BSK announced she was going to make “garbage soup.” “What’s this?,” thought suspicious HG. “An homage to the Manson family?” BSK emptied the refrigerator and vegetable larder: broccoli (raw and cooked); zucchini; onions (raw and cooked); string beans; tomatoes; mache; romaine, spinach,kale. BSK sauteed some garlic with olive oil in a big stockpot. In went all the vegetables plus chicken broth. Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper (actually, a great deal of cayenne). Simmered for a long time and then pureed. BSK served it with a bit of Greek yogurt. Sublime. Healthy. Spicy. Economical. And, the perfect antidote for winter chills. All it needs is a better name. Let’s just call it Beautiful Soup. (BSK called to HG’s attention the Lewis Caroll poem,”Soup of the Evening.” It begins: “Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening,Beautiful Soup.”)
In HG’s recent post, “Anti-Clerical Pasta,” HG ventured that the pasta shape, “strozzapreti” (Priest Strangler) was linked (especially in the Italian province of Romagna) to the reluctance of farmers to pay land rent to the Church. HG’s principal source was Wikipedia which stated: “Wives would customarily make the pasta (strozzapreti) for churchmen as partial payment for rent (in Romagna). Husbands would be so angered by venal priests stuffing their mouths with their wives’ food they would wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouths with it.” (HG’s mom’s sentiment concerning rent paid to Bronx landlords). Well, controversy has erupted. Daughter Lesley, authoritative in all things Italian, questions this legend: “Traditional image of priests as gluttons is central in Italian imagination. Stems from fat, well fed priests in a landscape of starving peasants. Never heard it linked with rent.” Son-in-law Profesore R. casts further doubt on the Romagna legend. Il Profesore traces the phrase to 17th century Neapolitan dialect: “strangula previti.” And this, he states has its origin from a Greek phrase meaning “round.” HG bows to the judgment of these authorities on the phrase’s origins. HG holds to his opinion that it’s mighty tasty with the appropriate meat based sauce.
Sauerkraut isn’t used enough, in HG’s opinion. Most folks only eat it when it’s on top of a ball park hot dog. That acid, briny, sour stuff is okay on top of the frank. But, that’s not the whole kraut story. It’s the ideal companion of pork chops, pork roasts, kielbasa and every type of sausage (especially knockwurst and weisswurst). But, do sauerkraut the BSK way. BSK washes the brine off the kraut (Bubbie’s is a good brand but most canned kraut will work) and cooks it with white wine, sliced onions, slices of apple and a splash of olive oil. Some caraway seeds if they’re in the pantry. Not essential. Flank the kraut with pork chops (Trader Joe has the best), boiled or home fried potatoes. Hot mustard and Bubbie’s pickles on the table. Beer. Winter comfort food…and if the weather reports are right, you New Yorkers and Northeasterners need plenty of comfort.
HG, the eternal romantic, and BSK will be off to Paris soon. Reason for the trip, according to HG: The celebration of their meeting 48 years ago. BSK, the realist, attributes a baser motive to HG: The opportunity to eat a great abundance of oysters in salubrious settings. As usual, BSK has a point. HG likes to knock off scores of oysters in two Parisian brasseries: Le Stella in the 16th (on rue Victor Hugo) and Le Vaudeville (opposite the Bourse) in the 2nd. Stella is HG’s first choice. Because: The oysters are perfectly shucked and served with grace; HG can also nibble bulots (whelks) with mayonnaise and follow with the best steak tartare and frites in town; Maitre d’ Christian is a gentleman of true charm; few tourists, only quiet upper class types. As for Le Vaudeville: An art deco monument of nicotine stained marble, glittery brass, dark wood and comfortable banquettes backed by racks in which to toss your coat. Very buzzy. Very busy. Very much fun. Oysters are splendid, just slightly below Stella’s winners. HG oyster rules: The only wine to drink with oysters is Muscadet (Okay, Sancerre, if no good Muscadet is available). The oyster should be enjoyed in its pristine state. No lemon. No vinegar-and-shallot concoction (BSK disagrees). And–Eek!! Horrors!!–no horrible, taste deadening red sauce. Accompaniment: Thinly sliced brown or rye bread with sweet butter. Bring on those Belons, Papillons, Fines Claires, Pousses de Claires and Utah Beaches. And, M’sieu, another carafe of Muscadet, si vous plait.
HG loves pasta. HG loves the imaginative names Italians have given the various pasta shapes–“little ears”, “butterflies”, “corkscrews,” “wagon wheels,” “snails,” etc. Recently, HG encountered a puzzler–“strozzapreti.” The literal translation: Priest Strangler. The shape is reasonably short and slightly twisted. Looks like a rolled up towel. Nothing ominous or life threatening about it. HG enjoyed a substantial amount of strozzapreti in a lush sauce of long simmered beef cheeks at a wonderful Italian restaurant–“O” The Eating House–in an unlikely location, the Poajque Valley near Santa Fe, N.M. HG asked the chef, Steven Lemon, if he knew how the shape got its anti-clerical name. No clue. HG research indicates strozzapreti is a popular shape in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, traditionally anti-clerical regions of Italy. HG believes the name is related to acrimonious landlord-tenant relationships. In the past, the Church was a major Italian landowner and rents were grudgingly paid. It all echoes the sentiment of HG’s mother as she counted the money to be paid to the landlord for the monthly rent of our South Bronx apartment: “He should only choke on it!!”
Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen on E. 58th Street (just off 5th) was the classiest deli in New York and HG’s favorite for lunch. A landmark for many decades it was sold in the 1960’s. Lindy’s was West Side. Reuben’s was East Side. Big difference in cachet and clientele. Reuben’s had some raffish legends, however. Arnold Rothstein and Abe “The Little Champ” Attell plotted the fixing of the Chicago White Sox World Series in a private room at the restaurant. HG has posted about Lindy’s previously. Reuben’s was better. Lindy’s may have had the cheesecake but Reuben’s had The Reuben Sandwich. A very big grilled sandwich of lean corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkaraut and Russian (Thousand Islands) dressing. Served with pickles and superior French fries. All Reuben’s sandwiches were great but The Reuben reigned supreme. The origins of The Reuben are obscure. Of course, Reuben’s laid claim to its discovery but there are legitimate claimants in Omaha, Chicago and other cities. Who cares who invented it? Reuben’s perfected it. The Reuben’s crowd was a blend of Lindy’s and The Russian Tea Room. In addition to show biz, Reuben’s attracted Madison Avenue Mad Men, art and antiques dealers, financiers, real estate moguls. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jimmy Durante were customers (all had sandwiches named after them).
But, the guy who typified Reuben’s for HG was Billy Rose. Does the name ring any bells? He was a little stick of dynamite. First wife was Fanny Brice (“Funny Girl” was her film bio) and Eleanor Holm, the gorgeous Olympic swimmer, was his second. Billy was a lyricist whose name is on scores of songs (“Paper Moon” among them). It was believed that he only contributed a line to songs but the writers were glad to give him credit because he got the songs published and cut such tough deals with the publishers. He was a showman supreme (the “Aquacade” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; the Diamond Horseshoe Night Club where Billy gave Gene Kelly his start). He was a Broadway producer (“Carmen Jones” with an all African-American cast was a huge hit and later a movie with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge). Billy was a theater owner (the Ziegfeld and the Billy Rose), an art collector and a very shrewd investor. He was a Broadway columnist (“Pitching Horeshoes”). Much of the column was ghosted by an HG acquaintance, the novelist Bernard Wolfe. When Billy died in 1966 (at age 67) he left an estate of $42,000,000 (probably $250,000,000 in today’s money). He also created the beautiful Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in Jerusalem.
Billy was always in Reuben’s at lunch. HG nodded to Billy (they had been introduced by one of HG’s real estate mogul clients) and got an abrupt wave in return. The little guy simply vibrated with energy. He was loved and loathed. He was also an incurable romantic. He told Bernie Wolfe (who told HG): Never hold back on love. Never play it safe. Give it all you got. So what, if you look like a fool? Love is the only thing that matters. Who would have suspected the tough, brassy little guy harbored such tender emotions?
HG’s favorite Chinese waiter story (as related by the late, great Lenny Bruce). Bruce goes to neighborhood Chinese restaurant. He’s gone there many times with his wife, Honey, the beautiful stripper. This time Bruce enters alone. Takes usual table. Waiter says: “Where’s beautiful lady? Where’s beautiful lady? ” No answer. Waiter persists. “Where’s beautiful lady? Where’s beautiful lady?” Finally, Bruce answers. “We broke up. We’re not together anymore.” Says the waiter: “Oh. You better off!!”
HG restaurant error Number One: HG goes to a favorite Chinatown hole in the wall. HG is thinking about fried crabs in egg sauce and twice fried pork. At an adjacent table, some older Chinese men are eating something that looks interesting. “I want that,” says HG to waiter. “No, no, Mister,” exclaims waiter, “That is for Chinese people. You will not like it” HG will not be discouraged. Waiter fights the good fight. “You will not like it. You will not like it.” HG wins. The plate of food is placed before him. A cosmic error. The aroma is of dirty socks and animal droppings. In goes the HG fork (HG has never learned how to negotiate chopsticks. He is too greedy). HG chews. The textures: Tire scraps. Chewing gum. Rancid Jello. Mattress stuffing. The taste? Don’t ask. The waiter hovers. “See? You don’t like it..” HG’s dignity is at stake. He cannot lose face. He finishes the dish. Takes a few days to recover. Moral: Listen to Chinatown waiters. They know what’s not to like.
Restaurant lesson Number Two: HG has bad morning at Madison Avenue office. Needs comfort lunch. That means brains in black butter with boiled potatoes at Veau D’Or, the little French bistro around the corner. HG is delayed. Gets there late. Waiters are setting tables for dinner. HG rushes in; places his order.
Waiter says: “All right, M’sieu, but you must hurry. The lunch hour is over.” HG gets huffy, irate, snippy, furious. “Hurry? I am insulted and I am leaving.” On the way out he sees two old ladies finishing the last of their brains, mopping bits of butter from their alabaster maquillage. Damn. Those brains look good. HG settles for a drugstore BLT.
Moral: Calm and humility can lead to a good meal. The reward of huffiness is a BLT or worse..a tuna fish sandwich.
HG is not a big salad fan. Prefers heartier fare. But, had a mind changing lunch experience today at “O” The Eating House, an Italian/French/Mediterranean restaurant five minutes from HG’s Santa Fe , New Mexico home. “O” is in Pojoaque on the east side of Highway 84/285, some 15 minutes north of Santa Fe–PH: 505-455-2000. Yes, it’s a strange name for a restaurant but chef-owner Steven Lemon inherited it from the Pojoaque Pueblo which served Native American food there. Lemon decided to forgo the expense of a name change. Anyway, Lemon is a world class chef and today’s salad was a mind bender (HG will be doing a series of posts on Lemon and the restaurant because HG believes significant creative talent should be recognized). Back to the salad: Crisp shreds of duck confit. Tiny cubes of gorgonzola dolce. Toasted pignolia nuts. A variety of lettuces. Thinly sliced apples. Tossed in a vinaigrette of Prosecco, olive oil, sweet sauteed cherries and thyme. Think about it. Confit found a worthy collaborator in the gorgonzola. Pignolias and apple slices created subtle crunch. Cherries added sweetness. Prosecco lightened the olive oil and thyme provided the herbal note. The production had a Parisian air. HG may change his salad stance.
HG has been thinking about hamburgers. HG does not share the great American obsession with burgers. HG believes that American taste buds and overall health would be improved if The Golden Arches, Burger Royalty, Wendy Crapola and their kin were demolished. However. There are times when a properly prepared burger utilizing good meat (not frozen discs resembling hockey pucks) and a bun with some substance can hit the culinary spot. Consuming a burger allows HG a logical excuse to eat abundant french fries, onion rings and pickles. Ketchup, of course. Hundred Acres in Soho does a quality burger with top notch sides. And, there’s the landmark Corner Bistro in Greenwich Village. Inconsistent, but generally good. Out of town: Cherry Cricket in Denver is super. Santa Fe foodies laud Bobcat Bite. HG is reluctant. Bobcat Bite serves no alcohol and HG believes that a burger-and-beer is a combination endorsed by the deities. BSK introduced HG to the world’s ultimate burger when she was a summer stock actress in Hyde Park, N.Y. The burger joint was Marjo’s. Does it still exist? Google research has been fruitless. But, Marjo’s Platonic ideal of burgerdom still resides in HG’s memory. A gourmand never forgets a goody.