Monday, April 27, 2015

The Hass Avocado - How Hard Is This?

Has this ever happened to you?  You decide you're going to make some guacamole, so you head to the store to buy a few ripe avocados. You get to the display, fondle a few, pick out some soft ones, pay - and you're on your way. Then, you get home, start opening up those same avos, and find them pretty much disgusting on the inside, all bruised and mushy (but not in a good way); guacamole plan foiled.

You know why?  'Cause everyone else has been picking up those same damn avocados, squeezing them, deciding which ones they want, and then tossing the rest back onto the pile, as if they were baseballs. And that, as Martha My Dear won't tell you, is not a good thing.

Interestingly, they don't have that problem with fruits and other highly perishable stuff at the markets in Europe...
Bologna Market Self Explanatory
Because they tell you to keep your grubby little hands to yourself! Watch people the next time you're produce shopping, and see how they handle things. It's not in the best interest of the produce, that's for sure - and besides, most people have no idea why they're doing what they're doing to that tomato, or peach, or avocado - they just can't keep their hands off.

But back to avocados - and the reason I'm here - to show you how to buy an avocado, and always get a good one.  Now let me make the first disclaimer - I'm talking Hass avocados here, those Californian/Mexican avocados, the ones that turn purple/black when they're ripe, and are loaded with delicious, healthy fat and flavor. First discovered and grown by a California mailman, in my opinion much tastier than the big, green ones, which grow in more tropical climes.

Quick story - when I first moved to Santa Barbara, my friends and I would go to a fancy neighborhood, that at one time had some avocado orchards, but by then was basically just a bunch of mansions. Avocado trees were everywhere, and the fruit would be left to fall to the ground and rot.  In any event, we'd make the occasional avo run, and come back with bags full of them. Ahhh - the folly of youth.

Oh yeah - how to buy. The second disclaimer is - don't buy ripe Hass avocados here. I mean, they've already travelled thousands of miles, and more often than not, you'll simply be disappointed. Oh yeah, if you can get them at 3 for $1, go right ahead.  But even at my local grocery store, catering to a demographic that's not exactly the 1%, they're $1.50 to $2.00 each. You don't want to be throwing those suckers away. You're gonna have to plan ahead a bit - if you want ripe avocados for next weekend when you're watching the NY Rangers (because nothing says playoff hockey like guacamole and chips), buy them now (on Monday). And buy them like...
Unripe             Halfway Ripe             Ripe 
The one on the left. Green and hard, so even if 50 mooks have picked it up and played with it and squeezed it, it'll still be okay when it ripens. Leave it on your counter (screw the paper bag trick), in 2 days it'll look like the one in the middle, and in 3, 4 or 5 days, it'll look like the one on the right. If you pick up that one and squeeze it ever so gently, it'll have a slight give at the stem end - it's ready. Now, it can go into the fridge, in a plastic bag, and it will stay good for a week or more. When you cut it open, it'll look like this...
Perfectly Ripe Hass Avocado
All ready to be made into avocado toast guacamole. Significant Eater says I make her favorite guacamole, by the way. But sorry, you're not getting the recipe from me; all I'll say is that there are no more than 5 or 6 ingredients, including the beautiful avocado above. With not a bruise in sight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rebelle - A Touch of Paris on The Bowery

You know, if it weren't for the Bowery Mission directly across the street, or the traffic heading to and from the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, or the fact that Significant Eater and I walked to the brand-spanking new Rebelle in under 15 minutes, we could've sworn we were in Paris. I mean, not on the Boulevard Saint-Germain or anything, but maybe, just maybe, somewhere in Paris.

Originally, our plan was to walk by Rebelle, see if if was slammed, and continue walking north on the Bowery to another destination. But when we peeked in, we saw two seats open at the bar, and decided to at least stop in for a drink. Once seated (and it's worth mentioning that Rebelle actually has comfortable bar seats), cocktails in hand, our plans changed and I asked one of the très chic hostesses about a table in the dining room; the next thing you know, we're being escorted to a table into the skylit (well, during the day, anyway) back room, sitting and looking at one of the très gorgeous open kitchens I've seen in New York - like...ever.
Rebelle From Their Website
Rebelle's from the team that also runs Pearl & Ash, right next door. Good start. The chef is Daniel Eddy, who was chef de cuisine, at Spring in Paris, for a few years - yep, he really cooked there, as opposed to showing it on his resume, a la every cook and his brother claiming a stage at noma.

So what does a chef, whose been cooking with great ingredients in Paris, do when he or she gets to New York City? Well, how about cooking in that style, but using many of the great ingredients we have available? I'm certainly not one who insists that ingredients have to be local or grown on the roof; that's fairly impossible here over the winter. And now it's spring, so even if the asparagus or leeks are from California or Mexico this month, I want them. And Daniel's way with these vegetables is damn good. The juicy asparagus, served with charred young (okay, spring) onions, fiddlehead ferns, and roasted hazelnuts, are just fine - especially when they've gotten an unexpected hit of sweetness - from maple. And Significant Eater barely let me have my half of this leek dish, a delicious take on a classic (with ash!)...
Rebelle Leeks Vinaigrette
Chef Eddy's fluke (local) dish was fine, but the scallop dish was a real winner in my book. I'm pretty sure these scallops are local (they should be - we have the best), though the uni that sneaks in the dish is probably from, maybe, Maine? Who cares...
Rebelle Scallops With Sea Urchin
Main courses for us were a duck breast, perhaps a play on duck à l'orange, served with endive, orange sauce and smoked almonds. Once again, showing fine cooking chops, my magret was plainly and perfectly cooked...
Rebelle Duck Breast
Significant Eater ordered the "beet bourguignon;" not totally satisfying to two carnivores, but at least we thought it was good for us. Unfortunately, we didn't notice the menu said "beet" instead of "beef" - that's what happens when you start looking at the food menu after cocktails and that first glass of wine - and I think it would be nice if your waitperson mentioned the fact that you've just ordered beets, not beef!

This being Paris New York City, we figured why not have the special cheese course before dessert?  A big plate of sliced Comté was ours - again, it would be nice if they let you know what you're in for with the Comté - that is - $21.

Desserts are the from the hands of Jessica Yang, who has cooked at some fairly heavy-duty spots. Our Paris Brest, a dessert that is not easy to make (if my attempts in cooking school were any indication), was fantastic - and averaging the cost in with the Comté, we're talking under $15 each - you can do the math.

As reported in all the food media, and as to be expected from the Pearl & Ash crew, the wine list is, shall we say, deep. After cocktails, we enjoyed a nice half-bottle of Alsatian Riesling to go with our first course or two, and then a few by-the-glass suggestions to go with the rest of our food. Any wine geeks - this is the place for you. And on my next visit back, I plan on sitting at the bar and having some "snacks." There's a beef dish that's calling my name.

Go? Are you kidding - of course! Beautiful room, great food, great wine list, nice staff - what are you waiting for? In my opinion, Rebelle's already running on all cylinders...it should only get better.

Rebelle

Thursday, April 16, 2015

California Dreamin'

Every once in a while, California pops into my mind.  It's not because I lived there for 18 years, back in the go-go days of the 80s and 90s.  Maybe it's because every day I read another article about the coming droughtpocalypse; when I first moved out west, it was to Santa Barbara - then in the midst of a 100-year drought - I think those happen every now and then (in what's basically a desert).   And believe me, when you're standing in downtown Santa Barbara, watching the hills burn, smelling smoke and feeling the heat, it's weird.  So don't get me wrong - I think we're fucking up the earth really badly, but there are already enough people talking about that, and "food" blogs are supposed to be somewhat fun, no?

Where was I?  Oh yeah, California. Specifically, San Francisco and the Bay area. Since I ended up spending a long time in Silicon Valley, after 2 years in Santa Barbara, I like to return to the city by the bay, whenever I get a chance. So we jumped at the opportunity last month, to celebrate Significant Eater's b'day and our belated anniversary, and found ourselves in a rental car at SFO, on a beautiful, sunny Wednesday afternoon.

Here's where we head first - at least when it's dungeness crab season...
Swan
Because there's nothing quite like this...
Crab Louie
Just a big old pile of freshly steamed dungeness crab (maybe my favorite crustacean), topped with what's called Louie dressing,  and a big hunk of sourdough bread...ahhhh. There'll be a line, most likely, but it's worth the wait for Swan's impeccable seafood. They were out of uni this afternoon, but there were still some excellent oysters to be had, and those, along with the above Louie, should help you forget about your early morning flight.

After a nice break at our Union Square hotel (The Rex), and a couple of rye old fashioneds in their cute little bar, we were off to find Kin Khao, Pim Techamuanvivit's lauded Thai eatery. Pim is an old web friend from the early days - she posted on some of the first food boards and also Chez Pim; now, she seems to be busy running a restaurant. And a damn good one, too...
Kin Khao
Those chicken wings were great, but the highlight for me was the curry, with rabbit and rabbit meatballs. It's spicy, so be careful.

The next morning, we got an early start, since we were headed to Pescadero for lunch.. But we wanted to make our traditional visit here...
The Gate
Amazingly, I got Significant Eater to walk almost halfway across the bridge. I pretend I'm not scared of heights, so this was a first for both of us, and it goes to prove that it's never too late to try something you never thought you'd do.

Birthday dinner this night was at Chris Cosentino's new place, Cockscomb. We've been Cosentino fans for a while, at least since eating at the now-closed Incanto several years ago. Cockscomb's a big, high-ceilinged space, in a much friendlier location than Noe Valley, at least if you're staying in North Beach/Union Square, etc. It's got a great open kitchen, and chef was working the pass. A nice selection of oysters led into this bruschetta topped with uni and Iberico lardo...
Cockscomb Uni Bruschetta
I could easily eat the quail I had as a main on a weekly basis, and Sig Eater proclaimed her steak to be one of the better ones she'd had in a long time; must be that big, open fire they cook on.

Breakfast the next morning was at another one of our favorites, Plow. Plow's up on Potrero Hill, and if you're sporting a vehicle (it is California, after all), breakfast or lunch here is a must. It can be healthy or not - that's your choice. We usually go half and half; that is, we shared avocado toast (it is California, after all), and also a delicious house-made sausage with eggs, home-fries, and coffee cake to top it off. The service is sweet and earnest, and you'll thank me for this recommend.

We kinda skipped lunch; okay, not really -  lunch became a sandwich and snacks from here...
Ferry Market Building
Which actually was a sort of disappointment, only because I couldn't cook with these...
Morels
Oh well, maybe next time.  For now, these loomed ahead...
Filbert Steps
390 steps up - a good way to burn calories, right? The views are also pretty spectacular as you make the climb. There's the Malloch Building, used by Bogey as a refuge in the classic film noir, Dark Passage...
1360 Montgomery Street
And there's also...
Coit Tower
Bring water for the climb, and if you're lucky, the parrots of Telegraph Hill/ North Beach will be out and about - they often cavort in the trees on and around the Filbert Steps. From the top of Telegraph Hill, we made our way, walking, back to the hotel, first passing this locavore fish seller in Chinatown...
Stockton Street
I guess San Francisco's not that much different from NYC after all. Though I'd sooner eat a fish from the SF bay or ocean than I would one from the East River, but that's just me; YMMV. A shower, a nap, a cocktail - and time for dinner at - The Progress.

The Progress is the sister restaurant (and right next-door) to James Beard winner, State Bird Provisions. They offer a prix-fixe menu in the dining room, and a la carte service at the bar...we chose the bar, because, well, we like bars.   Long-time San Francisco restaurant critic Michael Bauer reviewed The Progress, with much better pictures, back in February. I'll defer to him, but I sure wish we had a place like this (or like State Bird, for that matter), here in New York. We had a fine time, with fabulous people working behind the bar - and great food.

Don't forget coffee; San Francisco is a damn good coffee town. We always hit up one of our favorites, Four Barrel, on Valencia Street in The Mission. Sig Eater will have one of these...
Macchiato at Four Barrel
While I go straight for the double espresso. I also bring home a couple of bags of beans, which I'm just now finishing.

This trip, we discovered a new (to us) great view spot at, you guessed it - Buena Vista Park. We approached from the back side, the entrance at the top of Duboce Avenue; if you're willing to schlep up a bit, and you're lucky, you might see this...
Golden Gate Fog
And what do you know? As we headed to our next stop, look who showed up...
Parrots of Duboce Triangle
The parrots of North Beach now appear to also have spun off a flock in the area of Buena Vista Park. This guy was giving me the eye...
Wary Parrot
Our next stop - a little time enjoying the views from the Marina Green...
Marina Green View
And...
The Rock
Don't forget, even though it's beautiful and sunny out, it may also be...
Sig Eater Enjoying the Weather
Chilly and windy. It's San Francisco, dammnit, but Sig Eater is well prepared...layers are important here.

Our final meal (well, we did have breakfast the next morning) of this whirlwind trip was at Trou Normand, located in the classic 1925 Pacific Telephone building. Trou Normand does the in-house charcuterie thing, butchering whole animals, so along with a nice roasted pork shoulder and a fine Tagliatelle Bolognese, this "small board" hit the spot with our cocktails...
Trou Normand Charcuterie Assortment
On the way back to our hotel, we popped into North Beach fave Comstock Saloon, for a well-made Sazerac. After all, we deserved it, don't you think?
Until next time, San Francisco.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In California, A is For...Carciofi

Artichokes. California artichokes. Coming into their peak season now, though they're available all year long, the artichoke is a favorite vegetable of mine. It's a favorite vegetable of Significant Eater's.  If we could be any place right now, eating artichokes, it would be...well, to be honest, it would be Rome. I mean, how can you resist Roman carciofi alla Giudia?
Carciofi alla Giudia at Sora Margharita
Or carciofi alla Romana?
Carciofi alla Romana at Armando al Pantheon
You can't, can you? But if you can't be in Rome, what to do? Well, there's always California - and that's where Significant Eater and I spent a few nights last week, celebrating a birthday and an anniversary, with a short get-away to San Francisco.

On our first full day, we hopped into our rental and took a drive along the coast, one of our favorite things to do. A mere hour away from the city (in either direction, actually), and you're practically in another era (if you stay on the coast, that is; otherwise, you're in Silicon fucking Valley). On this day, we headed south - Pescadero was our destination, and this was our objective...
California artichoke growing behind Duarte's
The California artichoke. California grows literally all of our artichokes, and the main growing areas are along the coast, with Castroville, in Monterey County, the center of it all...as a matter of fact, Castroville calls itself the "artichoke center of the world" (though Romans will argue, 'cause they'll argue about everything). And that's enough info.

In Pescadero, there's a 100+ year-old restaurant called Duarte's Tavern, and their specialty, Sig Eater's favorite, and the reason we took the drive, is cream of artichoke soup...
Duarte's Tavern's Cream of Artichoke Soup
I used to make a mean cream of artichoke soup. I also used to be able to get nice, meaty artichokes at 3 for $1...so making soup was thrifty. Now, at $3, $4 or $5 a pop, I like my artichokes to provide more fun - and even to last a little longer. For instance, I found these beauties last week at Whole Foods, for $3 each...
Big-ass California artichokes
And I made steamed artichokes, because that's also how we like 'em. You see those little thorns at the end of each leaf? They hurt - be careful when, well - just be careful. Pick off the crappy leaves, then cut a bit off the bottom; the stem is edible once peeled - don't waste it. Cut off the top, about an inch or two down - use a serrated knife - it's easier. Trim each leaf with a good kitchen scissors. Rinse well and turn upside down to drain. When you're done, they should look like...
Trimmed artichokes
I like to stuff thin slices of garlic in between the leaves before steaming - a good dozen or so per choke. Then they get stood up in a steamer, sprinkled with salt, drizzled with olive oil, and steamed until tender. No, I don't know how long it'll take, but if you can pull a leaf out easily, that usually means they're done. You can also slide a paring knife into the base of the artichoke - if it meets little resistance, done. For serving to loved ones, and even those you like just a little, it's nice to take the choke out. Do I have to describe how to do that - it's a pain in the ass, but a grapefruit spoon works well.

There, you're all done. Oh - you'll also need a nice dipping sauce for the leaves and the heart  - here I'm serving them with a nice lemon and Spanish Pimentón aioli. Better known as Hellmann's mayo with lemon juice and smoked Spanish paprika all stirred together - it works.
Steamed artichokes with dip
What are you waiting for, a trip to Rome? Go on - steam an artichoke now!

Steamed Artichokes - A Recipe

As many artichokes as people. Then, read the post above.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hail WASSAiL

I've been complaining (yeah, yeah, I know - what a surprise), about the lack of places to drink good ciders in New York City, for quite some time. Sure - I know there are a few places, each offering a few ciders, around town. There's Huertas, on 1st Avenue; Donostia, on Avenue B; and, you know, maybe some others that I'm either forgetting - or never even knew about in the first place.

Oh, there is also a place in Astoria, that I'd heard/read about over the years, called The Queens Kickshaw - and it easily had the deepest cider list of all - but...Astoria? I mean, we like to occasionally take the drive out to Astoria, hit a Greek supermarket, maybe one of the classic old school Greek restaurants, but it's not exactly in our regular rotation. And I'm certainly not driving there if I'm going to be getting my drink on - I stopped that shit years ago.

So imagine how great it was to read about The Queens Kickshaws' owners going about opening a place on the lower east side - literally a 10-minute walk away. The wait seemed never-ending; the first story I read about it was last August, quoting an opening date sometime around January, 2015 (but we know how that usually goes).

And then there was breathless coverage on all those, you know, food sites. And word-of-mouth. And an invitation to the "soft-opening," via a connected friend (we weren't able to attend). And then finally, this week, WASSAiL opened! Immediately, Significant Eater and I happily found ourselves 2 seats at the bar, right next to another happily ensconced old friend.

I will never complain again. OK - I will never complain about not having a cider bar in New York City again.  Because WASSAiL is the cider bar of my dreams. With somewhere between 80 and 100 ciders available, including about a dozen on draught and a bunch more by the glass out of bottles, I'm a little worried about spending more time here than I should.

About the cider - way more than I could've hoped for. Looking at this list, it's obvious I've got a lot to learn. About the space - really nice.  About the staff - from the owners, to the bartenders, to the manager, to the hosts - pleasant, professional, and excited about sharing their knowledge of cider. About the food - haven't tried any yet, but I think cider matches up wonderfully with food. In California last week, we drank some fine Oregon cider with oysters, and it was a perfect match. About the location - Orchard Street. Orchard - get it?!

We tried Craigies, which was a little locker-roomie, even for me. Nicol. Millstone - tart and delicious. Pacory Poire. Jurancon Sec. And Trabanco. Significant Eater even had a Stone Fence, which is usually a shot of rum in a glass of cider - almost a boilermaker, basically. (Here is David Wondrich's perfect description of How to Make a Stone Fence.) Her's was a shot of rye. And she liked it just fine.

Heading back - ASAP. And, if you like cider just a wee bit, you should too. Watch out though - we just might be sitting at the bar.

WASSAiL Millstone Cider.

WASSAil - 162 Orchard St., NYC  (646) 918-6835

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cosme

What's better than writing a blog post on the same day as the NY Times' review hits the internets? Either it shows that I sort of know a little bit about something, or that I know absolutely nothing about, well, everything. 

By sheer coincidence, we ate at Cosme last night. Now, I pretty much know next to nothing about Mexican food; I only know what I think tastes good  - and what I like to eat. So the scallop and jicama aguachile was great...
Scallop Aguachile - look at that brunoise!
And we inhaled the seafood stuffed avocado, though I thought it tasted like nothing so much as a classic shrimp cocktail - unsurprising, since its sauce is composed of ketchup and horseradish...
Stuffed avocado - seafood vuelve a la vida.
There's an interesting dichotomy between those two plates, as the stuffed avo is quite rustic, whereas the scallop dish had a brunoise of cucumber so perfect, it brought back sweaty memories of cooking school, although brunoise was nowhere near as annoying as tournée.

And yes, Pete, those tortillas are fine, especially wrapped around the barbacoa of mushrooms and squash, with hoja santa providing a great, complex flavor profile - I counted maybe a half-dozen types of mushrooms, some barely there, they were so tiny...
Mushroom and squash barbacoa.
Significant Eater, due to her many years spent in the desert southwest, had to have the purple corn pozole with pork jowl...and who am I to argue - she gave it a mighty thumbs up...
Purple corn pozole with pork jowl.
By the way, the guacamole to snack on at the start is pretty good, though Sig Eater proclaimed my home-made version to be better.  

Dessert, of course, had to be the by-now famous husk meringue with corn mousse.  Strange stuff to this Jewish guy from Long Island - and strangely good.

This much I also know- we liked the room, where you actually have some personal space, and the service was gracious and knowledgeable. The one cocktail we tried was the Expat Martini; it was chintzy, it was served in a ridiculous glass, and it failed to come with the advertised house pickled tomatillo. See for yourself...
Chintzy Expat Martini Sans Tomatillo.
There are a number of wines by the glass, a bunch of beer, both on draught and by the bottle or can, and a deep wines-by-the-bottle list. That'll be nice to explore, because after I do some research about the foods of Mexico, we're sure to head back.

Cosme - 35 E. 21st St., NYC

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sacre Blue, Smoke

It'd been a while since we'd been to Blue Smoke, and even longer since we'd been to the original, flagship, first, whatever, Blue Smoke, on 27th Street, in the Flatiron neighborhood.  I think our last visit was to the Blue Smoke located in Battery Park City, and that was some time ago. But this past weekend, we attended a birthday party for one of Significant Eater's cousins, which was thrown at Blue Smoke #1; a nice, small party, 30-40 people, in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon.

If you don't know Blue Smoke, suffice to say it was among the first of the big barbecue restaurants in NYC (and yeah, Virgil's, in Times Square, predated it). There were smaller operators back in the day - I recall a great place out in Long Island  City, called Pearson's Texas BBQ, but bbq had always been but a blip on the NYC restaurant radar.  Enter Danny Meyer, Union Square Hospitality Group, and The Big Apple BBQ Block Party, which brings BBQ specialists from all over the country to Madison Square Park and its environs every June - this year will be the 13th year for the block party - it started the same year that Blue Smoke opened.

In its earliest days, Blue Smoke was uneven. They had to learn how to use the smokers, compounded with the scrubbers, which were a necessary evil due to NYC's, well, smoke and fire laws. This isn't exactly bbqing on a Weber in your backyard - something I love to do, even though I lack both a Weber and a backyard. But every once in a while at Blue Smoke, you'd get a great rib, or a hunk of wonderful smoked pork, and all would be good with the world.

Of course, once a place is successful in NYC, many places open offering similar stuff. Bbq became a "trend," and places popped up everywhere. Some are quite good; some, not so much. Pitmasters come and go - you know the story. As a matter of fact, a while ago Blue Smoke's original pitmaster, partner and co-founder of the BBQ Block Party, Kenny Callaghan, left the organization.

So where would they head? Well, from the food we ate at the birthday party, it appears they're headed in a fine direction.  The new Executive Chef is Jean-Paul Bourgeois, and that's a great name, no? The menu has been condensed a bit - there used to be a bunch of different rib styles...they're no longer there, and that's just fine with me. Because most everything we got to taste made us think we have to come back more often.

Roasted oysters were delicious, not too much topping, allowing the flavor of the oyster to shine through, touched by smoke. On the half shell, these same oysters were well-shucked, fresh and briny. I've always had a soft-spot for the chipotle chicken wings at Blue Smoke (well, wings anywhere) - these are still great. I tasted the kale salad, but don't know why. On the other hand, the gem lettuce and citrus salad was fine, as were the cornbread, deviled eggs and assorted sides like brussels sprouts slaw and butter beans with bacon.

Of course, the star of the show is 'cue, and based on the 'cue Sig Eater and I tried on our recent trip to Nashville, I'll take Blue Smoke's any day. I'm not a huge fan of bbq chicken - I've never had one that was transcendent. And maybe the brisket here could use a touch more smoke, but I'll leave that to the Texas 'cue experts. All I know is that the rack of ribs that was placed on our end of the table was just great. Smoky, tender and just chewy enough from the right amount of time spent hanging out with smoke and heat, these ribs could hold their own with the best I've eaten. And for this alone, we 'll be heading back to Blue Smoke soon...or at least as soon as we need our next bbq fix.