HG had early (seven AM) left eye cataract surgery this morning. Quite painless. However, the anesthesia, IV, drops (and the early hour) left HG tired and blurry eyed. BSK drove the unhappy fellow home and comforted him with a lush platter of softly scrambled eggs and cheese grits. Plus, a pot of tea brewed in the English manner. Ah, life has few better rewards than being coddled (and cuddled) by a lovely woman. Lucky, lucky HG.
Read with interest the New York Times interview with HG’s favorite writer of fiction, Philip Roth. It seems Roth has had his say. No more books, no more arduous attention to the brutal task of writing. Sad news for serious readers. (And, why hasn’t Roth been awarded the Nobel? This is an injustice). The last time HG saw Roth it was breakfast time at Barney Greengrass, the venerable smoked fish emporium on Manhattan’s upper west side. Roth looked gloomy. The lox-bagel-cream cheese and coffee combo he was eating didn’t seem to lift his spirits. HG mused that the author was probably thinking that one more day of word wrestling lay before him. These varied Rothian thoughts lead HG back to long ago memories of Sunday-Breakfast-In-The-Bronx-With-Mom-And-Pop. (HG uses caps because this traditional breakfast was always an epic feast). No matter where HG had spent Saturday night, or from what bed HG had arisen, young bachelor HG always called Mom early Sunday to discuss breakfast (yes, the meal began at about 10:30 or 11 so these days it would be called brunch). HG visited the “appetizing” store on Kingsbridge Road and procured Nova Scotia smoked salmon, sable, pickled herring, a robust smoked whitefish, Greek olives, sour kosher dill pickles, potato salad and cole slaw. On that same morning Pop was off to the bakery for bagels, bialys, onion rolls, Jewish rye bread and Stuhmer’s pumpernickel. The table was set with plenty of sweet butter, Daitch cream cheese and sliced tomatoes and onions. Lots of coffee plus a bottle of cognac (both HG and Pop liked to “correct,” as Italians put it, their coffee with shots of brandy. The smoked fish delights lead into a big platter of softly scrambled eggs with fried onions and mushrooms. Danish pastry for dessert. HG worked all of this off in Central Park. Rough touch football. Ah, youth, you magic time.
At one time, HG subscribed to Calvin Trillin‘s jaundiced views concerning the Thanksgiving Day turkey. Trillin mused that American cuisine would have improved if Italians had landed at Plymouth rather than English Puritans. An Italian landing would have meant Spaghetti Carbonara on Thamskgiving Day rather than turkey, a bird Trillin does not admire. HG is very fond of both Carbonara and the prose of Trilllin, but HG has become ever fonder of The Big Bird and all the trimmings. This Thanksgiving, HG and BSK were blessed with having BSK’s family (folks with big appetites) at the table. The family group was composed of BSK’s sister, Noel;her husband, Yossi, and their two sons, Eric and Matthew. Also present was Eric’s beautiful girl friend, Lisa. The two young men are big guys — well over six feet and well over 200 pounds. Much muscle. Lisa (a Norwegian horse vaulting champion) is a powerful lass who bench presses over 200 pounds. Combined with Yossi, a rangy Israeli who is a renowned Clean Plate Ranger, this quartet can do a lot of damage to a large turkey. With some help from HG, BSK and Noel, the group totally demolished a 16-pound turkey, mounds of mashed potatoes, brussell sprouts roasted with pancetta, stir fried haricot verts, corn bread-sausage-pecan stuffing, two varieties of cranberry sauce. Plus the obligatory gallon of savory gravy (enhanced by BSK’s lovely roux and some judicious spicing). No second day turkey sandwiches. Only a skeleton went into the turkey broth pot. Dessert was BSK’s nut and cinnamon apple crisp (with vanilla ice cream) plus Noel’s honey cake. Adding to the jolly times were six bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau (very good this year) plus Samuel Adams ale, pre-dinner iced vodka and post dinner Israeli dessert wine (resembled a good French sweet Sauterne). Much to be thankful for.
It all started with a little taco stand in Espanola, NM, started by two Atencio brothers in 1958. Sheltered by an umbrella provided by their father, Luis Atencio, the two peddled their mother’s home-cooked tacos and tamales to rapidly growing audience. Business flourished and, in time, that taco stand took over the family plumbing business and expanded into the full scale restaurant, El Paragua, and six casual dining EL Parasol eateries in New Mexico (franchised to various generations of the Atencio family. All provide great, down home Northern New Mexican food (as HG has often noted, HG is addicted to El Parasol’s green chile menudo and posole).
HG and BSK dined at El Paragua last night with visiting Mike Rock and Trish Layton. Chilly night and the restaurant with its dark wooden furniture, Hispanic artifacts, photos and newspaper clippings exuded warmth and the aromas of good cooking. The group was met by smiling Jose Atencio, the proprietor and host. First, some splendid frozen margaritas in big, salt rimmed glasses. Then, Jose presented bowls of hot broth filled with pork, garbanzos, bits of red chile and ripe avocado slices as a garnish. Chill was vanquished. Dinner was menudo, carne adovado, enchiladas, charro beans, guacamole, shrimp in garlic sauce. Plus warm sopapillas with honey and elderberry jelly. Flan for dessert. Generous Jose Atencio climaxed the meal with brandy snifters of a Mexican liqueur not imported to the United States (HG believes it is called “Membrillo”). Fabulous. Jose took us on a tour of the restaurant. Much history. A favorite restaurant of the actor Anthony Quinn. Dennis Hopper, when he lived in Taos, NM, would come to El Paragua to drink and play cards with Jose’s father, Luis Atencio. Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and many others have dined there. That’s El Paragua — a nice blend of food and history warmed by the gracious service and happy ambience created by Jose Atencio.
Some years ago HG and BSK were strolling in the colorful, noisy, fragrant Italian city of Naples, a place where anarchy (and crime) reigns. It was midday and a group of men gathered before the ground floor of a ramshackle apartment house. A window opened and a woman handed out bowls of something that looked quite robust (HG thinks it was Trippa Napoletana — tripe done in the Neapolitan style). The lady sold a lot of food. HG doubts whether she was troubled by health inspectors or tax collectors. The scene reminded HG of the illegal restaurants that used to flourish in the basements of buildings in New York’s Garment Center and Fur District. These places opened at noon and closed at two. The scene was mayhem. Workers in the Fur District were Greeks and Jews. The cuisine reflected this. HG remembers tasty Moussaka, lemony chicken stews, goulash. kasha varnishkes with mushrooms, onions and chicken livers. Hearty stuff for hardworking folks untroubled by indelicate presentation.
No, HG is not referring to that member of the Russian marten family whose luxurious pelts are favored by the world’s wealthiest and most luxuriously dressed women. HG refers to the fish known as sable (or black cod or sablefish). Its habitat is the deep waters of the North Pacific. Smoked sable, in HG’s opinion, is far preferable to smoked sturgeon. Moister. A more buttery taste. A better mouth feel. The best sable comes from the venerable Russ & Daughters on New York’s lower east side. Happily, it can be ordered online. HG likes it on Jewish rye bread or Russian pumpernickel lavishly spread with good cream cheese. A grind of black pepper is obligatory. HG banishes lemon as interfering with the taste. Accompanies the treat`with icy vodka. But, this isn’t the only way to eat sable. Trader Joe’s now carries very estimable frozen unsmoked filets of sable. All they need is a gentle saute. Flavor them with a bit of soy sauce and maple syrup. The salty/sweet mix will accent the richness of the fish. Delicious and healthy. Lots of valuable Omega 3.
Finally. A real dinner of celebration. Oh, it’s good to win and the Obama victory had an extra measure of sweetness as Mr. Cellophane (aka Mitt), the wasted $400 Million Man (Karl Rove) and The Hair Brained (Donald Trump) tasted the bitter dregs of defeat. Talking about tasting, deliciousness abounded as HG and BSK hosted a happy group of distinguished Democrats at a laughter infused dinner party. Present were Mayor Bob Murphy of Lakewood, CO. (a landslide election winner earlier in the year) plus his brother, Don. Bob’s wife, the lovely, Ina Gustafson was present (wearing some of the striking jewelry she designs). Joining us from Crested Butte, CO.. were Mike Rock, the distinguished urbanist and former city manager. Mike was accompanied by Trish Layton, economic development expert, equestrienne and former championship diver. A handsome and talented group bearing numerous bottle of excellent Pinot Noir. Dinner started with prosciutto and ripe figs; mozzarella and tomatoes; prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks. Sparkling Pinot Grigio. Then there were some brimming bowls of fettucine with Bolognese ragu (BSK follows Marcella Hazan’s recipe and it is robust and full of flavor). The Pinot Noir set it off nicely. This was followed by camambert and gorgonzola, artisan sourdough bread and a tossed salad of baby lettuces. Dessert: BSK’s apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. The crisp was made with apples selected by BSK from the HG/BSK orchard. Chiiled limoncello ended the meal. But, not the happy, laughing sounds.
When HG was a very, very little boy lamb chops were his favorite dish. The little guy called them “ompalomps.” HG hated spinach. So, his cunning Mom buried the spinach in buttery mashed potatoes and HG consumed every drop. Okay, enough sickeningly cute kiddy memories. Lamb chops remain an HG favorite. Best lamp chops ever were the chops at Leon Lianides’ great Greenwich Village restaurant, the Coach House. The rack of lamb was also wonderful there, only matched by the rack at Le Stella, the Paris brasserie. But the marvel, the ultimate not-to-be-equalled rack is found at an unlikely place: The Grand Hotel Restaurant in Big Timber, Montana. HG discovered it because Big Timber is midway, between Denver and Vancouver, so it was a logical place to stop when motoring between the two cities. At the Grand Hotel you accompanied the lamb with a robust red wine from Walla Walla, Washington (HG thinks Wall Walla has the best red in the universe). Another favorite of lamb lovers is the mutton chop at New York’s venerable Keen’s Chop House. You can get it with Yorkshire Pudding and it is a treat. (The old Gage & Tollner’s in Brooklyn served their mutton chop with corn fitters, a nice idea). BSK likes to butterfly a leg of lamb, marinate it in red wine, garlic and herbs and then barbecue it to crusty perfection. Serves it with Greek Avoglemono sauce (eggs and lemon juice are the principal ingredients). Big time gourmandizing.
With the Pacific Ocean on one side and lofty mountain peaks on the other, the Canadian city of Vancouver is one of the world’s great places. A joy to live in. A joy to visit. HG and BSK spent some eight years there in a loft overlooking the sparkling skyscrapers and natural wonders of the town. Their neighborhood was Mt. Pleasant, the epicenter of Canadian cool. Full of boutiques, coffee shops and wonderful Asian restaurants. The neighborhood is still a bit gritty and that’s what gives it some zing. If you want to visit (and you really shouldn’t miss it) rent a furnished apartment in the Mt. Pleasant nabe (there are no hotels to recommend but airbnb.com has lots of inexpensive apartment listings). Much to do and see in the glorious town but HG will just guide you to some of the best (and cheapest) dining you can walk to from your rented digs. Breakfast at sprawling Congee Noodle House. Name says it all — great congee and noodle soups plus splendid won tons, rice crepes and bean curd. Chutney Villa is a warm and friendly South Indian spot with great dosas, curries and creative chutneys. Try Peaceful Restaurant for beef rolls and dan dan noodles. Hime Japanese for sushi and Les Faux Bourgeois for down home bistro favorites. Eight 1/2 Bar is where the young hipsters drink and snack. Ten minute walk from Main Street in Mt. Pleasant is Szechuan Chonquing at 2808 Commercial Drive. (The “Drive” is home to alternative culture types, punks, junkies and lots of laid back Canadian families). Szechuan Chonquing is an HG favorite for dim sum. No carts. Order off the menu. Everything arrives hot and freshly made. This is another spot for dan dan noodles (lots of fire in this restaurant’s version). These suggestions can give you a taste of Vancouver. Yes, there are lots of wonderful restaurants outside of Mt. Pleasant. Vij’s, Kirin and Tojo’s are three greats. Go and discover.
Since HG and BSK have visited Paris very often, the duo are often asked for advice from first time visitors. HG AND BSK speak almost no French so their expertise is limited. However, here are some pointers. Rent an apartment. Cheaper and more spacious than a hotel. Breakfast at home. Go out in the morning and pick up a baguette, brioche, croissants (and a copy of the Herald-Tribune and Pariscope — the latter will give you info on everything happening in Paris including movies, music ,dance, galleries, theater, etc.). Visit museums in the morning (less crowded) Make a 1:30 lunch reservation at a bistro (cheaper and more Parisian at lunch). Stroll, shop, wander after lunch. When you lunch out have dinner at home. Cheese, charcuterie, fruit, etc. are unsurpassed in Paris. Best of all, good wine is cheap. If you have dinner at a restaurant, reserve no earlier than 8:30. If you reserve too early you will find yourself in an enclave of American tourists. Always reserve. Paris restaurateurs honor reservations so if you have to cancel be sure to call. The food departments at Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette department stores are spectacular — and fun. A must for gourmands. The best guide to dining in Paris is Alexander Lobrano’s Hungry For Paris. Indispensable. Also check out John Talbott’s blog. Paris dining is not just about food (HG thinks New York is vastly superior in terms of raw ingredients and the encyclopedic choice of ethnic foods). But, Parisian restaurants have an ambience that is magical. Some other pointers: Avoid the Champs Elysee. Big chain store heaven. Avoid “tasting menus.” Too much food. It all becomes a jumble. Indulge in oysters and crepes (Breizh is a good place).Go to the movies. Paris is a town for cinema lovers There are theaters that function as repertories, showing numerous films from the past every day. Few things are more fun than a movie followed by an oyster feast at a late night brasserie like Le Vaudeville or Wepler’s. M’sieu, another bottle of Muscadet, si vous plais.