Stunned Silence

February 22, 2010

Most of the time, if you are out on a date, extended moments of silence is a red flag. But last week when Em and I went to Back Forty in the East Village, our silence was warranted. Simply put, the Fried Oysters with Apple and Celery Root Remoulade and Shaved Fennel was one of the best appetizers I have ever eaten. And when something that good is put in front of you, conversation is a road block to getting your share. So we did the only thing we could think of, we ordered more.

So what are you supposed to do when you’ve had one of the best dishes in your life? Well, it’s not worth replicating. Even the greatest chefs know where to find their favorite specific dishes, and it is rarely coming out of their own kitchens. But what a good cook can do, is take what makes that dish memorable and meld into their own.

My Sole and Salmon Cakes with Shaved Fennel, Grapefruit, and Cucumber Salad with Roasted Shitake Mushrooms and Fried Salmon Skin may be the perfect compliment to those fried oysters. With all the great textures and familiar flavors of the Back Forty appetizer, my version benefited from a bit of citrus and my favorite chip out there, the fried salmon skin. I wouldn’t mine having a bit more of both.


Thinking about CSAs

February 19, 2010

A growing trend in the local food world is the CSA. A Community Supported Agriculture program creates a shared responsibility and benefit for both farmer and home cook. By paying upfront, you aid the farmer in the necessary costs for growing great and local produce. In return, over the course of the summer (generally about 20 weeks), a shipment of fresh picked produce is delivered to an outpost to be picked up for home cooking enjoyment! At first glance the prices can seem high but honestly, most of them work out to $10-20 a week. If you are buying produce consistently, you realize how reasonable this really is. The big turn off for many is the lack of control over what you get. Instead of browsing the grocery store, a box containing pre-picked items is delivered. But think about it this way. The produce you are receiving is picked when your local farmer deems it perfect. And the variety of ingredients you receive will be sure to advance your skills and experiences. This is the first year I will be joining a CSA and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. I’ll obviously keep you up to date but if you are interested do a quick search, they are located all over!

A Few Links…

No Dirt, No Problem – This article is pretty fascinating. It focuses on an apparently growing movement of farming known as Aquaponics. Essentially the waste generated by the fish in the tanks support the growth of the produce and plants. No dirt necessary!

You’ve got to see the baby…carrots – I’m not sure if this video is meant to freak us out, but either way it’s an answer to a question I’ve always had, but have never asked.

The List: Maialino

February 18, 2010

Photo taken by John Lei for the NY Times

In a city full of overhyped, celebrity chef owned restaurants, Maialino manages to deliver on all facets of an amazing dining experience. Unfortunately, I am not the only one who feels this way, as it has become almost impossible to get a reservation as of late; more on that later. A few weeks back (I’m a bit late in my post), I had made the increasingly elusive reservations and could not wait to give the relatively new, self dubbed “Roman style trattoria” a shot. Yet, I have been to a few of Danny Meyer’s other places with mixed emotions. For example, despite thoroughly enjoying my meal at Gramercy Tavern, it was the price that was hard to swallow. I know your paying for the service and experience but still…I guess I’ve got to go back and eat at the bar, which I hear is just as good, and for a portion of the price. But maybe that’s why I was so excited to try Maialino. The menu looked amazing but the prices seemed really reasonable. Well, the meal was so damn good, the price was only a bonus.

We arrived 15 minutes early for our reservations and had a glass of wine in the bar area…A quick side note: we went back the other night for dessert and a glass of wine and realized that the bar area had an additional menu (even more reasonably priced) and it seemed to be much easier to get a seat. Just a thought for those of you getting frustrated with hearing “we are all booked for that night”…I was struck with how awesome the decor is. It’s a bit rustic, a bit classy, and a bit homey all mulled into one. I know that makes no sense but trust me, the atmosphere is really spot on.

When it was time to order, we got the sign of approval from our waitress that we had ordered well. It’s a staple of Meyer’s places which is why I shouldn’t be shocked, but our waitress was knowledgable, friendly, and seemed to orchestrate the pace of our meal perfectly. So what did we order? Having never had pig’s feet before, I knew I had to try! Suckling Pig’s Foot with White Beans and Celery. If someone told you that they had a way to combine the best pulled pork with the best fried chicken would you be intrigued? Well, this may not be how Danny Meyer would want me to explain it but wow was this good! Yet despite how much I loved this appetizer, the Fried Artichokes and Anchovy Bread Sauce may have even been better. It was everything I love about french fries and aioli but kicked up about a million notches.

When I had ordered the Olive Oil Poached Halibut for my main dish, the waitress kindly warned me of the texture. She suggested that some people are turned off by the way a slow poached fish comes out. I told her not to worry, but I’m glad she said something. As I was eating this amazingly flavorful fish the thought of the texture was on my mind. Poaching a filet of halibut in olive oil requires an extremely low cooking temperature which means, as the fish cooks the “raw texture” is not so transformed. But trust me, that’s not a bad thing. The delicate fish holds up better than normally and you get to experience all of the true flavor. Our other entrée, a Braised Beef Shank was another example of flawless execution; perfectly cooked, perfectly paired. Our waitress was right, we ordered well.

Somehow we managed to save room for dessert which was once again suggested by our waitress. The special of the night being a take on their normal bread pudding was the perfect end to a great meal. A little rich, a little sweet, the bread pudding was the cherry on top ensuring we would return.

Earlier I mentioned how reasonable the prices are and it really is true. Now don’t get me wrong, this may not be a once a week type of meal (If you can afford to do so, then make this your regular spot as there are too many wastes portraying themselves as great restaurants around) but the real appeal is how flexible the menu seems. We went overboard with the amount of food we ordered and it was still a reasonable bill. And hey, we were celebrating. This is why I can’t wait to go back! So whether you go to eat in the bar, or you are going to try to grab reservations, make sure Maialino is on the top of your list. I’ve been twice and it is still on mine!

Maialino: 2 Lexington Ave, 212-777-2410

What’s your favorite breakfast?

February 16, 2010

We are always being told that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Well which one? There’s the “crap I forgot to eat something” muffin and coffee on the street and the “this stinks but I guess it’s good for me” oatmeal to go. And then there’s even the “I need twenty egg sandwiches and three gatorades immediately” hangover cure (not to be confuzed with the “cheese ommelete and mozzarella sticks. please!” late night hangover prevention). But no matter how you rate the importance of breakfast, nothing beats the “sleeping in” homemade Sunday brunch.

Recently I’ve been taking advantage of a bunch of the great brunch options in NY, but after making this amazing Challah French Toast, I may have to reconsider. This doesn’t mean I’m going to become solely reliant on my own kitchen for great big breakfasts, but it has inspired me to tackle some of the classics (I just have to remember to re-stock on coffee). What really made this french toast so amazing? It was the crust! Many restaurants will add almonds or pecans, and sometimes even corn flakes but I went with what I had. Granola like, kashi cereal added just enough sweetness and a ton of great crunch to this otherwise simple preparation. Fresh strawberries and blueberries added even more flavor to the plate that was just begging for maple syrup or even better, a pile of whipped cream.

Happy Birthday Steve (And Pres Lincoln)

February 12, 2010


The only thing better than long weekends, are long weekends with tons of stuff to do. Although I may be tempted to catch some of the Winter Olympics and maybe even some of the NBA All Star events, I’m most excited to celebrate my older brother’s birthday. Oh yeah, and then there’s Valentines Day. I guess it’s a good thing we have Monday to recover…who knows, maybe I’ll even get some cooking in.

Valentines Day Dessert – If your big into Valentine’s Day, I think there is something to be said for choosing to stay in and getting in the kitchen to prepare a special meal (ideally even together). Most of the restaurants offer rip off price fixed “special” meals that never really meet expectations. But if you already have reservations, skip dessert and try this one at home.

Drink OJ, Get Rewards – Remember the article about how we should stop drinking OJ? Well if you are like me, and think the article is nuts, you probably buy a decent amount of orange juice. Well, Tropicana just began a new rewards program (you may have noticed the newer cartons). Check it out!

Boys have asparagus, girls have avocados – I’d love to know the number of google hits for “aphrodisiac” during the week leading up to Valentines day. This NY Times dining section article is kind of funny and kind of interesting. Spoiler Alert: Despite the title, there seems to be no conclusive “edible viagra”. But it does make an interest point about the visuals and the smells associated with certain foods. Who knew good and plenty mixed with cucumber…

Fish and Chips and Beer

February 11, 2010

I’ve realized I’ve been making a ton of bar food recently. Granted most of my twists on the typical bar foods are more conducive to home cooking, but either way it’s a great excuse for a drink…

“Drinking a little every day is better than drinking a lot on the weekends, and drinking with food is better than drinking without it.”  Michael Pollan

But why is it that we love bar food so much? Well its pretty simple actually (at least in my mind). Most bar food is fried and nostalgic. We can handle nostalgic at home but frying poses all sorts of problems. If your not going to be frying in large quantities purchasing the amount of oil can seem a bit unneccessary. And then theres the clean up. It’s the reason why most of us get our fixes by eating out. But it doesn’t have to be fried to be delicious.

This version of fish and chips turned out so good. Using my new mandoline (another awesome Christmas present), I was able to slice these sweet potatoes thinly enough to get crispy on the outside (baked in the oven) and with a look reminiscent of ruffles. And the fish? It’s the crispy exterior that goes so well with the flaky fish that were used to. So I pan roasted spanish mackerel topped with seasoned panko held on by a homemade honey mustard. The total combination was so good, especially when paired with a nice cold beer.

Who Dat gonna eat this chili?

February 8, 2010

What a game! Honestly, whether you are a football fanatic or not, you had to enjoy last nights Super Bowl victory by the Saints. The NFL has produced some pretty memorable championships as of late and Saints/Colts did not dissapoint. Too bad the commercials stunk…

So what did you chow down on during the game? Pizza, wings, loaded dips, hoagies, chips, and all things fried have become a staple of our Super Sunday and arguably gets people more excited than the game itself. I’ve gone in a bunch of different directions in years past ranging from making everything (wings, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, french fries) all from scratch to ordering delivery straight to the couch. In the first case I didn’t catch a moment of the game, and in the second case I ended up starving as my food arrived just in time to watch David Tyree make the craziest catch of all time. It’s nice to find a balance and get the cooking done in advanced.

This year I made the most amazing chili. Braised short ribs and chicken thighs cooked all day in beer and spices until they were ready to be shredded and mixed with adobo and four different kinds of beans. Coming from a self proclaimed Chili failure, I was shocked how good this turned out. Unfortunately our crowd grew in numbers, and rather than risk the rath of unfed friends, I decided to pack up the chili for the week. (Okay, also it was so good I was reluctant to share). But I’m back in the sharing mood. Post a comment about what your favorite game food is, or thoughts on some of your favorite commercials, if you had any and I’ll send you the recipe card for this amazing Chili!

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