"[A] fantastic blog... which ranges from opinions on food and wine to daily adventures in a culinary-related profession."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Downtown Dishes at Manhattan's Northernmost Tip: Indian Road Café

SINCE moving to Inwood, circa the start of President Obama's first term, Indian Road Café has been on my shortlist of local must-try places. It wasn't until this year that I'd finally sat down for a proper dining experience.

EXPECTING an outer-borough guest on a recent Monday evening, I'd thought that I should take him somewhere special, considering his journey. I'd already taken him to The Park View on a previous visit and as I was racking my brain for an alternative, the ever-helpful Inwood Community Group pointed me toward Indian Road Café. Spotting my post in the online group requesting "recos," IRC co-owner, Jason Minter reached out to me with a personal invite. I nearly never turn down an invite. 

 Indian Road Café's springy friseé and guanciale salad

At 8 o'clock on a Monday night, Indian Road Café was as busy as a pre-weekend rush. I was glad that we'd had a reservation and the pleasant hostess-server offered us a few different seating options. I ultimately opted for an unassuming deuce tucked neatly alongside the main dining area. 

Impressed with the wine list, I decided to start with a glass of Finger Lakes blaufränkisch--for, both, its locality and its obscurity (a varietal most uncommon among conventional wine lists). After agreeing upon a shared "degustation," my date and I began with an assortment of salumi sourced from nearby Arthur Avenue before continuing with a mid course salad of friseé and guanciale. Spying the "small plate" whilst examining IRC's menu earlier that afternoon, I'd known I would want a taste of the pork-infused (lardons and "pork bread croutons") creation!

Piercing into the salad's poached organic egg with the tines of my fork, I'd released the runny yolk and folded it into the salad, creating a decadent dressing. And served with generous shavings of parmesan, procuring a "loaded" forkful presented no problem for my friend nor for myself. It is certain that I was pleased with the dish; the only dismay was regarding the lardons which were much too thin for myself to consider them lardons and the pork bread croutons which simply seemed to be croutons. However, I still cannot forget the taste of the house-cured guanciale!

For our final savory course, our palates agreed upon lobster macaroni and cheese. Now, I am one to order a pasta dish as often as I am one to order pancakes (near to never). But when it comes to lobster, the deliberation is more likened to me acquiescing to an invitation. Furthermore, our server was quick to bolster our decision with a reassuring It's what we're known for! 

When the heartily-portioned entrée was placed before us, I peered into its shallow bowl filled with (what appeared to be) gemelli pasta, lusciously slathered with a creamy, but light coating of asiago, pecorino romano and parmigiano-reggiano cheeses along with a lobster cream and truffle oil. Now, I'm somewhat of the school of thought that turns its nose up at the use of truffle oil (give me a freshly-shaved truffle, or nothing at all!); but in this case, its prudent usage only added to the dish and did nothing to distract from the simple (yet stellar) ingredients. As for the lobster meat in the dish: we'd only wished that there was more of it (and facetiously remarked that there was only ⅛ of a tail). Yet, this is not to say that I was disillusioned with the dish; I already have plans on enjoying it again.

For our final--sweet--course, my dining companion and I decided against sharing, which brought me "full circle" with my selection of an Arthur Avenue (house-filled) cannolo. The cannolo could not have been more perfect and with a glass of brut cava, my meal ended just as well. 

At the risk of sounding cliché: All's well that ends well. (Wait--that's two, isn't it?)

Indian Road Café, 600 W. 218 Street, Inwood (212) 942-7451

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Obsession: Perry St's Chocolate Pudding

Perry St's chocolate pudding topped with
fresh cream and crystallized violets

IT'S no secret that I'm absolutely mad about the classic Perry St dessert at Jean-Georges' downtown "boutique" restaurant, Perry St. And really, it's all about the crystallized violets (if you don't like crystallized violets, I don't want to be your friend). On a recent at-the-bar-dining visit, one of the bartenders told me that when they recently took the crystallized violets off the pudding: "people freaked out" and they had to put them back on. A fellow lover of the dessert opined, There's nothing they can add to it to make it better.

A perfect pudding in every way!

Perry St, 176 Perry Street, West Village (212) 352-1900

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Return to Ithaca

LAST Tuesday, on the eve of our twelve year anniversary, I made the trip north to Ithaca on the 8 a.m. Short Line Bus. It'd been a while since I'd been to Ithaca for anything resembling an 'extended stay' and I was very much looking forward to the journey!

Ahead of my departure, I'd barely the time to pick up champagne for the celebration. Being in midtown the previous day, I'd stopped at 67 Wine to select a couple of choice bottles of wine. Noticing Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois (entirely vinified in oak) on an upper shelf, I'd known then and there that that would be the first bottle we'd enjoy at our anniversary dinner; having tasted it a year before, it's barrel-aged taste proved itself one that's not quickly forgotten. 

I had already known that David and I would be dining at Moosewood (winner of multiple James Beard Awards for their several cookbooks) for our anniversary fête--we were given a gift certificate for the restaurant years prior and still had yet to use it. Briefly reading up on Moosewood's history, I was more than looking forward to our visit!

Moosewood's tomato garlic soup
with croutons and cheese

Taking a downtown-bound bus from the foot of the Cornell campus (on/off the Cornell campus, it pays to have friends with cars) David and I were deposited a short distance from the restaurant, located within the "historic" (a renovated brick school building) Dewitt Mall. Being thirty minutes ahead of its 8:30 p.m. closing time, I was worried that we'd--possibly--be the only diners on a crisp-cold Tuesday night. But passing through the receiving area (complete with a Moosewood gift shop) into the dining room, it seemed to be the place for people "in the know." It was an Ithacans' night out.

With Moosewood's menu offering a smorgasbord of options, I (mostly) let David do the ordering. Still a bit bone-chilled, I'd thought the soup du jour sounded like a good start; I chose the tomato garlic while David opted for the cream of asparagus. My "cup" portion of tomato soup looked stunning; and tasting it, I could hardly believe I was impressed further. Simply put: it was the best tomato soup I'd ever had. As a mid course, David and I decided on the Mediterranean salad with mixed greens, marinated artichoke hearts and chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, red onion and olives (and for 50¢ more, crumbled feta).

Mediterranean salad
What can I say about the salad other than that it was stellar. Everything tasted so "fresh from the garden," especially the artichoke hearts; and for the first time, I didn't have a struggle within my mouth to get all the olive meat cleanly off the pit.

For our entrée, David and I shared, from the menu, the salmon cake(s) with lemon-herb aïoli and cabbage slaw and from the entrée specials, the salmon tart with maple apple glazed acorn squash crescents. Although our third course had arrived before we were through with the mid course, the slight ruffle quickly slipped from my memory upon tasting a portion of the aïoli-draped salmon cake.

So delicate and tender, I'd never had a fish(/crab) cake like this before! Completely un-dry, the fish tasted so fresh that if I'd been told it'd come straight from the fish monger to the fryer, I'd have no reason to believe otherwise! And with the salmon tart, the case was quite similar. Essentially a (generous) slice of quiche, the salmon tart had the same delicate, light quality of the salmon cake, but with a wonderful béchamel-like creaminess to it. And not to be outshone by its counterpart, the glazed squash crescents had a toothsomeness all its own!

Proceeding toward a second bottle of champagne, tucked discretely in my bag (Moosewood has a mere $10 corkage fee): "Normally I wouldn't, but we're celebrating... but I insist you open this bottle in the back and pour a glass for yourself." Our server tactfully opened the bottle behind me... without pouring herself so much as a taste. Complete. Class. We paired the champagne with a duo of Moosewood desserts, of which David and I agreed the upside-down cake was the more unforgettable of the pair.

"B.A. Bitters" at Bar Argos at Argos Inn

The following day, David surprised me with a free evening. Meeting me back at his apartment after an afternoon on campus, we decided on apéritifs at Bar Argos. Even though it was still "cool," I thought it'd be nice to walk to Argos rather than taking the bus (at least while the sun was still out). An easy downhill stride, David didn't protest. 

Even at just barely past its regular 4 o'clock opening, all of Bar Argos' adjoining rooms were nearly standing room only (the live jazz ensemble didn't help in the matter). Nonetheless, after a brief powwow with a few of David's colleagues who'd happened to be there, we managed to claim a couple of bar stools. Recalling a keen interest in Bar Argos' housemade bitters on my last visit in November, I'd wanted to try one of their specialty champagne cocktails. Sounding completely exotic (to me), I'd placed an order for a mushroom champagne cocktail!

"The bitter the better" is an old saying of mine

Even though I couldn't taste any mushroom, the cocktail did make me feel fancy. And I couldn't wait to tell all my "city friends" that I'd spent the week drinking mushroom champagne cocktails in Ithaca! Following my un-mushroom-y glassful, I decided to stick with bubbles and selected the "Purple Rain" with Plymouth gin, liqueur de violettes, lemon, prosecco and violet sugar. While I'd wished the Purple Rain (which looked more pink to me than it did purple) was more violet-hued... its taste pleased me perfectly.

I could easily drink six of these

Post-Argos, Maxie's Supper Club (which David had introduced me to on a previous visit) seemed like a good idea. A dozen oysters, several plates and a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte later, it proved itself a sweet end for our two-day celebration. We didn't even need dessert. 

The "Eat" Goes On...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Burger Battle on Dyckman Street

WITH the popularity of my Inwood Goes Yuppie post (surprisingly, the fifth most highly-viewed post in my blog's 5 year history), I decided to give The Park View's burger a try.

The Park View's Kobe burger

On a bitter-cold night, just ahead of the "Valentine's weekend," the bar at The Park View stood unoccupied; I was surprised, because at 6:45, I'd only fifteen minutes left to take advantage of the 4-7 p.m. happy hour. Pulling out a bar stool, I began disrobing of my cold-soaked layers.

Perusing the beverage options, I nearly selected a cider, but instead opted for my usual "Laya" grenache (The Park View sometimes doubles as my home office). Having already decided on my food order, the only remaining decision was regarding toppings: cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, munster, smoked bacon, mushrooms or caramelized onions. Wanting to taste The Park View's burger as "unadulterated" as I possibly could, I selected the modest cheddar topping.

In due time, my burger was presented by, who I'd believed to be, The Park View's general manager, who then expressly asked if I'd care for any mayonnaise or mustard. Do you have Dijon? "Sure!" Arranged on a plate with "fixins" of lettuce, tomato et al on the side, I was truly excited about tasting my Kobe burger with its brioche bun. Momentarily setting the top aside, I'd arranged additions of lettuce (beautifully dark-green and leafy), tomato, red onion and a pair of cornichons. Not wanting to stall enjoyment any further, I picked up the burger, whole and took my first bite. 

Now, being the "food snob" that I am, I never eat a burger without a knife and a fork (save for those occasional post-4 a.m. diner excursions). But The Park View's burger, with its gleaming brioche top, was gazing so invitingly that I simply could not resist picking up the burger, whole--then and there. And regret never arrived, for my attention had quickly turned to the burger's Kobe beef. Of assured high quality, the perfectly cooked medium-rare patty tasted of what you'd expect every excellent burger should taste of. And with its brioche bun, fine lettuce and crunch and tang of the onions and gherkins: these ingredients only added to the experience. As for the fries: they nearly dulled in comparison, yet were just as good as any perfect New-York-diner-fries.

Thirty-somewhat minutes later, I could hardly believe I had finished the entire burger. On my way out, I'd nearly reported to the staff that their burger is better than--wait, I'd better not. It's not like I'm actually trying to create a burger battle on Dyckman Street!

The Park View, 219 Dyckman Street, Inwood (212) 544-9024

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Super Bowl... and Prosecco?

two proseccos from the noted Treviso region of Italy

CONTINUING where I'd left off with A Decadent Holiday, 2014's holiday season was filled with enough bubbles to carry David and I well into the new year. Just ahead of our Christmas dinner in, my good friends at Colangelo PR sent two bottles of D.O.C. Treviso proseccos with the anticipation of "hearing [my] thoughts."

WANTING to start with a prosecco that I'd not tasted before, I opened the Villa Sandi "il fresco" prosecco. At first taste, I was surprised at how similar it tasted to Valdobbiadene proseccos--one of my favorite prosecco varieties. Immediately, I recalled the light, flowery taste, synonymous with "Valdo" wines; but it wasn't until I had done some research that I'd learned that Valdobbiadene is a town within the province of Treviso (in the region of Veneto). According to prosecco.it

[Valdobbiadene wine] is a wine you will be able to recognize "blind" once you have tasted it...

Although the aforementioned wine may not come from Valdobbiadene proper, when considering its floral character and light crispness: the regional terroir (in this case) does result in a quality quite similar to those "inimitable" wines of Valdobbiadene. The second bottle from which David and I drew tastings was the Mionetto brut spumante. Harvested from grapes grown on clay-rich hills in an area near Valdobbiadene, this D.O.C. wine carries characteristics congruent with the Villa Sandi il fresco, but with a drier finish.

... but what does all of this have to do with Super Bowl, you ask?

Well, the savvy folks down at Colangelo PR put together these spirit-rousing game-day pairings that will ensure a buoyant time for all (and I do always love me a good bubbly and pizza)!

Thanks to its low acidity, moderate alcohol strength and fresh, light flavor, Prosecco DOC is extremely versatile and can be served with almost any game-day snack you can imagine. Below, you'll find several fun, interesting ways to serve up your bubbly, from kickoff all the way through the fourth quarter!

With take-out pizza: A margherita pizza, with fresh tomatoes and gooey mozzarella pairs perfectly with prosecco. The light, citrus flavors of the proscecco balance out the richness of the mozzarella and parmesan, which keeps your guests from getting full too fast!

With blue cheese dip: Though most might say a nice port should go with blue cheese, this is Sunday Night Football. You want something that's going to work with your dish and your mood. Prosecco is the prefect pick--it's light, it'll cut through the richness of the cheese and it has a little bit of fruitiness to counter the tangy, funky qualities of the cheese.

With jalapeño poppers: When you pop the fried, cheese jalapeño into your mouth, the first thing you'll want is something bright and refreshing to clear out those sharp flavors. Prosecco has the bubbles and the acidity to cut both the fat of the cheese and the spice of the pepper and in turn, refreshes you for your next snack.

Cin cin!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Inwood Goes Yuppie (With Tryon Public House's White Truffle Burger)

Tryon Public House's long-awaited food menu debuted this week
(no more B.Y.O.F.)

INWOOD'S recent transplants (I'm referring to the Darling Coffee, The Park View and the Starbucks set) must have heard the choir of angels and witnessed a parting of clouds when Tryon  Public House opened its doors just three weeks ago. While in recent years, additions such as Beans and Vines, Inwood Local and The Park View have given Inwoodites a bit more diversity when it comes to their dining options, it seemed that many were still waiting for an establishment that would get things one-hundred percent right. There are places that get the decor and atmosphere spot-on, but their menu needs tweaking; and others that serve Upper Manhattan's finest cuppa joe, yet serve lackluster dishes in a cramped, ill-looking front room; and there's also the neighborhood's most recent openings, which--more often than not--eventually fall victim by morphing into the ill-fated hookah lounge... ultimately killing the business. With the murmur of a brand-new pub opening, opposite Fort Tryon Park, serving craft beers and pub food to boot, it seemed all signs were pointing to a probable success.

Tryon Public House serves a medium-rare down pat

A week after Tryon Public House opened its doors to the public, David and I strolled west on Thayer Street to have ourselves a look-see (and a libation). Quickly scanning the room, David selected a high-top table for two at the far end of the pub, opposite the bar. Noticing only beers on the beverage list, I readily decided on a Bulleit rye; I was glad to see they'd carried it. The completely brand-new pub (previously the place of several separate storefronts) was the nicest-looking pub I'd ever seen; and several reproduced, vintage Inwood prints circa the 1940's and 50's lent a bit of "street cred" to the place, as well as a nod to the 'hood. With the sound system churning out something likened to The Smiths, I'd heard the remark that it was the whitest music they could have possibly been playing (and looking around the room, the patrons mimicked that notion). But before I could take a third sip of my brown beverage, I'd noticed that each song on Tryon Public House's playlist was as different from its predecessor as it could have been (which seemed to me a very deliberate--and wise--move on their part)!

THIS AFTERNOON, I visited "TPH" a second time, to try their truffle burger. Served with "white truffle mayo," gruyère cheese and caramelized onions "on a plain ol' brioche bun," it's the most expensive dish on the menu ($14); but it does come with "hand cut" fries or a side salad. Saddling up at the bar, just past the 3 p.m. opening, I was quickly greeted with a hearty smile by one of two who were tending behind the bar. When my truffle burger arrived, I was a bit surprised (and saddened) that it didn't come on a plate, but rather inside a tin basket of sorts (but then I reminded myself that I'm a snob and I quickly got over it). I was glad though that the bartender supplied me with a knife and a fork, for this burger was so massive and piled high that I don't think I could have eaten it by hand without the use of several napkins! I decided to start with a few of the hand cut fries, which did not offend me at all, before slicing the burger in half and taking a peek at its inside. I was impressed: my medium-rare-ordered burger was served medium-rare. Slicing my first portion, I'd tried my best to get all the elements of the burger atop a single forkful, but that proved to be difficult as it seemed someone in the kitchen had assembled my burger in a rush. Yet, with my first bite I was perfectly pleased with what I'd tasted therein.

A lovely char-grilled taste lent itself to the patty while the brioche bun seemed completely suited for the variety. As for the "white truffle mayo," I detected no truffle taste or aroma anywhere on or around the burger; and it seemed that all the caramelized onions had been portioned to only the bottom left corner of the burger (the center seems a natural placement to me). By the meal's end, I'd say the biggest offense was that the brioche didn't seem all that fresh (but maybe I'm just too used to the stellar brioche at The Park View, just across Broadway). $15.24 (plus a $3 tip) later, I was beyond sated; but TPH wouldn't let me leave without a proper farewell and an invite back. 

If Tryon Public House's food doesn't keep you coming back... their hospitality will.

Tryon Public House, 4740 Broadway, Inwood (646) 918-7129

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Decadent Holiday

stocking the fridge for New Year's Eve

AS the 2014 holiday season approached, I'd known the time for selecting champagnes to celebrate with was also upon me. As per usual, David and I celebrated Christmas with an intimate dinner at home prior to his leaving for his folks,' a few days ahead of the holiday. Since we'd enjoyed it so, last Christmas, I again opted for the infallible Bollinger to kick off our holiday season. A little more than a week later, I returned to my local PJ Wine and picked up three bottles of some of my favorite sparklers before heading south to Mondel Chocolates at 114th Street for some confectionaries--"the best in the world" (Katherine Hepburn).

"The time we shared... intimate conversation, and lots of dark chocolate (the best in the world) came from a small shop on Upper Broadway called Mondel's--turtles, almond bark, and breakup..."
--Kate Remembered, by A. Scott Berg 

Post-Mondel, I'd found myself on a hunt for real caviar on the Upper West Side and nearly took to Twitter for help in procuring it! I'd eventually found a modest jar at Zabar's near 80th Street; with a point of my finger, the two-ounce jar was sealed and ready for pick-up by 'P. B.'

good things come in insulated travel packs

As is often the case when David's home from school, the cooking (for our New Year's Eve dinner) was left to him (after all, I'd picked up the wine, caviar and sweets)! Alas, come the 31st of December, David was laid up in bed with a fever; we had to postpone the dinner to a later date. Then within a few days, I'd followed suit with a fever and in the days proceeding, a stomach virus to boot! It wasn't until nearly two weeks into the new year that the both of us were well enough (and free) to crack open the caviar and bubbles.

a delayed New Year's wish...

Ahead of our ailments, I'd been dropping hints to David regarding how we should enjoy the caviar: Do you think we should do the classic HB egg? ... or we could do baked potato like they did in Brideshead RevisitedDavid heard nothing of my comments... but ended up making both, twice-baked potatoes and French-style scrambled eggs!

I never do mind "brunch" for dinner!

Nearly two bottles of Moët (my favorite "over the counter" champagne) later, the Mondel chocolates (champagne truffles, cocoa almonds, chocolate-dipped apricots and almond bark) were the perfect end to our "belated" New Year's Eve dinner.

But, that wasn't all that we'd had...

To be continued » 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Open Call: Food Writers' Salon Series, 2015!

programs in production for December's debut event

AMONGST my resolutions, plans and projects for 2015 is the continuation of the live reading event, the Food Writers' Salon Series (#FoodWritersSalonSeries). 

press release from LocalWineEvents.com

The purpose of the salon is to bring together/create a community of young food writers and allow them the opportunity to read their works--live--directly to an interested community. The debut salon last December was a stellar success: The Quarter's PDR was filled with twenty-something twenty-somethings, mainly industry folk including servers, chefs, bartenders, publicists and of course... writers.

on the back of a successful debut, a celebration was necessary!

For 2015's Food Writers' Salon Series, I'm reaching out to all food writers to submit their work(s) for a chance to read it live at an upcoming salon (slated to happen approximately every two months). The first event for 2015 is nearly under way at our for now home, The Quarter and I'm thrilled about two pieces already on bill for the event!

What can one expect at a Food Writers' Salon Series event?

While we try not to take ourselves too seriously... we do take our work seriously! At December's salon, one reader flew all the way from San Antonio for the event to impart her witticisms with the essay, "Dining and Dating." And embracing the alternative spirit of the evening, Ms. Araiza's "On Being A Throw Up Ninja" had the lot of us in stitches!

At 2015's first salon, you will hear a short story having to do with the "fragrances" of cheeses and another about chablis as an "allegory for my life." Following, I hope to conduct an exquisite corpse reading in the near future!

artist bios from December's programs

Calling all food writers!

Please submit your food-related writing of any kind (maximum reading time of 30 minutes) to FBTOTeditor@gmail.com with "SALON" in the subject line. Selected readers will have their bio and/or links included in the salon's programs (it's a networking event too!). The Food Writers' Salon Series is a truly unique platform to not only read/hear creative writing, but also an opportunity to meet and mingle with a community of similar interests! Who knows whom you might meet at the next salon!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Golden Birthday

bubbles and nibbly bits at Tavern on the Green

MARKING my 35th birthday, I'd spent several weeks planning for a special evening out with my best and closest confidants...

getting addresses for the eighty invitations mailed
was not the easiest of feats (in this digital age)

After confirming with my dear friend, Gazelle Paulo that he'd be in town on the proposed date I'd also requested the honor of Marilyn Monroe-esque starlet, Mona Marlowe to be on board as a host for the evening. Arriving promptly at 7:15 p. m. (12 hours past the minute I was born, 35 years prior) I was greeted by Tavern on the Green's host team to whom I'd introduced David, but to my utter surprise: We met this afternoon! Arriving straight from the Cornell campus, David had stopped at Tavern on the Green to 'make some arrangements' for my birthday including reserving a section of couches, concocting a menu for the evening and ensuring that there would be free-flowing bubbly for everyone in attendance! Aside from the printed invitations and having some of the brightest hosts in New York City (and a dress code: Solid ties for men | French or Italian RTW for women), I was anticipating an informal evening, expecting guests would simply 'mill about' near the bar and enjoy a few cocktails while there.

Paul Alexander of The Ones and host,
Gazelle Paulo

As I settled in near the bar's fireplace, the first guests began arriving and it wasn't until our cocktail server started setting the tables with plateware and linens that I'd begun to get an idea of what David had planned...

posing in front of the fireplace
The night ultimately mimicked a reunion for me as faces that I hadn't seen in years joined in the celebration. Halfway through the evening I was surprised again as a candle-topped plate was brought out to shouts of Happy Birthday. Whilst chatting with Gazelle and Mona about their upcoming documentaries and Jenny Smith about demonstrating NARS graphic eyeliner on the 10 o'clock news (#successfulfriends), I'd realized that all good things must come to an end; and like a lady who knows when it's time to leave a party, I made the announcement that anyone who was interested should join me for disco downtown (I'd also announced that it was a "high-low" evening and that the "low" portion was about to commence).

the next day found me feeling positively domestic

After dancing the night away below 14th Street, the next morning I was up surprisingly early. I'd been keeping an eye on the weather as my calendar was reminding me that I was to host my fourth annual The Family Stone-watching and strata-eating party that evening. Alas, with nearly a foot of snow expected, my sisters (who would be driving) and I decided we'd postpone the event until a later date. Having cleared the day for it, David and I decided we'd have a strata and movie night of our own.

this year, David initiated hearts and stars as opposed
to my traditional snowflake shapes
Making the same strata year after year, I decided I'd try a new one this year of which I'd been saving the recipe since last winter. Announcing to David that I was headed to the supermarket, after looking over the recipe at hand he decided that he'd join me on the trip. We agreed upon a slightly modified version of the "hearty greens strata" and substituted the greens with mushrooms (and plenty of onion). Returning home with all that was needed for the strata and some wine and eggnog to boot, our local forecast predicted a stellar evening in!

we also found some good-looking thyme while out
Having prepared strata several times prior, getting started was a breeze; the only completely new addition was thyme, which David demonstrated how to quickly and easily strip its leaves by pulling backward along its stems. After the snowflake heart and star cut-outs and egg mixture were ready, David got to work sautéing onions and mushrooms while I grated a block each of parmigiano-reggiano and gruyere. As we both sipped on a 'mouthy' vouvray, we were getting closer to our finished product.

David demonstrates "de-leafing" thyme
Once the oven had been fully heated and the strata had been assembled in its pan, I went to setting up the front room for The Family Stone, complete with a champagne bucket to keep chilled the Taittinger I'd received as a birthday gift the previous night. And while David continued to whittle away in the kitchen preparing side dishes, I was putting the final touches on our dinner table, folding linens and lighting the candles.

just before...

and just after

The final product was an indeed savory strata, with the meatiness of the (shiitake) mushrooms dominating, yet meeting amicably with the addition of gruyere. And the toothy vouvray (David's pick) was a refined pairing like a sword piercing earth. My pick would have been champagne through and through, but David insisted upon saving the Taittinger for the dark chocolate truffles given by my new BFF's, the Rockefellers, the night before.

a celebratory gathering preceded a quiet evening in

While David and I watched The Family Stone in the cozy of our home, I reflected upon what a wonderful 24 hours I'd just had, and the 24 hours that had yet to happen (the next day would be Thanksgiving). Later that week, I'd remarked to David that it had been my best birthday yet... a golden birthday, indeed!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You Win Some, You Lose Some...

BEING a part of the printed publishing industry certainly has its rewards. There are the highs of seeing your hard work in print, spread across (insert big city here) for hundreds, even thousands of people to read. And there are the super highs: when you've worked extra hard on what you'd consider your "masterpiece"; you've received plenty more press than you normally do for a piece; or you receive an "accolade" of some sort. There are plenty of satisfactions. 

Alas, there are also the lows (and the low lows); but one can only carry on, persistently.

THIS week was a busy one: I had two "on the street" assignments for two different publications--one was to be a new one, which was slated to publish its premiere issue next month. Both articles would be due during the same week; I had a full schedule at my 'day job'; social obligations; and I had to eat and sleep on top of it all. By Monday, I awoke to notice a subconjunctival hemorrhage on the white of my eye (Halloween had come early).

And tonight, as I was whittling away the whiteness of my Microsoft Word screen I'd received notice that the publication, which was slated to debut next month, had folded before it'd even begun. (That's the short version of it.) What to do with the hemorrhage-causing article, now finished... for naught?

THE DISH* (title of column)

by Patrick Bradley



What’s just as New York as pizza, bagels and deli coffee? Saturday brunch. 

And we New Yorkers are often a picky lot; that’s why if you go to Cookshop anytime between 10:30 a. m. and 4 on any given Saturday or Sunday, you’ll most likely be met with a queue—because brunch at Cookshop is as tried-and-true as a black-coffee-breakfast or that 3 a. m. hit-the-spot dollar slice.

I’ve been brunching at Cookshop for nearly three years now and have come to learn that it’s best to make your brunch reservation at least two weeks in advance, lest you find yourself with the lot of bloody Mary-sipping standees, restively awaiting an open table. Speaking of bloody Mary’s: Cookshop offers a whole slew ranging from the mezcal-lacedOaxaca Mary,” to others doused with pickle juice or cold-pressed spinach, and there’s even one version garnished with a whole strip of bacon! Moving on to the dishes, my Cookshop triad has for long been the DiPalo’s fresh ricotta beignets; house made semolina macaroni with five cheeses and seasoned breadcrumbs; and the can’t-miss chipotle-spiced potato hash (clearly, I’m all about health). But having graduated to “alumni status,” I’m more often branching out to taste some of Cookshop’s other choice selections as of late.

Last weekend—at my usual corner table—I was given the opportunity to taste two recent additions to Cookshop’s brunch list: smoked bluefish rillettes and chopped egg salad crostini. The bluefish rillettes, served on organic rye toast with crème fraîche and pickled daikon radish were the freshest-tasting rillettes I’d ever tasted! And the chopped egg salad crostini with roasted red peppers, arugula, Dijon dressing and fine-quality boquerones (no canned anchovies here) was as good on the palate as it was on the plate. For my main course, I selected poached eggs with beefsteak tomatoes, choron sauce, toasted rye croutons and basil. Having had a taste of Cookshop’s choron sauce (think fresh-tomato hollandaise) on a recent visit, anytime I see it on the menu, it’s hard to resist.

Slicing my first portion of the multi-colored tomatoes, I was beyond pleased with a taste so good that I swore I was eating heirloom tomatoes. And the soft, poached eggs paired with the crunchy, yet tender rye croutons and the silky choron sauce made for a most decadent experience (for which I had moved on to prosecco from my former “BLT Mary”). All that remained was dessert for which pastry chef, Amanda Cook is always serving up something that is sure to please! Pointed out by my server, the peanut butter & jelly sundae was an easy decision for this suburban-raised transplant who’d spent a majority of his formative years sustained on little more than p. b. & j. sandwiches and cereal (living here more than half my life now, I finally feel comfortable calling myself a New Yorker). With peanut butter ice cream, concord grape sorbet, peanut butter shortbread and a concord grape (‘tis the season) sauce, Ms. Cook’s sundae was a refreshing spin on what one could easily view as a rather “pedestrian” dessert combination. As my server dutifully saw to my every beck and call (good food is near naught unless combined with good service), I vacated my corner banquette of another satisfied diner. But next time, I’ll remember to wear my elastic-waisted pants—a carefully placed napkin did nothing to conceal the damage!

Patrick Bradley is a freelance food writer and author of the blog, “From Behind the Open Table” frombehindtheopentable.blogspot.com.

*Changed to maintain the integrity of the publisher

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pat LaFrieda Patties in Upper Manhattan

DOWNTOWN food goes north. At least that's how the Times put it, in a recent article.

j'ai finis

WITH my recent excitement over a decent Margherita in Inwood, I could barely ignore the fact that "brand name" (Pat LaFrieda) burgers were now arriving in Washington Heights via the recently opened Burger Heights. On a recent Monday afternoon, I went to see what all the buzz was about (and if it was justifiable).

"Heights Burger"

Happening upon Wadsworth Avenue and 182nd Street, I'd arrived at the small, but attractive hamburger joint, which hosted counter-only seating. Burger Heights offers a variety of burger combinations from "The Wadsworth" (grilled ham, pineapple and provolone) to "The Cabrini" (lamb patty, baby spinach, red onion and feta), but being my first visit, I figured I should try the "Burger Heights" (American cheese, lettuce, tomato and "Heights Sauce") variety. While the menu states, Burgers are cooked to medium, unless otherwise requested, the cheery cashier asked my cooking preference: Medium-rare

"Your order number is at the bottom of the receipt," which I thought a bit superfluous, being that there were only about five guests in the roughly ten-square-foot space. But what do I know.

When order number forty-eight was called, I retrieved what I thought to be a rather stylish tin tray, lined with an equally stylish peach-tinted liner stamped with the Burger Heights logo. I'd fetched a few napkins while skirting the ketchup and mustard dispensers (if only they'd had a good Dijon!) and returned to my spot at the Wadsworth-Avenue-facing counter which I'd reserved with my drink. I was satisfied with the appearance of my meal, and a fan of the "minimalist plating" with the burger tucked, snugly, at the far end of the tray. Now, perhaps: I should not be writing a review, because I'm not nearly into burgers as I once was. Yet, I cannot shuffle off the early signs of excitement over what appears to be a bona-fide food scene beginning to emerge in this once barren culinary wasteland...

a sign of hope

WHILE I was looking forward to a juicy, slightly bloodied medium-rare burger, my "Heights Burger" was cooked to a full medium. But, I wasn't going to complain (over a $5 burger); I was glad they'd at least tried to deliver my preference. While I had found the burger to be completely acceptable, it was the fries that I'd enjoyed more: nicely crisped on the outside and with perfectly tender insides (and well-seasoned too). At $7.90, I was beyond sufficiently sated

thick shakes at
Burger Heights

But of course, I had to ponder the dessert options. Placing my original order, I'd noticed a burger, fries and shake combo ($12.50), which had gotten me to considering a shake for dessert. Craning toward the menu from my counter stool, I noticed Italian gelato shakes (vanilla, chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, strawberry, mint chocolate chip, dulce de leche, pistachio and Nutella) and had known then and there that I'd be ending with a hazelnut gelato shake.

Within five minutes of placing my order, the lightly-colored thick shake was delivered to my spot at the counter (no order number required), along with a proper milkshake straw. At first taste: I could hardly believe I was in my own neighborhood--we don't have stuff this good up here! (But now, we do.) While the savory portion of my meal was not as memorable, I'd bring anyone (that was in the vicinity) here for a shake! 

For hangovers, however... this place would probably hit the spot.

Burger Heights, 177 Wadsworth Ave., Washington Heights (212) 951-1984

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Very Southern... Tradition (Part 2)

SATURDAY morning, David's father picked us both up at the Hotel Royal, from which we'd left for the three-hour drive to Orange Beach, Alabama. During summers past, David's family had always vacationed in Seagrove Beach, near Destin; but this year all the beachfront properties there were already taken, so David's father instead opted for a rental further west, just beyond the Florida/Alabama border.

the view from the rear deck
Yet, I was thrilled to be ending our (very southern) vacation in Truman Capote's childhood state, and craned my neck at the sights as we passed through Mobile (where Truman often traveled to as a child on weekends). read more »

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Very Southern... Tradition

first stop: Hotel Royal, French Quarter

A few weeks ago, a tradition continued. David and I boarded a Brooklyn-bound A train and were shuttled toward JFK Airport to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, in New Orleans and meet with David's family along the Gulf shores. It was our fourth trip together to NOLA, so there was no question of What should we do first?, we simply continued with our tried-and-true traditions.

carrying on with tradition, our first meal 
in NOLA was at Mother's in the CBD
For our stay in New Orleans, David and I booked a room at Hotel Royal--a renovated 1827 Creole townhouse at which we'd stayed during our honeymoon. Being one block from Bourbon Street and a short walk to Café Du Monde, Hotel Royal--simply put--is the ideal place for David and I whenever we're in NOLA. And we always request a room with a street-facing balcony; our room this year shared the same balcony as the room we'd stayed in just a year prior.

the view from our room  in 2013
... and the view in 2014
Pleasantly surprised that we were

allowed an early check-in (3 hours early!), unloaded of our luggage, David and I changed into more weather-appropriate clothing and headed to Mother's Restaurant in the central business district (the CBD) for "brunch." This time around, feeling like more of a 'seasoned' New Orleans-er, I started with a bloody Mary--Mother's "World Famous." I let David do (most of) the ordering... as long as he ordered me the oyster & shrimp po'boy!

While David chowed down on a turkey ferdi po'boy (turkey, ham, debris and gravy), seafood gumbo and turnip greens, I was reliving NOLA trips past with that unmistakably Gulf-waters tasting shrimp (comparably, Gulf shrimp can make all other shrimp taste as exciting as poached tilapia)! Almost instantly (or perhaps that afternoon--the French Quarter is so "intimate" that you can geotag a location whilst being on the other side of town), I posted on Twitter:

I've yet to taste one that can compare

AFTER about a four-hour nap (David and I opted for an early, 8 a. m. flight, as to have more daylight time on our first day in NOLA), David and I dressed ourselves in semi-casual "evening attire" for cocktails at the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's. Depending on whom you choose to collect your information from, the French 75 cocktail was first concocted at Arnaud's. Regardless, the French 75 Bar was recommended to me by a colleague, formerly of New Orleans; but when David and I had tried to visit the bar last year, it was closed for renovations. 

great minds think alike

Aside from visiting the French 75 Bar for a taste of their signature beverage (made with cognac, not gin), impressively topped off with real (Moët & Chandon) champagne, I was told by my friend that we must also order the soufflé potatoes.

soufflé potatoes at French 75 Bar

Handsome indeed, pommes soufflées are a classic French recipe and I'd tasted them years earlier on my first trip to "21." Yet, David and I lingered still for at least another drink while we enjoyed additional nibbly bits...

shrimp and andouille calas at French 75 Bar

Truly, it was the atmosphere of the French 75 Bar that did it for me--I'd remarked to David that if I were wealthy and retired (and lived in New Orleans) I could probably be found there nearly every day.

The following morning, after sleeping in thanks to a night of bourbon, gin and dancing along to the sounds of Treme Brass Band on Frenchmen Street, David and I finally enjoyed a beignets and café au lait breakfast at Café Du Monde (of which there are now several imitations throughout New Orleans--the original Café Du Monde is at 800 Decatur Street).

this year, David insisted we each get our own order

But while it is David who has perfected his order of beignets, it is I who have perfected the process of eating them (to a science):

  • Place your beignets at the center of the table
  • Do not inhale as you take a bite
  • And if you're wearing black (and didn't already spread a napkin across your lap), too bad for you

WHILE our second day in NOLA was dedicated to a trip uptown to Magazine Street, for lunch at Lily's Café--quite possibly the best Vietnamese food either of us have ever had--our third afternoon was reserved for lunch at the renowned Commander's Palace!

Located in the Garden District, David and I hopped on an upriver-bound bus (we'd learned from our trip to Magazine St., the day before, that there was work along the St. Charles Ave. streetcar line) for our early lunch appointment. Along an oak-tree-lined street in heart of the faubourg, lies the grand, iconic turquoise-and-white-striped two-storied building. Upon entering, David and I were quickly greeted with a warm, southern welcome by the lead hostess who'd asked, Whose name should I put the table under? She then scribbled some notes onto a rectangle of white paper and handed it to another hostess who'd led David and I into one of the several dining rooms. Upon settling in at our table, "The bird room," David had mentioned; it wasn't until later in our meal that I'd noticed the several faux birds perched upon tiny wooden dowels all along the perimeter of the dining room.

© Chuck Taggart - flickr

Although a close colleague of mine, Frances Bridges recommended, You have to go to Commander's Palace!, it was an article I'd happened upon in Food & Wine, several years ago, mentioning 25¢ martinis (yes, you read that right) that first piqued my interest. Upon researching the restaurant ahead of our trip, I'd learned that they also have a lunch prix fixe menu (which sounded just as enticing as the à la carte menu) for around $22... I decided that lunch at Commander's Palace was something that we simply could not miss!

Commander's Turtle Soup

After being taken in by the alluring surroundings (even unto the plates), David and I soon narrowed down our lunch selections. Once we'd confirmed with our server that the Commander's Turtle Soup (which takes "3 days to make") was an allowable option with our prix fixe menus, we decided that we'd each begin with a bowl. Throughout the dining room I had been noticing synchronized food drops (which greatly impressed me) and when our first course was served (by our server and the maître d'), David and I were given no less. Adding to the showmanship: once our bowls were placed before us, held within each was an unassuming, stout tin cup filled with turtle soup, which was then poured into the respective bowls; I'd wondered about what could have appeared as mere falderal, but my concluding guess was that it was so the edge of the soup could meet its bowl in a perfect, opaque line. If I'd not been impressed already, I was by then.

parmesan-crusted oyster salad

The second opportunity that Commander's had to impress me was when it was time for another drink. While David and I were enjoying the turtle soup au sherry, I had asked another front-of-house member for a wine list. After being given a moment to browse the selections, I selected a glass of Charles de Cazanove champagne, but added that I'd like to have it with my next course. Another moment later, our server returned and asked David if he would like another drink, but did not ask me. Whomever I had placed my order for champagne with, had seamlessly (and invisibly) communicated it to our server.

As our meal continued, so did the impressions: sipped water glasses were replaced with fresh, filled ones; the maître d' perpetually circled the room in search of the slightest imperfection (even impressing David: He noticed a clear toothpick on a white tablecloth!)... but it was my main course that kept me talking for days!

trying hard to save half for David

When my parmesan crusted oyster salad had arrived, I'd thought that it looked pleasant enough. But after the first few forkfuls, I soon realized that my entrée was delivering well past its comparatively 'austere' appearance. (This is one of those times that I wish I'd taken some notes on the menu, or at least snapped a shot of it!) The delightfully fresh oysters were fried to perfection in their herbed parmesan crusts; but it was when I'd gotten to tasting the vegetables of the dish that I'd become truly impressed! First of all: I don't remember the variety of lettuce that was in the salad, but I do believe that it's quite possible that I may never again taste a lettuce as sublimely divine as the one that was in this salad! And in addition to the pickled cucumber, pickled ever so judiciously; and the blue cheese, proving itself of markedly fine quality; I could not forget the portions of basil-marinated tomato that tasted distinctly of basil, without so much as a shard of a basil being present on the plate!

two gin martinis and one glass of champagne had
me wading in gastronomical pleasure

Yet, as lunch at Commander's Palace was at the top of my New Orleans short list, our last lunch in New Orleans was not to be outshone by open-handed service and veritably sublime veggies...

'Gulf brunch'

ON OUR FINAL DAY in NOLA, David and I ended up at "brunch" (it was the right time for it) at The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar. We--in a way--had ended up there "unwittingly," because while I had noticed the restaurant on every previous visit to New Orleans, I had always marked it off as a tourist trap--the same way New Yorkers avoid Bubba Gump in Times Square like the plague! But during our last visit, David and I would pass the restaurant daily and each time the most heady of cooking smells would waft through the air like one impenetrable, savory mass! By the third day, David remarked, "Anything that smells that good has to taste good." Then and there, I'd known we would end up there by the week's end.

how they do in the deep south

Again, David being the Louisiana native, I let him do the ordering (and let his nose do the hunting). After pointing out oysters on the half shell (I'd tried--in vain--to consume some on our last visit), David noticed the section on the menu, FROM OUR BOILING POT. "Now, that's what we've been smelling!" David's nose knew. After we'd ordered a duo of bloody Mary's, David placed an order for a half-dozen of oysters and two pounds of boiled, jumbo shrimp, as well as some boiled corn, potatoes and sausage. (Initially, David tried to order three pounds of shrimp, until our server'd mentioned, Well... people usually get one pound per person.)

our two-pound boat

The first dish to arrive was the local, Gulf oysters on the half shell. With a still muddy outer shell, this was not the kind of oyster to slide into your mouth, directly from its cup. Following David's example, I dislodged my first Gulf oyster from its shell, and transported it onto a singular saltine cracker: Is this how they eat them down here? Yes, was David's short response. Meatier, more toothsome--indeed--than the kind of oysters I'd been used to; and not as sweet... but with more of a "brackish waters" taste. With just three assigned to each of us, our oysters had disappeared as quickly as they'd come.

from M.F.K. Fisher to Edward Behr,
seafood should taste of the sea

But in no time: our two pounds of shrimp had arrived, along with corn, potatoes and sausage. Checking in with David, You'll be mad if I don't peel these, right? (I have a gastronomical habit of eating shrimp with the shell and tail still attached). Again following suit, I removed the morsel from its shell, and placed the late crustacean directly into my mouth. Similar to what I'd experienced earlier in the week at Mother's, with my first bite, my mouth was flooded with that unmistakable Gulf-waters taste (seafood should taste of from where it comes)! 

DAVID AND I WERE GLAD that we'd found yet another not-to-be-missed place for future trips to NOLA... and on our final day, I was able to check off the last item on our short list: a performance at Preservation Hall. The next morning, David and I were up early for one last beignets-and-café-au-lait breakfast at Café Du Monde, before departing for a week-long stay on the Gulf shores of Alabama.

If anyone needs me, I'll be right here

To be continued...