The search for a Jewish rye bread that could match the unique, slightly sour, crusty flavors that emanated from the loaves sold in the Jewish bakeries of HG’s youth has been a long, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful search…Until now. Peter H., presently visiting HG/BSK in Prince Edward Island brought the gift of Zabar’s caraway seed rye bread house-baked at Zabar’s under the personal supervision of the store’s president and chief executive, Saul Zabar. Zabar’s, of course, is the New York landmark on the Upper West Side — a store that attracts thousands of customers weekly for its vast assortment of smoked fish, cheese, coffee, housewares and gourmet items of every description. When it comes to food, Saul Zabar is super demanding. He strives for excellence and that is reflected in everything from the store’s smoked salmon to its espresso beans. Rye bread, however, proved elusive. No outside source could achieve the standard Saul desired so he decided to bake the bread in house. HG tasted a slice of the loaf yesterday with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Then HG consumed a lightly buttered slice. Then an austere slice au naturel. The years fell away. HG was back in The Bronx circa 1940. Yes, Zabar’s rye bread is the real deal. But, HG (no slave to mindless nostalgia), has to admit: Saul Zabar’s product is superior to the Bronx bread of yesteryear.
In New York, Nova Scotia smoked salmon is always called, with affection, Novy. It is one of HG’s favorite foods. Less salty than traditional lox and moister than Scotch or Irish smoked salmon. When HG lived on Manhattan’s West Side, a few short blocks from Zabar’s, the great smoked fish (and other splendid edibles) emporium, HG often breakfasted on a warm bialy decked with cream cheese and topped with Novy and capers. The shores of Nova Scotia are only a few miles from HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island home so the local fish merchant always has Novy in stock (at a much lower price than Zabar’s or SJ’s beloved Russ & Daughters). BSK likes Novy on dense black bread purchased at PEI’s Farmers Market. HG finds the bread too assertive. If no bialys or bagels are at hand, HG enjoys his Novy sauteed with chopped onions in butter and mixed with softly scrambled eggs. Either way, HG’sh Novy breakfast tradition continues to be observed from the streets of Manhattan all the way to the shores of Eastern Canada.
Little chance for sunburn on Prince Edward Island. Grey skies. North wind. Rain in the future. Friends Peter H. (the distinguished author/journalist/wine authority) and his equally distinguished economist wife, SCH, have arrived . Seem undismayed by the weather as they have left a very steamy New York behind. The generous couple came heavily laden with culinary treats. To wit: Croissants (better than Paris). Bagels. Bialys. Authentic Jewish rye bread. Bonito flakes. Coffee. Nuts. Halvah. Great wine. And, more, much more. Such thoughtfulness should be rewarded so HG/BSK greeted the duo with freshly shucked South Lake oysters (better than Malpeques) and dry smoked salmon. Dinner was BSK’s version of Mapu Tofu with a sauce of ground pork, onions, garlic, mushrooms, etc. Plus some room temperature capellini with a dash of sesame oil and sriracha. Peter/SCH were introduced to Canadian butter tarts as dessert. They approved.
During HG/BSK’s long residence in Vancouver, British Columbia, much fresh salmon was consumed. Salmon from B.C.’s Fraser River, Washington’s Columbia River and the icy waters off Alaska were featured in Vancouver’s fish markets. Friends often brought HG/BSK slabs of great salmon they had caught in exclusive fishing lodges in northern B.C. All great, tasty stuff. HG/BSK were spoiled. The flavors and textures of the good stuff nullified the thought of ever buying insipid farm raised salmon again; however, events of last night may have created a mind change. HG peered at the great salmon filets at By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peter’s Bay, Prince Edward Island. “Is it good?,” inquired HG of the plain spoken woman behind the counter. “It’s from across the water in Nova Scotia and everyone likes it.” No mention of farm raising. But, it had to be. Nevertheless, HG bought a big piece. HG likes to cook salmon the French bistro way — pan frying over high heat, skin side down, no turning. However, this chunk of salmon was just too thick. Had to be turned. Was fabulous. Crispy skin. Lightly browned top. Full of juice and flavor. Cooked medium rare. Cold left overs for lunch (with mustard mayonnaise) were equally good. This doesn’t mean HG is going to buy American farm raised salmon. But, By the Bay Fish Mart had made HG a convert to their product.
Lovely hour-and-a-half hike along the the sea shore. Did some wading and found the water surprisingly warm. Usually, Prince Edward Island’s ocean waters begin to warm in mid-July — it seems there is a very minor upside to climate change. The sea air and salt breezes sharpened appetites so HG/BSK settled down to some sumptuous dining. As a starter, BSK sauteed a half pound of fresh sea scallops (from the Nova Scotia shore) and served them over some lightly dressed butter lettuce. Then, clams posillipo, the classic Italian dish of cherrystone clams (BSK used a generous two dozen) steamed in a sofrito of tomatoes, chopped onion, garlic and parsley. BSK did a creative variation and showered the sofrito with lots of hot, smoked Spanish paprika. Great idea. This converted the dish into a super spicy dish with Spanish overtones. HG/BSK broke lots of toasted ciabatta in the mix. Hearty eating. Saved some sofrito and put in the freezer. Will thaw it in the future and poach some cod in the sauce. Should taste like Barcelona. HG will make a rough and ready rouille — mayonnaise and sriracha — and smear it on some toasted baguette. This will introduce a note of Marseilles. International fish fressing in the great, Canadian Maritimes.
The skies are blue. The breezes are soft and salty. The sea stretches into infinity before HG’s eyes. Red earth and brilliant green fields. A driveway lined with beautiful pink, lavender and purple lupens (BSK’s assiduous seeding has paid off). Yes, HG/BSK are on lyrical Prince Edward Island, The Gentle Island. Time to eat lots of sea food. Local fish merchant is selling oysters ($1.10 each), Atlantic cod ($6.75 a lb.), Nova Scotia scallops ($13.00 a lb.) and many other nicely priced sea creatures. First Island dinner was pan fried sole ($6.00 a pound). Thick, firm filets. HG dunked them in beaten egg, rolled them in seasoned Canadian fish fry mixture and sizzled them in canola oil. BSK prepared a bowl of orzo with onions, mushrooms and garlic. Salad of butter lettuce. Meal ended with local goat cheese and local blueberry honey. A stew of cod and mussels is in the offing. Next week, allergic-to-crustaceans BSK, will watch with jealous eyes as HG polishes off $6.00 a pound lobster caught in front of the HG/BSK home
If you found HG’s postings on Montreal (Its food, art, cafes, people, ambience) enticing, permit HG to make a recommendation. Airbnb.com has a listing for an apartment described as: “Bright, Mont-Royal Metro steps away–Rue Saint Hubert.” HG/BSK stayed there with SJ, Exquisite Maiko, young Haru and baby Teru. Three bedrooms. One bath. Very clean. Excellent kitchen, bathroom, beds, TV, internet access, etc. Ample room. Perfect location. Hosts Isabella and Andreas were very kind and responsive. Easy walks to markets, cafes, bakeries and splendid restaurants. Go and enjoy. Tell them “HG” sent you.
Before leaving Santa Fe for Montreal and Prince Edward Island, HG/BSK (plus visiting granddaughter Arianna R.) enjoyed a super sophisticated warm weather dinner at the downtown condo of David and Mary Jane H. The couple are born and bred Texans. In David’s younger years he quarterbacked the his high school football team to a state championship — quite a feat in that football mad state. It would seem that life would be an anti-climax after that triumph but Dave went on to Yale and a subsequent medical degree. Mary Jane went to Mt. Holyoke College and then practiced family law. Despite knowing of their distinguished education and professional achievements, HG anticipated a dinner of down home Texas vittles — namely barbecued beef and links. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Our aperitif on the patio was Can Feixes, a wonderful Spanish wine. Then came a superb gazpacho — a cool puree of golden and red tomatoes, olive oil, orange juice, cilantro, yellow bell peppers, cilantro, balsamic vinegar and white bread all blended to smooth perfection. Bowls came adorned with fans of sliced avocado. Main dish was Chicken Marbella (from the Silver Palate cookbook). The room temperature chicken had a middle eastern flavor enhanced by prunes, preserved lemon and olives. Delicious. Mary Jane accompanied it with an orzo salad made with zucchini, peppers, red onion, feta cheese, pine nuts and scallions. Dessert was a blackberry mousse flavored with cointreau and orange juice. Not exactly chuck wagon, down by the bunkhouse Texas cooking. Cliches about Texas and Texans were abandoned.
The news of James Gandolfini’s death brought sadness to HG/BSK’s arrival at their Prince Edward Island paradise. Gandolfini was a long time friend of HG’s daughter Vicki F., the New York restaurateur (Cookshop, Five Points, Hundred Acres). Vicki met him when he was a bartender. After he met great success he became an investor in her restaurants. HG/BSK only knew him through his acting artistry but Vicktoria attests to the fact that he was a gentle, caring person and a good friend. She said renown did not alter his character. His passing is a true loss in every way.
As anticipated, L’Express Restaurant turned out to be a piece of Paris lodged on Montreal’s Rue St. Denis. Pleasant welcome. Friendly, professional service that exemplifies restaurant management expertise. The interior, in Paris brasserie style, features plenty of mirrors, a long and lively bar, dark woods and bright — but flattering — lighting. Lots of attractive, animated people having a very good time. The HG/BSK family hit all the food highs: Octopus and lentil salad. Soupe de poisson. Duck foie gras. Asparagus vinaigrette. Roasted marrow bones with wilted lettuce, sea salt and toast. Sea bass with exemplary haricots vert. Beef tartare (with mountains of crisp French fries). Excellent bread. A big crock of cornichons and strong mustard on the table. Two bottles of red — Languedoc andBeaujolais. Desserts included (all giant size): Ile flottante, creme brulee, vanilla ice cream, baba au rhum (exuberant amounts of rum and whipped cream). A big, happy, indulgent feast.
After dinner, SJ stopped at Fairmount Bagels to bring back a sack for friends. HG tried one (with butter) with HG’s morning coffee. Not a New York bagel. A different breed. Softer. Sweeter (the Fairmount bagels are boiled in honey water before baking in wood burning ovens). Okay, but not a culinary must for HG. So, HG and BSK leave this morning for Prince Edward Island. HG/BSK leave without tasting the Montreal/Quebec obsession—Poutine (thick brown gravy and cheese curds poured over French fries). HG/BSK share an aversion to culinary perversion.