Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fruits and Veggies on the Lower East Side - Ruby's

Our neighborhood is an interesting one. Some call it the Lower East Side (which it is), others call it Chinatown (which it isn't, but sorta has become), others just say "WTF?" because when you say you live on East Broadway, or at Clinton and Grand, it's sorta off the radar. Yes, it's below Delancey - it's Crossing Delancey, allright, it's just crossing it the other way. BTW, if I find a cabbie who actually knows where my address is, I'll tip him or her double.

But it's a great, historical neighborhood (really, it is called the Lower East Side Historical District - who knew?) - where many of us can say our grandparents or great-grandparents first settled in this country. I know mine did, because if I hear the story of how my great-grandmother would cook dinner for 100 people (she cooked for more and more people every time I hear the story; it started out that she was cooking for 3 people and a cat) on a one-burner stove in a 4th floor cold-water walk-up flat - well, you get the picture, don't you?

It's a neighborhood of great diversity, and all along Grand St. there are large cooperative apartment buildings housing almost 5,000 families. Once known as Coop Village, the first of the buildings (Amalgamated) was completed around 1930, and the final 4 buildings, known as Seward Park Housing Corp. were completed around 1960; they were all built to provide affordable housing for the working class, something that was in short supply at the time. Much info on the web - check it out if you like.

Now, as far as food shopping goes, there are many options. Chinatown is a stone's throw away - though I mostly avoid it due to my, ahem, stringent sanitary requirements...if you go, caveat emptor... and save your cards and letters folks, just take a walk down Grand St. some night, between Bowery and Allen, and lemme know what you think. I'll often take a long-ish walk up to the Union Square Green Market - a couple of times a week when the weather's nice. There's a brilliant new Whole Foods on Houston at the Bowery. The Essex St. Market, around since 1940, is a 5 minute walk and I have a great butcher (Jeffrey) there as well as Saxelby cheeses and a decent greengrocer.

But sometimes, yeah sometimes, I just need to walk out the door and pick up a few things. Some fruit (who can forget that great scene in Godfather, Part 1, when the Don says to Fredo, "I just want to get some fruit, Fredo" and then takes six shots - and lived). So lucky us, we've got this...

Yes, it's Ruby's, at 400 Grand St., and if you look closely at that awning you'll see it says (or said at one time) FRUITS VEGETABLES. And those are indeed fruits and vegetables out front - looks like some lemons and limes from here, usually at the best prices around. Inside, you'll find those foods of affliction that I love so much - iceberg lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers (they call 'em pickles), green peppers, onions, cabbage and even the occasional cauliflower. In an ode to the times, they sometimes have ginger on hand. Surprisingly, they often have great deals on winter fruits from afar - pineapples, mangoes, papaya, cantaloupe, bananas - and as I mentioned above - a couple of varieties of oranges, tangeloes, tangerines and grapefruit - all at rock bottom prices.

The greatest thing about Ruby's is the guys who run it...take a close look above, just inside the door and you can see one of them. I think there are 3 or 4 of them total, and their average age is around 80. Since they've been working together for the last 50 years, they hate each other. That, combined with the inability to communicate with many of their customers, leads to some rather amusing shouting matches...the batttle of the ancient cultures, as I like to refer to it. Because there really is nothing funnier than old Jews screaming at each other while screaming at old Chinese people. Trust me on this. And c'mon down to the Lower East Side and SHOP AT RUBY's - it's a dying breed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oatmeal - Or, Eat Your Mush

Does anyone remember that great scene in a Little Rascals short, where the boys and girls would whisper to each other around the table? It went like this (thanks to IMDB for refreshing my memory):

Spanky: Don't drink the milk!
Cap's Wife: Why not?
Spanky: It's *spoiled*!
Cap's Wife: Spoiled nothing! You kids put that milk on your mush and eat it! Eeehh!

Always loved those Rascals.

It turns out that Significant Eater and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to oatmeal for breakfast. I really like it, and she doesn't. But, and here's the kicker, she used to; over the last six months to a year, though, she's decided it just isn't her cup of tea (and has gone negative on bananas as well).

I've tried and tried - I serve the oats with only the best Grade B maple syrup (farmer's market, of course), brown sugar that comes from the Brooklyn Brewery (don't ask), delicious fruit both fresh and dried, nuts from Bazzini, whatever - she still turns up her nose (though, and don't tell her I said this, if it's the only thing on the table, she'll eat it). So now when I want oatmeal, I'll often make her something like toast with peanut butter and jelly or topped with butter and cheese...not bad, but not oatmeal.

A week or two ago, SE noticed an article in the NY Times food section, written by Mark Bittman and extolling the virtues of savory, whole grain breakfasts. Things like wheat berries with scallions and soy sauce, polenta "pizza" with pancetta and spinach - well, you get the picture. And on a video on the Times' web site, Bitty (as Gwyneth likes to refer to him) suggests substituting oatmeal for the wheat berries - aha, a eureka moment, I thought. Although, let's face it folks, we've all been eating savory breakfasts for a long time - after all, what is bacon and eggs if not savory? Anyway, back to my eureka moment...

So there it is - oatmeal, scallions, soy, salt - everything a savory person could want. Cooked perfectly - man doesn't this look good?

Well, guess what? She didn't like it one bit - even started to throw out suggestions like perhaps I should've made a little sauce, with soy, vinegar, ginger, etc. etc. Fuggetaboutit - no more oats for you. And chopping scallions in the morning makes the whole place stink to boot. As for me, I'll continue to make mine the way I like it - with cranberries, raisins and good old maple syrup.

Significant Eater will just have to do with toast. And to Bitty - thanks a lot. Now go eat your mush.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Going Home Again

Sometimes, going home again tweaks the emotions. Today, I headed out to Long Island, to the little town where I went to high school and beyond - and formed some lasting bonds. You see, many of the guys (and some of the gals) I was friends with back in high school, I'm still friends with today, almost 40 years down the road...and not just 'cause of facebook...we get together at least a couple of times a year, to play cards or go out to eat, have a barbecue or a little party, whatever. This past weekend, however, one of my old, dear friends had lost his dad, and those of us that are somewhat local made our way out for the funeral.

You gotta understand, this friend's parents were really parents like no others. It was and still is a big family; 5 brothers, numerous cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, in-laws, name it. There was always lots of eating going on, as is usually the case when big Italian families get together. And no, it wasn't the food I saw at my family gatherings, or what I like to call the food of affliction..."baked" chicken, dry brisket, overcooked turkey, chopped liver (oh wait, I think I liked the chopped liver - it was sorta pâté, after all); well, you get the picture. No, this was lasagna and fried calamari; this was meatballs and gravy and great sausages and roasted peppers; this was salumi and cheese like we hadn't tasted; this was baked eggplant, fried zucchini and macaroni - nope, they didn't called it pasta yet. It was the food of Christmas eve, and the feast of the 7 "fishes" ...and damn, it was all so good.

And "the guys " were always welcome. That's right, there might have been 2 of us or there might have been 30 of us (remember, there were 5 kids), and we were always welcome... at times in some rather interestingly altered states of consciousness. And we were ALWAYS well fed. I often wonder if it's where I first fell in love with Italian might've even started my lifelong passion for it.

So when the mass was over, a few of us decided to head to a place that we used to go to late at night, when the debauchery died down or when the bars closed. It's still there, although they did fancy the place up a bit (they never can leave well enough alone, can they?) It was a place that was packed to the gills on a Saturday night when all the bar mitzvahs were over. You see, we went to the

That's right, it's the Lantern Diner - Open 24 Hours, or never closed as I like to say. Never once in the last 40 years? Wow. It sits just east of the intersection of Nassau Blvd. and Hempstead Tpke., in West Hempstead, one town over from Franklin Square, where I, ahem, grew up.

Unfortunately, our favorite waitress, Linda, who could carry about a dozen coffees at one time and who I used to run into on my occasional jaunt to Roosevelt Raceway to check out the trotters, is no longer around. But, c'mon, how classic is a joint that sets the tables with placemats like this...

Yes, all your favorite cocktails, right there on the placemat in front of you - don't forget to bring the kids. Interestingly enough, some of the recipes are perfect, but I'll take my Manhattan 2 to 1, thank you.

For old time's sake, I ordered the English burger - or an "all-beef" patty on a toasted English muffin, with grilled mushrooms and onions. Came with a pickle and slaw, and not half-bad for a diner...

And it tweaked all my emotions, as I mentioned at the start. On the one hand, a day made sad by the funeral of someone who was just a really nice guy. And of seeing all the people he touched, and their sadness too. And on the other hand, a chance to spend some time hanging with some old friends...talking about the past, worrying a bit about the present and wondering about the future. Food and friends - that's the way it should be, and don't you forget it.

And to Mr. D, a big tip of the hat and lots of love to the whole family for how welcome you made us all feel.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Winter con Vongole at the Union Square Green Market

Confession - I go to the green market all winter. Sometimes in a January snow, there are at most 3 or 4 vendors out there, amid the surrounding construction and selling their maple syrup and beetroots and potatoes and apples - those are some pretty hearty people.

So come mid-February I'm chomping at the bit to see some spring vegetables. Beautiful, tasty and useful as the roots and apples are, something really bright green and local will be most welcome. There's nothing like the first asparagus of the season, gently roasted, grilled, steamed, boiled or thinly shaved raw with some grated pecorino on top.

Well, imagine my surprise when on a February Wednesday (with temps in the mid-50's), there was one of my favorite vendors - Pura Vida - with seafood from Hampton Bays and beyond...the weather must've been good enough to go out, as the seafood vendors generally disappear for a few months in the dead of winter. Around here February is the dead of winter, but with a hint of spring every now and then. Unfortunately, I wasn't prepared to buy seafood that day, as I wasn't heading home, but I returned the following Wednesday, and there they were again. So I brought home a bagful of these, which are a favorite of ours...

Those, my friends, are some Long Island littlenecks; not Manila clams, not cockles, not those other heinous things that are often imported from China or who knows where - and taste like crap - but real, honest-to-goodness Long Island littleneck clams...tasting like the ocean or bay they were dug from, or just like that mouthful of seawater you swallowed while swimming...

Anyway, I digress...First, I like to steam 'em open (as soon as they open, they're done - check often) in a bit of white wine and garlic, deshell them, cut them in half if large and set 'em aside. SAVE THE COOKING LIQUID, PLEASE. Then make a quick red sauce by sautéing a thinly sliced garlic clove and a fat pinch of crushed red pepper in olive oil, add a cup of diced tomatoes with the clam juice, cook it down, taste for salt and toss the pasta into the saute pan with a handful of chopped parsley and a few scallions. It'll look like this.

Let the pasta cook in the sauce for a minute or two to absorb the flavors - taste it, sometimes it needs more salt, sometimes not. At the last minute, add back the clams and any accumulated juices, give a final stir and serve. Some people like to set aside a few clams in the shells to garnish the plates with. Some people cook up a shitload of manilas or whatever, and toss them with the pasta right in the shells. I don't, so here's what it looks like...Linguine alle Vongole.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Got Leftover Pasta? Add Eggs = Breakfast Frittata

Sometimes a dish made with leftovers and another ingredient becomes more than the sum of its parts. Witness the frittata. Last night for dinner, Significant Eater and I had bucatini all'Amatriciana along with a side of a fennel, blood orange and olive salad - very Batali and I should've taken a picture.

Now, the first question when we're done with our dinners is generally "Is there any more?" Fortunately, last night there was. A confession - I often make a bit more pasta than will be served, so that there are some leftovers. And when it's all'Amatriciana, those leftovers are great; guanciale, tomatoes, pecorino and parmesan are all pretty tasty, don't you think?

So, here's what to do. First, stash that leftover pasta (I had around 6 - 8 ounces) in a container in the fridge, so the next day you'll have it to use...molto importante.

Tomorrow, take 4 - 6 eggs out of the fridge along with the pasta...this all depends on the size of the pan you use, but somewhere in that number works for me. By the way, I've got this really cool, 20 year-old 9 1/2" Circulon pan that works great for a frittata. And it's the only thing I use it for. You can make frittata in lots of different pans, but once you find one that works, use it and use it and use it. Here's a pan that looks similar to mine, from the Circulon site...remember, they don't make 'em like they used to.

Let the eggs/pasta sit for at least 30 minutes to take the chill off. While waiting, preheat your oven to 300-ish, and when the oven's heated (and here's my totd - your oven takes a good 30 minutes to preheat and stabilize, not 15, not 20 but a good 30, and if you've got a pizza stone in there -you do, don't you? - it takes 45 - 60) , heat up a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in your pan over medium want the butter and oil nice and hot. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with salt & pepper, add the pasta, maybe a handful of chopped parsley and grated parm if you've got it and stir it up good, add it to the pan and it will look something like this...

Doesn't look like much, does it? Shake the pan a bit, turn the heat down to low-medium, and let it cook for about 5 minutes... then, transfer to the oven and check it after 5 minutes and every few minutes thereafter. Oh, I used to do the whole flip the frittata onto a plate, slide it back into the pan and cook on the stove top thing. It's a pain in the ass...and I think the gentle heat of a LOW oven does a better job at cooking the eggs to perfection...hey, if it's absolutely necessary or you don't have an oven, go ahead - but don't say I didn't warn you when you're cursing at the egg left on that plate. Okay, so you want the custard set nicely, but not dried out. You want...

I like to turn the cooked frittata out onto a paper towel covered cooling rack, which keeps moisture from condensing on the bottom while it cools. You'll have to do some flipping, and it's all hot, so be careful. Serve those lefttovers warm, room temp or cold - it's all good.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Russians Are Brighton Beach

If you're (like me) of Eastern European descent, then it's possible that there is someone from Russia in your heritage...for me, it's my maternal grandfather, who was allegedly from Minsk (these stories can grow hazy). Arriving in the US sometime around 1914, as a teenager and fairly broke, he took up work as a tailor, and eventually his whole family arrived here, first on the lower east side, then to the Bronx, and eventually to the Rockaways...and perhaps that's what draws me to the ocean...even though I hate the sun and can't swim worth a shit. So, in actuality, nothing draws me to the ocean (which is weird cause I lived in California for 18 years), I always need an excuse and food is usually the excuse I use.

Enter Brighton Beach. Everyone has heard how cool it is, how it's like a different world out there, with its nightclubs, Russian oligarchs, beautiful women (it's those cheekbones), not-so-beautiful women who look like Cossacks, fur coats, cigarettes, vodka, the boardwalk (there's that beach again) and so on.

And, the food. This, to me, is the raison d'etre for Brighton Beach, and it's the reason Significant Eater and I, along with our niece and her sidekick, took a drive out to Brighton on a chilly Saturday afternoon. Out past the benches of Ocean Parkway, between the McMansions of Manhattan Beach and loneliness of Coney Island on a winter's weekend day, sits Brighton the way, it's easy to get there on the subway, on a number of different lines.

We shopped at M & I International, whose smoked and cured meats section makes Di Palo's look like your local bodega - they're not bad on the smoked fish either. We walked on Brighton Beach Avenue, and window shopped all the grocers, fur stores, jewelry stores and more. And we were hungry, so we ended up here...

Yes, it's Varenichnaya folks, on Brighton 2nd St. And it was damn good. Delicious garlicky borscht, sweet and tender pelmeni and vareniki - both are dumplings, btw, one Russian and one Ukrainian, and relatives of the pierogi, which is Slavic, but really, I can't keep track of them all. Suffice to say that we fought over a large platter of each ($6.50), one stuffed with veal and the other with potatoes and mushrooms; both came slathered in butter, browned onions, sour cream, etc. Showing little restraint, we also ordered the pork stew, which came in a pot that looks just like the one atop the awning above, and which had so much garlic and scallions in it that we figured we wouldn't catch colds or see vampires for the rest of 2009. Oh, and 2 skewers of sturgeon, for $3.50 each. That's right, sturgeon - which at Russ & Daughter's sells for about $50 a pound. Not measley skewers, either, but laden with chunks of sturgeon. Served with a slice of lemon and a pile of raw onions, and delish. And a whole, semi-forgettable loaf of bread. All that food, along with a pitcher of a drink called Kompot, which was actually more like Hawaiian punch, so do like the natives and bring along a little bottle of something, ummm, a bit more potent...we saw people drinking cognac and brandy...was $56.

On the way back to the city, take a drive by Coney, and say goodbye, because much of Coney is slated for the wrecking ball. It's beautiful, in its own lonely way, isn't it?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ralph Kramden, Japanese Knives & Korin Trading Co.

Now that I have your attention (the Ralph Kramden in the title surely did that), you may be wondering what it is this mad blogger is trying to tell you? Well, walk around lower Manhattan and you never know what you're going to run into. For instance, here's a place I spotted, and I'm sure a Honeymooner or two has hung out inside...

But, let's be serious for a second folks, or it's "to the moon" for you all. Because right next door, on Warren St., is one of the holy grails for Japanese knife people in New York. It's right here...

You see, once you've started fooling with Japanese knives, there may be no going back, because they're such a pleasure to use. Back in my cooking school days, we were advised to buy a nice German chefs knife, in my case a Wusthoff 10" monster, that could hack through chicken bones (and fingers too, so be careful) and chop parsley with ease. Japanese knives are like the ballet dancers of knives - lean and lithe, with great lines, and anyone who has only used a German or French knife is in for a great surprise.

Of course, along with the brilliant cutting edges they supply, Japanese knives also have a bit of the diva in them. A lot of them have different types of edges and are a little bit more demanding in their maintenance. So, without getting into more wonky details, I have a 240mm Tojiro DP gyotou knife that needed sharpening, and since I hadn't really sharpened one before, that's when I made the trek to Korin, where I originally bought the knife. Without hesitation, knife master Chiharu Sugai took my knife to his wheels and stone, and voila, a perfectly sharp gyutou was in my's the room where he does some of his handiwork...

It was also nice to hear, after Mr. Sugai worked my knife, that it is actually a 50-50 bevel (that's for real knife geeks), which means I'll be able to sharpen it with no problem, at home - and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Now, these knives can be expensive, running into the thousands of dollars for custom-made beauties. But they can also be great values - my 240mm Gyutou cost me under$100. I'll put it up against a Wusthoff or Henckel's any day of the week.

For those who want to read a fantastic book about knives, you have to pick up An Edge in the Kitchen, by Chad Ward. It's brilliant. And Korin offers knife-sharpening classes two days a week - they're free and taught by the master.

Oh, do you think I could leave without picking up a little something. No way, and here's my new "petty" knife - yes, that's what they're called, and they're for "peeling, paring, and carving vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other delicate work." It's a 5" beauty, it's a 70-30 bevel, and it's sharp, baby.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Streit's...Fresh Baked Matzos Since 1925

A while ago, my friends johnder and donbert (who took these photos) and I were walking on the lower east side, when we passed Suffolk and Rivington Streets. At that intersection sits the famous Streit's Matzo Factory, still cranking out matzos by the, well, ton, since 1925.

The cool thing about Streit's is that you can peek right into the oven discharge room, as the windows are open when they're baking (because it's about 1000 degrees in there). So, we did...(and beware of shitty, cell-phone, night-time photos ahead)...

Now, the matzos come out of the oven fast - I mean, like, hundreds a minute on a conveyer belt - it reminds me of the infamous I Love Lucy episode with the chocolate candy assembly line - only these guys can move some matzos. The first guy takes the matzos, places them into stacks that will fit into the box, and moves them to the cooling rack - which is in constant motion and is on the far right in the above photo.

I started asking the guys for some matzos and we got a much better view - you can see the sheets of matzo coming out of the oven in the photo below, which is taken from inside the factory. The guy with the headphones is, I think, a stacker.

In addition to our brief tour, we each were rewarded with a still hot from the oven, world-famous Streit's matzo - real NYC street food, as you can see from this photo, taken at the famous corner of Suffolk and Rivington.

Now, I don't know how many people have tried matzos, or like matzos. Or even put up with matzos. I mean, like don't you eat them because you have to, on Passover? There are all sorts of flavors of matzos now, not like when I was a kid, when you had two choices: plain or egg. These were plain. Not everything, not salt, not sun-dried tomato, not friggin' blueberry, nothing - plain.

A hot from the oven matzo stays hot for about one minute on a chilly night. And it's good for about one minute - I mean, without butter, cream cheese, salt, etc. it's basically a bad cracker. The bread of affliction. Enjoyed and then discarded. Perfect for a minute, and only in NY, kids.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hand Pulled Noodles (Lamian) at Home

Hand pulled noodle shops (Lamian) started appearing in NYC a number of years ago, as the immigrant population from certain areas of China grew. Often, they're called Lanzhou style noodles, and in my neighborhood alone (that's Chinatown), there are no less than 4 or 5 of these tiny shops, serving noodles that are made on the spot - usually in broth, with all sorts of fun meats, or dry style, topped with a sauce, generally porky and generally spicy. This is all good.

But what about making these noodles at home? If you've ever seen these noodles being made, it's not for the faint of heart. Or body. The dough is pulled, slammed, tossed, and pulled some more. Over and over again, until amazingly, the noodles are born, and immediately, like killing a live lobster, plunged into boiling water for their short cooking time before being married and sent to their final rest.

Basically, there was no way I was doing this at home. I mean, I want to, but do I really need to see a physical therapist just because of my cooking habits? I could hear my rotator cuff ripping in the process. What to do, what to do?

Well, lo and behold, Significant Eater and I were taking a nice, brisk 3 mile walk on Saturday, and heading home northbound on Madison Street, I did a double take when I saw a table outside a tiny storefront, with a couple of bags of what looked like fresh, hand-pulled noodles. A little, ahem, discussion with the proprietor, and sure enough, that's what they were. Take a look what $1 bought...

Yes, that's a 1 pound bag of hand pulled Chinese noodles. And today, for lunch, I tried them out...I had a bit of cooked lamb shoulder left over from Friday night's dinner, heated that up, and lookee what I ended up with...

Amazingly chewy, with great texture and body, these may be the hand pulled noodles of my dreams. But, are they home-made hand-pulled noodles? No. But they are hand pulled noodles, made at home. Just as good. Or even better.

And, this is a big plus, no visit to the physical therapist necessary.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oh No, Pho

There are some 60+ Vietnamese restaurants listed on Menu Pages NYC, with a few more in Brooklyn. And I would imagine a whole bunch more in Queens as well, and googling confirms that. (Oh by the way, menu pages, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx are in NYC too.) But, are any of them good? I mean, I know Michael Huynh's food is good (I swear I've tasted it), but now I'd have to head up to the upper west side and Bar Bao, that is at least while he's still there, and who knows for how long that'll be?

And, what to do when all I want is a nice, simple bowl of pho, without schlepping on the No. 7 or taking the car out of the lot for an hour's drive to deepest Brooklyn or who-the-heck knows where?

In Vietnam, so I'm told, pho is street food, or at least street cafe food. It originated in Hanoi, following the French occupation of the late 1800's (see how good it is to have a couple of Vietnamese cookbooks in your collection). One legend says that pho is called pho because Vietnamese cooks learned how to make pot-au-feu from the French, and that feu, which means fire, sounds like pho. Another says that it's actually a Chinese concoction, evidenced by use of various seasonings and noodles. But, I digress. And, if you really want to know more, get Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, by Mai Pham, a wonderful, absolutely delicious cookbook, with tons of info.

Anyway, back to pho and decent, inexpensive Vietnamese food in Manhattan. IS THERE ANY?
Being cooked by Vietnamese peeps, perhaps. Cause really, most of the "Vietnamese" restauarants are actually being staffed by ethnic Chinese, and while there's nothing wrong with that, they're not, ummmm, Vietnamese.

Our last favorite, Pho Grand, has slid dramatically, in my opinion. And Significant Eater's, too. There used to be a tiny, little place on Pike St. that's now gone. So, I'm continually searching.
And while I don't think I've found the holy grail, what I have found is this:

Yes folks, Cong Ly, at 124 Hester Street, may now be our go-to place for a hot steaming bowl of pho, and even some of the other dishes. First of all, it's apparently owned and staffed by Vietnamese people, who are really nice. So, to start with, we had these rice "crepes," whose name I conveniently forget...but they were really good.

Significant Eater then went with the Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong, which is roast pork with fried spring rolls, served over rice vermicelli, along with assorted pickled vegetables, and it was one of the better versions she's had in a while, even causing her to comment on the freshness of the vegetables (something not always evident at other places, and something she doesn't like to do while eating).

I needed to have the pho, since after all, that's what this post is mostly about. And my choice was the Tai Nam Gan Sach. What a pleasant surprise it was, with it's tasty broth informed by the sweetness of rock sugar, charred onions and star anise, laden with my favorite cuts - rare eye round, well-done brisket, omosa (don't ask, I can't even find it on google), and tendon, which is fun to pick up with your chopsticks and show your dining companions. Once again, fresh herbs and sprouts made an appearance, and overall this pho ranks pretty high compared to what else is available on our tiny island.

All that food, plus a diet coke (she's incorrigible) came to $16.50. Not bad, and that's Cong Ly, a worthy neighborhood restaurant. Oh, and there's this really cool Chinese sausage maker right across the street, so bring home some lap cheung or whatever and get cooking.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

G, G, Gertel's....Going, Going, Gone

Gertel's Bakery, a lower east side institution for more than 90 years, closed in June, 2007. 50 years ago, its location on Hester St. between Essex and Ludlow Streets would draw crowds around the block for the challah and rugelach, which was some of the best I have ever eaten.

But, gentrification and the ability to cash out at the right time signaled the end. So, they packed up and moved the whole operation to Brooklyn, where their wonderful baked goods are still available - wholesale. The good news is that they still sell to the general public; so, if you place an order of $25 or more the day before, your order will be ready to pick up the next day, on Steuben St. in Brooklyn. Here's the number for future reference: 212-982-3250. Now, go and eat you some rugelach...

Meanwhile, what has gentrification wrought? Well, from my window I have a perfect view of where Gertel's once stood - and here's what it looks like from the day the music died till right now...

What really bums me out is that I don't know how much higher this building will go. And I really like the building in the background (you can click on the photo to make it bigger), with the green patina roof, which I think is on Broadway around Spring St. Oh well, it might just block my view of the hideous Trump building going up even farther west, on Spring and Varick Sts. We'll see.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday and Pizza

Hey, what can I say...I wanted the Cardinals to win, but at least we got a good game, down to the final minute. But, super bowl weekend means food, and even though I was feeling a bit under the weather, and even though it was just the two of us, I cooked a bunch of stuff anyway.

Here's how Significant Eater and I started the day...

Yep, that's Niman Ranch bacon (one of my favorite, readily available brands), along with Arrowhead Mills stone ground grits, a fried Tello Farm's egg and, oh yeah, Mitch's sourdough you know, sourdough drives me crazy.

So I figured WTF, make more's super bowl Sunday. This time, the bread took the shape of pizza. Now, is there anyone more crazy than NYers when it comes to pizza? We've all heard "this is the best," no "that's the best," on and on and on...fwiw, in Manhattan we like Arturo's, UPN, Patsy's (uptown), and maybe one or two others, but on any given day, the pizza, even at one of the stalwarts, can suck. So, might as well make my own.

Now, pizza making, along with bread baking, can turn into obsessions. With pizza, the thing that really matters is the crust. No amount (which, of course, should be minimal) of topping is gonna making a crappy crust taste good. Not gonna happen. That's why, in general, the best pizza in Rome is pizza bianca - basically, a crust with some great olive oil and a bit of salt.

As I said, obsession. One of my favorite pizza making sites is Jeff Varasano's Famous NY Pizza Recipe site. Here, Jeff has reverse engineered the uptown Patsy's crust, when it was simply the best pizza to be had. And, the site is brilliant, one which pizza makers can read and reread over and over again. Though I gotta tell Jeff that I refuse to defeat the locking mechanism on my oven in order to get the temperature up to 800 degrees - just not happening. And that is one of the serious limitations to home pizza making...the oven just doesn't get hot enought. The pizza at Arturo's is baked in an old coal-fired oven , that when really cranking approaches 1100 F.

But, I digress. Books and libraries have been devoted to pizza. Peter Rheinhart, one of the guru's of modern bread baking, has written a tome on pizza. And it goes on and on. So for this pizza making attempt, I actually followed one of Rheinhart's recipes - sort of. And while there was cursing coming from the kitchen (at one point, Significant Eater was heard to call out, "what the fuck is going on in there?"), because the dough was pissing me off, I did manage to bake two delicious pies - even by our annoying, NYer know-it-all standards. Both had 3 cheeses (modest amounts, folks), including fresh mozzarella, real Parmesan and some other high-quality melter, along with red onions, plum tomatoes from a can - (which is what you want to use in the middle of the winter...even sometimes in the middle of the summer), a sprinkling of oregano from Italy (it's different than the oregano from Mexico), extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. And, after all that, here's what we ended up with.

We easily ate two pies, leaving us barely enough room for the main course.

Oh yeah, that bread in the picture above came from this sourdough loaf, which was helped along, or as Mr. Rheinhart likes to say, "boosted," with a tiny bit of commercial's sitting on a giant can of Sicilian anchovies and it had great oven spring along with the fluffiest, most open crumb (see toast above) that I've baked to date - a bit of yeast goes a long way, just don't tell the sourdough purists.