Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mr C's (102 Avenue C)

I finally had a chance to visit Alphabet City's newest Italian Trattoria, Mr C's, located at 7th Street & Ave. C. I braved the rain with my Mom around 8pm last night & we found the place pretty empty. After standing around the door for a bit, we decided to seat ourselves. It didn't take that long for our waiter to bring over our menus & explain that they were BYOB. I had already known that & gave some thought to going to Alphabet City Wine Co. next door & picking up a red, but I wasn't in the mood for drinking.

The service continued downhill from there, we sat around twiddling our thumbs till our water came by, so we ordered an appetizer while deciding that to get for our mains. After a further wait, we ordered our main dishes & asked to ensure if our appetizer had been fired (it had). We started with the fried calamari which were cooked very well, the marinara sauce that accompanied it was somewhat bland. Not a bad start to the meal at all though.

I ended up getting the rigatoni with tomato sauce & prosciutto. It was really light & tasty particularly with the flavor of the cured meat. My only real gripe with this dish is that whoever had prepped the prosciutto had been lazy. He had obviously stacked several slices to be cut into lengths, but they were just dropped into the dish/sauce as a whole & not separated, so eating the prosciutto was like biting into a big chunk of meat, I had to separate the individual pieces myself.

My Mom ordered the lasagna which was absolutely massive! I think everyone has their own view on how lasagna should be served; mine would be a small square with layers of meat, tomato sauce, cheese & pasta stacked vertically. Mr C's dish was nothing like this, it was a served on it's side, with thick layers of pasta (3-4 deep, all stuck together), meat & cheese, the tomato sauce seemed almost an afterthought & was spooned on top of the dish. Needless to say it did not look very appealing & the cheese overpowered the entire dish.

The food was passable (particularly considering the price; $8-9 for pasta), the BYOB policy was a plus, but the service was pretty atrocious. Our waiter was more interested in sitting down & talking to his friends that were dining there than attending to his customers. We had to scream to get salt & pepper and there was a lengthy wait for him to pick up my credit card after we had asked for our check.

Not sure if these are teething issues as this is a fairly new place, but I doubt I'll be going back there any time soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Highland Pacific (3934 W 32nd Avenue Denver, Co)

Highland Pacific is one of my favorite Denver restaurants & quite possibly my favorite seafood restaurant (which still amazes me as Colorado is landlocked). Every time I'm in town (particularly after Man Camp), I make sure to stop by for great seafood & even better service & atmosphere. My sister & I (& whoever we drag along) make sure we get a seat at the bar, which I think is the best seat in the house.

Luckily her husband doesn't eat oysters, so we were able to share a dozen oysters this year. We got Island Creek from MA & Hammersby Oysters from WA, both excellent. (a small note, Island Creeks are now available in 100 count bags, via FedEx next day! Click Here). We really enjoyed the oysters, but these were merely some small nibbles to keep us busy till the next course.

We got a pound of Dungeness crab legs next. Not quite my favorite, but we enjoyed them. In early 2008 I had come to Denver with NY friends & had eaten at Highland Pacific 2 nights in a row. They had Opilio crabs on those nights (made famous by the Deadliest Catch TV show) & honestly we must have gone through about 10lbs!

I ordered 2 appetizers, fried calamari (which Audrey helped herself to) & the Mac & Cheese which was really good. Audrey had the Ahi Poke (Big Eye Tuna with seaweed salad & avocado) & the Besos Calientes (Grilled shrimp over jalapenos with pancetta & pepper jack cheese). Josh opted for the Crawfish Po-Boy.

We ended the night with an insanely delicious dessert, the Foster a la mode. This humongous beast is basically bread pudding with bananas foster & ice ream on top! This (and all the Stella we had drank) put us well over the top. A great meal...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

No exam nerves for Adam's final

With his move to glorious Boston getting ever closer, Adam said this last boozy Thursday Club was to be his very best. We were to witness his coming of age, to gaze on as he demonstrated the glittering zenith of his culinary talents. The Buffalo Kid makes some delicious American-inspired food and on this occasion as before, he did not disappoint.

The party began with a very amusing anecdote from one of the chaps, who had, the night before, made Thai food with a wheelbarrow full of Scotch Bonnet chillies, scarfed it down and then performed an act of oral love on the lady he was with. With watery eyes and considerable embarrassment, the young lady announced that she had "the fire of Hades" between her legs, and politely asked for ice cubes and lots of cold yogurt. Of course, our friend obliged. He might have caused the lady less pain had he casually inserted a pair of fresh Red Savinas into her vagina. I had my own anecdote about marinating some chicken for a party Pistol Pete and I catered a couple of days before. I made a jerk marinade which contained two punnets of Habaneros and thought nothing of turning the meat in it, sans gloves. What a prize knobscotch I'd been! My hands fizzed for about 6 hours. I doubt Wilbur Scoville would have made a similar mistake.

Balancing flavours and taming heat (whether it be that of the cooking range or Scoville-measured kind) is what cooking is all about. Those who master these skills will become very good cooks indeed. I do believe Adam is getting there.
To kick things off, after a couple of bottles of delicious Loose Cannon IPA from Clipper City in Baltimore, he surprised us with some of the best shrimp cakes I've ever eaten. With crunchy jackets and soft, perfectly seasoned interiors mined with chunks of shrimp, they were little miracles, exhaulted further by their marriage to a clever remoulade of coriander leaves and lime zest.A chilled smoky tomato soup had serious depth of flavour with a fair whack of heat and might have been a one-note battering ram of spice and smoke were it not for the thoughtful addition of a paprika-flecked sour cream. I will admit that I am a bit of a sucker for heat and ate the soup slavishly, saving the orange blob of dairy for the last pain relieving mouthful. Yin. Yang.

For his entree, chef had cooked a stew of chicken and served it with warm tortillas with the classic Mexican/SW accoutrements. The chicken was braised until it literally fell apart in the braising liquor, and absolutely packed full of flavour. I could taste cumin, paparika, chilli, garlic, some brown sugar. This was one serious dish. Crisp tortillas were strewn with guac, some onion, a slick of sour cream and a spoonful of the sauced meat. I don't think anybody uttered a word for a few minutes, until one of us said proudly "that's the best damn tortilla I've ever had!", and nobody could deny it. Fucking superb.
Those chicken tortillas would be a hard act to follow, so I don't admitting that I was a touch dissapointed with the pork ribs up next, with pineapple and jicama salad. The sauce sticking to the ribs was excellent though, a playful mixture of soy sauce, tangerine, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and brown sugar. He struck a perfect balance with sauce, but there just wasn't enough of those flavours actually in the meat. (Maybe he should have flash-braised the ribs in that sauce and then crisped them up?)A satisfying seasonal dessert of watermelon ice was flanked on either side by some beautiful home-flavoured vodkas: A pear & ginger and a blueberry-lime. The ice was OK, but the drinks were the real star of the dessert packing huge amounts of their advertised flavours with every sip.A cigarette was all that was needed then, to finish off what was without a doubt, the best meal I've ever had at Adam's. He shall be missed, and I do hope that before he goes, he'll give us the recipe for his signature chicken tortillas.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Don't judge a book...

Living in the rapidly gentrifying East Village for so many years has turned me into a bit of a snob, or at worse, a complete asshole. I normally shop for grocery staples at Associated or Key Foods, often overlooking the less well known supermarkets. For my recent collaboration with Adam a few days ago, I decided to go to Fine Fare on Avenue C & 4th Street.

They seem to cater to the Latino community in the area & I had often dismissed the place as 'ghetto'. I was pleasantly surprised to find a well stocked, clean grocery store. After buying some hideous leeks at my local Associated further up Avenue C earlier in the day, I was amazed at the freshness of the produce. Adam & I were able to find everything that we needed for our co-op meal (well, nearly everything, we had to substitute Gorgonzola for Goat's Cheese, but this turned out to our advantage) & then some.

Cuts of meat that I never find at other stores, plus varied vegetables & spices. Now most grocery stores have a 'Goya Section', but this one was truly amazing. More Goya products than I've ever seen in my entire life! One in particular; a bright orange Beef Tripe Stew (Mondongo) caught my eye & I just had to have it. I'm not a regular tripe eater (actually, I really try to avoid the stuff), but I was feeling adventurous & I actually ate it tonight with some bread & an avocado salad. It was pretty damn good and from a can no less! I'll be cooking my own tripe stew soon enough!

Basically, the point of this post is not to dismiss any store or ingredient, sometimes you find hidden gems behind an otherwise ugly exterior! Note: some canned goods are more appealing than others!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

With just two of us able to buck the chains of work, travel, laziness or prior obligations, Boogie and I decided to give a Thursday Club duo a shot. He had a starter and dessert in the works but we decided to pull our culinary resources and think up a main dish with inspiration provided by his local Mexican food market. Passing through the extensive protein aisle filled such intriguing items as pork maws, beef kidneys, and chicken backs (You've got to love these types of markets), we opted for a fairly pedestrian meat choice to base our meal on. A few thin sheets of sirloin would do to start our creative juices. How about we stuff it, roll it up and lacquer it with a rich wine sauce? Meh, this evening had a laid back feel compared to the usual high-octane Club meals - what I could really go for is a sandwich actually. Done. A sandwich for the ages though. A few other items thrown into the basket and we were off. Here's the menu:

- English Onion Soup w/ White Cheddar and Crouton

- Steak Sandwich a la Boogie
Potato and Pea Salad

- Chocolate Mousse with Cherry-Port Compote

The soup was slowly bubbling away for a few hours by the time we returned from shopping. Some last-minute spice tinkering with pepper flakes and balsamic, a quick corn starch addition for texture and we were all set to top them with bread, cheese and bang it under the broiler. The final product was similarly close to it's French counterpart, but the sharp cheddar added a delightful punch to the sweet onion base. It was a hearty start for a meal that featured a sandwich for the main course, but not many things have the raw appeal of soup with a pipping hot and gooey bread and cheese lid.

We scarfed it.

The super steak sandwich took a few components from traditional steakhouse menu. Sauteed spinach with garlic, seared steak, mushrooms in red wine and a creamy Gorgonzola crumble. Really nothing too controversial about those ingredients. Let the stacking begin.

The bread was perfectly crusty and the monstrous concoction stayed glued together surprisingly well. A few pockets of liberally sprinkled Gorgonzola occasionally overpowered the bite, but it was good enough for me to finish my portion in record time. I whipped up a quick cold potato and pea salad to compliment the hoagie as well. A simple mayo and dijon based dressing with some dry herbs and lemon zest were spot on despite the imprecise measurements that went into it.
A nice slow pace allowed us to clean up as we went along and most importantly digest and prepare for one more course.

The dessert started off as a mousse, but was morphed into a gelatin/pudding/ganache due to the off-timed addition of cream. No matter though as the end result, although unidentifyable, was absolutely delicious. I put my ramekin in the freezer in hopes of solidifying it enough to flip it upside-down, but it refused to budge. Shoveling into my face right out of the cup would have to do.

The lemon-juice spiked cherry sauce added a nice bright acidity to the rich chocolate, mous....uh, whatever the hell it was. A great way to end the leisurely evening at any rate.

Regardless of how many people were there, one thing remains a constant; the contented, slightly wobbly walk through the chaos of the Lower East Side to the subway and a nice nap on the F train back to Brooklyn. I wouldn't have it any other way....and rarely do.
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