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


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