Friday, August 28, 2009

Boroughs Other Than Mine

Before I head back across the Atlantic to visit some of the world's more gossiped-about eateries, I owe it to you, dear readers, to describe my last few days here on this continent.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was treated to a comped lunch at Prime Meats, which included a very delicious soft pretzel with sweet Bavarian mustard, a soft-poached farm egg over sauteed trumpet mushrooms with a grilled white sausage, and a small-but-noteworthy spiced stout cake. The sausage came with a horseradish mustard, spicy enough to satisfy me. The stout cake, possessed of a different judicious spice set (clove and cinnamon and the like) was gooey moist.

For a snack, I ended up at another Carroll Gardens joint, the newly opened Eton, Too, sibling of the original Eton, which serves dumplings and shave ice. I spent a few frustrating hours driving around the big island of Hawaii last August hunting down authentic shave ice, so it's nice to know I can get it close to home. Shave ice, for those unaware, is delicately shaved ice topped with flavored syrup, or syrups, if that's your bag (it's mine). In Hawaii, they also top their shave ice with: condensed milk, fluffernutter, mochi bits, chocolate syrup, canned fruit, vanilla soft serve, etc. Hawaiians are big on preserved food, i.e. spam. I'm a purist: give me a shave ice in a plastic cup that looks like an upside-down hat and one of those straws that doubles as a spoon and I'm good to go.

I had a half lychee-half watermelon. It was delicious. I also bought chicken-mushroom and pork-beef-cabbage dumplings to go. Heat and eat. Yum.

Later, after more wandering around BK, we ended up at Buttermilk Channel, where we snacked on pickles (our second helping of the day, after a duck into Stinky Brooklyn for pickles made at another local restaurant, Chestnut), grilled bacon with a mustard vinaigrette, bratwurst with sauerkraut and French fries, and four small baby back ribs with a mediocre slaw. The ribs were passable, as was the bacon. But the bacon... that's a dish you go back for.

Call these dalliances the introduction to my very meat-heavy pre-birthday birthday party last night at Korean hot spot Kunjip. I called for a reservation, and it's a good thing I did; the line snaked around 32nd Street and we still had to cram in to our side-by-side tables. Everything came at once. Fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, kimchi, daikon, egg custard, blood sausage with cellophane noodles and hot peppers. In a large skillet, the servers cooked boneless short ribs (outstanding), de-veined shrimp (also memorable), and slabs of pork belly (regrettably overdone). Bibimbop made my Polish friend sweat, though I found it only moderately spicy and perfectly coagulated owing to a raw egg on top.

We drank OBs. At the meal's end, the music increased to unpleasant decibels and a cake--made purely of orange segments and topped with three lit candles--arrived before me.

So perhaps that was the perfect American parting gift, even though it was not at all American. Espana, here I come.

Prime Meats
465 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Eton Too
359 Sackett Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Buttermilk Channel
524 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

9 W. 32nd Street
New York, NY 10001

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I've been trying to stretch the few dollars I have, which means cooking more and eating out less. So if you're wondering how many meals can come from $50 at the greenmarket and a little over $30 at Whole Foods and other, more local, markets, here it goes.

On Wednesday, I went to the Queens County Farm Museum, where I got two small black peppers, four large heirloom tomatoes in different colors/varieties, four kirby cucumbers, two ears of corn, and a discounted pork chop for two (all pork at the Queens County Farm Museum is currently twenty-five percent off) for eighteen dollars. Next, I hit up the Astoria greenmarket for local peaches, yellow plums, one eggplant, one yellow squash, one red onion, and Japanese turnips (seven dollars). The next morning, I went to a salumeria near my house, where I bought a pound of fresh bucatini for three dollars, and the fish market, where I got a half pound of rock shrimp for another three dollars.

At Whole Foods, I undertook my most expensive shopping for the week. I bought hormone-free grass-fed cow cream, fresh butter, Maytag blue cheese, a pint of Van Leeuwen pistachio ice cream, and apricots from Red Jacket Orchards in upstate New York.

Friday, I made a run to the Union Square greenmarket for farm fresh eggs, a loaf of wood-fired whole grain bread, bush basil, a small watermelon, blueberries, and sour and sweet cherry nectars (twenty dollars).

My meals went as thus:


Fresh bucatini with corn, rock shrimp, turnip greens, caramelized red onion, summer squash, eggplant, and cream; Peppers, eggplant, and Squash roasted with Blato olive oil; Yellow plum crumble with pistachio ice cream.


Leftover bucatini for lunch.

For dinner: Heirloom tomato salad with pickled Japanese turnips, kirby cucumbers, Maytag blue cheese, bush basil, corn; Grilled whole wheat bread; Poached farm fresh eggs; Yellow plum crumble with Van Leeuwen pistachio ice cream.


Leftover eggs and bread for breakfast.

Leftover tomato salad for lunch.


Another tomato salad from the remains of the cheese, turnips, tomatoes, cucumber, basil, and red onion. (The corn is long gone).

That leads me to today. I had poached eggs and toasted bread again. I never get tired of eggs. For dinner tonight, I'll be making that pork chop, grilled, with a Red Jacket Orchards apricot compote, more grilled bread, and a salad of watermelon and basil. Less than a hundred dollars at local establishments bought me dinner for two for almost five days, nothing to complain about.

My recent goal has been to buy food grown near where I live. I try to buy organic when I can, but mostly, I try to stay local. It isn't as easy as it seems. For whatever reason, most of the grocery stores near me sell food that is specifically non-local: mangoes, bananas, strawberries from California, milk from some milk plant in Iowa. Cooks who live near 14th Street have the near-daily luxury of shopping at the Union Square greenmarket; for me, that's a forty-five minute trip, one-way, and a ten-block walk with my haul.

Worth the effort?


I don't question whether or not this food tastes better; it does. I don't question whether or not this food is better for me; it is. I do, however, question how normal people are supposed to eat locally when it takes nearly two hours of the day to get groceries. Is the carbon footprint I reduce by eating local food negated by the carbon footprint I create just getting to my food?

I guess I don't know the answer. It would be easier if groceries stocked food from actual farms, rather than genetically modified California lettuce. Maybe that's the distant future calling. Who knows?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Meals Abroad

It would be impossible--and not worth anyone's time--to recount all the piddling details of my two week sojourn in Croatia. But some details are worth repeating. One afternoon, on the second floor of our rented Korcula villa, three heaping platters appeared before us, bearded mussels and whole prawns threatening to spill off onto the floor. The mussels were clean and uncomplicated in a way you never find in New York and the prawns, though requiring some lobster-like effort, yielded large tails of supple meat. It certainly beat an equally memorable--if less successful--meal served to us in that same Korculan villa: whole squid, cartilage intact. We weren't expecting this particular version of calamari when it arrived on our plates.

But nevermind. There were other meals worth remembering. An afternoon boat cruise took us to a smaller, less-populated island, Lastovo, where the savvy restaurant-owner of Augusta Insula announced his specialty as "Adriatic lobster and pasta." Adriatic lobster is notoriously expensive and, unlike its northeastern kin, dispossessed of claws. I wouldn't have necessarily wasted my time had the man not suggested it and pulled this admiring American to the side of a dock, where he pulled cages up from the Adriatic. He told me to pick my lobsters, and pick I did, and later, they arrived, chopped in thirds, amidst a tomato sauce over al dente linguine. We scooped the meat from the sliced bodies with our forks and fingers, washing our hands in lemony finger bowls. Before the lobster, we had been presented with fried bread (filled with caraway seeds) and fish carpaccio (tuna, monkfish, anchovies, and shrimp) dressed with fine Croatian olive oil and lemon.

Perhaps my favorite meal was in the town of Pupnat, close to the commercial hub of the island of Korcula. Konuba Mate is owned by a single family and they grow and make everything in house, the Croatian answer to the slow food movement. Fresh squeezed lemonade came sugarless; we were expected to sweeten it ourselves with the bright pink sage syrup provided ("pink from the blossoms," our server told us). An antipasto platter included a fresh goat cheese that squeaked when we ate it, juicy grapes, charred eggplant and eggplant pate, aged goat cheese from the same local goats, split fresh figs, ham smoked right there, bitter olives, and a loaf of fresh bread with carraway seeds. For dinner, we shared grilled and quartered lamb along with grilled apples, onions, eggplant, peppers, and zucchini. The peppers in Croatia are the light green of cucumbers, and, like cucumbers, are served with virtually everything. Thin rolled veal came with little polenta cakes and a hand rolled pasta, resembling the pici of Tuscany, floated in a creamy wild fennel sauce (fronds only, a bit to my chagrin). The goat cheese appeared once more, this time in fresh ravioli with sage and brown butter. More pasta, this time with an almond pesto made with fresh basil and tomatoes. And, as with most Croatian meals, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, and judicious amounts of local olive oil.

For dessert, we passed a carrot cake stuffed with a layer of cheese, a creme caramel, a flourless--though not nutless--chocolate cake, a fried pastry resembling funnel cake and dusted with confectioner's sugar, and two granitas, one rosemary-lemon verbena, one lavender-thyme. Various grappas appeared and disappeared, this one herbal, that one amber from the effects of a local fruit whose name we never caught. I drank a glass of dessert wine made there. During our time in Croatia, we never drank anything but the most local of wines, and they were good enough for drinking, if not for some laborious oenophilic conversation.

What else should I recount? Perhaps a meal caught on our way back to Dubrovnik, where we would, two days later, catch our plane home. The town of Mali Ston lies at the base of green Croatian hills, directly on the flat waters where famous oysters and mussels are harvested daily. Even the nicest Mali Stonian restaurants sell their oysters for the equivalent of $1.50 apiece, flat, briny things that make you wonder why you would ever want to eat an oyster anywhere else. Kapetenova Kuca, of course, served far more than oysters on the halfshell. So, too, arrived gently fried oysters, and then a seafood salad of marinated black and white mussels, rock shrimp, prawns, and octopus. Next, two towering dishes of every seafood available: whole cooked fish resembling sea bass, fried white fish and prawns, grilled rock shrimp on skewers, steamed clams and mussels and white mussels (tough to open with a dense, meaty texture), whole prawns that had been cooked in oil in a pan, small flash-fried bait fish, grilled and fried zucchini and eggplant. The list goes on. We ate until we couldn't any longer and then we threw the towel in and I ordered a cherry cheesecake, festooned with sour cherries.

They say Croatia is all about the ocean, and it is. The Adriatic is everywhere and it certainly is nice to look at. But I'll remember, along with that sliver of blue cutting up the coast from white rock, along with the silvery olive trees and the figs plump on the trees and the pomegranates beginning to bend branches forward with their August weight, the unmistakable brine of a Croatian oyster, lingering just long enough.

Augusta Insula
Lastovo, Croatia

Konuba Mate
Pupnat, Croatia

Kapetenova Kuca
Mali Ston, Croatia

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Absence Makes The Heart Go Hungry

I apologize for my absence in the blogosphere. Life has invariably taken over writing, filled with weddings and airport delays and all of the trappings of real versus virtual. This isn't to say that recent food adventures have not been noteworthy (some have; some haven't), but by now my mental notes have dwindled to a few dim memories.

But who can go on vacation without one last meal? I leave tonight, and last night's last supper happened to coincide with my friend's 30th birthday party. Said friend's sister and I planned a dinner for eleven people at Back Forty, known mostly for its grass-fed burger. But this was no burger-fest. Instead, it was a down-home Maryland crab boil, replete with newsprint tablecloths and wooden mallets. In New England, we eat lobster. I hadn't ever been to a crab boil, and I'm not completely sure I'd go again. It was fun, but it was also messy and complicated.

For forty bucks a person, the kind folks at Back Forty will deliver an appetizer of salt cod fritters, served with a spicy mayonnaise dip. Next comes crabs in three separate (and large) deliveries, silver buckets turned over the newsprint as Old Bay-doused suckers tumble every which way. The waitress instructs the table on proper crab-procuring procedure, which involves peeling back the outer tab of the shell "like a beer can," snapping off the shell's top, and twisting each leg off. The legs have almost no meat, and the body has slivers underneath useless gills; the spongy devils must be removed by hand. The real treasures are the claws, but the tough shells can't really be done by hand. That's what the mallets are for, but be forewarned that hitting a crab claw with a mallet forces crab juice in many directions. All my crabs seemed to squirt in the direction of my boyfriend's eyes.

With dinner came grilled corn rolled in Old Bay and boiled in salt and butter. These were fine, but no match for the fruit cobbler at meal's end, some happy combination (we think) of blueberry and peach, shortcake, and whipped cream. I don't know how many crabs I ate; we must have plowed through at least one hundred, and that's no exaggeration. And while the crustaceans were tasty enough, I'm not so sure I'd want to work that hard for my food on a regular basis.

Back Forty
190 Avenue B
New York, NY 10009