Found a thin dime in a coat pocket. Insignificant coin. That wasn’t the case when HG was a Bronx nine-year-old. Two dimes bought art, adventure, nourishment and appreciation of the female form and female artistic talent. HG would earn the two dimes by carrying the heavy shopping bags of women shopping at the Kingsbridge Road markets. (“Carry your bag, Lady?). Few buildings had elevators and sturdy little HG would have to trudge up many steps to earn a nickel or (rare) dime tip. When HG had the necessary two dimes it was off to Manhattan. Destination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Preparing for the trip, HG spent a dime on nourishment. A chunk of garlic salami (“A Nickel a Shtickel”) and two sour dill pickles (the tasty treats were wrapped in waxed paper and placed in a brown paper bag.) They were obtained at Tower Delicatessen. HG spent a nickel on the subway fare at the Kingsbridge Road/Jerome Avenue station. HG read abandoned copies of newspapers on the ride to 81st Street and Lexington Avenue. (yes, nine-year-olds traveled alone on subways in 1938). Quick walk to the Met. Admission was free for children (SJ notes that the Met is still donation-only meaning you have to pay something, even a penny, but the “suggested admission” is for tourists and suckers!) . First stop was The Armor Room. A stirring sight was fully armored knights on horses. Plenty of lances, axes, bludgeons, swords, daggers, spears to spark a young fellow’s imagination. There were two favorite paintings at the Met. One was “The Lady and the Parrot” by Gustave Courbet. Then and now, HG finds this the most beautiful (and sexiest) nude of a woman ever painted, The other was “The Horse Fair” by a female painter, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), the most famous female painter of the 19th Century. “The Horse Fair” is monumental, eight feet by 16 feet, Little HG would stand transfixed before this painting, which throbbed with the energy and beauty of rearing and tossing horses. Bonheur was an “animalier”, a painter of animals. (later in life, HG was happy to discover her “Plowing at Nivernais,” a serene but forceful depiction of oxen at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris). HG consumed the pickle and salami lunch with many glasses of free water, in the beautiful dining room of the Met. HG’s final nickel was spent on the subway ride home. Bedtime sleep was filled with beautiful and stirring images.
Sour cream was omnipresent on the family table when HG was growing up in The Bronx. HG’s late Mom called it “smetana” (the Russian name). Though not observant of Jewish dietary restrictions, Mom confined sour cream to “dairy” (non-meat) dishes. Sour cream accompanied blintzes. Mom sneered at jam. Considered it an aberration of “galitzianers” (Galicans), Jews fixated on sweets. Kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats and Italian “farfalle”) was topped with smetana as was cold beet borscht and “schav” (sorrel soup). Typical summer lunch was a bowl of sliced bananas (or seasonal strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) with ample smetana. There was a vegetable variant: chopped onions or scallions, cucumbers and radishes. Smetana covered bowls of cottage cheese or pot cheese (lots of kosher salt and black pepper). Mom always bought sour cream, cheese and butter at Daitch Dairy. Considered their products superior. HG/BSK continued that tradition when they lived on W. 79th in Manhattan and there was a Daitch Dairy on the southwest corner of Broadway (the cream cheese was epic and a ‘shmear” on a warm bialy turned morning coffee into a happy ritual). Sour cream plays a big role in fiery New Mexico cuisine. A scoop brings cool to a palate singed by chiles. HG/BSK like to top Goya black beans with chopped onion and sour cream. Mixed with Greek yogurt, sour cream accompanies a variety of BSK’s lamb, middle eastern and Indian dishes. HG is looking forward to Final Four and NBA playoffs. HG’s TV dinner will be small boiled potatoes covered with sour cream. Much salt and pepper, of course. Dill pickles. Icy vodka. Beer chasers. Smetana heaven.
Yes, if you love down home, authentic Japanese cooking this is the culinary event of the year. Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer are doing five pop up restaurants at 33 Great Jones Street right next door to their celebrated Vic’s Restaurant. Vicki thinks her sister-in-law Maiko Sakamoto aka Exquisite Maiko is the best Japanese chef in New York and HG agrees. There is no other chef HG/BSK would rather dine with. Maiko’s stand–Oni Sauce– is one of the stars at Brooklyn Smorgasburg and Vicki has been pleading with her to do a tasting menu of all the wonders she’s tasted at Maiko’s Brooklyn home. Maiko relented and now you’ve got your chance. Maiko and Oni Sauce will be doing a 12-course tasting menu on March 23. There are two sittings: 6:30 PM and 9:00 PM. Limited seating, so act fast. Expect among many other delights: Sake steamed clams. Fluke carpaccio. Mackerel tataki. Pork belly and daikon radish stew. Reserve at Eat@onisauce.com . Cost is $75 per person. Much cheaper than air fare to Tokyo or Osaka (plus hotels, etc.). You’ll leave the Oni Sauce experience with a happy, enlightened appreciation of what Japanese cuisine is all about.
Andre R. was a very eccentric pal of HG/BSK during HG/BSK’s long ago summers on Fire Island. A Swiss-born “futurist” (whatever that job entailed), Andre was perpetually stoned on weed. He would arrive every summer at HG/BSK’s dune house (as he would get older, the women accompanying him would get younger). Upon arrival, Andre and his youthful female friend would remove their clothes (to the delight and amazement of the little kids present) and leap into the sea. Upon their return, Andre would cook a splendid dinner and give HG/BSK some very high grade marijuana. Happy days. On a particularly steamy August day, Andre stopped at Schaller & Weber (the famed German butcher in the Yorkville section of Manhattan) and brought to Fire Island a pork knuckle, a big uncooked sausage and kassler rippchen (smoked pork chops) plus, of course, sauerkraut. HG/BSK were dubious about eating such heavy food at the end of a steamy summer day. Andre simmered it in a pot with onions. He boiled potatoes. The sun went down. Appetites were sharpened by weed and icy vodka. Hot mustard, pickles and plenty of cold beer. A memorable feast. HG thought about Andre last night as HG/BSK and visiting grandson Handsome Haru devoured a flank steak a la Andre. This was a flank steak barbecued after a long bath in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic and honey. Andre scored the steak with a sharp knife before putting it in the marinade. The honey in the marinade would caramelize the surface of the meat. Cooked rare and sliced on the bias, this was consumed with many ears of in season corn on the cob. No corn last night. Just BSK’s sublime smashed potatoes.
HG/BSK watched the searing Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park Five” and, once more, were made aware of the depth of American racism and the vicious tactics of police in forcing confessions from unfortunate, young, minority men. Permit HG to refresh your memory: On April 19, 1989 a young, white female jogger in New York’s Central Park was raped and brutally beaten. Five young men, ages 14 to 16, were present in the park that night. Four of the youngsters were African-American and the fifth was Puerto Rican. Seized by police, the frightened and befuddled youngsters underwent 36 sleepless hours of aggressive interrogation. They subsequently made televised confessions to the crime. As one youngster said: “We’d say anything. We just wanted to go home.” In trials of May 1, 1989 and December, 1990 all were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms of five to fifteen years. The evidence against them was inconclusive. DNA analysis did not link any of the young men to the victim and the crime scene. Some years later, another man, a convicted rapist and murderer, confessed to the crime. His confession with an abundance of circumstantial details left no doubt that he was the actual attacker of the young woman. After rigorous analysis by then New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and his staff, the Central Park Five were freed. Later, they won a $41,000,000 suit against New York City for false arrest and imprisonment, the sum of $1,000,000 for each of the collective 41 years they spent in prison. This sad miscarriage of justice provided an early insight to the character of our so called President, Der Trumperer. In 1989, Der Trumperer was a publicity hungry real estate developer. On April 19, 1989, the future Der Trumperer took full page ads in the leading New York newspapers one month before the trial of The Five. These inflammatory ads (defense lawyers said they influenced the juries) called for the “death penalty for criminals of every age.” Furthermore, the ads stated “criminals must be told that their civil rights ended when an attack on our safety begins.” In connection with the ads, he told television interviewer Larry King: “Maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.” And that’s the essence of Der Trumperer: Disregard and contempt for the law, glorification of hate and a huge bill at the end of the day for ignoring our Constitution.
Why are so many Americans fearful and cowardly? A woman in Ohio commented recently that she feels “safer” since Adolf Trump banned Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States. Der Trumpeter is feeding upon paranoia. The facts are that you’ve a much better chance at being killed or injured by your lawn mower than an “Islamic terrorist.” HG/BSK’s son, SJ, lived a few blocks from the World Trade Towers on 9/11. SJ watched from his window as both Towers came down, filling his apartment with smoke and ashes. SJ and wife-to-be, Exquisite Maiko, walked to safety and were given shelter by friends. HG’s daughter, Victoria, was running her restaurant in Noho, Five Points (later redesigned and renamed as the very successful restaurant, Vic’s.). She was friendly with the men in the firehouse across the street. A number of these firemen died on 9/11. SJ, Victoria and millions of New Yorkers had one thing in common: They were not going to let terrorists scare them out of the diverse, exciting (and complained about) city they loved. And they certainly were not going to turn against their Muslim friends and neighbors. A sardonic sidelight of the immigration madness we face. The 9/11 tragedy was planned by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian. It was carried out by Al Qaeda operatives who were predominantly Saudi Arabian. There are no restrictions on Saudi immigration. There have been no sanctions. Oil business as usual.
Here’s some New York nostalgia: In HG’s younger New York days, Broadway (between 42nd and 57th Streets) was one of the great eating thoroughfares. HG has written memories of that Broadway (When The Great White Way Was Appetizing and The Roast Beef Sandwiches of YesteryearR). Just off Broadway, on Seventh Avenue, was Heartburn Heaven–the Stage and Carnegie Delicatessens, pastrami purveyors. And, there was the Brass Rail and its fabulous “French Dip” roast beef sandwiches. Sadly, all are gone and so has old fashioned New York, Jewish-influenced restaurant cooking. Turf, Jack Dempsey’s and Lindy’s served sublime cheesecake. Now, if you want traditional high cal New York cheesecake you’ve got to to Brooklyn and Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue. And breaking with the trend, Frankel’s, a new Jewish-style appetizing and deli, has opened up in Greenpoint. Yes, Brooklyn is keeping some of those old time tastes alive.
A highlight of HG/BSK’s holiday in Brooklyn/New York/ Rhode Island was a feast hosted by Restaurateur Daughter Victoria (Vicki) at her eponymous Italian restaurant, Vic’s, on Great Jones Street. Vic’s is one of Vicki’s four New York restaurants (the others are Cookshop, Rosie’s and Hundred Acres). Hillary Sterling is the chef at Vic’s and she turns out wonderful, creative, Italian food with an emphasis on local, very fresh ingredients. Comfortably seated in the sparkling dining room, HG/BSK and SJ were regaled with vegetable starters: Brussell sprouts with anchovies,chiles and lemon; squash with schmaltz (chicken fat), golden raisins and garlic; cauliflower with hazelnuts, harissa and bread crumbs. These were dishes that could turn a carnivore into a vegetarian. The veggies were followed by baby squid with pickled peppers (a glorious take on the classic Rhode Island dish) and a roasted duck leg. The pasta tasting course was original: Borsa (“little purses” filled with ricotta; Mafaldi; Tortellini; Spaghetti with clams and green chiles. Wow !! Much splendid wine and a grappa to finish. The next day, HG met Vicki for their traditional three hour holiday lunch at Balthazar. The duo had much to talk about as they dug into a giant plateau de fruits de mer: Oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, ceviche, lobster. Fabulous. Bottles of Balthazar’s very good Muscadet. Vicki made a prior arrangement with Balthazar to pay the bill and then sent HG back to Brooklyn via Uber. Vicki, you are generosity personified.
SJ plus pals. Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru, Adorable Teru. HG and BSK. All gathered around a big table at Mister Hotpot in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown. A joyous celebration of SJ’s birthday. As the name suggests, Mr. Hotpot is a hot pot restaurant — but elevated with a wonderfully curated selection of high quality seafood, meat and veggies. Mister Hotpot delivers a unique, milky, homemade Pork bone broth which is the basis of the meal. This delicious broth (which only gets better as different selections cook in its depths) simmers upon electric burners set into the table. The happy diners cooked a variety of vegetables, udon and rice noodles, slices of beef, whole crab, shrimp, home-made won-tons, shrimp paste and more in the savory broth. A variety of spicy condiments enhanced the food. Lots of sake, beer, two varieties of vodka gave emphasis to the merriment. A birthday party to savor and remember fondly.
After a long day of exhausting travel, Holiday feasting began upon arrival at the Brooklyn home of SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and enchanting Teru. Jolly welcome. HG/BSK found comforting warmth in bowls of SJ’s chickpea, rosemary and tomato soup. This soup is SJ’s creative take on the classic Marcella Hazan recipe. Rather than leaving the garbanzos whole, SJ adds real Spanish chorizo to the basic ingredients and blends the whole thing into a smooth and earthy soup, redolent of rosemary and finished with cubes of crisp guanciale. This was followed by an exuberant platter of varied cheese from the Fairway market and lots of red wine and vodka. Plus, splendid Tuscan salami and Spanish ham. Delight. Thoughtful SJ gave HG/BSK a bag of bagels and bialys plus Ben’s Scallion Cream Cheese (the best!) for breakfast in HG/BSK’s temporary Prospect Heights home.
SJ scored again with the traditional fish feast on Christmas eve with the usual Jewish twist. SJ, in his annual ritual, finished DJing at 4:30 am and headed right to Russ & Daughters so he could be first on line on Christmas Eve day. R & D is a New York landmark for herring and smoked fish and knowing SJ sourced a feast and motored it bak to the family gathering in Riverside, R.I. Here were some of the goodies: Nova Scotia smoked salmon; smoky New Zealand smoked salmon; Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, whole Dutch herring; pickled herring; wasabi tobiko; smoked yellowfin tuna; sable, whitefish salad, creme fraiche, wild Alaskan red salmon caviar; American hackleback black caviar. The fixings: Lemon wedges, chopped onion, thin sliced rings of onion, capers, scallion cream cheese, regular cream cheese. The breads: Bagels, bialys, buttered toast (for the American caviar); thinly sliced Baltic dark rye bread. Wow. To drink: Prosecco; white wine; rose wine; Tito’s vodka; Bass ale. Big time feast. Opened a few presents (that’s the family custom). No room for dessert. Off to bed for big time morning present opening and reprise of the evening feast (plus SJ’s super potato latkes). HG is convinced that no family celebrates the holidays with more joy and culinary delights.