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.
Surprisingly, HG has never had good choucroute in Paris. For the uninitiated, choucroute is an Alsatian dish of simmered sauerkraut topped with a variety of piggy parts: Pork knuckle, smoked pork chops (kassler ripchen); frankfurters, bratwurst, thick cut bacon, sausage, etc. At Brasserie Boulingrin in Rheims, HG was occupied by butter drenched sole meuniere while a waiter walked by with a sumptuous, huge platter of choucroute. HG will certainly order it when (hopefully) HG/BSK get back to Rheims. Choucroute at two Paris stalwarts. Chez Jenny and Brasserie Balzar, lacks zest. Last night was chilly in New Mexico so dinner was hearty. BSK answered the dining challenge by constructing an estimable choucroute. BSK simmered the sauerkraut in a base of olive oil, sliced apples and white wine. Killer kraut. Cut up a Smithfield Farms Polish Kielbasa and let it heat with the kraut. Topped it with boiled all beef frankfurters. Accompanied the dish with small boiled potatoes. Three kinds of mustard on the table: Super hot Keen’s, Maille Dijon, Maille Whole Grain. Kosher dill pickles. Bass Ale. Let the winds blow. All is merriment in the HG/BSK household.
HG loves grits. There was a time when you had to travel south to get a bowl of grits. Now grits making an appearance on menus all over the USA. Shrimp and grits (An HG favorite) is being devoured at a half dozen Santa Fe eateries. Best ever shrimp and grits were served at Chicago’s Soul Kitchen (closed, alas) and best cheese grits were found up north at the lovely Griswold Inn, Lyme, Conn. HG isn’t snobbish about grits. Enjoys them at Waffle House topped by eggs and flanked by crisp fried potatoes. Quaker Oats Instant Grits provide a quick and pleasant breakfast when adorned with a lump of butter, salt, pepper and a dash of Tabasco. (Don’t sneer. Try it). For some peculiar reason, grits are not sold on Prince Edward Island. Maybe they represent a challenge to the Island’s omnipresent and delicious mineral rich potatoes. So, when HG/BSK voyage to the family summer home on this serene and beautiful Canadian isle, HG/BSK always pack a few bags of Geechie Boy Mill white grits. SJ, a guy who knows what’s good, gifts his parents with this splendid product. Geechie calls its product “Stone Ground Goodness.” Accurate. These grits ascend to heaven when topped by BSK’s perfect poached eggs.
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.
Time for the annual holiday season visit to Chong Quing House in Seekonk, Massachusetts, for the
F & R family fiery Szechuan feast. HG/BSK, Massimo and Lesley R., granddaughters Arianna and Sofia R. (a brilliant and beautiful duo) were seated at a round table with a big “Lazy Susan” on top. HG believes CH is superior to any Szechuan eatery (hmmmm….says SJ) in New York and the holiday meal confirmed HG’s opinion. Starters were steamed pork dumplings and dumplings in hot oil. Faves of the young women, the dumplings were marginal. CH is not a place for dumplings. But, the food? Ah!!! Cumin lamb; family style bean curd, pepper and salt shrimp; sliced fish on a bed of hot peppers, eggplant in garlic sauce; pickled string beans with scallions. Bowls of fluffy rice plus Bass Ale and Samuel Adams Lager. Great, balanced meal. No doggy bags. Not a morsel remained on the platters.
Rhode Island is called (rightfully) The Ocean State. Lots of shoreline and lots of splendid, fresh fish, squid, oysters and clams. HG/BSK and Lesley R. lunched on sea treats at Hemenway’s, the very good seafood restaurant in Providence. Rhody clams and oysters are among the world’s best, so that was the first course. BSK and Lesley R. do not share HG’s love of raw clams on the half shell so HG had all of the delectable little necks while a variety of oysters from the Rhody shores (plus a few from Massachusetts and Connecticut waters) were shared. All were delicious and briny, full of sea pleasure. On the table were giant shrimp and a half lobster, not local but perfectly sourced and cooked. BSK had a big bowl (a small cup for HG) of Rhode Island clam chowder. This is the best chowder, relying solely on an abundance of chopped clams and clam broth (plus potatoes, onions, bacon and herbs). No tomatoes as in Manhattan clam chowder or cream as in New England clam chowder. Simple, pure clam goodness. Clams Casino and a bottle of chilled Muscadet completed the meal. No room for a Rhody specialty: Fried squid with hot peppers. Next time.
If you want to banish the blues, go to Los Andes, the bustling, delicious, affordable Peruvian restaurant in Providence. It was there that the F & R clan occupied a table for eight last night. Instant joy. You have to be a pathological depressive not to have a good time at Los Andes. Service is swift, smiling and efficient. Portions are generous. Pisco sours and red wine sangria are state of the art. The meal began with platters of ceviche—fish, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid “cooked” in lime juice, vinegar and assorted apices and peppers. Crisp fried calamari. Then on to wonderful short ribs and a big, mixed grill of chicken, beef and blood sausage. Fried rice laced with pork belly, mushrooms and eggs. Cheesy rice. Russian salad. Sweet potato. Fried yucca. A very distinctive Peruvian treat: Whipped potatoes with a topping of shredded chicken, vegetables, cheese and mayonnaise. Chocolate cake and Tres Lechese cake (with loads of whipped cream) were shared by the table for dessert. Another memorable family outing. Before bedtime, generous Massimo R. poured a glass of fine chilled grappa for HG. Slumber followed.
HG has mentioned in previous posts that a favorite guilty treat was the chow mein sandwich served at Nathan’s in Coney Island (or in the short lived branch near Times Square). It was simple. Traditional corn starch enhanced New York chow mein served in a small hamburger bun lined with crispy noodles. HG gave it a dash of soy sauce and managed to dispatch the messy sandwich without staining clothing. SJ recalled reading an article by the regional food mavens Jane & Michael Stern that this sandwich survives and prospers in the gritty mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts. So, the F & R clan set off to Fall River, once a great textile manufacturing center. Huge mills (now put to a variety of uses) still adorn the streets. First stop was Portugalia Market, a big, sparkling market that could be described as a Portuguese Zabar’s. Big selection of Portuguese wines (HG scored bottles of very good Pinho Verde Rose plus some Ruby Port). The group bought much Portuguese chourico, cheese, custard tarts, canned sardines, jarred tuna, figs, etc. All marveled at a semi-detatched bacala room with towering stacks of dried codfish. While the group lunched on toasted cheese and sausage sandwiches (they later went off to tour a battleship and submarine docked on the Fall River waterfront), HG and SJ were off to Mee Sum Chinese Restaurant to sample the chow mein sandwich served the same way since the 1920s. The duo sipped Pina Coladas in Tiki cups as they ate the very unusual and surprising sandwiches. The hamburger bun sandwich sat atop a generous bowl of crispy noodles (best ever) floating in a dark brown, Chinese oyster sauce based sauce laced with onions and celery. This was a knife and fork dish. Not a sandwich. HG loved it. Devoured it with gusto. SJ’s enthusiasm was more restrained. SJ posted a photo of the dish on Facebook. Comments were derogatory. Okay, HG admits that it’s a very special taste but a real regional specialty that deserves attention. In any case, Fall River is a great food town. Lesley R. picked up great little meat and vegetable pies at Sam’s bakery. There are lots of Portuguese restaurants featuring savory clam dishes and garlic laden Portuguese steak. For snacking, lots of hole in the wall Mom-and-Pop eateries feature Coneys (hot dogs) smothered in chili sauce and chopped onions. And, one can also snare slices of feta cheese pizzas. It’s a happy heartburn town.