Thursday, May 03, 2007

Reasons not to be a vegetarian in NYC

I hereby present the top 13 reasons, as of this moment, why I will never become a vegetarian in NYC:

- The Shack burger (with a strawberry shake)
- Pork and watermelon salad at Fatty Crab
- Mortadella rustica at Caputo's on Court Street: Italian mortadella studded with bits of prosciutto
- Plates of Benton ham at Ssam Bar (plus the pork buns at Momofuku)
- Lomo Adobado sandwich at Tia Pol
- Daikon radish and fried sardine salad at Sake Bar Hagi (my newest favorite place - thanks, Robin!)
- Salt-crusted shrimp appetizer at Pearl Oyster Bar (these two fish dishes made the cut because they are both somewhat "difficult" - a lot of work and/or eyes involved)
- Green curry short ribs at Kittichai
- My aforementioned favorite, the steak sandwich at Pastis
- The good ol' pastrami sandwich from Katz's (and then down the street to take home a quart of pickled salmon in cream at Russ and Daughters)
- Mongolian beef at Mama Buddha on Hudson
- Fresh killed Ahzhou chicken at the Chelsea Grand Sichuan
- Rib-eye steaks purchased from Staubitz butchers on Court Street and grilled in a ridiculously hot cast iron pan in my kitchen

And another baker's dozen of favorites foodstuffs that would get me by if vegetarianism was forced upon me by some omnipotent otherworldy power (and it would be that unhealthy vegetarianism, too, the kind where you eat mostly cheese, bread and fried things):

- French fries from the Astro Diner on Sixth Ave and 55th St.
- Malfatti, the sublime chard and ricotta gnocchi, at Al Di La
- Cardamom lassi from Lassi
- Ronnybrook Dairy milk fresh from the bottle while standing at the farmer's market on a sunny day after having just bought three vanilla shortbread cookies from City Bakery.
- The world's best feta, from an Australian company called Meredith Dairy, available at Fairway and Whole Foods
- From a place I dislike generally, but the onion rings at Coffee Shop in Union Sq are profound.
- Hummus and fennel salad at Blue Ribbon market (ideal picnic food)
- A dish I just tried for the first time last night: sauteed pea shoots with pine nuts and golden raisins, at Mercat
- Kwik Mart falafel
- Brussels sprouts at Ssam Bar (though most likely this has some ham in it somewhere)
- Zucchini and mushroom pizzas at the old Sullivan St. Bakery
- French toast at Frankies 457 Spuntino, with a side of roasted sweet potatoes
- Another previously discussed favorite: the breakfast salad at Chicory

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Olive oil cake

I haven't been posting recipes here, but my baking experiment last night was such a success that now's a good time to start.

I wanted to bring dessert to my friends Jason and Jerry's dinner party; because of time constraints and sheer laziness I was limited to what I had in the cupboard. (Such an old fashioned word, cupboard, as if cabinet is some great modern improvement.) Olive oil cake came to mind - weird, since I had never made it before or read any recent recipes. But I had the last cup of the McEvoy olive oil that is so grassy and green, and it should be put to good use since it's so amazing. I just finished a half gallon of the stuff, over how much time...6 months? Is that a lot of olive oil?!

A quick web search brought up a few decent versions, some with interesting add-ons like cornmeal, orange zest, rosemary or currants. I ultimately chose the one that called for the exact number of eggs I had in the fridge: 3. The original recipe used 2 lemons but I had only one lemon and an almost-overripe orange. I liked the idea of cornmeal, so I used a little bit – I feel like I used too much cornmeal actually, so in the recipe below I lowered the amount. The recipe I nabbed was all sorts of messed up - it called for milk but never mentioned when to add it to the batter. It omitted salt, which seems to me a gross oversight in any recipe, savory or sweet. I also used less sugar and upped the cooking time. So here is my thoroughly altered recipe for olive oil cake. Overall, a major success: not too sweet, a pretty complex flavor without any sort of olive-y note and a perfectly crumby texture. (I just like the word "crumby" so I try to use it often. That and "garlicky.")

Of course, thanks to Jason and Jerry for the ridiculous martinis and an all-around lovely evening.

Olive Oil Cake

3 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp grated lemon and orange zest
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/3 c cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking soda 
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8" springform pan, or line a cake pan with parchment paper. I floured the pan with a little cornmeal mixed into the flour, and it added a nice extra crunchiness.

Place egg yolks, sugar, olive oil and lemon zest in a large bowl and mix until combined. In another bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Alternating with milk, add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix until just combined. With a mixer, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into the batter until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the pan and turn the oven down to 325° and bake for another 20-25 minutes. The cake will rise and turn a nice deep golden brown color. It is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Dust with powdered sugar, garnish with lemon zest and serve with crème fraiche and berries.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Solo Laady

Regarding my last post on Pastis, I was cleaning out my wallet the other day and came across my receipt from that meal. Yes, I was eating alone at the bar on a weekday afternoon. But why did they have to designate me as a "Solo Laady" on my bill? Sounds kind of pathetic...and somewhat Dutch, no?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Steak sandwiches

Damn, that steak sandwich at Pastis is just the best steak sandwich in town.

I went in there on a freeeeeezing cold day in NYC, sat at the bar by myself and chatted up the very nice bartender. He was kind enough to think that I had something to do with fashion week, since the floor was jammed with gorgeous young frenchmen fresh from the runway, tall blonde women on cell phones and rich european men in suits. They must have been on hyper-warp fashion week mode since my food came out with lightning speed, but wow, oh wow that sandwich is great. Roughly chopped skirt steak (is it skirt? I've really no idea) is intensely beefy and sometimes almost gamey (as gross as that sounds, I mean that in a good way), salted and peppered agressively. There's a strong gruyere melted over the top, some sauteed onions in there too, all on a perfectly soft roll that yields perfectly to the teeth and soaks up all the juices as you eat. They get 100 extra points for serving the sandwich and the accompanying crispy fries always with a small ramekin of mayo (eh, they would probably say it is some sort of aioli). Perfect.

I contend that Pastis has the best food of all the McNally places - I usually find myself annoyed at Balthazar (huge crowds and medicore food), and disappointed at the Odeon (overpriced and mediocre food). Schiller's is great for some things, but not as good as it used to be.

But back to the steak sandwich, a dish that can be seen as the hamburger's ignored older brother. It was something my mom always used to order in restaurants, and felt like a special treat to me, fancy and casual all at once. But I can't even think of one other steak sandwich in town that I've noticed on a menu, much less sampled. I'm sure there are a thousand other versions in this city. I think I'll make it my February campaign to uncover the steak sandwiches of New York!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Burger mania

There's a huge obsession with hamburgers lately, it's the sandwich hot topic. I wrote an essay on burgers for my food-writing class that detailed my ridiculous search for the best hamburger in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I came to the conclusion that the winner was served in the restaurant that used to be my apartment - Apartment 138. Yes, I am in the strangely unique position of being able to eat a hamburger in the exact same spot where I used to sleep. It was fun to research the article, (though attempting to sample three contenders in one day was particularly disgusting), and since I wrote it, I have tried several more burgers throughout the city.

Brgr, on Seventh Ave., was completely overpriced and disappointing. Small burgers, thoroughly unjuicy and dull. And not to make a joke that has surely been made a thousand times already, but what is it exactly they have against vowels? (I have a painting that belonged to my parents that was done by a man named William Copley, who signed his paintings CPLY. Another vowel-dropper. When I was a kid I thought that to be pretty radical, purposely losing the vowels from your name.)

Eater has been talking up the burger at Lure Fishbar in Soho. It was really satisfying, however, not sublime. But I walked out of Lure that night happy and excited to return. We had wonderful service: when one of the burgers arrived well beyond the requested medium rare, a platter of a half-dozen oysters was delivered to the table as an apology. It felt like a perfect place to take friends visiting from points out west - fashionable and Soho fabulous, but not snotty and clubby at all.

Today I had the burger at Schiller's on the LES. I still contend that the tuna burger is the thing to order there, if your taste runs towards protein betwen two pieces of bread. The french onion soup, with its crusty cheese topping and hot, perfectly oily broth, was far superior to the bland hamburger on its sad, cold bun. But wow, that wasabi-laced tuna burger always packs a flavborful punch.

My main question is: why is it so difficult to make a great burger at home? Every time I try, no matter how high-quality the ingredients or what I add to the meat, all my homemade burgers taste the same, time after time. Is it my lack of a real, greasy grill? Am I underseasoning the meat? Am I asking questions to the ether?...