HG is a passionate devourer of noodles in all their varied forms: Italian pasta, Japanese ramen; Chinese egg and rice noodles (plus rice sticks and cellophane noodles). Also, plain old all-American egg noodles. HG’s Mom would often delight the growing youngster with excellent noodle dishes. “Lukshen kugel” (A baked dish of noodles, onions, garlic and chicken fat. Galician Jews made this dish with sugar and cinnamon. Feh!!). Egg noodles with butter and old fashioned “pot’ cheese. (Still a favorite HG breakfast). Hearty chicken soup with home made noodles. When HG discovered the cheap Chinese restaurants of HG’s youth, Lo Mein became a favorite. HG’s Chinese noodle repertoire expanded to Chow Fun, fiery Chengdu noodles that numbed HG’s lips, fried noodles Singapore- style etc. Japanese ramen is hard to find near HG’s Santa Fe County home. (A good ramen bar opened, made HG happy, closed. Owner moved the eatery to Seattle). HG makes do with Korean (very spicy) instant ramen mixed with Kimchi. Of course, nothing is better than Italian pasta in its almost infinite forms. Number one is BSK’s perfectly prepared spaghetti with virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes (Sometimes BSK adds anchovies which dissolve in the sauce). A runner up is linguine with clams followed by spaghetti carbonara. And, that’s followed by trenette with pesto. HG could go on and on. When feeling sickly, HG is heartened by a bowl of chicken broth mixed with beaten egg, parmesan cheese and pasta in a very tiny form–Orzo. No, HG has not forgotten papardelle with ragu, that lush sauce of long simmered meat, tomatoes, carrots, onions, etc.. That’s what Lesley R. prepared for dinner last night accompanied by a huge green salad. Finished withe cheese and fruit. HG indulged in a dessert of Pandoro with whipped cream as did Massimo R. There was a gift bottle of cognac on the table and the Profesore doused his Pandoro with a goodly pour of that magic liquid, creating an Italian version of Baba au Rhum.
In writing about family and Christmas, HG didn’t mention HG’s magnificent daughter Victoria. She (and super chef husband/partner Marc Meyer) didn’t make it to Rhode Island this year. Not surprising when you are running four hot and busy New York restaurants (Rosie’s, Vic’s, Cookshop, Hundred Acres). How Victoria manages to juggle being a top restaurant executive, wife, stepmother is beyond HG. She never seems ruffled. Her face is always aglow with welcome. In a city replete with tension and attitude, a Victoria-Marc restaurant is always a happy haven. (And, of course, the food is marvelous). On HG/BSK’s recent visit to New York, Victoria lavished generosity upon the duo. The Yiddish word for free loader is “shnorrer.” HG/BSK are world class “shnorrers” when Victoria is around. Gentle Readers, makes this new year resolution: Dine at Rosie’s (Mexican); Vic’s (Italian); Cookshop (Mediterranean); Hundred Acres (American regional). Say HG sent you.
Sorry to say, this was not the merriest Christmas for aged HG. Persistent pneumonia. Medical visits. Antibiotics that caused many unpleasant side-effects. No alcohol. Nevertheless, HG was heartened by the loving care and affection of HG’s unique family. The Big Guy In The Sky has blessed HG with BSK, an extraordinary woman of tenderness, strength, creativity and a sexiness that defies advancing years. Lesley R. and SJ are loving children and exemplary spouses and parents. The grandkids: Haru, Teru, Sofia, Arianna. No adjectives can do justice to their wonderfulness. Daughter-in-law Maiko Sakamoto. Son-in-law Massimo Riva. They bring to HG an abundance of intellectual and culinary delights. So, despite illness, HG did justice to the family’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day version of the Feast of Seven Fishes. SJ visited legendary Russ & Daughters on New York’s Lower East Side and arrived in Riverside, R.I., with a bulging carton of good things: Red salmon caviar. Fresh Dutch herring. Sable. Three types of smoked salmon. Whitefish salad. Tobiko. Smoked tuna. Trout mousse. Cream cheese. Bagels. Bialys. Authentic Jewish rye bread. Lesley R. made her splendid crepes and blini. SJ created a big platter of his crisp, perfect potato latkes. There were bowls of sour cream, creme fraiche, capers, sliced onion, chopped onion, lemon quarters, celeriac salad, hearts of palm salad on the table. Savory abundance. HG could not indulge in HG’s traditional icy vodka and Bass ale. HG had to settle for Beck’s non-alcoholic beer. The family noted this was the first Christmas with a coherent and sober HG. Wait till next year.
HG had fond memories of numb lips and fiery mouth after eating delicious specialties at La Vie En Szechuan Restaurant in New York. Thought that another year would have to pass before a similar experience. HG loves HG/BSK’s New Mexico Santa Fe County home. Santa Fe has splendid Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine, of course, plus good French restaurants, excellent sushi, down home Vietnamese pho. Italian food is pallid and Chinese food is sad. Heavy on the sugar and cornstarch, alas. BSK cooks splendid Italian food (as does daughter Lesley R. and SJ) so trattorias aren’t missed. But, HG sure does miss Chinese food and has fantasies of a second life lived in Flushing, that lovely piece of China that has landed in Queens. Given all of this, one can only imagine HG’s delight a few days ago as Lesley R. and BSK arrived with two small containers of Chengdu specialties from Chongquing House, a tiny Chinese restaurant in Seekonk, Mass., a few minutes drive from Riverside, R.I. There was one container of Chengdu noodles with ground pork and sesame sauce and another of cucumbers and sliced pork belly. Happy masochism. Great flavors. Unabashed fire. Perfect late lunch for HG who smiled with numb lips.
In fact, HG’s tingling lips were so pleased with the fiery foods from Chongqing House that the very next day, HG proposed a return. HG has always taken great pleasure in sitting around a big round table in a Chinese restaurant eating savory food with family and friends. A group of eight is perfect, allowing the group to taste a variety of dishes. More folks make the dining clumsy. Less limits the options. So, last night the octet of HG/BSK, Lesley R. and family, two pals, was ideal. Earlier forays at Chongqing House in Seekonk, Mass., were promising. Dinner was the big test and the Chongqing chef made the group happy. Fried dumplings. Bean curd with vegetables. Smoked pork with greens. Eggplant in garlic sauce. Chopped pickled string beans with scallions. Chicken with broccoli. Service was kind but spotty. Sliced fish in hot sauce and dumplings in chili oil didn’t appear. Just as well. The group was well fed. After dinner, all drove across the road to see “Star Wars-The Force Awakens” in 3-D. Before the feature, there was a half hour of films previews featuring monsters, end of the world scenarios, special effects, etc. And, then came “Star Wars.” Lots of explosions, dazzling special effects, imaginative sets, lots of actors running around and avoiding catastrophes. HG is not a fan of science fiction, extra terrestrial film and other fevered products of the modern imagination. However, the theater seats were comfortable and HG mused that 3-D has come a long way since the days of “Bwana Devil.” The movie also made old fogey HG long for a return to quiet films featuring Cary Grant, elegant evening gowns, background music by Cole Porter.
Kefte. Kefta. Kofta. Keftedes. Called by many names in the Middle East, Greece and the Maghreb, these are fat, cigar shaped rectangles of ground lamb. They are a favorite street food in many cities, grilled over charcoal and permeating the air with savory fumes. The ground lamb is usually mixed with chopped or grated onion, garlic, mint and a variety of spices. Sometimes a beaten egg is added to bind the mixture (A Greek version adds white bread moistened with milk). BSK and Lesley R. toss in some pignolia nuts for added crunch. The cooking technique is browning the Kefte stove top and finishing in the oven.The result is a nice balance between crisp exterior and lush, juicy, slightly pink interior. Better than burgers. BSK often serves Kefte with Israeli couscous and roasted Japanese eggplant. HG makes a sauce of Greek yogurt and sour cream, much grated garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, zaatar, Aleppo pepper, sumac and smoked Spanish paprika. Rather exuberant. Warm pita with olive oil and zaatar is a nice accompaniment. Lesley R. made a lovely platter of Kefte last night with couscous and eggplant. She added tahini to the the yogurt sauce. Interesting variation. The Eastern European/Jewish version of Kefte is Carnezlach. Beef, not lamb. Heavy on garlic and onion. A staple in the long gone “Romanian broilings” restaurants of New York’s once Jewish working class neighborhood of the Lower East Side. (You can still eat them at schmaltz heaven Sammy’s Romanian on Chrystie Street). Last night’s meal ended with a wonderful surprise. Young college student Raphie, a friend and neighbor, celebrated Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia’s Christmas homecoming by baking a key lime pie. Served with scoops of Raphie’s lush fresh whipped cream, it was the best dessert HG has had in years. Greedy HG had to be wrestled away from the table.
Back in Rhode Island. Had to cancel planned visit to Arthur Avenue, the great Italian food destination in the Belmont neighborhood of The Bronx. HG’s sleep depriving cough necessitated a trip to the urgent care facility in Barrington. Bad news. HG’s pneumonia has recurred. Initial anti-biotic program didn’t work. New regimen promises a swift end to the pneumonia. However, more bad news. No alcohol for HG. A teetotal Christmas, alas. Good news. Beautiful granddaughter Sofia R. arrived home safely from France. The event put Pip, the excellent Family R. dog, into a state of ecstasy. The humans shared in the delight. The best news: Home cooking by HG/BSK daughter Lesley R.. Polenta with shrimp (clams for crustacean allergic BSK), chorizo, onions, tomatoes. Pure comfort. Some excellent cheese and grapes. HG finished with Pandoro (a yeasty Italian cake like Panettone but without the candied fruit). Herb tea. An HG evening without vodka, wine and grappa. Did HG miss these devil’s brews? A bit. But, water accompanied by happy family faces made the evening a joy.
The next day, Sunday, HG was feeling good after a night of sleep undisturbed by coughing. HG breakfasted on Pandoro (golden bread) and cups of cafe latte. Professore Massimo R., authority on every aspect of Italian culture, explained that the word “Panettone” stems from the Italian “Tony’s bread.” It seems Tony, a Milanese baker, had to prepare a sweetish bread for some distinguished personages. Little time. Culinary emergency. Tony mixed some candied fruit in the bread. Legendary Panettone was born. Massimo commented on the glut of feel good Christmas TV shows and movies. The Professore said these are called “Cinepanettone”, kitsch you watch while eating Panettone. Professore Massimo’s friend and colleague, the distinguished University of Bologna academic, Giacomo Manzoli, has written a book on the subject appropriately titled “Cinepanettone”. HG continued to munch on Pandoro and tea as HG indulged in the guilty pleasure of watching pro football on TV. As a Rhode Island visitor, HG had to watch the Patriots cruise. HG gave up on HG’s boyhood favorite, the Giants, when they fell behind the Panthers and Cam Newton by a 35-7 score. Astonishingly, Manning, Beckham and the Giants made a gallant, exciting comeback before losing in the final minute. Much fun. HG will now watch the Denver-Pittsburgh game in order to hone dinner appetite. Refrigerator contains chilled nonalcoholic beer (oy vey!!) so the teetotaler will not be thirsty.
HG had to pass up a Cookshop lunch (alas) today with witty friend Stevie P. Annoying cough interfered with sleep so aged HG is resting. This means HG has had a chance to ruminate about spending the last seven days in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Here’s a cluster of random thoughts: Brooklyn’s brownstone lined streets have unique Christmas charm. The long time Italian residents decorate their homes with exuberant displays of multi-colored lights and decorations both inside and out (most street level homes have their trees in the windows allowing open viewing). Recent arrivals decorate their trees with only the most discreet and tasteful little, white lights with no baubles and no decorations. In any case, it all spells home in a way high rise buildings can’t express. Subways seem very clean and efficient (Much better than the Paris Metro or the London Underground where changing trains can often mean a half mile trek). HG is accompanied by HG’s wooden cane. Observing this, HG was always offered a subway seat by the courteous riders. (New York City’s reputation for rudeness is a fiction). Manhattan and Brooklyn are populated by the young. HG was often the only aged person in every shop, subway car, restaurant, food market visited. Have all the oldsters fled to Florida? Visitor tips from HG: Don’t miss strolling the High Line, a supreme urban amenity. And, wind up at the new Whitney Museum. Unforgettable in every aspect–architecture, art, light, intelligent museology. And, what visit to New York/ Brooklyn would be complete without food? HG has covered HG’s happy experiences in recent posts. When it comes to food, New York/Brooklyn rules the world. Ethnic and racial diversity puts the world’s cuisine within easy reach. And, wonderful experiences are affordable. HG is lucky. SJ is an informed guide. He is a culinary adventurer and has led HG/BSK to such places as a rousing, kosher Uzbekistan cafe in Queens. The thought of Uzbekistan barbecue and pickles washed down with vodka and beer makes HG plan another visit to the Big Apple (before HG becomes too feeble).
Chinese call it ma la, the combination of fiery heat and numbing, tingling sensations in the mouth after eating fiery Szechuan food with its reliance on Szechuan peppercorns, chile oil, and red peppers. HG had a major league case of “ma la” as HG/BSK; Victoria F. and Marc M.; composer Adam S.; Adam’s friend, Alexis; SJ/EM and family celebrated SJ’s birthday with dinner at Le Vie En Szechuan restaurant on E.33rd Street, Manhattan. Meal started with very tasty, mildly spiced cubes of cucumber plus bowls of appetizing roast peanuts. Delicious, delicate dumplings and wontons in moderate chile oil. Heat took over with subsequent dishes: Dan Dan noodles; Mopu Tofu; fish filets with red peppers in chile oil. There were some milder dishes: Soy sauce noodles; sautéed pea shoots; fried chicken; stir fried string beans; eggplant in garlic sauce. The table finished with a fiery serving of chives and pork. White rice and cold beer didn’t quench HG’s mouth flames. Time, the great healer, soon made HG comfortable. The meal was festive. The tastes were sensational. However, HG did contemplate the element of masochism provided by “ma la”.
Every year at Christmas season HG meets restaurateur daughter Victoria for lunch. (The tradition started five years ago.) Vicki manages to obtain a comfortable corner table for two at Balthazar. This is no mean feat since the French style brasserie is preposterously busy during the holiday period, even packed at the usual “dead’ hours like 4PM. HG usually sees Vicki at one of the four restaurants she runs with husband/chef/partner Marc Meyer (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Vic’s, Rosie’s). This means HG and Vicki don’t have the opportunity to review life, voice opinions, etc.. HG has to share Vicki with customers, chefs, waitpersons, etc. Thus, the Balthazar lunch. As usual, the duo dove into a mammoth plateau de fruits de mer–oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, lobster, ceviche. Superb, fresh-from-the-sea quality. Downed two carafes of the house Muscadet. Finished with creme brûlée and a (comped) wedge of cheesecake. Lunch began at 1:30. Finished at 4:30. Three hours of delightful father-and-daugher companionship. Lucky HG. One would think that after this briny marathon, HG would be through with food for the day. One would be wrong. At 8PM, HG/BSK, EM, Handsome Haru and super cute Teru were knocking off big bowls of ramen at Naruto Ramen on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. The special “Naruto Ramen” is a soy broth based noodle soup with a hard boiled egg, roast pork, scallions, dried seaweed, fish cake and bean spouts. A hearty dish, indeed. There was also a platter of very good gyoza and some fried rice (for Teru). Surprise of the night: Japanese pomme frites. The spice dusted French fries were the best HG has ever tasted (BSK agreed). They were served with a fiery dip. HG wondered: “Where have these Asian spuds been hiding all these years?” HG drank some icy sake: “Ozeki One Cup.” BSK drank Sapporo draft beer. Great casual dining.
After the serenity and quiet of HG/BSK’s homes in New Mexico and Prince Edward Island, Canada, the duo find New York and Brooklyn intense and tempestuous. There are sweeping changes on every avenue. New shops. Flashy condos. Neglected neighborhoods have now become fashionable. The population diversity is extraordinary. The streets are cleaner than HG remembers but the noise has become intolerable. Very heavy, rude hands on the auto horn. Super honking. Despite the noise, crowds, traffic, etc., HG/BSK are having a wonderful time. It is good to see old friends. And, of course, there is the food. Still the best in the world. HG/BSK had a pleasant brunch with Peter H. and Susan C., old pals of many decades and quintessential New Yorkers. The venue was Dim Sum Go Go on Chatham Square in Chinatown. Good dim sum (not as good as Asian Jewels in Flushing, the dim sum champ). Long stroll though Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho before arriving at HG/BSK’s favorite clothing supplier, Uniqlo, the Japan-based creator of affordable, comfortable apparel. Dinner was at Numero 28 Pizzeria on Bergen Street in Brooklyn. This is a warm and welcoming restaurant. A jazz trio (saxophone, bass, keyboard) filled the room with great sounds. HG/BSK, SJ/EM and their family supped happily. Crisp, tender fried calamari; beautifully prepared tuna tartare; a big arugula salad with shavings of parmesan. Rare to find such great starters in a pizzeria. The pizzas were very good, Crisp, with nice charred edges. Fresh toppings. After drinking much red wine, HG finished the evening with a very inventive after dinner cocktail prepared by the Japanese barman. A wow. Next day was sunny and unseasonably warm, perfect for strolling on the new guttering ornament of Manhattan: the High Line. Riveting Hudson River views. Lovely plantings. High design seating. The High Line ends at the new Whitney Museum. The museum dazzles. It is perfect in every detail. Lighting. Art arrangement. Gallery flow. Indoor and outdoor access. Comfortable seating where one can rest while concentrating on the art. Ah, the art. HG/BSK saw two shows. A Frank Stella retrospective which bowled HG over. Stella’s ambition, power and ability to expand the boundaries of painting and sculpture are given dramatic emphasis in this mind boggling show. There is also a remarkable retrospective of the African-American painter, Archibald Motley. HG/BSK had never seen the works of this remarkable artist. HG/BSK were particularly impressed with his work of the 1930’s. The energy and color of African-American culture (sometimes treated satirically by Motley) pour out of these canvases. The Whitney has an elegant restaurant, The Untitled. HG/BSK rested their eyes and had some creative small plates: Smoked char salad for BSK and steak tartare for HG. Each was a diminutive wonder of culinary creativity. In the evening, HG/BSK met old friends and former business colleagues, Donald and Susan K. They dined at Blue Ribbon Brasserie in Park Slope. Wondrous oysters from British Columbia. A splendid, generous platter of escargots (with plenty of good bread to soak up the buttery, garlicky lustiness of the sauce.) Pork chops with kale and mashed potatoes. HG finished with the largest hot fudge sundae ever confected. Fortunately, SJ joined the party at dessert time and was able to consume part of the mountainous high calorie treat.