Watch out Barney Greengrass, Zabar’s, Russ & Daughters. The By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peter’s, Prince Edward Island, is catching up. The proprietor, HG’s favorite fish purveyor, Sheryll O’ Hanley, has added smoked mackerel to the store’s pungent treats which include Nova Scotia smoked salmon and peppered salmon spears, cold smoked in the Pacific style. The smoked mackerel is remarkable. Moist. Full of flavor. Accented, but not overwhelmed, by smoke. HG has enjoyed mackerel in the form of sashimi and sushi (daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko crafts these Japanese treats beautifully.) Gifted Daughter Lesley does broiled mackerel in a tasty Provencal manner. In Paris, HG has often relished marinated maquerau. But, HG has never encountered smoked mackerel anywhere but Prince Edward Island with By The Bay purveying the finest example. Great appetizer with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper. Equally nice on a bagel with cream cheese and sliced, sweet onion. Sheryll told HG her mackerel is caught off PEI and then shipped to a venerable smokehouse in Novia Scotia. Sheryll sells the fish freshly smoked, never frozen. Reminded HG of HG/BSK’s days on historic Nantucket Island. A young man sold freshly smoked bluefish door-to-door. It became so popular he expanded his operations and soon only frozen was available. Sad. It neither tasted the same nor did it texturally hold up. HG hopes that his favorite smoked mackerel avoids that ignominious fate.
SJ returned to Prince Edward Island after his labors in steamy New York. SJ was accompanied by a surprise, a surprise carefully concealed from HG: a visit from the joyous, golden presence of Restaurateur Daughter Vicki. The excellent woman did not come empty handed: Wine, cheese, salumi, artisan pasta were amongst the treats she brought. Three days of feasting began with each family member displaying their culinary chops. Exquisite Maiko sourced a dozen mackerel, so fresh they were still frozen in rigor-mortis, from a Naufrage Harbor fisherman who refused to accept any money for his catch. She deftly produced mackerel-3-ways: tataki (roughly chopped raw fish with scallion, ginger and soy sauce); Shime Saba (marinated mackerel filets served with ginger and scallion); Sashimi (beautifully sliced raw fish with a sauce of ponzu and EM’s own secret Onion Dressing). EM also produced a variety of salads: fresh water shrimp with avocado, soy-sauce and wasabi, cellophane noodles mixed with strips of egg crepe, etc. And, to show off her mastery of the flame EM cooked some tiger shrimp to perfection in the Spanish style with crispy garlic and a dusting of smoked pimenton. BSK countered with BSK’s spectacular sauteed sea scallops. Naturally, scores of Colville Bay and Savage Harbor oysters were consumed. Ears and ears and ears of seasonal corn on the cob (shucked by Grandson Haru and cooked using BSK’s infallible method) and the first tomatoes of the PEI season (with local feta cheese) were on the table. SJ produced a great platter of herbaceous linguine. This was the SJ technique: SJ chopped every herb in the garden (basil, mint, sage, parsley, marjoram, etc.); sliced 2 cloves of garlic paper thin (in the Goodfella’s style), added some chopped anchovy and mixed it all together with salt and pepper. He then heated about a 1/2 cup of olive oil until it was almost smoking and poured it over the herb-anchovy- garlic mixture causing a huge sizzle and the release of an extraordinary fragrance or herbs, garlic and olive oil. Tossed it over warm pasta and mixed it all up. SJ also produced some very good pizza topped with sliced potatoes, olive oil and mix of goat cheese and mozzarella. Restaurateur Vicki did a knock-your-socks off pesto. RV bought a huge bag of the freshest basil from the Charlottetown Farmers Market and using methods learned from RV’s husband, chef Marc Meyer, did a pesto that had sublime texture, taste and aroma. The ambrosial mixture clung to every fold of the special pasta RV brought from New York. Yes, these were three days of incomparable family fun and festivity.(Sadly, daughter Lesley R. and family were back in Rhode Island and so LR couldn’t contribute her exemplary Italian/Provencal dishes and delicious countenance). And, what did HG contribute to this delightful extravaganza? HG ate. HG drank. HG made judicious and complimentary comments. True artists, after all, need an appreciative and knowing audience and HG was glad to oblige.
The sun played hide-go-seek with the clouds today and the wind whistled above a sea sprouting whitecaps or “whitecats” as Grandson Haru has dubbed them. Perfect day for strolling around the Prince Edward Island bushes harvesting (and eating) raspberries, blueberries and the hundreds of serviceberries that have just ripened — HG predicts some some tasty crumbles in the HG future. The autumnal hints in the air called for steaming bowls of chowder. And, that’s what BSK produced for dinner. BSK’s “chowda” (as its called in New England) consisted of a plenitude of little neck clams, an abundance of fresh corn, chunks of PEI potatoes, thick cut bacon, milk and tarragon. Accompanied by a ciabatta from the master bread maker who sells out of the Cardigan Farmers Market. This chowda is what New England Clam Chowder should taste like — a luscious soup where the briny sweetness of clams is highlighted by the porky under-notes of bacony goodness instead of the gummy, over-thickened and under-clammed nightmare that most restaurants are happy to pass off as Clam Chowder. BSK’s sister, Noel, and husband, Yossi M., are on a brief PEI visit. As landlocked Coloradans, the couple is appreciative of these treats from the sea.
HG is depressed. While HG has spent his Summer knee deep in the bounty of Prince Edward Island’s generous seas and farms — mountains of oysters, sweet mussels, screamingly fresh fish, gorgeous vegetables and tiny, new potatoes — he has been deprived of one of his favorite treats: classic New York City pizza. So imagine HG’s distress when SJ informed HG that he had discovered one of NYC’s best pizzas at Rizzo’s on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side. According to SJ, Rizzo’s started (and the original location remains) in Queens where it is a neighborhood favorite having served generations of pizza lovers since 1959. At the new location, SJ spoke of a homey, un-pretensious vibe completely welcome in a neighborhood whose restaurants often over-reach in an attempt to appear hip. And, the pizzas? SJ reports a classic Margherita with top-quality mozzarella bubbling on top of a beautiful charred crust; the “Mafioso” on a thicker, square crust with sausage, roasted pepper, black and green olive, caper, sauce and cheese. Great beer selections. Charming wait staff. Curses upon SJ for romping in such fine pizza environs without HG! Well, there’s a silver cloud. September is coming and HG will make an appointment to go to Rizzo’s and all resentment will melt away. So, HG may as well cheer up and revel in the joy of a dozen Colville Bay oysters.
The Italian word “misto” means “mixed”. As it relates to food there is bollito misto and frito (fried) misto. Bollito misto is an epic dish for epic gluttons (like HG). HG first encountered the dish at Bologna’s venerable Ristorante Diana, a mirrored old school landmark. HG remembers the meal with salivating fondness. HG started with a bowl of buttery tagiatelle lavishly covered with thin shavings of white truffle. Heady aroma. Sublime taste. Went beautifully with some red Sangiovese from Emilia-Romagna. HG questioned whether the HG appetite could encompass the oncoming bollito misto. Not to worry. A very large, dignified man wheeled a cart to the table; lifted lids from silver servers and presented HG with a stimulating sight: Luscious boiled beef, pork and tongue. Plus two robust poached sausages: cotechino and zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter). Appetite in excellent shape, HG accepted thick slices of each plus helpings of condiments: tangy mostarda di frutta, salsa verde and salsa rosso. Wow. Bollito misto is almost never found on American-Italian menus. Mario Batali once served it at his loftily priced restaurant, Del Posto, but HG noted that it is no longer on the menu. Frito misto, on the other hand, is omnipresent. It is a plate of deep fried seafood morsels with calamari predominating. HG has always found it disappointing (both in Italy and the United States). It is much inferior to Japanese tempura. HG may be spoiled. Here on Prince Edward Island, Exquisite Maiko selects the freshest fish, scallops and shrimp and does her tempura magic. HG’s joy is unrestrained.
Periodically, Exquisite Maiko delights the HG/BSK famille with spectacular tempura. Cod, sole, scallops, haddock and shrimp are given the EM treatment which renders them crisp, light as a gentle breeze and full of flavor without even the slightest hint of grease. These are served with room temperature soba in a broth topped with scallions, slivers of nori and a bit of wasabi. Last night, EM introduced some delightful innovations with the help of PEI’s bountiful summer harvest. Beautiful just-picked eggplant was done two ways: Braised in a sweet and fragrant sauce and as crisp, tempura slices. In addition, EM found some fresh okra and created a dish that would convert even the most dedicated okra hater. Rather than slimey, EM’s okra was firm, room temperature and sauced with a number of subtle and elusive ingredients (EM has her secrets). EM also prepared oyster mushroom tempura and was ready to do even more vegetables–asparagus, onions and zucchini. But, having had copious amounts of the seafood tempura, a halt was requested. EM received applause for her matchless Japanese cuisine.
Calvin Trillin, the brilliant (and funny) writer, once speculated that if Italians, rather than the English, had landed at Plymouth, we would joyously be eating spaghetti carbonara at Thanksgiving instead of his hated turkey. Like Trillin, HG is a lover of this dish which, as legend would have it, was developed after WWII when GI’s stationed in Italy would share bacon and eggs with the hungry populace. It is deceptively simple to prepare: Room temperature eggs are beaten in a warm bowl with plenty of parmesan cheese and crisp cooked bacon (or pancetta, or the cured pig jowl known as guanciale). The dish is topped with abundant ground black pepper and chopped flat leaf parsley. Goes nicely with a rough Italian wine like Montepulciano d’Abruzze. Last week, Gifted daughter Lesley R. did her own variation on this dish. Alongside two different varieties of Prince Edward Island bacon, Lesley R. added sautéed zucchini and fresh fava beans which created the perfect, complementary textures to the classic creaminess of carbonara. Hooray for innovation.
By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peter’s, Prince Edward Island, is a mainstay of HG/BSK’s cuisine during their long summer by the sea. Sheryll O’Hanley, a sunny faced, efficient woman, opened the store eight years ago and it has become a favorite among the Island’s lovers of fresh seafood. All of the fish (hake, cod, sole and haddock) is from the waters off PEI and Nova Scotia. They are wild caught. There is also farm raised Atlantic salmon. The salmon is free of hormones, chemicals and additives and it the best farm-raised fish HG has ever tasted. When the fishermen are fortunate, Sheryll sells some very superior local halibut. Sea scallops (even better than Nova Scotia’s Digby Bay scallops) come from PEI’s North Lake. Oysters are from South Lake and Savage Harbor. Quahogs and steamer clams are harvested locally. Lobsters (alive and kicking or cooked) are from PEI waters. The excellent little fresh water shrimp (similar to the schie HG devoured happily in Venice) are from Newfoundland. Sheryll departs from her locavore emphasis by importing some firm and tasty Tiger shrimp from Ontario. Mussels, PEI’s signature bivalve, are farmed in St. Peter’s Bay, just yards from the seafood store’s front window. Sheryll, married and mother of a 10 year-old daughter, is a special ed teacher in the off season. She comes to her seafood knowledge quite naturally. Born and bred in St. Peter’s, both of her parents were fishers and she absorbed sea lore daily. In her absence, By the Bay is tended by Gladys MacPhee, another native Islander and mother of four adult Islanders. She has kindly instructed HG in how to steam lobsters to maximize flavor. When HG moves back to Santa Fe (not exactly a seafood center) HG acutely misses Sheryll, Gladys and By the Bay. HG has to comfort himself with New Mexico menudo, burritos, chile peppers and the other delicacies of the region.
Every summer HG manages to consume many cans of Clamato, the pleasant clam & tomato juice product found in supermarkets. It is the perfect ingredient for a Michelada, the simple, refreshing drink much favored in Mexico. To prepare, mix Clamato with beer. Add lime (or lemon) juice. Hot sauce to taste. Dash of Worcestershire (optional). Pour over ice. If you want to get a little fancy, rim the glass with salt (as you would with a Margarita). There are no rules for proportions (more or less beer, hot sauce etc.). Fashion your individual, hand crafted Michelada however you like. When HG wants a lighter pre-dinner tipple, HG pours a small can of Clamato over ice, adds a shot of vodka plus hot sauce and lemon juice. Voila!! An acceptable Bloody Mary.
Does anyone read the works of Max Beerbohm anymore? Or look (with amusement) at his brilliant caricatures? HG has been a lifelong fan of this adroit and elegant personality, an English dandy of the Edwardian era. Dead for some 57 years, his prose (described as “lapidary” by one critic) still sparkles. As rain lashed Prince Edward Island, HG found solace sipping locally distilled pastis from the Myriad View Distillery and reading Mainly On the Air, a collection of Sir Max’s BBC radio broadcasts and essays. What is magical about this collection is that Beerbohm writes about forgotten writers, obscure playwrights, antique music hall songs and performers and makes HG smile in remembrance of a life HG never lived. There are wonderful archaic phrases and English words that have withered from disuse. Max makes them live again. George Bernard Shaw called him “The Incomparable Max.” Very apt. Beerbohm, during his lifetime, published many books of prose, fiction and dramatic criticism as well as volumes of caricatures. A nice introduction to his work and character is the charming book, Portrait of Max, by S.N. Behrman, a collection of articles Behrman did for The New Yorker Magazine.