Monday, September 24, 2007

Some Meals and 0ther Meals

There are some meals that require an extensive amount of planning in order to pull off. Special ingredients need to be bought, research must be conducted, and many times preparations needs to be done in advance. Then there are meals that all you have to do is leave the house in search of adventure, meet up with a cute boy, go on a hunt for a good French Chardonnay, end up with a bottle of California Pinot Noir instead, and next thing you know your marching around town with a bundle of perfectly ripe figs in your bag that are just begging you to do something special with them before they become wrinkly and old.

Of course last Thursday afternoon when I found myself in these exact circumstances I had every intention of fulfilling the wishes of these tender little figs, however hunger dictated that the cute boy and I partake in a little afternoon snack to tide us over till evening.

So, we stopped into ino on Bedford Street for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a variety of brochettes.
The restaurant was tiny with little wooden cube sized tables, and a counter off to the side. The Italian Folk songs playing in the background - something reminiscent of Allen Lomax’s Field recordings - helped solidify the quaint ambiance, while only adding a mild note of cheesiness.

Here’s me eating the truffled egg toast. YUM!
An hour later it was back to Brooklyn for a quick nap before getting to work on the Pinot Noir and Figs. I had wanted to keep it classic by roasting the figs with cheese and prosciutto, but there was a scarcity of ingredients in my fridge so we stuffed them with a tepinade of olives, capers, pickled lemon rind, and Pecorino Romano cheese. After roasting them for 15 min on 350F, we drizzled them with chestnut honey and orange zest.
With the wine and the sweet potatoes it made for a decadent supper, but one that wasn’t at all labor intensive; the perfect something out of nothing meal after an indulgent day of eating and drinking.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talking With The Tomatoes

Tomatoes – Gourmet Peasant, we have an important question to ask you.

Gourmet Peasant – Are you talking to me?

Tomatoes – Ah, yeah. Who else would we be talking to?

GP – Okay, alright, ask your question.

T – If you love tomatoes as much as you say you do, how do you explain your abusive behavior towards them?

GP – Um, what do you mean by abusive behavior?

T - Example, just the other day, upstate at your mother’s the two of you singled out five healthy looking Heirloom tomatoes, separated them from the bunch, and covered them with a paper bag so they could not see where you were taking them. Once you had them back at the house, you fired the grill, lined the tomatoes up, and grilled them. See how terrified they are waiting to be fired...
Now as if that weren’t bad enough, once they were grilled, you had to pile them one on top of the other like rotting corpses...
Then, to add insult to injury, you poured adobe chilies and lime juice all over their blistering bodies before finally putting them out of misery in that torture chamber of a device you call a Cuisinart.

GP - Ah, um, well, we were making Salsa de Tomate Asado...

T -You mother sure did enjoy eating their remains on her vegetarian tacos.
And here you are taking pictures!! Have you any compassion? What do you have to say for yourself?
GP - What else can I say, the tacos were great.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Unadventurous Eater and the Humbling Revelation

“I feel sorry for those poor fxxxers who call up and everyday order the same thing for lunch” Zach was clearly annoyed and speaking in a wheezy yet sorrowful voice.
We had just finished the legendary Wednesday afternoon brunch and were slugging back another Bloody Mary to kill some time until Zack finished work.
“ I mean, look at the menu at this place, you’d think he would want to switch it up once and a while!” It was clear that he was referring to a specific lunchtime delivery patron,
“Have you ever thought about sending him something different, just to see if he would eat it?” I asked.
“Are you kidding, he wouldn’t eat it, he’d just send it back” Zack responded with a shrug of the shoulders.
At the moment, I couldn’t agree with Zack more. As it happens, I was in the midst of a campaign to overcome food phobias and, in the last month, had simultaneously gotten over my dislike of Sushi (I now crave it like a mad woman) and of runny egg yolks. This is of course not about the triumph of my will over my deeply embedded food prejudices but, I want you to understand that I was feeling rather uppity about my upgraded status as an fearless eater and my perspective was perhaps a bit distorted. ‘Why would anyone want to eat the same thing day in and day out?’ I thought to myself.’ Doesn’t everyone want to be an adventurous eater?’

Later that evening, after my enlightening dinner with the guru, I got on a train headed for Brooklyn. As the train screeched around the corner and out of the station, I thought about Zack’s comment and wondered, what are the pay-offs of being an unadventurous eater? There is the comfort element of course; never would there be a pleasant mistake in the kitchen, neither would there be a beneficial surprise when a waiter mistook your order. This is the price you pay for the mental serenity that goes along with stick-in-the-mud eating habits. The woman across for me on the train was now staring at me with inquisitive eyes and I wondered if I had been unknowingly speaking my thoughts out loud. Eventually, her stare traveled on to the man beside me, and then to the woman beside him and I realized that I was being paranoid and continued on with my mental strumming.

Of course, I reassured myself, I have always found there to be something mildly romantic about the patron who goes into a restaurant everyday, at the same time, to order the same thing. It may not be adventurous, but it sure takes a certain brand of passion to eat chicken Marsala every night of the week. There is a rhythm and ritual to it that is placidly intriguing.

Of course my passion for food extends way beyond the boundaries of comfort, I observed climbing right back onto my very high horse. In fact it is boredom that has been the motivating force in my campaign against food aversions. In my 31 years off living and eating, despite my fanaticism for food and for eating, I have finally hit a plateau and no longer have room for dislikes.

I was approaching my stop so I attempted to sum up the scattered and self-important argument I had been conducting in my head,

1.) There are two kinds of eaters in the world, adventurous, and unadventurous
2.) The advantages of being unadventurous are, comfort, and a shroud of neurotic mystery
3.) The advantages of being an adventurous eater are much more conspicuous, more choices, and more horizons.

As I exited the train and fought my was up the stairs, I drew my conclusion, I agreed with Zack, I was happy to be an ‘adventurous eater’, and I pitied the unadventurous eaters of the world. It wasn’t until the next morning, while eating my morning yogurt and muesli and drinking my religious cup of perfectly brewed coffee that I was violently thrown from the horse by a humbling revelation, I may be an adventurous eater, but I eat the same breakfast everyday.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Quality and Quantity - Round Two -The Upper Crust Guru...

I met Bernie downtown for a pre-dinner drink. Over the years I have learned that it is a good idea to let Bernie choose the restaurant. Not only does he have impeccable taste in restaurants, but he is also gifted at choosing the appropriate one for the occasion. What was the occasion this time? The utter euphoria of artfully created food coupled with a charming yet unpretentious atmosphere and the enjoyment of fine company. With the company already taken care of, all we need was to come up with a restaurant. “ Well we could go to the Mermaid Inn…” Bernie suggested. The idea of seafood was appealing, “or there is Gramarcy Tavern.” To be honest - and please do not strip me of my foodie status - I had never heard of Gramarcy Tavern and when I asked Bernie about it, his response basically made our decision, “ Well Madelano, it is only considered the best restaurant in NYC.” We finished our drinks and jumped in a cab.

When we arrived, Bernie spotted two seats at the bar and, like two teenagers at a rock concert, we raced in to snag them. I could extend the analogy considering the enthusiasm some have for Chef Michael Anthony's elegantly rustic American cuisine. By the time we had gotten to the bar however, the seats had been taken, so we put our name down and readied ourselves for a long wait - Bernie with a Grey Goose Martini (olive and a twist) and myself with a glass of one of Alsace's 'noble five', Sylvaner. This grape is a controversial one of the region. Because it has a neutral flavor, many believe that the distinction reflects both the terrior and the skill of the winemaker rather than the actual quality of the variety. Who am I to say no to a little sip of fresh and fruity controversy?

It was a pleasant wait, and it gave me time to gain back my hunger after the afternoons feast. It was also nice to have a moment to take in the space. It was a cozy spot, somewhere between a Martha-Stewart-style country house and a warmly lit hunting den, the ideal place to get cozy with a stout and a steak in the fall, and to warm up with a Rioja and a Rack of lamb in the winter. In the front room, couples eat off of unclothed antique card tables and at the bar patrons eat off of leather place mats. Behind the bar, bottles were lined up on shelves like books in a library and just before them four bartenders, unflustered by the diner rush, danced about filling drink orders in what seemed a choreographed routine.

Before we knew it, our seats at the bar were ready and we were perusing the menu for greatest hits. For starters, Bernie got the oysters, and I must say that I was pleased because inevitably that meant three or four thoughtfully prepared oysters for myself (another reason why Bernie is such a wonderful dinner companion, he likes to share.) I was stuck between the Calamari and Carrot Salad (an unlikely combination), and the Bread and Tomato Salad with picked Watermelon rind. In the end I went for the latter, I am sucker for a good tomato.

For Entrees Bernie was deciding between the Rabbit Sausage with spaetzle and summer squash and the Venison special with creamy pureed potatoes. I on the other hand, was just lost. Everything looked good. “How about you get the Special, and I’ll get the Rabbit Sausage,” I suggested. Bernie slammed his menu closed with a smile, “Done!” All that was left was the wine, another choice I always leave up to Bernie. He chose the Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, a good choice for an eclectic menu.

Now here is where I went wrong as a food blogger. The appetizers arrived and after taking one bad picture, I basically gave up. Sometimes I want simply to enjoy my food and not be distracted by trying to capture it. It was nice not to having to struggle to get the right angle as my dinner impatiently returns to room temperature. I regret it now of course, for all I have to show is this dark dreary picture of my tomato salad.
The picture may not be so nice, but the salad was heaven. The rainbow of juicy tomatoes, artfully scattered with basil and bathed in a mixture of olive oil and there own tasty juices, were peppered with large chunks of juice soaked bread. As I slurped up my salad, Bernie prepared his first oyster with what looked like a shallot-flecked mignonette. I watched eagerly as he brought the shell to his mouth and tilted it back gingerly, “Oh man,” he said pointing to the shallot concoction, “ its like the first snow fall!” His eyes were glittering and as I stared into them I could just about make out a six-year Bernie Shananhan struggling up a snowy slope, wooden slay in hand.

Appetizers came to a close and we settled in for a much needed intermission. The headliners would arrive soon and knock our socks off no doubt, but for now we were content with some Pinot and a little tête-à-tête.

Five minutes later our entrees arrived. The sausage was adorable, sliced and lined up over the spaetzle and squash like a winning hand of cards. The Venison was stunning, sliced and fanned out over the potato puree, it was clear who had the royal flush. The Venison was perfectly medium rare and I was absolutely jealous. Don’t get me wrong, the Rabbit Sausage was a salty, savory treat, and the summer squash in the spaetzle was a nice touch, but I could not get the venison out of my mind. As I nibbled my meal like a rabbit, Bernie prepared his first bite, a wedge of meat, smeared with potato puree, and wrapped in a piece of wilted greens. He took a bit and while putting his fork down - his eyes closed - he let out a deep growl of satisfaction. I had heard that growl before, and I knew what it meant. Upon opening his eyes he got to work on the next bite and when he was finished he held the fork across the bar, “you HAVE to taste this,” he said, his eyes beaming wildly. Who was I to say no, I accepted the bite and as it melted, literally melted, in my mouth I realized something, this very well might be the best piece of meat I had ever eaten, will ever eat, it was down right perfection! The sauce was luscious and tangy though not too weighty. The potatoes were smooth and comforting like creamy polenta, and the wilted greens added just the right vibrant earthy dimension. When I finished my bite I looked back at my own plate apologetically, ‘we can still be friends can’t we?’

In the end, Bernie was gracious enough to feed me half of his meal, while taking only a few bites of my own. Of course I still had room for dessert, a Chocolate Coconut Tart with Almond Chocolate Ice cream. The tart wasn’t huge, thank God, and the ice cream was just the right touch.

After dinner, Bernie and I walked to Union Square, which is about as fare as I could walk with a belly so full of food. It had been the perfect meal; the food was creative yet accessible, the atmosphere inviting, the company stimulating as always, and though I ate quit a bit of food, I did not feel gross, and weighed down. When it comes to being 'in the know' about the best restaurants NYC has to offer, I may have a bit more studying ahead of me. Luckily that won't be hard to do with a mentor such as Bernie on my side.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Quantity and Quality - Round One

There are some days that go down in food history because of the sheer quantity of food eaten, and others due to the quality of food. Then of course, there are the those exceptional days that gain extra special mention owing to the delightful marriage of both quality and quantity. Well today was an exceptional day.

If you have ever wondered if it is possible to have brunch on a Wednesday afternoon, the answer is yes. Just mozzy on down to the Clinton Street Baking Company were, though they don’t actually serve a weekday brunch, the indulgent spirit of brunch is still alive and kickin’ well into the middle of the week. Check out this spread that the very passionate eating companion Abraham, and I ordered for ourselves.

There is no denying that this feast was over the top, but after our first successful ride into the city on Abraham’s new tandem bicycle we could think of no better way to reward ourselves than with two pint sized Bloody Marys, a Beet and Goat Cheese Salad...
Lobster Bisque,
Cheese Grits, A Crab Cake Sandwich,
and Some Blueberry Pancakes served with Maple Butter.
In The end, our eyes larger than our stomachs, we were defeated by our lavish banquet.
An hour or so later, with pregnant bellies, and a slight buzz, we climbed back on the bike and rode back to Brooklyn. Now, for most people the feasting would have stopped there, but in just a few hours, this Brooklyn Peasant had yet another eating engagement with, guru of upper crust dinning, Bernie Shanahan. Instead of stretching out and kicking back, it was off the bike, into the shower, and back on to a Manhattan bound train for round two of this delightful eating spree...

stay tuned for round two of this extraordinary day of eating!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Let Them Eat (chocolate) Cake

After a few failed shopping attempts I was beginning to panic about what to get my roommate for her upcoming birthday. In the department of clothing/accessories we could not be more different and, her being a Virgo and me a Pisces, we existed on opposite ends of the zodiac spectrum. After day three of dragging myself home empty handed I finally decided to focus on one of the few , but never the less important, things we have in common namely, chocolate.

At a very young age I learned that chocolate cake rarely ever disappoints its recipients and so on the morning of her birthday off I marched to the grocery store to pick up some last minute ingredients. On my way home I planned all the extravagant ways I could dress a chocolate cake, marshmallow icing, vanilla and chocolate swirl, mint chocolate ganache. My stomach was rolling over with anticipation.

Unfortunately I was not quit on top of things and used to little butter and mistook my baking powder for baking soda. The results were fare from edible. The cake was burnt on the outside, and liquid inside.
Take two however, proved a success and I had just enough butter left over for the frosting. I decided to keep it simple and cover the cake in chocolate icing. Sadly, due to my roommate's and my conflicting schedule I was unable to present the cake to her myself, though something tells me that she enjoyed a healthy slice of it for dessert that night, and perhaps another for breakfast the next day, and most likely for lunch as well.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Low Carb Takeover

I saw this sign in the window of a Middle Eastern Bakery on Atlantic avenue. I find the idea of low carb pita disturbing and not quite right. Sort of like the notion that you have saved money by buying something on sale when really all you have done is spent less money, not quite the same thing. If you want to save money, don't spend any, and if you truly want to eat low carb, eat less carbs (less pita) or better yet, none at all.