Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting

In the winter of 1998, a couple months after I first moved To NY from Boston, I was talking to my youngest brother down in Florida, about 6 at the time, who had seen the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center on TV and swore up and down that he had seen me there on the broadcast. Although I had been within a few blocks that night, I tried to tell him it wasn't me on TV. He would have nothing of it; he was convinced. The tree was in NY, and I was in NY, and that was that. Well Jonathan, this year I was there, however it was well out of sight of the cameras, far above the fray. Here are some pictures for you.
I was invited to attend a dinner and observe the tree lighting from a balcony overlooking Rockefeller Center just across 5th Ave. It was a fun night, capped by a nice New York holiday experience, even for jaded denizen of the City like me.
Merry Christmas everyone, enjoy the holidays.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sushi Yasuda, hit it before the master decamps for Tokyo

Sushi Yasuda has been one of the highest rated sushi restaurants in NY for some time now, and has been near the top of my must try list for a quite a while, but until recently I never got the kick in the pants I needed to actually call up and make a reservation.  The kick arrived in the form of information that Yasuda-san was leaving to open an 8 seat sushi bar in Tokyo, which caused me to make the call posthaste.  While I was not fleet of finger enough to secure a spot at the bar in front of Yasuda himself, our party of four did reserve the sushi bar and I still wanted to go and see him in action and enjoy a meal while the restaurant remained under his watchful eye.  I'm glad I did, as we experienced an onslaught of delicious bites, each a carefully proportioned composition of warm delicate rice topped with a excellent fish that led to a harmonious combination when eaten.  Outside of Masa, which I consider to be somewhat of a different beast, this was the best sushi I have had outside of Japan.

Outside there is no signage bearing the venue's name but just the small lit print of a fish above the entrance.  Not that the place is hidden; in fact it is quite lit and passersby can clearly observe the whole place through a large plate glass window.  We had a 6pm reservation, and our party was the first to arrive a few minutes before, as we were advised multiple times not to be late and that we had a mere 90 minute window to dine, and we did not wish to squander our time there.  I admit I was a bit concerned we would leave feeling hungry, rushed, or both, but we left quite full and happy.

Even from the other end of the bar, watching Yasuda-san work was impressive.  His hands at times seemed almost disconnected from the rest of his body, moving quite quickly, but precisely, so confident in their motion while he carried on conversation and maintained full eye contact with the patrons in front of him that his limbs seemingly had a mind of their own directing them.  But we were here for the sushi, and we were left in the more than capable hands of Chef Yoshi in front of us, pictured on the left.  I believe next to him is Mitsuru Tamura, who will take up the mantle when Yasuda-san leaves for Japan and passes the baton.
While I glanced at the short menu of appetizers from the kitchen, we ordered only sake and beer and told Yoshi we eat everything and otherwise left the choices in his hands.  Before I get to the pictures, let me address a couple things.  First, Yasuda is most well known for the quality of his rice, and rightfully so.  The flavor, texture, and mouthfeel, even the temperature, is very carefully calibrated to lift each piece to new heights.  (Although I do have to admit that one sole piece I found the rice a bit too warm, so they did not bat 1.000 for me, but pretty close.)  The second thing I had read often in other reviews is that the ratio of fish to rice was too low to fully appreciate the fish.  While I understand from whence this criticism comes, as the slices of fish did tend to the slimmer side when compared to other places, I found nearly all of my sushi to be quite balanced.  I agree the proportioning did shift the balance of the focus from the fish more towards the rice, but to my mind not in a deleterious fashion.  I believe this preparation to be quite deliberate and given the excellence of the rice, led to each piece being a masterful composition in its own right.  It is a slightly different experience then one might be used to, but I very much enjoyed it.  That said, I will concede that the one exception was the toro; I perhaps would have enjoyed that piece more had there been a bit more fish.  However, it was still great and did not stop me from getting a second piece as one of my last three bites to cap the meal.

Onto the sushi.  We started with Blue fin Tuna, for which I neglected to retrieve the camera.  Our second was Bluefin Toro:
Next we got two different pieces of Yellowtail, I believe Buri and Shimaaji.  (Forgive me if I misnote, misremember, or just mistake some of these identifications, I'm sure I've messed up a couple but I think I got most of them.)
Another thing for which I have seen raves about is Yasuda's eel, freshly prepared.  I was already had my hopes set high and was pleasantly surprised.  More than that.  I was blown away.  First I had the Shirayaki (fresh white freshwater eel) on the right, which I thought easily the best eel I've ever had.  That thought lasted until I tried the Anago (fresh dark sea eel) on the left, which, if not better, was close enough to make me think hard to decide which was best.  I think the Shirayaki wins, but both were unexpectedly delicious.
Yet another notable experience at Yasuda is the flights of fish they often do, letting you try several similar fish, or different cuts of fish, back to back.  Here we had, L to R, Tasmanian ocean trout, White King Salmon, and New Zealand King Salmon:
Next was Oyster (Canada), Scallop, and Orange  clam.  The scallop was a standout we would revisit later.  The oyster was a briny delight.  I had read about a Peace Passage Oyster that is sometimes offered and came highly recommended, which I believe is different than what we got, and our Canada Oyster was the only oyster they had that night.  I hope to try the Peace Passage on a later visit.
Of the next three, the Gensaba in the middle was my favorite.  It was a tender and fatty mackerel that melted in your mouth, but, despite the fat content, it was less fishy that some lesser quality oily fishes can taste, and the delicate flavor of the fish really came through.
Spanish mackerel, Gensaba, Pompano:
Striped bass, Orato (snapper), Fluke:
Onto some Uni, always among my favorites.  I had hoped they would have uni from a couple different regions, but the only kind they had was from California, I assume Santa Barbara.  I had heard they sometimes get a special "export quality" uni from Maine with a distinctive taste that I would have enjoyed comparing to the California specimen, but it was not to be.  At least I got some Maine sea urchin from the John Dory the other day, so don't feel too sorry for me.  The California sourced uni they served us was excellent, delicious and clean tasting, and especially creamy.  Certainly up there with other good stuff I've gotten in the US, even if it doesn't measure up to my samplings in Japan.  I'd revisit the uni for my last bite.

Uni (California), Sweet shrimp, Squid:
Artic char,  Cherrystone clam, Octopus:
For the end of Yoshi's selections for us we each got three pieces of toro roll, with just a hint of scallion.  It is worth pausing here to talk about Yasuda's nori, as it is something special.  It was thin and crispy with a mild yet complex flavor.  I'm at a loss to describe it, but it was way better than your typical nori.  The chefs are aware and Yasuda is quite proud of the nori, made especially for the restaurant in Japan.  I think the kelp beds are tended to by mermaids or something, probably previously the product was destined only for the emperor.  (Speaking of the emperor, did you know that after WWII the US made him get on the radio and renounce his divinity?  Sweet.)
For the remainder of the meal, we asked specifically for what we wanted more of.  I wasn't sure how much room I had, but at the top of our lists was more eel since the first round was so fantastic.  Again, we each got one piece of freshwater and one saltwater, but they were different from the first ones we were served.  I was so anxious to eat them, that I devoured the sea eel before recording it, but I believe it was Sawani (fresh white sea eel).  The piece I did shoot I think was Unagi Kuro (fresh dark freshwater eel):
Perusing the menu to see if anything caught my eye, I asked for some Sardine and some Sayori  (needlefish), and as a bonus I got a delightful crunchy piece of cooked Sayori skin:
We were so enamored with the nori, that we did another (smaller) round of Toro scallion roll, just to get another taste.  (This was the largest miss of the night, as the fish was too cold, but it was still really good, it just could have been better.)  I really want to try a hand roll with the awesome nori next time, but we were running out of time and space, and I knew I wanted to finish with seconds of my favorites. 

And those favorites were the Uni, Scallop, and Toro.  All four eel preparations were right up there, but we had already revisited those.  These three were the perfect way to end my meal.
I must note, that while we went all out and got a ton of sushi, one of the greatest things about Sushi Yasuda, especially when compared to Masa, is that going all out is not at all necessary.  One could easily sit down and get just a handful of pieces and still get the same excellent quality with less of a hit to your stomach or wallet.  And speaking of wallets, Sushi Yasuda strikes me as extremely reasonable, if not outright inexpensive, when compared to the quality.  There are plenty of sushi places in the city that are almost the same price but fall way short in delivering excellent fish.  There are precious few places which I would not be hard pressed to justify going rather than returning here.

Remember, Yasuda-san won't be around for much longer, and while I hope the restaurant remains just as excellent, you never know.  (nb, they close from Dec 25th - Jan 10th; I believe Yasuda will stick around for a short while into January.)

Humm Dog at PDT, get it while it's hot

The Humm Dog is back at PDT, but only for a limited engagement during December.  Last year, chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park crafted this special bacon-wrapped, deep-fried dog with celery relish, melted Gruyere cheese, and black truffle mayonnaise to appear on the menu alongside other distinguished wieners such as the Chang Dog and the Wylie Dog.  Its previous appearance was short lived, however, as the ingredient costs proved prohibitive and it was pulled from the menu.  I don't know if PDT got a deal on truffles, or are being generous for the holiday season, but it is back on offer for $6 through the start of the new year.  I didn't get to try one last time around, but I was not going to miss it this time.  So last week, I dropped in for a nightcap and to give the Humm Dog a try.  (I killed two birds with one stone by dragging my idiot friends who live around the corner to PDT for their first time as well; I'd been telling everyone about the pace for years.  They were sold and will return often.)
The Humm Dog was excellent, the hint of earthy truffle with some nice texture and mild acidity from the celery relish.  I think the Wylie Dog with it's deep fried mayo, shredded lettuce, and tomato molasses is still my favorite by a bit, but the Humm is close and would deserve a strong spot in the rotation if it were around all year.  Being a limited offering, it's the obvious choice right now.  Oh, and it goes without saying, but you can't go wrong with the cocktails.  The Paddington paired nicely.
I suspect that it is likely to make another appearance next year around this time, but it you don't want to gamble or just can't wait, get ye there in the next couple weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

MxMo LIII: Like That? You’ll Love This! - Dark Daze

Mixology Monday for December is upon us.  Chris Amirault at eGullet is again our host and the theme for this month is "Like That? You’ll Love This!"  He's looking for creative cocktails to offer patrons who ask for those drinks that make us cocktail aficionados wince - drinks which you might find on your local TGI Shenanigans full page laminated menu of oft neon-colored "martinis."  Damn, I winced just thinking about it.  Here's his request, and let's hope we find some replacements worthy of the name cocktail for those drinks we all heap such scorn upon:
Here's the story. At the bar where I now work, I regularly receive requests for the bar staples of the late 20th century, espresso martinis, appletinis, and other things that end inappropriately in -tini. Though these are standard-issue drinks at most bars, Cook & Brown Public House aims for a classic approach that eschews the pucker line, flavored vodkas, and bottled sour mix.

I've been talking with other bartenders and they, too, want to find a balance between customer service and stocking products that they can't or won't back. In addition, a well-made tweak of someone's favorite can be just the ticket through the gate to the sort of quality cocktails you want to serve guests at home or at work. Hence this MxMo, devoted to sharing gateway drinks that allow you to say, "If you like that, you'll love this!"
To this end, I wasn't sure what to try and in the end I decided to tackle the Chocotini, or Chocolate Martini, or whatever they call the syrupy sweet, often creamy, probably flavored vodka containing abomination.  I had played with Mozart Dry last month and figured it would be a respectable avenue to travel for this purpose.  (Bittermans Xocolatl Mole Bitters being another possibility.)  Unfortunately I believe Mozart is not currently readily available in the US, and I ordered my bottle from UK's The Whisky Exchange, so you'll probably have to take my (or Tiare's) word on the quality of the spirit.  Mozart is 80 proof, and as the name implies has no sugar content, but carries the rich essence of chocolate.  I first considered pairing it with Bulldog Gin, which has some nice botanicals and is light on the Juniper, and then thought maybe rum would make a nice base, but settled on some of each.  Since the first three ingredients are strong spirits, I included some floral Dolin Blanc to leven the heat of the alcohol, some orange bitters to add a note of complexity, and at least a touch of simple syrup for a hint of sweetness, but as noted if you are trying to wean someone off a chain restaurant's Chocotini, it may be best to start on the sweeter side.  In the likely case you have no Mozart, even using Crème de cacao and no simple I think would be a step in the right direction at least.  Perhaps even omitting the Mozart and using a generous helping of those Mole bitters might work, but I have not tried.
  Dark Daze
  • ¾ oz Clément Rhum Vieux Agricole VSOP
  • ¾ oz Bulldog London Dry Gin (or some other not too assertive gin)
  • ¾ oz Mozart Dry Chocolate Spirit*
  • ¾ oz Dolin Blanc
  • 1 dash to ¼ oz rich (2:1) simple  syrup**
  • 2 dashes Regan's orange bitters #6
Stir and strain, orange twist garnish.
* or substitute ½ oz white Crème de cacao and omit simple syrup.  That kinda defeats the purpose, but at least it's not vodka and still has some bitters
** For the simple syrup, I prefer just a dash for a dryer cocktail, but if you are trying to win over an actual chocolate martini drinker, the ¼ oz makes it a pretty sweet drink. remember to omit if you've subbed Crème de cacao for the Mozart Dry
Heh Heh, shenanigans.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

White Truffle Burger at Burger & Barrel

'Tis the season for truffles, as Ryan Sutton explores here, and Josh Capon takes full advantage at his new Soho wine pub Burger&Barrel by serving up a White Truffle Burger.  Here he tops a beefy Pat La Frieda blend with seasonal white truffles, robiola cheese and truffle aioli.  It will run you a steep $45, but you will be rewarded with a rich and juicy burger imparted with an earthy flavor and aroma by the fresh truffles, complemented by the creamy aioli and robiola cheese.  Oh, and the fries are also quite crispy and remain so for a long time; there is a side of extra truffle aioli to dip them in for extra indulgence.  (The onion rings are similarly crispy, but a bit lacking in flavor for me, save room for the fries.)
I have to echo Nick Solares in his thoughts on the bun,  (Although I'm not as bothered by the burgers arriving cut in half, I find them plenty juicy and easier to eat that way.  It also adds some visual appeal as soon as the burger hits the bar.)  The bun is perfectly sized and of appropriate heft to support but not detract from the beef.  As he is more eloquent than I, I'll quote his heartfelt feelings:
The bun, whose provenance Capon rightly refuses to divulge, might just be the best I have ever had on a burger. It is soft, airy, and squishy. The exterior has a beautiful golden hue and the interior is as pure in color as the driven snow. It conforms around the patty holding it snugly in a pillowy embrace. It is not quite a flavor neutral a supermarket bun having a mild yeastness and a hint of sourness.
Nick's got way better pictures over there as well if you want more burger porn, but here's a shot that poorly shows the generous blanket of truffles and the juicy burger soaking into the bun.
I can see why Capon earned the People's Choice honor at the 2009 Burger Bash.  The Truffle Burger is a nice splurge, but if anything it turned me on to the overall quality of the burger program and has me hankering for other examples.  I expect I'd get the truffle burger once a season, and go with one of the regular menu offerings on other visits.  Next time I return I will probably opt to sample the Bash Burger with caramelized onions, bacon jam, pickles, and American cheese.

The place is apparently packed most evenings; the bartender mentioned the bar routinely gets 4 deep.  I happened to be in the area one afternoon and wandered in for a leisurely lunch, grabbing a seat at the sparsely occupied bar.  If you like avoiding crowds as I do, this is the recommended play and makes for a pleasant lunch.

They plan to run the burger special until mid Jan or so, or however long the truffles are available.  If you are interested in giving it a try keep that in mind.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

MxMo LII: Twentieth Century Cocktail (and bonus 20th Symphony Cocktail)

Time for another MxMo!  Dennis at Rock&Rye has called "Forgotten Cocktails" as the theme for November's Mixology Monday.  As you might imagine, he's looking for drinks from the past that have grown obscure but deserve to see the light of day:
The challenge this month is to bring to light a drink that you think deserves to be resurrected from the past, and placed back into the spotlight. It could be pre-prohibition, post-war, that horrible decade known as the 80′s, it doesn’t really matter. As long as it is somewhat obscure, post it up. If possible try to keep to ingredients that are somewhat readily available.
At first I considered the Corpse Reviver #2, but I think yeoman's work has already been done in the last few years to bring it back, and the world is a better place for it.  I also considered the Vieux Carré, which outside New Orleans I still see not oft enough, or the Monkey Gland, another solid candidate, but both of those I've touched on before and wanted to look for something fresh.  The Pegu Club crossed my mind but I figure Pegu Doug has implicitly called that one.  Looking for ideas, I reached for what else but Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, where inspiration abounded.  Flipping through it, I settled on the Twentieth Century Cocktail, which I had tried and enjoyed previously, finding it to be an interesting and surprising tipple.  This post-Prohibition cocktail was named for the 20th Century Limited, the stylish and speedy express train that whisked passengers from Grand Central in NY to Chicago in 16 hours.  Although it's been covered before by the founder of MxMo himself Paul Clarke (twice), and Chuck Taggart, and also by Jimmy here, all of them were some time ago, so I decided it could use a revisit.  More importantly, those three bloggers have three different recipes using the same 4 ingredients. Taggarts's recipe at Cocktalians matches the one in Haigh's tome, however Haigh himself commented on Jimmy's 2006 post endorsing his formulation which uses a lighter hand with the flavorings.  (He also shares his memories of his first Twentieth Century Cocktail in '91 in another comment.)  To complicate matters, both Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixologyand DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktailhave yet 2 more new recipes, for a grand total of 5 all endorsed by different cocktail luminaries.  What's a guy to do?  Try 'em all of course.  Fret not, I've done the hard work for you to present my findings and steer you to the best formulation.  Well, that was the plan anyway, but I ran into a bit of trouble when I discovered that they all work.  One dry and boozy, one lighter with more even flavor, one a bit more rich, another with extra subtle cacao.  The recipe is surprisingly resilient to tinkering, which I guess explains why there are so many different versions floating about; it is my determination that the ideal choice comes down to preference, mood, and perhaps the angle of the sun in the sky.  That being said, Reagan's is my slight favorite, and it is my recommended place to start your tinkering.  These proportions also are a nice middle ground to which I can compare the other versions.
Twentieth Century Cocktail (The Joy of Mixology)
  • 1½ oz Gin
  • ½ oz Lillet Blanc
  • ½ oz white Crème de cacao
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
shake and strain, lemon twist garnish
To quote Clarke (and paraphrase Haigh), this "tastes like Art Deco in a glass."  The Cacao in most formulations is more subtle than one might expect, contributing more of an aroma and just a hint of flavor in the aftertaste.

UPDATE: Dennis's roundup post is up, head over and check out all the erstwhile forgotten drinks.

Speaking of Clarke, the version in his posts ups the last three ingredients to ¾ oz each. This still results in a nice drink, just a bit richer. Clever observers will realize that 1½ oz Gin plus ¾ oz each of the others is a longer pour but otherwise equivalent to 1 oz gin and ½ oz each of the rest, ie same as Regan's version but with ½ oz less Gin. I'm all for the longer pour and all, but I prefer the drink with the higher proportion of booze. But like I said, it's an opinion.  If I want a long pour and ¾ oz of the latter 3 guys, I'll up my gin to 2¼ oz.
Twentieth Century Cocktail (Cocktail Chronicles)
  • 1½ oz Gin (1 oz)
  • ¾ oz Lillet Blanc (½ oz)
  • ¾ oz white Crème de cacao (½ oz)
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice (½ oz)
shake and strain, lemon twist garnish
In between these last two versions lies the one from Haigh's book, also blogged at Cocktailians. It is similar to Clarke's but simply scales back the Cacao to ½ oz. In fact, Vintage Spirits stipulates that one should scale it down further to taste if you find the cacao too strong.
Twentieth Century Cocktail (Cocktailians and Vintage Spirits)
  • 1½ oz Gin
  • ¾ oz Lillet Blanc
  • ½ oz white Crème de cacao
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
shake and strain, lemon twist garnish
As an aside, Taggert asks "Is it too early to create a Twenty-First Century Cocktail?"  Jim Meehan of PDT thinks it is not and has created one with Tequila and Absinthe.  I've yet to try one, but it looks good.
The version at Jimmy's Cocktail Hour is similar to Regan's, but it follows guidance in Haigh's book and scales back the Cacao to a mere ¼ oz.  In his comment Dr. Cocktail agrees and states that despite what he recorded in the book, this is closer to how he makes them himself.  This still works well, drying out the cocktail and making the cacao really subtle, but the ½ oz works for me.  That said, another judgment call, this is probably my second favorite version.
Twentieth Century Cocktail (Jimmy's Cocktail Hour)
  • 1½ oz Gin
  • ½ oz Lillet Blanc
  • ¼ oz white Crème de cacao
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
shake and strain, lemon twist garnish
And that brings us to DeGroff's entry, last but not least.  It is however, the most distinct, and the most boozy.  It dials up the gin to 2 oz and dials back everything else.  This is much drier than the others, closer to a martini with just a little extra touch of flavor, but the flavor notes are still there.  So, if your mood calls for such a thing, as I imagine mine might from time to time, this is your ticket:
Twentieth Century Cocktail (The Craft of the Cocktail)
  • 2 oz Gin
  • ½ oz Lillet Blanc
  • ¼ oz white Crème de cacao
  • ¼ oz fresh lemon juice
shake and strain, lemon twist garnish
Ok, that should clear up any confusion from here on out. I encourage you to pick one that looks good to you and give it a try. It really is quite a nice drink, whichever one you choose.

I bet you think I'd be done at this point after that treatise, but you'd be wrong. I like to make an original drink for MxMo every month, and I could hardly justify using a new drink for a "Forgotton Cocktail", but that doesn't stop me from including a bonus cocktail. I've chosen to include a riff on the Twentieth Century Cocktail, so I present to you the 20th Symphony Cocktail. And just because I enjoy breaking rules, I'm flaunting our host's instructions to "keep to ingredients that are somewhat readily available" and using a combination of ingredients that I suspect few people have in their bar. Sorry, but just let me have my fun. This guy hits the same notes as the Twentieth Century Cocktail, but has a somewhat different character and gets there from a different direction. Using the Genever, it almost tastes to me like a recipe from a time even before the Twentieth Century.  The Solerno is the sweetener in this one; the Mozart, as you might gather from the name, is not at all sweet.  It is 80 proof and has a pure chocolate flavor; quite an interesting product. It also led me to the drink's name.  This drink also drew inspiration from the Corpse Reviver #2, using Solerno instead of Cointreau and the Elixir Végétal in lieu of Absinthe.  I chose Elixir Végétal because I've found Chartreuse to pair well with chocolate, plus I got to extend my obnoxious choices of difficult ingredients just a bit further.
20th Symphony Cocktail
  • 1½ oz Bols Genever
  • ½ oz Cocchi Americano
  • ½ oz Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
  • ½ oz Mozart Dry Chocolate Spirit
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • 4 dashes Elixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse
shake and strain, lemon twist garnish

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gastronauts Txikito Dinner

Last week I had my first opportunity to join the Gastronauts at Txikito for one of their monthly dinners.  The Gastronauts is a club for adventurous eaters which I learned about from this Times article, which upon reading I naturally immediately went to the website to try to sign up.  The organizers seek out places that serve interesting dishes, often ethnic restaurants in the outer boroughs, and work with them to find a night and put together special menus for the club's diners.  This usually involves bizarre items which are not on the regular menu or difficult to source, eg Cuy (Guinea Pig), insects, live octopus, or various offal.  All the nasty bits are fair game.   The trouble is that the little group has become so popular that the events fill up so fast it is hard for a newcomer to get into them; I've tried for the last many months and only this time did I click fast enough.   Here is the menu we enjoyed last week:
A Basque Dinner at


flakey pastry filled with blood sausage and sweet leek
pintxo gulas
Basque canapé of mock elvers with garlic and guindilla
terrina de jeta
head cheese with hardboiled egg, olives and balsamic mustard
blistered peppers with sea salt
Caracolillos barrio Chino
periwinkles, Chinatown style with ginger refrito
lengua llumacenas
braised tongue with capers
kokotxas al pil pil
cod jowls in olive oil
Txipirones en su tinta
squid in ink sauce
tripe in vizcaina sauce
Morros de ternera
veal jowl and cheek with sweet onion vinaigrette
Here are the mock elvers.  What are elvers you ask?  And why would one make mock, ie fake, ones?  Elvers are rare baby eels, and very expensive ones at that.  Thus the "mock."  Alas, I've never tried the real ones, but the fakes are tasty.  They are made from pressed fish, the spines and eyes painted on with squid ink.  (Think "krab sticks" at your local sushi joint.)  More info about the real ones here and here.  I'm dying to someday try Ripert's version at Le Bernardin some Spring.  Especially since these mock one were one of my favorite dishes of the night.
Of course one of the fun things about this meal was supping on fun dishes with like minded people, but another selling point is that it was organized family style so we got to try 10 different things.  This would be a difficult feat to order 10 plates if you were eating with only a couple friends.  Here is the decadently rich morcilla.  As blood sausage goes, it was delicious and not at all on the scary metallic end of the spectrum.
Next was the headcheese, with some nice strips of ear adding to the texture.  It was good, you definitely knew you were eating pig head, although I liked it more than most at my table.
Here are the cod jowls pil pil, meaty bites of fish in a deliciously creamy olive oil emulsion.
It's hard to make out this picture of the squid in ink sauce, but it was one of the highlights.  The squid was among the most tender preparations I've had of this protein, and the flavor of the sauce was somehow subtle and deep at the same time.
These little buggers were the periwinkles, which while fun, were perhaps more trouble than they were worth.  It took me quite a while to get the hang of prying them out with a toothpick, and a couple of my first attempts ending in flinging the meat into my chest or across the room ala Pretty Woman.  The sauce was good, but the flavor of the tiny morsels of meat was kinda boring to me.
Now onto the tripe.  The tomato, pepper, and garlic sauce on the tripe was delicious, and every last bit got sopped up.  The tripe was well prepared and tender, but I still have not found a tripe dish that turns me on.  I do not dislike it, but I don't love the texture and find little flavor; it's just not my thing.  Curtis, the organizer, said he knows of some places in Rome that would change my mind; I'll have to follow up on that next time I'm there.
The braised tongue was perhaps the overall favorite of the night for people at my table.  Cooked to melting tenderness, it was indeed very good.  It however, as much as I liked it, did not rise as my favorite.  My favorites were the mock elvers, the squid, and the next, and last dish.
I was in the minority, but the veal jowl and cheek terrine was in my top three.  It had a broader variety of textures than the previous two dishes which I found interesting and enjoyed.  Like the headcheese, you knew what you were eating here, which I quite liked.
In closing, it was a fun night with a good crew of people.  I hope to sneak into future events, and I also hope that the food gets even more out there and I get to try crazy things which are new to me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Vieux Szaffa Cocktail for TDN:Scaffa

Yesterday's TDN theme was "Scaffa".  What's scaffa you ask?  I too had no idea, but apparently it is simply a drink stirred WITH NO ICE.  Probably consisting of a spirit, a liqueur, and some bitters.  The liqueur is likely Bénédictine, but maybe Maraschino, or maybe Chartreuse.  Or perhaps something else, it's unclear.  But I was intrigued by the idea, and tried my hand.  I like what my hand did.  I opted to stick with the most traditional Bénédictine, which made my mind wander to the Vieux Carré.  I figured I'd use rye as the base spirit, but zigged to Cognac when I considered that a Brandy Scaffa is one of the most cited of the class of drinks.  I wandered into my office where I keep my Scotches, Amaros, and other sippers due to overflow of my main area, as I reached for my Cognac my hand grabbed the Calvados to move it out of the way, and I thought that it would make a nice addition to keep things a bit lighter and add an extra dimension of flavor.  In my mind, the Vieux Carré is closely associated with the Sazerac, and since Cognac was the original base of the latter dink, I thought I'd borrow some of its accouterments and make a Vieux Carré-Sazerac-Scaffa mash up.  Thus the generous Peychaud's and dash of absinthe.  I tasted it without the absinthe, and while not bad, the addition really tied it together and made it sing.
Vieux Szaffa
  • ¾ oz Hennessy VSOP Cognac (or sub brandy)
  • ¾ oz Calvados
  • ½ oz Bénédictine
  • ¼ oz Peychaud's
  • dash absinthe
stir in cocktail glass, NO ICE
The drink surprisingly does not hurt for lack of ice.  Not that ice would be bad, but I was surprised I didn't miss it.  It was a nice sipper with deep flavors, some edgy notes from the large dose of Peychaud's, and a nice mouthful and warmth lent by the Bénédictine.

John Dory reborn as John Dory Oyster Bar

April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman's John Dory Oyster Bar finally opened at noon today, after several delays.  I had sadly only gotten a chance to visit its original incarnation once before it closed, but I remembered it fondly.  Especially the lovely Oyster Pan Roast, which I had intended to get often whenever I wandered into that part of town.  The Cod Milt was really good too, but I have not heard any rumblings of it making a reappearance.  But alas, I didn't end up wandering there often, which apparently was the case with most people, so the John Dory had to close its doors.  It has now been reborn it a part of town with much more foot traffic, and no longer takes reservations; I suspect this will be a winning strategy.  Hell, judging by how packed its sister The Breslin was when I went by to check out the Dory's status Monday, it could thrive just on The Breslin's overflow, not that relying on it will be necessary.

This afternoon I wandered in shortly after the announced 12pm opening time, and while they were not quite ready, still going over specials with the waitstaff, I grabbed a seat at the bar to take in the surroundings.  The light filled room is much airier than either the Breslin or the original location, being a corner spot with large windows.  At either end of the bar they have suspended fish tanks, one with specimens from the Atlantic, the other the Pacific, which makes for a fun touch.  While I was able to wander in, it had mostly filled up with only a handful of seats available around 1:30 when I left, and apparently shortly thereafter there was a wait.  I suspect the place will be mobbed tomorrow and most evenings for the foreseeable future.
I started with the "Live Maine Sea Urchin with Pomegranate and Black Pepper", which was obviously super fresh and had a really deep flavor.  The pomegranate gave it a nice refreshing touch and some texture with the seeds, and the pepper contributed the hint of spice.  I loves my uni.
And finally, after a long wait since the original closed, I got more of the Oyster Pan Roast with uni-butter crostini.  It is as delicious as I remember, with several super plump oysters lurking beneath the surface.  It is quite creamy and rich, but at the same time has a bracing acidity from the vermouth and lemon juice that keeps it from being too heavy.  A simple dish, but refined and delicious.  I've not yet tried making it, but the Times did print a recipe back when the first Dory was open. 
The menu today was less extensive than some preview menus I have seen, leaning more towards small plates.  But that was fine with me, as it let me try more things without feeling like a total glutton.  I'm not sure if this was due to it being the first day or if the lunch menu is a bit different, but I suspect the latter.  I'll have to try a dinner sometime to check out some of the other items not offered for lunch today; I hear the crab and avacado is really good, and I'm very intrigued by the Eel and Parsley Pie.
They had a braised octopus special I tried which was quite good.  Very tender and flavorful octopus with roast potatoes with aioli.
I had a little more room so I opted for the Tasmainian Sea Trout Crudo.  Nicely firm texture with a very clean flavor:
I stuck to a beer and a glass of wine, so I didn't sample Sasha Petraske's cocktail list, but I took a gander.  It leans on the lighter side to match the seafood. Of 13 drinks, there were only two with aged spirits: one rye, and one anejo rum.  Of the remaining drinks, four had prosecco, one Sauvignon Blanc and St. Germain, and the balance used unaged spirits like vodka, blanco tequila, gin, or white rum.  That's not to say they didn't have a selection of brown spirits, as there were plenty of nice bottles behind the bar if that's what you are in the mood for.