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It’s all about the duck! December 12, 2010 3 Comments

That’s what they say on the Peking Duck House website — “It’s all about the duck!”

They also say Peking Duck is “one of the most sophisticated arts of Chinese cooking.”  I never realized the preparation involved in making this duck perfect with juicy meat and crispy skin.  They pump it with air, pour boiling water on it repeatedly, dry it over time, and finally roast it.   Well, they have their system down to a science at Peking Duck House on 28 Mott Street.

Tonight was my first visit there and my belly is FULL.  As my friend Annie likes to say when she eats too much (while holding her protruding stomach), “I have a food baby.”  In this case, we all had a “Peking Duck Baby.”

Folks, this is my new favorite place in Chinatown.  This is where I’m sending all my out-of-towners who ask me where to go.  Sorry Joe’s Shanghai and Amazing 66!  I still love you, but I’m ready for a change.

(Hey, if any of you have a favorite place in Chinatown, please let me know!)

Peking Duck House is your typical Chinese food, but everything was exceptional, fresh and tasty….with the main attraction being the Peking Duck… of course.  Go with a table of four or more and get the Peking Duck Dinner for $27.50 per person (amazing deal).  This comes with soup, appetizers, an entire duck, two or more other entrees of your choice (depending on the size of your group), and a little dessert.  Like I said, I’m full!

Before diving into the food, let’s talk about the space.  Chinatown offers some incredible authentic food finds but often lacks any ambiance.  Peking Duck House is actually quite nice.  No florescent lighting and fake flowers at the table.  It’s a step up, for sure.  This would make a nice date spot, or fun for a group, including family.  The only pet peeve I had were the white cloth napkins that came off on our black clothing.

Back to the food.  To start, you get a choice of hot and sour soup (which is the typical), or the house special duck soup.  This was a nice way to start the meal.  The duck soup was like a chicken-y miso soup with big chunks of soft tofu, duck meat and seaweed.  I highly recommend it.

Then each person gets a plate with three single appetizers: a steamed dumpling, a fried spring roll, and barbecued beef on a stick.  All were tasty, but my entire table agreed after the meal (while looking at all the leftover food on the table) that we could have done without it.

Next up, the main attraction!  The waiter presents the glistening and golden whole duck to the table and then it’s quickly dismantled by a little man with a very tall hat.  He carves and slices that bird with amazing speed and precision.

We’re given lots of warm pancakes, scallions, cucumber, plum sauce and the sliced bird with crispy skin, juicy meat, and just the right amount of fat for flavor.  Making these little duck moo shoo packages is quite fun and very tasty.  I like an activity when it comes to food.

Remember making these little roll-ups with moo shoo pork growing up?  I seem to recall never having enough pancakes and needing to pay extra for more.  My father used to say, “everyone gets ONE pancake.”

Why is that?  Those thin little pancakes are nothing special on their own… why do they covet them so?  Something I’ve always wondered…. Regardless, you’ll have plenty to work with at Peking Duck.   Their pancakes are soft, house made, and there are plenty of them.

After the duck, we’re all full and happy.  But wait!  The two entrees we chose earlier arrive with a big bowl of white fluffy rice.  OY!!!  What do we do?  But it’s so good!  The dishes are salty and sweet and Chinese and addicting… and we can’t stop eating…  ah!!!

My table of four sits in silence, holding our Peking Duck Babies.

To top it all off, we each get our own little deep fried banana and a caramelized walnut.  Also too good to turn away.

So here I am.  midnight.  Full to the brim.  Still tasting that crispy duck perfectly paired with the sweet plum sauce and crunchy cucumbers.  I’m kind of wishing I was the one at the table that said… “oh, ok…  I’ll take the leftovers“.

For my next visit, I’m trying out the “House Special Dinner” for $37.50 per person.  This  includes everything mentioned above but allows for more elaborate entree choices like Lobster with Ginger and Scallions or Whole Steamed Sea Bass.  Next time, I’ll have a light lunch.

Peking Duck House
28 Mott St.
New York, NY, 10013
Phone:(212) 227-1810
www.pekingduckhousenyc.com

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Digging For Steamers August 28, 2010 1 Comment

If you grew up on the east coast, summers were probably spent at the shore–like Fire Island, The Hamptons, Long Beach Island, or Cape Cod.  Chances are, eating steamers at a waterfront seafood shack holds a special place in your heart, reminding you of a simpler time frolicking in the waves, building sand castles and eating Italian ices.

But as grown-ups living the daily grind of New York City, and craving that nostalgic time of beachy bliss in say, Martha’s Vineyard,… well, you’re in luck!   A bunch of smart restaurateurs and steamer loving chefs decided to bring Maine to Manhattan, and steamers are no longer a summer-only trip out of town.  These well-loved but funny looking clams are popping up on menus at fish houses all over the city.

Steamers are soft-shelled clams also known as long necks, fat bellies, piss clams, and Ipswich.  They live off the shore of the Atlantic from Nova Scotia down to North Carolina, but they’re most popular in New England.   Ask any chef how they prepare their steamers and most will say the same thing… simply steamed in a little water.  That’s it.  They’re not like mussels or hard shell clams where garlic, cream, tomato, pork or wine is added.  Steamers are naturally sweet with a subtle ocean flavor.  They should be eaten pure and unadulterated.  Because they live in beds of sand and mud, they need to be “purged” of their sandy insides before cooking.  There are a few tricks out there, but generally, they’re soaked on salt water for hours and eventually the clam will relax and spit out the sand from their protruding siphon.  That’s where steamers get their nickname “piss clams”.

If you’re new to steamers, you just might look at the bucket in front of you, filled with odd-looking clams and think “what did I just get myself into?”  Rest assured, here’s a how-to guide to steamer satisfaction:

  1. Carefully peel open the soft and brittle shell, which is partly open due to the overhanging siphon or “neck”.
  2. Take hold of the siphon and slowly peel the entire clam off the shell, and then shuck the inedible gritty black membrane that’s stretched over the siphon.
  3. Dunk the entire clam in the hot clam broth to clean off any sand that might remain. This broth is created by the clams when they’re steamed open.
  4. The best part! dip the clam in hot melted butter.  Let it run down your arm and get messy, or dab the buttery clam on your plate.  Eat the entire clam – the soft belly, neck and all!
  5. When your bucket is empty, try drinking a little of the clam broth. Any sand has sunk to the bottom of the bowl.  This is a delicious way to end the steamer experience.  Don’t be afraid.  This what the pros do.


Here’s where to get steamers in the city:


Known as the NYC “Fish Shack Pioneer,” Rebecca Charles opened Pearl Oyster Bar in 1997, which is now double the size due to its huge popularity.  A strict first-come-first-serve policy warrants a hungry crowd on Cornelia Street nightly.  Pearl is known for their famous lobster roll with buttery bun and shoestring fries.  Other Pearl classics include fried oysters with homemade tarter sauce and daily fish specials written on the blackboard.  The casual and cozy space has a white marble dining bar, which is more accessible for chatting with Rebecca while slurping your steamers.  “It’s a skill.  You have to go through the ritual of eating steamers”, says Rebecca, who grew up eating them in Maine, and refers to the gritty membrane that needs to be removed as “the dirty sock”.  Pearl Oyster Bar gets their steamers from Long Island and Maine, and serves them all year long.  They purge the clams in a few cups of cornmeal to get the clams to spit out the sand, which they say does the trick.  Often they come across visitors who need instructions, but the staff will get a live clam from the kitchen to show customers what they look like before cooking them.   “A lot of people don’t know what to do with them,” says Rebecca.  “Once someone actually sent them back to the kitchen because they were sandy.  He ate the dirty sock.”

Small bucket = $12.00 (about 12 clams), Large bucket = $22.00 (about 20 clams)

Pearl Oyster Bar, 18 Cornelia Street 212-691-8211 www.pearloysterbar.com

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“I have a deep nostalgic connection to steamers, more so than any other shell fish” says Executive Chef, Laurence Edelman of Mermaid Oyster Bar.  This laid back white washed long narrow space is sibling to The Mermaid Inns (East Village and Upper West Side). The New England spot plays a rockin’ soundtrack perfect for a night out with friends eating Lobster Fra Diavolo or Fried Oyster Po’ Boys with pico de gallo and remoulade.   Try one of their signature cocktails like the Mermaid Mary – picture a bloody mary, then add old bay and stout beer!

Mermaid Oyster Bar serves fresh local steamers daily, year round.  Laurence says, “They come from the Great South Bay in Long Island.  They’re purged in the morning and at the restaurant in the afternoon.”  Order them with their signature Old Bay fries and you won’t leave disappointed.   Mermaid Oyster Bar also has an extensive selection of oysters from the East and the West coasts.  For fun, check out their “oyster university” link on their website to learn about their 16 varieties.

Small Steamers = $12.00

Mermaid Oyster Bar, 79 MacDougal Street New York, NY 10012 212-260-0100 www.themermaidnyc.com

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Pearl Oyster Bar partner, Mary Redding, ventured on her own in 2000 to open Mary’s Fish Camp in the West Village, and in 2005 added Brooklyn Fish Camp to her southern-style fish shack dynasty.  Both locations share the same shack-by-the-sea menu offering three to four catch-of-the-day whole fishes grilled with herbs or fried, but it’s the lobster roll that draws the crowd to both locations. Mary’s can have a 45-minute wait for table, so if you’re looking for some elbowroom and breathing space, try Brooklyn Fish Camp’s outdoor garden.

“Every summer my family would drive up from Miami, and we would camp in my relatives backyard in Cooperstown, NY (living the life of the rich and famous from early on!).  I have no idea how or where my relatives would get pounds and pounds of live steamers but they were delicious.  They would fire up huge pots in their backyard and serve them on picnic tables.  That is when I first had and loved steamers.”

Both restaurants get in about 30 lbs of Canadian steamers daily.  After they’re purged, 15 lbs are served simply steamed with broth and butter, and the remaining 15 lbs are hand shucked and served as Fried Clams or Fried Clam Roll with Fish Camp Tartar Sauce served with celery root slaw.

Check out Mary’s quick instructional video for eating steamers at www.brooklynfishcamp.com/howto.html

Small Steamers  =  $14.00

Mary’s Fish Camp, 64 Charles Street (at the Corner of 4th Street), New York, NY 10014 646.486.2185 www.marysfishcamp.com
Brooklyn Fish Camp, 162 Fifth Avenue (Park Slope) Brooklyn, NY 11217   718.783.3264  www.brooklynfishcamp.com

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Chesapeake inspired Choptank, named after the Choptank River in Maryland, is the newest seafood shack on the scene.  The restaurant opened January 2010 in the former Bar Q space on Bleeker Street.  The décor is kitschy yet cool with old postcards on the walls and burlap nets covering the light fixtures. This classy sea shack takes reservations and has a beautiful outdoor garden dining space. Using Old Bay seasoning liberally, serving authentic Maryland jumbo lump crab cakes and fried chicken with black pepper honey and collard greens…this is southern comfort with a nostalgic twist. Chef Mathew Schaefer grew up in Minnesota but was always a “fish kid” since he spent his summers in Sweden. The Gold Coast Steamers with melted butter are served all year long.  “They’re purged in sea water tanks for 72 hours, and they’re almost 100% clean,” says Matthew; whose purveyor handpicks the steamers so they’re “not too small, not too big.”  To wash down the steamers, Choptank carries an interesting draught beer selection like Maryland’s Flying Dog Snake Dog India Pale Ale.

Steamers = $14.00

Choptank, 308 Bleeker Street New York, NY 10014 212-675-2009 www.choptanknyc.comChoptank on Urbanspoon


Ed’s Lobster Bar offers a unique spin on New England seafood and carries all the typical seafood shack favorites. Chef and owner, Ed McFarland is the former Sous Chef of Pearl Oyster Bar and opened Ed’s Lobster Bar in 2007, and offers lobster in every way imaginable. The small casual space has a long 29-seat white marble dining which runs the length of the narrow restaurant. There are a dozen tables in the back, but sitting at the bar is so much more fun. Watch the oyster shucking show, or the making of a blueberry gin gimlet (made with blueberry infused Tanquerey). Talk with your neighbors and ask how they like their lobster pot pie?   Just like the food at Ed’s Lobster Bar, the atmosphere is clean, unpretentious and charming. Get there on the early side to avoid waiting for seats, but no matter what…it’s worth it.

“Steamers are served all year long, both steamed and fried and the trick is to not overcook them,” says Ed.  “I serve them because they are delicious and sweet. They’re a perfect item to have on my menu; it just fits the concept.”   Ed’s friendly staff is trained to help those ordering steamers for the first time.  “My staff will explain what they are and how to eat them.  If someone’s eating them improperly, we’ll explain how to clean and eat them, which is very important.”

Large Bucket = $20.00

Ed’s Lobster Bar, 222 Lafayette Street  (between Broome & Spring) New York, NY 10012 212-343-3236 www.lobsterbarnyc.com

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BLT Fish Shack is the casual sidekick to the elegant BLT Fish located upstairs.  This large relaxed fish shack seats 45 and includes old-fashioned wooden booths.  The nautical décor fits the New England style fish shack menu that includes snack bar picks like fish and chips and clam chowder, but not often do we find periwinkles and whelks! Remember, this is a Laurent Tourondel restaurant, so the Peel N’ Eat Shrimp come with cloth napkins.  The bar offers thickly cut salt & vinegar potato chips to go with the cold local beers available, and parents will appreciate the kid-friendly options like fish sticks and ice cream.

Chef Emilie Bousquet grew up in Massachusetts and ate steamers on a regular basis.  Her mother taught her how to eat steamers by dabbing the broth directly on the newspaper covering the table.  BLT Fish Shack honors the chef’s roots by getting their steamers brought in from New England once a week.  “I find the steamers from New England to be sweeter because they’re smaller,” says Emilie.  BLT Fish Shack has steamers on Thursday nights only, which has become a very popular night filled with regulars who like to satisfy their steamer fix.

Steamer Entree with French Fries = $22.00

BLT Fish Shack, 21 W. 17th Street New York, NY 10011 212-691-8888  www.bltfish.com/shack
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Meatball Madness July 25, 2010 7 Comments

If someone asked me “what are you in the mood to eat tonight?”

Never in a million years would I say “meatballs.”

I wouldn’t turn a meatball away if it were in front of me, but I certainly wouldn’t seek them out.  Usually they’re dry, covered in red sauce, over spaghetti or as a hero.  It’s just not my thing.

But when discussing what to do on a Saturday night with my friend Gail, and she suggests The Meatball Shop, and I’m thinking,– it’s Saturday night Gail! I want wine, fun atmosphere, good conversation and yummy food. The Meatball Shop doesn’t sound like it would give me that experience.  Before I responded out loud, Gail says, “look it up online right now, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Whoa!  How did I not know about this sooner?  Seems that The Meatball Shop is quite the craze on the Lower East Side, and patrons wait outside 1.5 hrs for a table in this tiny cramped space.  Great reviews all around.  They must be magical meatballs.  LETS GO!

After an hour and 50-minute wait, and two lovely Pimm’s Cups from Schiller’s Liquor Bar, we were seated at the end of a long communal table.  It’s a charming little space with subway tiles, bare brick, recycled wood, vintage New York photos, and an open kitchen.

Our outgoing and lovable waitress gave us felt pens and laminated menus to mark up using their easy check-off system, like an á la carte sushi menu:

1)    Choose your meatball: classic beef, spicy pork, chicken, vegetable or special ball of the day

2)    Choose your sauce: classic tomato, spicy meat, mushroom gravy or Parmesan cream

3)    Choose your container, or lack there of:  individual meatball slider, on a baguette, on a brioche bun, in a bowl with a piece of focaccia on the side, or on top of any of the sides that interest you.

4)    If you go with a sandwich, choose your cheese: mozzarella or provolone

What a brilliant idea!  We were all loving this little game of pick and choose exactly what you want.   The sides ranged from polenta, Tuscan white beans and risotto to a wide variety of veggies (which made my table very happy).  We loved their simple salad of arugula and apples.  It was light and refreshing, paired beautifully with their meatballs, which by the way, are all locally sourced and high quality. (See list of sources below)

I ordered a dish called “Everything but the Kitchen Sink.”

Sounds gluttonous, right?   Au contraire!

There are three meatballs with a light layer of sauce, on top of the chef’s selection of healthy market vegetables.  I had the chicken balls that were so juicy and flavorful that they could have been pork and I wouldn’t have known the difference.  I chose the mushroom gravy that’s prepared with chicken stock, white wine, herbs, and a little butter.  All of that goodness on top of roasted beets, sautéed broccoli, steamed spinach, and the simple salad…  all for a whopping $8.00!!!!

Yup!  Is this a deal or what?

Gail loved her vegetarian meatball hero with spicy meat sauce and provolone.  To me, it tasted like a really good eggplant Parmesan hero.  My other friend, Beth, had the Kitchen Sink with vegetarian balls and red sauce.  As the casting director for “Chopped”, I’ve witnessed Beth’s eating-out-expectations increase over the years.  However, she cleaned the sink and said repeatedly in a surprised tone, “I’m REALLY loving this!”

Add on a few glasses of wine and perhaps the table shares a starchy side or two, and the bill is just $25 bucks each.  Unheard of for a delicious sit-down dinner in NYC.  And to top it all off, they make homemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert.  We were all too stuffed to try them, but they look phenomenal, and apparently the salted caramel ice cream is up to par with Otto’s.

The only drawback is the loud and cramped space.   The blaring classic rock only intensified the bustling energy.  But considering the great price, and great food, this is still a gem.  I would not come here with parents or on dates one through four,  it’s a little hard to have a conversation.  But with a plate of juicy meatballs in front of you… who really cares about talking anyway?

Meatball servings range from one slider for $3,  four on a plate for $7, three in a hero for $9, and side dishes are up to $4 each.

The Meatball Shop’s Locally Sourced Ingredients:
Beef: Creekstone Farm
Poultry: Bell and Evans
Pork: Heritage Foods
Eggs: Feather Ridge Farms
Dairy: Seven Stars Farm
Proscuitto: La Quercia
Mozzarella: Calabro
Produce: J. Glebocki Farm / Sheldon Farms

The Meatball Shop
84 Stanton Street at Allen Street
www.themeatballshop.com

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Lobster Claws May 16, 2010 7 Comments

The sun is shining in New York City!  Finally we’re able to enjoy a meal sitting outside.  Hooray!

However, when the sun disappears behind a cloud, it’s still pretty chilly.  For those ten minutes, we’re reaching for our sweaters and thinking, “this was a mistake.  It’s not warm enough to eat outside,” but wait, then the sun comes back out again… warmth, joy!

Today I walked past Blue Water Grill’s outdoor dining veranda.  This large seafood establishment on Union Square is the perfect place to sit outside during this unpredictable weather.  I felt immediate envy for those diners sitting outside on the single lane elevated veranda with the giant glowing heat lamps, keeping them warm even when the sun hides.   It’s the optimum spot for people watching since the veranda is enclosed with a protective ornate black wrought iron fence.  And since passersby are forced to look up slightly from street level, the diners look like celebrities eating their oysters, pretty salads and summer on a plate.

I started thinking about the last time I went to Blue Water Grill and let out a little chuckle.  It was yet another first date, and decided to share it here, because it’s just too good to keep to myself.

A little background for those who don’t know me personally, and I’m just coming right out and saying it – – - I’m an expert lobster eater.

If there was a lobster eating contest…  and the contestants needed to eat every morsel of meat from their crustacean, leaving just pile of clean shells…I would win.    And in case you’re wondering, yes…I even eat the “green stuff.”

Think about the moment you crack a lobster claw.  You’re holding a metal cracker with very messy slippery hands, struggling, and then you manage to get a great big hunk of sweet lobster meat to dunk into hot drawn butter.  Or perhaps you’re lucky enough to pull out the entire claw!  Oh, the achievement!   To me, this is success.  And eating it is heaven. I guess you can say I’m the gal that likes to work for her food.  In my opinion, it just tastes better that way.

When it comes to lobster…I’m a purist.  I want to taste the ocean when I eat it.  I like it simply steamed, or not at all.

In the pre-date planning phase with this blind date, I was very pleased that he asked me to name my top three favorite cuisines so he can choose a restaurant for our date.  (Side note to the men out there – this is a great thing to do!  It helps guide you to make a good choice, instead of saying “I don’t care, where do you want to go?” Women want to be taken out, and we want you to put some thought into it.)

Japanese, Italian and Seafood,” I told him.   He chose Blue Water Grill and I was delighted.  It’s a nice first date place because it’s large enough to have a private conversation and you won’t be rushed out quickly.   Sitting on the veranda is the way to go, but sadly it was off-season, so we sat on the main floor, which felt stuffy and conservative.   I consider this space more appropriate for a business meal or family in town, but downstairs has live jazz, which is wonderful for a non-talking meal.   All things considered, keep this place on your list for dates.

Okay, back to the date.  I don’t know why this keeps happening to me, but he’s ready to order before either of us opens our menu (see ChickenParm).

He abruptly announces to the waitress, a little too loud I might say, “I’ll have a four pound lobster,”

(me: oh my!  I think I like him… a lot)

“but I want all of the meat taken out”

(me: oh no!)

“ and then I want the chef to cover it with breadcrumbs.”

(me: you have got to be kidding me!!!)

Normally I would say I needed more time to look at the menu, but at this point I didn’t want to prolong the evening further.  I’d seen enough.  From memory, I ordered my Blue Water Grill standby – Ginger-Soy Lacquered Chilean Sea Bass.  It’s always a winner.  I’ve had this dish at least five times and always enjoy the salty Asian flavor with perfectly-cooked buttery fish.

“So, tell me about the breadcrumbs,” I ask, and he says in a VERY condescending tone “haven’t you ever heard of Oreganatta?” (end of story)

Look, I don’t expect everyone to eat and enjoy food the exact way I do.  I like talking about food with others and understanding their choices.  If my date told me about a food memory he had in Italy where they doused the lobster with breadcrumbs and he loved it, and he’s been trying to recreate it, then I would truly enjoy that conversation.  But he was not interested in food.  He wanted the meat out of the shell so it was easy to eat, and he wanted to disguise the flavor of the sea with carbohydrates.

Needless to say, we were not meant for each other.  It wasn’t just the food disconnection; we had little in common.  I was fascinated that he only ate the tail meat, and didn’t touch anything else on his plate or anything resembling a vegetable.  He even left the two giant shell-less meaty claws sitting on his plate.  I could feel them staring at me while I finished my own meal, and I could have sworn I heard them whispering to me in a tiny little lobster voice “take us home! take us home!

So I did. (end of story)

Blue Water Grill
31 Union Square West at 16th Street
http://www.brguestrestaurants.com

Photos © www.flickr.com/photos/tinybanquet

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Meet a Brit at The Breslin April 3, 2010 6 Comments

Stilton, Scrumpets and Crisps. Oh My!

The Breslin is attached to the oh so hip Ace hotel.  This is nice, because you can choose to have cocktails in the hotel lounge where there are couches and such.  But the past three times I went to this lounge, no dice finding a seat.   And this space is not a good standing space.  Everyone sitting on their comfy sofas, are pretending it’s their personal living room,  people watching, and judging those NOT in seats..   I think I’ll pass.

The second option is to go to the bar at The Breslin…. Much preferred! Let me sit at a bar and drink my slightly dirty martini in peace without feeling those judging hipster-wannabe eyes on me.

A few things to know about The Breslin before you go:

1) The cocktails are great, but expensive (at least $12 a pop, my dirty martini was a whopping $15)

2) Only go if you’re a carnivore that likes to experiment

3) You’ll actually want to go to the gym the next day

The Breslin Bar has phenomenal bar snacks!  My friend Tracy went straight for the Beef & Stilton Pie…  a tiny little meaty cheesy pie that’s literally four bites of happiness.  She ordered another.

A personal warning that the “spiced almonds” should be called “spicy almonds”.  A British guy at the bar, talking it up with Tracy, thought I should have known better since it was “spiced”.   But I’m sorry; there is a difference between spiced and spicy.   This Brit was cute, but thought putting me down was supposed to be funny.  When I asked him to repeat something I couldn’t hear, he asked if I was deaf.  Is that funny or what?

Other snacks come in adorable travel friendly packages.  The pork scratchings brought me back to my Atkins Diet days.  I forgot how good light and crispy fried pork skin could be, and the Malt Vinegar and Sea Salt Crisps were addictive.

After enduring another four or five insults from “The Brit”, he asked to take me to dinner sometime.  I was absolutely  dumbfounded.  Maybe I just need to learn how to play tougher in the schoolyard and finesse my sarcasm skills?  OK, bring it on Mr. Brit.  I consider it a challenge!

Dinner was great.  Get the famous lamb burger with the thrice-cooked chips.  After just two bites of this juicy burger I announced to the table, “I’m coming back to get this again!”

It was cooked beautifully medium rare and the combination of special sauce and meat-to-bun ratio was PERFECT.  I highly recommend it.

The thrice-cooked chips (aka french fries) kind of astounded me.  They were super crispy on the outside, yet soft and mashed potato-like on the inside.

My take on the Breslin -

The bar is a great place to  have a drink with a friend, or meet new friends.  The dinner menu is extremely limited if you want to eat healthy or on a budget.  I truly hope the menu changes with time.  The Breslin has a fabulously sexy and fun atmosphere ideal for dates and group dinners.  Sadly, the food is not for everyone.   I like to think I’m an experimental foodie, but I would never order the Stuffed Pig’s Foot or Fried Head Cheese with Sauce Gribiche.

Oh!  I almost forgot to mention the suckling pig dinner at the chef’s table.  Great idea.  It’s $65 per person for a real feast next to the open kitchen.  I watched ten Asian men devour an entire pig and lots of sides (see photo below).  Should I have asked to be their geisha girl for the evening?


The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
16 West 29th Street

http://www.thebreslin.com/


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Shameless Nepotism February 6, 2010 9 Comments

My name is Lauren, and I’m an emotional eater.

Food comforts me.  But doesn’t it comfort everyone?  So, are we all emotional eaters?

I grew up with a family full of foodies, which explains why I turned out the way I did.

My father has a baking business called “Dan’s Homemade.”  He operates out of his home kitchen and bakes just for the fun of it (plus he makes a killer carrot cake).   Maybe he does it because his wife of 25+ years is a sugar junkie?  She would hate that I’m telling the world this because she’s a yoga teacher and is supposed to be “healthy” in every possible way.  But I’ve never seen anyone enjoy candy the way she does.  (Don’t hate me, Nancy)

My mother is completely obsessed with food. I don’t even know where to begin with her.  She’s the one that really taught me how to cook and thoroughly enjoy my food.  But she’s also infamous for chewing chicken bones, and then spitting them out on her plate in a neat pile.  (Don’t hate me, Mom)

But it’s my brother, Drew, who really made food his life.   We were all surprised when he announced that he was going to the Culinary Institute of America.  He was a skinny string bean of a kid, who just didn’t eat like we did.  But his job as a teenage pizza dough twirler at a NYC joint got him hooked.  He started making pizza at home, and then off to CIA.   He then managed to work in some crazy impressive kitchens like La Grenouille and Fleur de Lac in Switzerland.  Needless to say…  we were all thrilled to have a classically trained living-breathing chef in the family.  When we thought it couldn’t get any better, he fell in love with his kitchen-mate at the Four Seasons Hotel in NY.  He and Rosemary married, and their individual careers flourished to great heights including stints at Lespinasse and Le Bernardin.

The culinary couple moved to NJ, had twin daughters, and opened their own catering company and gourmet food store.  The Fruited Plain, located in Pine Brook, has been in business for seven years now and is a complete labor of love.  They pour their heart and souls into their food.  For Christmas this year, I asked for a freezer full of The Fruited Plain, and I got my wish.  It’s really all that I wanted – Portuguese Fish Stew, Escarole White Bean Soup and Osso Buco…yum!  Who needs more “stuff” when you can have the gift of homemade food?

So why am I writing about my family and the Fruited Plain?  Because I am the official PR agent for The Fruited Plain and today I took on the task to write a press release for them.   They have some new and exciting developments that the world needs to know about:  they have a second location, new menus and now offer dinner delivery – which is a pretty big deal for Montville Township, which has been limited to pizza and Chinese.   But in preparing for their press release, I sit and think about comfort food.   Let’s face it, that’s what people want these days.  Americans are stressed with their daily lives and seek the comfort of familiar foods that reminds them of a time when things were simple and easy.  Oh, to be a child again.

Looking at the menus of The Fruited Plain, I realize that comfort food is really what they cook: Old Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, Mom’s Turkey Meatloaf with Country Gravy, Pasticcio and Pulled Pork Burritos.   Of course “comfort food” means something different for everyone and it’s all rooted in their childhoods.  Rosemary’s comfort food is chicken potpie.  Her mother made it for her birthday every year in the middle of summer.  My father goes for meatloaf.  Nancy tackles a box of chocolate or coconut patties.  My brother and I both have the same answer — our mother’s baked artichokes.  As kids, we used to race to see who could get to the heart first.  We also both love slow roasted dark meat chicken, but unlike Mom, we throw out the bones!

I’m always curious to know what people like to eat.  I think I can get a glimpse into their soul by learning what foods comfort them when they’re cold or sad or stressed.

In my dating escapades, it’s usually a great discussion to have with someone –  “What’s your ultimate comfort food?” – because essentially there’s a story or reason behind their answer.  I remember hearing about Herbal Tea Guy (see Extra Comfy) and why he goes to Shrimp in Lobster Sauce whenever he’s blue.  He told me about his cold and neurotic family environment, but every Sunday night they brought in Chinese food and ate as a family, while pretending to get along.

And as I write this, the smell of warm and spicy chicken curry simmering in my slow cooker fills up every inch of my little studio apartment, and it feels like home.   And suddenly I’m remembering my fraternal grandmother, aka “Grammy” making us a big ol’ meatloaf in this very apartment 25 years ago.  And to our surprise finding a hard-boiled egg in the center.  She did it every time.  It was her signature dish and I loved her for that.  It also explains why my father loves meatloaf!!!

What comfort food will my nieces Jenna and Alena relate to when they’re thirty something?   I look forward to asking them in 25 years.

“Food is the most primitive form of comfort” - Sheilah Graham


The Fruited Plain Fine Foods & Catering
48 Stiles Lane
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
973-808-8862

www.thefruitedplain.com

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Extra Comfy December 6, 2009 1 Comment

Barbutologo

As I’ve grown older, I noticed that I now  stay friends with my ex-boyfriends.

That certainly did not happen in my 20s.

I figure, if I like this person enough to go on 10, 20, 30 dates with, then it’s worth keeping the friendship. Being single in my late 30s, I’ve learned

that there aren’t A LOT of people I connect with and want to share a meal with.

Those days of dating just to get a free meal are long gone. My time is too precious to waste on small talk and verbal resumes. The food doesn’t taste as good when you’re asked, “So what type of music do you like?”

Recently, I had dinner at Barbuto with my most recent ex. I like to call him “Herbal Tea Guy” because we met for tea on our first date, and it just stuck.  He also happens to drink a lot of herbal tea.

Barbuto is a wonderful restaurant owned by chef Jonathan Waxman.  I fell in love with him from watching Top Chef Masters and had to experience his food for real.  Jonathan comes off as the ultimate mensch you want cooking for you.  He has warmth and kindness, and so does the atmosphere at Barbuto.  It’s sophisticated yet comfy. The wood-burning brick oven adds to that warmth and brings a nostalgic smell of home for me.  My mother is a great cook and I have fond memories of her slow-roasted chicken that made our home smell wonderful.

I dated Herbal Tea Guy on and off for about 3 years.  We loved spending time together, so we both naturally tried hard to ignore that we were wrong for each other.  Happily, we’re now at a place where we can be ourselves with each other, as friends, and there’s a comfort in that.  However, this dinner made me think that perhaps our comfort, may be ‘too close for comfort’!

We were having a little food orgy at Barbuto:  crunchy bruschetta with white beans, garlic and herbs.  A beautiful beet salad with ricotta salata.  A savory soup with pork belly, onions and melted parmesan.  Skirt steak with sweet onion relish and perfectly roasted brussels sprouts –  all delicious, rustic, and satisfying.  We were making all sorts of yummy noises enjoying the food, and then I notice Herbal Tea Guy nonchalantly unbuttoning his pants, as if he was alone in his apartment.

I said “What are you doing?” and he responded with a confused,  “What? No one’s looking.”  Did he actually think he wasn’t doing anything wrong?

Another tiny reminder that he’s my ex, and it should stay that way.

But then again, I was the one who devoured a gigantic dessert on my own, without caring what Herbal Tea Guy thought.

There are a lot of nice things about dining with an ex –  overindulgence, comfortable silence, unabashed yummy noises, and the ability to unbutton your pants so you can eat some more.

I recommend Barbuto for anyone: singles, dates, business, family in town.  We loved everything we ordered, but couldn’t help notice the roasted chicken everyone was ordering around us.  We both gasped, “What is THAT!!” as it passed by us the first time.  It’s an entire half chicken, lightly browned, glistening and shiny, like a cartoon roast chicken that makes Wile E. Coyote’s mouth water.  Little did I know, this is the house specialty, “Pollo al forno.”  I’ll order it next time, and I’ll bring my mother to thank her for all the roast chicken dinners she’s made for me.


Barbuto
775 Washington Street (at West 12th)

www.barbutonyc.com

Polla al forna

Polla al forna

Barbuto on Urbanspoon

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ChickenParm! November 17, 2009 6 Comments

 

The story you’re about to read is TRUE.

I was fixed up on a blind date by a friend of a friend.  She insisted I have dinner with her childhood friend who supposedly looks like Andre Agassi.  On paper, he was a catch…successful, sweet, funny, nice apartment in the West Village…you get the picture.

Setting up the date is often very telling.  Since I’m a food fanatic, I tend to judge harshly by the restaurant choices for first dates.   For example, if a guy asks me to meet him at a Cosi, it’s a very bad sign.  (I wish I listened to my gut on that one.  I’ll never get that hour and a half back.)

For this blind date, “Andre” wanted to go to Arturo’s.

Hmm…interesting…I like it.  Dark, old New York, classic Italian, free jazz.  Oh, and pizza!  Holy crap, I think I’m about to meet my future husband!

We meet.

“Andre Agassi” ended up looking like a miniature version of the real deal.  He was about half the size of me, tall and wide (and I’m not that wide).  He was socially awkward or just extremely nervous.  I felt like I was having dinner with a bald 12 year old.  Okay, let’s get this dinner over with.

The waitress arrives at our table before we open our menu, and Andre says abruptly, “I’ll have the ChickenParm.” Just like that.  “ChickenParm” blurted out as fast as possible as though one word.  I’m a little annoyed because I don’t know what I’m having yet.  “Is that what you always get when you come here?” I asked.

Here it comes…. brace yourself.

He says, “I’ve never had the ChickenParm here, but it’s the only thing I ever order.”

Um, excuse me?  What do you mean the only thing you ever order?

“That’s right,” he says, “I love ChickenParm, and I eat it every night.  I order it in restaurants, takeout, have it delivered, it’s even offered as a frozen meal in the supermarket, so I have a lot of options.”

A lot of options?  I’m completely baffled and speechless.  After further drilling, I learn that he only chooses restaurants that serve ChickenParm, and if he MUST go elsewhere, he’ll eat a steak.

I look for the hidden cameras, because this has to be a joke.  Were my friends hiding in the bathroom?

In the end, I spend the entire meal trying to understand his food choices (or lack thereof) while I endure my intense food envy…that ChickenParm looked damn good!   It was cheesy and greasy and sinful.  But here I am again.  Another blind date ends with a full stomach and a bizarre story to tell my foodie friends.

Arturo’s is a good first date place, but best to avoid Friday and Saturday nights, which are very crowded.  Also, go with a large group of friends and share a few coal oven pizzas.  Oh, and the ChickenParm looked good too.

Arturo’s
106 W. Houston Street
(corner of Thompson)

Arturo's on Urbanspoon

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Noodling on a Friday night October 30, 2009 7 Comments

noodle

…and there is NOTHING like the Momofuko Ramen at Momofuko Noodle Bar!

I dream about this bowl of salty pork laden goodness.  It’s a rich ramen, and I don’t know how the noodles are so flavorful.  Usually it’s the soup that brings all the yumminess.

It’s true what you’ve heard about this place…it’s small, crowded and loud.   But just like New York City, it has unexpected surprises and flavor beyond belief.  The food is amazing and worth waiting for a seat.  But what makes it extra special is its communal seating.   Tonight I was with two girlfriends, and we were happily and conveniently seated with three adorable guys at a table for six.  We chatted, shared food, raised our glasses of sake and beer and had a fun unexpected meal with nice strangers.  They were clearly not our type…but so what?  They let me taste their smoked chicken wings and pear salad!!  And if you want to be my friend, just let me taste your food.  I’ll be your friend forever.

Okay, back to the ramen.  It has hunks of pork belly, pork shoulder, a perfectly poached egg and large crisp pieces of nori that will eventually melt into the salty soup.  After you stir it up, letting the egg blend into the broth, use your chopsticks and spoon to creatively eat it.  I noticed everyone has a different technique.  The dainty way: use chopsticks to place the noodles into your spoon with a little pork and soup and try to get it all into your mouth without dripping.  My way: eat noodles like a messy Italian (no twirling into your spoon), and then eat the pork pieces and soup from the spoon.  I may have been more self-conscious eating this if I was on a date, but I do not recommend Momofuko Noodle Bar for date # 1 through date #5.  It’s best for friend dates, singles and those eating alone.  Go in with an open attitude and talk to your fellow diners.  Maybe they’ll let you have one of their steamed buns.

The young men at my table were very generous and fun.  Like I said, no love connection.  Maybe it was that one guy wore a long gold chain with a skull, and another tattooed his grandparents’ faces to his arm.

Eh, call me picky.


Momofuko Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue
(Between 10th & 11t)
www.momofuko.com

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

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