celebrating the glories of eating in brooklyn. from the gut.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Salmon Finally Swimming Downstream?

I've been thinking for awhile now that the ubiquitous salmon is past due. I never saw the appeal of a salmon filet or steak. Usually dried out and the flavor, when it was there, often had an artificial taste, perhaps due to the intensive farming of the fish, versus the wild counterpart. A chef-friend of mine in London predicted a backlash against salmon a few years ago. And maybe, just maybe, I was sick of seeing it everywhere. It stopped becoming an imaginative offering by restaurateurs and choice by diners. So it is with some personal validation that I came across Slate's article. Slate is calling salmon's bluff:

"These days, there's a numb and slightly uneasy feeling when you see a lump of the pink fish dumped on your plate. The feeling, the opposite of the salmon worship of the late 1980s, is more like salmon fatigue -- an abiding sense that the wonder-fish has become declasse."

My exemption: lox.

Cafe Regular a Place to Transport You

My Favorite Cafe

Everyone has one. A place that whisks you away to
another place (induced by caffeine). A place where
you feel at once at home. If you're like me,exploring
the nooks and crannies of the city to find the right
coffee retreat, no place is too far off the beaten
path for the perfect cup of java. My exploring took me
to Cafe Regular, nowhere near where I live, yet I
find myself there more Saturday mornings than not.

Cafe Regular is a tiny place in South Slope. With
hints in the decor of European train stations in
the 1930s, my mind can wander to a continent where
I once lived. What's even better though is the coffee.
They serve La Colombe. I was first turned on to La
Colombe Torrefaction when I was a student in
Philadelphia. It's a coffee roasting company
started in Philadelphia by two Frenchmen. Now
many of the finest restaurants in the Northeast
serve it. (You can also buy it online.) Their Nizza
espresso roast has a flavor that is rich and
full-bodied and creates that perfect crema.

The clincher is the creamy foam. Not weak
and watery foamy foam. Thick and rich creamy
foam. So thick and creamy in fact that the
barista can make heart shapes in it.
How in love am I with this coffee? So much so
that I think it's the best little cafe in New York
and well worth going out of my way for.

Cafe Regular is located on 11th Street between 4th
and 5th Avenues.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Brooklyn Gum Catching on in Brooklyn

What in Brooklyn could inspire a gum in Italy called Brooklyn Gum? I know Brooklyn is legendary, but the name Brooklyn Gum makes me think of the sometimes funny use of the English language around the world. Anyhow, the Daily News reports that Brooklyn Gum is becoming a favorite in Brooklyn, of all places. Now I can see Brooklyn Gum taking off with ironic hipsters, but if it were called Italy Gum, it would really sell like hot cakes.

"The Brooklyn-inspired chewing gum - an obsession in Italy since the early 1950s - is quietly becoming a cult favorite in its namesake borough."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tempo Starts To Go Service

About half-way down in this New York Times' cornucopia feature that starts off discussing Eli Zabar's fig trees, is this bit of news for those who don't already know:

"Tempo Restaurant and Wine Bar, a sophisticated Mediterranean spot in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has added Tempo Presto, a bright little takeout shop."

While not convenient for me, this might make the workday for some Slopers just that much easier. I've heard very mixed reviews about Tempo, so I wonder, how's the take out food?

Tempo Presto is located at 254 Fifth Avenue. 718 636 8899

Bruni Reviews Taku, Discovers Brooklyn Charm

In today's New York Times Dining and Wine section Frank Bruni reviews Taku, which also made it to New York Magazine's "Cheap Eats" issue. While only giving it one star, Bruni discovers a certain something about eating in Brooklyn that I've been advocating: a closer connection between chef and food, a closer connection between chef and restaurant and a ultimately a closer connection between consumer/neighborhood, food and chef. Bruni puts it this way:

"But even more interesting than the ingredients and their effect was the source of one of them. The hyssop came not from the Greenmarket, not from some farm upstate, but from a little plot of land just across Smith Street in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. Adam Shepard, Taku's chef and one of its two owners, lives within walking - really, crawling - distance of the restaurant, and a few of the grace notes in his dishes are the bounty of his own backyard.

Taku is that kind of place, seemingly more common in Brooklyn than in Manhattan: a lovingly rendered, hoveringly attended, very personal expression of a chef whose physical connection to his kitchen is close in the most literal sense."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mary Blevins Leaves Junior's After 43 Years

Earl Wilson/The New York Times

"Long before the cheesecake was famous at Junior's, the Brooklyn restaurant, Mary Blevins was a popular item.

Ms. Blevins, 68, was a waitress at Junior's for 43 years, sharing a countertop and conversation with visitors like Spike Lee and Mike Tyson, trainloads of tourists and regulars like Betty and Jimmy of Con Edison.

Eight days ago, on July 19, she worked her last shift at her old serving ground."

Sorry I never got to meet Mary Blevins. The article speaks of a bygone era.

New York Magazine's Cheap Eats Issue

The following Brooklyn joints got a mention in New York Magazine's Cheap Eats issue.

Beast: "...Few bars serve food as thoughtfully considered as arugula salad with feta and fennel pickled with mustard seed and fenugreek, or juicy skirt steak cooked rare, its slices gently draped over flavorful fritters made of corn and red pepper. Breaded and fried bits of manchego make an addictive snack to nibble along with a glass of sherry or quartino of wine, and the burger is a righteous hunk of salt-crusted meat. Informed, helpful service is a big plus."

Beast is located at 638 Bergen St, at Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights 718 399 6855

Bouillabaisse 126: "Fragrant broth and potent rouille, but there's much more to Neil Ganic's blackboard menu. For example, his tender poached pear bolstered by a brick of blue cheese -- offered as an appetizer, even better as dessert; his moist and meaty crab cake; carefully cooked fish fillets, paired with the potatoes and vegetables of the night (often buttery, sometimes gratineed, invariably delicious)... "

Bouillabaisse 126 is located at 126 Union St., nr. Columbia St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-855-4405

Frankies 457 Spuntino: "...Who can resist slow-cooked braciola swimming in red sauce? Ditto the meatballs and sandwiches like an elegant eggplant marinara wedged between a halved square of Sullivan St. Bakery pizza bianca? Deftly dressed salads, bountiful soups, and carefully roasted vegetables add a healthful note to the proceedings...This time of year, the gravel-strewn courtyard and converted stable out back may exert too strong a pull. The peace and quiet feel otherworldly-except when the elevated F train slides by."

Frankies 457 is located at 457 Court St., nr. Luquer St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-403-0033

The Queen's Hideaway: "...The Hideaway feels like a labor of love, like a friend's dinner party, like real home cooking, like what you pray to find on back roads in small towns on a cross-country trip but end up stumbling over in a remote corner of Brooklyn. It's a one-woman operation (nearly -- someone else bakes the pies) where the chef-owner writes a new menu daily, uses great purveyors and Greenmarket produce, and smokes her own buffalo flank steak out back. There is no pretense, but there are fresh strawberry preserves along with hot, buttery popovers at brunch. Which would you prefer?"

The Queen's Hideaway is located at 222 Franklin Ave., nr. Green St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-2355

Taku: "...The dishes emerging from his bustling open kitchen are creatively presented (a banana-leaf-tied stack of spicy-sauced chicken wings, for instance) and packed with deeply harmonious flavors. Roasted maitake hand rolls are seasoned with garlic confit; charred long beans are blanketed in sesame miso and crushed tofu. Although {Adam} Shepard lards his house ramen Momofuku-style with rich Berkshire pork and smoked bacon, the menu more often veers to light and fresh flavors, like the refreshing medley of peas, beans, citrus, and olives that accompanies the silky konbu-cured black cod..."

Taku is located at 116 Smith St., nr. Pacific St., Boerum Hill, Brooklyn; 718-488-6269

I've been meaning to try all of these places. Of course many others could have made the list and do we really consider these places "cheap?" My idea of "cheap eats" are places like Castro's, the Mexican restaurant, and Cafe Habana, which recently opened in Fort Greene, where you can eat well for $10.00-$15.00. Maybe what they mean is "Moderate Eats." Still, I can't wait to try these places out.

Brooklyn's Restaurant Row

The New York Metro newspaper's "Cool in Your Code" section takes a visit to Smith Street, in the newly coined neighborhood BoCoCa (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens). Alan Harding, "founding father" of Brooklyn's restaurant row, takes the paper on a tour of his restaurants in the area. While I question the lazy journalism of letting a chef shamelessly plug his very own establishments, they might be worth a taste. (Sorry, no link available):

Patois: A French bistro best known for "glistening steak au poivre with golden, crispy
frites and simple fish dishes with sultry light sauces." 255 Smith Street, 718-855-1535

Update: These thoughts crossed my mind: Having never eaten at Patois, how does it compare to Bar Tabac, a favorite on the Chowhound boards? Also, Cafe Luluc on Smith Street with its fair prices is always a solid bet. The molten chocolate cake for dessert has been hit or miss for me, but when it hits, it hits hard.

La Rosa & Sons: "A classic Italian pizzeria," where Harding says "it’s all in how you use the toppings." 98 Smith Street, 718-935-0545

Pacifico: "A spunky Mexican cantina" where the nachos are "dripping with cheese and the pomegranate margarita is a refreshing summer hit." 269 Pacific Street, 718-935-9090

Schnack: This is Harding's latest creation in the nabe. One specialty is a "beer shake" made with chocolate or vanilla ice cream and chicory stout. I love root beer floats and this sounds like a cousin, so I’d be willing to give it a try.

Bar recommendations from the paper:

Floyd: "Indoor bocce ball, beer cheese and lots more!"
131 Atlantic Avenue

Kili: "Signature drinks by the fire and live poetry performances." My two cents: I ventured here one snowy day after work and was pleasantly surprised to have the fireplace to myself. However, I made the mistake of ordering the food. It was uninspired and dull. The décor depending on your mood can either be a fun, homey hang out or a place that feels like a finished off suburban basement that isn't quite finished if you know what I mean.
81 Hoyt Street

My favorite bar

As far as bars go, my favorite in the area is the Brooklyn Inn -- a lot of warmth and history, incredible jukebox and nice assortment of beers.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Eat Like a King

Brooklyn vs. Manhattan

Lately, whenever I eat out in Manhattan, I've been disappointed. As I'm eating my overly-salted moules frites in a faux French bistro, my thoughts always return to Kings County, where I feel you can eat like a king and pay like a pauper (at least by Manhattan standards.) I maintain (and I will probably get slack for this) that restaurants in Brooklyn are simply better than in Manhattan.

Has the long, slow demise of the Manhattan neighborhood bistro begun?

Without turning this into a battle of the boros, in Brooklyn it's possible to find the old New York. Whether it's a new-fangled restaurant or an old-timer's haunt, Brooklyn encapsulates the spirit of hard work and determination that sets it apart. They try really hard and often succeed. In Manhattan, unless you are eating at the top, the restaurants have become part of a theme park, resting on past laurels (and taking foot traffic for granted) as a restaurant city. Don't get me wrong. Manhattan has many fine restaurants that don't require a second mortgage and are not part of a theme park, but they are becoming few and far between.

There's been a lot of press about the Brooklyn renaissance. One writer in 'New York' magazine went as far as proclaiming his hate for the boro. Many other bloggers can only deride Brooklyn as they panic about the epicenter of cool shifting across the East River. The emergence of new restaurants and the survival of the old attest to Brooklyn's revival. I hope to treat myself and my readers to the diverse offerings of Brooklyn's bounty.

So, let's not bash Manhattan. Let's celebrate the glories of a food and restaurant scene fit for a king.