Heaven? No, Just PEI.

July 14th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Warm (not blistering) sun. Cool sea breezes. Spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Gentle green farmland. Yes, HG and BSK are on Prince Edward Island, once again, for the summer. Happily, Andrew McDonald and his lovely daughters are stlll running their shellfish and chowder emporium at St. Peter’s Bay Landing. After a year’s separation, Andrew gazed at HG with fondness and deftly shucked some South Lake oysters. These oysters never appear in the United States. Plump. Sweet. Briney. They are a PEI secret, happily devoured by local gourmands like HG. Having gobbled oysters in Paris, London, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Florida, New York and locales bordering the Atlantic and Pacific, HG vows these are the best in the world. And, when shucked by Andrew not a speck of shell mars the interior and not a drop of lush brine is lost. Besides oysters, Andrew stocks quahogs, soft shell clams and mussels harvested in St. Peter’s Bay. In addition, a lip-smacking cauldron of mussel chowder is always steaming away. There will be happy feasting ahead.

Cool Place In the Colorado Blaze

July 9th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The fire news from Colorado has been tragic. Many of HG’s friends have been in real danger of losing their homes. But, amid all the horror there has been a cool place to escape and dine. HG refers to 240 Union Restaurant in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. When HG and BSK stop in Denver (to make flight connections) they always have a meal there. One of the delights of 240 is the owner/host, Michael Coughlin. Besides having loads of Irish charm and conviviality, Michael knows how to assemble a wine list. His 23 for 23 group is an affordable pleasure — 23 varied (and tasty) wines for 23 bucks each. At dinner recently, HG and BSK had a dozen oysters (six Atlantic and six Pacific) with glasses of Prosecco. Michael uncorked a bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris from the “23” list (very crisp and similar to the British Columbia Okanogan Valley wines HG and BSK cherish). A platter of fried calamari imaginatively accompanied by fried shishito peppers followed. HG and BSK then shared some traditional English fish and chips (better than any HG has had in London). Dessert was a shared bit of very light lemon cheesecake with a blueberry coulis.

Colorado cuisine has come a long way from the days when it was dominated by hamburgers and tacos. Hope the fire season is over and gracious Western living — as exemplified by 240 Union — returns.

Nam Son – Chinatown Bargain

July 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

When Paris cab drivers (and many French truck drivers) want a cheap, tasty and filling meal they head to a Vietnamese eatery in one of the less classy arondissements. When in New York, HG often follows their lead and goes to Nam Son, a Vietnamese restaurant at 245 Grand Street in Chinatown. On previous visits, HG had an exemplary steamed flounder and crispy fried soft shell crabs. The bargains here, however, are the spring rolls (four for four dollars) and pho, the Vietnamese national noodle soup dish. Nam Son has about 15 varieties of pho, all good, at prices between six dollars and $7.25. Feeling peckish a few afternoons ago, HG popped in for a plate of spring rolls served with the ubiquitous fish sauce for dipping and lots of lettuce and mint. Adjacent to HG was a table of ten good looking young people joyously eating spring rolls and pho. They were having a very good, affordable time. Yes, you can eat very well for few dollars in pricey New York. You just have to know where to look.

Dutch Treat From The Lower East Side

July 7th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Strolled through the Lower East Side with SJ. Gazed with wonder at the new art galleries, hip restaurants and bars, chic clothing shops (How about 500 bucks for a pair of jeans?). The Essex Street Maket (which used to be a cluttered, ramshackle affair) has now been revitalized and offers artisan cheeses (Saxelby Cheese Mongers) and superb butchers (Heritage Meat Shop) with wonderful charcuterie, fresh meats and fowl. Boubouki, perhaps the greatest Greek pastry shop in existence, offers savory spinach pies and, hands down, the best baklava HG and SJ have ever tasted. Eccentric restaurateur Kenny Shopsin ( a Calvin Trillin favorite) has relocated here from the West Village. HG and SJ ended their stroll on Houston Street at the venerable Russ & Daughters, the best smoked fish emporium in the world.

June is the season for delicious raw herring from Holland. When HG was in Amsterdam he ate scores of these yummies. The ritual is this: Dip the herring in chopped onion. Take a bite. Then a shot of chilled Genever gin. Beer for a chaser. Then repeat and repeat as the sense of euphoria expands. Russ & Daughters (and the Grand Central Oyster Bar) are the only sources in New York for this seasonal delicacy. SJ ordered a platter of the Dutch herring plus some sable, Scottish smoked salmon, red salmon caviar, cream cheese, bagels and bialys. Back to the SJ Brooklyn home for a feast. Present were the SJ family plus HG daughter Vicki and her chef husband Marc Meyer, the dynamic duo behind three New York restaurants — Cookshop, Five Points, Hundred Acres. Vicki and Marc brought a bottle of upscale Genever plus splendid wine. Also present was SJ pal Jay S. (and his bride to be Maya T.). Much joy. Much laughter. Some gin-fueled inebriation. Nothing beats family feasting. And, while much has changed on the Lower East Side, Russ and Daughters has remained the same. A taste monument.

Cookshop: The Perfect Summer Lunch

July 4th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Okay, pals and buddies, let HG tell you about the perfect summer lunch. The place: Cookshop on 20th and Tenth Avenue (one of three downtown New York restaurants run by HG daughter Vicki Freeman and chef/husband Marc Meyer. The others are Five Points and Hundred Acres. All superb). HG and BSK’s luncheon companion was Stephanie Pierson, author of The Brisket Book among many other rollicking prose accomplishments. It is very hard to have a bad time when Stephanie is around. She’s a true wit with a flair for friendship, laughter and good food. She is also the creator of the world’s best chicken pot pie.

So, what did Vicki and Marc serve the trio on a more than tepid late June day? Long Island Blue Point oysters (briny jewels). Fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with smoked mozzarella. Crispy Rhode Island calamari with capers and a state of the art aioli.(Yes, there were white wine spritzers for HG and non-alcoholic pleasures for the ladies). Grilled shrimp salads (for HG and Stephanie. BSK is allergic to crustaceans). Chicken salad for BSK. Sound mundane? Not when the salad contained the very best, fresh-from -market vegetables and perfectly cooked, heritage chicken. Finished with a nicely curated cheese platter .Cookshop was busy and bustling (as it deserves to be) during this weekday lunch. A snappy crowd. At a neighboring table were two black suited, white shirted guys from Italy. The stylish gents ate some huge salads and did a lot of damage to a bottle of red wine. Permit HG to assure you. The HG party didn’t get special treatment. Vicki, a warm and glowing soul, makes everyone welcome. Marc, a pioneer in barn-to-table cuisine, uses only the best ingredients and then gives them a creative tweak that makes the diner stop with fork in mid-air and say “Wow!!”. HG advice: Get over there. Say HG sent you.

Chinese Food Heaven

July 2nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

HG and BSK have been in New York and, with SJ as an informed guide, have been dining in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown and one in Brooklyn (on the border of Bay Ridge and Sunset Park). Glorious gluttony.

First stop was dinner at Oriental Garden on Elizabeth Street. A bit pricey and formal and (surprising for a Chinatown restaurant) a reasonably ambitious wine list. First some steamed chive dumplings and a dish of delightful little cubes of bean curd, deftly deep fried and then smothered in parsley, garlic and ginger. Then came the most heavenly prawns any of us ever had. Big ocean prawns presented to us wriggling in a net before going into the wok. The prawns were juicy, firm fleshed and filled with flavor and seemed almost like a cross between a prawn and a langoustine. Then a big flounder, steamed in rice wine and finished with hot oil, garlic, ginger and parsley. Continuing the sea food theme there were giant sea scallops (still attached to their shells) in a light black bean sauce. Final course was chow fun noodles. These were charred in the wok and mixed with scallions in a lusty brown sauce and melded with generous quantities of squid, scallops and chunks of cod.

Next was a fiery lunch at Shanghai Hepking Restaurant at 100 Mott Street. First, some fried pork dumplings, then, a fiery Ma Po Tofu — tender little chunks of bean curd in mouth tingling chili oil. Fish filets with bok choy and mushrooms in a slightly less blazing chili oil. HG restored his taste buds with the restaurant’s special cooling coconut milkshake.

HG also lunched solo at the tiny, plain spoken Henan Flavor Restaurant on Forsyth Street. A lovely young woman with a winning manner turns out soups and noodle bowls from her native province of Henan in China (Don’t confuse Henan with Hunan, the province noted for sophisticated peppery food). Big bowls of noodles and chicken topped with a variety of fresh vegetables cost five dollars. The noodles are hand pulled and silky (broad like pappardelle). The flavors are rich and hearty, redolent of cumin seeds and varieties of pepper. The taste is vaguely middle eastern, reflecting Henan’s history as an outpost along the Spice Road, and portions are huge. Henan Flavor has proved to be a savior of indigent lower east side artists who flock there on cold days to enjoy a warming, nourishing cheap bowl. The restaurant’s two dollar pork pancake is the best food bargain in New York.

On to Brooklyn for dinner at East Harbor Seafood Cuisine, a majestic place at 714 65th Street. Here, there was perfect Peking duck served with Bao, puffy buns rather than flat pancakes. Filets of tender flounder were served with the vegetables of the season plus some delectable slices of winter melon. There was a nice platter of chicken breasts and vegetables in a subtle sauce, all nestled on a bed of chow fun noodles. There were more vegetables in the form of garlicky sauteed pea shoots. Adding crunch to the meal were fried squid dusted with garlic and chili pepper. Fresh melon and slices of orange for dessert. Family and great Chinese food spell a winning combination for HG.