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.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scandinavia Sling

Last week's TDN was themed "Rumless Tiki" and I decided to try out a variation of the Singapore Sling for my submission, but using Aquavit and Kirsch instead of Gin and Cherry Heering.
Scandinavia Sling
  • 1½ oz aged aquavit (O.P. Anderson)
  • 1 oz cognac
  • ½ oz kirsch
  • ½ oz lime
  • ½ oz lemon
  • ¼ oz Bénédictine
  • ¼ oz Grand Marnier
  • ¼ oz TraderTiki Hibiscus grenadine
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • soda to top
Shake and dump into tiki mug, top with ounce or two soda, mint garnish
I added the Grand Marnier and Grenadine to add some of the richness I lost when I swapped the clean kirsch for the deep Cherry Heering.  Those components added some depth, but the drink it still a bit lighter than the base drink.  It has a hint of bright cherry, and a different botanical background flavor due to the aquavit gin swap.  I found it light and refreshing, but still with some warmth from the herbal aquavit and Bénédictine.

Masa still great, and still lots of truffles this time of year

As I tweeted, I had the pleasure of dining at Masa for the second time last week. It remains the best Sushi experience I have had in the US; only in Tokyo have I had better, even then by just a slim margin. It is not just the sushi that elevates the experience, but some of the more composed dishes are sublime as well. On this visit, my favorite was a dish, new to me, of sliced triggerfish with truffles, gold leaf, truffle sauce, herbs, and a couple other components I do not recall:
Note that I took a bite before realizing this was so good I wanted to snap a memento; the presentation was prettier before I dug in.  As a dining companion commented, the fish had a very nice texture on the bite, almost reminiscent of quite al denta pasta. The flavor was very clean, and as you chewed the firm fish you continued to enjoy it. The truffle was very present, but did not overwhelm the fish, the truffle complemented it rather nicely.

One comment about the truffles. I think they are generally overrated. Don't get me wrong, I quite love them, but rarely enough to justify the expense. And it might seem that one must love truffles to enjoy Masa given several of the dishes I'll highlight contain them, but this is not the case. As evidence, I'll offer my wife as an example. She does not like truffles and on our first visit we simple had them left out of her dishes, as they are normally simply grated on top or perhaps dotted with a spot of sauce. Only the "truffle sushi", which is simply rice rolled in shaved truffles, did she miss out on. The several other bites were still excellent for her sans truffles, if perhaps slightly less gilded. Sure, it helps if you love truffles, but in my opinion there is plenty of consumer surplus to go around even if you don't to make it easily worth trying.

And now more truffles. This time we were offered as an option an additional appetizer of wagyu beef.  Naturally we said yes.  This dish was a very slight disappointment, but not because it wasn't awesome.  It was awesome.  It was just as good or better than other really great wagyu I've had.  The lone reason it was a let down was because it did not stand up to the similarly prepared Ohmi beef from my first visit.  Still great, just not mind blowingly indescribably great.  I'll still always get whatever additions are offered, but I just wanted to let you know that apparently it is not always as stupendous as I described previously.
It occurs to me now looking back at the post about my first meal, I went about this time of year, which may explain the proliferation of truffles.  I will endeavor to make my next visit in the spring to see what different bounty the season provides.  I assure you that most of the courses are not truffle laden, but I poorly chose the three pics I took if I was trying to illustrate that fact.  I believe, other than the aforementioned "truffle sushi", the only other truffle was a piece of octopus sushi with a dot of truffle sauce on it.  But I suppose it might behoove truffle haters to go some other time of year.  I'll let you know next spring.   Here is the truffle covered uni risotto, which I believe is something of a signature dish, though I could be mistaken: 

UPDATE: I meant to mention this originally, but forgot.  Masa no longer has the confusing automatic 20% service charge added to the bill, which they claimed was not a tip but to help cover expenses or something.  I hadn't seen this reported elsewhere so figured it is worth mentioning.

Ok, now for an addendum of embarrassing indulgence, but I'll share (once again) for the sake of a funny story.  For a variety of reasons, including but not limited to a proposed hamburger bet over a decade ago back in college, after our extravagant luxury at Masa, we left the Time Warner Center and headed downtown to Corner Bistro.  (I was dining with three college buddies, who also are coworkers.)
Now, I had no intention of getting a bistro burger, planning on just having a McSorley's Dark (or three), but old habits die hard and when the waiter came by before I knew it the phrase "Four Bistro Burger's, rare" passed my lips.  And man, if that wasn't a tasty burger.  I know, it's disgusting, and I'm ashamed, but it was a fun night. But wait, it gets worse.
After we each downed our burgers, one of us bet another of us a large sum of money that he couldn't eat two additional bistro burgers! Yes, Masa then followed immediately by three significant bacon cheeseburgers.  I was not party to the bet, although for the record I did agree to accept a share of the blame should hellfire rain down upon the proposer of the bet should the betee's wife be upset that we made him eat three bacon cheeseburgers after Masa.  Which, also for the record, he did.  We never doubted him.  And his wife took it quite well.

Check out the spiders guarding our house in CT

These guys are sweet: