HG and BSK are camping out at a very kind neighbor’s guest house while the interior of HG and BSK’s fire damaged ocean front home is being restored. Last night dinner was perfect. Radio was tuned to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting–the up North version of NPR). The usual civilized, thoughtful commentary. This time it was an irreverent and informed program on Canada and religion. HG sipped gin and Campari while BSK has some summer Rose’. A bit of Nova Scotia smoked salmon and sliced, sweet onion. BSK did a stir fry of local asparagus, garlic and red pepper flakes. Topped it with a pound of thick, flavorful sauteed sole fillets. Dessert was brie with Theresa of PEI’s Pumpkin and Apricot Chutney. Theresa is one of the many artisans on the Island turning out small batches of extraordinary food. As the cliche would have it, her Chow Chow is to die for.
HG has been turned off by strawberries available in United States groceries (even the pricey berries at Whole Foods). Big, red, watery and tasteless. Good for the eyes, not for the belly.
Here on Prince Edward Island, HG is in the midst of strawberry season (blueberries soon to follow). A revelation. Strawberries that taste like the strawberries of yesteryear. Yum. HG breakfast treat is Greek yogurt, lots of sliced strawberries and local honey. Most local strawberry fields are U-Pickem. You get a basket and pick the berries. Cost is minimal and taste is maximum.
And now, the news from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Here in the town of St. Peters, the strip of land on the shores of St. Peter’s Bay, folks are justifiably proud of their mussels. They are farmed in the Bay and you can see the colored buoys marking the socks to which the mussels cling. PEI mussels are definitely the plumpest, cleanest and most flavorful of the species.
The Number Two Good Thing From The Sea at St. Peter’s is the lobster. The lobster catching season in HG’s neighborhood ( Cable Head East) is June. That means lots of very good, cheap lobster. After the season, boats from Nova Scotia arrive daily to unload their catch. HG picks out a big, cooked juicy lobster at a nearby fish store (Cost: Ten bucks). Corn on the cob, a sliced tomato, lobster. The perfect summer meal.
Flying to Prince Edward Island, HG experienced the usual discomfort and sheer madness of air travel these days. Changes in flight times. Flight cancellations. Hostile, invasive and downright unnecessary security procedures. However, there is always (say optimists) a silver lining. HG had to spend the night in Toronto so opted for the Sandman Signature Hotel a few minutes from the airport. Super. New and in contemporary good taste. Very good bed, shower, flat screen TV, etc. For breakfast HG had something that is difficult to obtain in most hotels and diners: A bowl of real, nutty, steel cut oatmeal. Not the instant glop. With it was a big bran muffin that tasted fresh from the oven. Sandman is a keeper. More silver linings. A long wait at airport for PEI plane. HG watched the super exciting USA women battling Brazil. USA won but Marta, the swift and deft Brazilian, has joined HG’s pantheon of feminine paragons. HG was nourished at Fion MacCool, a quasi-Irish pub at the airport. Pub might be faux but the hamburger was for real. High quality meat served the way HG likes it–slightly pink. Layered with cheese, sliced tomatoes, sliced dill pickle and frizzled fried onions. Major league burger. Guinness on tap was welcome.
Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe is a hoot. Talk about diversity. TJ’s staff and customers represent every variety of cult, color, costume, age, beauty (and its reverse). Good humor, helpfulness and a post-hippie buzz pervades the market. TJ’s is HG’s source for French-trimmed pork chops, surprisingly good New Zealand lamb chops, buffalo mozzarella, brown tomatoes (yes) and hummus. Lots of very good cheap wine. Also, a big time red at $13-$16. Avoid the famed Two Buck Chuck wine. Plonk.
Ferran Adria, the owner/chef of El Bulli in Spain, is the most influential chef of his generation. He and his brother have single handedly reinvented the art of cooking and plating food by fusing the methods of science and the aesthetics of post-modern art with traditional culinary strategies. Simply put, Adria’s kitchens are more like laboratories where he experiments with deconstructing food into bubbles, foams, gossamer strands of taste, etc.. His “cook-books” are records of those experiments and are so lushly illustrated and painfully beautiful that they call out for placement on a coffee table far more than a spot in the kitchen. He has been called the father of “molecular gastronomy.” Food critics, other chefs and big time gourmets have raved and genuflected to his name.
HG has had no desire to visit El Bulli (thankfully, since it is astronomically expensive). HG’s tastes are simple, rustic, ethnic. HG may be avant garde in his literary and political thinking, but at the table HG is a conservative (possibly a reactionary). In case you missed it, Mark Bittman did an article in the Sunday NY Times about Adria’s simple down home cooking for his restaurant staff.
One recipe, in particular, struck a chord with HG–Bread With Chocolate and Olive OIl. Here it is: Toast 6 slices of country bread in a 325 degree oven. Toast on both sides (it will take about 6 to 7 minutes). Grate 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (preferably 60% cocoa). Cover the toasts with the chocolate. Drizzle the with 1/4 cup olive. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
Two spectacular Santa Fe women, Sarah N. and Vicki B., took HG to lunch today At Tia Sophia’s, the Mexican restaurant on San Francisco Avenue. Sarah N. had taken umbrage at HG’s comment in a recent post that Santa Fe Mexican bistros were “too touristy.” So she and her co-conspirator taught HG a culinary lesson.
It was a lesson that HG was happy to learn and he swallowed his own words with joy. Tia Sophia’s was a down home wow. HG had a platter of pork green chile, posole, beans and a cheese enchilada. Everything tasted fresh, authentic — delicious layers of un-pretentious Northern New Mexico flavors. HG’s companions had huevos rancheros and enchiladas topped with eggs. Selfish damsels didn’t offer HG a nibble. The cost? Very very modest.
Tia Sophia’s is opposite the Lensic Theater. Come to Santa Fe and enjoy music, performance and drama at this beautifully restored landmark. And, then tear into some Tia Sophia grub for a perfect evening.
HG has often devoted some lyrical prose to the triumphs of Jewish/ Eastern European/ Ashkenazi cuisine. Smoked fish; bialys and bagels. Savory brisket with lots of gravy. Real pastrami. Matzo ball soup. Chopped liver (don’t spare the chicken fat and top it with grieben–bits of rendered fat chicken skin); tzimmes (a pungent, caramelized carrot stew); karnatzlack (cigar shaped broiled hamburgers studded with onion and garlic). Many other meaty, fragrant, hearty dishes. And, of course, all the “Dairy” delicacies HG posted about earlier.
However, objectivity forces HG to mention some culinary travesties of the Chosen Few: Lungen stew. Essentially, this was cow’s lung stewed with garlic and onions. Tasted like thick rubber bands. Another was (HG spells phonetically from Yiddish): P’tcha. This was a kosher version of the French tete de veau. Nu. Nu. Don’t ask. Don’t even look.
Then there were the vegetables served in Jewish restaurants (kosher and non-kosher). Canned carrotsandpeas. Pronounced as one word. Nasty stuff. Limp string beans. Equally terrible. HG believes this was a bow to American ideas of healthy eating. Sammy’s, the chicken fat-drenched eatery on the Lower East Side, deals in nostalgia and garlic. Outside of fried potatoes and chopped eggplant, there isn’t a vegetable on the menu. Nary a lettuce leaf. Brave Sammy’s refuses to participate in the American version of healthy eating. HG fears Bloomberg may ban it.
Thoughts of ice cold borscht and steamy New York weather make HG recall those refuges from the heat: Dairy restaurants. Dairy restaurants obeyed Jewish dietary laws and served only “dairy” and “pavre” food.
They served borscht (beet soup), schav (sorrel soup), blintzes (rolled crepes stuffed with cheese or potato) , kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats with butterfly shaped pasta), potato pirogen (boiled potato and onion dumplings) and more. Big bowls of excellent bread, bialys, onion rolls — also called “pletzels” and copious amounts of butter. Big bowls of thick sour cream were there on the table to accompany every dish. There was fish (considered “parve” a.k.a. neutral meaning neither meat nor dairy) including many varieties of herring; tuna and sardine salads; gefilte fish with strong horse radish.
No meat. Emphatically no meat. Forbidden. A kosher enterprise could not serve both meat and dairy products.
Every Manhattan neighborhood had a Dairy restaurant (okay, not the Upper East Side). The Paradise and Steinberg’s were popular on the West Side. Ratner’s and Rappaport’s ruled the Lower East Side. Scores more in The Bronx and Brooklyn. All gone. Assimilation or changing tastes?
SJ reports only one traditional “Dairy” remains: B&H on Second Avenue. Long may it cool fevered brows and clog arteries.
When HG and BSK ran their small (but high powered) Denver public relations firm, HG dined almost every day at the Denver location of the Palm steak house chain. This wasn’t just a restaurant. It was a business club where the town’s top lawyers, bankers, politicos, real estate developers, political consultants (and PR guys) gathered to do business, schmooze and network. Kingpin of the room was Steve Farber, lawyer, lobbyist, Democratic Party fund raiser and a guy who was involved in just about everything happening in Colorado. Steve would always stop at HG’s table so he and HG could exchange compliments on the elegance of each other’s garb. Like the original Palm on Second Avenue and 44th Street in New York, the Denver Palm was decorated with caricatures of local notables. There was a nice, flattering caricature of HG in a prominent position. HG always sat beneath it. Impressed potential clients.
There was some good lunch food. Sliced sirloin on a tasty bed of greens. Salmon fillet in a lemon butter sauce. Crab cakes. A traditional Reuben. There was also avoidable, overcooked pasta. And, a surprise (which HG mentioned in an earlier post), excellent little neck clams on the half shell. Haven’t been there in a while and wonder if they’ve painted over HG to make room for a new generation of movers and shakers.