, to save time, he simultaneously cleaned his car, washed his hair and cooked the rice on the back seat: top down, lots of soap for the fro, hot dry cycle. Instant mis-en-place, instant soul glow.

There is no better jacket for a frog leg than buttermilk and breadcrumbs, and in the skilled hands of JB, these blanche slivers of grenouille come alive and show off their intrinsic flavour. It pains me to say it, it does taste a bit like chicken, except that frog's legs have an aloof muskiness to them, which is hard to describe because it does not remind me of chicken....sort of 'marshy'. Really delicate flavour then, the frog leg, and it would be a great shame to overpower it with aggressive flavours. JB wisely applied a dollop of tame tartar sauce to our plates.

It has an exotic name, macque choux, I think, conjuring up for me visions of a high street in Martinique packed with natives glamourously hawking highly spiced food with wit and verve on every corner. I really don't remember exactly what was in it, so I looked it up and found out it's a classic Louisiana side dish containing onion, celery, green bell pepper (the Holy Trinity), jalapenos, garlic, cream, and of course, a shit load of corn, America's favourite crop. The result is a spicy/sweet side dish that's normally married to chicken or fish. JB paired his version up with chicken (which tastes a bit like frog) and I believe I thought it was tasty. The Thursday Club crew had been swigging wine for over three hours by now, and apparently I had been leading the charge. The various useless lobes of my brain were bobbing in a sea of red wine and macque choux with no land in site, without the mearest hint of a life raft, with the sun going down and several large dorsal fins on a rapid approach...

There had been some trouble with the jelly rolls (but happily not with the coffee and bourbon), and the understudy for tonight's proposed dessert had to be whipped up by chef a la moment, a joltingly sweet bananas Foster, keeping the Cajun affair alive. It's incredible what the combination of sugar, bourbon and wine does to a gaggle of drunken bastards, and we finished the meal with songs, whooping cheers, arm wrestles and ultimate cage fighting.

And then the inevitable happened. It was mooted whether we attack the local sake joint for a couple of 'signature' sake bombs. The outcome was all too obvious.

Our degenerate host, J. Saaki, doing what he does best:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Offal Truth

By Mike "The Greek" Phillips

Anthony Bourdain once wrote that when you “…order lobster or steak frites…you aren't getting a chef's A-game.” The implication being any hairless ape with opposable thumbs can make those dishes in his sleep. It takes a real hero to create something delectable out of a calf’s nutsack or a cow’s stomach lining. And when we heard Teddy was going to take on an all offal menu we knew he would be bringing his “A-game.” Here’s the menu that had us all dreaming of balls (again!):

Honeycomb Tripe
deep fried, pickled shallot malt vinegar

Feet & Cheeks
braised trotter and pig cheek, sherry jelly, sauce “Gribiche”

Veal Sweetbreads
sweet onion compote, grapefruit, parsley and caper salad

Tongue & Balls
veal tongue and veal knacker ‘salad’, pistachio dressing

Blood Sausage
celeriac puree, sauce “Bontemps”

Lamb Bone Marrow
braised lamb shank and bone marrow ravioli, spring peas, mint oil, pea foam

Lemon and Mascarpone Tartlet
with honey

Pont L’eveque
with grapes

Eight fucking courses! Let’s get to it.
Teddy had said that while preparing for tonight his apartment looked like an abattoir. You could still detect the faint whiff of iron in the air underneath the aromas of glands, tongues, and feet.
First up was the tripe. Served in a communal bowl these deep-fried strips of stomach were hungrily gobbled up by everyone. The tripe had a smooth, creamy center encased in a crunchy, salty, deep fried outer shell. Dipped in a shallot/malt vinegar sauce this was like a party in my mouth. Instead of popcorn at your local multiplex they should serve deep-fried tripe strips. I’m talking to you Union Square Regal Cinemas.

The tripe tease kicked our frontal lobes into high gear as we waited for the Feet and Cheeks. From what little I understand about cooking pig’s feet the meat is braised and then the fat is used to create a gelatinous mix that holds it all together. Teddy went the added step and threw in some cheeks. It was a rich mixture of fat, flesh and collagen.

To me it looked like a hunk of gold flecked with meat minerals. Covered in a spiky vinegar and mustard sauce rife with cornichons and tarragon this blew everyone away. As I looked around people were using their fingers to lick up the sauce. Classy lot. Just lick the plate like I did.

Two for two so far with the Veal Sweetbreads up next. These surreal looking fuckers scare off most people. It’s one thing to eat a tongue or balls but a gland makes people squeamish for some reason. Teddy’s sweetbreads were cooked in classic style with a twist: blanched, floured in a honey panko, and fried. Sweet Jesus they were good. Spongy and crispy with a slightly gamey flavor, Teddy wisely paired them with a citrusy salad of capers and parsley to cut through these fantastic fat bombs. These were a highlight for me. I am definitely taking a Teddy cooking course so I can make these for the missus.

Time to “man up” gents! Here come the balls and tongue. I’ve never seen a group of assumedly heterosexual men get so excited about putting balls in their mouth. But like a Republican in a boy’s dorm we couldn’t wait to taste this forbidden fruit. As soon as I bit into them my brain’s warning alarms of “What the fuck are you doing?” were drowned out by my palette’s appreciation of the balls livery goodness. Smooth but with a bit of resistance like a good al dente pasta the balls were tender and succulent with a mild tinge of iron. The tongue surprised me by the way it almost melted in your mouth….like it was just a few atoms away from losing it’s shape on the plate because it was so creamy. Put this between a few slices of crusty bread and that’s a sandwich I’d like to eat. Have a Tongue Sandwich: the sandwich that tastes you!

Here’s where my brain starts to get as fuzzy as a dust bunny. Numerous bottles of wine have been guzzled, it’s nearing 11pm on a school night, and we’re only up to course number Five. Christ. Course Five was Teddy’s piece de resistance. His blood sausage.

I’ve extolled the virtues of what a mighty maestro of meat making he is so I won’t go into again here except to say: Market that stuff Teddy, you’re sitting on a bloody (get it?) goldmine. Sitting atop a delightful turnip mash surrounded by a sweet sauce “Bontemps” this was another addition to the “clean plate club” as everyone used whatever they could to remove every piece of evidence that there had once been food on the plate.

In what may be a nod to offal king Mario Batali, up next was the lamb shank and marrow ravioli with pea foam. For all I know, this dish could have been cooked by Batali himself because these babies marched down my throat so fast my offal-addled brain couldn’t keep up with my super-charged taste buds. I was starting to feel like an Aztec warrior gaining strength from eating the marrow of my enemy’s bones. Or, it could have been the booze.

Now, take a moment at look at this tart.

That, my friends, is perfection. Committed to making you appreciate your place in the universe. Simple, honest, delicate. Do you dare to disturb its serenity? I did. I picked that disc of hand-crafted goodness up, took a giant sweet-exploding, tart-slappingly intense bite, watched in horror as what was left crumbled in my hand, and then proceeded to gobble it off my palm like an autistic child on his birthday.

As a sort of dare Teddy dropped a cheese plate onto the table flanked by some grapes and crispy crackers. I think it included a smoked Gouda, a pungent goat cheese, and a stinky blue. Seriously, I challenge anyone besides Teddy to name what was on that plate because at this point we were machines: testicle-fueled, pancreatically powered, wine-lubricated machines always pushing forward, always conquering, devouring more of what the rest of the world tosses away. It was Teddy that created us. He bears the responsibility. His mad genius has made monsters of us all.

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