Fried chicken is almost as controversial as politics and petanque, both of which I avoid at most costs. Anyway, we were in need of a fried chicken fix. If you do not know what a fried chicken fix is, do not keep reading and definitely avoid the M&G diner.
Good, you are still with me. This place is a shrine to fried chicken. Yes they serve breakfast, waffles and fried chicken, but we go for the chicken. Actually, the whole meal is worth it. You get a fried chicken leg and thigh, two sides, in our case baked macaroni and cheese and braised collard greens--though when we went this most recent time they had cabbage which was amazingly tender and flavorful-- as well as two split and griddled corn muffins. Ask for a cola and your day is now complete. The skin on the chicken is crispy but not over spiced and complicated. It is after all fried chicken. The macaroni and cheese is custard like in tenderness, with bits of caramelized goodness here and there.
With regards to the rest of the menu I have no concrete evidence on quality, though people order the other stuff as well. We go for the fried chicken fix.
Arugula granita came about like many things in our kitchen, close association. I was working on a triple creme sorbet modeled after the Alain Ducasse then Thomas Keller mascarpone sorbet. We are working on a dessert featuring rhubarb, almond cake and crumble, freeze dried strawberries, smoked peppercorns and balsamic vinegar. I wanted a creamy salty element for the dessert and thought of triple creme cheeses. Also, I had the thoughts and ideas of the triple creme brulee still fluttering about my mind. And so we came up with the triple creme sorbet, not to far of a reach from the inspiration of mascarpone. When I was done making the sorbet base I had some extra simple syrup in a pan and beautiful arugula sitting in ice water on the counter. I saw the two and figured why not make a granita. I cooked the arugula in the syrup and then pureed it with ice to cool it down and pulverize it immediately. When the puree was smooth and vibrant I strained the mixture and began to freeze it in a shallow loaf pan. I scraped the freezing base every half an hour in order to generate fine delicate ice crystals. When the granita was finished, we assembled a simple refreshing dish: Charentais melon confit with arugula granita, balsamic vinegar, vanilla salt and Armando Manni's olive oil.
Ahem, just to clarify, I didn't say that guys were the only ones interested in food science, I said that male chefs were more into the molecular gastronomy thing, meaning that men seem more inclined to twist food around and turn it inside out. You don't find many female chefs creating "eggs" out of carrots and cardamom (Wylie) or out of mozzarella cheese and yellow tomatoes (Michel Richard). Women as a general rule, myself included, will harvest the food science information for techniques that will improve the texture and flavor of food without necessarily trying to change the actual characteristics of what we are cooking. One of the things that I love about the shrimp spaetzle is that they retain the snap, crunch and flavor of fresh shrimp, probably because they are 98% shrimp.
One of the biggest points of Herve's lecture was the nature of sharing food. He believes that food should always be prepared with love, in fact he said that when you share food with someone else you automatically become friends. He went to great lengths to separate the concepts of science (actual information), technology (applying the information to create new techniques and inventions to enhance the cooking process) and craft (actual cooking and creation of dishes for the table) . His theory was that chefs should not fear the scientist because they are just gathering information, they should fear the technologist because they are the ones utilizing the information to create new techniques. He has a new book coming out with Pierre Gagnaire and one of the reasons why he enjoys Pierre's food is because, in his opinion, it is an expression of love. He encourages the idea of people sharing plates at a table because this encourages comradeship which is what dining is all about. In fact he spent so much time on these theories that he did not have enough time to go over all of the cooking techniques he had planned on discussing during his lecture.
I found this interesting because this feeling of community is the backbone of the restaurant industry. We come into to service industry because we have a desire to take care of others and nurture them in some way. Restaurants that succeed and build a solid following do so because people feel cared for when they dine there. Every neighborhood has a place where everybody goes, the food may be good or not so good, the room may be fancy or plain, but the rooms always has a positive vibe and a feeling of warmth when you walk through it's doors. People come there for the experience and the sense of belonging as much as for anything else. Diners chat with the tables next to them, preferences are remembered and people feel at home. In the truly great places, even first timers can experience that kind of welcome and that's what brings people back time and again.
Back to Herve, he had very concrete answers about cooking an egg. He had documented and photographed how an egg reacts after being cooked to every degree from 60-75C. When asked about collagen (a hot topic these days) he stressed the fact that it is a very complicated subject. The reason being that temperature at which it denatures is slightly different for every different protein you may wish to cook. When Alex expressed frustration with the fact that there are no concrete answers, I poked at him. After all, there are no concrete rules for most techniques in cooking. If you ask how to roast a chicken or braise a short rib, every chef I know will give me a slightly different answer as to the best technique. Techniques aside, the only way to find the best method for cooking anything is to discover what works best for you, whether you are steaming a flounder or cooking a scallop sous vide. The only way to truly find your way is to begin cooking yourself.
As for boys with toys, there were actually a fair number of women in the audience. There was a smaller percentage of women buying his books. The line to get them autographed was all male.
Today was a good day in and out of the kitchen. The morning began in our intimate kitchen working on shrimp spaetzle and finishing up chicken skin crusted skate. The skate was brined in earl gray tea and shiitake mushroom infusion. Once the flavors had permeated the skate we layered it and topped it with blanched chicken skin. We then poached it and chilled it in order to set the skate and intensify flavors. While the skate rested we assembled our shrimp spaetzle which is merely minced shrimp, salt and transglutaminase.
When the spaetzle was finished, we began work on the dish. We browned some butter with a whole clove of garlic which we used to saute the skate and shrimp spaetzle, separately. After wards, we sauteed some arugula in the garlic butter used to saute the spaetzle. We added rhubarb-mustard to the plate and a fresh grating of bergamot. This was the first rendition utilizing the shrimp spaetzle and testing the chicken skin crusted skate. While we enjoyed the dish, most likely we will be separating these two interesting ingredients in future culinary explorations.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Herve This. In short he is a physical chemist who loves cooking and has enough passion and opinion to fill Giant's Stadium. In many ways Herve This is a mystery to chefs and cook alike, particularly those who do not speak and read French.
In recent months, his book, Molecular Gastronomy Exploring the Science of Flavor, has begun to fill bookshelves and desktops, mainly do to the fact that it has been translated into English. To be frank, I enjoy the book though currently it generates more questions than answers. But, questions are good as they promote thought, conversation and an examination of ideas.
Herve This brought these questions and more to the lecture he gave at the French Culinary Institute. The room was packed with students and professors. Aki and I were there more for me and she noted that the room was filled primarily with guys, stating "they are the ones who are into all this molecular gastronomy stuff." Well, I am not sure if it is a guy thing or just a gadget thing and the fact that guys like gadgets.
And This began the lecture, speaking of the origins of molecular gastronomy, its vision and approach and the changes it has undergone since inception. We were also informed that when This speaks of Pierre, he means only Pierre Gagnaire. Let's be frank, I attended the lecture to uncover mysteries, dissolve false notions and come away with ideas. Much of what was shown can be taken from the book. Though it is inspiring to witness the passion and inspiration This has for the subject, something the book does not quite present.
Anyway back to Herve This. After the first hour of snippets and focused culinary stream of consciousness presentation , (perhaps the set up for our minds) This began with his experiments, formulas and ideas. And this is where my brain took off. Again, my mind is like a rubber ball and goes everywhere and anywhere.
Amidst the slide presentations and the variety of egg experiments, This noted that collagen denatures at 55 degrees C in meat, and that an associate of his found that fish from cold and warm water have collagen that denatures at different temperatures. I raised my hand and asked for a source of the findings though I was unable to scribble down the names of the French individuals fast enough. I will email him later.
The importance of the temperature of 55 degrees C is really important to me. I have been continuously trying to further my own education and am constantly trying to unearth facts and then justify them. Most recently our friend Tony Maws of Craigie Street Bistro had an in depth class with the French food scientist Bruno Goussault, regarded as a zen master in sous vide cookery. Well, after Tony's continued education, which he has been kind enough to filter through to me via tantalizing and tempting emails, he had a much clearer vision and approach to sous vide cookery. One key point which we have discussed before and after his classes was the denaturing point of collagen. After his work with Goussault, Tony had the temperature of 55 degrees C for cooking short ribs. That means that collagen would denature at or around 55 degrees C. Well, I still doubted or at least wanted concrete proof. I also had questions about the amount of time needed to cook ingredients at such a temperature and whether or not the large amounts of time are beneficial or beneficial enough to tie up machinery for so long.
The lecture yesterday reintroduced the denaturing point of collagen to my thoughts and provided another point of reference to begin asking questions. Unfortunately, I still do not have the answers. We have happily cooked short ribs at 67 degrees C for 24 hours which yielded a melting tender product with a rosy pink interior.
And so it goes, Herve This presented ideas and theories, passion and opinion and I happily left with many new inspirations and unanswered questions.
So, I guess this means we've hit the big time. In the last couple of days we've been bombarded with trackback spam and so we've activated the comment moderation feature. Please don't let this inhibit your urge to write, we're not editors, we just want to keep the pornography links off the site! We love to hear your thoughts and ideas and would hate to see them disappear along with the spam.
On a brighter note, we're looking for restaurant recomendations in Hawaii. We will be able to do lunches in Nawilliwilli in Kaui, Hilo and Kona. We will have the opportunity for lunch and dinner in Lahaina and Honolulu. We are considering Alan Wong's but other than that we're wide open. We'd appreciate any input you may have either in the comments or by e-mail. Thanks for your help!
We received a shipment of old and new spices from Terra Spice as well as an assortment of freeze dried fruits. When eating freeze dried fruits the first thought that comes to mind is the freeze dried ice cream of yore. I actually never ate the stuff, but I remember the packaging and hearing about the lovers and haters of the product.
Once we opened the parcels we began tasting the ingredients: pineapple, coconut, strawberry, banana, apricot, blueberry, corn. As we were eating tastes and textures mingled and we began to see the incredible possibilities of these products. I put together a playful bite in a spoon--coconut powder, pineapple and strawberry. It was a crunchy strawberry daiquiri. The flavors of these freeze dried fruits is intense and pointing. Ideal for directing and coaxing the flavors in dishes.
This morning we assembled a dish inspired by the Hawaiian Poke. Well, we used tuna cubes. The dish consisted of tuna cubes, melon cubes, celery relish, chives, tequila vinegar and sake cured roe. To the side of this mixture we made a dry crumble of freeze dried pineapple and coconut accented with smoked peppercorns. The dry seasonings are the crunchy seasonings added by the diner bite by bite.
This is a work in progress. The initial results were fantastic, so much so that we decided to work with presentations and flavor combinations, although this is most likely not the final result. We began with cream and sugar to which we added a double creme brie and salt. We let this base mixture infuse and then tempered in some egg yolks. When the creme brulee base was made we let is set overnight and cooked in the morning. The custard set beautifully and we were then able to work on what to serve with this concoction. Aki likes custard but not the burnt sugar on top. I like the two together. So, our differences became the means in which to add the burnt sugar to the triple creme base. We made caramel shards and filaments which we could then place on the custard. Those who want the sugar can eat the two while those in Aki's camp can pick the burnt sugar off. In order to balance the richness of the custard we added some of our celery relish. We have used this relish in savory preparations, but it works equally well here. The dish eats well though I still believe we can take it a step or to further in refinement and aesthetics. We shall see.
Rhubarb is an interesting vegetable. It is a close relative to garden sorrel and in relation carries an intense vegetal sour quality. Yet rhubarb is happily tamed with spices, sugars and herbs. I enjoy the the cleansing character which rhubarb has and because of this we use more often as vegetable balanced with the aforementioned adulterants.
Most recently we marinated rhubarb in elderflower syrup and then cooked it gently to allow the flavors to blend while keeping the structure of the rhubarb intact. Once the rhubarb was cooked we began to work on several dishes which would benefit from the rhubarb.
We came across some pristine diver scallops at the market and they became the first counterparts to the rhubarb. In fact, we used similar ingredients in two dishes one hot, one cold. Again we began with our pre-cooked scallops. I say pre-cooked because that is what we do. I have written about the process (Twice Cooked Scallops) and we have found this is a great starting point for hot or cold dishes. However, I made a slight alteration in how we set the scallops. Here I arranged the scallops toes to nose (so to speak) and then rolled that as a log which we then vacuum sealed and cooked for thirty minutes at 49 degrees C. This arrangement of the scallops enabled us to retain a greater scallop look and also a slightly firmer texture.
Once the scallops were chilled we began with the dishes. Same components: rhubarb, celery relish, chives, salt--the cold dish had olive oil, the hot browned butter. The texture of the chilled scallop was silky smooth and tasted of the sea. The twice cooked scallop was warm and buttery with a firmness that gave way beneath the pressure of a fork. The rhubarb added sweet acidity to the dish with floral notes coming from the infusion of elderflower. The celery relish added crunch and a touch of spice (we marinated the celery in a mustard fruit syrup).
We continued to work on dishes today. We were able to execute the dish with mojama and melon which we were talking about several days ago. Who would believe that fresh ripe Charentais melons would be available in February. Well they were and we took action. We slow cooked the melons to concentrate their flavor and firm the flesh. We then chilled the melon and cut out slabs which we topped with shaved mojama. As a counterpoint to the dish we sliced thick chunks of yellow fin tuna to mimic the melon slab. The tuna is seasoned with salt and meyer lemon zest and topped with a melon plank coated in chives.
Well, we are somewhat behind on writing up our restaurant experiences here in NYC. We're waiting on a menu from Per Se , detailing our particular tasting. They promised to mail it to us a week ago and we're still waiting. WD-50 where we unwittingly witnessed the chaos of the night before Valentine's Day will (hopefully) be posted soon, along with several other places where we have nibbled along the way.
Last Saturday we had lunch at Five Points . We arrived early, as seems to be our weekend habit and after a slight scuffle over a parking space, Alex got caught trying to lift up the back of a vintage VW Bug and move it forward a few inches so he could fit into the space behind, we walked into the bustling restaurant. Although they understandably couldn't seat us until closer to our reservation time we were lucky enough to find three stools at the bar. While my aunt and I sipped variations on the classic Bellini made with ginger and orange rind, and passion fruit respectively, Alex had a surprisingly small but good cappuccino. I say surprisingly simply because the cozy feel of the place at brunch makes you think of big, steaming bowls of coffee as opposed to a regular cup.
When we arrived at the table we were offered a round of drinks on the house. Auntie opted for a Virgin Mary while Alex and I decided to try their version of Planter's Punch. We are both quite picky about our punch and this one was excellent. We took the opportunity to order some churros and hot chocolate while we perused the menu. The churros were gorgeous, long and crispy, incredibly light and almost creamy in the center, freshly fried and dusted with sugar crystals. We played with them like children, dipping them into the hot chocolate and pulling them apart with our fingers. They were fun and delicious and no one should go to brunch there without ordering them.
For her first course my aunt had cauliflower soup. Cauliflower is one of her new favorites as a puree and she was very happy to see the soup listed as a special. It was very flavorful, creamy and redolent of cauliflower without being heavy or cloying. I had the market salad with warm goat cheese which was exactly as it should have been. Alex began with a grilled hangar steak salad with buttermilk blue cheese dressing. His steak was perfectly cooked and the salad was simple and tasty.
For our entrees, my Aunt had a fritatta made with wild mushrooms and cheese. The fritatta itself was surprisingly thin as we are used to seeing the thicker, Italian style and Auntie enjoyed it very much. Alex had the baked eggs with brioche, spinach and smoked salmon. His feeling was that the casserole was too large, allowing the eggs to spread out and overcook. The brioche, which was also resting in the casserole dish was soggy and to his mind a smaller casserole dish would allow the eggs to set perfectly with the (still crispy) toast served on the side. Aside from these minor observations, he enjoyed the dish. The saltiness of the salmon was a nice contrast to the buttery spinach and eggs. I had the turkey pot pie, down home comfort food for the day before a storm. The crust was controversial at our table. It was a thin layer of what I think was lemon pepper biscuit dough. It was flavorful and a bit sandy in texture. I thought it worked, but I would have preferred something with less seasoning and a lighter texture to let the filling shine through more. Alex didn't think it worked at all. The filling was scrumptious, chunks of turkey and vegetables in a lightly thickened gravy. There appeared to be a touch of cream in the filling but it was definitely not a cream sauce. Unfortunately, by the time entrees arrived I was getting full so I wasn't able to do it justice.
We skipped dessert, as no one had any room left. The room was still crowded when we left but it was a well handled busyness. The staff was very gracious and accommodating and the atmosphere in the restaurant was definitely a positive one. The food was toothsome, well presented and very reasonably price. There's a reason why this place is a New York staple and I'm sure that we will be back there again.
*If you want to attempt the churros at home, Marc Meyer, the chef at Five Points has a cookbook, Brunch, 100 Recipes from Five Points Restaurant. It's a fun book and there are some interesting recipes in it, especially if you like a leisurely breakfast.
Being back in NYC has allowed me to enjoy the proximity to deli's, sandwich shops and on the fly food. One of my fondest sandwiches is the Muffaletta. In its true form it is a conglomeration of sliced meats and cheeses topped with an olive relish and then backed in the oven until it is crispy and warm. My parents used to make this sandwich on gigantic loaves of round bread and bring it to tailgating parties.
Today we revisited this classic and made a dish inspired by the flavors and textures of a Muffaletta. The tuna is wrapped in mortadella and seared. The ragout is an olive and vegetable relish enriched with mandarin orange olive oil and chives. We made a sheep's milk Gouda cracker to punctuate the cheese element and some powdered tomato added a refreshing sweetness.
Yesterday we had lunch at Five Ninth with Alex's sister and her boyfriend. It was the first time that we were meeting him and so we picked a place that was casual and funky, where we thought we could get a good bite to eat. As it turns out, the food was pretty good but the service was some of the most entertaining ever. Thankfully, as a group we were all pretty mellow and so we spent most of the meal laughing, although I can see how with the wrong group it could easily have gone the other way.
Alex and I made incredible time driving into the city and parking magically appeared around the corner from the restaurant. It was about a half an hour before our reservation so we considered a coffee at Pastis but it was a madhouse inside and outside it was bitter cold, so we decided to have our coffee at Five Ninth. We were pleased to discover that the restaurant actually has a sign outside now--you practically used to have to be psychic to find the place. The hostess at the door was incredibly gracious, an attribute that has been lacking here in NYC. We offered to have our coffee at the bar, but after checking to make sure that it was set up, she led us upstairs to a table for four. She left us with menus and advised us that our server would be with us shortly. That's where the adventure began.
Since it was so cold, I decided to have some tea while we waited. There were two oolongs on the list and when our slightly disheveled server arrived, let's call him Bill (I never did catch his actual name), I asked him what the difference was.
"Well, one, the --- is a bit more floral and the other is slightly more bitter. Or is it --- that's more floral? Anyway, um, I think we only have one of them, hang on and I'll go check." He disappears for a a few seconds. "Actually, we don't have either of them. What we do have is one which is really tannic and kind of bitter, a mint and a chammomile."
After briefly considereing my options of bitter and tannic or no caffeine, I responded "Okay, in that case I'll have a latte." Alex quickly ordered one as well.
Bill gave us a theatrical shrug. "Well, actually, it'll be at least twenty minutes for that. The cappucino machine wasn't working this morning so we had to bring in another one." Quick smile. "So, it'll take a while for this one to warm up." Okay then, we'll just have some coffee.
As he brought the coffee, Bill shook his head. "How do you people get up so early?" he asked wonderingly.
"Um, I think we probably went to bed way earlier than you did."
He nodded. "Probably, I woke up an hour after I was supposed to be here today. I called them to tell them I was in the car and on my way." Sigh, "But they still weren't very happy with me." Go figure.
As he went to take care of another table, we scanned the wine list and chatted. We were both starving and decided to order some doughnut holes while we waited. As Bill had disappeared, we ordered them from the back waiter. When Bill returned to the floor (literally, Five ninth is in a townhouse and we were on the second floor) he asked us if we needed anything. Alex explained that we had ordered doughnut holes from the lady who had been on the floor.
"No you didn't.", with a big smile.
"Well, yes we did, It was about five minutes ago."
"No, you didn't." Very firmly and with a shake of his head. "She doesn't speak a word of English. You may think so, but you didn't order a thing. I'll go put them in now."
Meredith and Brian arrived promptly and after a flurry of hellos, we settled down and the doughnut holes arrived. They were four cakey balls, rolled in coarse sugar and served with a bowl of hot chocolate. They were good, but nothing close to the churros with hot chocolate at Five Points. As Bill came by to take our order, his parting words were "Okay guys, I'm kind of out of it today, so if I seem a bit spacey and you need something," flashing smile, "just throw a fork at me."
I had the trout salad to start, which I enjoyed. Small bites of deep fried smoked trout tossed with baby mustard greens, trout roe, radishes, caramelized onions and a cold, slow cooked egg. The egg would have been much better served warm as the whites were barely set and disappeared into the salad and cold, runny egg yolks are not my favorite thing, but all in all the salad worked well. Meredith enjoyed her congee, Brian really enjoyed his egg with panzanella and prosciutto and Alex's cubano disappeared so fast that I didn't even get a bite.
Bill came by as we were eating. "Are we all happy campers here?" We were.
For the second course I ordered the shanghai noodles. It was supposed to be fat noodles swimming in broth with chinese broccoli, berkshire pork and a slow cooked egg. As the bowl was set before me, it smelled delicious. I slid my chopsticks through the broth and saw everything I needed, everything except...noodles. I searched the bowl again. Alex who was waching the process flagged down Bill.
"There are no noodles in her bowl."
"Really?" He peered over my shoulder, scrutinizing the bowl. "You're right, there ARE no noodles in there." A food runner tugged at his shirt and Bill turned, "HERE they are. The kitchen just sent them up." The noodles were naked in a small ceramic bowl. "Do you want to be formal about this or can I just dump them in there?" I indicated that he could, so he did, conscientously turning the bowl away from me so it would splash toward the table as opposed to my lap. "Tableside noodle service." He chirped merrily, "I used to do this kind of thing all the time when I worked at Jean Georges. Practically everything is done tableside there. But I only lasted for like six months. They take everything so seriously there. A manager caught me humping a busboy in the coffee station because I wanted to get my cappucinos and flipped out. Like, it's only food people."
As we were eating, a woman in a chef's coat came up and quietly conferred with Bill in the corner. The next time he came to the table he let us know that she had been the chef. "She was really upset about the noodles. But I told her it was okay. Tableside noodle service! We should do this all the time."
Brian and Meredith belatedly decided to order a second course. They shared a ham, egg and cheese sandwich on a baguette and Alex suggested the lardo on toast as a side. He gave them a description of lardo, the part of the pig, the process, the flavor. Bill chimed in with his agreement. "Everyone knows that meat gets it's flavor from fat. In this case there is no meat, only fat, so imagine how much flavor there is in the lardo. It's all flavor. You should definitely try it "
As they were finishing, he came over solicitously. "How was your lardo experience?" Alex cracked up again, uproariously recapping some of Bill's one liners. Bill smiled and shrugged "I know, sometimes I hear these things coming out of my mouth and I think, that wasn't the most professional thing that I've ever said. But oh well, it's already out there. I think it's because I'm in the restaurant business. Strange things happen to people in this business. I think it's because we're open to different things and we see the world differently. There was this one time when my friend and I were walking down the street and this guy asked for directions. So I gave them to him and when I finished he reached out and honked my nose." He gave us and incredulous look and demonstrated the twist and honk, setting us off into gales of laughter. "I looked at my friend and said was that me? Did I do anything to invite that? Strange things always happen to me."
Finally we asked for the check. "Are you in a hurry?" Well, no, we're just heading over to Chelsea market to do some shopping. "Well, the kitchen is sending you some desserts. Can you wait for them?" As it was presented as a fait accompli, it seemed rude not to. We waited for quite some time and finally we saw Bill approaching the table, sheepishly brandishing a plate of "Doughnuts Holes!" He placed them on the table with a flourish and shrugged, "Well, you can never have enough doughnuts right?"
The restaurant was not very busy, a stark contast the meal we had there last year. I wonder if it was because it was a Saturday or because Fatty Crab has landed so close by. We both thought that food was better than last year, with some hits and misses, but overall the meal was pretty good and we had a lot of fun. So thank you Bill, whoever you are in real life, although we might never hire you, we certainly enjoyed your company yesterday.
So, we made it to Kee's Chocolates. This is a different kind of chocolatier. The shop is tiny, the signage small and packaging simple and non descript. Well, what does that mean for the chocolates themselves. The chocolate case has about 16 different chocolates, each with an approachable uniqueness. The chocolates vary from creme brulee to tamarind to green tea. These chocolates are interesting in that their descriptions are the draw, the texture is incredible, fragile as blown glass shell and a silky almost molten pudding interior. The only flaw is they do not always deliver on flavor. The tamarind does for sure, though the creme brulee is more of a vanilla pudding. It misses on the burnt sugar flavor. The Earl Grey and Green Tea chocolates speak of the complimentary ingredients while a few chocolates I consumed tasted of just great chocolate. I searched my mind and palate for the distinct seasoning associated with these chocolates without resolve. You see, this shop is small, not bothered with packaging and the like so there is no chocolate Rosetta Stone. Either you have a photographic memory and can visualize the case arrangement at home or you rely on the flavor of the chocolates. I guess one should just rely on the chocolates and hope that all the seasonings are intense enough and balanced to speak to the palate.
All in all a great chocolate inspiration.
What is JB Prince? In short it is the Porche showroom for chefs. Actually, it is more than that. JB Prince provides a showroom of tools, equipment, books and more, which continuously sparks ideas and empties my wallet.
The store has character, beginning with its location on the 11th floor of a building in the rug district. Everyone I go there with asks me how I found this place. For me it was word of mouth. Years ago when I began cooking I was brought to this place that many treat as a culinary mecca, by Paul Sant, an Australian who was young, bright and eager to impart his knowledge of life and cooking to my sponge like persona. One day he said that I needed knives if I really wanted to be a chef. At this point in my career I was using the house knives of the country club where he and I worked. Yet, because the summer was drawing to a close and the Chef, Lenny Philips, had arranged for me to begin staging at the Park Avenue Cafe, I needed knives.
When you ascend the elevator to the 11th floor you emerge in a glass walled room lined books, pots, small machines and glass cases methodically arranged with knives. Welcome to the candy store, so to speak. I was shown the knives, and Paul guided me through the process of selecting mine. The expensive, glistening knives drew my attention. Thankfully Paul was there to wake me from the spell and point out that while those knives had merit, I needed practical, functional and knives that I would not mind seeing disappear. So we picked out knives with good blades and handles, appropriate for getting starting in the business which is now my life. I ended up with a chef's knife, a pairing knife, a serrated knife, a steel and a slicing knife.
As the knives were being wrapped up for me to begin slicing my own digits, which I did, but at least the knives were sharp, Paul directed me to the bookshelf and pointed to a book White Heat by Marco Pierre White. He just pointed. I picked the book up and was transfixed. This book, now in paper back, is more inspirational than any other piece of culinary literature. I began reading and came back to reality when Paul nudged me and asked if I was going to buy it.
Buy it I did. I then read it, and read it and read it again. I carried the book in my bag with my chef knives wherever I went. The book began to wear and became tattered. It did not matter. I was able to find my driving ambition in those pages, one that I truly believe sparked my career. And to this day, when I feel a bit amiss or disgruntled, I look to those pages and realize it is not that bad. Now I buy the book for others and give it away as a gift, to share the inspiration and to help get people out of their own ruts. I recomend that young cooks read the book and if their heart does not beat faster and their palms do not become sweaty, they should find another profession. Similarly, I remember stepping into JB Prince and making the first giant step in my career. But, most importantly I have the memories of a moment, a spark and a driving force which to this day pushes me to try and do better.
So, as irony and life seem to be bed fellows I was in JB Prince yesterday picking up some equipment. Low and behold, I ran into a contemporary who used to work at Park Avenue Cafe years ago when I first got started. And once again I catapulted back to the begining.
Interestingly enough we have never smoked peppercorns. I just heard of them today from a spice supplier The Terra Spice Company. We were most recently reintroduced to Terra Spice after our dessert session at Room 4 Dessert. The smoked salt which they were kind enough to let me use on a few dishes came from Terra Spice. Anyway, I have heard enough good comments about the company to give them a call. I did and am now awaiting a variety of ingredients from freeze dried pineapple to the aforementioned smoked peppercorns. Being in New York has only a few limitations. One of which is we did not travel with our smoker. That may be fine for most individuals, yet for me that is like Linus leaving his blanket at home.
Seeing the smoked peppercorns, apparently Lampong which are cold smoked with hickory wood, on a list of spices sparked a waterfall of ideas. The first is a bit campy, but that is OK. We are going to make poire au poivre fume. Sure the name is whimsical but the taste will be incredible. From that first connection we began talking about other smoked pepper crusts, other smoke peppercorns, smoked peppercorn mignonette with oysters and more, smoked peppercorn gastriques and caramel sauces. I could go on and on though I would rather wait until my shipment comes in. And when we go back west we shall try smoking peppercorns with other woods as well. One more thought is smoked peppercorns to be served crushed along foie gras, chocolate or peach torchon.
Chocolate truffles and candies are interesting. The quality of chocolate and the ingredients used vary by maker, and the chocolates themselves vary in quality from the waste of an idea to a truly decadent indulgence. Besides the ingredients used in chocolates, size plays an integral role in the chocolate experience. If the chocolate is too small the flavors, textures and qualities of the product become short lived. On the other hand, if the chocolate or derivative there of is too large, your palate goes into overload. The pleasure of chocolates from truffles to candies is encompassed by the variety of ingredients and the combinations of flavors. The balancing act of creating truffles becomes ever more difficult as individual chocolates become varietal in nature and have specific and distinctive flavor profiles. Each unique chocolate then becomes not only a vehicle for flavor but a complex flavor unto itself. Now these distinctive chocolates can be paired, accented and juxtaposed with the global palate of ingredients and techniques that has become available. What I find particularly interesting is what particular ingredients are combined with chocolate as well as the amount of the ingredient used to create a flavor profile. The alchemy of combining flavors is what allows each individual chocolate to succeed or fail. The same combinations can turn out to be sublime or deadly depending upon the skill of the individual chocolatier.
So, in the Cafe Gray post I mentioned that we had eaten at three different places on that particular day. I had originally intended to write about all three of them at that time but the description of Cafe Gray got a bit long and I decided to separate the lunch and dinner experiences. Besides, my writing had hit a wall. That wall was Urena.
Let me give you a bit of background on our evening. We had met up with a fellow Chef who we had corresponded with but never met. This was a new and very positive experience for us. The plan was to have dinner at Urena and dessert at Room 4 Dessert. Both restaurants were in their infancy, open for less than a month and generating lots of buzz. Basically, visiting the two places on the same evening was like viewing the opposite ends of a spectrum. The places and experiences could not have been more different.
I have to believe that we just hit Urena on a bad night. Frankly there isn't any way to describe our evening without making it sound like a farce. It was comedy of errors from beginning to end and the whole experience made me kind of sad. I'm not going to write a blow by blow account of what happened to us that particular evening, I'm just going to say that every aspect of our visit was disappointing from the decor to the service to the food. I could have forgiven the first two if the food had been fabulous but it wasn't even close. You may be able to chalk it up to growing pains but we will not be going back to find out.
Thankfully Room 4 Dessert was a totally different experience. The room is extremely long and narrow, evoking the feel of a new age soda fountain. Instead of egg creams and milkshakes there are funky and delicious cocktails, dessert wines and teas Instead of ice cream sundaes there are beautiful and thought provoking dessert presentations. The staff is extremely warm and friendly and there is a small library of cookbooks in the back. Guests can choose a book and peruse the artistry of other chefs while slowly savoring one of Will's creations. He and his wife are on hand at the bar to answer your questions and make you feel welcome. The place isn't fancy or exotic but it has a great vibe and a positive atmosphere. Although not everything on the menu was to our personal tastes, some of the standouts that we both agreed upon included a coconut pudding with a silky texture that was offset by freeze dried coconut powder, the apple sorbet and the cocoa pate bomb which managed to be ethereal and structured at the same time. (As we were eating Alex mentioned that he would have enjoyed some salt to pique the various elements in the dishes. Will was happy to offer an array of salts of which smoked was choosen to highlight various flavors from the coconut pudding to the caramel ice cream.)
Oh, and the cocktails are smashing. Alex had the mango planters punch while I sipped a concoction of gin, lychee and rosewater. I hesitated to order it because rosewater is an ingredient which can be heavy and overpowering, but I was rewarded but a drink that was delicate, frothy and refreshing.
Over the past several days we have dined at a number of restaurants, some we have had the time to write about, others are on hold until we get the time. Sure, we could have stayed home yesterday in the blizzard, but we had lunch reservations. That is a story unto itself.
During the meals we have consumed over the past few days a few striking ingredients caught our palates. The first was mojama. Mojama is a dry cured tuna loin which is traditionally shaved thin and marinated in olive oil served with a glass of crisp white wine. We enjoyed it shaved over a duck egg with roasted potatoes (Casa Mono) though its flavor and texture got our wheels churning. We talked about serving it shaved over raw hamachi or pairing it with melon confit. A fig and arugula salad would benefit from this salumi from the sea. The point is the ingredient caught our attention and started a train of thought which is just beginning.
The second ingredient of note is Hawaiian pepper leaves. These were used to wrap a tiger shrimp farce which was then grilled and served with chilled noodles in peanut sauce at boi. The leaf was tender and succulent and became bound to the shrimp farce as if it was there to provide structure and snap to the crustacean parcel. Again, the original presentation of the ingredient was delicious and it sparked a series of thoughts in how we could use the ingredient as well. We began talking about everything we could wrap from loins of fish to loins of meat to foie gras which we wanted to steam. Then we moved to pasta and began a series of questions about the use of the pepper leaf from making an herbal puree to using it in large pasta sheets.
The third ingredient which caught our attention was a confit of duck hearts. When we were served the dish, (per se) paired with barley stuffed cabbage and a petite Yorkshire pudding, Aki began to reminisce about making duck confit and throwing in the hearts and gizzards into the fat, a treat which was eaten partway through the event of confiting duck legs. What caught my attention was the use of an ingredient. The restaurant was able to make a small dish out of an ingredient which is either put in the bin or eaten as the reward for making confit. Also, it reminded me of the fact that not everyone has to have the same dish nor do you need to have enough of any one dish to feed the masses. Sometimes it is better to appreciate a limited quantity rather than using the limit as a reason not to make a dish.
We have enjoyed many other ingredients during our adventures, these three just seemed to tell their own story.
We've been sorely lacking in photos lately and for that we apologize. So here are a couple of pictures of Herrell's in Northampton. For those who don't know it, Steve Herrell was the original founder of Steve's Ice Cream in Somerville, MA. Steve is reputed to have pioneered the renaissance of old school, rich, flavorful gourmet ice cream. Their pamphlet claims that Steve was the first to grind up Heath Bars and other brand name confections and use them to create "mixins". Herrell's features all of the original Steve recipes in an old fashioned ice cream parlor.
Steve's is a must stop whenever we get to Northampton (which isn't very often). The chocolate pudding ice cream is amazing, a million times better than Jello pudding pops any day. The hot fudge is chewy and decadent. I hate when people serve thin, runny "hot fudge" and the sundae's at Herrell's never disappoint. They also have hot penuche, a sumptous butterscotch sauce made with brown sugar and cream. They even have chocolate whipped cream and a quadruple chocolate sundae. That sounded like a bit too much chocolate for me, but with flavors like burnt sugar'n'butter, malted vanilla and cookie dough peanut butter swirl to go alongside the chocolate pudding, creating an original sundae is easy and hard all at the same time.
Today has been interesting. I was reminded of the fact that just enough is more. We had a quick bite at Casa Mono for lunch. We started off with shaved jambon and crispy, salty, bacalao croquetas with orange aioli. Our next round of plates had fried calamari with lemon and griddled dorada with dates and celery. To conclude the meal we ordered the duck egg with mojama which was served with golden brown fingerling potatoes and a shaving of black truffles, griddled artichokes with mint, and "kentucky fried" sweetbreads with fennel cooked a la plancha. The dishes progressed in texture and flavors. I enjoyed the progression of tastes, so much so that I needed to order two more dishes. Mind you we were enjoying a bottle of 2002 Pesquera and I felt a few more bites of food would help finish the bottle. I brazenly waved my hand in the air, ignoring Aki's raised eyebrows across the table, and ordered the guinea hen with cranberry mustard fruit and the skirt steak with onion mermelada. Our server suggested the pork chop with quince and granada instead of the guinea hen and I accepted his recommendation.
I should have counted my meal complete and just savored the wine and the company. Instead, two dishes came forth, unfortunately overcooked, the pork dry and sweet while the steak was just fatty and leathery. And yet, the pepper like relish which came with the skirt steak was awesome. I could eat it on a shoe, which is good because I practically did. Anyway, after a few bites I paired it with the pork and it was tasty.
In hopes of atoning for my sins of ordering too many savory courses, I ordered a single dessert as well. We had the crema catalan with bay leaf fritters. Again, I can be pretty stupid. I should have listened to my own words of wisdom and known that just enough is more. The fritter batter was tough and chewy while the crema was rich and decadent; too rich for Aki's taste, a two-biter in my world of tastes.
All things considered we had a tasty lunch. Somehow, in my hope to extend the dining experience we ended up falling a bit shorter than expected. Oh well, someone needs to pay for those orange clogs.
We had three very different dining experiences yesterday that really made me sit back and meditate on the idea of a restaurant as a total experience which should be much more than the sum of it's parts.
In the hospitality business we all do a lot of talking about guest perceptions, customer service, memorable experiences, and creating a buzz. New York is a wonderful stage for a restaurant. It has a huge dining population with a relatively large disposable income with a tendency to be more open-minded than diners in other parts of the country. There are restaurateurs seemingly willing to move heaven and hell and spend millions of dollars to create the epitome of their version of the perfect restaurant. There are countless reviewers and endless blogs devoted to reporting on the dining scene. There is access to some of the best equipment, purveyors and ingredients in the world. There is an enormous employment pool of aspiring cooks and chefs, and an equally large pool of professional servers and managers, who all want to build their careers on a strong foundation of New York experience. Yet, with all of these advantages, many restaurants in this city feel lackluster and halfhearted. It's a tough year in New York City. I know these things are cyclical, last year was a much stronger and more positive one in this business. There were openings with a lot of buzz and the feeling that there were great restaurants to be explored on the landscape. This year when we ask friends in the business where to eat, we get shrugs. People shake their heads and demur. No one has any passionate recommendations of where to go and that is disappointing. Of course we push on anyway, alighting at whatever establishment has taken our fancy on a particular day, but for the most part our experiences have been wan and watery. Very few places have made us feel passionate and of those most have inflamed with negativity rather than ecstasy. Thankfully old favorites still remain and good meals can be found in unexpected places.
We zipped into Cafe Gray yesterday for a quick lunch. We had a meeting on the upper west side and we were starving when we hit the streets. The Time Warner building loomed in the distance and we followed its invitation. We were greeted halfway to the host stand by a coat check woman and quickly led into the half empty dining room. We were seated in the only crowded area of the room at a deuce located alongside the kitchen and the windows. Strangely, whenever we eat in the Time Warner building it seems to be an overcast afternoon but that doesn't detract from the pleasure of the view. As always I was slightly taken aback by the prices at Cafe Gray. Even in a city of exorbitant menu prices, lunch at Cafe gray gives me pause. We quickly moved past it, once you have committed to a restaurant there is no point in crying over the spent money.
I began with the artichoke veloute served with a large artichoke heart, a few scattered herbs and three small, plump langoustines. The soup was poured from a teapot tableside and the teapot then rested on the other side of the long rectangular plate. The server just poured a small amount into the bowl, so as not to overwhelm the garnishes and the teapot did a nice job of keeping the rest of the brew warm until I added it to my bowl. It was presented for a right-handed eater, which I am not, so after turning the plate around I tasted the soup. It was incredibly rich and velvety, with a strong flavor of artichokes. The first sip was warm and luscious but the flavors quickly became a bit heavy and cloying. I enjoyed the soup and in general there were hefty portions to balance out the prices, unfortunately something this rich can only be eaten in small mouthfuls and too much is often too much.
Alex began with a winter special, lobster thermidor. It was half of a broiled lobster; the carapace was stuffed with lobster pieces, creamed spinach, tarragon and celery root. The dish was served with a boozy and intense lobster reduction on the plate. It was a very tasty, over the top, bread sopping plate. As with all of the dishes we experienced at Café Gray, it could have used some acid to balance out the butter and cream because a few bites were enough to satiate and overwhelm the taste buds.
I followed with the mushroom and herb risotto. It was served alongside a silver copper pot filled with mushroom ragout. The server spooned a portion of the ragout onto my risotto leaving the rest to stay warm and snug in it’s little pot until it was called for. Again, the plating was designed for a right handed person, I note this not because I expect the servers to read minds and know that I am left handed for the first course but because I don’t think that anything should be difficult to eat. The size of the silver pot and aforementioned teapot made it impossible to eat comfortably without turning the plate and with the number of staff present in the dining room and the formality of the service, I did think that for the second course they could have turned the plate the other way when the second awkward course was served. Anyway, the risotto was very pretty, steaming slightly with the requisite texture of a thick rice pudding. Several moments before, Alex, who sat facing the pass, delighted in giving me a play by play of the period while my risotto sat waiting (an inverted plate over the dish) while another cook eventually finished his guinea hen. Thankfully the only evidence of its delay was the fact that the butter was just starting to break out its emulsion. That could have been simply because there was so much of it in the rice. It had a nice layering of flavors, faint hints of garlic, shallots and parsley mixed in with the nicely chewy but not crunchy grains of rice. The mushrooms were rich and soupy, slightly crunchy and pleasingly gelatinous. They teetered threateningly on the edge of being entirely too salty to eat but were thankfully buffered by the starch and the fat that surrounded them. Many of the dishes at lunch were balanced right on the knife’s edge where salt was concerned and I believe it was the very heaviness of the dishes which saved them.
Alex finished with the guinea hen special. The breast had a beautiful crispy skin and was juicy and perfectly cooked, topped with a nicely seared piece of foie gras. The confit of dark meat was distressingly crunchy with gristle and bones accompanied by melted leeks, which had a floral spiciness, which highlighted up the meaty flavors of the dish. All in all this was a nice winter meat dish. Strangely for a chef who is celebrated for his use of herbs and spices, this was the only dish where any of these components had even a slightly assertive presence.
Desserts looked delicious but with dinner looming only four hours away and prices ranging from $14-$16, we regretfully declined. It was a fun experience, being able to watch the view inside the kitchen and outside the restaurant was an edifying experience. The dining room was not very busy and we were not the last people to be seated for lunch that day. Our appetizers came out incredibly quickly and then there was a long delay before the second courses appeared. The flax seed bread, which I forgot to mention was delicious with a nice crust. Interestingly there was a lot of leaning on counters and chatting amongst the runners and the cooks. I note this only because in my experience cooks without a sense of urgency are rarely doing their best work. The last two meals I’ve eaten at Café Gray were both good, solid food although they made me wish that I’d been able to taste Chef Kunz’s food at Lespinasse when he was still young and hungry and building his reputation.
To say commercials are worthless would be inappropriate. Yet, when I watched the Super Bowl, which was as exciting as watching paint dry, I look to the advertisements for entertainment. Well, the commercials were worse than watching paint dry, it was like watching someone scrape their fingernails on a black board. You saw what was coming, which was not good, and could do nothing-save for change the channel--to stop it. And, as far as Super Bowls go I am a die hard and refuse to surf, though I think I may rethink that commitment.
However, sometimes commercials can trigger thoughts. One commercial of note, not played during the Super Bowl, involved Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and their new addition a caramel layer. To my way of thinking that is absolutely fabulous, and it reminded me of eating at Friendly's and ordering the giant peanut butter sundae. Well, once I finished strolling memory lane I began thinking of salt, nuts, caramel and more. Recently we have been working with miso butterscotch, a great accompaniment to braised meats and sweet fish. As my mind is more of a super ball in a confined space my thoughts began bouncing. I landed on the idea of making nut butters flavored with miso. Dark and light miso will add the appropriate salinity and rounded flavors to the ground nuts. With the first relation made, I began thinking of applications such as marcona almond-white miso soup, a play off white gazpacho and miso soup. Also salted nut butter ice creams and cakes. I am not sure of every direction we will take this concept, but it sure is a beautiful jumping off point.
Lunch today was a relaxing affair. Alex and I like to go our for long lunches when we have the time. Restaurants are much more mellow in the afternoons with sunlight streaming through the windowpanes. The food is usually almost as good if not better at lunch, service is more leisurely because restaurants are not trying to turn the table and we are not facing bedtime with a stomach full of food and wine when the meal is over.
So, for our first lunch in NYC this trip we decided to visit the Modern. We had eaten at the Bar Room at the Modern last year and had a lot of fun doing so. Gabriel Kreuther's menus read as much more exotic than they actually are but the food is solid with a balance of textures and flavors to please the palate. The bar menu is much more whimsical and based upon old classics. The Modern is a bit more formal, seasonal, with an approachable eclectic menu based upon commonly accepted ingredients with a bit of esoteric flare. It reads as though it were a bit edgy but in reality it is a very safe menu with tried and true flavor pairings that seeem to come together into balanced, elegant dishes.
The amuse was fun and a great expression of shrimp. It was served on a long plate with a delicate poached shrimp with wisps of herbs and a few tiny, pickled honshimeji mushrooms. At the other end of the plate was a demitasse cup with a bit of sunchoke foam. The servers poured a bit of shrimp bisque over the foam to create an intense, slightly rich shrimpy brew to pair with the miniature chilled salad. At lunch, the prix fix is basically a bargain. Four courses for $52.00. I chose this option and began with shrimp which were paired with chickweed, black olive-cornichon (tartar) sauce and rye toast soldiers griddled in butter. Alex began with the foie gras, a slice of terrine served with quince jelly (which was beautiful but had no real flavor) and walnuts. The foie itself was wrapped on one side in what appeared to be serrano ham and lined with foie fat on another. The foie itself had good flavor and was well seasoned, both dishes were solid, tasty, and mostly well executed. My fish course was lovely. It was steamed Chatham cod with spinach and an anchovy foam that was dribbled with an acidic white romesco sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, juicy and fork tender with the assertive flavors of the oil and foam and the silky, slightly bitter spinach as counterpoints to the mellow sweetness of the fish. Alex had ordered the slightly less successful mint and coriander risotto with wild Georgia shrimp which were incredibly similar to the Louisiana shrimp served with the previous course. The risotto itself was gluey and slightly too al dente and although the fresh mint chiffonade came through, the flavor of the coriander was weak and almost invisible. We were served a mid-course of olive oil poached salmon with horseradish, fennel and daikon radish. The fish was silky, meaty and nicely cooked. The fish was crusted with small flakes of crunchy salmon skin on one side and black and white sesame seeds on the other. It was served in a bowl on a bed of shaved vegetables in a horseradish broth which ended up tasting like a soupy asian slaw. The flavors were assertive and paired well with the fish but although tasty, it felt as though it were just short of everything the dish could be. For our main courses I had the short ribs served with simply steamed broccolini with garlic and a beautifully roasted marrow bone topped with gremolata. The short ribs were tender and juicy, seemingly braised the old fashioned way from a time before immersion circulators. We were slightly divided on the texture, Alex felt it was bit stringy but I enjoyed the toothsomeness of each bit. The gremolata crusted bone marrow was beautiful and inspired a flurry of ideas jotted down in a notebook and soon to be seen on this website. Alex had the roasted lobster with incredibly chewy tripe and crunchy chickpeas in a fines herb sauce. It was probably the weakest of the savory courses, the claws were overcooked and the tail had that almost crunchy texture that comes from cooking at too high a temperature.
The desserts were probably the weakest link in the meal. I ordered a caramel parfait which arrived with two types of caramelized bananas and a "ten flavor" sorbet that tasted strongly of mango and passion fruit and not much else. Alex ordered a baba served with calvados with tarte tatin apples, garnished with apple chips and a vanilla sauce which was poured table side. The desserts seemed somewhat one dimensional, sweet and somewhat cloying. The caramel parfait was prettily presented and seemed very light in comparison to the heaviness of the baba.
With the meal we drank a 2001 Conn Valley Vineyard Reserve Cabernet. It is a vineyard whose wines we enjoy and the 2001 was drinking particularly well today. It paired very well with several of our courses and was simply set to the side when we tasted courses where it did not partner quite so smoothly. We first visited the vineyard on our honeymoon and have very fond memories of our time there. The raw weather outside had us browsing for a lighter red but we were unable to resist when we saw it on the menu for a reasonable price.
All in all it was a lovely experience. There were a couple of hiccups in the service, but nothing that couldn't be rectified with a smile. We were able to catch up with an old friend who is working there now and the dining room was a prime stage for people watching. Not a bad way to spend a chilly February afternoon in New York.
We come and go from New York City and in our nomadic lifestyle I have become secure with the idea that some things don't change. We returned to 'ino for lunch today. We began with the truffled egg toast. We always begin with the truffled egg toast. The truffled egg toast is always great. Is it great for everyone, I am not sure, but for me it works out that it is delicious. Egg yolks mix with melted cheese and truffle oil held in place by the hollowed out toast and surrounded by average sliced asparagus. The asparagus is always just average, yet when it is swimming in egg yolk, cheese and truffle oil it becomes a star. We also had an assortment of panini, but that changes with our mood and the menu, the egg toast is the staple.(edited to note that my mother in law noticed and commented that the egg picture is out of focus. Unfortunately do to the small space of ino and my large hunger I quickly snapped a few shots to remember the occasion. Pardon the lack of focus. As it turns out, being corrected is another thing which does not change.)
After lunch we went to visit Bonnie Slotnick and her collection of used cookbooks. Once again, as is always the case, we found some of her hidden treasures and she said she would keep her eyes out for other books we are looking for.
Once we were done book diving I was hungry again. This happens often, just not always. We decided to take the edge off at Mary's Fish Camp . I needed a lobster roll and Aki went for fried clams. The lobster roll was good, the clams crispy but a bit overcooked (perhaps that is because they were cooked on the bottom of the fryer with baskets of potatoes on top, just a thought.) and the shoestring fries were a disaster. Potato strings are always a disaster, not just a Fish Camp thing. These suffered from being grey and soggy. No sweat though, the lobster roll was good and with a good view of the kitchen from the counter, I was expecting the funky fries.
We concluded our day at Hearth . We were looking forward to seeing an old friend Marco Canora and relaxing in the comforts of this East Village culinary touchstone. I should have called ahead to see if Marco was going to be there. As it turns out, he gets Monday nights off. When the chef is not in the house, the food, service and general restaurant suffer. I hold Marco and his work to a high standard. We have worked together and he knows that about me. I had the foie gras torchon which was a grey and oxidized end cut usually reserved for the bin, but tonight I got it. (I did not comment or send it back to the kitchen. We were entertaining very special guests and felt that to do so would be to risk disrupting the occasion). The other signs of the the chef taking some time off were over and under seasoned dishes and desserts which never came. The flavors were there, they just weren't executed to the best of their ability. Sure, mistakes happen and there are off nights. The server was very apologetic about the forgotten sweet. Yet, it is still my contention that when the chef (any chef, any restaurant) is not in the house, slippage appears to occur much more often. It takes the combination of two strong managers, one in the front and one in the back, to make a restaurant really come alive. It will still be good with half of the equation but never as good as when you have that driving passion at both ends of the operation.
These are my findings, for better or worse. Realize that some things don't change and figure out how to use that knowlege to your best advantage.
I found these in my Aunt's refrigerator. It is so clever that I had to take a picture. Anyone who has ever bought pre-peeled garlic knows that the garlic goes bad way before you could ever use it all. That is unless you eat a lot of garlic every single day. Finally someone addressed the problem. The garlic in this package is vacuum sealed in little four packs so you can pull out what you need and the rest of it stays fresh. I love that, and the whole bag is only $1.99. Convenience food at it's best.
Um, not that I would ever use convenience foods...after all, it's not like our entire repertory of techniques revolves around creating convenience foods for fine dining. No one would ever come to dine with us if we admitted that!
To say it is an institution is an understatement. We payed homage to, in my opinion, the greatest hot dog establishment around, Nick's Nest. Now what makes it great. The hot dogs. Steamed until hot and then rolled in oil to keep warm and glistening. The dogs are served on the perfect lobster roll bun, another story, today we are talking hot dogs. You can get the dogs with a few garnishes, I enjoy ketchup, mustard, relish and minced onions as well as cheese and chili. They serve shakes and colas, beans and potato salad, but you go to Nick's for the dogs. Oh, and as you leave the nest, with your arms full of dogs and such, they have a rope pull to magically open the door for you.
Sorry, no picture of the finished dogs, I ate too quickly.
And so, I continue to mull and contemplate mustard fruits, condiments and their applications. I was planning on writing a brief note about the two mustard fruits we currently have in our New York pantry, crab apple and plum, and show a picture to lift the veil of what the heck are mustard fruits. That is not going to happen, for as I was working with the mustard fruits this morning I began thinking about what else would make an interesting mustard fruit. It appears olives are on my mind, for that was my first thought. Then, I began thinking about sauces, garnishes, condiments and their integral role in our cooking. Yet, how often do I leave such elements out in dessert preparations. Think about it. How exciting would dessert become with these additional elements. Sweet pesto or salsa verde as a component to a dish. Mozzarella pudding with balsamic condiment or olive mustard fruits. I am just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg, so bear with the stream of consciousness approach to dishes. Could piquillo peppers be candied and served with french toast style dessert? I think so, the tastes work it is now just working on the applications.
As we have been out of our kitchen for just one week my mind is beginning both enjoy its rest and long for an outlet of ideas. While we are taking in New York we are also digesting ideas. One interesting insight revolves around mustard fruits. Mustard fruits can be any fruit which is then poached and rests in a sugar syrup spiked with mustard. While mustard fruits provide a sweet and spicy accent to roasts, foie gras and even enhance vinaigrette's, we have a few other applications. We are working on a savory mustard fruit cake, the type of mustard fruit will depend on the season as well as a yogurt pot de creme with a mustard fruit compote and candied mustard seeds.
In bouncing the thoughts of mustard fruit around we began to contemplate a tutti frutti ice cream made with mustard fruits and served with roasted foie gras.
Besides our off the cuff approach to mustard fruits, I recommend using them as integral seasoning agent in dressings, marinades, relishes, vegetable compositions and tartares.
It's an interesting phenomenon, as chefs we both feel very constrained about pulling out a camera at the table. Although we love perusing other people food photos, it just seems very strange for us to pull out a camera when we're sitting down to a meal in a restaurant. It's almost as though it pulls our focus away from dining and puts us into a photographic mode. So, although our intentions were good and we have a cute little point and shoot camera, you may be seeing more pictures from markets than you will from restaurants. We'll just have to see how this progresses.
Today we had lunch at Katz's deli and we were able to overcome our inhibitions. The place is so casual and noisy that we knew no one would notice the flash of the camera as we captured the moment. So here it is in all it's glory...the pastrami reuben at Katz's. In this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Perhaps I am jaded, no I am jaded, perhaps the flu still lingers in my stomach, it wants to resurface, perhaps I am in sensory overload, but New York seems underwhelming. I have played dodge the taxi driver and come screeching to a halt before befuddled pedestrians, but what I really have not enjoyed is the mediocre approach to food and dining that I continue to expose myself to. Here it is, the short rather than the long; New York just feels and tastes off. There are colors, flavors and aromas, textures and contrasts but they are just not coming together on the palate.
I do not enjoy complaining, though many think it is my strong suit, so I will just give a few examples from dinnr tonight to really prove my point. We went to the Harrison in hopes of satisfying food at a reasonable price. Go figure, on the way to dinner I get stuck in traffic and then having a misguided idea of where the restaurant is, park twenty blocks away with a smile on my face at having found parking on the street. For future reference, it is better to find the restaurant first and then the parking. In spite of our tardiness, the host was warm and welcoming. We were seated quickly and ordered oysters to take the rest of our breath away after the long hike to the restaurant. These were bright and fresh, accented with a yuzu and jalapeno flavored mignonette sauce. With the first oyster down, we ordered a 2004 Far Niente Chardonnay. We should have simply ordered more platters of oysters and drunk the wine and called the evening complete. Should have.
The menu was tempting and we jumped in. Fried clams with lemon aioli and fried oysters with grits, yellow tail with granny smith apple and crab salad with avocado, sauteed fluke and an order of risotto. Each dish appeared to be what we wanted, yet they were not. The fried clams were clam strips. If you eat fried belly clams you will know what my issue is, there is no comparison between the two and the menu did not stipulate strips in it's description. The crispy oysters were plump and juicy but the grits were just there on the plate, lacking any personality to accompany the oysters. The chilled yellowtail and the crab salad were both beautiful in appearance and flat in flavors. They appeared to have all of the necessary elements except salt to make the dishes sing leaving them flat and strangely hollow. The fluke was pan roasted and tasty, the accompaniments were as undistinguished as an inept one man band. The risotto I absolutely cannot explain. I still cannot figure out how it happened. Crunchy and gluey, rich and watery, it takes hard work to make something this bad. I'm guessing that no one tasted this one before it left the kitchen. We had for dessert the chocolate beignets and the warm chocolate cake. Tasty but without vocal chords. Both dishes were incredibly rich and lacking any acid to balance them out. Again the possibilities were present but unrealized and unexpressed, leaving just a skeleton without the flesh and blood to make it whole. And we still left the restaurant laughing and smiling, willing though perhaps not eager, to walk a cheerful twenty blocks back to our car.
What does this say? I am not sure. The restaurant was hopping, the clientele happy. The service was very goood. From all appearances it was business as usual at a distinctive and successful neighborhood restaurant. And yet when fork lifted food to the palate, the ruse was up. But then again, as we all know, a dining experience is about more than just the food.
Once again, this is not a review, merely one night's experience, for better or for worse.