Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I broiled a 2-inch thick, aged Porterhouse from Florence Prime Meats last Monday to celebrate Mabel's taking the ABSITE the previous weekend.

She realized that she couldn't remember the last time we had a steak dinner. I think that's great. It means we're healthy eaters.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sapporo Restaurant

We went to Sapporo last Sunday while on the waiting list for Hagi. They're about 2 doors down from each other.

I'd heard Sapporo was really bad, but it wasn't as bad as I'd expected.

I ordered Shio Ramen. The pork was dry and not very flavorful. The broth was not great, but it was not offensive either. It was missing umami and lacked the harmony of flavors that you get in a bowl of ramen from Setagaya. But it didn't fall flat like Momofuku Noodle Bar's Momofuku Ramen. I think what saved it for me was the noodles. I actually liked the noodles themselves a lot.

Anyway, I'd never go again just to go to Sapporo. But eating their noodles in lieu of waiting in the staircase at Hagi, or outside, is not a bad way to pass the time.

Sapporo Restaurant
152 W 49th St (near 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10019
(212) 869-8972

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hackleback and Stoli Gold

Mabel couldn't make it to the tasting last Wednesday, so it seemed appropriate to redo parts of it at last Sunday's dinner. Experiential excerpts.

We bought some Mississippi hackleback caviar at Fairway.

They have a sensible system for caviar at Fairway. I don't know if they do it like this everywhere, but they should. You order at the appetizing counter, but they don't give it to you. While you're doing the rest of your grocery shopping, they pack it on ice and leave it with the checkout counters. That way it's always ice cold. They should do this for oysters too.

Jen and Soes got us a bottle of Stolichnaya Gold a while ago, and I remembered to put it in the freezer the night before. I'm glad we saved it. This bottle traveled a long way and waited a long time to fulfill its destiny as an accompaniment for caviar. We did well by it.

I made some toast squares and piled the caviar on top. Darra Goldstein convinced me (and I think everyone else at the tasting) that blinis and especially sour cream and creme fraiche defeat the purpose of eating caviar. Plain white toast (in the case of salmon roe, rye toast) is all you need to let it speak for itself.

Mabel loved it as much as I did. We both agreed that this was much better than the "caviar" we bought at a Stop and Shop about 7 years ago. That stuff was at room temperature and in a jar. And it was gross. I'm not sure what it was.

Anyway, back to the hackleback which, by the way, is an awful name. I hope they don't change it because that's probably contributing to it's relative affordability.

I was planning on having us eat only half the 1.75 oz tin, but we ended up eating it all. There's a pattern here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vodka and caviar

Last Wednesday I went to a vodka and caviar tasting at the Williams Club with Mabel's brother Ben.

Darra Goldstein, a Professor of Russian at Williams, led the tasting.

I know a vodka and caviar tasting sounds ridiculous in a way, but I couldn't resist. It turned out to be really a good experience. I have a new appreciation for vodka in particular.

We tasted 5 sustainable caviars.

Clockwise from bottom (6 o'clock):
  1. Whitefish from Glacier National Park
  2. Rainbow Trout from North Carolina
  3. Salmon from Russia
  4. Paddleback sturgeon from Mississippi
  5. Hackleback sturgeon from Mississippi
The sturgeon roe is supposed to be like Sevruga. The hackleback was my favorite.

Darra talked a little about the famous caviars such as Beluga. What I found crazy was that one Beluga sturgeon can produce up to 300 pounds of eggs at a time. At about $200 an ounce it's no wonder why poaching is a problem.

She also mentioned that there's a pressed caviar preparation called paiusmaya which is salty, flavorful, and relatively inexpensive.

The vodka tasting was more interesting than I thought it would be. We drank them "Russian style," meaning an entire freezer-cold shot in one swoop. Here are my rough tasting notes.
  1. Finlandia: Barley. Finland. Continuous distillation.
  2. Chopin: Potato. Polish. No nose. Interesting but strange flavor.
  3. Ketel One: Wheat. Dutch. Peter the Great. Pot stills. Center distilled. Like a Russian vodka. Also a good lemon-infused version.
  4. Stolichnaya Gold: The name means "from the capital." Pepsi imported for the Soviets during the cold war. Darra was asked to promote Stoli as a junior faculty member at Williams in the '80s.
  5. Jewel of Russia: Made of wheat and rye. A classic vodka, Darra's favorite. My favorite from the tasting. It had a nice texture, kind of oily.
  6. Billberry Jewel of Russia: This was a dessert vodka. We had it with chocolate truffles.
The Russian vodkas had a characteristic spicy finish. Chopin was really strange. It didn't smell like anything, and it tasted bizarre. I think I definitely prefer Russian style vodkas. I like that they smell like alcohol and that they have somewhat of a bite.

Darra mentioned that a favorite cure for colds is to put on a scarf, down some pepper-infused vodka, eat buttered black rye bread, and sweat it out in bed. I'll keep that in mind.

At the end of the tasting, they brought out leftover caviar in their tins and plastic containers. For some reason, the Williams Club had absolutely no plastic utensils in the building (let alone mother of pearl spoons), so we ate it with our fingers, passing the different caviars from table to table.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Duck a l'Orange

When we got the chickens last Sunday, we also picked up a Bell & Evans duck on a whim. We've never roasted a whole duck before.

It turns out that Jacques Pepin's Complete Techinques isn't so complete. As in there are no recipes on duck that I could find. Mabel reasoned that maybe Pepin regarded chicken as the Homo erectus of all poultry, the model on which to base all other poultry techniques. I don't know. I wanted a duck-specific recipe.

I turned to Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. It's a really attractive book and fun to read, though I haven't tried many of the recipes yet. Last Tuesday, I settled on making Duck à l'Orange.

It turned out really well. A memorable experience.

I wish I could say the same for the potatoes and bok choy. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

I got "creamy" potatoes at Balducci's. They looked like normal waxy potatoes, but they were weird potatoes, a strange third category potato that I never knew existed. Anyway, my usual roasting method left them with a crusty chewy outside and a strangely hollow inside. They were like those foam rocks they use in the movies, except potatoes.

I usually braise bok choy with chicken stock and then let the chicken stock evaporate. But I had sugar in this chicken stock because I messed up the duck sauce on the first try and thought I'd recycle it to cook the bok choy. Well, instead of reducing nicely it just burned.

But back to the duck. It's difficult to describe coherently because after the meal we were in a stupor. The best I can do here is some free association:

Me: It was filling, but not in my stomach, in my head. It was like the duck was drugged. It was like a ripe fruit in meat form.

Mabel: It's like a constant belly massage. It felt like I was moving through mud. Duck is a magical creature.

We ended up eating the whole thing which apparently is not unusual. A 4 pound duck has less meat on it than you'd think.

It was so satisfying, we didn't care what was on TV later. Clinton, Obama. After eating roast duck it's all the same. It's dangerous. This is ambition-sapping food.

Bell & Evans vs. generic

After ice skating in Central Park last Sunday, Mabel and I went to Whole Foods to pick up chicken for dinner. She wanted to make a Patricia Well's 40 garlic cloves chicken recipe that happened to appear in the Times a few months ago.

I wanted to buy a Bell & Evans chicken. She thought generic would be just fine. So we got both and did a little taste test.

She marked the pieces of chicken with two different types of toothpicks and I was supposed to pick out which was which.

It was impossible to tell the difference between the breast meat, but the thigh meat was definitely different between the two chickens. Now to see which one I preferred. They were different, but I slightly preferred the Bell & Evans chicken. Still, both were very tasty. But I wasn't duped! Or maybe I just got lucky.

Is it worth the premium? I think so, and I think so even if I picked the wrong one. I like the Bell & Evans brand, and I buy into the idea that branding increases your enjoyment of food and drink, in real terms, in certain circumstances. It's scientifically proven, at least for Coke and Pepsi. Here's the actual study.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Artichoke and bone marrow with shallot red wine reduction

Last night I made this bone marrow recipe from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Mabel got it for me for my birthday.

I wanted to see how poaching bone marrow, rather than roasting it, would turn out.

Artichoke and bone marrow with shallot red wine reduction
Modified from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques

2 marrow bones
4 fresh artichokes
red wine

I started two nights ago by breaking open the bones with a hammer.

Mabel thought it would be a good idea to use eye protection. Luckily we had safety goggles in the apartment.

The bones were more difficult to break open than I thought they would be. I mean, I'm using a hammer, you'd think they'd just crack. I initially tried breaking them while frozen, but figured that it might be easier once thawed a bit in the refrigerator, which it was. I think it's important that they're still cold.

I removed the marrow from the bones using a fillet knife, put them in salted cold water, and placed them in the fridge until the next day. I changed the water when I thought to, two or three times. The idea here is to remove the blood. One of the bones was pretty solid and mostly white throughout. The other bone was pretty bloody and had a few thick vessels in it. The soaking didn't really improve the color or texture of the bloody marrow and it didn't seem to affect the white marrow that much. I'm going to skip this step in the future. Also, all marrow is not created equal. The bloodier marrow had a stronger flavor. Definitely not for beginners. The white marrow was milder.

I prepared "artichoke cups" by isolating whole hearts with no petals or stem, and plonked them into a bowl of water with half a squeezed lemon.

I sweated a minced shallot in some butter, added wine, let it reduce, salted to taste, and mounted with butter.

I poached the marrow in water short of a simmer for 5 minutes. I was really paranoid about melting it all, so I took it out before it was done. After slicing up the big piece of marrow it was obvious it wasn't cooked through. I poached the slices for about a minute more, and they were fine.

I think the artichokes took about 15 minutes (in a pot of salted boiling water with half a lemon), but I wasn't sure so I reverted to the toothpick test. I placed the artichokes cup side up, distributed the marrow evenly...

and spooned the sauce all over.

It was delicious. The marrow and artichoke go extremely well together. Whoever first came up with this combination was a genius.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

B flat

Mabel and I made it out to B flat last week on the Friday of errands.

The first time I tried going I noticed that it was right next to Collecive Unconscious where Eve had one of her shows not that long ago. I'd walked right by the bar without knowing what it was. That was interesting, but it was closed. They're closed on Sunday.

The second time I tried going, it was before 8:30 PM, and that particular day they didn't open until 8:30 PM.

Each of those times I ended up at Petrarca--which is just up the street--for a glass of wine.

They've got a fantastic Italian-centric wine list and nice marble bar. The waiters seem fresh from Italy (one of the bartenders said she arrived from Italy the day before although Crystal suspected an Eastern European connection), and it's a nice place albeit a bit conservative and casually aristocratic. I found out that it's the sister restaurant of Arqua which is just across the corner. (Arqua Petrarca is a town in northeastern Italy. Clever.) James says that Arqua has a great risotto.

Anyway, on my third try it was open.

I first heard of B flat from V, of The Fabulous Life of V. It's a basement bar, started by the same people responsible for Angel's Share. Their drinks are great and the bartenders are professionals. I ordered an Old Fashioned that came with a single, large, hand-chiseled, rectangular ice cube. I think Crystal would love the ice cubes at this place.

The jazz and lighting are just right, though the crowd wasn't as interesting as the one you'd find at Angel's Share. But B flat is not nearly as packed, so there's the trade off.

B flat
277 Church St (btn Franklin and White St)
New York, NY 10013

Petrarca Vino E Cucina
34 White St (at Church St)
New York, NY 10013

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Roasted marrow bones

I made some marrow bones as a late night snack last Friday. I couldn't resist.

I just put some olive oil on top (not necessary) and stuck in an oven for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

We ate them with toasted bread, leftover parsley, and salt. Florence Prime Meats sawed the bones so that both ends were open, so instead of scooping out the marrow, we realized that we could cut around it and have the marrow fall out the bottom. When we did this Mabel said it was like it gave birth.

Mark Bittman wrote about roasting marrow bones and published a recipe by Fergus Henderson last October. I don't really remember reading it back then (though I must have), but I'm sure it's been unconsciously contributing to my current obsession.

After a little digging, I also found a 10 year old bone marrow article by Florence Fabricant which was pretty good and informative. She notes that marrow is almost 300 calories an ounce! That sounded pretty crazy until I realized that olive oil is 240 calories an ounce.

Henry Westpfal & Co.

I went to Henry Westpfal & Co. as the first of my errands last Friday.

This is my knife sharpener. I can't say they're the best because I've never taken my knives elsewhere, but they're the best. When you get the knives back they are scary sharp and they hold their edge (with regular steeling) for a while. Using a diamond steel, I lasted about a year. I'm guessing with a normal steel I would have come back in half-a-year.

They had to move recently because their lease expired, and their old store is now a construction site. The new store is at the front entrance of a tool shop, so it was kind of difficult to find, but if you look for the gigantic scissors above the facade you won't miss it.

I was thinking that it's sad that true New York institutions like Westpfal are getting pushed around because someone wants to build a new condo, but I think they'll do just fine. They've been around over a hundred years and don't have that much real competition as far as I can tell. Besides, they've weathered similar moves, like this one in 1990.

Their grinding facility is in New Jersey, and I think they take the bus. I was willing to pay to ship them back to me (a lot of their business is mail order), but they offered to drop the knives off at the apartment (no extra charge) because our place is a short walk from the Port Authority.

Henry Westpfal & Co.
115 W 25th St (btn 6th and 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10010
(212) 563-5990

Amy's Bread, West Village

Since I was in the neighborhood and needed to get some bread for the marrow bones, I dropped by the Amy's Bread in the West Village after Florence.

Amy's Bread, West Village
250 Bleecker St (at Leroy St)
New York, NY 10014

Previous Amy's Bread (Hell's Kitchen) post

Florence Prime Meats

Inspired by the marrow bones from Prune, I set out to get my own bones at Florence Prime Meats last Friday.

They sawed them in half for me and charged $1.75/pound. They were also slicing up a section of bacon, so I got me some of that as well.

Here's a picture of the booty.

I like Florence because they are excellent, high-quality, service-oriented butchers. I once ordered a butterflied leg of lamb from them, and they brought out the aged lamb carcass, hacked off the leg, presented it and asked if that was what I wanted, then de-boned and butterflied it right in front of me. I'd never seen meat butchered with such skill. It made me think that the connotations of the word "butcher" give the butchers at Florence a bad name. They need to come up with a new verb for how the butchers at Florence do their thing.

Similarly, if you order a Porterhouse, they will bring out the entire side of beef, cut and saw off your steak and trim it just right.

In other words, Florence Prime Meats is everyone's fantasy of what the ideal butcher is.

Florence Prime Meats
5 Jones St (near W 4th St)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-6531