Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria

It was Significant Eater's birthday this past Friday, and what better way to celebrate than to have Saturday brunch at the newly opened Keith McNally spot, Pulino's? Well, just so you don't think I'm a classless sort, I did cook late dinner on Friday night, so once the birthday gal arrived home we had Champagne cocktails along with bucatini all'amatriciana...and it was good.

But back to Pulino's...the new McNally spot - well, McNally along with his personally recruited San Francisco chef Nate Appleman; after all, you do need a chef. Breathlessly chronicled from the time the first sledgehammer came down inside the interior at Houston and Bowery, on web sites like, many grouches in the food community were poking fun of and pre-dissing Pulino's before a bite was to be had.

Now, Nate is a damn good chef (hey, he's won awards), to which both SE and I can attest, having eaten at his SF restaurant A16 any number of times. As a matter of fact, it was there that I remember eating a (my first) miraculous crunchy pig-ear salad, along with delicious pastas and great (for SF, at least) pizza - though what type of pastas and pizza we had are lost somewhere in the back of my brain.

So, how was brunch? First, I'll start by mentioning (as if no one else has) the fact that Pulino's look is practically a carbon copy of the Schiller's look - after all, if something works, why fuck with it? Well, the bottles on the wall are different, but you get the picture. (By the way, on my two walks by Schiller's this past weekend, the place is still packed, 7 years on.) Giant windows open onto the Bowery - and right off the bat that annoys me. Does it really need to be noisier inside a McNally restaurant? All those trucks and buses driving by increase the noise factor a lot, so I'll like those windows better in the summer, when they're closed up for air conditioning.

Plenty of fancy, dressed up people in the crowd. Actually, everyone except me. Or, and more likely, people dressed up by pretending the outfit they threw on came out of a Salvation Army store. And a nice service staff - some with accents even! You could probably bring your parents, though they won't be able to hear you.

The menu is big by brunch standards - but since brunch is my least favorite meal, how do I really know that? Anyway, lots of other stuff on the menu; I was happy about that. And what'd we have? Started with a couple of salads, and then onto two pizze for our "entrees."

The roasted fennel salad was prepared nicely - a bed of endive, arugula, frisée and red onions complementing the fennel nicely, and dressed right with a mustardy vinaigrette. Groundbreaking? No, not even the currants make it so - but think of how many places screw up your salad with too much vinaigrette, and you'll appreciate this one that much more.

Our second salad (and the only dish I took a picture of all meal) was the astounding Smoked Sablefish. Doesn't sound like much, right? Basically a riff on a Sicilian salad of celery and bottarga, it takes slices of luxurious smoked sable, plops them on a schmear of bottarga agliata, and strews some thinly sliced celery, celery leaves, parsley leaves, dill and capers on top. And the next thing you know, you're hoarding the plate as if you weren't getting fed for another week.

Now, the sable comes from the guys (Acme - beep beep) that supply Russ & Daughters, so even if they're not getting the pick of the litter like Russ and his daughter do, it's gonna be good. But what really puts this dish over the top is the bottarga agliata - sort of an aioli made with bread crumbs and bottarga - all I can say is, ask for bread. And you'll be mopping up every last drop off the plate, perhaps even giving each other looks like Significant Eater did to me when I greedily swiped the last crust of bread (Balthazar, as if) out of the basket.

On to the pizze, and, what can I say? I didn't love either of the two we ordered; not the salame piccante nor the Margherita. The crust was just too damn crispy for me. Nothing light and airy about it. The margherita's basil was put on before baking, meaning the basil came out as burnt leaves tasting like, well, burnt and looking worse. In my opinion, it seems as if they make a sauce (rather than use San Marzanos right out of the can) to use on the pizza - that sauce, after baking, comes out tasting like tomato paste - not what I want on my pizza. I do believer that there's pizza potential here (c'mon, Nate, gimme that SF pie - fuck the Bowery), but in the time being when I crave pizza, I'll be going first to Keste, Motorino or Arturo's. Maybe making my own even. Which I'm sure will matter not a whit to the yearning masses.

And brunch wasn't cheap - for the 2 salads and 2 pizze, along with a glass of rosé and a soda, we dropped almost $90. But I am looking forward to trying more of Mr. Appleman's food - and dinner reservations have been secured. After all, he's a damn good chef.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gourmet Ghetto Grows on Grand

Yep, I know what you're thinking. Gourmet ghetto on Grand Street? Grand Street on the lower east side? Of Manhattan?! What could this possibly have to do with the "original" gourmet ghetto, the term given to the neighborhood around the stretch of Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, California, way back in the early 70's, when pain in the ass bloggers didn't exist (but organic gardens did, cause I had one) and Chez Panisse, the Cheese Board Collective and the first Peet's Coffees were at the forefront of a nascent food movement in America?

Well, not much, actually. But, we're trying. And I've got the pictures to prove it. First off, a little reference - I'm writing here about the stretch of the south side of Grand Street that is between Essex Street to the west and Clinton Street to the east. A short stretch of street to be sure, but it's pretty loaded, and since Significant Eater and I moved to the 'hood in 2003, it has improved by leaps and bounds.

Starting on Clinton, and heading west, here's what Grand Street has to offer.

Located just at the corner of Clinton and Grand, that's our little produce specialty shop, offering mostly fruit and a few veggies. The stuff is cheap, it's ready to be used (i.e. it's ripe) and if you shop smartly, it can be an excellent value. Yesterday, I picked up a sweet pineapple for $3 - the same pineapple was $5 at the Essex St. Market. Oh, and yes, that's an ice cream truck in the background...can gelato be far behind?

Walking west, next up is...

This is Roots & Vines, our very own coffee shop. They pull a tasty espresso, and they brew and sell Counter Culture coffee, which is one of Tasty's favorite roasters. It's also a little bit more than a coffee shop, offering tasty sandwiches (banh mi!) along with a few draft beers, wine and the occasional performance. Wifi is free, too.

Continuing on our tour, there's a kosher deli that's unfortunately nothing to write home about, and then you'll see...

Yes, Liquors. Well, Seward Park Liquors to be exact. And every gourmet ghetto needs a liquor store, don't you think? What's nice about Seward Park Liquors is a friendly, knowledgeable staff (one of the employees even worked at the late, lamented LeNell's, in Red Hook, and how much more do you need to know?) and a decent selection. I personally wish they offered a few more brands of rye for my Manhattans, Brooklyns, Red Hooks and Sazeracs (I've seen Sazerac and Overholt at various times, but no Rittenhouse), but they do have a good selection of bourbon and Scotch, and a bottle of wine to go with your dinner is easily found. They've even special ordered booze for me - and you can't ask for better service than that.

So, after you've bought your booze and your lotto ticket, keep going if you can still walk now that you're all caffeined and liquored up. The next stop is justifiably famous, appearing on more TV shows about food than Guy Fieri (and I call it - I was sick of him before he even started - just ask Significant Eater...mmmm....that's money).

It's the Doughnut Plant. Our very own. Lines from here to Essex on the weekends. Tour buses dropping Japanese tourists, their cameras and their yen. If you can get here on a weekday, the doughnuts are absolutely delicious - $2 or so buys you a seasonal cake doughnut - and they're my fave. Just take a look-see at these beauties, which were being offered last Halloween.

Full yet? No way. A little farther along, and a soon to be opened (projected for April 15th) and greatly anticipated spot appears like magic - seriously, the awning appeared only yesterday!

It's Pizza A Casa, a pizza self-sufficiency center, and what could be cooler than that? The owner, Mark Bello, is a truly nice guy - I was lucky enough to have a chat with him the other day when I poked my head in as I was walking by...though very busy, he was gracious and accommodating as I prodded him for info. Set for an opening date of April 15th, Mark will be offering pizza making classes for the home cook, off-site catering (say you're having a birthday party and want to make pizzas - give a call) and hard-to-find pizza making supplies. Truly geared to the home cook, Mark knows that your home ovens aren't going up to 850 degrees, so the ovens he's using are similar to what you might really have in your apartment. I'm excited for this, and the neighborhood will be too.

Right next door to Pizza A Casa sits a Grand Street institution...

One of the only true bialy bakers left in the city (bagel bakers that bake bialys don't count), it's Kossar's Bialys. Kossar's has been baking its bialys, bulkas, sesame sticks and pletzels for over 65 years. Bagels came later. My favorites are the bialys and bulkas - you can't go wrong with any of Kossar's baked goods, though, and their stuff is really a lower east side treasure.

Though there are a few more food shops before you reach the corner of Essex Street, they don't really qualify as gourmet ghetto worthy, imo. Of course, if you cross Essex Street, you'll find the Pickle Guys - and at this time of year, with Passover just around the corner, the air is pungent with the smell of freshly grated horseradish - they actually grate it out on the street or their customers would all have to wear gas masks in the shop. I got a taste yesterday, and it'll clear your sinuses for sure.

So that brings you to the end of the Grand Gourmet Ghetto tour. Not bad for a neighborhood that most people didn't even know existed in Manhattan a few years ago. Significant Eater balked when I first suggested we check out the area as a new place to live. But now we wouldn't have it any other way.

Even more exciting is the news that just around the corner, on Hester and Essex Streets, our co-op's Hester Street property will be the home to the new Hester Street Fair. Conceived by shareholders and the board of directors as a way to use a long unused and vacant piece of land owned by Seward Park Housing Corp., the fair's inaugural weekend will be April 24th and 25th. Expect fun, food and great times - and we look forward to seeing everyone there.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I know, I know, Motorino has been written about - a lot. As a matter of fact, the NY Times has even declared it the best pizza in NYC, which I find hilarious, unless the Times has tried about a thousand different pizzerias. On any given day, if you're lucky, it might be the best pizza in NYC. But there are quite a few variables with pizza which make that pronouncement a little hard to agree with.

Let's just say that it's damn good pizza, and leave it at that. Excellent crust, high quality toppings applied correctly, a searingly hot oven - that's what leads to damn good pizza. The other day at lunch, I met a couple of fine friends (which always makes lunch better, though it would have been even better with Significant Eater in attendance), and we all shared in the experience. I had been a couple of times, but they hadn't. Jude even wrote about it on her blog, Aroma Cucina. Her frame of reference is way different than mine; she and her husband Jeff live in Italy for over half the year and get to try pizza in all sorts of wonderful, tiny towns...and probably some big cities as well.

Motorino has a deal at lunch; you get a choice of either a salad and a pizza, or a pizza and dessert, both for $12. Considering that most of the pizze are over $12 to start with and well, you do the math. It's a full sized pie as well - so you're not gonna leave hungry. And usually, you're not gonna have to wait, which is not always the case at dinner, though I'd rather wait for this pie than for Lombardi's any day of the week.

The pie I had was the brussels sprouts with smoked pancetta, which I at first thought was speck, since pancetta is usually not smoked. Prosciutto of course is not smoked, but speck is and it's sorta like prosciutto - hey, are you confused yet? Any way, a perusal of the menu alleges smoked pancetta, so I'll go with that. Mozzarella and pecorino are the cheeses, and put it all together it spells delicious.

Now, just to my prove point about pizza and the variables on any given day, here are two pictures of the brussels sprouts pizza - the first one was taken last October, right when Motorino in Manhattan opened (their first pizzeria is in Brooklyn). And the second was taken just last week at the lunch I described above. See what I mean...

Crust #2 is puffier around the edges and not quite as well done - most likely due to the oven having lost a fair amount of its heat - it was late, they were busy, and they'd probably already baked around 40 or 50 pies.

Now, this is not your father's pizza - or your mother's for that matter. But it's damn good, and is probably one of the top 5 pies in the city - maybe even the best - well, on any given day. Go, it's worth the trip.


349 East 12th Street
Open Sunday-Thurs 11AM-12AM
Friday and Saturday 11AM-1A

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lazy (and Cheap) Man Roast Pig

Following along in the footsteps of Lazy Man Roast Chicken and Lazy Man Pizza, it's time to check into my dealings with pig and one of my favorite cuts from that delicious animal, the shoulder. Don't get me wrong - if I had my druthers, I'd be roasting a whole suckling pig, but those suckers are expensive, I'm cooking for one a lot of the time, and who the hell can eat 10 -15 pounds of swine, no matter how tasty the beast might be?

When it comes to fresh pig and it's primal cut the shoulder, there are a couple of different names used. From the top half of the shoulder you've got pork butt (yes, butt = shoulder in pig talk), Boston butt, Boston shoulder roast, etc. and from the foreleg or bottom half of the shoulder you get picnic leg, picnic shoulder, picnic roast, pernil and whatever other fancy names the marketing geniuses have come up with recently. Here's a chart of the pork primals that I took from a classic book called Cutting Up in The Kitchen by Merle Ellis...and anyone who wants a great primer on butchery ought to have this book in their's available for around $3 used, and I've had my dog-eared copy since about 1978...

There really is no greater bargain when buying fresh pork than the picnic shoulder roast, and that's probably because it scares a lot of people off. For instance, I was walking by my local market today and pernil was $.79 a pound - that's not a typo, either. So, for about $8, you can buy a roast big enough to feed 10 hungry people and have a leftover hunk for sandwiches and the soup pot.

This past weekend Significant Eater was stuck in DC due to our ummm, inclement weather...

so I bought a small hunk of pernil - it was around 4 pounds, and since it wasn't on sale, it cost me all of $5. I took about 5 cloves of garlic, and mashed them up in my mortar and pestle, along with a handful of fennel seeds, some olive oil, grated orange rind (you wash your orange first, don't you?), the juice from that orange, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Then, I trimmed the thick skin off the shoulder (don't throw it out, roast it along with the pernil) and rubbed the marinade all over the pork. Into a plastic bag it went, and I left it in the fridge for the next two nights. I loaded it onto a rack in a roasting pan with the juices from the marinade keeping it company...

Now the shoulder is a cut that benefits from a long, slow roast, so that's what I did - about 5 hours at 275 F, most of the time covered with that hunk of skin you see hanging out to the left. You can add a little liquid (water, wine, stock, whatever) to the pan if you like, but at that temp there's really no worries about burning things. I may have turned it over once or twice during its roast, and I took the skin off the top for the last hour or so to crisp it all up. Lookee here...

Serve this beauty up with a mess of greens (I made collards) and maybe even some beans, and you've got yourself quite a meal. Make that 5 meals - I had it again for lunch today, and it was still great. I might have to make another one real soon though, since SE's coming home early Friday for a long weekend. As long as it doesn't look like this...