HG/BSK’s Colorado buddies, Mike R. and Trish L., have left snow packed Crested Butte for a visit to sunny (parched) New Mexico. So, What’s for dinner? HG/BSK decided upon robust food for this robust couple (they ski, ride horses, hunt and probably wrestle bears). A tagliata, steak prepared the Italian way. A thick (one and a half inches) rib steak was marinated for a few hours in some olive oil after being covered in crushed pepper corns, sliced garlic and sprigs of rosemary. The oven was revved up to 450 degrees. A big, black, well used cast iron pan got a light layer of coarse sea salt and was popped into the oven to heat for some 35 minutes (wanted to give the steak a good seared black/brown crust). Steak went into the hot pan and back in the oven for six minutes and then turned for another four minutes of cooking. An important step is to let the meat rest for a good 8 minutes of so before slicing so as to let the natural juices settle. Result was rare and delicious (and, as a bonus, smokeless unlike stove top preparation.) BSK surrounded the sliced meat with arugula enlivened with lemon juice and shavings of parmesan. Served it with penne topped with sauteed oyster mushrooms. Happy carnivores drank lots ot pinot noir and barbera d’alba.
SJ here. For the past year I gazed with a certain hesitant lust at Brooklyn Crab. As it was being built (and looking like an old-fashioned Fire Island beach house) I thought, as everyone probably did, what a smart idea! What a great view! Beer and Crabs overlooking the harbor. Pretty Simple. Pretty great! When it opened, it was immediately jam-packed — a complete and total success and I just never made it over.
This past weekend was glorious. Spring in all of Spring’s perfection — sun shining, dry breeze blowing and crisp as a freshly picked cucumber. I had friends coming and I thought how nice it would be to go to Brooklyn Crab, sit outside and take in those harbor views while drinking beer and eating crabs…And then I read the reviews. Man, Brooklyn Crab was so terribly reviewed that I almost called the whole thing off, but then I thought well, how bad could it really be? At least the beer should be cold and even eating some crappy peel and eat shrimp still seemed okay. So I geared myself up to not be upset by bad food and bad service and ended up going. After an hour-long wait (which was easy as I bought some wine at Red Hook’s great Dry Dock and took it out to the Louis Valentino Park and Pier) we were seated. The view of the harbor was brilliant and a kind of giddy, beach-side-vacationy-fun vibe suffused the whole place. It was precisely what I wanted. We ordered Maryland Crabs, some Steamers, a mixed seafood boil with shrimp, King Crab legs, corn, clams, potatos, etc and some fried shrimp. The Crabs were as good as those I had had in Baltimore and the Seafood Boil was done just right, nothing overdone and we had lots of fun and made a total mess cracking crabs and picking out the meat. Oddly the potato that was included in the Seafood boil was excellent! Perfectly cooked and infused with the Old bay seasoning and the briney flavors of the crabs and clams. The fried shrimp were mediocre and the steamers weren’t the best I ever had, but there was tons of food and between five people we managed to eat everything and really enjoy ourselves. No it wasn’t the greatest seafood meal of my life by any means, but it was totally respectable and just totally jolly. I also enjoyed what a nice cross section of Brooklyn were eating there AND working there — real Brooklyn families from Irishy looking Cop families to Asian familes from Sunset Park to Jamaican families to twenty somethings on dates and nary a hipster in sight to complain about the lack of locavore credentials. In many ways, Brooklyn Crab reminded me of the blue collar seafood spots in City Island — no pretensions at all. The prices were not cheap but they weren’t insane. And when we finished, the Manger (I’m guessing) came over and asked us how everything was. I told her we had a great time and told her that I was worried before we came because the reviews were so crappy. And she sort of said, yeah, it was a bit of a struggle last year but they were really trying to improve…and I could think was yeah, you did! So if you want to eat some crabs, drink some cold beers and overlook perhaps the greatest urban water view outside of Istanbul, then turn away from the reviews because Brooklyn Crab hits the spot.
Back in Santa Fe and ready to do some home cooking. Decided upon a dish of Trinidad chicken. If you want to eat out, you can get this spicy treat at Trini-Gul Restaurant in Brooklyn (you can get just about anything culinary in Brooklyn). The dish comes from Trinidad and stems from the collision of Chinese and African-Carib cooking cultures. Chicken pieces (HG and BSK used thighs and wings) are marinated overnight in a mixture of Chinese five-spice powder, dark soy sauce, lime juice, ginger. Fried until mahogany brown in a mix of canola and sesame oils. When served (with rice), the chicken is drenched with a mixture of oyster sauce, lime juice and Matouk’s Soca Hot sauce. (Matouk’s is really sensational. Hot, yes, but filled with winey, fruity flavors. HG bought his bottle through Amazon). BSK stir fried some ultra fresh asparagus to accompany the dish. Icy ale added to the joy. (Sam Sifton had a nice recipe for this dish in the Sunday Times Magazine a few weeks ago).
It is always a delight to dine with HG and BSK’s talented, food and wine loving friends in Vancouver. Pablo R. is a talented modernist architect (and former restaurateur) and his wife, Monica J., is an international lawyer. HG and BSK had never been to their new Gastown apartment, a dwelling they occupy with their 18-month-old daughter. Surprisingly (given Pablo’s cutting edge sense of design), the building turned out to be a rather shabby “heritage” structure. But, when the front door opened you were in a world of contemporary, minimalist design. Startling. It seems the developer retained only the facade of the building (required by neighborhood’s zoning laws) and built an entirely new building behind it. As to be expected, Pablo and Monica’s duplex is a lovely space. For dinner, Pablo prepared a Vancouver specialty — fresh Pacific Black Cod. Pablo marinated the fish in miso before a quick saute. Served with pasta, it was memorable.
There was another remarkable fish dish in HG’s future when HG/BSK dined at Chambar Restaurant with Jamie S. and his glorious lady friend, Karen St. John (pronounced “SinJin” in the English fashion which Anglophiles HG/BSK were pleased to learn). At Chambar, HG had a perfect chunk of halibut cooked with the kind of exquisite timing HG associates with Le Bernardin in New York. Chanbar, which seems to attract Vancouver’s beautiful people, is a great place to drink (as well as eat). HG had a Negroni cocktail which outshone anything HG ever drank at Harry’s Bar in Venice. The Belgian beers and ales on tap are equally outstanding. Before Chambar, HG/BSK, Karen and Jamie, drank some very good white wine at Jamie’s triplex apartment which features his carefully curated collection of Alessi, Starck and other design icons. Jamie’s roof deck is one of Vancouver’s great spaces, overlooking mountains, water and the glittering skyline of the high rise city. Generous and hospitable, Jamie has furnished it for entertaining with an emphasis upon barbecue. A great Vancouver night (when it isn’t raining, of course) is devouring a Jamie steak accompanied by one of the splendid reds from his wine cellar. Sea gulls fly overhead, lights twinkle, Jamie is at hand to refill glasses and uncork another botttle of splendor. Don’t you wish you had a pal like that?
The UBC (University of British Columbia) Museum of Anthropology is pure magic. The building itself can, in HG’s opinion, be described as a perfect work of architecture. It is a masterpiece by Arthur Ericson, the distinguished Canadian architect. A structure of poured concrete and glass, it displays Ericson’s creative mastery of these materials as well as his sensitive, poetic creation of flowing horizontal volumes and rhythms (his Simon Fraser University in Burnaby and the Law Courts in downtown Vancouver are other examples). The MOA has two interior highlights: the Great Hall and the Bill Reid Rotunda. The Great Hall is a spectacular lofty glass-walled space suffused in sunshine. It houses tall totem poles and large carvings from MOA’s definitive collection of Northwest Pacific Coast First Nations Art. The Bill Reid Rotunda is a circular skylit space that displays Bill Reid’s monumental wood scupture, “The Raven and The First Men”. It depicts the First Nations myth concerning the creation of humanity — the trickster Raven discovering wriggling human forms in a clam shell. The late Bill Reid, a very great artist, is venerated in Canada but little known in the United States. This is not surprising since the American view of Canada is comprised of cliche images of battling hockey players, “Eskimos,” “Mounties” and Polar Bears. And, snow, of course, endless snow. HG and BSK discussed this, among other things, as they ate samosas and butter chicken wraps and drank cups of hot chai in MOA’s cafe.
Rain, rain (Why do you think Vancouver is so brilliantly green and floral?) is pouring down and HG and BSK have chosen the perfect moist morning activity: Dim sum at Szechuan Chonquing Restaurant on Commercial Drive. Sharing the feast is Pablo R., the duo’s brilliant young architect friend. No carts here. You order from a menu and everything is deliciously fresh. Dan Dan noodles (a house specialty of noodles in a fiery peanut/sesame sauce) with crisp bits of pork. Har Gow (thin skinned steamed dumplings filled with big, juicy prawns). Shu Mai (super sized pork and shrimp dumplings). Steamed pork buns. Sea scallop rice rolls. Chinese broccoli (abundant garlic). Attentive, courteous service, much hot tea and a ludicrously small bill. Perfect. Food was followed by the Art Spiegelman “CO-MIX” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps,” confirms Spiegelman as a major artist, creative, humane and subtly (and not no subtly) subversive. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale,” of course, is a modern classic which helped to establish cartooning as a viable method of treating serious material in narrative form. Equally impressive is Spiegelman’s graphic work. His explosive New Yorker Magazine cover (celebrating Valentine’s Day) of a Hassidic Jew and an African-American woman locked in a passionate kiss, is funny, sardonic and politically illuminating. Part of the exhibit is a film documentary of Spiegelman’s life. It is heartening to see that he is an unassuming New Yorker, happily married to Françoise Mouly, the fine French artist, publisher and New Yorker Art Director.
The Public Market on Vancouver’s Granville Island is HG’s favorite market. This is an informed opinion. HG has visited the mind boggling public markets in Tokyo and Kyoto; the market in Florence; the market in Barcelona with its great food bars; the ancient fish and vegetable markets around Venice’s Rialto…and many more. The Granville Island market is the best. As expected, there is fresh fruit and vegetables from the Okanagan and Fraser Valleys; fresh fish and shellfish from the Pacific; meat from the Canadian prairies. But, there is cheese from every part of the world (the lush Winnipeg cream cheese tastes like the Daitch product HG enjoyed during his residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side years ago). Bread and pastries galore (including definitive versions of Canadian butter tarts). Spices. Hard to find ethnic specialties of all kinds. And, more. Much. much more. HG’s favorite market stall is Oyama Sausage Co.. Here you will find countless varieties of ham, sausage, pates, terrines, rillettes. Plus select cheeses, mustards, pickles and Oyama’s own duck confit. Shopping and strolling in the Public Market always hones the HG/BSK appetites. So…off to Rodney’s Oyster House in the Yaletown neighborhood. HG and BSK dove into a platter of 18 oysters harvested from various Vancouver Island beds. Fresh bread. Sweet butter. A glass of Burrowing Owl Pinot Grigio (Okanagan Valley) for BSK and India Pale Ale for HG. Adding to the bivalve pleasure at Rodney’s is the joie de vivre of the staff. It’s a happy place.
HG, not exactly a champion class Nature Boy, usually finds gardens — no matter how famous, how praised — boring. The urban old fellow prefers peering into shop windows, examining the menus outside of restaurants and watching the passing parade of humanity from a comfortable cafe chair. VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver upsets all of HG’s predilections. Beautifully maintained and imaginatively laid out, this wonderland has unusual plantings, lovely vistas and, of course, blazes of startling color. On its meadows and in odd corners are sculpture. Not sentimental crap but challenging and distinctive work. The only other gardens that HG ever enjoyed as much were the famous Zen gardens in Kyoto, Japan.
Lunched at Tatsu Japanese Bistro on Commercial Drive. The “Drive” has long been the center of “alternative lifestyles” in Vancouver. Its funkiness is being diminished a bit by some attractive new shops and restaurants but it still has cheap ethnic markets and colorful, eccentric local characters. Tatsu is a charming little place. Sushi, sashmi and all the other Japanese faves imaginatively presented and very modestly priced. HG had a sashimi bento box that had rolls, sushi, salads, slices of salmon and yellowtail plus an abundance of fruit. A huge amount of food that HG couldn’t finish. Cost: $14. A very tasty bargain.
New Mexico is in the midst of a drought so HG and BSK thought it an appropriate time to enjoy the moist magnificence of Spring in Vancouver. It’s April and the cherry trees are in bloom, filling the avenues with color. Tulips and daffodils have popped out of every available scrap of earth. Yes, Mother Nature, that exuberant dame, really struts her stuff in this glittering (and wet!) Canadian city wedged between mountains and the sea. There are bursts of botanical beauty everywhere from elegant front yards to the communal neighborhood gardens that enliven street corners with seasonal plantings. HG and BSK inhaled big breaths of salt air as they walked along the English Bay shoreline at Jericho and Spanish Banks (Easily available beaches and giant salt water swimming pools are among Vancouver’s urban amenities.) Appetites sharpened, HG and BSK visited their old favorite, Congee Noodle House Restaurant in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Whether or not absence makes the heart grow fonder, Congee House was even better than remembered. HG and BSK shared a perfect Congee with scallops and Chinese mushrooms and a platter of hand peeled noodles with bean sprouts and beef. Absolutely perfection.
More natural beauty (plus man made art) and robust Asiatic feasting await the happy duo. It is good to be back.
The Hooters restaurant chain (locations throughout the world) provokes HG anger. Like a lecherous uncle, there is something downright perverse about the chain’s deliberate exploitation and objectification of the bodies of young women. (HG has never been in a “Hooters” but has watched the chain’s repulsive, leering videos). One of HG’s favorite food bloggers is David Lebovitz (“Living the Sweet Life in Paris.”) He is a graceful writer and an accomplished cook. Recently, Lebovitz attended a holiday party and through a silly gift exchange, he wound up with The Hooters Cookbook. Bemused (and amused), Lebovitz decided to test a recipe: Deep Fried Onion Rings. And, annoyingly, the onion rings turned out to be splendid. As a matter of moral principle (even though HG loves onion rings–even more than he loves French fries) HG will not try the recipe. Since HG will be summering with BSK and family on Prince Edward Island, HG will enjoy the world’s best deep fried onion rings at Rick’s Fish and Chips, the delightful restaurant near the edge of St.Peter’s Bay. Six oysters on the half shell, fresh fried haddock, onion rings, cole slaw and a cold bottle of locally brewed artisan ale—that’s what HG will be eating at Rick’s following a day of swimming, sunning and kayaking. Envious?