HG has had a long standing love affair with Manhattan’s Chinatown. It all began when eight-year-old HG and his beloved older sister, the late Beulah Naomi K., would climb the steep steps at Fordham Road in The Bronx and ride the scenic 3rd Avenue Elevated train (fare — 5 cents) all the way to Chatham Square in Chinatown. Little HG was fascinated. The strange language. The exotic (to little HG’s eyes) people. The vast variety of food being sold in shops, outdoor stalls and by itinerant vendors. And, the restaurants. Ducks hanging in the windows. Fish swimming in tanks. Barbecue experts slicing pork. At first, HG and sister were timid eaters — won ton soup, chicken chow mein, almond cookies for dessert. Ridiculously cheap, of course — 20-25 cents. But, the two fledgling gourmands quickly became more adventurous. Shrimp in lobster sauce. Roast pork over rice. Moo Goo Gai Pan and much much more. In his late 20s (some 56 years ago!) HG discovered dim sum. Nom Wah on Doyers Street was the only dim sum restaurant in Chinatown (now there are scores). HG became an addict and every Sunday morning devoured Nom Wah dim sum while reading the hefty Sunday edition of The New York Times. (Blessedly, Nom Wah has been revived by a new generation of the original owners and they have maintained the wonderful charms of the original decor while giving the place a much needed spruce up.The dim sum are as good as ever). HG realizes that Flushing (and maybe even Brooklyn’s Sunset Park) have replaced Chinatown as the great centers of New York Chinese cuisine. HG and BSK have rented a Chinatown apartment for one week this December and there will be a thorough exploration of the current Chinatown food scene. HG relies upon three Chinatown culinary guides: SJ, David Sietsma of the Village Voice and the blog, lauhound.com. HG remembers when Chinatown only had Cantonese cuisine. Now there are many restaurants featuring regional cooking — Chiu chow, Fujianese, Szechuan, etc. Dumpling and noodle restaurants (many strictly hole-in-the wall) have proliferated. There are many Vietnamese restaurants, including an HG favorite, Nam Son. Chinatown has expanded into the Lower East Side and Little Italy. Mission Chinese, an adventurous California/Chinese venture, has a pastrami dish on its menu. Does this represent a challenge to Katz’s?
Here are two more Santa Fe dining musts. Gabriel’s is ten minutes north of Santa Fe. Beautiful outdoor terrace and lively indoors. Heed HG. There is only one meal to order and that is great. All else is mediocre. Start with guacamole and chips. The guacamole is mixed tableside and it is sublime. Best ever. Then have the pork carnitas platter. One platter can easily serve two and is a nice example of down home New Mexican cooking. Very good flan for dessert. Wash it all down with margaritas.
A polar opposite is New York Deli at the north end of Santa Fe. Here is where you will find nostalgic New Yorkers reading the New York Times while indulging in traditional treats. Owner Jeffrey Schwartzberg is an ex-Brooklynite (reared in Brooklyn before it became a hipster paradise). He serves all the usual suspects: corned beef, pastrami, matzo ball soup, chopped liver, nova smoked salmon with onions and scrambled eggs, bagels, cream cheese, Reubens, etc. Jeffrey has good standards. He cut out bialys when he couldn’t find any that met his standards. Okay, New York Deli isn’t Katz’s or Barney Greengrass, but if your New York heart longs for a traditional New York heartburn, try this haimish place. You’ll find some old Jews telling jokes: Abe Meets Moish. “Moish, the fire. Terrible.” Says Moish: “Shhh. It’s tomorrow.'”
Do not miss the current issue of SAVEUR. The magazine celebrates its 150th issue by compiling 101 classic recipes for appetizers, main courses and deserts. The recipes are super and very international. The world is covered. HG does not miss GOURMET. Always found the magazine a bit precious and elitist. BON APPETIT (under its new editorship) is much better. For good recipes and food ideas, HG likes the blog of David Lebovitz, a Paris-based writer. If food and restaurant writing interests you, discover Waverley Root, a wonderful writer and dining companion of the incomparable A.J. Liebling. Also, see if you can source some of the dining articles by that mannered, ridiculous dandy, Lucius Beebe. Great retro fun.
No, HG doesn’t pick a peck of peppers but he buys a lot of them at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. The pepper in question? Shishito peppers (sometimes called Japanese peppers). These are slim little peppers about two to three inches long. Great with any number of dishes — fish, meat or fowl and equally great on their own. HG likes to put out a big bowl of them — sauteed in a hot pan with lots of garlic — alongside slices of good, toasted bread rubbed with oil, garlic and tomato. HG gathers some friends and pours red wine (Rioja, Tempranillo or Malbec). Lively conversation ensues and much scorn is heaped on Mitt and other enemies of women. HG learned about these peppers in Madrid where a Shishito lookalike is dubbed Piquillos al Padron. These are omnipresent in Madrid bars and bistros, HG and BSK devoured hundreds accompanied by Pulpo al Galego — very tender chunks of super tender octopus cooked in the Galician style (tomatoes, garlic and Spanish hot paprika (pimenton). Bread sopped up the sauces and sangria washed them down. Olé! There’s a minor problem with these peppers. Most of them are mild but every now and then you encounter a hot guy. Then you might need artificial respiration. My pepper guy at the Farmers’ Market also carries piquillos al padron. He steered me away from them. “Molto, molto picante,” he warned. When a Spanish speaking New Mexican farmer says a pepper is hot, you better believe him. They know hot.
No, a fat pig was not available at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. However, an adorable goat was tethered at one produce stand and was the recipient of many pats from little kids who demanded: “Mom, Mom, can I have a pet goat?” Lots of music at the Market including a first: A very good string quartet doing Bach and Mozart tuneful justice. Many handsome, tanned people having a good time. So, what did HG buy ? Shishito peppers. (HG will do a separate post on this tasty vegetable). Haricots verde (they will accompany grilled lamb chops tonight). Tiny eggplants (these little ones have more flavor than the water logged big ones). Baby turnips (sliced raw and sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt are better than radishes). Frisee (looking forward to a traditional Paris bistro salad containing bacon and a poached egg). Garden lettuce. Fingerling potatoes (really teeny tiny and at their best when given a quick fry with olive oil and herbs). Escarole (there will be an Italian escarole and bean soup on BSK’s menu). Two artisan goat cheese spreads — one with garlic and one with dill. Needles to say, everything at the market was organic, local and super fresh. HG and BSK’s culinary future is looking good.
Santa Fe seems to have more restaurants per capita than any place in the West. A very wide range from the pretentious and pricey to the down home and cheap. Permanent population is small but when the legislature is operating there is a deluge of politicos, lawyers, lobbyists, etc. And, of course, there are the omnipresent tourists. Once more a wide range: Dusty drifters, plain folks, multi-millionaire art collectors — and everything in between.
HG is often asked for dining advice in “The City Different.” Here are some must-visit spots that HG has posted about previously: 12 minutes north of Santa Fe in Pojaque is El Parasol and O’ Eating House. El Parasol is where the Latino folks eat and it is homey, cheap, delicious. Real Northern New Mexico cooking. Do not miss the green chile menudo and the chicken tacos. O’ serves sophisticated Italian food and creative, thin-crusted pizzas. In Santa Fe, go to Tia Sophia’s for Tex-Mex food, Jambo Cafe for Caribbean and African food, Tune Up (a real neighborhood hangout) for a great breakfast burrito smothered in green chile sauce. Tune Up also has wonderful pies and cakes (so save room). Shohko Cafe has surprisingly good sushi and crisp, light tempura. HG’s favorite New Mexico chef, Eric Stapelman, has two wonderful places: Shibumi Ramenya (ramen and Japanese izakaya dishes) and Trattoria Nostrani (sophisticated Italian food and splendid wines). Be forewarned: Eric runs fragrance-free restaurants so omit perfume and cologne. HG;s luncheon favorite is The Compound on gallery-lined Canyon Road. Do not miss the chicken schnitzel with caper sauce. Bon appeit!!
It says it on the New Mexico license plate: “Land of Enchantment.” This isn’t silly boosterism. New Mexico is enchanting. There are very few places in the United States that combine diversity, scenic grandeur and centuries of history. Santa Fe contains an almost unbelievable number of first rate museums and art galleries. Music, theater and an internationally famous opera house. And more. Much more.
BSK and HG are happily home at their Santa Fe County estate. No it’s not really an estate, just a five acre oasis, green and lush amidst sun bleached mesas and 200-year-old adobe dwellings. Trees and shrubs are gradually changing color. Looking forward to gold, rust and red in coming weeks.
Oh, it’s good to be home. HG celebrated homecoming with a copious bowl of green chile menudo at El Parasol in Pojaque. BSK visited a nearby farmers market and scored shishito peppers; and, as it is the season for green chilies, the scent of roasted green chiles filled the air and BSK made sure to pack her basket with those as well. Green chili sauce and green chili stews will warm the winter months. Scrambled eggs, green chili sauce, broiled tomatoes and lots of warm corn tortillas. Those are the ingredients of HG’s favorite cold weather breakfast.
Air travel is tedious and tiring these days. There is a whiff of fascism to the utterly nonsensical rules, regulations and procedures demanded in flying from one city to another. Some 13 hours of transit altogether from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to a one night stay in Denver. HG and BSK were tired, grumpy and very hungry when they arrived in the Mile High City. Time for comfort food. Off to Little India (the Sixth Avenue location). Great food (a new chef, perhaps?). Chicken Tikka from the tandoori oven was juicy, full of flavor — nestled on thinly slcied sweet onions and peppers on a sizzling platter. Excellent onion kulcha bread. Fluffy saffron rice. Greaseless papadums with two good dipping sauces. Cooling Raita and a bowl of mango chutney. The surprise was the vegetable dishes: an eggplant stew and a bowl of okra. The vegetables retained integrity and were miracles of Indian spicing. The restaurant has a nice wine list and good Indian beers as well as Anchor Steam Ale from San Francisco. Finished with pistachio ice cream. No, not that green crap masquerading under the label pistachio. This was Indian pistachio ice cream that was saffron in color, contained chunks of pistachio and was delicious.
Breakfast the next day (before the 5 and 1/2 hour drive to Santa Fe) was at Racine’s, a Denver landmark. Three-egg omelettes stuffed with green chiles and then smothered in a porky, green chile sauce. Crisp home fries and warm biscuits. Yes, HG and BSK really felt they were back in the great West. Much chatter in the big, handsome restaurant about the coming of the Football Messiah (Peyton Manning). Denver folks have been waiting for the next Messiah since the retirement of the original, John Elway. Lots of Super Bowl dreams. BSK is oblivious. HG will observe with focused interest.
Happy New Year to one and all. Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year holiday, has just passed and solemn Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and atonement, will soon be here. This leads HG to a remembrance of a Jewish Tom Sawyer moment when HG was a growing and ever-hungry ten-year-old. HG’s mother and father were secular, left wing socialists. However, in a bow to tradition and identification with their fellow Jews, they observed the High Holy Days. HG’s father attended synagogue on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur was a day of fasting (which ended in an exuberant feast). One autumn, HG’s Mom prepared a big tray of rugelach for the fast-ending Yom Kippur dinner. Yes, you can buy rugelach today from Zabar’s, Dean & DeLuca and many other sources. These yummy Eastern European pastries have entered the foodie mainstream. However, current day rugelach are only pale imitations of HG’s Mom’s cinnamon, raisin, walnut stuffed wonders. Little HG was a rugelach junkie. One wasn’t enough and a dozen weren’t too many. On that memorable Yom Kippur day many years ago, little HG came home and discovered the tray of rugelach cooling in the pantry. The HG family lived on the ground floor of a two family house and the pantry could be entered through a separate rear door. Hungry HG discovered the apartment was empty and this gave him the opportunity to do the forbidden: Eat on Yom Kippur and devour rugelach meant for the celebratory dinner. Well, naughty HG ate a rugelleh (the singuar of rugellach. HG rearranged the tray so his theft would not be discovered. This made HG even hungrier so HG ate another rugelleh. Yes, gluttony took over and the bad boy ate every pastry on the tray. Mom came home and discovered the theft. Obviously, rugelach burglars were at work. “Goniffs came in through the back door. I’m calling the cops,” she shouted. HG had to confess. No hitting but many angry words. Fortunately, Mom had made a big lekach, a honey cake. At dinner that night the family had wedges of the cake and toasted the new year with shots of Park & Tilford rye whiskey. All made wishes for a sweet new year. Little HG was forgiven. After all, his pastry felony could be interpreted as a loving testimonial to his Mom’s baking skills.
Last day in PEI before setting out on the long and tedious air journey to New Mexico. Lots of last minute chores to insure our home on the sea sails through the winters without mishap. So, no cooking. Instead, dining at two Prince Edward island standbys, both overlooking scenic St. Peter’s Bay — the breeding ground of the very best mussels. We had planned to visit Lin’s Takeout for a luncheon scallop sandwich. Unfortunately, Lin was out of scallops so she suggested a halibut sandwich. Glad she did. The sandwich consisted of a half-pound slab of fresh, juicy just grilled halibut on a big bun. Slices of sweet onion, ripe tomato and plenty of mayonnaise. One of the great 9 buck sandwiches. Dinner was at Rick’s Fish & Chips. Started with shucked, briny Malpeque oysters and went on to perfectly crisp, falvorfully battered and fried haddock withe plentiful hand cut French fried potatoes and onion rings. The surprise was our beverages–a big, cold bottle of Gahan House Brewery Brown Ale and its companion, a bottle of the brewery’s 1172 India Pale Ale. Splendid drinking. The Brown Ale had lots of roasted malt exuberance and the India Pale had lots of alcohol and a refreshingly bitter finish. Both ales are brewed at the Gahan House Brewery in Charlottetown, PEI’s major city. Nice way to say au revoir to the gentle green island.