Tuesday, September 23, 2008

King Sizzler

There's a chippy near my Mum's house in England and it's called Sizzlers. Whenever I drive past it, I'm always tempted to pop in for a cheeky Pukka with some scraps on the side, but I can't get past the name. I just think of its murky stainless steel fryer ranges, day-old batter mix and where the frymaster's fingers have been. Sizzlers.... I think of hot spluttering choking fat, the air thick with vinegared spud moisture and the windows streaked with condensation. I think of drunk Fridee night spot-enamelled Chavs sharing a nasty battered sausage with soggy fat-soaked chips fighting over who's going to mount the neighbour's dog first.

Alas I am a Northern Monkey and even fried food from a place like Sizzlers is in my blood in the worst, familial and most genetic sense. And I love it shamelessly. I know another man who loves to fry. This is a man you know.

We ate at Adam's place a couple of weeks ago, and he prepared for us some really simple, rustic fayre. Before the scoffing began however, we had to watch while Chef 'Pistol' Pete got his pink arms out and showed off his new tattoos - a shiny knife and a rather happy piglet galloping up his arm towards it. Did I mention that Pete is Jewish?

A sumptuous white bean and sage soup was topped with fried ingots of bacon. The soup tasted of white beans and was seasoned well. When the spoon I raised to my mouth snared a chunk of the fried piggy on its way upward, I murmured with delight. Sadly no beans remained intact to chew on, the mixture having experienced the whirring might of the stick blender, but the sage was there in tiny green flecks and danced on the tastebuds when the two made contact.

Fried green tomatoes had a crisp breadcrumb jacket, while the fruit's flesh remained juicy and sufficiently tart. The addition of fennel sausage was a great idea. A dish this vegetarian definitely needs some meat.

His Guinness ribs were delicious, and though I couldn't exactly detect the stout, the meat had a beery bitterness which I enjoyed. Ribs had been twice-cooked resulting in highly moist pork and it shredded with ease even between the fingers, the remaining bones left cold, white and cleaner than if they'd enjoyed a few minutes in a medical autoclave. Adam has a knack with meat. When he gets too old for his current job, he should go into barbecue.

A bread-based dessert with fruit was good. The fruity bread was fried, of course, mixed with prunes and chopped mint and placed in front of us. A first mouthful was dryish. Then he remembered to whip the cream and put that in front of us too. This was exactly what the pud needed. Simple and delicious.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Barnyard (149 Avenue C)

Avenue C has finally got a high end meat & cheese shop. Barnyard, located between 9th & 10th Streets & opened by the Brix Wine guys, it's a real welcome addition & shows how the neighborhood is changing. They sell a variety of goods; sandwiches, breads, meats, cheeses, pate, duck fat & the like. The staff are friendly & knowledgeable & while the location is great for me as I live a few blocks away, my only real problem is the price. Some of the cheeses top out at $25 a pound, so if you love as much cheese as I do, each visit could turn out to be extremely expensive.

That having been said, I will be going there for some specialty items, but for my basic cheese & cured meats needs, I'll be going to East Village Cheese.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Boys of Summer

To wrap up a hectic and somewhat scatter-brained summer for the Thursday Club, Teddy decided to fire up the grill and treat us to an 'Al Fresco' feast. Here is what we dined on:

-Scotch Egg 'Buddha Style', Thai red curry cream
-Octopus and squid salad, chickpeas, dried papaya, mint
-Marinated beef flank, arugula, white truffle and parmesan vinegarette, crispy potatoes
-Warm Figs, date puree, white goat cheese ice cream, oatmeal and spicy sherry sauce

The grill-related scents of summer filled Teddy's backyard and cold beer filled an large, icy tub right next to our table. Although some chilled wine selections would have been perfectly acceptable for grilling, beer was the drink of the day. And with the way we had to crowd the tub to cram all the long necks in, no one would go home thirsty. Some of these degenerates wouldn't even go home.

I always link outdoor grilling and hard cooked eggs for some reason. Whether in deviled egg form (which I could eat roughly a hundred of on a good day) or chopped on a nice green salad, summer cooking is always better with eggs. Teddy created a little jewel of a starter which was a play on the traditional Scotch egg. Spicy sausage rolled in peanuts, bread crumb, and a tangy Thai-inspired sauce protected a firm egg interior. They were carefully lined up and carelessly knocked down allowing little time for us to comment on how good they were until we were starring at the last one......which Grant disposed of after polite yet pointless deliberation.

Teddy's next course was a salad that contained a laundry list of ingredients and borrowed from a number of culinary areas. All tied together nicely in flavor combinations that varied drastically from bite to bite and was a delicious surprise every time. Chickpeas, sweet dried papaya, briny green olives, earthy seaweed, meaty octopus, warm squid, fruity olive oil......and more.

The squid was cooked two ways. After marinated to infuse more flavor, the bodies were grilled gently over the flame until firm, while the tentacles didn't get off as easily. They were tossed into a cast iron pan (nearly large enough to fit an adult sitting cross legged) that was kept over the burner for at least 15 until it could melt soft metals. With a hiss and crackle, the individual legs seemed to tap dance across the pan surface as they cooked before nestling in the leftover marinade to finish cooking through.

As you can see, it was quite the bowlful. If steak wasn't on the menu, this could have easily been the main course of a lighter, summer menu. Maybe for some other cooking club perhaps.

No outdoor is complete in my mind without steak of some kind. Teddy opted for a marinated flank that was cooked rare and sliced into chunky strips. To go with red meat, potatoes of course. They were aggressively crisp and took several turns in the oil coated pan to ensure no spud was left soft. As they tumbled over and over, it almost sounded like hail stones on car roof tops......yup, that crisp. The star of this dish for me was the parmesan-truffle vinegarette, which was the ultimate triple threat. Slathered on the steak to enhance the juicy, marinated bites, it coated the crispy potatoes to add a cooling and creamy dip and made an ordinary pile of leafy greens the desire of the table. It also succeeded in turning the blandest of fingers into a nice post-meal treat.

If the first 3 courses were more rustic and straight-forward, dessert was the flash grand finale. Fresh figs, and date puree on one side, goat cheese ice cream on the other. All topped with a crunchy homemade cookie and boozy, tart Sherry sauce. With so many naturally sweet ingredients, the ice cream was a perfect compliment to level the sweetness off. The tangy goat cheese gave that extra boost that an ordinary vanilla just probably wouldn't pull off.

As if these courses weren't enough, Porky Pete came through with some dynamite cheeses from Murray's Cheese. I don't remember the details of all four, but they were all American and relatively local. The two that I liked in particular; one that was described by Pete as 'blue, goat and delicious' (snicker) and the Hooligan cheese from Cato Corner Farm which was stinky as hell, creamy and complex. We were pretty stuffed a this point, but there is always room for the cheese course (And beer. And port.).

Although I ducked out early to ensure a sober morning and subsequent work day, Mike, Boogie, Grant and Teddy did the Park Slope rounds in search of a suitable night cap. This took them to Barbes (one of my all-time favorite juicers) and the Dram Shop for some wobbly-legged shuffleboard games. Unfortunately this is the only information I got out of them, but I'm surprised they could remember this much actually. And all of this on a Tuesday night. Damn.

Even though the weather will keep warm for weeks ahead, this was a great opportunity to celebrate outdoor dining and the summer that was before the sun recedes and gives way to the icy curtain that is New York City winter. As daylight gets more scarce and summer menus morph into braised meat stews with root vegetable mash (which isn't that bad of a thing), try to get outside and enjoy the virtues of the grill, pop in a hard cooked egg and chug a cold bottled beer. Time is running short.
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