SJ suggested dim sum brunch in Flushing, the Queens neighborhood that is populated by Chinese (and some Koreans). Chinatown in Manhattan seems like a Chinese neighborhood. Flushing is China. HG. a lover of Chinese food, believes Flushing, block by block, has the best dining in New York. SJ led HG/BSK to Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant, known to many as the top dim sum restaurant in New York. A huge space seating hundreds of happy diners. Busy women steer carts laden with good things. HG was blown away. Every dim sum dish was perfection. Clusters of juicy shrimp in silken wonton wrappers. Har Gow. Shumai. Tiny squid in seafood sauce. Pork dumplings. Vegetable dumplings. Fish topping slices of tofu. And, more and more and more. As SJ and BSK pushed their chairs away from the table, HG was happy to consume a scallion topped bowl of congee (best ever) and a dessert of warm tapioca pudding with a caramelized crust. SJ will soon be visiting Hong Kong, alleged world capital of dim sum. HG doubts Hong Kong can top Asian Jewels. HG awaits SJ’s balanced judgment. After brunch, SJ motored through some Brooklyn neighborhoods that illustrate the borough’s diversity being challenged by a mad maelstrom of gentrification. Greenpoint (still some signs sign of the indigenous population of Polish immigrants). Hipster and foodie Williamsburg. Jewish Chassidic Williamsburg, a glimpse into Eastern European “shetls” of yesteryear. African-American Bed-Stuy, still rough around the edges, but quickly gentrifying as real estate values escalate. Tree lined Ft. Greene. The brownstone streets of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. The low rise quality and the architectural uniformity of these neighborhoods have a European ambiance and sense of household comfort.
Dined at daughter Victoria’s latest venture, Rosie’s Sunday night with HG’s nephew Paul Freeman, his wife Vicki, daughter Staci—plus BSK, SJ, EM and family. Rosie’s is the result of Victoria’s husband/partner/head chef Marc Meyer’s immersion into and love for the cuisine of Mexico. First things first: The space is vast and joyous. Feels like a plaza in front of a Mexican cathedral with enticing food aromas scenting the air. It all opens up in summer weather to create a fiesta atmosphere. The drink: Margaritas as they should be. Food: Mexican– not Tex-Mex. Ceviches (scallop and swordfish). Guacamole of the gods. Shrimp in robust sauce. Calamairi enhanced by unusual varieties of chiles. Fish, mushroom, pork and chicken tacos. This isn’t Taco Bell. Each taco has succulent, original flavor. HG tasted and mused: “So, this is what knowing Mexicans have been eating all these years while we ignorant gringos have been eating pallid imitations.” The tacos are freshly made each day and cooked on a traditional taco grill. You can taste the difference. HG is lucky. Loves his family (and hopes they tolerate him). Dining en famille gives HG great pleasure. Wishes it could happen more often.
A dosa is a delicious food staple from South India. Basically, it is big, round crepe-like lentil and rice flour pancake. It is freshly cooked on an oiled griddle and served plain or rolled around a variety of fillings–fish, meat, chicken or vegetables. The dosa is dipped into “sambar,” a rich, soupy dip and accompanied by a variety of chutneys. HG’s favorite brunch when HG lived in Vancouver, B.C., was a dosa at Chutney Villa in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. The restaurant, run by a warm and friendly Indian woman, was a hundred yards from HG/BSK’s loft (best views in Vancouver). Few things were more delightful on a rainy (very frequent) Vancouver morning, than eating dosa, sipping chai and reading the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper. HG revived these memories with a Sunday brunch at Dosa Royale on Court Street in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Tucked at a comfortable round table overlooking the colorful street scene and attended by a gentle young waitperson, HG devoured a very large, crisp edged dosa rolled around a filling of spinach and paneer (a white Indian cheese). Very good sambar and chutneys. HG sipped chai, read the Sunday New York Times, people watched. Many young Moms and Dads with their babies. Lots of beards. HG strolled along lively Court Street and then veered over to Smith, anther street lined with shops and restaurants. Bars were crowded on this grey Sunday with loud fans watching pro football games on TV. Much elation over victories by the Jets and Eagles.
A dinner prepared by HG/BSK’s Japanese daughter-in-law, the exquisite Maiko Sakamoto, is a trip into celestial realms. It is a meal, always, of varied tastes and textures. Every ingredient has integrity. Flavors seem to gain intensity as the meal progresses. HG always leaves the table feeling happy and nourished. Surprisingly, HG never seems stuffed despite eating a considerable amount of food. This was the case last night when daughter Victoria left her restaurant duties in Manhattan to travel to Brooklyn and experience EM’s hot pot dinner with HG/BSK, SJ/EM and their family. Superb dining that began with chunks of lightly pickled cucumber dotted with EM’s home-made hot sauce; buttery strips of sautéed mushrooms; sliced lotus root salad with a light mayonaise dressing and a pot of steamed Manila clams swimming in a fragrant sea sauce of sake and butter. Victoria is a Pescatarian. No, this doesn’t refer to a religious or sexual preference. It means Victoria is a vegetarian who shuns meat but will eat fish and shellfish. (I.B. Singer, the late Nobel Prize-winning Yiddish author, was a Pescatarian and justified the practice by noting: “Fish have no souls.”) BSK is allergic to crustaceans. EM based the hotpot around Victoria and BSK’s dietary restrictions and promptly created a bubbling kombu and bonito broth. The diners stirred a lush sesame based sauce into their bowls of broth (plus judicious amounts of ponzu and the aforementioned hot sauce). A succession of ingredients were cooked in the broth: Cabbage, bok choy, mushrooms, tofu and pieces of cod. As these items cooked, the broth gained intensity. HG swallowed mouthfuls (between many sips of a cloudy, delicious Nigori sake). Finally, when all the ingredients were finished, EM tossed in a package of high quality Udon noodles to finish the meal. Dessert was comprised of pastries purchased at the very traditional, Italian bakery, Court Pastry Shop on Court Street. Spectacular almond studded biscotti. Great conclusion to a memorable meal.
Driving to Brooklyn on I-95 South, HG/BSK felt pangs of hunger as they whizzed by the Stratford, Conn., exit. Years ago, an eccentric Englishman set up a wonderful barbecue joint in Stratford that HG/BSK frequented on their many trips to New England. The Brit’s cue was authentic — he had become beguiled with Texas barbecue so the obsessive fellow spent more than a year eating in Texas and trying to learn the secrets of the pit masters. Don’t know whether the Texans cooperated with the foreigner but the Stratford barbecue was mighty tasty. (He later closed the Stratford operation, opened a place in Long Island City, sold barbecue at Zabar’s and then disappeared. Don’t know if he brought ‘cue back to Britain). In any case, when HG/BSK met SJ, grandson Handsome Haru, granddaughter Adorable Teru, there was some delightful serendipity. A hungry Haru asked for barbecue and within minutes the group was seated at Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue in Park Slope. Great barbecue sourced form organic farmers who raise happy animals. Ribs. Brisket. Pulled pork. Hot links. Plus sides of beans (best ever), mac and cheese, pickles, cole slaw. Iced tea. The real deal. A hearty introductory meal in Brooklyn, new world capital of excellent eating. Tonight, Exquisite Maiko, HG/BSK’s talented daughter-in-law, will be preparing a Japanese hot pot of fish, tofu and vegetables. Pastries from an old fashioned Court Street Italian bakery will follow. SJ promises dim sum in Flushing soon. Are you turning a nice shade of envy green?
Economic doldrums can be healthy for architectural preservation. Two cases in point: Nantucket Island, Mass. and downtown Providence, R.I. When the whaling industry shifted from Nantucket to New Bedford, the island went into an economic depression that lasted for more than a century. The beneficial result is Nantucket’s beautifully preserved architecture. Nantucket Island retains a true 18th Century flavor (one of the factors contributing to astronomical real estate prices). Over the last 50 years, downtown Providence lost its vitality as a financial and retail center. Distinguished (and some flamboyant) commercial buildings were left untouched. There was no economic incentive to tear them down or “modernize.” Thus, Downtown remains virtually intact. It is now thriving. Its innovative shops, excellent restaurants and theaters, are luring thousands of visitors. The city’s various economic incentives seem to have produced beneficial results. HG has had long experience with Providence’s efforts at urban renewal. Some 50 years ago, HG was public relations counsel for the New York real estate investment group that developed a portion of Providence’s South Main Street with assistance from the city. A big success. The housing that was developed has been well maintained and, of course, has risen in value. The street is now lined with stylish shops, restaurants, hair salons, etc.. BSK had a splendid haircut in a salon yesterday and HG/ BSK strolled leisurely. (Very much beguiled by a curvy aluminum chair in an antiques shops window. More sculpture than seating, HG/BSK are debating a self indulgent purchase). Today, HG/BSK wandered through the downtown arts district. Bought a few modest Christmas gifts. Lunched at Ken’s Ramen on Washington Street, a small, very busy Asian restaurant. Besides the ramen which is served with chicken broth that has been simmered for some 30 hours, Ken’s offers pork buns, rice bowls topped with uni, spicy tuna or salmon roe; seared or braised pork bellies; pulled chicken, etc.. Ken’s was out of broth so HG/BSK had some big bowls of Tan Tan Mazeman. These were thick, wavy, al dente noodles mixed with pork bellies and a variety of vegetables. HG/BSK added sesame sauce and Ra-Yu hot sauce. The result was a spicy, hearty dish that was more Chinese than Japanese. Wonderful eating. HG wants to go back and sample some rice bowls and chilled sake. Be warned. Ken’s is cash only and deservedly popular. Be prepared to wait.
Here is an improbable fact. HG once drove to the basket and scored while being guarded by the great basketball player (Hall of Famer) Dolph Schayes. This happened in the gym of Creston Junior High School in The Bronx when HG was 13 and Dolph was 14. HG was aided in the score by teammate Jerry Tenney (later a prominent New York real estate investor) who gave Dolph a push. Young Dolph was very tall, gawky and awkward. HG liked the smart, untalented young man. HG was present when Dolph made his high school debut as the center of the talented De Witt Clinton High School basketball team. Dolph had replaced graduating center Stretch Durant, a fan favorite. Still awkward, Dolph was not well received. But, Dolph soon got better and better. And, better. Soon, he was equal to the exciting Joel Kaufman with whom Dolph played at Clinton and N.Y.U.. HG was often present when Dolph (with the Syracuse Nats) came to New York to bedevil the Knicks. He had become a great professional star, deadly from inside and outside, a solid defender, deft passer, never static but always in motion. Dolph was the prototype of today’s power forwards. HG was sorry to read his obituary this week and bemused by the fact Dolph earned a total of $250,000 for his entire 16-year career as a pro star (12 times an NBA All Star and voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history). Great player’s career timing was off.
The official Rhode Island appetizer (so designated by the state’s Governor and other officials) is breaded, fried Calamari with hot peppers. Indeed, it’s a wonderful way to start a meal. And, the squid, pulled out of the sea near Port Judith, are superior. Lesley R, prepared the official appetizer and it got dinner off to a rousing start. This was followed by a main dish of pasta with chunks of seared, fresh tuna in a tomato based sauce. Savory seaworthiness. What HG found unusual was the pasta shape, called Paccheri: short, thick tubes. HG has usually associated seafood based pasta dishes with thin strands of pasta like linguine. Massimo R., authoritative on almost every aspect of Italian culture, pointed out that linguine is rarely used in Italy. Thick pastas are used in fish dishes while spaghetti is used with clam and shrimp sauces. In any case, Massimo R. insists that pasta be cooked “al dente” to the extreme. HG prefers pasta a bit softer. Not mushy, of course. Massimo’s standard of pasta “doneness” reminds HG of the way steak is served in Paris bistros: seared but raw (and bloody).
HG/BSK treated themselves to a classic Rhode Island lunch at Hemenway’s, the very good, very comfortable seafood restaurant in downtown Providence. Hemenway’s has a handsome, snug oyster bar; a cocktail bar and nicely spaced tables for family dining. HG/BSK have dined there many times and have found the service to be warm, friendly and efficient. A very well run establishment. On this cold grey New England day, HG/BSk made themselves comfortable in the oyster bar. Three Cape Cod oysters for BSK. Excellent, judged BSK, but not as superlative as the big, lush, briny meaty oysters HG/BSK recently devoured during their recent stay in the beautiful French city of Reims. HG took pleasure in six cherrystone clams on the half shell. Perfectly chilled and shucked, HG judges Rhode Islanders to be the best clams in the world. This is not a superficial judgment: HG’s first job (73 years ago at age 13) was as a clam and oyster shucker at Harbor Rest Inn in Rockaway Park, N.Y. HG devoured scores of clams. Then went on to clam gluttony at such clam-on -the-half-shell shrines as Lundy’s at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and Nathan’s of Coney Island. Plus there were decades of clam gathering and eating during Fire Island summer vacations. The clams were dug from the bottom of Great South Bay whose shores bordered Fire Island. (Joseph Mitchell, the late New Yorker writer who wrote about clam gathering and eating, would have called this massive clam ingestion a Mess o’ clams.). HG/BSK continued their Hemenway’s lunch with Rhode Island-style clam chowder. This is a clear chowder (no cream or milk as in New England-style or tomatoes as in Manhattan-style). Hemenway’s version emphasizes strong broth, lots of clams, smoky bacon. a bit of onion and celery, potatoes. Perfect. To complete the lunch, HG/BSK shared a portion of Rhode Island’s official appetizer: Fried squid with hot peppers. A don’t miss dish. Ordinarily, HG/BSK would have accompanied their meal with a bottle of cold Muscadet. But, since HG is limiting his alcohol drinking, the duo had to be satisfied with a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water. Surprisingly, the wine wasn’t missed.
Bill Bomster of Stonington, Conn., sells perfect sea scallops, uniquely sweet and fresh tasting. Bomster and his three sons bring back scallops from 10 to 12 day sails into the Atlantic and sell therm from their shop in Stonington. The scallops have become a cult item among seafood lovers at restaurants and markets along the east coast. The big difference is the way Bomster scallops are processed. Working in continuous shifts, the Bomster scallops are rinsed in seawater, vacuum packed and flash frozen within an hour after they are hauled out of the water. Most scallop operations use a “wet” process where the scallops are shelled, iced, treated with chemicals and bleached. The Bomster method produces a superior scallop. Yesterday. BSK and Lesley R. visited the Pawtucket Farmers Market housed in an old mill building (Pawtucket, R.I., is a gritty industrial town, the birthplace of America’s industrial revolution). The Market is thriving and offers a big variety of fresh greens, seafood and other good things. BSK and Lesley bought a variety of mushrooms (including delicious, seldom seen Poplars), salad greens and Bomster scallops, of course. The result was a dinner platter of gently sautéed scallops nestled on fresh greens gilded with very superior first pressing extra virgin Italian olive oil and surrounded by lush mushrooms. A big bowl of quinoa accompanied the dish. A wow. This was followed by ripe Robiolla and Pecorino cheeses, fig jam, Comice pears. White and red wine. Later in the evening, there was salted caramel gelato. A lengthy procession of culinary delights.