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.
A dinner prepared by HG/BSK’s Japanese daughter-in-law, the exquisite Maiko Sakamoto, is a trip into celestial realms. It is a meal, always, of varied tastes and textures. Every ingredient has integrity. Flavors seem to gain intensity as the meal progresses. HG always leaves the table feeling happy and nourished. Surprisingly, HG never seems stuffed despite eating a considerable amount of food. This was the case last night when daughter Victoria left her restaurant duties in Manhattan to travel to Brooklyn and experience EM’s hot pot dinner with HG/BSK, SJ/EM and their family. Superb dining that began with chunks of lightly pickled cucumber dotted with EM’s home-made hot sauce; buttery strips of sautéed mushrooms; sliced lotus root salad with a light mayonaise dressing and a pot of steamed Manila clams swimming in a fragrant sea sauce of sake and butter. Victoria is a Pescatarian. No, this doesn’t refer to a religious or sexual preference. It means Victoria is a vegetarian who shuns meat but will eat fish and shellfish. (I.B. Singer, the late Nobel Prize-winning Yiddish author, was a Pescatarian and justified the practice by noting: “Fish have no souls.”) BSK is allergic to crustaceans. EM based the hotpot around Victoria and BSK’s dietary restrictions and promptly created a bubbling kombu and bonito broth. The diners stirred a lush sesame based sauce into their bowls of broth (plus judicious amounts of ponzu and the aforementioned hot sauce). A succession of ingredients were cooked in the broth: Cabbage, bok choy, mushrooms, tofu and pieces of cod. As these items cooked, the broth gained intensity. HG swallowed mouthfuls (between many sips of a cloudy, delicious Nigori sake). Finally, when all the ingredients were finished, EM tossed in a package of high quality Udon noodles to finish the meal. Dessert was comprised of pastries purchased at the very traditional, Italian bakery, Court Pastry Shop on Court Street. Spectacular almond studded biscotti. Great conclusion to a memorable meal.
Pork bellies!! These two words spell disgust, antipathy, revulsion for millions of Muslims and observant Jews (as well, of course, for vegetarians and cardiologists). Defiant HG loves them. (However, being reasonably prudent, HG eats them only occasionally). Last night was one of those occasions. BSK made a rustic curry of spinach and tomatoes substituting firm tofu for traditional paneer, the Indian cheese. This is one of Vikram Vij’s home cooking recipes. HG was in charge of the pork bellies. Cut the slices into two inch squares (Pork belies are economical. Available at all Prince Edward Island grocers, a package enough for two diners is $1.60 US). Fried them at medium high heat until they browned and crisped and released most of their fat. Put them aside to drain in a bowl lined with paper towels. When pan cooled, wiped out all fat with some more paper towels. Put the pork bellies back in the pan and glazed them over gentle heat in a mix of grated garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce and honey. HG/BSK each filled a bowl with rice. Topped the rice with spinach. Placed the crisp pork on the rice. A dusting of Japanese pepper mix. Sublime. Made a great meal with the curry and plenty of crispy papadums. Exquisite Maiko, brilliant chef and HG/BSK’s adorable daughter-in-law, makes a lush Japanese dish called Buta no Kakuni with thick pork bellies, soft boiled eggs and stewed daikon. This is a two day dish. The pork bellies are first seared, then cooked at a low boil with ginger, scallions, sake and water. Finally they are left in the pot and refrigerated overnight. In the morning, all the fat is removed and the pork is simmered together with mirin, sugar, soy sauce and dashi broth — the daikon and the eggs are also added. Ah!!!
Prince Edward Island has a modest population: 146,283 (Of course, it’s kicked up a notch during summer tourism season). It often seems to HG that everyone in the native population is a talented musician. Every church and community center sponsors “ceilighs” (informal celebrations of Celtic music and song). Beyond that there are scores of rock groups, folk artists and more. Wherever the public gathers, there is sure to be a musician. The best version of Leonard Cohen’s haunting “Hallelujah” HG ever heard was provided a few weeks ago by a young woman singing at the entrance to the Charlottetown Farmers Market. And, there are festivals galore (HG recently reported on HG/BSK’s attendance at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival.) Professional concerts abound, some involving marquee names (Rod Stewart was a recent performer). Yesterday, HG/BSK and the youngsters visited the farmers market in the charming town of Cardigan featuring John the Baker’s baguettes, fresh greens and hand crafted mustard pickles. EM and Haru whacked a tennis ball on the adjacent tennis court. BSK shopped. With wee Teru perched on HG’s knee, HG listened to some splendid live musical performers. First on stage was a slender young man who sang accompanied by his guitar. Great standards (very moving version of “Mr. Bojangles”) plus songs of his own composition. The performer, Nick Doneff, was a knockout. Even wee Teru acknowledged his artistry by clapping her tiny hands. Next up was Trio Bembe, a female vocalist, a male percussionist and a male guitarist. The music was lively Latino, songs from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Terrific. The show at Cardigan was part of promotional effort for Cloggeroo, “The Island Folk Festival”, staged for three days at the nearby town of Georgetown. Yes, good music is inescapable on Prince Edward Island. The afternoon was devoted to fun on the beach in front of HG/BSK’s home. BSK and Exquisite Maiko took Teru on kayak paddles on the calm seas. Handsome Haru rook off on a solo kayak voyage (the young man’s kayak skills have become advanced). HG interrupted his reading with long swims in the warm water (visitors are always surprised how warm the PEI sea is in mid-August). Dinner can only be described as a taste epic. EM performed tempura magic. Bowls of soba in broth (enhanced by crisp strips of nori.) EM kept busy in front of the bowl of batter and oil sizzling in a wok. Platters of superlatively crisp delicacies appeared (haddock, shrimp and scallops from By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peters) plus slices of onion and zucchini, yellow beans and (surprisingly) clusters of sweet corn kernels. HG always feels a twinge of guilt (easily suppressed by appetite) when EM creates a tempura extravaganza. Everyone eats happily while EM works. This time, however, EM managed to stage the cooking so she could be at table to devour some of her savory morsels. A colorful sunset concluded a perfect PEI summer day.
The following day was simply a perfect beach day on the white sands off Prince Edward Island’s MacLaren Road. The sea was calm and warm, perfect for long swims. Little Teru was an aqua belle and Handsome Haru used his boogie board and snorkel equipment for long bouts among the waves. HG performed the leisurely HG backstroke. EM, Haru and BSK played Kadima, keeping the ball in the air for an auspicious amount of time. More family groups (about seven) on the beach than HG/BSK had ever encountered (not exactly Coney Island in the summer). Beach neighbors were a group of happy, attractive French-speaking children (probably from Quebec) supervised by a smiling grandmother. Busy kids. They built a huge sand castle. Buried each other in the sand. Swam. Played by the shore. A happy sight. HG and Toby, The Wonder Dog, strolled along the shore looking for beach glass (found a dozen modest specimens). Teru was unhappy about leaving the beach (and who could blame her?). Protested with a long, super loud bout of crying. Like Toby, Teru can manage to get a lot of noise out of a very small body. Became her usual sunny self as the group returned home. BSK was in charge of dinner and put the outdoor gas barbecue to good use. Grilled onions, peppers and asparagus. HG helped in grilling a thick flank steak (BSK had previously marinated it in soy sauce, garlic and a bit of olive oil). Best flank steak HG ever tasted (it was local PEI beef). Because of the thickness, there were slices to everyone’s taste (from blood rare for HG to medium rare and well done for the rest of the table). There were also outstanding boiled potatoes from brother-in-law Yossi’s garden. Freshly pulled from the earth and dressed simply with olive oil and Maldon Sea Salt they were a perfect complement to the meat and vegetables. Yossi, who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz, is an experienced agriculturist. HG/BSK are happy beneficiaries of his skills.
Yes, HG is obsessive about food. At the end of one meal, HG plans immediately the next culinary experience. Not a harmful obsession (except, possibly, for the waistline). Far less harmful than monetary greed, lechery or a lust for opiates. HG’s family shares HG’s interest (if not obsession) with dining. And, HG benefits from the fact that they are all excellent cooks. HG’s role is to play the dual roles of Enthusiastic Feeder and Indulgent Critic. While HG loves SJ’s barbecue (and chicken gumbo), Lesley R.’s pasta dishes and seafood stews, BSK’s pork chops, smashed potatoes, poached eggs and other classics, it is Exquisite Maiko who brings cuisine to a lush and lofty level. Every EM dish is not only sublimely delicious but is composed as a visual treat, a work of art that provides pleasure to both the eye and the palate. Over the past few nights there were some typical EM performances which resulted in two of the best meals HG ever ate: For the first, there was a minimum amount of calories (happily) because HG’s appetite (and consumption) was even more robust than usual. These were the elements of the meal. EM’s signature of lightly sautéed sole filets flanked by steamed bok choy and adorned with garlic chips and bonito flakes. Eggplant was grilled and then marinated in sake, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and broth. Tiger shrimp sautéed with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and a tiny bit of butter. Dusted with smoked Spanish paprika (for a bit of heat). Bowls of fluffy rice. It is useless to detail EM’s recipes. They are dependent upon a combination of professional knife skills, intuitive timing and Japanese aesthetics. HG (and family) are the happy and admiring beneficiaries.
For the second amazing meal, HG was reminded of a blazingly hot late July day in New York some 50 years ago. HG and a very pregnant BSK (baby due next month) were shopping for baby furniture and other necessary equipment at Macy’s. Herald Square was an inferno. The tired and famished duo sought refuge at nearby Keen’s Chop House, a favorite restaurant. A strange choice, since the venerable restaurant specialized in hearty wintry fare like mutton chops, roast beef, steaks, Yorkshire Pudding, etc.. However, the restaurant air conditioning was functioning nicely. The dark oak paneling and antique lights created an Old-London-In-Autumn atmosphere. Cool and comfortable HG/BSK devoured great slabs of tender, rare roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and leaf spinach. Fiery horse radish and English mustard on the table. Cold English ale. A very satisfying meal on an improbable day. HG recalled this meal at dinner on Prince Edward Island as the day was unusually hot, humid and sticky. EM found oxtails at a local supermarket so the inventive chef brewed hearty oxtail soup, big chunks of oxtail floating in rich broth enhanced with chopped scallions, herbs and Ponzu. Lightly marinated crisp Napa cabbage was added to the dish and a sprinkling of Japanese hot pepper mix. The meat was tender with a nice slightly gelatinous texture. The broth was invigorating. The discomfort of the day was banished. Somehow, a delicious comfort level was achieved. Finally, a cooling breeze swept over the dinner table and the happy group finished the meal with a platter of EM’s Mo Po Tofu. Delicious. Thanks, inventive EM, for defying the conventions of hot weather cooking.
Bright sun. Soft breeze chasing away mosquitoes. Sea waters warm with gentle waves. Perfect for swimming. HG’s family was off to various beaches while HG unfolded a beach chair on the secluded patch of beach in front of the HG/BSK home. Solitude allowed HG a naturist day. The mature chap swam, sunned and read without the benefit of a bathing suit. Between swims HG read Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson by Gore Vidal. The title is a bit misleading since Vidal spells out the role of two other illustrious Americans, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, in the “invention” of the United States. The book is slender but very illuminating, written with Vidal’s usual brio and containing many mordant comments about the lamentable state of politics and government in the land of the free and the brave. HG was struck by the fact that the ongoing battle between two factions–the “states rights”/anti-strong central government faction and the Federalist/strong central government faction–began at the very inception of our republic. The present day Tea Party is just a modern manifestation of a very old trend. Reading the book, HG was reminded that our founding fathers were not only brave (if the American revolution failed they would swing from English gallows) but remarkably erudite. They could think and they could write. Yes, we’ve slid downhill. Intellectually stimulated and physically relaxed, HG was ready for some big time feasting as dinner approached. Equipped with a sturdy glass of ice and Myriad Strait Gin (a flavorful spirit distilled on Prince Edward Island at the Myriad View Distillery) listened to Bill Evans jazz as Exquisite Maiko and Lesley R. prepared dinner. First, there were cups of SJ’s hearty haddock chowder (left over from an SJ-hosted dinner the previous night). This was followed by what could only be called Magic Time. EM served her unique scallop pancakes (scallops, cabbage, onions, flour, etc.). Crisp, juicy wonders. These were showered with bonito flakes and adorned with squirts of Japanese mayonnaise or Bulldog sauce (a semi-sweet Japanese condiment). There was more. EM flattened slices of pork tenderloin, dipped them in beaten egg and Panko, fried them in peanut oil. Yes, this is Tonkatsu, an HG piggy favorite. Greaseless and crackling crisp. HG likes them with Frank’s Hot and Sweet Chili Sauce and Matouk’s fiery West Indian Hot Sauce. EM prepared a big bowl of cabbage slaw, a slaw mixed with sesame oil, lemon juice, etc. Marvelous. But, impossible to reproduce because it is dependent on EM’s knife skills which EM utilizes to cut a head of cabbage into thread like filaments. Lesley R. backed up the slaw with an exuberant salad of sliced cherry tomatoes, sweet onion and basil dressed with good olive oil. Later, there was poker and for HG (who hates games) there was brandy with Peychaud’s Bitters. A perfect day.
Dinner was surf and turf (HG family style). “Turf” consisted of thin slices of pork belly –another savory performance by Exquisite Maiko. The pork bellies were sliced into bite size portions and tossed into a very hot black cast iron pan. A loud sizzle as the pork crisped and released much fat. Dried on paper towels, the pork went on a platter and was covered with chopped scallions mixed with sesame oil, lemon juice and salt. Perfect combination with the rich, crisp piggy. Pork bellies are versatile and inexpensive (HG likes to cook them Chinese style, glazed with honey, oyster sauce and hot mustard). Pork bellies are rarely found in New Mexico (where HG/BSK live) but are found in the meat section of every Prince Edward Island grocery. The “surf” was linguine with white clam sauce. The linguine was the Garofalo brand. In HG’s opinion, this is the best packaged pasta. (Even better than beloved De Cecco). Rarely found in the United States, HG/BSK stock up with numerous Garofalo shapes from Sobey’s Supermarket. The clam sauce dish was a collaboration between BSK, Lesley and Massimo R. BSK created the flavorful sofrito, using good clam juice, white wine, garlic, parsley and the broth resulting from the steaming of two dozen small quahogs. Lesley R. did much sous chef chopping of all the ingredients (Massimo R. assisted in the clam chopping). Massimo R. trained his vigilant and discerning Italian gaze on the pasta. Italians consider soft, overdone pasta a criminal assault on the taste buds. Massimo always aims to produce pasta that is “al dente”, that has a slight snap as it is chewed. This evening, Massimo R. hit the bullseye. Pasta perfection, a happy partner of the sea kissed sauce. The four cooks who prepared this great meal did so with grace and ease. HG paid tribute. HG ate a lot.
A pleasing collaboration last night by HG and Exquisite Maiko. Well, not exactly an equal collaboration since EM did most of the work and Lesley R. added to the effort. HG’s major contribution was a rich and spicy dish of Japanese eggplant. It started by HG peeling five small eggplants. Tactfully, EM took over and peeled the eggplants with precision. Better than HG’s clumsy work. The peeled eggplants were cut into cubes and browned in Canola oil. Removed from the pan and replaced with chopped garlic and thinly sliced onion (Lesley R. did this prep work. Once more, HG bypassed tedious labor saving himself to soar in the lofty climes of creativity). When the onion/garlic mix cooked down sufficiently, HG returned the eggplant to the pan and added judicious amounts of Chinese oyster sauce and fiery chile garlic sauce; soy sauce, sugar and water. Simmered for ten minutes and then received a gilding of sesame oil and smoked black pepper. Powerful flavors. Lots of leftover rice in the refrigerator. EM gently fried it with eggs, garlic, shitake mushrooms and carrot slivers. The parade dish was EM’s sole. This is the way EM brings the fish to heavenly heights. First, EM fries thin slices of garlic and Japanese seaweed in vegetable oil. The crisp brown chips of garlic and seaweed shreds are removed (They will reappear to top the cooked fish). EM gives the sole filets a quick sauté in the flavored oil. Then HG adds sake to the pan, covers it and allows the fish to steam to tender perfection. This is all done with EM’s characteristic swift dexterity. The happy diners were presented with a lovely platter of two and a half pounds of sole lightly dotted with the garlic chips and seaweed. Ample bowls of fried rice and spicy eggplant. Plus, baby spinach steamed by EM, Green salad followed. A perfect summer meal.
So far, this summer in Prince Edward Island has not been the most summery — weather has featured rain, wind, grey skies and quite cool temperatures. The sun appears for only a few furtive moments each day. However, the Prince Edward Island air is full of the scent of salt and flowers and the simple beauty of the island provides enormous pleasure. Walks on the bluff overlooking the sea or on the beach in front of the HG//BSK home are invigorating. Happy family reunion. Present are: Lesley and Massimo R. plus Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia (and equally enchanting Pippy, loving and intelligent dog, the perfect companion for HG/BSK’s Toby, The Wonder Dog). SJ and Exquisite Maiko plus Handsome Haru (celebrating his 9th birthday) and Teru, world’s most imperious and enchanting three year old daughter. The weather has not dampened spirits. It has also sharpened appetites. Last night, hunger was appeased by a seafood extravaganza utilizing family talents and the freshest creatures from the sea (including a halibut caught hours before in front of the HG/BSK home). HG and Massimo R. shucked dozens of Johnny Flynn’s Colville Bay oysters (the Island’s best). Profesore/Dottore/Ufficiale Massimo is as adept at oyster shucking as he is at illuminating and interpreting Itlalian culture. BSK grilled a dozen big Savage Harbor oysters. The raw oysters got a dab of BSK’s shallot and red wine vinaigrette. The grilled got hit by soy sauce. All of the oysters were consumed outdoors. Then the crowd filled the indoor dining area for appetizers: Lesley R.’s spectacular and herbaceous lobster salad plus her tingling tarragon infused Newfoundland shrimp salad. There was more: Exquisite Maiko’s halibut sashimi paired with Yuzu pepper. As always, EM’s dish afforded visual as well as culinary delight. Using the deftest knife skills, the perfect slices and rosettes of halibut were adorned by the tiniest slivers of radish and scallion. Then, on to the main dish: Calamarata in Fish Sauce. Massimo R. brought the Calamarata from Providence. A De Cecco brand, this pasta is shaped like a thick calamari ring (thus the name). Italians only eat it with seafood sauce. They are right. It was the perfect shape for Lesley R’s fish sauce composed of halibut, olive oil, garlic, onions, fennel, white wine, chopped herbs and a discreet amount of tomato. Plenty of red pepper flakes for spice and heat. Knockout of a dish. No room for dessert. But, HG managed to close the feast with a few snifters of brandy and Peychaud Bitters.
HG’S darling daughter-in-law, Exquisite Maiko (one of the world’s great cooks) doesn’t like cumin. Says it smells like “pencils.” (Go figure). Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia has many aversions: Mussels, eggplant, cucumbers, fish. Sofia has a mad lust for Israeli couscous. Could live happily on tortillas that are dusted with cheese and popped into the toaster oven. Grandson Haru is finicky. Likes omelets (the way his father, SJ, prepares them); pasta with oil, garlic and anchovies; salmon caviar; grilled mackerel. And, that’s about it. (Loves ice cream and other sweet treats, of course). Daughter Victoria is a vegetarian and owns (with husband/chef Marc Meyer) four restaurants that feature many meaty dishes. (Go figure). Gifted Daughter Lesley R. is a wonderful cook with a robust appetite. Doesn’t like walnuts. (Go figure.). SJ is an omnivorous, ambidextrous eater. Will eat almost anything but found himself unable to get down more than a bite of French chitterling sausage, a mainstay on traditional French bistro menus — found them vile in terms of taste and smell. Brilliant Granddaughter Arianna (very, very slender) has a big appetite, a lust for Korean ramen, hot spices and smelly cheeses. Son-in-law Massimo R., the distinguished Italian Professor and scholar, has Italian and cosmopolitan tastes. Unlike most Italians, Massimo happily devours sushi, Indian food, etc. He lacks sentimentality and will eat with good appetite a variety of dishes shunned by civilized folk: Horse meat, donkey sausage and stew; offal. Shares HG’s passion for tripe (SJ and Sofia are also fans). But, the Professor has a typical Italian superstition. Won’t eat cucumbers. Claims they are semi poisonous and an enemy of good digestion. (Go figure). BSK is allergic to crustaceans. Does not like fatty, unhealthy foods (chicken skin, for example). Pickles and peanuts are a significant part of the BSK diet. Eats loads of fruit and vegetables. But, BSK’s English ancestry has made BSK lust for (a passion BSK keeps in check) a cloyingly sweet and nasty confection (in HG’s opinion) called Licorice All-Sorts. (Go figure). HG”s attitude toward food, wine and strong drink, is: “Bring it on (and in big portions) !!” However, the greedy fellow turns down beets (except in the form of borscht). (Go figure).