fig. a: AEB R&D: "We try harder!"
In an effort to live up to our motto ("Onward, ho!"), AEB's R & D division has recently introduced a few new features to our sidebar:
1. a short list for first-time visitors to Montreal, all those who felt like they got fleeced the last time they visited, and/or those who'd just like to know what our top picks from our "one and only Montreal Food Guide" are
2. "From the Desk of AEB": a section documenting our food-related contributions to other publications
3. "An endless adventure": a travel section with links to AEB pieces on New York, the Bay Area, Vermont, France, etc.
4. "More advertisements for ourselves": a section that lists the many, many places where you can find Švestka preserves
5. "An endless passion": a list of recommended titles from the AEB library
6. "An online banquet": a list of recommended blogs and other websites having to do with food
This just in: the R & D division has also initiated the use of a new tag inside the pages of our ever-growing Montreal Food Guide--in addition to your old favorites, "NEW!" and "UPDATED!", you'll now find the handy "DEMOTED!" tag. Now, in addition to checking out who's HOT, you also keep tabs on who's NOT.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
fig. a: AEB R&D: "We try harder!"
Saturday, February 24, 2007
"I'm seeing things, believe me, just little things they deceive me..."
--Mocky, "Seeing Things"
Don't ask me how it happened. I'm still not quite sure. Maybe it was cabin fever that had me seeing things, believing things. All I know is that I was at Chez Nino, just minding my own business, taking in the beautiful displays, when I saw a pile of beautiful, characteristically knobbly citrons (i.e., n. 1. a small Asian rutaceous tree, Citrus medica, having lemon-like fruit with a thick aromatic rind) sitting there, labeled with a sign and everything, just to the right of the front counter. "Score!" I thought, "those will make some really good candied peel!" So I picked up half a dozen. I knew they were going to be pricey, but I figured, "Hey, this is something special. It's worth it." Sure enough, they were by far and away the most expensive citrus fruits I'd ever purchased, twice the price of your average already exorbitantly priced Meyer lemons. My heart skipped a beat when the woman at the cash register read out the price to me, but I just reminded myself, "Now, now. This is something special," and went ahead with the purchase, giving Anthony one of my, "Don't worry, everything's under control" looks.
Back at home, I took my citrons out of their bag and laid them on my cutting board to start preparing them. I selected my knife, sliced through the first one, and thought to myself, "That's weird. It looks like a lemon." "I think these are lemons! These aren't citrons, they're lemons!" Anthony just turned to me and said, snidely, "I was wondering how you could tell that they were citrons and not citrons."
Oh, the trials and tribulations of living in a functionally bilingual city!
So there I was thinking I was getting exotic citrons, but instead what I ended up with were six semi-exotic (and insanely expensive) French lemons from Menton. They're some of the world's best lemons, but the bottom line is that they're still just lemons...
For a minute or two afterwards I had no idea what to do, but eventually I just decided, "What the hell--I'll just go ahead and make Menton lemon marmalade." If the world gives you citrons, make marmalade, right? So that's what I did.
Now, I knew that when I was done I was going to want to taste every last ounce of those damn lemons, so I knew I had to keep things simple and strive for a clean-tasting marmalade, one that would let the Menton's unique, exclusive flavour shine through. A multi-stage soaking method was the method that I settled upon. It's worked for me in the past with limes and grapefruit, making a particularly light, fresh-tasting marmalade.
Finally, having sorted everything out, I got to work again, peeling and cutting, and I discovered that those Menton lemons are so delicate that they're a pleasure to work with, not at all like their kin. Thank god because anything else might have pushed me over the edge. When I'd finished preparing them, I put them in a pot, threw in their leaves for added flavour, brought the contents to a simmer and waited...
In the end, I made what has got to be the world's most expensive marmalade, the Noka of marmalades. The thing is, (unlike Noka) it might also be the world's best because the results were of a subtlety that I've rarely ever seen before. The colour was a delicate blond, the smell was very floral and wonderfully lemony, without any of the astringency you usually get. And the taste? Heavenly.
Problem is, if it is the world's best marmalade, very few people will ever know because I only ended up with four jars of it.
Lemon Marmalade (makes about 750 ml)
3 lemons + juice of 1 lemon (Mentons, if you’re feeling flush or you happen to live in Menton; otherwise look for the finest you can find/afford)
Peel the lemon thinly, avoiding the pith. Slice the peel into very fine strips and place in a non-reactive bowl. Chop the peeled lemons until it is a fine mash, removing the seeds. Place the mash in the bowl with the peel and add the lemon juice. You should have about 1 cup. Cover with 1 1/3 cups cold water and let soak overnight. The next day, measure the lemon mixture, place in a small pot and add an equal amount of sugar. Boil until it sets and place in sterilized jars. Seal. Let age at least 1 week before eating. Excellent with croissants, brioches or any other rich breads.
Posted by aj kinik at 5:28 PM
Friday, February 23, 2007
Our latest copy of Gourmet arrived bright and early this morning--before breakfast, even. So we sat down at the table, cracked it open, admired features on Persian cuisine, mid-winter barbecueing, and the Danish new wave, then happened across the following advertising insert:
Okay, now we never, ever considered using "Experience the unprecedented" as a tagline, but, the funny thing is, just the other day, after I suddenly decided that our header needed some kind of accompanying image, I spent about an hour trying to locate a photograph that I'd seen once of a mile-long (or so) table that had been set up along a street in Ghent some years ago as some sort of vaguely Gordon Matta-Clark-esque performance piece (and an attempt to set a world record for the biggest sit-down dinner, if I'm not mistaken).
Anyway, I didn't realize this ad would touch such a nerve, but Michelle immediately flew into a blind rage* and tried to rip it to shreds upon seeing it, hence the torn corner you see in the picture. I had to jump in and physically separate her from the insert just so I could get a picture of the poor thing.
Finally I managed to convince her to "take the high road," that we were "better than this." And now that everything's calm again here at AEB headquarters, we'd just like to say, anytime you're ready, American Public Television/Lexus, we're ready for our close-ups.
*In fact, I hadn't seen her this mad since she came across this gem
from an ad for Pintxo back in 2005.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
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:
But, frankly, Coney Island seemed just a little too exposed.
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.
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,
playful, and, well, cheeky "A Rakish History of Men's Wear"
--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:
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:
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,
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:
Who says there's no good design left in America?
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:
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--
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
Sunday, February 18, 2007
The saga continues...
Things got started with an impromptu gathering of the Bacon Appreciation League. We discussed the ins and outs of applewood-smoked versus cob-smoked bacon, and the regional traditions of the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes states, and then, the focus of that particular gathering being the smoked bacons of Wisconsin, we cooked up a full two pounds of Nueske's award-winning applewood-smoked bacon, along with some buttermilk waffles and some scrambled eggs, and got to work. We'd covered well over 120 blocks on Day 1. We were pretty sure we were going to cover some ground on Day 2, too.
Stop #1 was back down at Washington Square. We hopped a 6 train and headed south. 20 minutes and a minor mishap later, we got off at the Prince St., got some fresh air, and headed to the Grey Gallery where we had a rendez-vous with...
2. WB & Co.
I'd heard fantastic things about "the Wallace Berman show," Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle, which, as the title suggests, is much, much more than solely a Wallace Berman show. In fact--and the title suggests this, too--the show starts with Berman's Semina, his limited edition, loose-leaf, mixed-media journal, and spirals out, investigating the numerous artists and other collaborators that contributed to Semina and made up Berman's shifting scene. This list of collaborators is stunning: everyone from Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, and Alexander Trocchi, to Bruce Conner, Lawrence Jordan, and Jack Smith, to Jay DeFeo and Jess, to Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper (that's right), to Toni Basil (yes, Toni Basil). Better yet, most of the work assembled is stunning, too. We really took our time because the show touched a nerve. It was at once a deeply inspirational and a deeply melancholy experience. So much talent and vision, so many tragic stories. When it was almost time to go, we unwound with some of the far-out proto-music videos (ballet dancers, masks, Hendrix) Toni Basil directed years before she became a star of MTV. If only people made music videos like that these days.
Back out into the bracing air and sunshine, took in a father and son golfing (with real golfballs and real clubs!) their way across Washington Square, left on Sullivan, and a few minutes later we chanced upon a place that was on our "to do" list, but which we'd somehow forgotten was on Sullivan Street:
3. Joe's Dairy
We'd been wanting to visit Joe's for years. This time we'd decided, "That's it, we're doin' it!" So when we suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with Joe's quite by accident, there was no need to even discuss it. It looked a lot like I'd imagined it: tiny, no-nonsense, old-fashioned. We stepped right up to the counter and got busy. Michelle ordered some fresh mozzarella, paid for it, and made her way back onto Sullivan. I was about to follow her, but then thought better of it. "You got any smoked mozzarella?" "Yeah, they just came out. How many smokeys you want?" "Just one, thanks." She wrapped up my "smokey" and handed it to me. It was still warm from the smoker. The smell was ridiculous. I took it out onto the street, unwrapped it, and we tore into it. It was then and only then that we both realized we'd never actually had smoked mozzarella before. First of all, we'd rarely ever had mozzarella this good and this fresh before. But, more importantly, up till then, we'd only ever had smoke-flavored mozzarella. Talk about irresistible. We ate about 2/3 of that hunk right there on the street. It took superhuman will not to polish it off then and there. When what was left of that "smokey" was safely tucked away, we kept walking.
Problem was, about two minutes later we found at 73 Sullivan St., smack-dab in front of the former Sullivan Street Bakery, now Grandaisy Bakery. "Grandaisy?" We knew that Sullivan Street had opened up a new store up in the West 40s, but we hadn't realized that the former partners had parted ways. I turned to Michelle and said, "Jeez, I guess the split wasn't exactly amicable." One partner took the Sullivan Street name (and the brand) up to West 47th; the other kept the Sullivan Street location and came up with the name Grandaisy. Hmm. Anyway, yeah, we'd just gorged ourselves on mozzarella, but our curiosity got the better of us. We got one slice of their pizza patate (potatoes, onion, rosemary) and one of their pizza pomodoro
and we sat down to conduct our taste-test and warm up a bit. After all, we've got a pizza crawl to bone up for and Sullivan Street Bakery has been a contender in the New York pizza sweepstakes for quite some time. The verdict? Well, we like our bakery pizzas up here in Montreal (i.e. Marguerita, Roma, Boulangerie/Charcuterie St. Viateur, etc.), but this was a whole other league. So good, in fact, that we picked up a slice of pizza bianca for the road and we headed east. We took a fairly haphazard route, across SoHo, through NoLIta and Little Italy, into Chinatown, and by the time we stopped again we were on Orchard in the heart of the Lower East Side.
5. Lower East Side Tenement Museum
I was hoping to show Michelle the Lower East Side Tenement Museum Store/Antique Shop, but it was no longer. They still have a store, but they moved that up the street to a location where they sell tickets for their tours, but the antiques shop is gone. We were disappointed--I'd been there twice before with H and they'd had great stuff both times, and some of it was even reasonably affordable--but we soldiered on to the store (which is a pretty great museum store). For some pathetic reason I'd never taken any of the L.E.S.T.M.'s tour, even though I've been fascinated with the history of the district for years now. With "enough is enough" being a bit of a theme for the day, and one of the L.E.S.T.M.'s "Getting By" tours about to commence, I took the plunge.
An hour later, having toured re-creations of both the Gumpertz family kitchen (1870s) and the Baldizzi family kitchen (1930s), having discussed the hard times brought on by not one but two economic depressions, and having imagined (and, I confess, romanticized) the kinds of German-Jewish and Italian subsistence meals each family cooked and shared to get by, I was starting to get a little hungry. I guess we could have gone to Katz's or Sammy's Roumanian or Yonah Schimmel, but we would have had to walk quite a few blocks to find some decent Italian, and we were right on the edge of Chinatown. Plus, we were planning on eating Asian for dinner, so this snack could act as the appetizer course for our next meal, and one of our Chinatown faves was just on the other side of Allen. That's all it took.
6. #1 Dumpling
Three minutes later we were packed inside #1 Dumpling House like a couple of sardines, hoping to get an order placed at the height of their dinnertime rush. It really wasn't that bad--we always enjoy standing at the counter watching the cooks made the massive sesame pancakes and the pan-fried dumplings, and assembling the sandwiches, and there's really absolutely nothing like #1 Dumpling here in Montreal, so we're always happy to be patient. Within ten minutes we had our "sesame pancake with beef" sandwich and our order of pork & chives dumplings in hand and we were on our way to Sara D. Roosevelt park to sit and snack. We've said it before, but that sesame pancake with beef is sensational, and at $1.50 a pop it's in the running for the steal of the century. Those dumplings--well, they were some of the finest we've had in quite some time. There was actually a split second there between the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and #1 Dumpling where we contemplated passing on our Chinese snack and holding out until dinner, but that would have been foolish.
A couple of hours and a long, brisk walk later, we found ourselves in that part of the Village that borders Chelsea at a restaurant we'd been meaning to go to for a couple of years at least:
7. Fatty Crab
We'd been fantasizing about Fatty Crab's take on Malaysian for a while already when our friend P came back from a trip to New York reporting that Fatty Crab's Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork salad was the single most mind-altering thing he'd tasted in five years (!), and this from a man who knows his food and has traveled extensively. That's the kind of testimonial you take note of. Like Momofuku, Fatty Crab is young, loud, and brash; like Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Fatty Crab's dishes come in succession and they're meant to be shared. We started off with the Green Mango with Chili-Sugar-Salt, which was exactly as advertised and which instantly primed our tastebuds, and actually kicked them into overdrive. Then we ordered the Assam Laksa, a "traditional spicy fish soup," the Stone Crab Claws with Black Pepper Sauce, and, instead of the watermelon salad, we got the Pickles Raja Chulan... Yeah, right. As if. No, don't worry, we didn't get the pickles, we got the watermelon salad. Not only that, we enjoyed it. Neither of us were willing to say that it was the best thing we've tasted in the last five years--hell, pretty much every time I have a smoked meat sandwich it's the best thing I've had in the last five years--but we certainly understood P's reaction. Chunks of watermelon, crisp-fried lardons, scallions, mixed herbs, and a tangy dressing--what's not to like? You'd have to have a Teflon palate for the eruptions of flavor contained therein not to get to you. The Assam Laksa was very traditional--very spicy, but also very heavy on the preserved fish. Good, and I'm sure very healthy for you, but the amount of preserved fish was even a bit overpowering for me, and I'm someone who truly loves salt-packed anchovies and their ilk. The crab claws, on the other hand, were sheer pleasure. Big and juicy--even a bit messy (as the prat next to us found out when a sizable chunk of Michelle's crab landed on the cell phone he'd placed next to his drink)--and accompanied with a rich, heavenly black pepper sauce. We were having such a good time by that point, we couldn't think of up and leaving, so we ordered some steamed pork buns as our finisher so that we could compare them with Momofuku's. How did they fare? They compared very favorably, indeed. For one thing, with Fatty Crab's, you got the pleasure of assembling them yourself. Each plate comes with two buns stuffed with two thick slices of pork belly. It also comes with a dark kecap manis-based sauce and some sauteed mixed herbs. I thought the pork at Momofuku was more satisfying, but otherwise Fatty Crab's steamed pork buns came out on top.
8. By the time we left Fatty Crab we had just enough time to make our movie at the IFC, a midnight screening of Infernal Affairs. Just when I thought the day's feasting had come to an end, Michelle pulled a couple of Doughnut Plant ginger doughnuts out of her bag of tricks. Showtime.
END OF DAY 2
Joe's Dairy, 156 Sullivan St., (212) 677-8780
Grandaisy Bakery, 73 Sullivan St., (212) 334-9435
#1 Dumpling House, 118A Eldridge St., (212) 625-8008
Fatty Crab, 643 Hudson St., (212) 352-3592
Doughnut Plant, 379 Grand St., (212) 505-3700
Saturday, February 10, 2007
It's true. We snuck away to New York late last week when no one was looking. After a rollercoaster ride of a month, which included the unfortunate collapse of Les Chèvres, Michelle's former employer, at the beginning of January, troubles with the Employment Insurance office (culminating in accusations that Michelle had been letting her evil "twin sister" [she doesn't have one] file for EI under her name), and then a sudden deus ex machina job offer (!--more on this sometime soon), it's safe to say Michelle was ready for a quick getaway. Plus, we had a couple of train tickets to New York kicking around, so we decided to put 'em to use. So we made a couple of phone calls and by Thursday morning, bright and early, we were on our way, slowly but surely (if you've never taken Amtrak's Adirondack "Express" from Montreal to New York, or vice versa, it's a real milk run).
We were only there for three days, and we had a fairly limited budget, but despite these restrictions, we managed to pack in a fair bit. And as you'll see, the visit had an "old school" vs. "new school"* tension running through it.
1. Central Park
The forecast had called for sleet and ice pellets and general dreariness all day, so when we woke up to find some partial sunlight we made our way out the door quick so we could hit the pavement before the tide turned. We cut across Central Park,
braved that spooky and labyrinthine corner of the park know simply as The Rambles,
and emerged on the Upper West Side where we went to visit an old family friend:
Michelle had never been to Zabar's, but I, on the other hand, have been going since about 1983, so I felt it was imperative that we pay a visit since we were going to be in the neighborhood anyway. I was thinking we'd take a good look around, grab a coffee (I'd never forgotten the time they happened to have Jamaican Blue Mountain on special sometime in the late 1980s), and then be on our way. I couldn't help but remark on how much the culinary landscape has changed over the last 20-25 years. As unique as Zabar's still is, there was a time when you were hard-pressed to find a fine food emporium as extensive anywhere else--certainly outside of New York. Having never been to Europe at that point (and therefore having never been to the food courts at Harrod's or KaDeWe), I remember thinking I'd glimpsed heaven the first time I went. Of course, I was young and impressionable at the time. Apparently I'm still pretty impressionable.
Anyway, we were starting to get pretty peckish, and there were a lot of temptations on display at Zabar's (surprise, surprise), and we already had a destination in mind, so we made a couple of quick purchases and moved on to...
3. Barney Greengrass, "The Sturgeon King"
Now, neither of us had been to Barney Greengrass, and one of the great mysteries of Montreal has to do with the fact that there's no one with the guts to call themselves "The Sturgeon King," or "The Sable King," or "The Salmon King, or, better yet, "The King of Chubs," so we were pretty excited. We kept things simple and got a sable (quite possibly my favorite type of smoked fish, and that's saying something) and smoked salmon platter, a few "everything" bagels, and some eggs. Mostly, though, we just took in the scene, which to our untrained eyes looked a lot more Upper East Side on that particular morning than Upper West Side, and we admired Barney's fabulous wallpaper with its strange banana republic motif. I mean, get a load of this Lothario:
4. The Museum of the City of New York
Afterwards, we crossed the park once more in order to hit The Museum of the City of New York. They had an exhibit on Robert Moses--"Robert Moses and the Modern City"--and another on Saul Steinberg--"A City on Paper: Saul Steinberg's New York"--that we wanted to catch. And when we were done with those exhibits, we visited their toy collection, including the truly extraordinary Stettheimer dollhouse, and their "New York City through the ages" home furnishings display, where we decided we liked the colonial tea set (and the accompanying fireplace) the best:
5. Kitchen Arts and Letters
From the MCNY it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Kitchen Arts and Letters, which, along with Bonnie Slotnick, is definitely one of New York's great treasures for those of us who enjoy our cookbooks and food writing. This was another "first time" for us, so we didn't rush things in the least. After all, they've got 11,000 titles or so to choose from. Two factors, and two factors alone, kept our purchases in check: our relatively meager budget and the fact that since we'd committed to being on the town all day we wanted to try to keep the amount of excess weight we were lugging around to a minimum. What did we find? John Thorne's virtually out-of-print Simple Cooking, Elizabeth David's British-edition-only Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, and Jane Grigson's Good Things, her "celebration of fresh daily fare lovingly prepared."
By the time we were finished at Kitchen Arts and Letters, the walk from Barney Greengrass (we'd gone due west, then followed Riverside Park up to 103rd, before charting an easterly course back across town to the MCNY), the museum, and then a good 1/2 hour of food-related perusing had left us with an appetite again. We weren't sure what kind of food we wanted to have, but we knew we wanted to sit and rest, and if we had the space to read our books for a while, well, all the better. So we hopped on a 6 train heading south and started brainstorming, when, suddenly, at around 51st Michelle came up with a brilliant idea:
6. The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Minutes later, there we were, perched on a couple of stools at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, trying to figure out what to select off their impressive menu, which, judging from the date marked at the top right corner, changes daily. We didn't really need to eat all that much because it was already 2:30 and we'd planned a 7:00 dinner, more than anything we were just happy to soak in the atmosphere. You could pick out the regulars--they all looked like if they hadn't actually participated in the America's Cup, they were the kind of people who might have falsified their CV to say that they had. At the same time, we certainly weren't going to leave without having some oysters, so we ordered a couple of Long Island varieties (naturally)--some Shinnecocks and some Pipes Coves--and a couple of soups--a Manhattan clam chowder and an oyster stew--and we settled in. Let's not mince words: the clam chowder was a disappointment--the first of two unfortunate run-ins with excessive corn starch that we had over the course of the weekend. The oyster stew, on the other hand, was surprisingly delicate--more of a bisque than a stew, really. It was also made-to-order in some huge contraption behind the oyster bar, and really, really tasty, especially when you happened to land one of those plump, jumbo oysters. But the real pièce de résistance was that plate of oysters:
Both those Shinnecocks and those Pipes Coves were phenomenally fresh and juicy, but the brininess of those Shinnecocks took the prize. Sitting there enjoying oysters was the first time either of us had noticed the take-out window that opens up onto the hallway outside the restaurant. Now, that's class. Stopping by to pick up some oysters and a bouillabaisse, say, then hopping on that 6:15 to, well... Who cares? It'd be worth buying a ticket almost anywhere just so you'd have an excuse to stop by and make use of that take-out window and say hello to the oyster man behind the bar.
7. The Strand
Hours later, after walking from Grand Central down to Washington Square, we made our mandatory stop at The Strand to see what we might find before that inevitable moment when its "18 miles of books" (hadn't we walked enough already?) so totally overwhelms you that you have to run out (being careful to be polite enough to stop at the cash registers first) or go berserk. This time we did quite well. Among other finds, we escaped from The Strand with a couple of miscellanies, Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany by Ben Schott and Choice Cuts: A Miscellany of Food Writing edited by Mark Kurlansky, Marcella Hazan's Marcella Says..., and yet another reference book, Food by Waverley Root--just in time, too, because Food came in handy just a few hours later, as you'll see.
We needed to take The Strand's edge off by the time we got back out on Broadway, so we waltzed on over to the East Village and found a place to have a couple of happy hour pints.
By 7:00, miracle of miracles, we were ready to eat again, and eat we did.
8. Dial 'M' For Momofuku
I had a good feeling about Momofuku Ssäm Bar from the moment we entered:
Like the original Momofuku, which we described in some detail last year, the Momofuku Ssäm Bar is a sleek but understated affair, with little more than St. John in his prime gracing the walls of its vaguely Scandinavian, almost sauna-like interior. And like its older sibling, the Ssäm Bar makes up for its architectural minimalism with loud music, a brash kitchen, and buzz galore. It would all be a bit much if the cuisine wasn't so damn appealing. On two trips now--one to each restaurant--we've yet to hit anything even remotely resembling a dud. And, if anything, our visit to Momofuku Ssäm Bar outshone our visit to the earlier restaurant, the new, less-fixed format allowing David Chang and his team even more room to try out new things, especially nights.
That said, we started things off with a dish we'd already had at Momofuku #1 and had been dreaming about ever since: the BBQ pork buns. The bottom line is that we're not going stop dreaming about them anytime soon, because that Berkshire pork was just as succulent and flavorful this time around as it had been the first time. We then moved into the novelties: sautéed Brussels sprouts with chili, grilled sweetbreads with lime, a chicken hot pot, and one of their deluxe dinner menu ssäms, the hanger steak ssäm. The Brussels sprouts were pan-fried until they'd caramelized, and they came laced with a tangy, spicy fish sauce and chili concoction. First-rate. Hot pots are one of those dishes that I tend to like better in theory than in practice--it's rare that I get a hot pot that lives up to the anticipation. Ssäm Bar's chicken hot pot was stunning, though, loaded with shiitake and enoki mushrooms, parsnips, and the tenderest, fall-off-the-bone chicken I've seen in a restaurant in quite some time (probably since Paris), and dressed with a lovely, surprisingly subtle miso-based broth. The hanger steak arrived perfectly rare on a bed of grilled onions, with some Bibb lettuce, kimchi, a scallion sauce on the side--the idea being that you grab a hunk of the steak in a lettuce leaf and adorn it as you wish. I didn't have a single solitary quibble with the steak ssäm, but for some reason I still found myself wishing that we'd ordered one of the standard, burrito-like ssäms, preferably one with more of that Berkshire pork inside. Next time. The scene-stealer, however, may very well have been the grilled sweetbreads. None of us had ever heard of grilled sweetbreads before, but after tasting them we wished we'd heard about them sooner. Soaked in buttermilk for a day, then grilled and seasoned with lime juice and Maldon salt, you got the feeling you were tasting them for the first time, like you'd never tasted them before. The only thing we were puzzled by was what sweetbreads actually are. One camp at our table was claiming, "something having to do with the neck," while another was claiming, "the pancreas." Good thing we'd bought that copy of Food because Mr. Root was happy to step in and officiate:
SWEETBREADS. Some time ago I received a telephone call from two friends on the staff of the International Herald Tribune who were locked in an argument which was apparently becoming acerbic. One of them was maintaining heatedly that sweetbreads come from the pancreas, the other, with equal fervor, that they come from the thymus. I was able to stave off the rupture of a beautiful friendship by telling them that they were both right.
This was perhaps less true in France than it would have been in America, for while it would be rash to say of any edible that it is not eaten in France, I have never personally encountered pancreatic sweetbreads ("stomach sweetbreads" for butchers) in that country, but only thymus sweetbreads ("neck sweetbreads")...
Our conversation never deteriorated into an argument, let alone an acerbic one, but we were happy to find an answer to this mystery nonetheless.
In any case, between the four of us, we all had plenty to eat, but the food was so lip-smackingly delicious we had a hard time resisting ordering a pork ssäm or another order of BBQ buns "for dessert."
END OF DAY 1
Zabar's, 2245 Broadway (@ 80th), (212) 496-1234
Barney Greengrass, The Sturgeon King, 541 Amsterdam Ave. (@ 86th), (212) 724-4707
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave. (@ 103rd), (212) 534-1672
Kitchen Arts and Letters, 1435 Lexington Ave. (between 93rd and 94th), (212) 876-5550
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Grand Central Station, (212) 490-6650
The Strand, 828 Broadway (@ 12th), (212) 473-1452
Momofuku Ssäm Bar, 207 Second Ave. (@ 13th), (212) 254-3500
*Lines such as these always make me think of this entry from the Rock Snob's Dictionary : "Old-school. Sometimes spelled old-skool. Originally a discursively valid term that functioned as the hip-hop equivalent of the word 'classic' in rock, denoting a performer or phenomenon from an earlier era still held in high regard today: Eric B and Rakim are my old-school faves. But more recently the term has transmogrified into a despicable phraseological device employed by honkies angling for hipster credibility: I’m much more into old-school Banana Republic, back when it was all safari-wear."
Friday, February 09, 2007
1. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC
2. The Lives of Others, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
3. Barney Greengrass, The Sturgeon King, NYC
4. "Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and his Circle," Grey Art Gallery, NYU, NYC
5. Shinnecock and Pipes Cove oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, NYC
6. Fatty Crab, NYC
7. Elizabeth David, Spices, Salt, and Aromatics in the English Kitchen
8. Kalustyan's, NYC
9. Children of Men, dir. Alfonso Cuarón
10. Jim Harrison, The Raw and the Cooked