Sunday, February 18, 2007

New York Stories 2

The saga continues...

1. B.A.L.

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...

untitled, wallace berman

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:

Joe's Dairy

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.

4. Grandaisy?

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

pizza, Grandaisy Bakery

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:

souvenir, fatty crab

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.


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



Billy Jack said...

You kids keep u the great work. You've inspired me to abandon the least vestiges of vegetarianism.

Despite vestiges of guilt I spent part of last week's visit to Victoria savouring venison jumiper salami at Choux Choux and red wine braised beef short-ribs at the Brasserie l'ecole.

With my first trip to a charcuterie and my first visit to a brasserie under my belt I know look forward to more provocation.


leedav said...

So awesome! I can't take it anymore. I'm planning a road trip from Madison to NYC. I happened upon the Tennement Musuem when I was trying to show a friend the city. I miss the city!

Anonymous said...

I read your blog like it's my life..I guess anyone who enjoys good food would play out a day in Manhattan in a similar fashion..My Husband raves about the fatty crab but I haven't been yet..
Elephant and Prune on first and first are bothe worth while checking out.I'm also a fan of Mexican Radio and Benny's Burrito's...let me see, what else..Rosa Mexicana is amazing..I used to live in NYC and sell specialty food there..I MISS IT SO MUCH!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Next time you are down there, you have to check out il Laboratorio del Gelato (Orchard between Broome and Delancey).

Their ice creams are excellent. The sorbets are disappointing, imo. His chestnut and his pumpkin (both seasonal) are my favourites.