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.
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.
Among the varied talents of HG’s beloved life partner (53 years) BSK is mastery of egg cooking. BSK introduced HG to the breakfast pleasure of “egg and soldiers” at the inception of their marriage. The dish is simple: A perfect soft boiled egg nestled in an egg cup. Dip strips of buttered toast (the “soldiers”) in the egg. Joy. Lately, some Parisian bistros are serving this dish as a starter. BSK’s poached eggs are perfect (hard to find good poached eggs in restaurants). For a hearty breakfast, BSK serves them atop butter and cheese infused grits or polenta. BSK’s creamy, soft scrambled eggs on toasted Thomas English Muffins are an indulgence, They scale gourmet heights when topped with red salmon caviar (from Zabar’s or Russ & Daughters) and sour cream. A perfect light dinner is a BSK omelet accompanied by a baguette, green salad and red wine. BSK’s omelets have crisp edges and lush, soft interiors. BSK folds these wonders around a variety of stuffings: feta cheese; bacon; pancetta, sauteed peppers, onions and zucchini; mushrooms; asparagus (when in season). Better omelets than New York’s fabled omelet shrine, Mme. Romaine de Lyon (long closed, alas). Mel Brooks wrote the screenplay for “The Producers” (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) while eating there. BSK’s omelets only inspire HG’s sparkling prose on hungrygerald.com.
Chanukah. Christmas. Kwanza. Yes, it’s holiday time. Won’t let Trumpery put a damper on family fun and feasting. HG/BSK will be in Providence (and three days in New York). Alas, Toby, The Wonder Dog, will be in in New Mexico. But, happily he will be in the loving care of Vicki, our house sitter, and her dog, a Toby buddy. In New York, HG will have his annual (Is this the sixth?) holiday lunch with restaurateur daughter Victoria (Rosie’s, Vic’s, Hundred Acres, Cookshop). It will feature fruits de mer and Muscadet at Balthazar. In Brooklyn, HG/BSK will celebrate SJ’s birthday at Mister Hotpot with Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and Teru, the little queen of cuteness. In Providence, HG will lure gifted and busy daughter, Lesley, to a big time a deux feast of oysters and Rhode Island clams at Hemenway’s. A visit to HG’s favorite Szechuan restaurant (In Seatucket, of all places) is obligatory. There may be a Peruvian feast in the offing. And, on Christmas Eve (and Christmas morning) there will be blini, caviar, smoked salmon, potato pancakes, cream cheese, sable, herring, etc. SJ is an early standby on the Russ & Daughters line on Christmas Eve day and motors these wonders to the Providence table. Massimo R., HG/BSK’s much loved son-in-law, will adorn the holiday dinner table with great cheese, bread and wine. And, what will be the feast on Christmas Day? Turkey, brisket, roast beef, osso bucco? Whatever. Be assured. Lesley will make it memorable.