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.
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