Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Passenger in Chelsea

Tree lighting week in Manhattan. A week we would avoid if we didn't have to visit there for work. Pierino has booked a nice hotel room down in Chelsea for four nights. Our flight is delayed by an hour and half. However our bag is wheeled out first with a thank you note from TSA inside. Then we are whisked into Manhattan by a driver from Coughingstan. Must be why we came home sick.

Midnight arrival at our corner, 8th Avenue and 22nd. The sign reads GEM Hotel except that it's anchored above a vacant retail space. Fortunately the hotel itself was actually one door away on 22nd. Boutique hotel room in the "Ascend" collection. You don't ascend very far because it's only five stories. Our small room with European style fittings has a view of the Empire State Building with the Hanukkah lights on.

Sunday we sleep. Meet a colleague for lunch at Katz's Deli for Matzoh Ball soup. By evening it's beginning to get really cold. So around 5:00 Pierino heads out the door toward a restaurant over on 7th Avenue. But on the chilly walk he notices a small restuarant at the corner of 8th and 20th, Le Trois Canards which sounds vaguely familiar. It was familiar because it had recently moved to this location from a few blocks away, one in which we had dropped in before way back when. We figured we'd check out the menu. Unfortunately the door was locked. But suddenly we were admitted by the lovely Samira who it turns out would be working all stations including the bar in the tiny dining room. As usual we order a glass of wine at the bar and see that the menu is perfect for a cold, winter night. Forget 7th Avenue!

First course, steaming garlicky escargots in their own natural shells so that you have to use those clamp thingies to pry them out. This was followed by a delicious tarte au cepes, spilling out good stuff including escarole. Pierino is a happy man especially after chatting with Samira, international woman of mystery. Before we leave Samira smuggles some extra biscotti out of the kitchen, which he sticks in his pockets along with the remaining half bottle of sparkling water. Unfortunately (not so really unfortunate, in the end), at about 2:00 a.m. Pierino wakes up realizing that he has left his bag hanging on the back of his chair. And he has an early train to White Plains in the morning.

So, after an 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. schedule of trains and meetings we go back to Le Trois Canards to retrieve our stuff. Once again greeted at the door by Samira. So we hang out for another glass of wine until they are ready to lock the doors. We discuss the films of Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers)and Fellini (La Dolce Vita)and then adieu.

And it's still stinking cold.

On our last night in Manhattan where else would we go? Doh! Back to Trois Canards. It's only two blocks away. This time we ordered their superb Onion Soup Gratinee. Now that will warm your bones when it's 18F outside. Au revoir Samira. Until the next visit.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am the Passenger

"I am the Passenger I ride and I ride..." ...and I ride and I fly and I drive... "And everything looks good tonight, Everything was made for you and me..."And I ride and I fly and I drive "And everything looks good tonight..."

And I meet interesting people in train stations and airport lounges and most often restaurant bars where I arrive by my ownself with a book. Over four days in New York I met a choral student from Beijing, two antique dealers, and a beautiful restaurant server with a fascinating personal history: Moroccan/Algerian; grew up in Alsace. Her Moroccan father was recruited into the French Army and covertly assisted the Algerian rebels and had to sneak out of Algeria in 1962, escaped to France and raised his family. Meanwhile, observed in flight; a middle-aged Indian woman in an opposite seat playing a video game on an IPad which seemed to involve shooting down birds flying past, as well as blowing up buildings. I don't make this stuff up

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

AZ: The Good, The Very Bad, and the Horribly Ugly

I try to find something good everywhere I travel. Usually I succeed. In this case, I was bunkered in Chandler, AZ and with a little research turned up Anise, a Vietnamese restaurant on Dobson. Located in a strip mall (yeah, please name a Vietnamese restaurant in the western US that isn't), they ought to be a destination for anyone (like Pierino) stuck down there. The food is great. The charming Kim and Anne work the front of the house and will even order for you if you ask their advice. We went with that plan on our second visit. They make lovely, clear broths, which I think is the toughest to get right. Combined with crab meat, well...

Not everything in AZ is so charming right now. I happened to be there on the day that the district court blocked most of SB 1070. Now, could I just say that immigrant labor is the backbone of the restaurant and hotel industry in the state as well as most of North America with the exception of Guam and the Palin Territories. These people risk death walking through the desert just to wash dishes, cook and change the sheets in your hotel room. And you want to keep 'em out? Tell me why!

I was listening to KJZZ (an NPR affiliate) at the time that the decision came down. This was a local show with AZ callers (please remember that these people don't know that you are supposed to stop for red lights). Of course they were all offended and predicted that this will lead to a Republican sweep in November. They could be right. But what these morons won't accept is that the most conservative Supreme Court in 40 years will uphold the distict and circuit court decisions. Including Chief Justice Roberts? And then, what's your come back?

I heard one woman caller on KJZZ say, "when was the last time you saw an American [aka white] teenager working at a McDonald's?" How about they're too effing lazy to apply! Do you really think that Effing Ronald McDonald discriminates against white American teens? Shit, they grew up on Happy Meals, but it doesn't mean they want to work there. But these same idiots are also opposed to raising the minimum wage. You can't have it both ways.

And now for the decidedly ugly. I checked out of my hotel and was en route to the airport thinking that I had missed, for once, what is an all too familiar sight on Arizona roadways. That would be the ghastly car crash. Well, I didn't have to travel very far on 10 North to see the signs that access to I17 was closed. When I got there I could see why: in the connector lane a pickup was flipped over with the cab crushed. This happened to be a rainy morning. There are worse things than missing your off ramp. But hey, people in AZ will risk death to do that. And their thing about red lights? It means "Stop" not "speed up!"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One Buck Shuck

I spent one night in "Sideways" country this past week on my way up the road to my new home further up the coast. During that stay I paid my third visit to "Root 246", Bradley Ogden's restaurant in the Hotel Corque in Solvang. And Chef Bradley, as widely rumoured, was in fact in the house. They offer a great deal on oysters. $1.00 for one Kumamoto. After that a caesar salad with a perfectly poached egg. That's spelled, MIGHTY FINE.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chicago, Doh!

Do you remember when there were only six teams in the NHL? I do. Pierino stopped being a Kings' fan when they changed their sweaters which then became gang colors. But going back to the old time days, we are a serious fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, so part of one day was used up just grabbing Hawks' swag.

I could be wrong but was this relief on the Michigan Avenue bridge sculpted to commemorate the B'hawks victory over Vancouver to advance to the conference finals?

Chicago, Oink!

Could I just say again that I love Chicago. The City of Big Shoulders, Broad Bellies and Hog Butcher to the Nation. Pierino had scarcely two nights in town but departed well fed and happy.
After escaping from the boondocks of Naperville we hit the city and Michigan Avenue. Listening to bar chat at the Inn of Chicago (hotel)we heard about The Purple Pig, just two blocks away, almost opposite the Tribune Building. Some fast in room research and we were on our way. Anyplace that promotes "Cheese, Swine & Wine" is fine with Pierino. Preaching to the choir here.

The first night we supped on marinated olives, fava beans with an egg salad, and pig tails braised in balsamic. Could we have more pig please?

This was so good that we had to return the next day for lunch. Pierino really wanted to sample the "smears", and in our case this turned out to be the pork neck rillettes with mostarda. The rillette was absurdly good with burnt, crusty bruschetta slices of bread (is that redundant?). The mostarda though, was sort of wimpola. It was almost like a compote of fig and raisin with little of the curried kick that the real thing should deliver. Nevertheless, we loved that rillette.

One of Pierino's friends keeps bugging him to go to Avec, which he seriously wanted to try. It might help if you came along, Kim. No time on this trip, though. But I'll be back. You can bet on it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oh, hi!

Recently I had the pleasure of cooking for some good friends up in Ojai, CA at "Piazza dell' Thatcher". The principal course turned out to be a paella made with fresh sea scallops from Alaska (thank you, Michael), fresh asparagus, and smoked Italian peppers along with the mandatory bomba rice, saffron and pimenton. As an appetizer, equaliser, I stole an idea from a chef friend. I bought some cerignola olives (big fat ones)and tossed them some maracona almonds and olive oil, along with some slivers of garlic. See the video clip. I plated this with some white "boquerones" around the platter. The boquerones are white anchovies in vinegar and oil and are guaranteed to convert to convert anchovy haters. Let's just say that there weren't any left on the serving platter when I returned from the kitchen. Chef Amber, I owe you one.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cooks Illustrated v food52; The Thrilla in Nutella

The food52 crowd was handed a throwdown by Cooks Illustrated: lab rats versus home cooks. Sweet. Mr Bowtie and starched apron, Chris Kimball at first tried to back out but got shamed into going through with it. Categories are "roast pork shoulder" and "sugar cookies". We'll kick butt (which in the language of pork is actually the shoulder---don't ask me why), and of course yours truly has entered with "Porchetta Pierino". Read all about it at By all means log in and comment. In the end this will all be decided by popular vote.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cooks Illustrated magazine, the whole format is to produce the "best" this or that. The flaw in that thinking is that your kitchen isn't the same as mine. Your oven could be calibrated 25 degrees hotter or less warm, your knife may not be as sharp, and maybe you are buying your "fresh" fish from the supermarket. Other than that the magazine is useful for showing you ways to multi-task your meat pounder. Doink!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Dead Zona

It's flat out effing scary in Arizona. A week back I was looking at the remnants of the umpteenth catastrophic car crash from my hotel window. They seem to lack three things in Arizona. Those would be red light recognition, brakes, and state funded rest stops. The latter is the newest ingredient in their particular and perverse fusion bomb.

So Pierino was encamped in Chandler (it works for business reasons). In Chandler dining establishments have names like "My Big Fat Greek Restaurant". Catch my drift? We could have done better by driving into the city where there are some good places, like Pizzeria Bianco but we finished each day too tired and too scared to travel more than a mile.

One find though was Durant's on Central Avenue in Phoenix. Pierino loves old school restaurant/bars even though he only drinks club soda in the daytime. We are used to dark bars, but this is really, really dark (hence the jittery lightscape in the image). So dark we could barely read the menu let alone our book. Opened in 1950, Durant's has that red velvet wall and banquette charm. We love these places. Phoenix now has light rail running down Central Avenue which solves to a degree the red light issue. The metro stops almost outside Durant's door at 2611 North Central. So we enjoyed a capable tuna salad with our obligatory club soda and squinted into the sunlight in the aftermath. For the record, the Pink Pony in Scottsdale is now closed.

We also visited our favorite bookstore in AZ. That would be Changing Hands in Tempe at Guadalupe and McClintock. We lunched with owner Gayle Shanks at Windy City Cafe and enjoyed real Chicago hot dogs. I mean these are authentic, dragged through the garden, right down to the poppy seed buns and bright green relish. If you've been to Chicago you know what I'm talking about. So if you visit Tempe be sure to buy a book at Changing Hands and a hot dog at Windy City, 1815 East Elliot Rd. Just don't drive through the yellow tape.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On the Road and Off the Reservation, Man Bites Dog

Pierino is back on the familiar HWY 101 north again. We spent two nights bunkered in Buellton waiting for the storms to pass. 2 1/2" of rain in Solvang in about 5 minutes.

We took the opportunity to check out Bradley Ogden's new restaurant in Solvang at the Hotel Corque, which happens to be owned by the Chumash Indians who have more money than Bill Gates. The hotel is actually not on the reservation but close by on Alisa. We assumed our usual position at the restaurant bar with our book and Droid in hand and ordered from their excellent bar menu. First we ordered their Maytag Blue souffle with fennel and tangerine "sous vide" and baby arugula salad. In our opinion "sous vide" is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Why sous vide fennel except to justify your expensive immersion circulator? But it was a good dish.

Next up was their "foot long hot dog", which is their signature bar dish. They change it frequently. When we first read about it it was served "Chicago" style. This time it was served "Philly" style---a frightening prospect for a man who loves his dog. It was served with white cheddar rather than Philly's favorite condiment, Cheez Wiz. It's an all beef dog in natural casing from Hobbs in San Francisco. A damn fine item. If you don't mind spending $12 on a dog (and we don't)this is the place to go.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Bridesmaid Again

Pierino has scored another "editor's pick" with food52 in the "couscous" competition, but we are still picking away for a "finalist" spot. But here is our recipe for Fregola Bastia sauce à l àmericaine.

Fregola is the Sard version of couscous, heavier and more dense, and you have to crucify a lobster for this one. If you can handle that here's the recipe:

The details for this recipe really apply specifically to California Spiny lobster. But it should be adaptable to whatever live lobster you have access to. When I look at the calendar and see that it’s the first week of October I’m down to the fish market right away. October not only marks the opening week of the season but it’s really the peak of the season too.

I try not to argue with folks on the east coast about which lobster is “best.” It gets down to the fact that in season this is the best, freshest lobster I can find. The market availability can be limited because much of the catch goes to Asia.

And he is indeed spiny. I put on kitchen gloves in order to facilitate Monsieur Homard’s dispatch. He doesn’t have claws but he can surprise you with a wicked tail flip.

Fill your biggest pot with water and get it boiling. Give your lobster a clean death, a soldier’s death so that he can wake up in Elysium with kelp waiving in his antennae. This can be a problem because the carapace of spiny lobster in the area of eyes and brain is heavily armored on both sides. You might like to turn him over and plunge a heavy knife in that area, but if you whack off your thumb Monsieur wins. You decide.

The average weight for a California spiny is about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ lbs. Plunge the lobster into the pot and cook for about 10 minutes. Extract your lobster (now in Elysium) and allow him/her to cool down.

Monsieur Homard is pretty easy to break up. Separate the head from the body and you will probably have a lot of green tomalley running out which you should try to capture. If it happens to be Madame Homard you could be lucky enough to collect some roe.

Most of the meat will come from the tail, but you might be able to get a little bit of cheek meat from the head. Using sturdy kitchen shears cut down the belly and pull out the tail and carefully clean out the nasty bits. SAVE THE SHELLS. With some patience you can get a bit more meat from the legs.

Chop up the tail meat and refrigerate until ready to use, although actually it might be easier to dispatch your lobster in the morning, refrigerate the tail and do the chopping along with your prep work for the sauce.

Ingredients for Sauce Americaine:

4 tablespoons butter
Reserved lobster shells
1 shallot chopped
½ yellow onion chopped---roughly ½ cup
1 celery stick chopped
1/cup chopped celery leaves
1 carrot chopped
1 clove of garlic chopped
¼ cup white wine
1 14 ½ oz can of diced tomatoes (substitute an equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes if you can find good ones)
1 pinch of Aleppo pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)
1 generous pinch of saffron threads
¼ cup Spanish sherry
Salt and pepper

Lobster cut into bite sized pieces

Roughly 6 oz of saffron fettuccine from Rustichella d’Abruzzo or other dried fettuccine

In a pan large enough to contain the sauce and the cooked pasta heat the butter over medium heat. Don’t let it brown. Once you have hot butter add the shallot, onion, garlic, celery and carrot one at a time stirring all the time. Add broken up lobster shells and continue to stir. Add the Aleppo pepper if using, the saffron and the chopped celery leaves. Add the white wine and simmer for about five to seven minutes (I tend to judge by aroma and color before moving on to the next step). Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and bring to a simmer to reduce by about half. After a few minutes start your water boiling for the pasta.

When you feel the sauce is close to your satisfaction add in the sherry, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook a few more minutes. With kitchen tongs remove the shell pieces and discard. Put the sauce through a food mill over a bowl and then return to the pan.

Now add the cut up lobster meat to the sauce.

Salt the boiling water and add the pasta. The dried saffron pasta will cook rather quickly, in about 5 minutes. Other dried pasta might take longer. Add the pasta cooked just short of al dente directly to the sauce. Taste for seasoning. No cheese should be added.

This will serve two as a light main course or up to four as a first course.