Contemplating Mitt Romney and the current condition of American thought has put HG in a misanthropic frame of mind. Therefore, HG has been thinking of various food dislikes. As noted, HG will be visiting Montreal this year. HG will shun poutine, a Quebecois obsession; Nay, perversion would be a better descriptive. Montreal takes pride in its bagels. HG has learned that in that city bagels get a bath in honey water before boiling and baking. This strikes HG as a major error on par with the dreaded Cinnamon-Raisin Bagel. The Philadelphia specialties of cheese steaks and soft pretzels with mustard have many fans. HG is not among them. St. Louis Italian restaurants offer fried ravioli. Awful. New England clam chowder is glop (except at the Downy Flake Cafe on Nantucket Island). Chicago beef sandwiches are unpleasant. Soggy bread. Tasteless meat. Greasy gravy that drips on your clothes. Chicago deep dish pizza is an aberration. Southern hush puppies are little grease bombs and pecan pie sets HG’s teeth on edge with its overpowering, gooey sweetness. Only good pecan pie was made by HG’s late, beloved sister. Southern fried chicken is overrated. Koreans and Chinese fry chicken better. Despite some fear about reprisals from Texas good ole boys, HG states, emphatically: SJ’s Brooklyn barbecue is better than any HG ever tasted in Texas. HG despises all cream sauces. The only good hamburgers are the hamburgers HG makes at home. All others range from vile to borderline okay. In the area of exotica, HG, a lover of Japanese food, cannot stomach monkfish liver. HG does not like haute cuisine restaurants (especially in Paris) and tasting menus (too much food and HG always feels queasy after this overindulgence). HG hates all fast food chains (with the exception of Chipotle) and believes that fast food bears the same relationship to nutrition as the Tea Party does to civilized, rational thought.
Nova Scotia sea scallops, big, fresh, juicy and 12 bucks a pound are sold at fish markets throughout Prince Edward Island. This means one of the best sandwiches ever. BSK quickly cuts these scallops into manageable slices and gives them a very quick saute. Italian soft buns are cut and smeared with plenty of Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Sliced tomatoes. Frilly lettuce. One word description: Yum!!
It is early autumn weather here on Prince Edward Island. Bright blue skies and billowing cumulus that periodically blocks the rays. Tingling winds. The taste of salty seas in the air. Weather for robust food. And, that is what Exquisite Maiko is providing. As HG has noted, EM, utilizing her brilliant knife skills, turns out lovely compositions of raw fish, vegetable and herb slivers and more. A magic hand at the the frying pan, the Exquisite one creates the best tempura ever. Lighter than air and totally greaseless. But, there is an earthy side to EM, a love of deeply flavored Japanese soul food, the type of cooking an old fashioned Japanese Mom would turn out for her family. That means long simmered ox tails simmered in salt and peppered water with a dash of sake; deep brown chicken curry; hot and sour soup with lots of mushrooms; pork bellies that have been simmered, marinated, seared and stewed; spare ribs with a unique dry rub crust; pork tenderloin cutlets dusted with panko and deep fried (served on a bed of shredded cabbage and daikon radish); pancakes of oysters, fish, mushrooms, shredded carrot in a batter of flour and baking powder. For cool mornings, EM provides her own version of congee, not a puree like the Chinese but a soupy bowl of rice and vegetables. Given a dash of soy sauce and sriracha, EM congee brightens leaden skies.
HG was discussing “scary” movies with his knowledgeable six-year-old grandson, Haru Sakamto Freeman. Haru doesn’t like such films and neither does HG. When little HG was Haru’s age, his beloved sister brought him to a local cinema to see Bela Lugosi in Dracula. The little fellow was traumatized. Still has an unreasonably negative attitude toward mosquito munching bats. Discussion about horror led HG, inevitably, to thoughts of horror meals he has confronted. The worst was somewhere in Vermont. On a country road HG and famished family stopped at a pretty chalet that advertised German home cooking. Oompah music greeted HG and family as they entered and a jolly gent in lederhosen lead us to our table and a steam table buffet. Food must have lingered in that buffet for months. There was mold, congealed grease. Food was not only inedible, it was probably lethal. On another New England trip, HG encountered a New England clam chowder composed of library paste and stale flour. HG’s fury at this horrifying soup has become the stuff of a family legend, oft repeated. HG and BSK once went on a trail riding vacation in Wyoming. The starting point was an attractive ranch where HG and BSK were promised down home Western cooking. This consisted of “instant” potatoes, semi-raw baked (from the texture it might have been crow or vulture) chicken and canned string beans. Jello mold for dessert. After a day’s ride (great horses, spectacular scenery) we bunked at another ranch. Served steak (that’s the way it was described). HG sawed away with his steak knife. Could not make any headway. Had to content himself with Wonder bread (stale) and canned baked beans (luke warm). Rugged cowboy at our table managed to cut his meat and chewed loudly. “Mighty tasty,” said the ranch gourmand. In New York’s Chinatown, HG was once intrigued by a dish at a neighboring table that was being heartily enjoyed by a Chinese family. HG pointed at it and disdaining the advice of his waiter, ordered it. A plate of shoe leather and rubber bands on a bed of rotted fish heads (that’s the way it tasted). These are the only horror meals HG recalls. HG’s healthy food psyche has blanked the others.
This week The New York Times reported the passing (at 87) of Robert Treboux, the proprietor of the frozen-in-time French bistro, Le Veau D’Or located in New York’s Upper East Side. Sad news. Treboux was a gracious man who kept alive old fashioned, French bistro cooking. Nothing ever changed at Le Veau D’Or. Not the decor. Not the menu. Not the gracious service. Only the clientele, which got older every year but remained faithful to this temple of quenelles, tripe, brains in black butter and long simmered butter and wine sauces. When HG had offices on Madison Avenue and 60th Street HG lunched there frequently. HG was served a giveaway of mussels in mustard sauce. Then there was an ample plate of sausage in crust with warm potato salad. Crocks of Dijon mustard (the real, tongue tingling stuff before pallid Grey Poupon arrived on the scene) and cornichons. Then a serving of brains in black butter with crusty bread and parsley-flecked boiled potatoes. A wedge of ripe Camembert helped HG finish his luncheon bottle of Beaujolais. In cold weather, HG often dipped into a huge cassoulet or a Provencal pot roast redolent of garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs
Two years ago, HG lunched at the restaurant with SJ in tow. Treboux was there to give a pleasant welcome. At the end of the meal, HG encountered Elaine Kaufman of Elaine’s Restaurant and settled down to an afternoon of cognac and gossip. Elaine died a few months later. And, now Treboux. Thus, does HG’s New York fade into oblivion.
HG AND BSK are planning a trip to Montreal this winter (Francophone and a lot cheaper to get to than Paris). As is HG’s custom, HG has been doing some thorough research on Montreal restaurants. Lots of good eating. The question is: Can greedy HG survive the onslaught of all the hearty, unhealthy foods that are Montreal specialties and HG’s heart’s (and mouth’s) desire? For example: A local favorite restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon, lists about 25 foie gras dishes on its menu. Foie gras my be outlawed in California but it thrives in Montreal. Examining Montreal bistro menus, HG has spotted lots of wonderful offal — calf’s liver, kidneys in mustard sauce. sweetbreads. And, an HG favorite, os l’moelle — roasted marrow bones served with a thin spoon for excavating, country bread and coarse salt. Steak frites, steak tartare and racks of lamb on every menu. Sammy’s Steak House on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a challenger in Montreal’s Moishe’s Steak House. Moishe serves enormous steaks accompanied by potato latkes or varenekes (a type of pierogi). And, Schwartz’s challenges New York’s Carnegie Deli with its huge smoked meat sandwiches. It seems that Montreal’s Jewish community (which produced Saul Bellow, Mordecai Richler and Leonard Cohen) keeps the old, unhealthy traditions of overeating alive and unwell. HG intends to precede his Montreal visit with a few weeks of tofu and sprouts. After that, lead HG to the good, bad stuff.
For almost a dozen years HG and BSK owned some beautiful Vancouver dwellings (a duplex loft in an old church blessed with spectacular views, a modernist architect’s loft, a steel and glass town house) and spent much time in that glorious city. Vancouver is a tantalizing blend of Canada and Asia. The center of this foodcentric town is the Public Market on Granville Island. Great fruit and vegetables. Every type of fish, shellfish, charcuterie, baguettes, pastry, pasta, cheese, etc., etc. All food fantasies are fulfilled in this joyous bustling space.
Vancouver is (like Seattle) very moist. Rain can be a steady companion for much of the year. HG enjoyed his rainy, Vancouver mornings at the Congee Noodle House (Broadway and Main Street in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood). This is a big, noisy Hong Kong type restaurant that specializes — you guessed it!! — in congee and noodle dishes. Rain would pelt the windows but HG was comfortably settled down with hot tea and the New York Times and the Toronto Globe & Mail. HG would dip into big bowls of congee (comforting Chinse rice porridge for readers who are unfamiliar) enriched with chopped oysters or shrimp or giant Chinese mushrooms (sometimes a combination of all three). The bowls were sprinkled with salty peanuts. Most of the restaurant diners accompanied their congee with Chinese crullers (HG found them nasty) while HG opted for fried squid covered with fried garlic and hot peppers. Happy minutes would stretch into hours and HG would supplement his Asian breakfast with barbecued pork rice crepes and delicious, thin skinned won tons filled with juicy prawns. Vancouver has lots of great restaurants (Vij’s for Indian/Fusion and Tojo’s for imaginative sushi, among them) but funky, soulful Congee Noodle House retains a special place in HG’s culinary heart.
New York used to be a city full of candy stores and cigar stores. The classic New York candy store carried regional NYC treats (Little Chunkies, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and Joyva Halvah) in addition to the national candy bar brands like Hershey, Nestle, Mars, etc.. It usually had a soda fountain dispensing egg creams, glasses of seltzer (“two cents plain”), milk shakes, “malteds” and simple sandwiches and coffee. It also sold cheap toys and some stationery items (“school supplies”). Cigarettes and cigars, naturally. There was a rack of magazines and comics and outside there was a newsstand. Well into the 50’s New York had four afternoon newspapers (Post, Sun, World-Telegram, Journal-American) and four morning papers (Times, Herald-Tribune, News, Mirror) and for a time, the super-liberal PM (later re-named The Compass). There were loads of foreign language papers: The Forward, Day, Morning Journal, Il Progreso, La Prensa, Aufbau, etc.). There were even two communist newspapers, The Worker (in English) and Freiheit (in Yiddish). After dinner, men strolled to the neighborhood candy store to get the early edition of the News and Mirror. The News was the better, sharper paper but the Mirror had the Walter Winchell column and the latest racing results (a necessity for the inveterate horse player).
The candy store was the hangout of bookmakers, gamblers and money lenders (known as “Shys”). Except in the Times Square neighborhood (where there were no candy stores), New York’s cigar stores didn’t attract quite the same sporting element. Candy stores flourished in Jewish neighborhoods. The tough Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. The lethal Murder, Inc. flourished there. It was typical that the Jewish contract killers (“Kid Twist”, “Pittsurgh Phil”. Albert “Tick Tock” Tennenbaum, etc.) didn’t hangout at bars. Their hangout was a candy store called Midnight Roses’s. When little HG visited his Brownsville cousins they were pointed out as neighborhood celebrities. The Brownsville prize fighters — Al Davis, Morrie Reif, Schoolboy Friedkin, etc. — had their own candy store gathering place.
All over Prince Edward Island vendors are selling a Spud Isle specialty — tiny, new potatoes. These potatoes (the largest are the size of a golf ball) have a unique, slightly mineral taste, the product of PEI’s red earth and salt air. They are great tossed with parsley, olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper. Equally good with melted butter. HG likes to smother them in a mixture of chopped dill, garlic, olive oil and Greek yogurt. Unadorned, the little spuds are a nice companion to any cold soup (like the beet borscht and sorrel soup HG’s Mom used to make). When BSK makes roast or grilled chicken she usually usually roasts a big pan of the wee taters with an abundance of herbs, olive oil and garlic. Crisp and intensely flavorful. The potatoes should not be overcooked. They should remain slightly al dente. Only potato to match the PEI product are the little ones La Famiglia would consume on Nantucket Island many years ago. These were a favorite of young gourmand SJ. There must be something about potatoes grown on a salt sea island.
Weather has turned rainy, cloudy, windy and cooler on Prince Edward Island. Time to get carnivorous. Exquisite Maiko met the challenge with a big pot of Japanese chicken and vegetable curry. This is robust food with deep, earthy flavors. Comfort eating from the Far East — a real staple of hard working Japanese families. Not blazing hot like an Indian Vindaloo but more like a stew with French influences. BSK countered with a kale and white bean soup. Diced pancetta and Italian sausage gave it meaty body. Also in the future are Vietnamese pork chops. These are chops marinated win brown sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce and lemon rgass and then grilled. HG is the beneficiay of all this savory culinary creativity. HG’s contribution is to clear a few dishes, drink a lot of wine and compliment the cooks.