Sunny and breezy morning at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Bought sprouts from two endearing, mature ladies. HG likes them — the sprouts, not the ladies — with non-fat cottage cheese and Sicilian olive oil. Bought tiny baby radishes. Tasted marinated goat feta, a variety of jams, honey, mustards and breads. BSK bought baby spinach, mixed lettuces, arugula. Also two big sourdough loaves (one for tomorrow and one for the freezer). Female vocalist accompanied by violin and guitar filled the air with beautiful sounds in Spanish. For sale were two very endearing Nigerian baby goats. BSK was smitten but HG’s cooler head prevailed.
Lively evening at the beautiful Jacona home of Polly B. (renowned photographer and woman of consummate charm and vivacity) and David F. (former prep school headmaster and educational innovator; now a novelist). Also present was Jane W., an estimable painter with an upcoming show in Santa Fe. Drinks and toast topped with pesto before the kiva fire softened the chill of a perfect Spring night. David a.k.a. “The Dude” (as in “The Big Lebowski”) is a Jeff Bridges look-alike and a master of the barbecue. He grilled a superb butterflied leg of lamb (sourced from Shepherds, a Santa Fe Farmers Market purveyor). Cooked rare, HG thought it the best lamb in HG’s culinary history. Far better than anything in Paris (or New York for that matter). The lamb was accompanied by market fresh asparagus and a green salad. Dessert was an apple crumb pie. Copious amounts of Cabernet and Pinot Noir were drunk. A joyous night. Thanks Polly and David.
Simple, perfect dinner at “O” Eating House. Tempura fried zucchini with a garlicky aioli. Grilled eggplant topped with an herb laden tomato coulis. Roasted, succulent quail on a bed of couscous. Dessert: A wedge of flourless chocolate cake studded with pine nuts. The last, a perfect companion for a final glass of red wine.
I have posted previously about “O” and I will continue to, as meals there keep getting better and better. Steve Lemon is the chef and he is a major talent. “O” is located in Pojoaque, some 15 minutes north of Santa Fe and about one hour from Taos.
Swordfish, in HG’s experience, is always overdone and tasteless. Here’s the way HG did a half-pound of swordfish tonight. HG cut the fish horizontally into three thin slices. Quick saute in grape seed oil with plenty of finely diced garlic and parsley. Lots of lemon juice. Served it on a bed of garden greens. Dynamite!!
An eccentric (to say the least) original. Not in any 4 star culinary guidebooks. Beloved by New Jersey gourmands of hearty appetite. HG refers to the Belmont Tavern, a very ordinary looking establishment on Bloomfield Avenue in Belleville, NJ ( adjoining Newark’s North Wards, Belleville was the fictional home of Uncle Junior in “The Sopranos”).
HG doesn’t know if things have changed, but during the 80’s the restaurant and bar were under different (and not too friendly) proprietorships. You got a bill for your food. You got a separate bill for wine and liquor. The one phone booth was always occupied and it appeared to be utilized solely for gambling purposes. The bartender had operatic pretensions (he was actually quite good) and would burst into loud arias when his mood was right.
The signature dish at the Belmont was “Stretch’s Chicken Savoy.” This occupies a place in Joisey cuisine similar to the Tour D’Argent’s pressed duck in Paris. The ne plus ultra. The Iminimitable. The classic. The chicken pieces were roasted to the point where the skin was crisp and the interior juicy. The sauce was near black in color, redolent of vinegar, garlic, olive oil, anchovies and a melange of spices known only to Stretch, then the chef d’cuisine and owner of the restaurant portion of the Belmont. HG liked to start his meal at Belmont with shrimp or scungili salad, both dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic (lots of it) and red pepper flakes. This would be followed by a bowl (a delicate word for the huge vessel) of cavatelli in a fresh ricotta and tomato sauce. Only vegetable on the menu was fried hot peppers (HG liked to augment the chicken with these).
Here’s the good news. Stretch is gone but his chicken lives on. The Belmont is still in business and is thriving. Here’s an addition from SJ: Not only thriving but appears to be frozen in amber! On a visit 6 months ago, the spot was jam packed with families that SJ could have sworn he had last seen on a visit to the Belmont in 1983. Here’s a warning from SJ. All portions are family style and meant to be shared. Go with a raging appetite and be prepared to wait at the bar until a table empties. It may not be chic, but the Belmont Tavern is a serious regional experience that should not be missed. Not only does it burst with local color in terms of clientele but the cuisine is singular and great.
Gifted daughter LR has informed HG that his number one food perversion is alive and well in Rhode Island. Yes, the oft posted about Chow Mein sandwich, for decades obtainable only at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island, has re-surfaced in Riverside, RI. LR reports that Lee’s, a rather plain spoken, Chinese restaurant now serves a Chow Mein sandwich. HG, with a firm grasp of irony, questions their authenticity. HG will submit it to a taste test during an upcoming visit to the Minuscule but Mighty state.
While in Riverside, HG will indulge in a one other perversion: a grip of New York System Hot Wieners topped with its unique (think Greeek Moussaka meets Texas Chile) meat sauce and washed down with the very odd RI beverage known as coffee milk.
HG will not indulge, however, in the top Rhode Island food perversion – Dunkin’ Donuts. It is a perversion cum obsession that has made Rhode Island lead the USA in per capita doughnut consumption. A perversion that has named the major arena, home to those excellent Rhode Island University and Providence College basketball teams, the Dunkin’ Donuts Arena a.k.a. “The Dunk.”
HG has posted before about the wonders of the Russian Tea Room when it was run by the late, great Sidney Kaye. HG had a charge account at RTR and since his offices were directly across the street from the restaurant, HG lunched there at least three times a week. There was also an occasional blini-red caviar-melted butter-sour cream weekend brunch. A few sumptuous dinners here and there, not to mention a good number of after work vodkas at the bar. In time HG’s tab began to resemble the national debt. Then, for some reason, monthly statements stopped coming. Guilty HG phoned Sidney. Here’s Sidney’s response: “Goddamn bookkeeper. Can’t anybody do anything right? I should fire everyone and start all over again. You owe me money? So what? You’re the least of my worries. Goodbye,” Hangs up.
In addition to the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room, HG , during the slim wallet early years of his marriage to BSK, had charge accounts at Fornos, the Spanish Restaurant on W. 52nd Street and the original Russian Tea Room on W. 57th. Fornos (long gone) was owned by survivors of the Spanish Civil War and was the most joyous eatery in town. HG and BSK were always greeted warmly and were served the best margaritas imaginable. BSK stopped at one. HG, alas, continued to drink them throughout the meal.
The food: Roast pork with addictive Spanish potatoes that were fried in duck fat and onions then dusted with smoked pimento; perfect gazpacho; seafood or chicken and chorizo paella; shrimp in a rich garlic sauce of fish stock and parsley; Mariscada (seafood stew); garlic rubbed sirloin steak with more of those addictive potatoes. Dessert (for HG) was one or two or possibly three banana daiquiris; For BSK, light as ether Flan — HG always needed a bit of assistance upon leaving Fornos. BSK did not.
At one point, HG’s charge grew to such proportions that HG ceased going to the restaurant out of shame. Call from the proprietor. HG thought there would be stern words. Instead, this is what he heard: “Where have you been? We miss you. You owe us money? Nada. Not important. We know you are an honorable man. You will pay us when you are able. Meanwhile, come in and let us have joy together.” HG paid up, of course, and continued to get sozzled at that merry and generous establishment.
In the early years of their marriage, HG and BSK often suffered from the money shorts. This did not prevent the Young Marrieds (and recent parents) from living very well. Indeed, when wallets were empty, HG and BSK went to the sumptuous Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel where HG had a charge account. The Oak Room radiated chic and old fashioned glamour. HG and BSK once dined at a table next to one occupied by Cary Grant and a merry party. It was a fitting setting for that most debonair of movie stars.
And what was on the menu for impecunious but happy HG and BSK? Beverages: Icy vodka martinis (for HG), carafes of the very good house Chablis and house burgundy (for BSK and HG) . First course: Thinly sliced Scottish smoked salmon with capers, lemon and olive oil. Buttered brown bread. Main: Tournedos (rare chunks of the center of beef tenderloin) in a fragrant wine sauce. Sides: Souffle potatoes wrapped in a linen napkin and served in a silver dish. Braised celery topped with beef marrow. Dessert: Chocolate pots de creme. Truly luxe dining. And, the Plaza never murmured when it took HG six months to pay the bill.
A lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis. Decades of war and diplomacy have failed to bring it about. Yet, tonight at Chez HG/BSK harmony will reign between the two cultures as they make a bow to the troubled but tasty Middle East. Tel-Aviv style Falafel is brilliantly complemented by the smoky earthiness of BSK’s inimitable Baba Ganoush. Hummus dusted with Spanish piquant smoked paprika welcomes the coolness of Greek yogurt topped with za’atar. Olives. Cucumber. Chopped sweet onions and tomatoes with Sicilian olive oil (Sicilian cuisine much influenced by Arab occupation centuries ago). Lots of warm pita.
Dessert: More Greek yogurt with walnuts and New Mexico honey. The wine: A modest California Cabernet.