Thursday, October 9, 2014

Locavore, Schmocavore


Everyone talks locavore.

You know, eat locally.

Support your local farmers.

Eat sustainably.

Be eco-conscious.

Only take what you are going to use.

Be good to the planet.

The whole nine yards.

That's why it warmed my heart, when walking up East Broadway yesterday, I spotted this local farmer fisherman...
Locavore Fisherman
As you can tell, Mr. Fisherman cares about the environment. I mean, he bicycles to and from his fishing hole, right? Very little carbon footprint, no? And his product is special...
Product
Of course, I don't know that fish from the East River is what you want to be eating these days (pregnant women beware). And I don't know if it's legal to sell your catch from the East River, on East Broadway, out of a bucket.

But - it's locavore, so what the fuck?  And - at least Mr. Fisherman was nice enough to toss his cigarette before serving you. Rules, you know...
Look ma - no  cig!
Fresh, local fish - Various locations around Chinatown, often East Broadway, Grand St., etc.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Marta, My Dear

Whew - that was a long time off (not that I need time off, but my brain cells needed it). And anyway, it's not like Significant Eater and I have been starving ourselves...actually, we've been eating plenty, drinking maybe not quite as much, and, in general, waiting for the summer to end. I'm always waiting for summer to end, btw - since the complaining about air conditioning gets old. Although, really, it was kind of hard for me to complain this past summer, since it was fairly mellow, what with global warming climate change and all that.

So - of all the meals, what were the latest and greatest? Let me start with Marta...the newest (unless they've opened another Shake Shack in the last few weeks) entry from Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, helmed by Chef Nick Anderer, who also happens to be the chef at another USHG favorite of ours, Maialino.

Marta is the Anderer and Meyer take on the Roman pizzeria; of course, if you were to ask a group of Romans what Roman pizza is, you'd probably start an argument, just like what would happen if you asked a group of New Yorkers the same question. There's the thin, thin, thin and really crispy crust. There's the (usually) long, beautiful flatbread (generally eaten at room temp, sometimes topped, sometimes not) known as pizza bianca. There's Gabrielle Bonci's unique and brilliant Pizzarium, serving pizza al taglio, or by the slice...and you get to pick how big a slice you want. You see - it's not easy - but the nice thing is, there's generally something for everyone. American expat Roman food experts, people like Katie Parla, Elizabeth Minchilli, Maureen Fant, et. al., have all written about Roman pizza. I've probably gotten recommendations from each of them about where to have pizza in Rome. Some were spot on - some not so - at least to my taste (then again, I've given some recommendations that people have thought sucked, so...).

Maybe it's better to divide the pizza wars into two types of places. There's the Pizzarium style (al taglio), where you get a slice or two or three and eat it, generally while standing up. And there's the sit-down place (pizzeria), where you order at table and get a whole pie or two or three, and eat it while at table. At these types of places, there is other food to order in addition to pizza, and if you've gotten this far, that's what Marta is all about.

A week or so ago, Significant Eater and I were lucky enough to be able to join two friends who had scored a reservation at Marta, which isn't exactly an easy task. The menu, with the type of food we love...
Where to start?  Both the suppli and the croquette showed a deft hand at the fryer, and the rabbit meatballs might be a gateway drug leading to coniglio. Though Sig Eater has had her fill of octopus (which is on every damn menu in town), I liked the charred and tender tentacles.

Of course, Marta is a pizzeria first, and it now sets the standard for this style of Roman pizza. I think it easily could hold its own in Rome...
That's the Margherita, but we also sampled the fiori di zucca (zucchini flower, mozzarella and anchovy - yes, please) and, compliments of the chef, the patate alla gricia, a pizza topped with potatoes and the stuff you'd top pasta alla gricia with. Make that guanciale, pecorino and pepper. Spicy, funky and not your mother's Rays, if you get my drift.

Sure, sure, we'd had enough food. But, not knowing when we'd get back, a couple of entrees were "necessary..."
In the foreground - the funghi arrosti, delicious, juicy, meaty mushrooms that can (almost) make one forget about, well, meat. They're served atop a really cool vegetable, that I first saw at the Union Square green market. It's called spigarello, and it's one of the many variants of broccoli raab,  perhaps a little less bitter, though bitter is one of my favorite tastes. Behind the 'shrooms - the beer brined half chicken, another gift from the chef, another winner from the oven. There are those who will probably mention that the chicken is salty, but hey - it's brined, and that's what happens.

Is it possible that we were too stuffed for dessert? Well, yeah, but there are some nice Amari - always a good way to end a big meal like this. (OK, we did share a few scoops of gelato).

Tariff?  Depends on how much you eat, my dear. But I suppose one could get out fairly reasonably; two of the apps were $6 (the suppli and the crochette) and the Margherita comes in at $12. Cocktails are between $10 and $14, wines run the gamut. Not cheap, but not crazy expensive, either.

Another plus - they have these...
And who doesn't love a place with matches?

Can't get yourself to Rome any time soon? Marta (and its older sibling, Maialino) have got you covered. Buon appetito.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Russ & Daughters Cafe - Teach Your Children Well

Everyone knows the story of Russ & Daughters, the 100+ year old appetizing store on Houston Street in New York City, right? And everyone knows what appetizing is, right?  And everyone knows how to pronounce Houston Street, right? Oy - where do I begin?

To start, read the story of Russ & Daughters in Mark Russ Federman's book, Russ & Daughters: The House That Herring Built. Mark is a 3rd generation Russ, whose grandfather Joel started the business over a hundred years ago, from a pushcart on the lower east side.  Here's the timeline. Mark is also a hell of a nice guy, and always with the stories, if you know what I mean.

Next - appetizing.  Or, to put it better, an appetizing store. Appetizing, according to that great Yiddish website Wikipedia, is the food that one normally eats with bagels. Typically, one eats these foods for breakfast or lunch. So what you'll find in an appetizing store is stuff like lox, smoked salmon, herring, cream cheese, etc. And what you won't find in an appetizing store is stuff like pastrami, corned beef, tongue, salami, etc. You want that - walk down the block to Katz's - it's a delicatessen. Oh yeah, it's also on Houston St. - and no,  it's not pronounced like the city in Texas, heathens.

So where am I going with all this? Simple - around the corner and down the block to the newly opened Russ & Daughters Cafe, at 127 Orchard Street. It only took a hundred years, but Russ & Daughters has finally expanded, with a sit-down cafe, nu - and we're all the better for it. Fourth generation cousins Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper are in charge here, and if it's possible for Russ & Daughters to be a schtickle better, they've accomplished just that.

At the cafe, you'll find wonderful house-made sodas and cocktails, though I'm not one to drink booze with my bagels. I had some sort of cucumber-y thing, which was perfect on a hot summer afternoon, and my California friends (one's an ex-NYer) loved their chocolate egg-cream and matzo ball soup. We also thought these potato knishes were the real deal...
Knishes
I went back with Significant Eater a few days later, because, well, once she knew I had been, you know the rest of the story. We had no problem enjoying this ice-cold borscht on a sultry afternoon...
Borscht
And these potato latkes were (almost) as good as mine...
Latkes
Now you'll notice I didn't have any smoked salmon, lox, herring - those goodies which make Russ & Daughters famous.  That's because I eat them all the time, at home, with Significant Eater - I'm a Russ junkie, and as anyone knows, that whitefish salad is addictive.

But if you've never been to Russ & Daughters (the appetizers), you don't know what you're missing. I realize that can be hard to do if you don't live in town or you're just here for a visit. But now that there's a cafe a block or two away, your worries are over. Just do me a favor - don't wait 100 years. And Niki and Josh - mazel tov. I'm sure great-grandpa Joel is smiling down on Orchard Street.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nashville Skyline

A few weeks ago, Significant Eater and I took a road trip.  I guess back in the day a road trip actually took place on the road; for us, some of it took place in the air, but why quibble?  We flew to Knoxville, TN, spent a night there, and then drove west to Nashville for a few days.

There was some music playing...
As the marquee for the Historic Tennessee Theatre reads, we'd headed south to take in a couple of Elvis Costello shows, and enjoy 2 cities we'd never been to before. But, since we'd arrived just about lunch time, there was some eating to be done, right then and there, before even checking into our hotel. 

Knoxville and Nashville aren't necessarily considered BBQ heaven, at least not by the BBQ experts. Didn't stop us, as this was the first place we headed to, straight from the airport...
Where they pay homage to one of the greats...
Since we'd left DC at 7 AM, we were hungry... 

Sadly, the best part of this BBQ meal were the sides (especially the fried okra), though the sausage wasn't bad...
Knoxville's known for a few things (I think).  It's a cute little town, with nice parks and public art...
It's also known for this thing...
The Sunsphere, symbol of the 1982 World's Fair; held, I guess, in Knoxville. After enjoying the sights, we were ready for an early pre-show dinner; we'd heard about Knox Mason from a friend of a friend of a friend and off we went. Earnest, quaint and delicious w/just a hint of preciousness and we loved it, from the Sweetwater pimento cheese served with Saw Works beer bread (yes, every producer gets props on the menu)...
To the Anson Mills' Carolina Gold 'Risotto' with late season asparagus, to the Mitchell Farm ribeye with a ton of confited fingerlings ($20!!) - we were happy campers.   Going to Knoxville? Go to Knox Mason.

We wanted to hit the road early for Nashville; yes, so we could get there in time for lunch.  But to fortify for the drive, we walked over to the town center, where a huge market is held every weekend...
And a pourover from a guy without a beard is a possibility.  We wanted a proper sit-down breakfast however, so another recommend...
Served us just fine...

After breakfast, a mere 4-hour drive later, and we were in Nashville. Here...
Martin's in Nashville is one of a 4-unit chainlet (in what appeared to be an old garage), founded by Pat Martin, a well-known pitmaster.  This ain't no roadside shop...
This is Bar-B-Que, baby!  The food was pretty good - Sig Eater enjoyed her smoky pulled pork sandwich, though my Memphis Dry Rub ribs were, well, just a little dry...
After a nice walk around downtown Nashville, and perhaps a nice little nap in our 68° hotel room (oh -  a travel tip - don't go to Nashville in the summer, it's a freakin' steam bath), we were ready to head out for another pre-show dinner, and some fine dining in this historic old house...
The home to...
Yep, right there in Nashville, Sean Brock's 2nd location of Husk. Great cocktails, a fantastic room looking out onto a vegetable garden, and some excellent eats, including Sig Eater's hominy cakes...
And my chicken heart and liver skewers, served with Alabama white barbecue sauce (which uses mayo as its base rather than tomato)...
Perfect on those innards. Elvis' show beckoned, and off to the historic Ryman Auditorium we went - via taxi, as I was getting a little homesick. A great show at the Ryman was the topper to a fine day.  

Nashville has a pretty happening coffee scene, so we ended up here (in what appeared to be an old garage) first thing the next morning...
At Crema, which was the perfect way to start our day. Then we took a bit of a drive to find lunch. When you're greeted by this in the parking lot...
You keep your fingers crossed...
That Jim'N Nick's Community Bar-B-Que will do you right.  It's a chain, but sometimes you get lucky at a chain...
And finally have some ribs worthy of the drive (check out that smoke ring).  Sig Eater even liked her smoked chicken salad, so we went 2 for 2 at this lunch. And lest you think all we do is eat, we also drove around Nashville's Music Row to see this...
And this...
Dinner was a low-key affair (post-Elvis, Sunday night, after all) and we ended up a few blocks from our hotel at The Southern, a big, bustling bar with steak and oysters as the draw. Service was extra-friendly (the oysterman comped us a few of his favorites) and we had a nice enough time, and okay enough food, before heading back to our hotel.

Since our flight back to DC wasn't until 2 PM or so, I had a plan. Head out for some coffee, and grab some final 'cue on the way to the airport. Now, you never know what you're gonna run into when you go out for coffee in other cities, but check this out...
In what appeared to be an old garage, Barista Parlor sits in an unassuming location of East Nashville.  It's huge. You know it's hip, because the baristas are all wearing canvas aprons, as if they were ready to butcher elk.  Some of their brews are made via these...
 And, direct from Brooklyn, they sell this...
And lots of coffee beans, too...
Despite all the posing, the coffee was great, the wait was fairly interminable, but hey - that's coffee - stop complaining!

Right up the road from Barista Parlor, in what appeared to be an old garage, sat our final destination  - Edley's Bar-B-Que - winner of the 2013 Nashville Scene Reader's Poll Best BBQ!  We ordered two lunches to go; Sig Eater a spicy pulled pork sandwich and me the smoked turkey platter, for something a little different.  We kept our fingers crossed they wouldn't be confiscated by the TSA.

And you know what? Even out of styrofoam, this was probably the best bbq of the trip - I'm sorry I missed the ribs (available at dinner only), but my turkey was juicy and smoky and her pulled pork sandwich was juicy and smoky, and the covetous looks we garnered were proof that we might've hit Nashville BBQ's mother lode.

I don't know when the next time the two of us will have a chance to be down this way - but if it happens, I'm sure it'll be music related and I hope it'll be in the winter...did I mention it was about 1,000,000 degrees?  But it's a beautiful part of our country, the people were great and there's plenty to eat.  There's even a Nashville Skyline...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cherche Midi - Keith Don't Go

Keith Don't Go is the name of a song on Nils Lofgren's 2nd album, Cry Tough. It has absolutely nothing to do with the new Keith McNally restaurant Cherche Midi, which is in the same spot as the old Keith McNally restaurant, Pulino's, which closed six months or so ago - I just thought it sounded like a good title for this post.

In any event, in a mere six months, Keith has transformed what was once Pulino's, an Italian pizzeria slash trattoria into Cherche Midi, a French, well, bistro slash brasserie, I guess. In early visits, I liked Pulino's food; there was some cool stuff on that menu - I particularly remember a dish with smoked sable, a guilty pleasure of mine.  What I didn't like about Pulino's was the corner; to be exact, the southwest corner of Bowery and Houston Streets, in my mind one of the most heinous corners in Manhattan on which to put a restaurant. As someone on a website I frequent, and where I started an argument about this particular corner noted, "there is no joy going to the corner of Bowery and Houston." Additionally, the place had windows that were thrown open to that corner; why exactly, I'll never know...my memory fails, but there may have even been cafe tables outside, which is great if you like eating at a bus stop.

Fast forward to now, and even though you can't change the corner, the windows are gone and once inside you'll barely know where you are; if your imagination works well, maybe you'll think you're on the right bank - although that might be pushing it. Suffice to say - it's a hell of a lot nicer inside now, though if you're sensitive to noise, it's as noisy as many of the McNally places, especially as the evening progresses.

Significant Eater and I had stopped in about two weeks ago for an after dinner drink and last night I made my way back, specifically to try the burger, which has been raved about in various articles, in blogs, etc.  So when I arrived early last night, I took a seat at the practically empty bar, and checked out the drink menu.
The head bartender just happens to be the bartender I've known for years from another McNally joint, Schiller's Liquor Bar, and he rightly steered me towards a Julia's Blush, a riff on a Jasmine (a drink I first had made for me by Kenta Goto at Pegu Club).  It's Campari heavy, with gin, lemon juice and agave taming the bitter - and it's delicious and perfect for a hot night.

It's also $15, as are all the cocktails, which in this day and age in NYC is not crazy, but once the price creeps up to $17, all bets are off. I enjoyed it as I decided what to have for my appetizer; thankfully, the menu is simple compared to the new style of menu. You know the ones -  with starters, small plates, middle sized plates, larger plates, in-between plates, pre-desserts, desserts, and on and on, until you end splitting like 7 things and paying twice as much as you used to.  Here, it's appetizers, entrees and sides - what a concept!

I decided on something cold for my appetizer, an heirloom tomato gazpacho with pickled shrimp...
And it was quite good.  Thick and rich, not too smooth, with the pickled shrimp adding a nice, well, pickled note. For my entree, the burger.  A LaFreida burger (is there a freakin' burger that isn't LaFreida's?), it's allegedly made from dry-aged trimmings from the dry-aged prime rib, which is also on the menu, along with some short-rib, which isn't. It's topped with roasted mushrooms, bacon marmalade and aged gruyere, and I'm guessing the buns are made somewhere in the McNally world - like at Balthazar bakery. It comes with fries, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle slices, and it looks like this...
It's good.  It was cooked to perfection. It's really good, as a matter of fact, the dry-aged beef adding that cheesy funkiness I happen to like. If I have one complaint, it's that the bun may be a little too big for the burger, but it was toasted and held together beautifully, and you can't ask for much more than that. And the fries - still some of my favorite fries in the city. From Balthazar, to Minetta, to Schiller's - the fries are fine.  And just to pretend I might be in France - I dip 'em in mustard - try it, you might be surprised.

The tariff for the burger and fries - $21.  Not bad, when you consider that a side of fries is $9 on this menu. Same price as the Spotted Pig's and cheaper than Minetta Tavern's Black Label entry.

It'll be interesting to me to see if Cherche Midi has a long run. As I mentioned above, I felt that one of the main reasons for Pulino's closure was specifically the location.  But now the Bowery is home to a dozen or more restaurants, all on a stretch that was unimaginable a decade ago.  The crowd is different than Schiller's was, back when it was the lower east side's hottest spot and they could squeeze 8 models into a booth made for 4.  So it remains to be seen whether the crowds will continue to come (and it was crowded by the time I left last night), with all those other choices nearby.

Me - I'm heading back with Significant Eater soon.  The menu has lots to explore, and it's the kind of food we really like to eat. My guess? On our next visit, she's gonna want that burger too.

Cherche Midi 
282 Bowery, NYC

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bagel Wars

New York City has never been short on bagels.  At least not since the early 1900s, when the International Bagel Bakers Local 338 was formed. Hundreds of bagel bakeries existed - my paternal great-grandfather was a bagel baker in the Bronx - as a matter of fact, he and my great-grandmother are buried in the Bronx Baker's Mutual Aid Society plot at a cemetery in Springfield Gardens, Queens. (I also have a seltzer-man in my background, who sold seltzer off of a horse-drawn cart, but that's another story).  Of course, hundreds of bagel bakers and bakeries meant that there eventually were competing unions, non-union shops, strikes, strife, walkouts, lockouts and all that good stuff that comes along with a good product, the labor that it takes to make a good product...and ownership. Socialism aside (and Socialism is what was behind those early labor unions and why they were important), along came Harry Lender, who basically screwed the pooch, by first mass-producing bagels (with a machine he bought, but didn't invent) and then by perfecting the slicing and freezing of his mass-produced bagel.

Eventually, all hell broke loose, bagels grew to ginormous size, and whoever first put a blueberry into a bagel should get 30 smacks with a stale bialy. When I moved to California (a long time ago), I was sad and missed bagels (and don't get me started on pizza); that is, until I found a bagel place where they actually made bagels the old-fashioned way - hand-rolled, boiled and baked - in San Jo freakin' se. I patronized them for years until I moved back to New York...the land of the giant bagel (I'm looking at you, you decrepit, old, morally, spiritually and physically bankrupt H&H) - the better to make a sandwich on - something a bagel was never meant to do, in my opinion; that's what sliced bread, baguettes, rolls, lettuce leaves (please) and god-knows-what are all for - NOT BAGELS!  

Fast forward to 2014 and within the last three months, two brand-new bagel places have opened (and I think there's another on the way).  Both claim to hand-roll, boil and then bake their bagels the old-fashioned way - even if one is Montreal style, and boils in honey water and bakes in a wood-fueled oven, and blah blah blah (I imagine old Harry is spinning in his grave about now). So, what better way to spend some time, with Significant Eater available as a taster, than by trying these two new offerings?

Let's first take a look at the products side by side. Hmmm.....

I detect some ginormity in the Baz bagel, as well as a rather generous hand with the toppings...


When put on a scale, the Baz bagel weighed anywhere from 2 - 3 ounces more than the Black Seed bagel - which was right in the ballpark of what a real bagel should weigh (just under 3 ounces). Here's an interior view for perspective...
But really, it's all about taste, isn't it?  And to be honest, to really taste-test a bagel, they should be eaten fresh - not the next day, not frozen, not whatever, but because of time constraints, I had to use the toaster.  One half of each bagel was cream cheesed, and one half was buttered...
The far-from-final analysis gave us a clear-cut favorite.  The density, the weight, the crustiness and the taste of the Black Seed bagel did it for us...though Sig Eater did note that they were a bit sweet from their honey-water dip. The wood-burning smoke is evident while the bagels are still in their bag, but not really so much in the finished product.  And the Baz bagel, which had a nice flavor, just did not have enough crust-to-crumb ratio for us...it's sandwich sized. Additionally, and don't tell Sig Eater, I tasted the bagels before they were toasted - and liked Black Seed's more that way as well.

Oh - one little thing - I still prefer the minis that Russ & Daughters sells - they're specially made for R & D by the Bagel Hole in Park Slope, and they're my favorite.  You can't make a sandwich on them, and why would you?  Bagels were always meant to be enjoyed, a half at a time, with a schmear and a bit of lox.

So don't worry, great-grandpa Harry.  Someone will get it right one of these days.