Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Get Happy

After a great birthday weekend with Significant Eater, I was feeling a little down. So what better way to chase the blues away other than to head out and meet a friend for a drink. As it happens, that night at Death & Co. was like old times. Plenty of familiar faces on the civilian side of the bar, and Brian Miller, one of the original bartenders, behind the stick.

Of course, Death & Co. is one of the groundbreaking cocktail lounges we have here in NYC. Opening well after the exclusive Milk & Honey and the more egalitarian Pegu Club, Death & Co. wasn't the first of the cool cocktail lounges; but for me, as well as for many others, it simply became our favorite. I don't know if it was the punch bowls; I don't know if it was the heavy wooden door. Maybe it was the location - a mere 15 minute walk from my apartment. Maybe it was the crowd. Actually, when you get right down to it, it was probably the drinks.

So Mr. Miller started me off with his
Cure For Pain cocktail, a rather strong concoction - and delicious too. If my memory serves me right, it included .5 Stagg, 1.5 Rittenhouse, White Creme de Cacao, Campari, Antica, tawny port, Ango and creole bitters. Good - you bet. Great even.

I then moved on to another boozy (yeah, Brian knows what I like) one - his
Jane Russell Cocktail. Rye based, with Benedictine, Antica, Grand Marnier and mole bitters to help soften the blow, it was about all I needed. I certainly didn't need to continue on to this final drink, shared with my friend, but the ice is so nice, isn't it? Almost made me forget that little bit of sadness I felt after a super weekend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday

So...yesterday was Significant Eater's birthday, and I went all out. Well, not really all out; more like almost all out. Okay, okay, a little bit out...for instance, I made her a birthday card rather than buying one. We kinda started a new practice of no cards for the past couple of Hallmark days, but I got up early, used some web site and was able to make and print out a nice, corny card. Talented, huh? My 7th grade art teacher would be so proud.

Actually, the weekend started off on Friday night with a wonderful dinner at a friend's apartment. Jeff and Judith, of Aroma Cucina, invited us over, along with a cousin of their's who is a big wine collector; needless to say, we ate and drank very well - although I aim to convince Jeff that a Manhattan should be 2 parts (not 3!) rye to 1 part sweet vermouth, but that's another story...after all, it still gets you where you're going.

Earlier Friday, Sig Eater and I took a long walk downtown to City Hall Park, and then headed to one of our faves, Great NY Noodletown. Friday was one of those beautiful NYC pre-spring days, when the temp climbs outside but inside the heat is still on, and along with the bubbling cauldrons of soup and roasting ovens, it was, ummm, not comfortable, so we decided to move on. My 2nd choice was Oriental Garden on Elizabeth Street, a place where we've had some seriously good food in the past. Well, let's just say we won't be going back and it's on a serious downhill alert. No, let's just say it sucked, with gummy dim sum, tasteless roast duck and even tasteless-er choy sum. Okay, it sucked. Moving on...

Saturday (Sig Eater's b'day) was pajama day; i.e. we didn't get out of them all day (it was a rough Friday night, after all) - at least not until we left the apartment for dinner. And I made lunch - to order. SE asked for cacio e pepe - one of the great Roman pasta dishes of all time. Basically, a dish of 3 ingredients - pasta, Pecorino Romano and black pepper, and yet so freakin' hard to make. Tomes have been written about cacio e pepe, and everyone has their opinion. I have 2 Roman cookbooks, and the recipes are totally different. Cook's Illustrated likes to add cream. Saveur's recent issue about Rome has an intriguingly interesting take on the recipe where the black pepper is cooked in some olive oil before the pasta is added to the pan (I actually toast the peppercorns before crushing in a mortar), followed by some cooking water and then the cheese; well, two kinds of cheese, because that's what their recipe calls for.

I think the best version of this dish we've ever eaten was at a little restaurant in the Ghetto di Roma, Rome's Jewish ghetto, called Sora Margherita. There it was perfect, the cheese melted into a delicious sauce buoyed by a big hit of freshly ground black pepper. And it was in Rome, possibly clouding our judgement.

But what makes the dish perfect? Well, in my opinion it's getting that cheese to melt and cling perfectly to the pasta; no clumps or lumps at the bottom of the bowl - it's hard to do and if you don't think so, try it some time - there are recipes all over the webs, but don't say I didn't warn you.

So, how'd I do yesterday? Well, maybe the fact that it was Sig Eater's birthday or that giant full moon? Maybe I've finally figured out the mystery of cacio e pepe? Or maybe it was just luck? In any case, the dish came out really well, and made my favorite person very happy on her birthday. Next time, I'm trying the Saveur recipe - it looks like a can't miss. Here's the spaghetti cacio e pepe...

And since it was a Roman lunch, some simply sautéed broccoli rabe, served like the do in Rome, at room temperature...

And on our walk home from dinner, there was that full moon everyone was talking about, just hanging low over the Bowery...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This Little Piggy...

Yesterday, my friends Judith and Jeff, of Aroma Cucina fame, joined me on an excursion to Queens. Specifically, we drove out to Elmhurst for lunch (more on that in another post), and then followed up our lunch with a drive to Ridgewood...not because we were still hungry, but because I was on a mission to check out a place I'd been hearing about for, well, let's say a long time...

Yes, the Ridgewood Pork Store, deep in the heart of Ridgewood, Queens...not that far from where I grew up, in Forest Hills. I love this part of Queens - there's something so Archie Bunker about it; 2 and 3-storey buildings, with retail at street level and apartments above. Of course, just to prove their point that they sell pork, they have lots of porkers in the window. Jeff and I particularly liked the "piggy-bank," though Jude thought we were acting like 5th graders. You be the judge...

Upon entering, we were warmly greeted, and almost immediately the samples started appearing. We tried shouting "uncle," to no avail. He was like the evil pork devil...

Oh, I did mention samples, right...

Now, J & J are no neophytes when it comes to pork. They spend more than 1/2 the year in a house they own in Montone, which is a little town in Umbria. They owned, opened, cooked in and managed a restaurant in Montone, which is entered via this gatehouse...

Umbria is, of course, pork-centric. But even these two were impressed by the offerings, which, to be fair, also included sausages of lamb, beef, head cheese and on and on. By the time we were done, we had sampled over a dozen styles of cured and smoked or cured and cooked meats. We walked out with a nice bagful of treats (hey, Significant Eater has to try 'em too) and vowed to return. Only next time, I'm going before lunch.

Ridgewood Pork Store
516 Seneca Avenue
Ridgewood, NY
(718) 381-0686

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wanna Live Forever? Ummm, That Depends

Frank Bruni wrote an article recently in which he interviews an 87-year-old billionaire about said billionaire's quest to live till he's 125 years old. He's already 87, and my hat is off to him for that.

Said billionaire, David Murdock, is quite an interesting character. First of all, he owns a majority stake in Dole, the world's largest producer of fruits and vegetables, according to the article.

He has financed and built a huge research center, stocked with equipment that even the finest universities don't have. And many of the researchers are from some of those same universities.

All in the quest to live until he's 125 years old. Murdock's diet is not one of those calorie restricting diets that seem to be helping lab rats to live another 30% longer...and I'm glad the rats in NYC aren't on any such diets. It's actually close to 1,800 calories a day. And it's practically mainstream, in that while it is a plant-based diet, it doesn't eschew protein. However, he does grind up the banana and orange peels, which evidently go into his smoothies. And he avoids salt, sugar and booze. That'll be my downfall, for sure.

Fine and dandy. While we know no one can be assured of living till any age, much less 125, my question is this:

If you were guaranteed, say, 87 or 95 or even 125, would you eat like this guy? Could you eat like this guy? And, heaven forbid, do you eat like this guy? I mean, I can't, I don't and I most likely won't. I like my ribs and booze too damn much. And in my opinion, everything in moderation, no?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Minor Annoyances #1...or What Gives Me Agita?

I figured I'd start a little recurring feature about things that slightly annoy me when I go out to a restaurant or to a bar or to a restaurant with a bar. Or to a bar that serves food that isn't a restaurant. Okay, maybe these things really annoy me. Because they're friggin' annoying. See if you don't agree - and maybe add a few of your own.

Last night, Significant Eater and I went out to a place called Palena Cafe. It's the lower-priced cafe attached to the restaurant called Palena (and that might be annoying, but at least it's a good restaurant...I mean cafe. I think). If you've never heard of it, that's because it's located in Northwest Washington, D.C. , and really, who follows D.C. restaurants except people who live here? And your occasional senator, congressman, lobbyist, etc. And Spike.

I digress...back to annoyances. So here are a few, which is not to say anything bad about the restaurant (cafe) since they can apply anywhere and often do. It just so happens that a few of them happened last night.

When we got to the restaurant, after putting our name on a wait list (20 minutes - quoted correctly - yay) we went to the bar. Big loudmouth guy, sitting sideways on a barstool, pontificating, taking up about 3 spaces at the bar. Done with his drink even, and not ordering another one. So there's No. 1 - sit straight unless there's nobody milling around trying to get a drink or a seat. It's a bar, not your living room, douche.

Which brings me to No. 2. Unless you're the only one there, take your handbag/coat/poodle/
Duane Reade bag off the bar stool. It's for people, not your personal coat check area.

Which brings me to No. 3. Take your damn umbrella or your damn pocketbook off of the bar. You probably had it on the floor of the subway before getting here; it's nice that you don't care about anyone else except yourself, and you might like eating off the floor, but we don't.

Oh, No. 4. Ask any bartender. The garnish tray is not your personal appetizer area. Keep your disgusting fingers out of the olives/orange slices/whatever.

Into the restaurant.

It really bugs me when the restaurant is out of the one thing I want to order. At 8 P.M. What did you do, make one of those? And then what I order sucks.

How about the reach? Across my face/body in order to fill a water glass or remove a plate.

Or maybe worse, to clear away my plate - when Significant Eater is still eating! You know, because she likes to eat alone. No partial bussing, please.

And here are a few of my favorite exchanges when dining out:

Server: "What will we be having for dinner tonight?" Me: "I didn't realize you'd be dining with us."

Server: "I like everything on the menu. It's all yummy."

And finally, at least for this installment...when I'm paying the bill, don't ask me if I want any change. From my $50. For the $30 check. Just bring it - your tip is likely to be bigger.

Now, I know I have a few more. I just can't think of them right now. But I always take a pen and paper with me, so I'll be writing them down and blogging about them more. And I'm sure you must have a few. Do share.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

David Chang Does What? Yeah, Right...

In the current issue of Food & Wine magazine, there's an article by Gisela Williams entitled David Chang Attempts to Veg Out.

Now, I don't know Chang personally, but historically his restaurants have generally been more about meat, seafood and poultry - pork, for sure, but beef, lamb and veal have made the cut too. I mean, there were even notes on his menus suggesting that vegetarians might want to think about eating elsewhere. One main course at Momofuku Ssam Bar involves a whole pork shoulder - bo ssam - which is usually ordered by a group of 6 or more diners and has to be ordered ahead. Another (at Momo Noodle Bar) is the fried chicken - also to be ordered in advance and involving two whole chickens , one fried in the Korean style and one southern American style.

And all of a sudden, Mr. Chang goes veg. Interesting, huh? Yes, it seems he was "stressed out." With 5 restaurants to his name, no doubt.

So, what did he do? According to the article, he took a time out in South Korea (his ancestral country) to explore temple cuisine, the traditional vegetarian food that has been cooked and eaten by Korean Buddhist monks and nuns for centuries.

Whew - I'm glad he got that under control. Seriously though, it seems as if DC was getting a little tired of all that pork and starting to love his vegetables. He wouldn't be the first; hasn't Batali undergone the same "transformation?"

But please - does this have to become news? Well of course - because he's David Chang. And obsessive food freaks that we are, we must know. It's all good and there are some really nice recipes to go along with the article.

So David - eat your vegetables. Stop stressing out. I'm going to try a recipe or two from the article. Looks like they'll be really tasty - especially with some pig on the side.