Ahhh…Nostalgia. So wonderful and yet so full of shit. SJ here and I must make a rebuttal against HG’s colorful yet ill informed attack against the New York of now versus the New York of HG’s past. As someone that has lived in New York for the most part of my 47 years (and is living here still), I must say that HG speaks some truths: New York has become painfully expensive for middle class and working class people and really anyone who is not making a high six figure income. And yes, many wonderful New York institutions have closed down as rents increase. And finally, it is true that the essentially secular Jewish character of New York is fading while the religious Chassidic population is rising. These are painful truths for a changing city. But, there are many things that have not changed one iota. HG claims that New York has pushed out Mom and Pop stores in favor of chains. Lies! While big chains have arrived in an unprecedented fashion, New York still remains (for the moment) a place of corner bodegas, grumpy news stands, eccentric hardware stores and family run bakeries, delis and food shops. I live in Carrol Gardens, Brooklyn and I have a shop in Chinatown in Manhattan and in this tiny universe generic chains have barely made a dent (with the exception of Starbucks and the actually welcome addition of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods). Now onto food….HG makes a claim that New York restaurants have all become ridiculously overpriced and only serve fussy, so-called “creative” small plates that highlight kale. Well, those nostalgic goggles HG is wearing have become so fogged with BS, that he has no clue what he is talking about. (HG! Time to stop reading New York Times restaurant reviews and actually visit and eat!) While there are many trendy, overly precious restaurants (as there were back in HG’s day — remember “continental cuisine” or that rash of horrible hippy bean-sprout “health food” restaurants that propagated in the 70s?), there are also scores and scores of simply great places to eat that are making food that is honest and delicious and actually responsible with their ingredient sourcing and their investment in nose-to-tail eating. On a mainstream level, we now have restaurants that celebrate regional cuisines from Puglianese Italian to top notch Texas style Barbecue to authentic Barcelona style Tapas — a long way from the very good but very one note Italian and Spanish restaurants of yester-year; furthermore, even outside of ethnic enclaves, New York has exploded with amazing Japanese, Korean and other Asian foods. And, if you want to speak of cheap food, well jump on a train to Flushing, to Sunset Park, to Ozone Park or walk into Manhattan’s Chinatown and you will be flush with $4 chorizo tortas, smokey Xian style Chicken skewers for $1, Thai Sausage for $3 and a plethora of inexpensive vittles to make you smile. And yes, the great dairy restaurants of the past have shut down, but guess what? Now there are Uzbeck kosher restaurants popping up all over with delicious grilled meats and wholesome stews; and if you want to be a healthy Jew who eats like IB Singer, well there has never been a better time for vegetarians in this city both with mainstream restaurants and many serious Israeli spots serving hummus, falafal and all sorts of healthy middle eastern treats. Lastly, when it comes to traditional New York food and specifically Jewish food, there is a renaissance happening: Katz’s may have gone downhill (but their hot dog is still something killer!), but Mile End is making some incredible smoked meats; Russ and Daughters and Kossar’s are fully revitalized and thriving, serving up perhaps the best food of their long careers; Barney Greengrass is packed every day of the week and a new generation of bagel makers, smoked fish lovers and matzoh ball soup mavens are opening wonderful restaurants. And with food blogs popping up everywhere old, great NYC restaurants and shops have been given a new life as can be witnessed in the hours long lines for Casa Della Mozzerella on Arthur Avenue or the incredible community support that kept B&H open after a gas explosion totaled their block last year. So HG, SJ is advising that you take a cloth to your nostalgia goggles and take a second look at a New York that, while changing as it always has, remains an idiosyncratic and uniquely great place to live, eat and wander about.
Ah, nostalgia. Sentimental memories of yesteryear are bittersweet. HG is nostalgic about the New York HG left many decades ago. Cheap rents on the Upper West Side. Even cheaper rents in Greenwich Village and Chelsea. Mom and Pop stores everywhere. Friendly greetings. Shopkeepers who would always cash a check in the days before ATM’s. All wiped out by the chains and high priced, high rise condos. “Co-op conversions” destroyed the distinguished old apartment houses where artists and intellectuals paid affordable rents. Dining out is a questionable experience (except, of course, at Daughter Victoria’s four restaurants–Rosie’s, Cookshop, Vic’s, Hundred Acres— where her husband, Marc Meyer, is the supervising chef). Everything in most restaurants is fancy, “creative” and centered around kale, small plates and expensive wine. Cheap meals? Fuhgeddabout it!! The Automat with its good coffee and splendid casseroles is gone. So is serviceable Bickford’s. There are still a number of Jewish pastrami heavens. All lousy. Even Katz’s and Carnegie. Sadly, the Jewish “dairy” restaurants are almost all gone, There are a few left. B & H at 127 Second Avenue maintains the old traditions. For those unfamiliar with the term, a Jewish “dairy” restaurant serves fish, vegetables, dairy products. No meat or meat products. The two great New York dairy restaurants were Ratner’s (on Delancey) and Rappaport’s (on Second Avenue). What did they serve? Herring in an infinite variety,. Gefilte fish. Borscht. Schav. Pirogen. Blintzes. Noodles with butter and pot cheese. Scores of smoked fish, tuna and sardine salads. HG is only, scratching the surface. Uptown on the Upper West Side there was the Paramount Famous on W. 72nd Street and the fancy Steinberg’s on Broadway in the 80’s. There were many other good dairy eateries in The Bronx and Brooklyn. All had great bread baskets filled with bagels, bialys, rye bread, challah and pletzels (onion rolls). Gallons of sour cream adorned the tables. Enough. HG is getting tearful.
(SJ here. Please look for a rebuttal to this very good, but highly suspect post tomorrow.)
HG is decidedly French in food tastes. Loves innards and long simmered, wine soaked stews of fowl or beef. A caveat: HG does not share the French love of savoring Ortolans (swallowed whole) or devouring execrable chitterling sausages encased in the lining of a pig’s rectum. HG is very French in loving steaks cooked blood rare–seared on the exterior with a bright red (only slightly warm) interior. (Italians also like steaks cooked this way. Witness blood rare Bistecca Fiorentina that is served with cannelloni beans, olive oil and lemon). HG also favors tuna grilled with a raw interior and salmon with a rare interior. These enthusiasms have caused marital conflict with BSK. Such conflict is rare since BSK is a wondrous home cook, dazzling HG and friends with an array of international dishes. However, BSK’s Anglican ancestry takes over when grilling steak or fish — she prefers them cooked a bit more than HG would like and HG often murmurs a soft, diplomatic complaint (BSK thinks HG’s complaint is loud, overbearing and nasty). Thus, marital discord. To bring the marital sail back to calm seas, HG will now grill HG’s own steaks and fish. HG’s mantra is “It keeps cooking.” That is, bloody steaks and barely cooked fish, continue to cook when removed from the grill and allowed to rest a bit on the table before eating — this process also allows juices to re-circulate throughout the cooked flesh. Surprisingly, BSK pan broils the best hamburgers and pork chops HG has ever tasted. Crusty exteriors, Juicy, pink interiors. Tonight, BSK will be cooking Kefte, cigar-shaped Middle Eastern lamburgers. Crusty exteriors. Juicy, pink interiors. Go figure.
Parisians (and most French) don’t think of eggs as breakfast food. Breakfast in France usually consists of a bowl of cafe au lait plus buttered baguette or croissant; however, you will often encounter poached eggs as a bistro appetizer (Ouef Meurette–eggs poached in a red wine sauce) or nestled on a slice of buttery toast and topped with shavings of black truffle. The wonderful Lyonnais salad is an HG/BSK bistro luncheon favorite (Frisee and bits of crisp bacon or lardon topped with softly poached eggs and a warm vinaigrette). HG had had many good luncheon omelets in Paris cafes (very good but not as voluptuously splendid as BSK’s preparations). An unexpected snowfall in New Mexico last night (it will all melt within a few hours providing needed moisture). However, snow calls for a hearty breakfast and BSK answered the call with plates of grits adorned with BSK’s perfectly poached eggs (When a fork pierces the soft yolks, the plate resembles a joyous sunrise). Here’s how BSK poaches eggs: Bring a pan of water to a boil – add a splash of vinegar – break egg into a shallow bowl carefully and slip it into the boiling water – turn down heat to a slow bubble and watch for the white to set (watch carefully because the yolk needs to stay runny) – retrieve from pan with a shallow pierced spoon. Follow these directions carefully and you will enter into egg heaven. Try these eggs atop corned beef or roast beef hash for a super hearty breakfast or brunch.
That was the motto of the early women’s prohibition movement. BSK doesn’t go that far. However, BSK has often taken a very dim view of HG’s intake of strong white spirits. Namely tequila and vodka. Can’t blame her. BSK’s war hero father had problems with alcohol which led to a stormy family life. The only time HG ever saw BSK drink strong spirits was on their first date in March 1963. The duo met at the bar of Lombardi’s, a Greenwich Village restaurant. BSK ordered a Dewars scotch on the rocks. (Later, BSK confessed feigning sophistication on a first date with an older, worldly New Yorker). HG had two extra dry Martinis (BSK did not heed the warning). BSK loved dining at Fornos, a wonderful Spanish restaurant (long closed); however, BSK did not like HG’s habit of drinking Fornos’ Margaritas (best ever) throughout the meal and finishing with two Banana Daquiris (best ever) for dessert. Matters came to a climax on Fire Island: HG/BSK were guests at a smorgasbord prepared by the late New York Times journalist Glenn Fowler and his Swedish wife. Famished and thirsty after a day of sun, swimming, body surfing and football tossing. The array of herring, meatballs, red salmon caviar, ham, sausages and cheeses was enticing. HG ate a lot (as did BSK). Jolly time. Unfortunately, HG drank a great deal. There were bottles of near-frozen Aakavit in a block of ice and ale nestled in a bucket of crushed ice. HG took a bite of food. Then a snifter of icy Aakavit. A chaser of ale. This was repeated and repeated and repeated. Later, HG/BSK walked home on the narrow boardwalk (no cars on Fire Island). All of a sudden BSK noticed she was walking alone. BSK looked off the side of the boardwalk — There, laying in the sand, was a prone, very happy, very drunk HG. The next morning there were some stern warnings from BSK. If such a drunken scene was repeated marriage would be ended. HG never again became falling down drunk. (BSK was magnanimous about HG being tipsy, high, slightly sozzled, etc.). Lately, strong spirits have had a bad effect on mature HG. The combination of vodka or tequila with HG’s old guy medications has proven dangerous. HG has stumbled and passed out briefly (for about 30 seconds). BSK has expressed concern. HG now adheres to a regimen of bitters and soda (Aperol, Campari, Punt a Mes, Cynar, Angostura) before dinner. A glass of wine (a large one) with dinner. A very small shot glass of bourbon sipped while watching a movie DVD. No, this is not a liquid diet approved by Carry Nation, the temperance women and the health police. However, it keeps HG upright and soberly joyous. Moreover, BSK approves (barely). That’s the only approval HG seeks.
Bernie Sanders, a Jew, could be the first Jewish President. “Oy vey!!”, comments HG, a long time Hillary Clinton supporter. HG is a Jew, although a confirmed atheist and opponent of organized religion (The present Pope is an exception). The Sanders candidacy has caused HG to muse about the singularity of Jews. It was William Norman Ewart (1885-1977), an English foreign affairs journalist (and a Soviet spy in the 1920’s), who composed the epigram: “How odd of God/To choose the Jews”. The epigram drew many reposes through the years: “Not odd of God/His son was one” (Dorothy Parker); “Not odd of God/Goyim annoy ‘im” (Leo Rosten); “But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God yet spurn the Jews” (Ogden Nash); “Moses, Jesus, Marx, Einstein and Freud/No wonder the goyim are annoyed” (Jim Sleeper).
BSK cooks international style, much to HG’s dining pleasure. Italian, of course, relying upon the late Marcella Hazan’s guidance: pasta with mushrooms; Bolognese Ragu; rosemary-chickpea soup, etc.. French (Boeuf Bourguignon from Julia Child’s classic recipe). Israeli (chopped turkey/zucchini fritters and lots of other dishes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook); Middle Eastern (BSK’s unique version of kefte, cigar shaped burgers). Indian (chicken curry and other dishes from Vikram Vij’s splendid cookbooks). Greek (unsurpassed avoglemono soup). Tex-Mex (spicy chili; chicken green chile stew; cheeseburgers smothered in green chile sauce). Eastern European Jewish (kasha varnishkes with fried onions and sautéed mushrooms; karnezlach; mushroom and barley soup; matzo ball soup that’s better than that prepared by HG’s late Mom); American (Rhode Island fish chowder; New York strip steak pan broiled in a cast iron pan; roast spatchcocked chicken). Chinese (Sesame noodles; congee; Spicy Szechuan peanut butter noodles with peppercorns and fermented vegetables; Hunan eggplant; scores of stir fries. Japanese (Zero. HG/BSK conserve their appetite for Japanese cuisine until visiting Brooklyn and SJ and Exquisite Maiko, HG/BSK’s gifted daughter-in-law. EM creates unsurpassed Japanese dishes which combine beauty with flavor.) Last night–Aloha!!–BSK presented a Hawaiian dish–Poke (pronounced poh-kay). Essentially a tuna tartare with Asian flavoring, Poke has become the hot new thing in New York with a number of fast food Poke restaurants opening. BSK’s Poke started with the purchase of sashimi grade tuna at Whole Foods. BSK cut the tuna into 1/2 inch cubes. Mixed the raw fish with minced onion and ginger; scallions; soy sauce; sesame oil; sesame seeds; fresh lime juice; hot red pepper flakes. The flavorful Poke was scooped up with Belgian endive leaves. Sensational. Only thing missing was a song from Haleloke Kahauolopua (remember her from the Arthur Godfrey TV show ?)
It seems burlesque is making a comeback with shows (mainly strippers) in clubs across America. HG doesn’t believe the shows resemble those that the teenage HG enjoyed in a ramshackle theater in Union City, N.J.. HG and pals would journey to Union City via subway and bus (HG recalls the New Jersey buses left from a terminal on W. 34th Street. The construction of the Port Authority Bus Terminal on W. 42nd Street was far in the future). The show had a very predictable pattern. The curtain rose to reveal six scantily dressed showgirls and an aging male juvenile with a mike. The girls weren’t pretty or shapely. Their dance skills were non-existent. HG presumes their pay was very modest. The orchestra blared and the girls paraded as the juvenile (he would appear later as the straight man in comedy sketches) sang (loudly) “Girls of All Nations.” Then there was comedy. The funny guy wore oversized shoes and a crushed fedora. He responded to the cues from the straight man with a loud “What the Hay!!!”). The comedy was followed by another appearance of the scrawny group of showgirls. The first half of the show ended with the second billed stripper doing her thing. Very arousing for HG. Especially the ending where she walked to the curtain at the edge of the stage illuminated by a pin spot. For a very brief moment she removed her top and revealed her breasts (which were adorned by tassels known as “pasties.”). Wow!! During intermission, a barker sold boxes of popcorn while promising “A valuable prize in each box.” There were shills in the audience and the barker would ask “What did you find in your box?” The shills would wave wrist watches, “diamond” bracelets, etc.. Inevitably the boxes would contain trinkets of the “Cracker Jack” variety. Surprisingly, the popcorn was edible. The second half of the show was tedious. The audience awaited the star stripper, Margie Hart, a crowd (and HG) favorite. She was beautiful with a knockout body. Her long routine was a titillating (so to speak) work of sexy dramatic art. Yes, lovely Margie was worth the long trip and admission price. More about Margie: Died in 2000, age 84. Lived the latter part of her life in Los Angeles. Made lots of money dealing in residential real estate. Married John Ferraro, Los Angeles City Councilman. He commented after her death: “She loved people and they loved her. In addition, she was very intelligent with unique views about Los Angeles and politics.”
Whenever HG/BSK arrive in Spain, their first order of business (after arduous flights) is to swallow some heartening, comforting Sopa de Ajo (Spanish garlic soup). Later, HG/BSK will delight in tender octopus prepared in the Galician style, garlicky fried peppers and for HG (BSK is allergic), shrimp in green sauce. HG/BSK have never been in the province of Valencia where paella is a specialty. Madrid and Barcelona versions have disappointed. In a recent post, HG mentioned that garlic soup (nice antidote to chilly weather) was going to be on the HG/BSK dinner menu. HG prepared the dish from a New York Times recipe. BSK was suspicious. HG ignored HG’s lovely life companion. Big mistake. The soup was a watery mess. Despite the fact that BSK is right about everything, HG (even after 52 years of marriage) finds BSK adorable.
Super Bowl day. HG was clad (courtesy of Uniqlo) in Bronco colors–a lounge outfit consisting of an orange shirt and blue pants. Warm and comfy fleece. HG was prepared for a Panthers win. The Broncos defense had stifled two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL–Tom Brady of the Patriots and Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers. These are relatively immobile QB’s–classic “pocket” passers. HG thought Cam Newton, a swift and powerful runner as well as an accurate passer, would be too much for Denver’s stout defense. HG was wrong. HG had underestimated the speed and power of the Denver defenders (as well as the intricate plan devised by Wade Philips, Denver’s defensive coordinator). A tough day for Cam Newton but a happy day for HG/BSK and their many Colorado pals (HGBSK lived on a Denver foothills horse ranch and in a Denver apartment for more than 20 years). HG had intended to dine on roast beef-onion-duck fat sandwiches during the game. Cold weather indicated a switch in culinary plans. BSK made a big pot of fiery chili. Chopped onions. Grated Mexican cheese mix.Three types of salsa. Sour cream. Sliced avocado. Ample tequila and Santa Fe Brewing Company Black IPA Ale. Genuine western treats. A comment about the televised extravaganza. The crowd booed Tom Brady (who, as usual, looked movie star handsome and GQ stylish) when he made an appearance as one of the MVP’s of past Super Bowls. Why? Must be jealousy. He has been named MVP of three Super Bowls and is married to the beautiful Gisele Bundschen. The lady also is an astute businesswoman who earns millions every year. Plus, Brady is always gracious in victory and defeat. Unlike Newton, who acted like a sulky 13-year-old in his post game interview.