Arizona Delights and an Unlikely Hot Dog Winner

January 16th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Escaped a cold snap in New Mexico by weekending in the luxurious casita at the Carefree, Arizona home of our hospitable friends, Henry and Judy G. Some of the highlights: Saw a delightful musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” The venue was the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, an elegant jewel of a theater with comfortable seats, excellent sight lines and good acoustics. The production was flawless. Perfectly sung, acted, staged, lit and costumed. HG and BSK agreed. Nothing beats good live theater. This experience was preceded by brunch at the nearby Chelsea’s Kitchen. Lots of beautiful people, Pretty room. Dazzling white wine sangria. HG relished hot cakes with real maple syrup, fruit and rashers of bacon. BSK knocked off a substantial platter of huevos rancheros. A sophisticated lineup of food and beverages. HG noted an Aperol Spritz and a bottle of Duvel Ale on the drinks menu. Chelsea’s is run by true professionals. Brunch was reminiscent of the weekend midday feast at Daughter Victoria’s Five Points Restaurant on Great Jones Street in New York.

HG had an Arizona food surprise. HG loves a good hot dog but hasn’t had one in years. HG’s thoughtful hosts transported HG to a very unlikely place. Costco. That’s right. Costco, the mammoth retailer that sells mammoth amounts of food and wine (among many other things). The modest sum of $1.50 buys a foot long Costco tube steak with relish,mustard, chopped onion plus a soft drink. HG managed to get down a pair of dogs. As good as Nathan’s Coney Island. That’s right. Sounds unlikely but so be it. The Costco bow wow is right up there with best of class.

Downtown Observations

January 14th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG spent a week this last December wandering around the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown and parts of Soho. The LES is becoming more than cool. It’s frigid. Good little art galleries showing challenging work. Excellent restaurants and bars. It’s a venue for the hip and the beautiful. The old parts of Chinatown (the borders of Chinatown have expanded so massively into the LES and Little Italy that HG needs to define which parts of Chinatown HG is talking about) look a bit sad. Swathes of Mott Street have been taken over by stalls selling the worst kind of crap to tourists. Yes, it’s still a food obsessed community awash with fresh fish and vegetables (absurdly low prices). And, street life is lively. But, the neighborhood seems to lack some of the elan and zest of yesteryear (It may that HG is looking at it with the nostalgia clouded gaze of an old guy). Little Italy has been shrunken, vulgarized and totally touristified. Pity. Reports about old ethnic restaurants like Vincent’s, Umberto’s and Grotto Azzura are not promising. HG has been a great fan of the fiery scungili, shrimp and clam dishes that were once available in Little Italy. Now, if you desire food a la Diavalo, you’ve got to travel to Sheepshead Bay or Howard Beach. Foodies claim that Chinatown cuisine has gone downhill and if you want superior Chinese cooking the Flushing neighborhood of Queens is the place. Yes, there’s great food in Flushing. But, HG ate some superior Chinatown food while visiting at Peking Duck House, Dim Sum Go Go and Full House Cafe. It is still the New York neighborhood where the impecunious can dine for very few bucks. One of the hot items in Chinatown is peeled noodles. Basically, hand pulled noodles but cut into wide strips with a knife. HG had a big plate of these noodles with a super spicy lamb sauce at Xi’an Famous Foods (on Bayard west of Bowery). Fabulous. Cost six bucks. HG had a very good dish of peeled noodles with baby bok choy at Sheng Wang (on Eldridge). Cost five bucks. One night, HG and BSK were feeling peckish before settling down to watch some silly stuff on TV. HG walked down the block to J.J. Noodles (Catherine and Henry) and came back with two big containers of congee with fresh fish filets. Perfect comfort food. Cost eight bucks. Yeah, you can still get nourished in Chinatown.

Puglia

January 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Cuisine from the Italian region of Puglia isn’t well known in this country. Emilia-Romagana, the Veneto (especially Venice); Piedmont, Sicily are familiar to many Americans. Puglia remains obscure. HG loves Orechiette (“little ears”), a favored pasta shape in Puglia. BSK likes to smother these cute morsels with BSK’s broccoli sauce (good olive oil, anchovies, lots of garlic and hot pepper flakes; broccoli florets). BSK varies it by using broccoli di rabe and hot Italian sausage. Good stuff. Over the years a few Pugliese restaurants have opened (and closed) to great fanfare but there is one Pugliese restaurant that remains in New York — the imaginatively named Puglia in Little Italy. Been there since 1919. HG used to eat there many years ago. Loved the restaurant’s version of pasta e fagioli. HG was a bit timid in those days and shunned Puglia’s authentic tripe dishes and sheep’s head (kind of a peasant version of French tete de veau). HG checked Puglia’s current menu. These dishes do not appear. Menu (sadly) is like most of the others in Little Italy. Dumbed down food for tourists.

New York Politesse

January 10th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

New York has been characterized as a rude, uncaring city. Wrong. HG finds New Yorkers polite and courteous. The city is filled with people who are patient with tourists, the aged and the infirm. HG now uses a walking stick to aid locomotion. Invariably, HG is offered a seat on the subway and assistance if walking up steep stairs. These offers often come from some very unlikely people. HG declines but is moved by the offers. On a recent trip, HG popped into the busy, remarkable Japanese clothing store, Uniqlo. Great values (a cashmere turtleneck of high quality for 59 bucks). Busy, busy place during this pre-Christmas season but the staff is smiling, helpful and friendly. Shopping made HG hungry. Off to nearby Balthazar for an afternoon snack of frisee salad (very fresh frisee, lots of crisp lardons, perfectly poached egg, tangy dressing — as good as Chez Georges in Paris) plus a glass of Fleurie and good bread and butter. After the snack HG set off for the downstairs men’s room. Steep stairs. Matre ‘d interrupted HG. “Follow please, M’sieu.” HG was led to a private ground level facility used by the restaurant’s staff. HG gave thanks. “No problaim, M’sieu.” That’s Noo Yawk courtesy. And style.

“Trib” and “Bleeck’s”

January 9th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG’s favorite newspaper (and BSK’s) was the New York Herald-Tribune. Unlike the Times, it was never stodgy. And, its editors valued good writing. HG read the “Trib” (as it was familiarly called), from HG’s high school days until the paper ceased publication in 1966. Its sports page columnists, Red Smith (later with the Times) and Joe Palmer (who covered horse racing), transcended sports. Their columns were founts of wit and erudition. Later, Jimmy Breslin did a column (as did the late Dick Schaap). Homer Bigart was a great war correspondent. Walter Kerr was the drama critic. Tom Wolfe made his bow in the Trib’s Sunday Magazine, “New York”, guided by two brilliant editors, Sheldon Zalaznick (later with Forbes) and the late Clay Felker (Felker headed the group that bought ‘New York” after the Trib folded and turned it into the weekly magazine that continues to sparkle today). The hangout for Trib reporters and editors (as well as guys from the Daily News, Newsweek and Business Week) was the eccentrically named Artist and Writers Restaurant (formerly club) at 215 W. 40th. Nobody ever called it by that name. It was “Bleeck’s,” named after its proprietor. The cuisine was German (so were the waiters). The bartenders were Irish. The big activity at the bar was the “match game.” Loser in the game bought the winners drinks. The Trib’s society columnist, the gourmand-dandy-fashion plate Lucius Beebe, played the game with golden matches he kept in a special leather case. That guy had style. HG dined (and drank) at Bleeck’s many times. HG only supped on one dish, Konigsberger Klopse. This is a Prussian dish — veal-beef-pork meatballs in a lemony sour cream and caper sauce (an abundance of capers). Bleeck’s added a handful of dill to the dish and served it with boiled potatoes (or noodles) plus braised red cabbage. Mighty tasty and perfect with dark German beer. Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin (both in their eighties) are alive and productive (as is HG). But, Bleeck’s, like the Trib, is long gone.

The English Language

January 8th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, HG becomes concerned about the beauty of the English language at a time when “fun” has become an adjective rather than a noun; a time when the adverb has been banished and “You’re welcome” has been replaced by “No problem.” However. There is still England and The Economist, a magazine that calls itself a newspaper. Every issue contains memorable English prose. Over the last months there was a review of a book: “God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis.” The review (as does the book, says the reviewer) proves that one can write about this significant appendage without prurience, pornography, puritanical fastidiousness or forced hearty jollity. And, there’s an obituary of Brian Cobby, “Britain’s Male Speaking Clock.” From 1985 to 2007, it was Cobby’s voice, on the other end of a telephone line, that gave Britons the correct time — accurate to within five milliseconds. This is an obituary that muses amusingly about Time and its various manifestations while, at the same time, painting a portrait of a delightful, typically English, eccentric. And any fan of HBO’s wonderful series Treme will love the article “Home-Grown and Spirit-Raised: An Exuberant New Orleans Ritual Commemorates the Friendship of Escaped Slaves and Native American.” in the Dec / Jan double issue. HG is no Economist press agent and HG is only faintly an obsessed Anglophile, so HG recognizes that good English prose can be found in some American publications. Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker always gives HG pleasure.

Los Andes

January 7th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

While visiting daughter Lesley R. and family over the holidays, HG dined at Los Andes, a Peruvian restaurant in South Providence. Great fun. Big (huge would be a better adjective) portions. Two types of ceviche (best in HG’s memory) of calamari,tilapia, mussels, shrimp, clams and scallops. Mixed grill of steak, chorizo and chicken. Pork ribs confit. Sides of grilled plantains, yucca, sweet potatoes, rice baked with cheese. There were also whipped potatoes in a unique Peruvian sauce (plus pureed avocados). Mussels topped with chopped tomatoes and onions. Pisco sours, Sangria. Chilean red wine. Flan for dessert. A nice introduction to the season of holiday feasting.

Another Heartburn Heaven Is Gone

January 5th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Stage Delicatessen (on Seventh Avenue in New York, a few blocks south of Carnegie Hall) has closed. Farewell to another heartburn heaven. Maybe it’s time to declare the Jewish delicatessen an endangered species. For many years, the Stage slid downhill, catering to tourists and the post-theater crowd. But, in its prime (during the 60’s and 70’s) it was a splendid place, a worthy successor to the Gaiety Delicatessen, the best of all Broadway area Jewish delis. The Stage was run by Max Asnas, a guy with a heavy Yiddish accent and an irreverent wit. Broadway columnists dubbed him “the Corned Beef Confucius .” A woman complained to Max: “I don’t like the looks of this whitefish.” Replied Max: “If you want pretty, order a goldfish.” Max once served lox and bagels to a rustic from Georgia. According to Max: “The Geogee boy esks: “Which is the lox and which is the bagel?'” The Stage’s rival on Seventh Avenue, the Carnegie Delicatessen, survives. Still selling overstuffed and overpriced pastrami sandwiches to tourists. Broadway Danny Rose would not feel at home.

Great Chinese in Denver? Yes!

January 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

During HG’s lengthy residence in Colorado (and now Santa Fe) there was one thing missing from HG’s idyllic life. A great Chinese restaurant. So, ironically, as soon as HG left Denver a great Chinese restaurant opened in the Mile High City. The restaurant is Star Kitchen (Mississippi and Federal Boulevard). Big, nicely lit room. Swift service. Exquisite Cantonese food — Steamed chicken dumplings, Fried pork dumplings. Big, juicy deep fried shrimps balls. All fresh and flavorful. Then came a platter of sauteed greens with garlic. An extraordinary dish of Japanese eggplant in a robust sauce redolent of garlic and ginger. Shredded pork with Chinese mushrooms and bok choy. Sesame chicken (crisp and not too sweet). HG and BSK were with friends with conservative eating habits so the restaurant’s renowned seafood dishes were untried. That will be remedied next time. Star Kitchen is reputed to have the best dim sum in the great land mass between California and Chicago. Those little yummies will also have to wait until our next visit.

The Wiener is a Winner

January 2nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG could not leave Rhode Island without lunching on a native treat: A New York System Hot Wiener. So, accompanied by gifted Daughter Lesley R., off to the friendly, down home, plain spoken Riverside Grill in the town of Riverside. Had two wieners (they are composed of pork and beef and gently steamed). The tube steaks are served in soft buns and topped with mustard, celery salt, chopped raw onions and meat sauce (flavored with cumin and cinnamon). Curiously, these wieners evoke flavors of the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East which is perhaps a reflection of the Greek roots of many Rhode Island hot dog shops. The only comparable fast food dish that hits the taste buds in the same way is the chile served in Cincinnati eateries. At the Riverside Grill, the wieners are accompanied by a Rhode Island beverage, coffee milk. This is cold milk flavored with coffee syrup. Somehow it all works.