Brunch at 11:30. Pork and vegetable dumplings. Steamed pork buns. Chicken Shu Mai. A load of condiments on the table (hoisin sauce; thai chil sauce, soy sauce, Chinese vinegar). The Sunday Times to read. Dim sum time. Where? Chinatown? Nope. A bit of a trek from the beautiful and dusty roads of New Mexico. Instead Dim Sum is served in the HG/BSK kitchen in New Mexico. All of the food came courtesy of Ziggy’s, the remarkable international food store off St. Francis Road in Santa Fe. Ziggy’s got it all— and if they don’t have it on the shelves or the freezers they will special order. Korean. Japanese. Thai. Indian. Vietnamese. Malaysian. Mexican. Spanish. Greek. Arabic. African. Italian. German. Polish. Chinese, of course. Virtually every cuisine is represented at Ziggy’s. And it is not just far flung exotica, Ziggy’s also has genuine English crumpets and a vast array of those cloying sweets that destroy English teeth. No Jewish food however; If you want matzos, matzo meal, gefilte fish and Bubbie’s pickles, you’ve got to walk the expensive aisles of Whole Fods.
HG (or was it some Frenchman?) has often said that a meal without an appetizer (or “starter” as the English characterize it) is like intercourse without foreplay. Pardon the naughty allusion. Anyway, HG’s favorite appetizer is a few oysters and bulots (sea snails) washed down with chilled Muscadet. However, when dining at home it is much more easy to procure and prepare a Middle Eastern array of excellent nibbles collectively called Mezze. Mezze is a staple in restaurants in Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq. etc. Yes, these folks set a nice table when they’re not busy going bankrupt or blowing each other up. Mezze is simple, just an array of tasty small plates. This was the Mezze HG and gifted granddaughter AR faced last night: Kalamata olives, Greek pickled peppers, “gigante” lima beans in vinaigrette, sliced kumato tomatoes, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese and a luscious baba ganoush. A word about the baba ganoush: Usually, HG makes this from scratch but Alwadi canned baba ganoush is a very good substitute. Nice natural ingredients. AR, who recently visited Istanbul, made HG envious as she described the lavish hot and cold Mezze at even the most modest Istanbul eateries. Must visit that magical city.
Nestled in a convenient corner of HG/BSK’s refrirgerator is the bright red squeeze bottle (adorned with a rooster) of Huy Fong Sriracha. And, wow, does that bottle get a lot of use. Sriracha adds a tangy zing to everything from eggs to soups, hamburgers, stews and much more. At first, the sauce was intended to enliven that essential dish of Vietnamese cuisine — pho. Vietnamese in the USA latched on to Sriracha but it soon burst out of any ethnic pigeon hole. Though based on Asian hot sauces, Huy Fong Sriracha is an All-American sauce created by David Tran, a Vietnamese emigre. Virtually every American chef, including such luminaries as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, adds it to a host of dishes. As a condiment, it is probably only surpassed by ketchup, mustard and, maybe, Tabasco.
The Thai gentleman who invented Red Bull, the energy drink, died recently. His net worth was estimated at $5 billion. Don’t know David Tran’s net worth but presume it must be substantial. Capitalism works (sometimes).
Had some great New York strip steaks last night (bought the meat at Whole Foods). BSK does the steak in her own original way. Cast iron pan, of course. Thin layer of kosher salt. BSK turns the heat to high. Heats the pan for a few minutes so its hot enough to create a good, crusty sear. On go the steaks, a minute on each side. Then, innovative BSK begins turning the steaks every forty seconds or so. When BSK thinks they’re ready a small cut is made in order to be sure. The end result is a steak that is dark, reddish pink throughout. Not bloody, but, rare and juicy. Bovine heaven. Good companion to a big red wine from the State of Washington. Last night’s choice was The Velvet Devil. Yum.
HG and BSK’s favorite luncheon restaurant is The Compound on Santa Fe’s gallery lined Canyon Road. The Compound is a lovely place. White washed adobe walls and beamed ceilings. A few select works of Native American and Hispanic art. Best of all is the New Mexico light — most artfully represented in the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe — that pours into the room. The lunch menu is small but choice: A “Stacked Salad” with butter lettuce, ham, avocado, tomatoes, cheese, hard boiled egg, bacon, blue cheese dressing — basically a riff on Cobb Salad; a house smoked pastrami sandwich; a lobster and crab salad; a lunch-sized steak; a burger with poblano peppers. All good but the star is the chicken schnitzel. The chef gently flattens a generous chicken breast (still a bit thick, not a paillard). Then the chicken is given the traditional Viennese Veal Schnitzel treatment of breading and frying to greaseless crispiness. It is topped with a sauce of wine, butter (maybe a hint of cream), parsley and an abundance of capers. Flanked with a mound of sauteed leaf spinach. HG accompanied the dish with a nice flute of Gruet sparkling white from New Mexico. In HG’s opinion, the Gruet is better than champagne or prosecco.
HG has long dismissed the chicken breast finding it dry and tasteless. Not The Compound chicken breast. Don’t know the secret. Brining, perhaps?
HG has noticed that some serious chefs are playing around with marshmallows, trying to create what could be called, laughingly, “gourmet” marshmallows. A waste of time. HG has always despised these little fluff balls of cloying sweetness. As a lad, HG allowed others to roast marshmallows over night time fires on Rockaway Beach. HG nibbled a Mr. Goodbar.
In a bow to mid-America, HG’s Mom sometimes abandoned East European cuisine and baked mashed sweet potatoes mixed with canned crushed pineapple and topped with marshmallows. Horrible.
The only pleasure HG ever derived from marshmallows occurred, in of all places, a 42nd Street porn shop. HG and his pal, the comedy writer, Peter M.. finished their naughty browse and Peter M. approached the manager. Peter M. looked furtive. In a quavering whisper, laden with perverse guilt, he inquired: “Do you have anything with marshmallows?” The sleazy manager thought for a moment and said: “No.”
In days of yore when New York was almost solely an Irish-Italian-Jewish influenced city, the Irish were (in HG’s opinion) very unfairly maligned as food-know-nothings — folks who paid undue attention to strong drink and not enough to good eating. Well, HG (in his impecunious college and early journalist days) ate very well in Manhattan’s Irish saloons. These joints either bore the name of the proprietor (Kelly, Murphy, etc.) or their ancestral turf (Kerry, Down, Shannon,etc.). For some reason (probably low rent) they were often located under the elevated trains that used to roar around the city (Third Avenue, Sixth Avenue, Pearl Street,etc. — all of which were demolished just before or a few years after World War Two). As noted previously by HG, most saloons had big jars of pickled pig knuckles and hardboiled eggs on the bar. But, the big specialty — you guessed it — was corned beef and cabbage. HG can visualize it now: A big, indestructible plate with three healthy slices of corned beef rimmed in fat (fat is flavor, of course); a wedge of cabbage (alas, often overcooked); large boiled potato; hot mustard. A glass of Ballantine’s beer straight from the tap kept it company. This was straightforward, hearty food much appreciated by the working class clientele of the saloons. Customers were classier (stockbrokers, tea, coffee and cocoa brokers) In the saloons under the Pearl Street El. And, the corned beef and cabbage was a shade more aristocratic. Some gin mills had steam tables where inedible beef and lamb stew languished.
A true gourmand destination was a Third Avenue saloon named Connolly’s (near 23rd Street, HG recalls) that was a favorite of uniformed cops as well as detectives and other law enforcement types. The parade dish was pot roast and it was the best HG has ever tasted. It was served as a knife-and-fork sandwich. The very thick sandwich was placed in a bowl and lavishly doused with extraordinarily lush and robust dark brown gravy. Ah!! Up the Rebels!!
Erin Go Bragh!!
Jaime “Jimmy” Rodriguez, Jr. made Puerto Rican food hip, and for a while, made West Fordham Road in The Bronx a dining destination for everyone from President Clinton to Derek Jeter to Fidel Castro. Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe opened in 1993 on the site of a former auto dealership, a short cab ride from Yankee Stadium. It was a smash. Derek Jeter had his birthday party at Jimmy’s and it was a hangout for Yankees and visiting teams. Jimmy hosted a dinner there for Fidel Castro in 1995 (there were 500 in attendance and Jimmy got a lot of criticism from Cuban emigres). Jimmy’s was vast. The food (specially the seafood) was wonderful. Great music (Tito Puente headed one of the bands). Fiery dancing. Everybody cool in the worlds of sports, show biz and politics visited Jimmy’s and Jimmy Rodriguez was honored by New York’s top business and civic organizations.
Jimmy expanded with a branch in Harlem, one on E. 57th Street in Manhattan and a sea food place on City Island in The Bronx. At their height, the Rodriguez restaurants were grossing $10,000,000 a year. The woes of over-expansion soon kicked in however and by 2004 they were all gone.
Bronx born Rodriguez (1963) got his start by joining his father selling seafood from the trunk of their car parked near an entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway. They made a chowder from the leftover seafood, added some Puerto Rican dishes and opened a stand on a Fordham Road corner which was followed by a 50-seat storefront joint, Marisco del Caribe. That operated for about 10 years before the ambitious young man opened Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe.
Well, Jimmy is back. There are four Jimmy’s restaurants now operating in the New York area (or are they?…given Jimmy’s volatility, be wise and call first). The restaurants are the two Don Coqui locations in Astoria and New Rochelle (both run by Jimmy’s daughters, Jaleene and Jewelle); the two Sofritos on E. 57th in Manhattan and in White Plains and Sazon on Reade Street in downtown Manhattan. Creole cooking and Jimmy Rodriguez — Olé!
Rosenhain’s. Fanciest restaurant in The Bronx. Flourished in the 30’s-40’s. Charles Lindbergh met there with both the owner (Max Rosenhain) and ransom intermediaries during his son’s kidnapping.
Lido-Riviera. Fordham University football team celebrated there after they beat Missouri in the 1942 Sugar Bowl.
Jackson’s Steak House. The late Gil Scott-Heron — the great poet, jazz musician and inconic influence on the entire genre of music known as hip hop — worked there when he was a Bronx teenager.
Bordewick’s. Food and dancing. Hillman’s. Hearty, German-influenced food.
Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe — A relative latecomer to the game made Fordham Road sparkle for a number of years with great Puerto Rican Carribean-Creole Food.
All gone. All flourished on Fordham Road, the lively Bronx thoroughfare that runs east-west between Major Deegan Expressway and Bronx Park. Lots to see on Fordham Road. The Fordham campus on Rose Hill. The super-busy shopping district. The 11-building Fordham Hill co-op high-rise apartment complex overlooking the Harlem River. It’s known as “The Oasis In The Bronx.”
Yes, there are plenty of great restaurants left in the Bronx and even close by Fordham Road itself, but great food on the Road? All vanished. All gone.
Onions, shallots and garlic get some very intensive use in the HG/BSK kitchen. They enhance and augment everything except ice cream. Sarah N., the long, lean, lovely Executive Director of the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, recently sent HG information about the health benefits of the onion family. Good for lots of stuff that ails you. The shallot is the most potent cancer fighter but onions and garlic also aid the immune system. Garlic has a side benefit. It is useful in banishing vampires. So, take that, Count Dracula. You won’t take a nosh from HG’s neck.