Monday, February 22, 2010

New York Winterlude 1, rev. ed.

self-portrait w/ snow fig. a: several large men's footprints, one giant shadow

Maybe it's the fact that Snowpocalypse 2010 has had me thinking of our friends to the south. Then again, maybe it's just that Sam Sifton's review of Motorino this week has left me in a tizzy--a pizza tizzy. Whatever, the case, I finally got around to revising a post that got started about a year ago, not long after a short, sweet mid-February New York Winterlude in early 2009.

It went something like this:

Day 1 began with us having to move our car out of our Midtown, 2nd Ave. parking spot by 8:00 am to avoid getting a nasty ticket. We weren't planning on using the car while we were in New York, but once we got in the car, we figured, "if we have to move it anyway, might as well get some use out of it, right?" So we went about as far crosstown as you could possibly go, to Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery on W. 47th near 11th Ave. A little crazy, I know, especially when you're on vacation, but Michelle had a hankering for croissants and I had designs on some of their famous flatbreads, so... Plus, we had plans to visit Lahey’s just-opened Co. later in the trip, so this was research.

They'd just opened when we arrived, and they were still very much in the process of setting up shop, but they had plenty of fresh croissants on hand and their counter display already looked pretty appealing.

sullivan st. bakery fig. b: display case, Sullivan St. Bakery

So we grabbed a couple of croissants, and a couple of slices and headed back through the crosstown traffic and the mayhem in search of coffee.

michelle nyc fig. c: Michelle & Juan

We didn't find any of New York's "serious" coffee shops, but we did find Juan Valdez, and he was happy to serve us.

central park east fig. d: sous les pavés, la forêt

Day 1 was all about Midtown and the Upper East Side. We were lucky enough to be staying with friends on E. 57th, and we had museums we wanted to visit, so we put our car in long-term parking and hit the pavement.

sullivan st. potato pie fig. e: Sullivan St. Bakery's potato pie

By the time we reached the Met, we were a little peckish again, so Michelle pulled out a slice of Sullivan Street's lovely potato pie that she'd wisely stashed in her backpack, and we refueled in Central Park. We love their basic marinara slice, but those guys definitely have a way with potatoes. Look how golden they are!

campbell prunes fig. f: one in a thousand

Our main reason for going to the Met was to check out their "Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard" exhibition, which displayed hundreds of artifacts from Evans' gargantuan personal collection of early 20th-century postcards (including this beauty depicting plums being dried into prunes in Campbell, CA) and made a very interesting argument about how this collection influenced his work. It was a phenomenal exhibit, but, I have to say, it attracted a strange crowd. It was a compact exhibition too, so it wasn't as though you could get away from all those weird people with their loud voices and their bad attitudes. It felt more like an antiques show than that contemplative museum experience I've heard so much about.

arbus postcard fig. g: To: Walker Evans; From: Diane Arbus

Even with all those difficult people, we still had a great time, and we particularly liked this postcard from Diane Arbus to Walker in particular, with its idiosyncratic script and its curious left field reference to Evans' talents in the kitchen (and his way with potatoes).

fancy feet 1 fig. h: fancy feet 1

Afterwards, we made the most of our donation and toured a fairly wide cross-section of the Met's collection, but we were particularly taken by the Medieval tapestries.

fancy feet 2 fig. i: fancy feet 2

By mid-afternoon, we had made our way up the street to the Neue Galerie. In part, so that we could immerse ourselves in its Mitteleuropean splendor.

return to café sabarsky fig. j: return to Café Sabarsky

But mostly, so that we could pay a repeat visit to our friends at Café Sabarsky. This was our first time having a full meal at Café Sabarsky, and I suspect it won't be our last. Goulash, sausage and rotkohl, beer, kaffee und kuchen--we were in Hapsburg Heaven.

The lowdown:

mains: weisswurst w/ potato salad and mustard; goulash soup w/ potatoes

desserts: sabarsky torte; milchrahmstrudel

schaller & weber fig. k: Schaller und Weber

So much so, in fact, that when we asked about our amazing weisswurst and found out it came from the legendary Schaller & Weber, we made that our very next stop. There we bought some more weisswurst and some frankfurters, and some of their famously spicy house mustard, and we admired their whimsical beer paraphernalia.

shad is here! fig. l: Shad is here!

Speaking of repeat visits and old favorites, that night we had a hankering for seafood, so we went back to visit our friends at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. We love the atmosphere at the bar--the mix of regulars, tourists, and the seasoned staff, the banter, the repartee--and GCOB’s selection of oysters on the half-shell is always impressive. We ordered a cross-section of house specialties--baked, fried, stewed, and raw (representing Long Island, the Chesapeake, Nova Scotia, and Washington)--and a round of beers, and we settled right in.

The lowdown:

appetizer: clams casino

raw bar: blue points; bras d'or; kumimoto; royal miyagi

hot dishes: oyster stew; clam pan roast

the campbell apartment fig. m: inside the Campbell Apartment

Afterwards, we found out our friends R & M had a little surprise in store for us: a nightcap at the Campbell Apartment, the cocktail bar that occupies the former office of William J. Campbell, a financier and railroad tycoon. A former office in a railway station. Sounds glamorous, right? Well, this was no ordinary office. Campbell evidently had a thing for the Northern Italian culture of the late Middle Ages--he spent loads to have the place decked out in medieval Florentine splendor, and just to make sure everyone understood that he had money to burn, he placed a huge, imposing safe in his sizable fireplace. Campbell’s 3,500 sq. ft. office has been fully renovated to its previous splendor (including the safe), but now much of the space is taken up by a big, old bar, and the Campbell Apartment functions as a swanky cocktail bar. Talk about a nightcap!

To be continued...

Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 West 47th Street, New York, NY (212) 265-5580

Colombian Coffee Federation/Juan Valdez Coffee, 140 East 57th Street, New York, NY (917) 289-0981

Café Sabarsky, 1048 5th Avenue, New York, NY (212) 288-0665

Schaller & Weber, 1654 2nd Avenue, New York, NY (212) 879-3047

The Grand Central Oyster Bar, 89 East 42nd Street, New York, NY (212) 490-6653

The Campbell Apartment, 15 Vanderbilt Ave., New York, NY (212) 953-0409

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top Ten #33

the big sur bakery cookbook

1. Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson with Catherine Price, The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant

2. Steve Earle, Townes

3. The AEB Burger

4. Fitzcarraldo, dir. Herzog + My Best Fiend, dir. Herzog (again)

5. Pylon, Chomp More

6. Lièvre à la royale + smoked suckling pig dinner for two, Joe Beef

7. Rosanne Cash, "Girl From the North Country," The List + Bob Dylan, "Girl From the North Country," The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan + Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash, "Girl From the North Country," 1969

8. Fleisher's Grass-Fed and Organic Meats, Kingston, NY

9. Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters, Hudson, NY

10. Top Hat (a.k.a. Sombrero de Copa), dir. Sandrich


Saturday, February 13, 2010

onions, pickled

We've gotten a few requests for this over the last week, so...

Zuni's pickled onions are a real coup de coeur in our household. It's one of Judy Rodgers' simplest recipes, but it's truly one of our favorites. Great with charcuterie, excellent in a grilled cheese sandwich, and essential with our burgers. They're a bit tedious to make, because the recipe requires to repeat steps (three times!), but the extra effort is absolutely worth it. Trust us.

pickled onions fig. a: pickled onions à la Zuni

Zuni Cafe Pickled Onions

2 medium-large red onions, peeled
3 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
a few cloves
a few allspice berries
a dried red chili
2 bay leaves
a few peppercorns

To prepare your brine, combine everything but the onions and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to infuse.

Slice onions about 3/8" thick. Separate them into rings. Bring the brine to a boil again and add about 1/3 of the onions. Bring back to a simmer, and as soon as it does, remove the onions, placing them on a baking sheet. Continue this process with the rest of the onions, then repeat the entire process twice, so that each batch of onions gets blanched a total of three times in the brine. Make sure to allow the onions to cool between each round of blanching.

The onions will turn a bright fuchsia hue and will be perfectly tender-crisp.

Place the onions in a jar with enough of their brine to cover and refrigerate. The onions will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Look at that color! Talk about perfect for St. Valentine's Day... Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. Just a thought.


Monday, February 08, 2010

death by chocolate

death by chocolate fig. a: death by Chloé, actually

Montreal's Les Chocolats de Chloé makes these adorable solid dark chocolate skulls specially for the Hallowe'en/All Souls' Day/Day of the Dead rush, and God knows that's fitting (Hallowe'en + All Souls; Day of the Dead + Mexico + chocolate). But don't you think they'd be nice for St. Valentine's Day too?

I mean, think The Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," think Harold & Maude, think The Modern Lovers' "A Plea for Tenderness",* think Gun Crazy. Hell, think Baudelaire.

les fruits du mal fig. b: les fruits du mal

What could be more more romantic?

Sure, St. Valentine's Day chocolates have gotten all grown up over the years, but isn't it about time they got Modern?

Do you think they'd make another special limited edition run if we asked them nicely?

Les Chocolats de Chloé, 546 Duluth Ave., 849-5550


* to wit: "'...I want to show you that I understand you, now.' This is the guy talking to the girlfriend. He's gonna show you that he understands the deepest, darkest parts, when he says, he says, 'I know how beautiful death is, and I know why you hate life, but I'm just a tender soul, so be glad you know...'"

Thursday, February 04, 2010

AEB classics #87: the AEB Burger

We've been pretty serious about our burgers for a while now, but when we got a meat grinder attachment for our standing mixer, things got even more serious. In fact, the burgers that have resulted have been seriously outstanding, taking our deluxe home burger to new heights.

What are the keys to a full-on AEB Burger? The quality of the meat, the fat content, salting the meat 24 hours in advance, grinding the meat fresh, and forming the patties just so, without overworking them. Then there's the buns--always crucial. And while this burger is so good it doesn't require a whole lot of fixings, we really don't make burgers that often, so we'll be damned if we're not going put out a nice spread so that we can turn that burger into a gloriously overstuffed mess.

The AEB Burger

2 lbs beef chuck from a reputable butcher, roughly 20% fat content
kosher salt

If you're grinding your own beef, 24 hours before you make your burgers, salt your beef generously, and keep it in the refrigerator overnight.

before fig. a: chuck

special equipment: a meat grinder
freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp unsalted butter, portioned into four pats of butter

The next day, grind your meat twice through your meat grinder (we have two attachments for our grinder, and we use the coarser of the two). Season the meat with black pepper (remember, you've already salted the meat--no need to do it again).

after fig. b: freshly ground chuck

Obviously, if you don't have a meat grinder, just start the recipe here. Try and get the best, freshest ground chuck you can find. You'll be missing out on the added value of salting the meat 24 hours in advance, but you'll still wind up with a great burger (just remember to salt each patty a bit when you season them).

Separate the beef into four portions. Gently form each portion of beef into a patty, making sure to place a pat of butter inside each of your patties. [The butter will baste the meat from the inside as it cooks.] Use just enough pressure to form the ground beef into a patty, and no more. Avoid overworking the meat. Set aside.

bacon fig. c: freshly fried smoky bacon

4 strips of good, smoky bacon

Fry up your bacon in a large cast-iron pan until your strips are crispy. Set aside.

4 quality hamburger buns

Slice your buns and plate them.

pickled onions fig. d: pickled onions

Now, lay out your hamburger fixings.

We recommend:
Boston lettuce
sliced beefsteak tomatoes (if in season, which they absolutely were not last, when we made the latest batch of these burgers, so we excluded tomatoes altogether)
sliced pickled cucumbers
pickled onions
pickled green tomato chow chow
quality mustard
ketchup, preferably homemade

Whatever you settle on, your fixings tables should convey plenitude. It should look something like this:

fixings table fig. e: hamburger fixings

Fresh French fries are awfully nice, but a good potato chip can do the trick too. We're particularly fond of Covered Bridge (Hartland, NB) brand at the moment.

Covered Bridge potato chips fig. f: real potato chips

special equipment: large pan, preferably cast-iron
a large lid that fits the pan
4 slices of cheese, preferably something interesting but not overwhelming, like an aged cheddar or a caraway gouda (yes!)

Now it's time to cook up your burgers. Choose the largest cast-iron pan you have on hand. If it's the one you cooked the bacon in, set it a notch above medium heat. If it's not the one you cooked the bacon in, transfer the bacon fat to the pan and turn the heat to a notch above medium heat. When the pan is good and hot, place all four of your patties in at once. The pan should be hot enough to make the patties sizzle on contact. Let the patties sizzle for 3 minutes without moving them or flattening them. Flip the patties over and cook for another 3 minutes. The patties should have a nice deep crust on them, but they shouldn't be overly blackened. When the second 3 minutes are up, flip the patties again, turn the heat down to low, cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Make sure your cheese slices are ready. When the 2 minutes are up, flip the patties again, cover them with cheese, cover with the lid again, and cook for a final 2 minutes. The patties should be perfectly medium-rare after this final 2 minutes.

Place each patty on a bun, adorn with a slice of bacon, and serve, allowing your dining companions to dress their burgers according to their own whims. (Mine: lettuce, pickled onions, chow chow, mayonnaise, strong Belgian mustard, and an occasional dab of homemade ketchup.)

The finished product should look something like this, and it should look and smell so crazy-good that you just start chomping, possibly without even remembering to put your lettuce inside your burger first.

burger time fig. g: burger time

Your burger should taste so crazy-good, that just thinking about it, days later, drives you, well, crazy. Seriously crazy.

Fully satisfies 4.

Got your own burger dos and don'ts? By all means, send 'em in.


ps--Thanks to Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook for the tips on purchasing, salting, and grinding our beef, and to Saveur's "The Burger Bible" issue (our fave issue of 2009) for the "pat of butter" tip and a whole lot of inspiration.