HG has a Christmas tradition. When in New York around the holidays, HG lunches with Restaurateur Daughter Victoria (Five Points, Cookshop, Hundred Acres) at Balthazar, the great, huge, bustling brasserie in Soho. The place is a miracle. From the age-dappled mirrors to the polished brass to the gleaming dark wood, It looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like (loud) an old school Parisian brasserie. Service is deft. Given the extraordinary turnover, the food is surprising — ranging from good to excellent. The bread (especially the flavorful dark) is noteworthy and the Macon and Beaujolais Villages sold by the carafe are a value. The HG/Victoria lunch is an epic, lasting between three and four hours. (Victoria says it is a matter of making up for the years when we were out of touch). The centerpiece of the traditional lunch is Le Grand Plateau de Fruits de Mer. Victoria (who really knows food costs) says it is a bargain at $90. Le Grand is a two-tiered tower of oysters, clams, whelks (bulots in Paris); room temperature steamed mussels; sea scallop seviche; giant prawns; cracked crab and calamari salad. A preposterous amount of sea critters. Accompanied by appropriate condiments, lots of buttered dark bread and many, many glasses of chilled Macon, HG and Victoria had a joyous and gluttonous feast. But, the meal didn’t end there. The duo shared some brandade and finished with a shared dessert of profiteroles doused with lots of warm chocolate syrup. An offer of grappa was turned down. Enough, surprisingly, is enough. HG, BSK and friend Stevie P. returned to Balthazar the next day to lunch on duck confit, steak tartare, watercress salad, pommes frites, onion soup and creme brulee. Equally good but restrained.
HG enjoys good (and eccentric) Rhode Island cuisine: Fried calamari with hot pickled peppers. Del’s Frozen Lemonade. New York Systems (wieners on a bun with celery salt, onions, mustard and a unique, Greek influenced meat sauce). Briny, clear clam chowder (no cream or tomatoes). Snail salad. HG does not share the Rhode Island obsession with Dunkin’ Donuts (highest per capita doughnut consumption in the US). But what stands Rhode Island apart is the quality of their clams. Yes, HG, a long time enthusiast for Long Island clams, must confess. Rhode Island clams are the best. They are tender, full of brine and juicy with clam goodness. Ornaments of the sea. HG and BSK are at the Riverside, R.I., home of Daughter Lesley and Profesor/’Dottore Massimo R. for family Christmas. Their home faces Naragansett Bay and their dining room is the venue for many sea treats. Tonight the treat was clam chowder prepared with potatoes, onions, tarragon and many, many, many juicy cherrystone clams. Lesley treats clams with respect. Never overcooked. The big, steaming bowls were a joy. There was a lovely bottle of white wine from Romagna. HG finished the meal with Stilton, grapes and Beaujolais. Grappa for a friendly nightcap.
HG is a lucky man. While HG gets great gustatory pleasures eating at restaurants throughout the world, it is the meals that HG eats with his family that transport him. Yes, HG is blessed with a family of great chefs; and chefs whose influences and talents are truly global in scope. Take the two meals HG ate over the past week: Dinner in Brooklyn Chez SJ and Exquisite Maiko. Their pals Jay and Maya were present. Jay is an outstanding wit and guarantor of laughter. So, fun was guaranteed. A bottle of Tito’s Hand Made Vodka was on the table. The meal started with French smoked herring and smoked salmon. Rich, unusual tastes. Then, wielding chopsticks with her usual grace, Exquisite Maiko transformed into a master of Japanese style BBQ, grilling marinated short ribs and thin slices of pork belly to perfection on a table top barbecue. The crisp, sizzling pieces of meat were placed in cold lettuce leaves accompanied by EM’s extraordinary sesame oil and scallion dressing, onion sauce and discreet dabs of wasabi. With sips of cold vodka, the meal turned into a paen to the real flavors of beef and pork where richness was counter-balanced with the lighter, healthier touch of EM’s Japanese presentation.
Onto Rhode Island where comfort may be the last word one associates with the ever turbulent, bloody and embattled Middle East. But, the word is appropriate when applied to Brilliant Daughter Lesley R.’s riffs on dishes from that region. Lesley R. made her own version of little kefta (middle eastern stuffed grain and lamb meatballs). The ingredients: Ground lamb. cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, chopped almonds, chopped onions, garlic and raisins. Beaten egg as a binder. The mixture was formed into balls (about the size of a golf ball) and baked on a cookie sheet. When done, these were popped into steaming lentil soup. The ingredients: Red lentils, chopped onions and garlic, cumin, finely chopped carrots, chicken stock. Salt and pepper, of course. The savory bowls of soup and meatballs were topped with scoops of Greek yogurt and sprinkled with cayenne. To complete this filling and heartening one dish meal there was cheese, green salad and very superior bread from the Seven Stars Bakery in Providence. Needless to say, there was ample wine.
Yes, verily, verily — there’s no place like home.
Feasting and festivities seem to go together. The Day After Christmas Dinner was a festive feast for a table of 12. And, the dozen members of La Famiglia were of good appetite. Mushroom soup (shitakes, cremini, porcini). Brisket and gravy; haricots vert, kale salad; SJ’s super-buttery, creamy, smooth mashed potatoes. Plus an unusual dish of Middle Eastern carrots (abundant cumin and garlic). Pear Clafouti and whipped cream for dessert. Excellent wines (white and red). Time for confession: HG overdid the pre-dinner vodka and the post-dinner Lesley R.-crafted limoncello. Head and tummy whirled about at bedtime but had eased by morning wake-up. Obviously, the purity of HG’s soul and the organic integrity of Lesley R.’s cuisine banished the toxins.
This might be the best Christmas holiday ever. It began with the surprise gift to Beautiful Granddaughter Sofia R. of Pippy, certainly the most enchanting puppy HG has ever encountered. Then the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes (Jewish-Japanese-Italian style as befitting the multi-ethnic group). Three types of smoked salmon; smoked tuna; wasabi enhanced flying fish roe (Tobiko); whitefish; sable; red salmon caviar. All prime stuff from Russ & Daughters on New York’s Lower East Side. SJ also provided the table with plenty of scallion cream cheese and superior Kosar’s bialys, bagels and that baked rarity — the old fashioned “pletzel” (onion roll). Big bowls of sour cream plus raw onions, capers, lemon wedges and three varieties of pickles (sour, half-sours and green tomatoes). Lesely R. made her ethereal blinis and crepes while SJ sizzled his superb, crisp potato pancakes. But, for HG, the star of the feast was herring, namely raw Dutch herring from the cold waters of the Netherlands coast. HG coated the delicious morsels with chopped raw onions. Chilled Tito’s Vodka. Black and Tan (Guinesss Stout and Bass Ale, mixed half-and-half). HG drank these accompaniments to happy excess. Christmas morning, HG received gala gifts — a cane topped with the ivory head of a fierce eagle from Lesley and Massimo R.; a soft and warm flannel nightshirt plus nightcap; A Russian faux fur hat emblazoned with the hammer and sickle (warming gifts from BSK who likes a Heated Hubby); old time candy bars and a wanted book from SJ; a copy of the latest installment of Robert Caro’s monumental biography of LBJ and other literature from L. and M. R.; granola of the gods handcrafted by Gifted Granddaughter Arianna R. L. and M.R. gave BSK the complete Hellen Mirren/ “Prime Suspect” DVDs (perfect for chill weather viewing), SJ presented BSK with her own website, putting BSK’s glorious pottery online. Everyone else received thoughtful and glorious gifts. Wishes were fulfilled. Joy was unconfined. Sometimes materialism is sheer fun. Christmas Day dinner was a rerun of the previous feast with the addition of chopped liver plus pastrami and tongue from Katz’s Deli in New York plus smoked ham sourced by SJ from the illustrious Polish butcher, Jubilat Provisions in Brooklyn. Because of eccentric schedules and the arrival of Restaurateur Daughter Victoria F. on the day after Christmas, the Christmas dinner of brisket and assorted good things will be delayed for a day. Worth waiting for. (Also, HG must fully recover from much ingestion of an after dinner alcoholic digestif, Limoncello, handcrafted by Lesley R. for her bibulous Dad).
Dim Sum Go Go represented a new wave of dim sum in New York’s Chinatown (at East Broadway and Division) when it opened more than ten years ago. No huge noisy space with inscrutable women pushing carts. Just a pretty, modernist room with dim sum dishes served a’ la carte from an extensive menu. The Dim Sum was a revelation. Served piping hot, the flavors, ingredients and shapes of the dumplings broke the mold of what New Yorkers (up to that point) had come to expect from Dim Sum — there were green Sea Food dumplings as delectable as a tiny purse, a variety of strictly vegetarian choices with fillings like Chinese parsley and bamboo hearts, there were delicious sharksfin dumpling, pale yellow and springing with freshness and flavor. After some good years, Dim Sum Go Go seemed to go into decline. Yes, it was much favored by tourists because of guide book praise. But, gourmands like SJ and HG found it wanting. The good news is that the eatery seems to have regained its form. Daughter Victoria, the renowned proprietress (with husband Marc M.) of Cookshop, Five Points and Hundred Acres, hosted a brunch and it was splendid. Particularly enjoyed the crab dumpling, shrimp dumplings (har gow), the steamed spare ribs, spring rolls and pork buns. The place has retained its popularity so make a reservation.
Birthday dinner for SJ. Restaurateur Daughter Victoria (Five Points, Cookshop, Hundred Acres) is a long time pal of chef Jonathan Waxman (you may have seen him on TV in one of his many appearances on shows like Top Chef , etc.). So, the birthday dinner was planned for his West Village restaurant, Barbuto. Victoria’s instructions were succinct: “Feed us, Jonathan.” And, so we were fed gloriously and sumptuously. The table for six (Birthday Boy, Exquisite Maiko, HG, BSK, Victoria and Zena B.) was served family style. First course was four big platters — fried brandade cakes with aioli; Italian charcuterie with crusty bread; a wondrous shredded kale salad shot through with a tart lemon-anchovy-pecorino dressing; a citrus salad enlivened with slivers of jalapeno peppers. Chilled prosecco. Second course: Two pastas — Gemelli with broccoli di rabe and tagliatelle with a rich, shredded pork ragu. Oh, my!! Much California Jackhammer Pinot Noir. Was difficult to pace oneself appropriately and do justice to the Third Course: Monkfish in wine sauce; rare, sliced steak; Jonathan Waxman’s signature roast chicken; crisp and crusty roast potatoes. With courage, fortitude and appetite, HG sampled all. Honest, straightforward cuisine at its best. Dessert was a perfect semifreddo. Gasps of contentment. Sighs of overindulgence. Happy, happy birthday SJ. Thank you, Beautiful Zena, for making a surprise appearance. Thank you, Victoria for creating this dinner. Thank you, Jonathan, for your warm hearted hospitality.
Oh, what pure unmitigated fun. HG and BSK had a reunion dinner in New York’s Chinatown with three delightful, food and frolic loving couples. Donald K., Bruce M. and Bobbi S. were colleagues during HG’s days as a public relations mogul (okay, mini mini mogul). All were trained by HG and all went on to very successful careers. (HG takes a modest bow for his contribution). The reunion venue was Peking Duck House. An attractive, festive and noisy place. The name says it all. This is the place for Peking duck. The restaurant has a nice BYOB policy so the group was well provisioned with HG’s vodka, Donald K.’s illustrious white wines from New York’s Finger Lakes district and Steve S.’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Pleasant appetizers (including an appetite honing salad of spicy white cabbage). Then three ducks. Crisp skin. Juicy meat. The carved slices were tucked into hot pancakes with scallions and hoisin sauce. Foodie heaven. But, the voracious sextet wanted more so there were some big platters of garlic eggplant and sauteed pork with noodles. Some of the greedy gentlemen could have continued to explore the very good menu, But, as the cliche would have it, cooler heads prevailed.
Bao, that puffy Chinese bun often filled with a savory or sweet interior, is becoming New York’s new trendy nosh. HG has always loved Bao since his first encounter with the tasty treat — stuffed with savory pork — at Nom Wah Tea House in New York’s Chinatown during the early 50’s (at that time, Nom Wah was the only place in New York serving dim sum). HG is not suffering Bao deprivation in New Mexico. Ziggy’s, a splendid shop in Santa Fe, stocks frozen pork buns from O’Tasty Foods, Inc. (along with scores of other international culinary items). O’Tasty’s Bao is a great product (HG likes them with his morning coffee). O’Tasty is a leading supplier to good Chinese restaurants throughout the United States (you’ve probably enjoyed their products without being aware of their origin.) The company produces gyoza, dumplings, su mai and potstickers in addition to the buns. They are mostly a wholesale supplier but if you want them to ship some good dim sum products to you, give them a call. 1-800-953-1229. (Company is based in California).
HG is downcast. Boston’s Locke-Ober, the great, venerable (in business for almost 150 years) restaurant has closed and its equipment and memorobilia are being sold. Another wonderful, gracious culinary landmark has bitten the dust. Ah, Locke-Ober. Heaven on a cold New England night. Dark wood. Old paintings. Big, comfy chairs. Soft lights in old fixtures. Professional waiters. And, the food. Oysters and clams from the New England coast, briny, cold and shucked with finesse. Old fashioned dishes like Lobster Savannah; calf’s liver with bacon and onions; broiled Boston scrod. The best gratin dauphinois this side of Paris. Perfect, crisp onion rings. A wide selection of foraged wild mushrooms. One of the few places in the United States where steak tartare was done right. And, HG’s favorite dessert, a house specialty: Indian Pudding topped with creamy vanilla ice cream. HG must stop. Eyes have become misted.