Christmas Restaurant Nostalgia Part 3: The Russian Tea Room

December 14th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Russian Tea Room on New York’s W. 57th Street (next door to Carnegie Hall) celebrated Christmas every day. The owner, the delightful Sidney Kaye, decided he liked the way Christmas decorations enhanced the restaurant so they never came down. Red and green forever. It was just one of the restaurant’s eccentricities like the forgetful old female waitpersons (many had been ballerinas in pre-revolution Russia) and the ever changing hat check girls (Madonna was one). During the Christmas season it was HG/BSK’s dinner choice after a movie at one of the nearby art cinemas. Their meal was always the same: Eggplant Orientale (the RTR’s version of baba ghanoush). Karsky Shashlik (succulent lamb kebabs) with rice pilaf. Raspberry Kissel (a raspberry compote topped with whipped cream). A bottle of Pommard or Pomerol (affordable then). HG knocked off some chilled vodka with the eggplant and cognac with coffee. BSK was more abstemious. If the weather was very cold or appetites had a sharp edge, HG/BSK preceded the meal with bowls of steaming dark red borscht decorated with a dollop of sour cream and accompanied by flaky piroshki (meat filled pastries). As a special treat, HG/BSK would take their kids to RTR for a Christmas holiday brunch (with SJ decked out in one of RTR’s loaned — and invariably over-sized — sport jackets) of butter drenched blini with red caviar and sour cream. Gifted Daughter Lesley R. pays tribute to this memory every Christmas Eve by making superior blini which the family tops with red caviar or smoked fish. Not to be outdone,on Christmas Day morning SJ makes very superior potato latkes (a modest nod to Chanukah) which get similar delicious treatment. Holiday feasting at its best.

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Christmas Restaurant Nostalgia Part 2: The Oak Room

December 12th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Oak Room of New York’s Plaza Hotel was a wonderful place for winter holiday dining. A dignified room with, of course, dark oak paneling and chandeliers that cast a flattering light. Discreet Christmas decorations. Very attractive, elegantly attired clientele. (The debonair movie star Cary Grant was once at a table adjoining HG/BSK’s. Happily, he looked and sounded just like Cary Grant). HG/BSK always had one meal. A super-dry Martini for HG and a white wine spritzer for BSK. Smoked salmon with lightly toasted, thin slices of rye bread, capers, lemon, olive oil, black ground pepper. This was followed by tournedos of beef with souffle potatoes and braised celery topped with beef marrow. Chocolate pots de creme for dessert. Cognac and coffee. Thus fortified, it was off into the crisp night to behold the magic of the light-and-icicle festooned Plaza fountain. New York at its best.fountain-plaza-hotel

Christmas Restaurant Nostalgia Part One: Luchow’s

December 11th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The very best restaurant in the world during the Christmas holiday season was the long gone (opened in 1882 and closed in 1986) temple of German gastronomy, Luchow’s on New York’s East 14th Street. An interior of dark oak, smoked glass and crystal. Every inch was festooned with colorful decorations and pine wreaths. Noisy and jolly. A German oompah band playing the songs of the season. HG/BSK’s kids loved it and, restraining intense excitement, displayed excellent restaurant manners. The food? Ah, the food. For the kids there were grilled bratwurst with home fried potatoes. BSK usually had a starter of smoked salmon and a main of crisp skinned roast duck with red cabbage and a buttery potato puree. For HG there was a triple header: Rollmops (pickled herring rolled around dill pickle); pfefferlinge (ragout of wild mushrooms in a peppery sour cream sauce); schlemmerschnitte (steak tartare topped with abundant beluga caviar). For dessert: Baked Alaska flamed in brandy. (Once a waiter set his apron on fire while setting the desert alight and the tension before the flames were put out only added to the exhilaration of the dinner). The kids drank Shirley Temples. BSK had appropriate white and red wine. HG had (much, much) robust dark beer. Joy was unrestrained.

An ornate tree in Luchow's during NYC Christmas season.

Teutonic Memories

December 9th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Pleasant dinner last night. Divided the cooking duties. HG fried potatoes and cooked bratwurst (simmered in beer for 15 minutes and then grilled to a brown crisp). BSK made sublime sauerkraut. Drained Bubbie’s kraut and cooked it with onions, apples, olive oil and a bit of chicken stock. Subtle, non-acidic flavors. So. Kraut and spuds were first rate. Brats were okay. Just okay. Plenty of pungent Polish mustard and Bubbie’s Bread and Butter pickles plus Shiner Bock Beer (“The Pride of Shiner, Texas”) helped the cause, but just barely. It made HG muse: “Where are the brats of yesteryear?” For years one could get inexpensive, succulent platters of brats-kraut-home fries in scores of German restaurants throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Luchow’s, Blue Ribbon, The Heidelberg and Volk’s were the leaders of the pack and HG quaffed much beer at these Teutonic shrines of hearty eating. Other than The Heidelberg (opened in 1936) they are all gone, alas. Of course New York, being New York, still offers authentic German Food — and the great Yorkville butcher Schaller & Weber sells some of the finest brats around — but the golden age of cheap and delicious NY German restaurants is over.

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BSK Rescues Cod From The French

December 6th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG is a confirmed Anglophile in terms of prose, poetry and the dramatic arts (has special love for dressy, upper crust TV stuff like“Downton Abbey”). HG is Francophile in culinary tastes (enchanted by tripe, kidneys, liver, snails, frog legs, tete de veau). A few days ago, BSK brought home a nice piece of cod fished off Iceland’s chilly waters. HG spied a French recipe that called for the cod to be placed on quartered potatoes and sliced onions in a roasting pan. Salted, peppered and moistened with some melted butter and olive oil. Cooked for 25 minutes in a 375 degree oven (pan sealed with Reynolds Wrap). Explanation: Moisture from potatoes and onions would steam the cod. Seemed logical to HG. BSK sneered. Recipe would result in underdone potatoes, tasteless onions and mushy cod. “We’ll do it my way.” In a big pan on top of the stove BSK cooked onions and plenty of garlic until lightly caramelized, deglazed the pan with white wine and added thinly sliced potatoes. Gave it a modest hit of smoked Spanish paprika. When potatoes had softened slightly, BSK topped the pan with the cod (perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper), chopped parsley and poured clam broth over everything. Turned up the heat. Covered the pan. In a few minutes the cod was done and gilded with a little melted butter. The result: Fish with pearly white, juicy flesh and a silky mouth feel. Garlicky onions and potatoes with a taste of the sea from the cod and the clam broth. Great eating. HG expressed gratitude. (However, will try that French recipe some day when dining alone. Belief in French kitchen infallibility dies hard.)

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Golden Rule? Fuhgeddabout It. He Who Has The Gold Rules.

December 5th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

HG’s late father, a socialist Russian-Jewish immigrant, often quoted a sardonic Russian proverb: “God loves the rich and the rich love God.” This characterizes America’s right wing with its blather about “family values”, “traditional marriage”, “right to life”, “religious belief.” Meanwhile, they wage war against America’s poor and helpless. The tax loopholes that protect the rich are sacred but food stamps and every program designed to alleviate suffering is characterized as “wasteful” or “ineffective social engineering.” The late Jewish carpenter JC expressed loving concern for the least among us. He didn’t mince words. His remarks about “One Per Cent America” would be scathing. Economist/ Columnist Paul Krugman put it well in a recent column. He examined the idea that the Social Security benefits age be raised because Americans were living longer. Krugman found that more affluent, better educated Americans are, indeed, living longer. However, life expectancy among less educated and affluent Americans is decreasing. Krugman summed up the Republican attitude: “Because lawyers are living longer, janitors shouldn’t retire.”

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Gobble Gobble or: How HG Stopped Complaining And Learned To Love Turkey

December 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

For many year HG disdained the traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey with all the trimmings. However, BSK’s skills have made HG change his mind. First of all, BSK takes great care in selecting the holiday bird. This year, BSK bought an Amish-raised, totally natural bird from Kuane’s, a well regarded grocer in Santa Fe. Under BSK’s deft hands the bird came out of the oven with brown, crisp skin and a delectably juicy interior. (A BSK secret: To insure a flavorful breast, BSK laid anchovies and bacon on the breast, covered the mixture with foil and let it melt into the bird). Earlier in the day, BSK served butternut squash soup (with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a dusting of cayenne). This soup was based on a recipe from HG’s beloved, late sister, Beulah. All raised glasses to toast her memory. Dinner was festive. Nine persons squeezed around the dining table. Many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau and Pinot Noir. Side dishes of caramelized pearl onions, roast brussels sprouts, creamy mashed potatoes, stuffing, haricot verts, cranberry sauce. Pear crisp with vanilla ice cream plus peanut butter pie for dessert. Lavish eating. HG has always insisted on lots of turkey gravy with the dinner and BSK complied. BSK roasted vegetables and added them to cooked turkey gizzards, mushroom broth, turkey neck meat and a bit of flour (for thickening). Best turkey gravy ever. Turkey sandwiches the next day. More turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy for next two nights. Followed by turkey soup a la New Mexico. BSK enhanced the soup by giving it a hit of Goya Adobo and adding Big Jim New Mexico roasted chili peppers. Yes, turkey is a bird who just keeps giving, and HG is now glad to receive.

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Snow On Ground, Oatmeal In Bowl

December 1st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Some folks seem surprised when they learn New Mexico gets reuglar snow. They may be mistaking the Land of Enchantment with superheated Arizona where swimming pools turn into pots of chicken soup in the summer. In fact, much of New Mexico is at high altitude and the NM mountains host a number of world-class ski resorts. In HG’s neighborhood, snow does not fall in a deluge (as it did in the former HG/BSK mountain-top ranch in Colorado) but rather in a gentle dusting which was precisely what HG/BSK were greeted by this morning: the meadows outside dusted in powdery white snow. Snow on the ground — Time for breakfast oatmeal. Yes, there’s nothing more comforting on a cold morning. While HG dawdled under the covers, thoughtful BSK cooked some McCann’s Quick Cooking Rolled Oats Irish Oatmeal. Yes, the regular McCann’s product is better but the cooking takes much longer (Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats represent a worthy compromise). BSK amped up the oatmeal by cooking it with a mix of dried fruit including raisins and cranberries. Topped it with brown sugar, walnuts and warmed milk. A big time bowl of comfort, health and nutrition.

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