Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blogger's Block? Have A Doughnut

Wow. Here it is the end of September, and I'm realizing that I haven't "blogged" (god, that's a stupid word) in two weeks! Writer's block? Well, that would be true if I was a writer. Maybe just nothing really exciting to blog about? Who knows what the cause is?

I could tell you all that I've been back to Eataly yet again...but what fun would that be? By the way, dinner at Manzo was great - sweetbreads, pasta with all sorts of offal, beef braised in barolo, a giant pork chop with a side of testa...all delicious. And I gotta stop buying a certain jar of olives - or as I've been referring to them - olive crack.

I could say Significant Eater and I had a less-than-spectacular meal at Zaytinya a week or two ago....but what fun would that be? Lousy, rushed service, food lacking a certain zip that was there on my first few visits...say it ain't so, Jose.

I could tell you about all the great stuff I've been cooking again - and indeed I am cooking again, now that the temperatures have moderated and my kitchen is habitable. But then I'd have to take pictures of the food and we all know how annoying that is. Imagine dinner guests having to wait while I shoot - I can hear the hungry ones now. Okay, okay - just one - here's a batch of pickled tomatoes I put up last weekend...

No, no, no - the heck with all that. I'd much rather tell you about one of the coolest things Sig Eater and I have ever seen on the lower east side. You've all heard of this place, no doubt...

Yep, it's the world famous Doughnut Plant. World famous, you say? Well, yeah - I don't know if you've seen the lines that stretch endlessly out into the street on many weekends. Every lower east side tour and tour bus makes this an obligatory stop. And it's a good one - the doughnuts are truly works of art. I'm partial to the cake doughnuts; others like the yeasted each his own. And there are plenty of flavors to choose from every day - now that it's fall, expect to find some nice apple and pumpkin varieties, along with the classic jam filled and chocolate ones.

So here we are, walking back to our apartment, which is literally around the corner from the Plant. Our apartment is one of four big buildings, all part of the same co-op, and there's lots of grass and trees and open space - a rarity in Manhattan. Brings with it a good deal of "wildlife." By wildlife, I mean birds of all sorts (there's even a resident red-tailed hawk in Seward Park) and squirrels (which I suppose make good food for the red-tail). And what does all this have to do with Doughnut Plant?

Well, not much, until I looked over at an obviously happy squirrel and did a double take. Yep, there she/he was, sitting in the crook of a tree, looking contented as can be, munching away on a big, fat doughnut - practically as big as the squirrel itself.

Obviously, humans aren't the only ones who love Doughnut Plant. My only question - what flavor?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You Go, Grill

Yay - it's finally grilling season. Now, I know what you're thinking; dude, grilling season just passed - it's called "summer." You know, from Memorial Day to Labor Day in these parts. Bull, I say. In my opinion, there's actually no better time to grill than when the weather starts getting cooler; after all, do you really want to stand over a blazing grill when it's 100 degrees out? (If I did, I guess I'd still be in the restaurant biz). And all those years that I lived in California, football season was when I most enjoyed my barbecues - grilling and watching the 49ers beat everyone in existence...those were the days.

My biggest problem when it comes to grilling? I don't own one. Well that, and the fact that we live on the 15th floor of an apartment building, leads to very little grilling. Sure, I can get my cast-iron grill pan screaming hot and pretend grill in our 98 square foot kitchen, but it's just not the same. And no matter what I do, the 49ers suck.

But just this past weekend, Significant Eater and I were invited to a friend's house - yes, house - where there are two, count 'em, two grills in the backyard. And, I got to play on them. My buddy and I both shopped with the grill in mind; and then we both cooked on those grills.

First off, we had some beautiful fish and shellfish from the farmer's market. Assorted clams (cherrystones and littlenecks), cooked just till they pop open and dressed sparingly with nothing but lemon juice, were a gift from the Atlantic. If you've never had a clam like this, you don't know what you're missing...

Also procured at the same seafood vendor were a couple of beautiful black sea bass; when my pal bought 'em, they were still in rigor (that's a good thing). If you've never had black sea bass, you don't know what you're missing. David Pasternack serves it as part of a crudo platter at Eataly, and that's all you need to know. We decided to cook them, simply stuffing the cavity with fresh herbs and lemon slices, tying a bay leaf around the outside and tossing it right onto the grill - no special equipment needed if your grill is properly prepared, hot enough and you know what you're doing...

10 minutes to a side and we ended with some mighty tasty fish...there was even a slight fight over the facial parts and collar - as there should be...

Of course, man does not live by fish alone, and I had headed over to my butcher at the Essex Street Market to pick up some lamb. He had a few beautiful racks of lamb with my name on them, so I took home two and marinated them in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Nice and simple and simply delicious after a short stint on the Weber with some apple tree trimmings thrown on for good measure...

So you see, there's nothing to stop you from grilling after Labor Day. Or barbecuing. Well, as long as you've got some friends with a backyard and a Weber, that is. We're lucky - we do. Now, if only the 49ers would stop sucking...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Significant Eater Goes to Eataly...or Eataly Part 2

You know how it happens. You go somewhere without your favorite person and wish they could've been there with you. Then, you go back again...solo. Then, said favorite person starts to complain that they "never get to go to any of the good places." So, with all that in mind, I had to get back to Eataly quickly...and with Significant Eater. So we did just that, eating lunch at the seafood counter, where Chef David Pasternack was working the crudi station. No surprise - it was all quite good.

We started with a Pasternack classic - crudi...3 nice sized slices of pristine fish - I remember sockeye and (perhaps) bass or cod, barely dressed with citrus, olive oil, salt & pepper, alongside a tiny salad of sea beans. Crudi the way it should be.

A spiedino di mare from the appetizer portion of the menu was delicious - cooked "a la plancha" with juicy gulf shrimp, crisp bread cubes and tender squid. Actually, it was so good that Significant Eater complained loudly that I was eating more squid than she.

Finally, we shared a very good fritto misto (but would it hurt to throw a couple more pieces of scrap cod in there, please?) and a meager, yet delicious corn/cherry tomato saute.

Delicious? Undoubtedly. The best bargain in Eataly? Not really, but is great seafood ever a bargain? That lunch above, with 1 glass of rosé Bastianich, came to $85, including tip. Trust me, I could have eaten more - it goes without say that SE could've too.

If only the line for the pizza/pasta area wasn't 20 deep when we gave up our seats...

Friday, September 3, 2010


Okay, this is about Eataly, because like every other blogger-douche I have to get my say in. I've been twice only. I'll blog about it again in a year (maybe less).

The other night, I had two delicious pastas, a sinful assortment of cured meats and cheeses, a pizza and a beer (or two). Everything was pretty damn good.

Got back today at the perfect time; the espresso bar wasn't much of a zoo. The espresso is perfectly serviceable...maybe even more likable to the general public than the espresso at some other places...

There's another espresso station as well...

This one seemed a little more serious. They were pulling shots of Jamican Blue Mountain at $5 a pop. I didn't try one. This was more my goal...

Looked fairly hot in there...

The pizza I ordered was described with a lot of initials after it's name...T.S.G.* And then the definition of those initials. Gives you something to read while you await the end product.

Which was worth the wait today. Cheese-less, topped only by a sweet tomato puree with bits of thinly sliced garlic barely melted from the heat of the oven, basil and olive oil atop a perfectly cooked crust.

My pie was $9 and the retail prices of some items certainly look comparable, if not a bit lower, than other high-end markets here in NYC.

At the shellfish counter...overseen by fish guru David Pasternack...

Wow. There's surely a lot more for eat here, which means a lot more trips. Perhaps Significant Eater won't mind going tomorrow for lunch?

I think Eataly sets a new bar. It brings together, for our shopping and dining pleasure, the high quality of product (at retail) that Batali has always demanded and the high quality of cooking that we've always expected from the Bastianich (and I mean Lydia here) and Batali kitchens. Is there anything like this in the U.S.?

It has a certain energy; it'll be interesting to see how long that lasts. Sort of like what Otto was when it first opened; like no other Italian restaurant in the city, with a good deal of focus on the front room and standing and eating and drinking being OK.

At Eataly, it may be about standing and eating, or sitting at counters and eating or browsing the aisles while waiting for a table. It may be about nothing but shopping, for that perfect piece of mozzarella, 1/4 pound of prosciutto or to see if Silverton's sourdough has changed along with the seasons. It's beautiful and fresh and new. And the fact is, it's exciting.

There were plenty of people buying T-shirts and aprons today, and that's OK too. For me, it'll always be about the food first. I can get my Alessi somewhere else.