Monday, June 20, 2016

Crazy for Le Coucou

Le Coucou is the new restaurant (opened for reals last week) collaboration between restaurateur Stephen Starr and Chef Daniel Rose of Spring, an acclaimed restaurant located in Paris. That backstory need not be explained here; suffice to say that Significant Eater and I have had the pleasure of dining at both the tiny Spring 1 (once), and the more ambitious Spring 2 (a number of times), and it was always a fun and delicious time.

Plenty of restaurants open in New York City; often they come with lots and lots of hype. Le Coucou is certainly one of them, as the PR bandwagon got rolling a while ago. And normally we like to give restaurants at least a little while to get their footing, but with this one we just couldn't wait, so off we were to Lafayette Street - on night two of service. I didn't even know if we'd get a table, since we were sans ressies, but we figured we could just grab a cocktail, even if we couldn't have dinner. But arriving early, we were offered a table by the charming Maître D' and lovely hostesses and hosts, though we did have a drink first, in their rather intimate lounge area.

Now, I'd introduced myself and Sig Eater to Daniel at Spring years ago, as a friend of a friend. And again, when we were lucky enough to dine at the new Spring. But here, even before I was seated, Daniel (who had zero idea we were coming to have dinner) was by our side, greeting me by name and with hugs and cheek kisses - you know, that lovely French way. And even though he looked like he wanted nothing more than to pass out on the extremely comfortable banquette, he returned to our table any number of time during our meal, to make sure we were enjoying our dinner, to see if there was anything we'd like him to "whip up." Basically the consummate host.

French has been seeing a serious revival in NYC over the past couple of years, and that makes us happy, as we love French cooking.  I mean, one need look no further than Rebelle, or Racines, or MIMI, or Chevalier, or...well, you get the picture. And here, with classic French technique executed almost flawlessly, we were in heaven. One of our favorite dishes is a simple Poireaux, poached leeks served in a bracing vinaigrette. Here, chef adds a little something extra, topping the leeks with sweet, roasted hazelnuts. What about fried Delaware eel? Normally, my eel exposure is limited to sushi bars, where the earthy eel get a sweetish topping. At Le Coucou, the Anguilles frites au sarassin are as light as a feather, the eel's buckwheat batter playing well with curried vinaigrette and a subtle brunoise of citrus.

Mimolette is a French cheese that as recently as a few years ago had its import halted by the food police, aka the FDA. It's back, and here it graces Asperges au vinaigre de bois. It's a simple lightly-roasted asparagus salad, made special by a smoked wood vinegar sourced somewhere in the wilds of Canada.
Asparagus salad
One of the dishes chef sent to our table was a knockout - a whole sea bream stuffed with lobster - and my guess is the menu is changing daily, because as I look while writing this, it's not on the online menu now. But here's a picture anyway.
Lobster stuffed sea bream
 A classic of the French culinary canon is Quenelle de brochet. As Julia says in Mastering the Art I, "A quenelle, for those who are not familiar with this delicate triumph of French cooking, is pâte à choux with a purée of raw fish...formed into ovals or cylinders and poached in a seasoned liquid. Served hot in good sauce, quenelles make a distinguished first course. A good quenelle is light as a soufflé..."
Quenelle de brochet, sauce américaine
Yes it is. And indeed it was. Our main course, which we shared because we wanted to save room for cheeses, was Bourride, a Provencal fish stew that might be known in places like Nice as bouillabaisse. Here, the fabulous fish fumet is stocked with halibut, mussels, clams, and Santa Barbara spot prawns. Served alongside, a thick slice of toasted baguette, slathered with aïoli. Suck the head of those prawns, dip the bread, and pretend you're somewhere other than Chinatown - it's easy enough, once inside, because this is a lovely space.

Our 3-cheese selection (all American) was swoon-worthy to Significant Eater, and served alongside was an accompaniment of 3 different beverages, which I don't really know if everyone gets - or if Daniel was just being extra nice to us.

Speaking of nice, the service staff is super. There was a horde of people working on both the floor and in the kitchen. The front of house people were professional, yet casual. There have a been a few notable restaurant openings this year, where service has been a bit "clumsy." Not here, where everyone is on the same page, and that enhances the experience greatly.

What else can I write? Well, I am sad we didn't get to enjoy dessert - we just ate too damn much, but next time! And while we were unexpectedly treated like old friends, with 3 comped dishes from the kitchen and a couple of glasses of champagne when we sat down at our table, I looked around the restaurant any number of times, and everyone sure looked happy. The wine list is extensive - maybe that's part of the reason? There are tablecloths on the tables. There are comfortable chairs. Reservations are taken. All grown-up stuff. But most of all, once you taste this cooking, I think you're going to be happy as well.

Le Coucou

Monday, March 14, 2016

One Chicken. 17 Meals.

One chicken - 17 how the hell is that possible?

Quite frankly: it's not. Well, maybe it is, but you'd for sure have to eat some pretty small portions. The whole 17 meals thing - I just thought it might be a good way to get your attention.

In any event. lemme show you how many dishes I recently stretched a single, high-quality bird into, using some pantry and fridge items I always have around...
Roasted chicken
First, I roasted the chicken on a vertical roaster, while a bunch of cut up potatoes cooked in the drippings below. The next day, I pulled the remaining meat off the bird...
Salad and stock
Which I made into a chicken salad. The bones (along with a few chicken scraps saved in the freezer) made a quart and a half of a nice, rich stock. Once you've got stock...
Making risotto
You can use it to make risotto; in this case, mushroom risotto, with both fresh and dried mushrooms (the soaking liquid from the reconstituted dried 'shrooms also goes into the making of the risotto)...
Mushroom risotto
The mushroom risotto was a big hit with Significant Eater. I always make a little more risotto than the 2 of us can eat in one sitting, because...
Frying risotto pancakes
With the leftover risotto, I make risotto "pancakes." And who doesn't like a nice, crispy rice pancake...
Risotto "pancakes"
 Served alongside a tart, peppery arugula salad?

Not quite 17 meals, but that one bird sure made for some nice eating. Next up, going to the source (almost) for a real chicken.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Kosher Ish

Every once in a while (make that every once in a great while), I get the urge to eat some real kosher deli. Of course, I could just walk up to Katz's Deli, or head up to the 2nd Avenue Deli, but Katz's isn't really kosher and the 2nd Avenue Deli isn't really on 2nd Avenue (in either of its damn locations), so that knocks them out.

For a number of years I'd heard and read about a couple of far-flung kosher delis in the Bronx - though we'd never been to any of them. So this past weekend Significant Eater and I took a road trip; there were 2 delis I had in mind, located within 10 minutes of one another - Loeser's Old Fashioned Kosher Deli and Liebman's Delicatessen.

Now I'm not gonna get into a whole discussion about kosher and the laws which govern kashruth - it would take a few battling rabbis and other scholarly types, with way more knowledge than this lapsed Jew, to do that discussion justice. Suffice to say that I was surprised, when checking out the two Bronx delis for their hours of operation, that both are open on Saturday...the Jewish day of rest. Evidently, pastrami and corned beef rest for no man, though Loeser's is closed on Sundays - go figure. So, we ended up here...
Liebman's Menu
At any real Jewish deli, your waitperson will always bring to your table (if it's not already on your table) a little snack. An antipasto or hors d'oeuvre, if you will. And Liebman's doesn't skimp on those...
Cole Slaw and Pickles
The pickles were just fine, nice and sour. The cole slaw you shouldn't know from (look at that barely wilted cabbage) - let's just say my cole slaw kicks its ass.

But our goal was to try some other dishes from the Jewish deli canon; in this case, we ordered kishka (aka stuffed derma) with gravy, because it you tried to eat this stuff without gravy, they'd have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on you. Even with gravy, we're talking some ummmmm, heavy, dry food - the stuff that my ancestors existed on - when they weren't being raped by Cossacks. Then there was the latke (aka potato pancake), which didn't measure up to mine or my Bronx grandmother's; grandma could make a boatload of delicious latkes in her small kitchen, without any food processor bullshit - one of the few things she cooked while we'd actually stand around the stove (otherwise, you wanted to be as far out of her reach as possible).

But truth be told, we were really here for the meat. While I'm a fan of all the potential meats in a Jewish deli, including tongue, Significant Eater turns up her, well, nose, at tongue. So we decided on the 2-meat combo - pastrami and corned beef, on rye...
Half Sandwich
And how did it stack up? The pastrami had nice flavor (milder than what I enjoy, but Sig Eater liked the spice), and was too lean for my liking; when I go to Katz's, I generally order "moist" pastrami; in the case of pastrami, moist means fatty, the deckle portion of the cut. And the corned beef, to be honest, was a little bland and dry. But hey, the rye bread was nice and fresh, so the sandwich had that going for it.

Am I glad we went? Yeah, sure. Will we head back to the Bronx for more pastrami? Perhaps - but next time to try Loeser's.

Oh - a few week ago I was out in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn...
My Brisket House Pastrami Sandwich
Where I got to try the pastrami at My Brisket House. Nothing kosher about this joint at all, but guess what? The pastrami was better than Liebman's. And the rye bread - feh.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Wu's Wonton King

Wu's Wonton King stands where Wing Shoon once was (East Broadway and Rutgers streets). Before Wing Shoon, there was Wing Shing. Before that, the Garden Cafeteria.

We went back (Significant Eater was hoping for the ghost of Trotsky) to Wu's Wonton King for lunch yesterday; what we had was pretty tasty.  Good enough roast meats; by now I've tried the roast pig, the roast pork, the duck and the soy sauce chicken.  The surprise was a bowl of what they call "Bone Soup Noodle," in their "Special Noodle" category.  It's a different prep of broth, made with actual bones (beef, pork, and chicken) allegedly (per our nice waiter) cooked for a long time, as opposed to the 95% salt and MSG broth used in their "HK Style Noodle Soup." And the noodles are quite ramen-y, so they have a nice bite to them (though they will let you select another style of noodle). The soup is cloudy (once again, think ramen) and extremely tasty, without being overly salty.

A giant platter of gai lan ($11, with about 6 cloves of minced garlic) was properly cooked - and evenly sliced, so we didn't have to wrestle with long spears of this almost-bitter-enough vegetable.

Nice to have them in the neighborhood, and there is plenty more to try on the menu, including dishes like Rack of Lamb (at $21!) and the ubiquitous Butt G So White (at $29), which I might have to try just to figure out what the hell it is.

Oh - for those who wonder (and for those who take pictures) - the inside of the place is bright - think dining on the surface of the sun, and you've got the right idea.

Wu's Wonton King - 165 EAST BROADWAY, NYC

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Acme Smoked Fish...Beep Beep

Remember Wile E. Coyote? Constantly trying to outwit (and perhaps dine on) the poor Roadrunner. Mr. Coyote used all sorts of tricks in his quest, all to no avail. But at least he shopped at the right place...
Wile E. Coyote - thanks to Boomerang
Yes...Acme. But his Acme is probably not this one, the one and only Acme Smoked Fish Corporation, of Brooklyn, New York...
Acme Smoked Fish from the outside
If you ever find yourself at this intersection, in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, on a Friday morning only...
Keep your eyes open for this chalkboard...
Acme's Chalkboard
Now, once you've found the door - step inside this massive, refrigerated warehouse, purveyor of smoked fish and other assorted goodies. Yes, they supply much of the smoked fish to various retail outlets around town - and around the world. Look at the happy shoppers (they actually are happy, I think)...
Happy (?) shoppers
I'm happy when I see piles of this stuff...
Piles of smoked salmon
I ended up coming home with 3 kinds of smoked salmon, belly lox, whitefish, sable, herring, and other assorted goodies. It's a fun Friday outing, easy enough to get to via subway.  And even easier by car, with lots of parking. But don't worry if you can't get there on a Friday morning. I'm pretty sure they're ready to ship...
Acme shipping department
Acme Smoked Fish Corporation

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Steak on the Lake...or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation

This is a public service announcement...Vegetarians and vegans - turn away! I'm gonna be talking (mostly) about beef; in this particular instance - steak.

On Labor Day weekend, Significant Eater and I were lucky enough to spend time at our friends' home, on a beautiful lake, somewhere in the Adirondacks. And when he (a cook) and I (a cook) were discussing some of what we might indulge ourselves (and the wives) with over the weekend, steak popped to the top of our list.  As an aside, I'm always looking for a great steak, to be cooked at home or a friends' home; one of the reasons for that is that if you go out in NYC for a great steak, you can expect to spend a small fortune. Peter Luger's, a place many people think of when they think steak, fails to show prices on their online menu. Spark's Steak House, perhaps as well-know for its steaks as for its murders...
Paul C. problem outside Sparks - NY Daily News 
No prices. The Palm? No go. Suffice to say that if you plan on indulging in a beautiful steak, at one of the well-known steakhouses, plan on at least $50 per diner, just for your meat. But let's look at another way to enjoy a great steak.

First, procure your beef. Make sure it's at least of "choice" quality, though prime and various aged cuts are easy enough to find these days. Make sure it's good and thick (maybe 2"?) and nicely marbled.  It can be a rib steak, a rib eye, a T-bone, a Porterhouse, a strip, whatever you like the most - after all, you're cooking the damn thing. Then...
Build yourself a freakin' hot fire on one side of your grill (ok, I realize many of you don't have grills. I don't. Use your imagination and pretend you do). Let the grill heat up once that flame dies down and you've spread the coals out. Scrupulously clean the grill. Be careful - it's hot! Place giant steaks over the fire for a minute or two. Turn them and cook for another minute or two. Turn them again - once they get a nice char, move them to the other side of the grill (yeah, I know - it's called indirect grilling). Cover that sucker and cook the steaks till they're done. (I don't know how you like your steaks cooked. I do know a good meat thermometer will help  - cook them until they're about 7° - 10°F less than what you want to finish with, as they'll continue cooking while they rest.) They may look like this...
Steaks - Done! Negroni in background.
Now, enjoy your Negroni (or Martini, or Manhattan) while those steaks rest. A good 15 minutes for these Porterhouses was how long we let them rest. Then...
Porterhouses sliced up real nice.
Slice them up. Everyone gets some strip and some filet. The bones are pretty great to gnaw on also. Leftovers?  That's simple...
Steak salad.
Steak salads for lunch the next day are a nice treat, no?

But don't think all we did was cook steaks. No - one evening we were enlisted to do a clam "boil" for about 2 dozen folks. Bushes of clams, corn, potatoes, kielbasa, and shrimp - all simply boiled in salty lake water. And then dumped onto tables covered with newspaper...
Clam boil.
That was fun. And my buddy's smoker got a workout too...
Smoker in action.
Ribs and duck in smoker.
There was plenty of time to relax. Sunset cocktails on the lake. Star gazing at night without any city lights nearby is pretty great. There's this view of their house as you approach via boat - the only access...
Lake house.
Everyone has dogs, and they like the boat rides too...
Pepper and Otis.
And at the end of the day...

Not a bad way to spend a long, summer weekend, right? Thanks, J & J!

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Clafoutis Season - What Are You Waiting For?

Clafoutis is a French, fruit-filled (dark cherries are classic) dessert, sorta like a cross between a baked pancake and a flan. I was first exposed to clafoutis while learning how to "professionally" cook, at Peter Kump's NY Cooking School, way up on E. 92nd St. When I say "way up," I'm not kidding. The school was in an old brownstone, and to get to class you first had to climb a few flights of steep, rickety stairs; once up the stairs, a whole new world awaited. That world included, among many other revelations, clafoutis.

Fast forward a few, ummmm, decades - and I'm reading one of my favorite food writer/Francophile's web site, and whaddya know? David Lebovitz is writing about clafoutis!  David gave up the restaurant grind years ago (after many years in the kitchens of Chez Panisse), and has since published a number of fine cookbooks, including 2 favorites of mine, The Perfect Scoop (really one of the great ice cream books ever) and My Paris Kitchen. And - as the title of his most recent book states, he lives in Paris full-time.

The timing of the clafoutis piece was perfect; I had a few pounds of beautifully ripe NY cherries in my fridge, and was wondering what to do with them. Weirdly, I can't eat raw cherries like I used to when I lived and worked in Silicon Valley, California. Back then, I would race out of work at lunch time during cherry season, to buy a few pounds of the best Bings I'd ever tasted, from C. J. Olsen's cherry stand, in Sunnyvale. Now, I eat a few at a time, and I'm happy. Or, I cook them.

I wanted to follow David's recipe exactly, and indeed I did, other than adding a pinch of salt to the batter. But I didn't want to turn on my regular oven (it is the middle of summer), so instead I used my Cuisinart Combi oven - and because of its size limitations, I made two separate clafoutis, which meant I could experiment a little. First one was in an enameled, cast-iron gratin dish...
Pitted cherries
Then, you pour the batter over...
Ready for baking
 And bake, per David's recipe, at 375°F, till done...
Clafoutis #1, with spoonful gone
This was quite good, but I wanted to try a slightly lower temp, in a different type of dish, so...
Pitted cherries in cazuela
With batter...
Ready for baking
And baked, per my adjustment to a slightly lower 350°F...
Clafoutis #2
We actually liked the second one a little more; I found it a touch more tender without the browning that occurred at the higher oven temp. But both were delicious.

Now, cherry season doesn't last forever. Actually, it's really short, especially using local stuff. But I think the clafoutis would work just fine with frozen cherries. And other fruits? Well, I did find some apricots in the market last week, and they worked out just fine!
Apricot clafoutis
A great thing about clafoutis is that it can be served warm, room temp, or even out of the fridge - you can even make it the day before! Thanks, David!