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Entries in Brooklyn (11)

Friday
Apr262013

Highlights from a Gastronomic Tour of Brooklyn

I have a new job. It involves food: taking pictures of it and designing around it mostly. But I had a special request from the powers that be: Could I escort a bunch of out-of-town chefs to restaurants in Brooklyn for a day?

Do I get to dine with them? Yes.

Do I get a fancy car to take me around? Yes.

Do I get to have wine with lunch/dinner/dessert? Yes.

Do I have a problem with this? No.

What follows are a few highlights from some of the wonderful restaurants we visited, and would visit again. So should you. That's the whole point of this post.

1. The aforementioned fancy vehicle.

2. Pretty wrappings from Mast Brothers Chocolate where we picked up some samples and 4 boxed of truffles. You should check out their new expanded digs if you haven't already.

3. Potlikker: a new favorite of mine. Chef Stephanie prepared everything herself. HERSELF. It was a one woman band. I was only slightly disappointed she wasn't playing a harmonica while she prepared our food. But I guess you could say she was playing the spoons...

4. Kitchy, standing outdoor menu at Potlikker

5. The Gnocchi Semolina Cake with Taleggio Cheese and Fava Beans. Standing ovation, people. Standing.

6. Duck Confit Croquettes. These little gems sat upon a most delicate salad of greens and beats and were finished with a mustard dressing.

7. Dutch Apple Pancake with Fried Oysters and Goat Cheese. Appropriately gooey, fluffy, and crunchy. This giant beast hit all the textural and taste spots.

8. More pretty Mast Bros. packaging.

Next up was Talde. The staff could not have been more accomodating here. They brought us a plethora of tasty dishes...

1. Their fun Asian-patterned plates are plastic. I loved that.

2. Perilla Leaf with Toasted Shrimp and Bacon-Tamarind Caramel Peanuts. Seriously?? These were bite-sized leafy nuggets of taste explosion.

3. The Most Fabulous Kale Salad I've Ever Had. For serious. Fresh and crispy kale was mixed together with pickeled almonds, dried cherries and topped with a slightly creamy miso dressing. 

4. The Chow Fun. Oh, and it was fun alright. That circular shape in the middle are wrapped rice noodles. You break them up and mix it with the greens, pork and sauce...this could not be more fun.

5. Crispy Fluke with Cilantro. I wanted to eat the whole thing. There are two problems on a food tour like this: you are sharing, AND you can't eat the whole thing or you won't have room for the meals at the next place. But I would have eaten the whole thing: crispy, sweet and tangy, this fish was perfectly flaky and downright spectacular.

6. The Most Insanely Ridiculous Dessert. I'm still not sure what this was. But it was really good. Better than I thought, because the description of coconut milk, tapioca, grapefruit and Captain Crunch cereal had me skeptical at best. Another mixer (as you can see), it produced a muddle of interesting flavors and textures that had me poking my spoon back in the bowl.

At this point, things started to get fuzzy. And it was getting dark, so I couldn't take as many photos (I don't like using my flash in a restaurant). However, I'll highlight a few more:

1. Franny's Pizza Bianco with olive oil. This dough has it going on. It was the last stop on our tour and I kept reaching for more bread. They also provided us with a stand-out meat platter that included lardo (!!) and some of the best house made chocolate sorbet (smooth and almost creamy) and limoncello (not too sweet), I've tasted to date.

2. Cardamaro: Read about it here. We obtained this bottle and a few others at Buttermilk Channel. Another wonderful spot, where it was, alas, too dark for photos...

3. I did manage this one of their Ricotta and Leek Flat bread. Buttermilk's version of the pizza, the shining star of this dish is the home made ricotta that is so wonderfully creamy, it's almost like eating ice cream. With a hint of lemon, it manages to be refreshing as well.

As the weekend is upon us, I urge you to go check out these fine establishments and order up some (or all) of these dishes. If you need company, give me a shout. But I'm not sharing this time.

Thursday
Feb212013

Training Diary - Defiantly Eating Pie

Breakfast Martini at Fort DefianceUsually for the Training diary I bring you some kind of healthy recipe. But today....well, today I'm going in a different direction. I'm going to Red Hook. Or WENT to Red Hook, as it were.

I love vegetables. Yes, I do - I wouldn't lie to you (not about food, anyway). Other lies I tell involve the following:

1. To Marmo: Yes, I called Aunt Emily.

2. To John: Your hair looks great!

3. To The Box: Yeah, Diet Orange Crush is a nutritious beverage. Drink more!

4. To myself: What you need today is a breakfast martini, an egg sandwich and a piece of pie as large as your face.

These lies are often convincing. So convincing, in fact, that I transported myself to Brooklyn after my spin bike session on Sunday and landed at Fort Defiance in Red Hook for the aforementioned breakfast martini and egg sammy.

There was some standing around involved before our party could be seated, but the bartenders were more than willing to start the libations flowing as we huddled 'round the bar. I was advised to try the Breakfast Martini, which is a combination of gin (you know what I like), Cointreau, lemon juice and a dollop of orange marmalade. You might think that this would be a very sweet drink, but you'd be wrong. It was surprisingly well-balanced, and while definitely leaning to the sweet side, it was not lip-puckeringly so, and made it's way down rather easily.

"These breakky martys drink themselves!" I heard one patron exclaim. Ok, that was me. And I said it in my head. But I meant it.

I'm in the habit of ordering what the wait staff recommends (they should know), so I took our waitress' advice on the Cheddar Biscuit Egg Sandwich (with ham, jalapeño jam and a fried egg) and was very happy for it. The cheddar biscuit was of the solid variety (as opposed to the flaky-layer kind), and oh-so-gently accented with toasted, yellow cheddar. The salty ham was contrasted with the jalapeño jam - which was just a touch sweet, and the egg (fried egg - my favorite!) created a gooey mess for everything to swim around in. 

I tacked on farm greens as a side, which were VERY buttery (hey, I wasn't complaining) and I had a...um...balanced meal. Of sorts. Well, I had a delicious one, anyway.

I threw in an Americano for balance (I like to mix my uppers (caffeine) with my downers (gin)), and was pleasantly surprised, by which I mean almost shocked, by how fabulously strong it was.

And yet...there needed to be something...else. Something like, well, like PIE. I had not yet been to Four and Twenty Blackbirds, the Gowanus homemade pie oasis. The establishment is one notch Brooklyn and one notch Whistle Stop Cafe. Again, I demanded of the pie-wielding people what to order and was pushed toward the Chocolate Bottom Oatmeal Pie. A hearty and intimidating slice greeted me. This piece of pie was as big as my face (see point #3 from above).

And it was LAYERED. Oh yes, it was. The bottom was a thin layer chocolate ganache and the top was a chocolately and solid oat roof. I say solid, as it was neither crunchy nor chewy, but some level in between and acted like a helmet protecting the glorious middle layer: THE GOO.

I really have not idea what THE GOO was. It was like a pudding. But not. and was like a creme brûlée. But not. Tapioca-ish? Perhaps. It was a light caramel color and somewhat lumpy. But oh, it was devilishly good. It was not cloyingly sweet, but smooth and silky. And just easy enough to eat so you thought you could have juuuust one more bite.

I will say, I wasn't the biggest fan of the crust. While it was flaky, it was still a bit dry. I'm not sure how that happens, but it did. I usually find myself eating pie from the crust, outward instead of from the tip, inward because I am such a big crust fan. But I was more interested in the guts than the encasement in this case.

Next time, I will try some of their savory selections - because there will definitely be a next time.


Monday
Sep172012

Let's Talk About Bacon

With all due respect to Salt-n-Peppa, talking about bacon can be much like talking about sex. People have some strong opinions about both. And sometimes, when they talk about bacon, or even just smell it cooking, their eyes roll back into their heads, and they have...well, they have a moment.

What is it about bacon that gets people all hot and bothered?

Bacon comes from a pig. This should not be news to you.

Homer Simpson had somewhat of a revelation when he discovered that pork, ham and BACON all come from the same animal (from "Lisa the Vegetarian", 1995):

Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

But bacon is special. Unlike pork and ham, it's cured with a lot of salt. The salty flavor combines with a lot of fat and that tangy, pink pork meat to make something truly, as Homer would say, magical.

Bacon has become somewhat of a foodie obsession. People chocolate cover it, maple glaze it and top cupcakes with it. I've seen bacon chocolate bars, ice cream flavors and bespoke bacon-infused bourbon drinks...and this bacon shot called "Breakfast in Bed" (thanks to Brittany for the photo):

I, myself, love bacon. Even here on this blog, I've added it to caramel popcorn, candied it, and thrown it into maple scones. And I truly do pause when I smell it cooking and get a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. And regardless of where I am, I think, "Where DID I put those onions and eggs?" Because, even though I love bacon as an addition to entrees, I still enjoy a good PLATE, I mean a solid SIDE DISH of the stuff.

From the Art of Manliness

But where can you get a good dish of bacon these days? Many places, I'm sure. I particularly like Egg's side of sweet bacon that you can obtain in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and enjoy while you decorate their paper table cloths with crayon doodles.

Recently, I encountered an EPIC pile of bacon. I went to Peter Luger's Steakhouse for the first time. When I told people that I was going to Luger's, I was often met with the response, "Get the bacon," before I even asked for ordering advice.

This phrase was said to me much like Egan said to Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, "Don't cross the streams." It wasn't a suggestion, or a plea. It was a statement. You must. End of story.

So I did. Order the bacon, that is.

And what arrived was the largest pile of the thickest cut, greasiest and pinkest bacon I had ever seen. The edges were both grissle-y and crispy and there were grill lines horizontally spaced along the length of each strip.

I would guess that each strip was almost 1/2 inch thick, bordered on each side by striated fatty tissue, glistening in its own juices.

I admit to being slightly put off by this most intense presentation of bacon. This was the Everest of bacon mounds, and in that vein, this pile of pork seemed more like a Wonder of the World than something I actually wanted to eat.

But eat it I did. I gingerly speared a strip with my fork and it flopped onto my cocktail plate like a newly caught fish onto the floor of a boat, wiggling a little bit and flapping its ends.

I regarded it. Its length. Its girth. And its smell, which was intense. It was a classic briny, almost pickle-y smell. 

I approached it with caution and my knife. Trying to find an area with the most meat, I carved out a bite and ate it. It was salty – intensely so – and sweet at the same time. The fatty areas (which far outnumbered the meaty ones) where chewy and dense. It almost felt wrong to eat them. Even though it had browned edges, this bacon was not crispy. This was the steak of bacons – not a finger food, thinly cut and crispy, but a slab of meat that required utensils. It was bacon as a main event.

I did not love this steak bacon. It overwhelmed me. While others at the table devoured their slices and came back for more, I couldn't bring myself to finish mine. I prefer my bacon thinly cut and crispy. I like it to complement my meal, not steal the spotlight like Miss Piggy karate-chopping her subordinates.

Now, I'm not a dainty eater. Have you met me? Some of you have. I can eat my meal and yours too. But this was too much for me. Too much in the way that diamond-studded, gold tooth caps are too much bling. It took over everything, including my stomach and had me retaining water for days so that I resembled the meat in its original state.

I still love bacon. But I don't love Luger's version.

Bacon is an overwhelming meat. It's meant to be so. But it can still play nice. It's meant to be the Beaker to the meal's Bunson, the Zuul to Venkman's Dana.

Luger's crossed the streams. And it was bad.

I did manage to visit the restrooms, for your entertainment and edification. They are a typical stall affair with recessed lighting, institutional cream paint and old-school Dial soap:

Thursday
Jul122012

Sweaty Smorgasburg

The day before I experienced the legendary pizza at Saraghina, I trekked on over to Smorgasburg for the very first time.

I know, I know...what the $%^& took me so long? I don't know. What I DO know is that I'm glad I waited. There was (and still is) tons of hoopla surrounding the Brooklyn food movement. New York Magazine dedicated an entire feature to the indie food producers of BK. And Smorgasburg is the Burning Man food equivalent, collecting many of the foodie greats into a Williamsburg lot.

When I entered the lot, and noted the aisles of vendors, my stomach squealed with delight. So many exciting items! So many things to eat! I was under prepared. Specifically, I didn't bring enough dollar bills. Halfway through I had to leave and locate an ATM so I could give these hipster foodies more of my cash money. And I did that gladly.

I first stopped at the Blue Bottle coffee stand so I could cool off (it was once again 2,320,957,2309,234 degrees) and hep myself up on their Iced New Orleans brew. It's my favorite, with a slight chickory edge, softened by a bit of sweetness. I like mine with soy milk or half and half, the lower-fat content milks do nothing for the flavor. 

Cool and caffeinated, I could now approach the food vendors.

The Greenpoint Trading Company was my first stop. I was intrigued by their line-up of spices with which they had seasoned popcorn with as samples. I selected the "El Capitan" BBQ rub. It's a complex mixture of salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne and chili peppers and celery salt with some brown sugar for a maple-y flavor. Even though it's a BBQ rub, I oven-roasted some sweet potato slices sprinkled with this stuff and some olive oil and was delighted with the results. Give it a try.

After that, I encountered Granola Lab. After sampling all of their various flavors, I selected the Strawberry Lemon Thyme. It was unique and delicious. Sweet strawberries, fresh lemon and just a touch of herbal thyme. 

Next up, Grady's Cold Brew. I love the idea of cold brew concentrates. Keep it in the fridge and doctor up your mixture. You can dilute it with either water or milk, or not.... The guys at Grady's allowed me to sample their mixture both with and without milk. To me, it was rich and sweet, like chocolate. I could drink it black, and I usually like some milk in my coffee. Since then, I've been pouring espresso-sized shots into my post-workout smoothies. Here's a recipe if you'd like to try:

What You Need:
8oz soy milk
1 shot glass of Grady's Cold Brew
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use a chocolate protein powder if you're looking for more protein)
1 small banana
1 heaping teaspoon of Chia seeds (optional, but I like them for added protein)

What To Do:
Throw it all in the blender (you can add ice if you like it granita-style) and sip with a straw!

It was at this point that I noticed a Smorgas-goer carrying around a plate of teeny-tiny s'mores. I accosted him (hopefully not aggressively) and demanded to know where he procured them. Thankfully, the Mystery S'More Eater was used to this behavior (and in fact, I made similar demands of about 6 other people that day who also found it normal behavior). He pointed genially toward the S'more Bakery stand and I ambled (ran) over to partake in their marshmallow samples. I selected a to-go bag of two Black 'n' White s'mores: giant, puffy coconut marshmallows sandwiched between cake-like dark chocolate grahams, dusted with granulated sugar on one side and coated with dark chocolate ganache on the other. Toast them in up or heat in the microwave for maximum s'more-effect! Mine got a little mangled in my bag of Smorgas-goodies, but this did not effect their taste. 

Truth be told, I was not yet sampled-out. Although, I was starting to crave real food. Salt. Perhaps because it was the aforementioned 2,320,957,2309,234 degrees and my electrolytes were dwindling. To offset this problem, I visited the Stuart and Co. BBQ stand where the Bitchin' BBQ sauce samples were distributed in tiny wooden boats of pulled pork!

These guys obviously know a thing or two about presentation, being a catering company. They also know a thing or two about moist chunks of pork, surrounded in just the right amount of BBQ sauce. Their sauce is nicely balanced with a touch of peppery heat working with some sweet maple notes. I bought a jar and plan on giving it to The Box for his birthday. Along with...

Image from charlitoscocina.com ...some charcuterie! I mean, who doesn't want cured meats for their birthday? I selected the Campo Seco Dry Cured Country Sausage from Carlito's Cocina. Pasture raised pork, cured with a delicate fleur de sel. Simple, versatile and oh sooooo wonderful. I know it was hot and generally everything was melting, but this moist and salty pork did melt in my mouth. Make no mistake, I tried all their offerings, and I very much enjoyed the chorizo (hello, omlettes!) and the black truffle (I can see this as a great modification to a pasta Amatriciana).

Finally, it was time to eat. For realsies. I was hungry for lunch. But what to have. There were so many options, and mostly all of them looked good to me. As I was standing in the middle of an aisle looking lost, I saw a gent saunter by with two large pretzel bread sandwiches. YES! 

"What ARE those? And where did you get them?" I asked him. 

"They're from the Schnitz stand over there," he pointed me to my right, "I have not tried them, but I hear good things."

"Hearing good things" is generally enough for me when I'm hungry. So, I went with that and approached the booth. Schnitz offered two options, and I selected the Bamberg:

This sandwich was something special. Dark chicken meat, wonderfully juicy was thickly coated with crispy Panko breadcrumbs  seasoned with parsley. I do love a thick crumb on a piece of meat. The pickled cuke's threw in a tangy sweetness, while the caramelized onion dijon mustard was such a winner, I hardly know where to start. I do love a caramelized onion...but combined with a biting dijon flavor really makes them stand out. The whole affair is sandwiched in a Tom Cat Bakery Pretzel Roll that is buttery soft.

After my Schnitz break, I ambled the stalls for a while longer, sampling some Hibiscus Citrus Ginger Soda from Brooklyn Soda Works and some Dark Chocolate Chai "Ice Cream" (it's coconut based, so it's dairy free) from Alchemy Creamery.

Double-fisting these refreshing items, I departed Smorgasburg (regretfully, although I was out of cash for the second time) and made my way back to the L train, already planning my next trip back. This time, I'll need to take some reinforcements...any takers?

Tuesday
Oct112011

Pie by Pie – The Margherita Regina at Forcella in Williamsburg

Forcella is relatively new on the scene and in my opinion is adding even more credibility to the Brooklyn pizza scene in the Neapolitan category.

One reason I like pizza is that it is a simple food: bread, cheese, sauce (sometimes). But it can also be a complex food depending on your selected toppings.

It can also be an easy meal to make, it's limited ingredients perhaps also limit the potential for disaster. Yet, I find that in spite of this, it can also be easily botched.

Many times this is because of sub-par dough/crust. For a Neapolitan pie, it's essential to have a thin crust through the center with a puffy, chewy outer crust (cornicone). The crust should also exhibit "char" markings, or black spots that are characteristic of a traditional wood-fired oven cooking method, with temperature heating up to 900 degrees in some cases.

Because of this, my search for impressive pizza is heavily contingent (The Box would love that I used the word "contingent") on knock-you-off-your-bar-stool amazing crust. It just has to be that way.

 

In order to test appropriately, I ordered Forcella's Margherita Regina pizza: a Margherita pie accented with an extra pop of cherry tomato, smoothed over by creamy Buffalo mozzarella.

Let's get right into it with The Crust:
If you're looking for excellently crafted crust, seek out Forcella. They get the thin/puffy dichotomy just right with a perfect increase in elevation from the center outward. The outer shell of the crust is crispy and perfectly dotted with char like a Dalmatian puppy. That crispiness acts as a delicate shell for the flavorful chewy bread resting just beneath the surface.

Then, on to The Toppings:
I was initially surprised to see the combination of tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes. On a "Regina" style, I am usually accustomed to just the cherries, cheese and basil. However, I prefer this blend of ingredients as it maximizes the tangy, fresh tomato flavor across the pizza.

The Buffalo mozzarella was applied in delicate little blobs across the surface. Fresh and creamy, it had just a hint of that "sour" taste characteristic of Buffalo mozzarella.

And thankfully, the basil was both fresh and liberally sprinkled over the pizza.

A few other notables:

While we're on the topic of bread, Forcella makes their sliced bread from the extra pizza dough. Left to rise over night, it makes an excellent table bread: hearty and yeasty with a pliable golden brown crust.

The day I visited, Fried Zucchini Flowers were on the menu, and I alarmed my dinner companion and the waiter by squealing with glee and then excitedly demanding that I have some. I really do need to dial it down sometimes.

Anyway, Forcella's zukes were also stuffed with a little Buffalo mozzarella, so that after you crunched through the magically non-greasy fry, you reached a soft cheese truffle center delicately wrapped in a zucchini flower. my only complaint was that the flowers themselves were a little small in size. I usually see much larger ones, especially right now at the farmer's markets.

Finally, though I have no photo (sorry guys, we ate it too quickly), a special dessert called the Mille Foglie was deposited on our table. Similar to a Napoleon in construction (loosely translated as "a million sheets"), it was essentially a mound of cream and the thinnest pastry layers that the naked eye could detect. It was drizzled with a touch of melted chocolate and a sprinkle of chopped hazel nuts. It was heaven. Seriously, if you went to heaven and took a spoon to the clouds of Paradise, this is what they would taste like. Perfectly whipped cream with the interjection of delicate pastry....all crowned with a bit of depth and crunch from chocolate and nuts. Did I detect ambrosia? Maybe...

A quick check of the bathrooms provided the following multicolored photo array:

It's like stepping back in time to 1984! I wasn't too keen on the bathroom decor, but the restroom was very clean and provided the forceful and environmentally friendly Xlerator for hand-drying purposes.

Overall Pizza Eating Experience: The Shawshank Redemption

Forcella
485 Lorimer Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211