Ben’s R.I.P.

June 18th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Sad news. The Forward reported today that Ben’s deli in the Rego Park section of Queens has closed. That’s dreadful. During HG’s long career as a public relations counselor, HG was often in Rego Park where he met with real estate biggies, politicos and journalists assigned to the Queens beat. This was long before Queens (and Rego Park) became heavily internationalized and multi-ethnic, multi-lingual. Big Jewish population. At Ben’s, HG often lunched with HG’s long time client, the late real estate mogul Sam Lefrak (This was before Sam discovered his alleged French ancestry and changed his last name to the classier “LeFrak”). HG and Sam plotted PR maneuvers as they wolfed down giant pastrami and corned beef sandwiches plus French fries, potato salad and cole slaw. The beverage was Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic. They were often joined by another Ben’s habituee, the then Queens Borough President Don Manes (later a suicide as he faced corruption charges). Ben’s, Gitlitz (on Broadway and 79th), Second Avenue Delicatessen (when run by the late, tragically murdered Abe Lebewohl) were HG’s favorite New York Jewish delis. All gone. Jewish delicatessens are a vanishing species. Health reasons? Loss of Jewish identity? Assimilation? Fear of heartburn? Who know. Katz’s remains, of course. However, HG has never fancied Katz’s. Overrated.

Soulful Sole

June 17th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peters (a few minutes drive from HG/BSK’s oceanfront home), is now open. Picked up some of their super fresh, super good Atlantic fillets of sole. Much better product than the Pacific sole HG buys at the Santa Fe Whole Foods market. Fried or steamed, the Atlantic sole retains a firm, juicy taste. Last night, BSK made one of HG’s favorite dishes: One pound of sole steamed over a bed of spinach. In producing this treat, BSK relied upon some of the techniques BSK learned from daughter-in-law Maiko Sakamato, an exquisite, talented chef. BSK softened chopped fennel, shallots, ginger (plus thinly sliced garlic) in vegetable oil. Topped the mix with spinach. Added discreet dashes of soy, mirin and chile oil. After spinach had wilted, BSK carefully dried the sole fillets, placed them on top of the spinach. Covered the pot and steamed the sole to silky perfection. Accompanied by a bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles flavored with sesame oil, soy and sambal oelek, this was eating that left HG wholly satisfied without feeling stuffed.

Le Vaudeville Reborn

June 15th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Le Vaudeville brasserie in Paris has one of the best interiors in that fabled city. Lots of marble and brass. Art Deco flourishes and other influences. Fabled stained glass door to the men’s room. During its glory days it was frequented by HG/BSK and was a favorite of HG’s late sister and brother in law, Beulah and Daniel K. Great traditional dishes: Cod with truffle-infused potato puree. Steamed mussels. Oysters. Grilled pig’s foot. Sole. Salmon in sorrel sauce (a Beulah fave). Marinated herring. Tete de Veau. And, much more. Best desserts: Creme caramel and ile flottante. A happy place. Then, it was taken over by the Flo chain. Industrialized food. Plummeted downhill. HG/BSK had a disastrous meal and vowed never to return. Now there’s good news. The brasserie has been taken over by new owners. Refurbished terrace. Bar serving champagne and snacks. Alec Lobrano of “Hungry for Paris” just ate there and gave the food and service a glowing report. Lobrano (in a dead heat with SJ as world’s best food writer) can be relied upon. If HG manages to get back to Paris, Le Vaudeville (and Le Stella) will be the favored brasserie destinations for HG/BSK.

Sad Exits

June 15th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

The New Yorker magazine was where HG discovered the late, great writer, Philip Roth. The New Yorker published young Roth’s short story, “Defender of the Faith.” Roth recalled that he bought a number of copies of the magazine when it came out and had moments of sheer delight seeing his fiction in print for the first time. For HG, the story was a revelation. Here was a writer, HG felt, who captured all of the complexities of being a Jew in post-Holocaust, post-World War Two, America. (The story was very controversial. Roth became the object of accusations and calumny from the Jewish establishment). As the years went by, HG read all of Roth’s short stories, novels and essays. Roth was unique. He could be searching, illuminating and intellectually challenging. He could also be very funny in the style of a stand up comedian like Lenny Bruce. Almost the same age, HG often mused that Roth spent a lifetime alone in a room crafting his fictions. HG, on the other hand, had a career in noisy newspaper and wire service “city rooms” followed by mingling with office mates as HG composed a million words of press release piffle. HG believes HG had a happier time. HG read Anthony Bourdain’s first piece in The New Yorker where he warned readers never to eat fish in a restaurant on Monday. Once more, an original voice was heard. HG/BSK had much joy watching Bourdain’s CNN television culinary/travel/culture/politics series. Thought HG, if HG could be another person, HG would be Bourdain. He combined all of HG’s food, moral and political passions. Moreover, he was paid well to travel the world and explore cultures. His suicide was shocking. A man who embodied pleasure, hid some dark demons.

Linguine Con Vongole

June 13th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

This is one of HG’s favorite dishes. Al dente slim strands of pasta with a sauce of clam broth, garlic, white wine, onions, olive oil, parsley. Topped with an abundance of steamed little neck clams (quahogs as they are dubbed on Prince Edward Island) which add their juices to the simmering sofrito. A dusting of dried chile peppers, of course. HG has had linguine con vongole in many Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island restaurants. Fancy places. Plain spoken joints. Eateries favored by “goodfellas.” Supped on the dish during visits to Italy. Sicily, Naples, Palermo, Rome. Venice, Florence, the Friuli region and points in between. Yes, HG will say it. Forthrightly, and not fearing abuse or contradiction. BSK makes the best linguine con vongole in the universe. BSK honed her skills during many family summers at HG/BSK’s dune house on Fire Island, the famed barrier beach between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. After a day of sun, kadima and frisbee, HG and pals would venture into the Bay (this was before pollution) and using their feet and hands would score dozens of incomparable clams. HG was in charge of clam opening. A dozen or so were eaten raw. Three dozen were prepared by HG. These were given a dash of bread crumbs, a piece of bacon, a few slices of garlic, olive oil. Popped in the oven for a brief broiling and then served on the rear deck of HG/BSK’s home with chilled white wine and icy martinis (guess which beverage HG preferred). Much joy as a dramatic sunset illuminated the skies. Then came the climax. BSK’s linguine con vongole. Yes, the fresh clams were delicious (only matched by those in Rhode Island). But, it was BSK’s artistry that made the dish enter the Fire Island Culinary Hall of Fame. BSK made the dish last night with three dozen clams from PEI waters. Did a creative variation. Added chopped fennel to the sofrito and used chives instead of flat leaf parsley. Oddly, Italian parsley doesn’t seem available in PEI supermarket or farm stands. BSK sneers at curly parsley. Parsley in BSK’s herb garden hasn’t bloomed yet. However,the dish was superlative. HG was drenched in bivalve delight. BSK rules.

Chez Martonovich

June 11th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Wonderful, happy welcome home meal at the verdant farm of Noel (BSK’s sister) and her husband, Yossi M. This is truly a Garden of Eden on PEI’s southeast coast (close to Panmure Island). Fruit trees, berries in abundance, vegetables (agriculturist Yossi has turned his Israeli kibbutz experience to good use). There are also happy pigs, sheep, goats and one horse (HG predicts the horse won’t be lonely for too long). At dinner was another Israeli, Amram T. He is an M. neighbor who cultivates an organic farm. Amram has had a colorful life. Among other things, he was a successful farmer in Turkey. An odd, but fortuitous coincidence, that two former kibuttznicks should wind up as agriculutural neighbors in far away Prince Edward Island. At dinner, the conversation was spirited (Amram has a delightful intensity). The food: lobster salad followed by barbecued lamb (from the Y & M farm), wild asparagus (also from the farm), PEI potatoes, green salad. And, for dessert, an HG/BSK favorite: Tapioca Pudding, a dish that captured a joy of childhood. So fortunate that we are all together in Canada, a democracy headed by a spirited guy who won’t be pushed around by Der Trumperer.

Eggplant Parmigiana

June 11th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has never enjoyed the Eggplant (or chicken) Parmigiana served at “red sauce” Italian restaurants. Mushy. Messy. Eggplant and cheese flavors lost in an ocean of inferior olive oil. Last night, BSK used a Jamie Oliver recipe for the dish as a starting point for her own creation. BSK grilled slices of eggplant in a cast iron pan. No oil. Sizzled the slices until lightly charred. Made a sofrito (sauce) of onions, garlic, olive oil, jarred tomatoes (from The Italian Corner in East Providence, RI) oregano, ground black pepper, basil and a dash of red wine vinegar. Put some sauce in an oval casserole pot. Layered the eggplant slices with sauce and slices of mozzarella. Topped it with more mozzarella and a dusting of parmigiana. Into the oven. Watched carefully until just done. Served with buttered penne and a green salad. Finally, a delicious Eggplant Parmigiana, non-oily with the eggplant keepings its integrity.

Mussel Feasting in PEI

June 9th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Potatoes (that’s why they call PEI “Spud Isle”); oysters, tuna, lobsters, scallops and, of course, mussels. Prince Edward Island has all of these wonderful tastes from the red soil earth, the bays and inlets and the surrounding sea. HG/BSK utilize the products for dining pleasure. But, no tuna, alas. HG/BSK watched tuna being unloaded from fishing boats at the docks in the port of Naufrage. These fish are immediately purchased by Japanese, flown to the Tokyo fish market and provide delight to knowing sushi and sashimi consumers. PEI mussels are the best and are identified as such by New York restaurants, Whole Foods fish counters, etc. HG picked up some pounds ($1.30 a pound US) at PEI Mussel Kings on Red Head Road in the town of Morell. BSK steamed them in fish stock and white wine. Chopped onions, garlic and fennel were softened in sizzling olive oil and added to the pot. Further enhancements were a few sprigs of Italian saffron and chile pepper flakes. This topped linguine pasta. Ciabatta rolls for dunking in the intense broth. The mussels were big, plump, juicy. Plucked from nearby St. Peters Bay, the mussels provided a lush welcome home to PEI for HG/BSK.

PEI: Oyster Heaven

June 8th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has some food obsessions: Chinese food (as noted in a previous post); Japanese food (specially when prepared by the genius chef, HG’s daughter in law, Exquisite Maiko); oysters. When not resident on glorious Prince Edward Island, HG never feasts on an abundance of oysters. That’s because they are so expensive. They cost $2.50 to $3.00 per oyster in New York ($4.00 per in Paris). Happily, oysters are very affordable on PEI. Plus, big, briny, meaty Malpeques (or subtle Colville Bays) are better than any oysters HG has ever consumed in the USA or Europe. Yesterday, HG visited Atlantic Shellfish, major oyster wholesaler located on Red Head Road in the town of Morell. Customary friendly PEI welcome. HG learned that the company sells a variety of oysters, all delicious: Malpeque, Red Head Select, South Lake, Savage Blonde and Tuxedo. HG specified two dozen of the best Malpeques. The price (given the favorable balance between the USA and Canadian dollar) was about $.74 an oyster. At dinner, HG shucked a dozen (BSK limits herself to three oysters). Accompanied by a snifter of icy vodka, HG ate nine. Sublime.


June 7th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Arrived at HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island home with its sweeping ocean views. Housekeepers did a good job. All was spic and span. Much accomplished. The exterior of BSK’s newly built studio has been shingled and attached to a water line. In the main residence, washing machine and dryer has been moved to a lower level location leaving room for much needed additional shelving in the pantry. And, the rotting and dangerous deck has been replaced. It is now sturdy and beautiful (a bit concerned about how much it will cost). Dinner was very special BSK linguine with Italian canned tuna, tomatoes, garlic, oil, anchovies and capers. The next day was brilliantly sunny and hot. BSK went to the town of Montague to fill the refrigerator and add to the overflowing pantry ( more shelving, please). Dinner was spectacular. An herbaceous spatchcocked chicken plus smashed PEI potatoes (BSK enriches the mineral rich spuds with chicken stock and scallions). Local yellow beans and a salad of avocado, sweet onions and kumatoes. Happy meal in a happy place.

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