Warm, sunny, cloudless day. HG/BSK, SJ, EM, Haru and Teru; Gifted Daughter Lesley R., were off to that ornament of Providence, RI, Roger Williams Park Zoo. HG hasn’t visited a zoo in some years and was astonished at the beauty of Zebras, Giraffes, Flamingos, Cranes and Boa Constrictors. Much to the delight of the little ones (and the bemusement of adult viewers), the Elephant performed some necessary functions in what could only be described as elephantine proportions. The group found the lethal grace of the Snow Leopard mesmerizing and the Red Panda hit new heights of cuteness. The zoo, for a few hours,turned our group into children. Happy, wondering children. In the evening, Lesley R. outdid herself in the kitchen and produced a dinner that can only be described as deeply satisfying. Tender brisket in an assertive, rich tomato licked sauce. Ultra-tender Fennel braised in butter and stock. Haricot verts stir fried with shallots and herbs. Moroccan carrot salad, redolent with cumin and cinnamon. And, as a crowning glory, SJ made his state of the art mashed potatoes, a lighter than air balance of potatoes, salt butter and cream. Profesore Massimo R. poured three splendid Italian reds: A Barolo, a Montepulciano and a Chianti. A pause. And, then came desserts: A tart/sweet cranberry tart in a walnut crust (baked by Lesley R.) flan (left over from the previous evening); strudel (baked by friend/neighbor Diane). A big bowl of whipped cream. Vintage port. Grappa. Limoncello.This is the kind of meal HG loves: Abundant, Powerful tastes. Perfect balance of the rich and austere, the bitter and the sweet. The kind of meal Lesley R. produces with no histrionics and little fuss. HG is a proud Pop.
Christmas.Day began with warmed Panettone, marmalade and coffee. Rain ceased. Sun appeared. Lovely meandering walk around the Riverside, RI, shore following the excitement of present opening. Imaginative gifts. Mexican good luck amulets from Gifted Daughter Lesley R. A large collection of mini photo cards (created by Exquisite Maiko) depicting the family and little ones. SJ gave HG Geechie Boy grits and some other culinary wonders including a bottle of handcrafted rye whiskey. Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia displayed one of her distinctive talents by fashioning a book cover for HG which satirized hilariously one of HG’s traditional and well-worn Christmas jokes. The traditional gifts of books, carefully curated, from Lesley and Massimo R: A winter’s worth of stimulating reading. A beautiful sweater and a colorful watch from BSK. Colorful socks from Lesley R. (HG receives them with joy every Christmas). This just skims the surface. Lots of generosity, originality. And, love. Dinner was a replay of the Seven Fishes with a happy addition. SJ, The Latkes King, made a big batch of crisp potato pancakes (a bow to our collective Jewish heritage). HG covered five raw Dutch herring filets with chopped onion. Gave them a squeeze of lemon and a shower of ground pepper. Flanked them with SJ’s latkes and sour cream. Drank cold half-and-half. Also managed to knock off some smoked yellowfin tuna gilded with very good, fruity olive oil. Happy jingles, one and all.
Feast of the Seven (approximately) Jewish (almost) Fishes. The HG/BSK family borrows from the Italian Catholic tradition of a seven fish feast on Christmas Eve. BSK and Gifted Daughter Lesley R. are skilled hands with chowders, oyster stews, etc. HG specializes in sautéed and fried fish. But, on Christmas Eve, the family feasts on the smoked fish products of Russ & Daughters, the venerable shop on New York’s Lower East Side. As usual, SJ was the first person on line, waiting for the store to open at 9 AM, Dec. 24 (the line grows to as many as 200 hungry New Yorkers). Here’s what SJ provided: Velvety, gently saline, raw Dutch herring (this is seasonal and is only found at R & D and Grand Central Oyster Bar); Gaspe Nova Scotia smoked salmon; Pastrami cured smoked salmon; sable; red salmon caviar from Alaska; smoked yellowfin tuna; paddlefish caviar (from USA); Japanese wasabi Tobiko caviar (flying fish roe); whitefish salad. Accompanying these wonders were Lesley R.’s sublime blini and gossamer thin crepes. Plus traditional bialys and bagels, of course. Scallion cream cheese. Horseradish cream cheese (disappointingly bland). Sour cream. Creme fraiche. Sliced and chopped sweet onion. Kalamata olives. Capers. Bubbie’s Pickles. Lemon wedges. Two salads–hearts of palm and cherry tomatoes; celeriac in lemony mayonnaise. To drink: White wine, Bass Ale, Guinness Stout. Finale: Limoncello. Chocolate truffles. Peanut brittle. There is an added benefit. This meal is repeated as a Christmas dinner after an arduous day of opening presents. The day after Christmas Day is when the HG/BSK family schedules a dinner featuring red wines and brisket or osso buco. Eccentric, yes, but eminently satisfying.
A shocking omission in HG’s post: HOLIDAY FEASTING (DAY FIVE). Faithful and knowing readers must have been taken aback that Gifted Daughter Lesley R. omitted pasta from a welcoming Italian dinner for HG/BSK. No, indeed. An error by HG (ah, the vagaries of old age). After the antipasto and before the cheese, Lesley offered steaming bowls of tortellini with ample shavings of parmesan, a most comforting dish. HG remarked upon true excellence of the broth and was told it was Swanson’s Low Sodium. Surprisingly (to HG at least) Swanson’s, a widely distributed supermarket brand, was chosen by a top flight panel of knowing tasters as the best of packaged (or canned) broths. It may replace Trader Joe’s Free Range Chicken Broth on HG/BSK’s pantry shelves. HG reflected that Lesley always creates beautifully balanced Italian meals. Because the Riva family has resided in Italy for various periods, HG/BSK have enjoyed Lesley’s cuisine in Siena, Bologna and Venice. The emphasis was always on local recipes, traditions and ingredients—hearty bresaola, salumi, stuffed pasta in Bologna and seafood in all its delicious forms in Venice. When young Lesley and husband Massimo lived in Siena (before children and before Massimo’s professorship at Brown University) the emphasis was on dining in very good (and very cheap) little restaurants nestled in the Tuscan hills. Many savory memories of mushrooms, truffles, boar sausage and very rare steaks accompanied by beans. Viva Italia!!!
Hotel breakfast of coffee and raisin bran cereal. Off to Providence on Amtrak with BSK and grandson Haru. Penn Station was jammed but still managed to get ravenous Haru a slice of pepperoni pizza. Leisurely journey with plenty of time to read the New York Times. Arrived in Rhode Island ready for one of Gifted Daughter Lesley R.’s perfect Italian meals. This one didn’t disappoint. Antipasto of roasted peppers, anchovies, olives. Prosciutto and salami. Exceptional bread from Seven Stars Bakery. Perfectly ripe Gorgonzola. A chunk of Torrone candy for dessert. To bed with dreams of Russ & Daughters delicacies, the traditional HG/BSK family Christmas Eve feast, dancing in HG”s food obsessed old head.
This was a day of full time New York fressing for HG. Late awakening after SJ’s rousing Uzbek grand bouffe birthday party. HG/BSK had a Vietnamese brunch at Nam Son on Grand Street. Cha Gio, pork and vegetable spring rolls wrapped in lettuce and mint. Dipped in tangy fish sauce. Some crunchy salads topped with sliced shrimp and shredded chicken. HG/BSK separated. BSK went off to Brooklyn to frolic with grandson Haru and HG stayed at table with a big bowl of exceptional pho topped with tender, raw top sirloin. A pleasant long walk to Soho pausing at shops and galleries. An unexpected encounter. HG was wearing his ankle length Issey Miyake fur collared down coat, an imposing garment. A young, lively bearded chap approached. “That coat! That coat! I must take your picture.” It was Mordechai, the men’s style authority whose blog, Mister Mort, often features colorfully dressed old guys. He and SJ are friends. It was a pleasant coincidence. HG arrived at jam packed Balthazar, the big brasserie that far outperforms the brasseries of Paris. HG was seated with Restaurateur Daughter Victoria and her half brother, Harry Segal, a talented man who much resembles his brilliant, late father, Fred Segal, HG’s one time close friend. Victoria ordered a huge plateau de fruits de mer, a Balthazar specialty. HG couldn’t do it full justice but he did mange to knock off some oysters, crab, clams and shrimp. Plus glasses of the good house Muscadet. After a quick hotel shower, HG was picked up by the SJ family and all were off to Congee Village on Bowery for a dinner of congee with gingko nuts, fried squid; crisp skinned soy chicken; steamed tofu with shrimp, sliced fish, vegetables; pea shoots; crisp Hong Kong noodles. Chinatown cuisine at its best.
The chilly day began with dim sum at aptly named Dim Sum Go Go in Chinatown. In attendance: HG/BSK, SJ, Exquisite Maiko, grand grandkids Haru ands Teru; Restaurateur Daughter Victoria. The big round table was adorned with what seemed to be scores of bamboo steamer baskets filled with delectable morsels. BSK is allergic to crustaceans and Victoria is a vegetarian. Fortunately, Dim Sum Go Go is one of the rare Dim Sum spots that have a wide variety of vegetarian options as well as the standard seafood and pork dishes. There is no better way to begin a New York day than with fresh, hot dim sum. Apres brunch HG/BSK walked to bustling Broadway in Soho for some last minute Christmas shopping at Uniqlo, Lululemon and other wondrous shops. Values galore. Back to the hotel for restoring green tea and the pleasure of the New York Giants and remarkable Beckham performing well on the TV screen. In the evening, SJ’s long time pal, the beautiful and talented Zena B., picked up HG/BSK and they motored off to the depths of Queens, the American Capital of Multi-Ethnicity. Their destination was Cafe Arzu, a kosher Jewish Uzbek restaurant. This was the site of SJ’s eccentric birthday party with a few guests including SJ’s oldest friends (almost brothers) Adam S. and Jon S. (surprise visitor from LA). Decor of Arzu is Soviet Grim. However, the birthday table laden with vodka, beer and red wine enlivened the atmosphere. Customers at Arzu seemed to range from Russian gangsters to pious, bearded Chassidim. All having loud fun. The cuisine of Uzbekistan is, to understate, robust. The SJ birthday group dug into platters of sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced raw onions (lots of chopped dill), very good pickles. There were toasts to the birthday boy. Brief speeches. Much hilarity, Modest inebriation. Platters of food arrived. Juicy meat and pumpkin dumplings. Lagman, a sort of Uzbek ramen containing beef cubes plus addictive, chewy noodles. Arzu specializes in kebabs and these are spectacularly flavorful. The group consumed skewers of lamb, beef, chicken, chicken wings and lamb ribs. The wings and ribs were HG’s favorites and the hungry oldster overindulged. Beloved son SJ is one of life’s originals. No one but SJ would ever arrange an Uzbek birthday party.
Comfy Amtrak travel to New York and HG/BSK arrived at their Lower East Side hotel room for a rousing reunion with SJ, Exquisite Maiko plus the grand grandkids, Haru and Teru. A walk on East Broadway, a bowl of steaming pork and watercress soup at a Chinese eatery, brief nap, a hot shower and off to Vic’s, Restaurateur Daughter Victoria’s new venture in the same space that housed her Five Points restaurant on Great Jones Street in Noho for more than ten years. Vic’s has had much buzz because of ecstatic reviews (mentioned by HG in a previous post). When HG/BSK arrived at Vic’s they were dazzled by the new decor. Simple, Warm. Welcoming. Exposed brick. Flattering light. A ceiling that muffles much noise but allows enough to create a lively atmosphere. Tables and chairs that evoked an elegant farmhouse. And, there was Victoria, looking svelte and fashionable. She joined HG/BSK at a corner table and a perfect meal made stately progress. Chef Hillary Sterling combines imagination, precision, technique with an appreciation for down to earth tastes that evoke Italian countryside trattorias and eateries nestled on Mediterranean beaches. Her first creation HG/BSK enjoyed was a platter of crisp fried sweet onions dusted with parmesan and dried tomatoes. Pure, simple deliciousness that hit all the right notes of salty, sweet and crunchy. This was followed by little neck clams, pistachios, cannelloni beans and lovage in an intense clam broth. The sea theme continued with smoky, juicy grilled sardines adorned with thin shaved curls of baby carrot. The refreshing white wine was put aside and a fruity red was poured as three different pasta tastings were introduced. First, there was the Roman classic, cacio e pepe prepared with pecorino and parmesan. Then there were “little purses” of delicate pasta filled with ricotta, lemon and hazelnuts. The pasta finale: Tortellini filled with potato and guanciale (pork jowl) in a powerful pork brodo that sang of bacony goodness with remarkably none of the grease. There was just enough appetite left for a shared taste of some lush chocolate and snifters of house concocted limoncello (best HG/BSK ever tasted). Vic’s is a happy restaurant.The diners were visibly and audibly having a good time. And, why not? Splendid food, fair prices, pleasant surroundings, attentive service. HG advice: Reserve in advance. Vic’s is hot.
First off — a Merry Christmas from HG to all of you. This Christmas tale will be told a bit in reverse given the timing, but what the hell!
Airport food has changed. For the better. While traveling east for family fun in New York and Rhode Island, HG/BSK and Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia dined well at airport eateries in Albuquerque and Kansas City (Flying east from New Mexico means a stop in KC). Black Mesa at the Albuquerque Sunport served a lush southwestern quiche filled with local green chiles and good ham. In KC, the travelers had a splendid meal at the aptly named Pork and Pickle. Pulled pork sliders in a tangy (not too sweet) barbecue sauce on three soft buns with cole slaw and crisp pickles. Ice cold Stella Artois beer served in beautiful chilled glasses. Crisp, fresh French fries. What’s not to like? When the weary trio arrived at the waterfront Rhode Island home of HG/BSK’s daughter, the gifted Lesley R. and her husband Massimo R., the brilliant professor, a New England dinner (with some Italian touches) awaited. Rhode Island chowder with plenty of local clams and firm fleshed cod. The meal ended with some very fragrant, ripe Robiola cheese with a ciabatta loaf and spicy pear preserves. Good red wine. Happiness.
HG/BSK are going east for the traditional feasting and gifting jamboree with their joyous Anglo-Irish-Canadian-American-Italian-Jewish-Japanese family (Quick! Please have eligibles marry an African-American and a Latino so we can complete our Rainbow Coalition). Festivities will start in New York a few days before Christmas where HG/BSK will dine at Vic’s, the much-lauded new restaurant venture of HG’s daughter, Restaurateur Victoria F. Scheduled is a dim sum feast at Dim Sum Go Go in Chinatown with the SJ family (and Victoria). Also on schedule is an Uzbekistan Grand Bouffe in Queens celebrating SJ’s birthday. And, while BSK is doing some last minute shopping, HG will knock off some oysters and wine with Victoria at Balthazar, the brasserie which keeps the old time Paris traditions alive. (Yes, the best Paris brasserie is located in New York). Christmas Eve means the traditional Jewish Feast of the Seven Fishes (courtesy of SJ and Russ & Daughters). And, what surprise will Gifted Daughter Lesley R. spring on Christmas Day? Brisket? Osso buco ? Bollito misto ? Traditional turkey? And, is there a new Rhode Island restaurant to be tried? HG has heard rumors about an Indian restaurant in Bristol. Of course, there is old standby Hemenway’s which serves splendid New England oysters as well as Rhode Island clams on the half shell (best in the world), an HG favorite. Hey, food lovers, are you envious? You should be.