Thursday, February 22, 2007

New York Stories 3

Enough already. No need to drag this "saga" out any longer.

Ain't that the truth? Especially since Day 3 was our wind-down day in the Big Oyster. "What, winding down already? After only two days and 200 blocks?" Yeah, I know. Kind of slack, huh? The thing is, we knew we had dinner plans on Sunday night--R and M, our hosts, were throwing a small dinner party. Plus, the temperature had been dropping like a stone all weekend. By Sunday things in New York had gotten frosty, blustery, and downright Canadian. So we opted for a relatively easy day, one that involved a considerable amount of time indoors.

1. Coney Island?

We'd been thinking of spending the day at Coney Island, checking out its weatherbeaten off-season splendor before the Coney Island Strategic Development Plan goes into full effect, Thor Equities and co. get their way, and we get stuck with this freak show:

Coney Island-to-be: talk about a freak show

But, frankly, Coney Island seemed just a little too exposed.

2. NYPL

So we grabbed an "everything" bagel and a schmear from a local bagel shop, cut over to Fifth Ave. and walked down to the grandeur that is the New York Public Library to do a little research.

NYPL

We both had some hard-to-find titles that we wanted to take a look at, and we were happy to see that they had a couple of great shows up--the inspirational "Where Do We Go From Here?: The Photo League and Its Legacy, 1936-2006" and the smart,

marchand d'oeufs

playful, and, well, cheeky "A Rakish History of Men's Wear"

young Venetian

--but we were especially excited to dig up some exotic recipes. In the end, though, the best recipe we discovered that afternoon came from one of Michelle's hard-to-find books, a copy of Dieter Roth's (a.k.a. Diter Rot, a.k.a. Dieter Rot) 1968 Something Else Press title, 246 Little Clouds. There, quite by chance, Michelle found Roth's recipe for a, uh, Hot Futz Sundae:

Hot Futz Sundae

When we'd finished jotting down our notes we were ready for another walk, and if there was snack potential at the end of that walk, all the better. So we crossed another "must-see" off our list:

3. Kalustyan's

Speaking of hard-to-find... The store itself is easy to find, but their specialty has shifted somewhat over the years from spices and imports to spice, imports, and the otherwise-impossible-to-find (both domestic and imported). Whenever you come across some obscure ingredient in a recipe in one of the big food magazines or in some international cookbook aimed at a North American audience, there's a pretty good chance the source listed will be Kalustyan's. It's almost to the point that we don't have to check any more when we come across such recipes. We just turn to one another and say, "Let me guess: Kalustyan's?" Anyway, we certainly wanted to get a sense of their completely overwhelming selection of spices,

Kalustyan

but we're perfectly happy with the spice selection we have here in Montreal, so we were more interested in things like their encyclopedic collection of beans and pulses, especially since discovering after our Vermont trip what a huge difference a good bean can make to what you thought was your iron-clad baked beans recipe (more on this soon). We'd been looking for Jacobs Cattle beans, Steuben Yellow beans, and the like all weekend long as we traveled back and forth across town--at Kalustyan's we hit the mother lode. Michelle also found the Guyanese Pride Brand Artificial Mix and Guyanese Pride Brand West Indian Style Burnt Sugar (Caramel Colour) that she'd been needing to finally be able to make this Trinidadian Black Cake recipe that appeared in Saveur a while back. She knew Kalustyan's carried the stuff because that was the source that had been listed at the back of the magazine, but she couldn't actually find either ingredient on the shelf, so she asked one of the employees who, in turn, asked the manager. He listened to the query and gave us this "Here we go again" look, like he'd been fielding the exact same question from the exact same types for months. Apparently it's not easy being "A Landmark for Fine Specialty Foods." We finished off our purchases with two more items that we can't find in Montreal, and, as it turns out, are both excellent, but which we bought primarily for the packaging:

Bazzini's pistachio nuts

&

Bell's Seasoning

Who says there's no good design left in America?

4. J.P.?

On our way back uptown we swung by The Morgan Library, hoping for a Great Libraries of New York double-bill, but it was already late afternoon and the library wasn't going to open long enough to make a visit worthwhile, so we did the next best thing: we headed back to Grand Central Station to take a closer look at the Grand Central Market.

There, we were happy to run into a familiar face:

5. Murray's

Murray's Greenwich Village store was also on The List. We spent time in the Village, too, as you well know, but the one time we made a point of walking by Murray's they were already closed for the day. By Sunday afternoon, we'd glumly crossed Murray's off The List. So, you can imagine our delight at finding Murray's one and only annex right there in the Grand Central Market. The main reason we were so intent on going to Murray's was in order to find Jasper Hill Farm's impossibly difficult to find Aspenhurst (of course, mistakenly calling it "Alpenhurst," as Michelle had been doing for months, only increases your handicap), most of which is bought up by the likes of Thomas Keller (with good reason, as we found out). We'd tried and loved all the rest of Jasper Hill's raw milk masterpieces--this was the only one left for completists such as ourselves. Michelle thought for sure that this tiny little market branch wouldn't actually be blessed with any of Murray's small quota of Aspenhurst, but thankfully she was wrong. We bought a quarter pound of this lovely Leicester-style cheese--

Jasper Hill Aspenhurst

the likes of which I haven't tasted since my last visit to Neal's Yard Dairy in London--some beautiful Spanish Marcona almonds, and took off before we came across any other temptations.

6. Top Chef

Back on the Upper East Side, little did we know that we had a rendez-vous with a rising star of the New American Cuisine in store for us. We knew there was going to be good food awaiting us--R and M have never let us down in that department (or any other), and they kept up that tradition this time around, too. Everything from the ribs to the mac and cheese to the sticky toffee pudding was a knockout--the perfect comfort meal to bring the weekend to a close, the perfect comfort meal to take in the madness that was Super Bowl XLI. But at the top of our personal AEB highlights reel that night were a couple of the guests, S and C. Rarely have we seen such cute, bright, well-behaved kids (and, at our age, we're definitely part of that circuit). But when C trotted out her homemade cupcakes, well, forget about Prince and his formidable halftime heroics, forget about Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, Devin Hester, this year's crop of "edgy' advertising, and all the rest of that jazz--that stole the show.

New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Libary, Fifth Avenue & 42nd, (212) 930-0830

Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Avenue, (212) 685-3451

Murray's Cheese, 254 Bleecker St., (212) 243-3289, and 43rd & Lexington (Grand Central Market), (212) 922-1540

aj

3 comments:

molly k said...

what's the "artificial mix" all about? i made a pretty wicked black cake last year and "burnt" my own sugar or whatever, but the mix i've never even heard of...

aj kinik said...

Hi Molly K,
Saveur's December 2006 issue has a story by Ramin Ganeshram on Trinidadian black cake plus an accompanying recipe. The lead-in to the recipe reads: "Trinidadian black cake uses two uniquely West Indian ingredients: mixed essence--a perfumed combination of vanilla, almond, and pear extracts--and burnt sugar syrup, a dark, rich caramel concoction without which black cake is just an everyday fruit cake." We were very curious to see what this mixed essence (in our case, "artificial mix") would smell like--it's nice, but mostly it smells like almond extract to us. The recipe only calls for 1/2 tsp. We'll let you know what we think when we finally unveil our black cake.

Where did you get your recipe?

molly said...

i think i just sort of amalgamated various recipes from the ol' internet. i definitely wouldn't call the result an "everyday fruitcake" -- there's really no cake to it, as such. but i'm definitely curious about these secret ingredients. let me know! is that saveur recipe anywhere to be found if i missed the actual magazine?