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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Burgers at Soda Bar

Just a quick word about the burgers at Soda Bar -- they're great.

Slightly hungover Saturday morning (or was it afternoon?), I was craving a burger to help cure me and a place that wasn't too bright. The light would hurt my eyes. When I got there the amicable bartender was playing the Cure from his iPod. Hangover bliss.

Soda Bar is a sprawling space on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights. They even have a large outdoor seating area. I find that the space looses interest and focus so I prefer to eat at the bar or at one of the tables in the front.

For about $6.00 you get a sizable burger that is charred to near perfection. I also opted for the greasy onion rings for $3.50. The dough was fried nice and crispy while the onion was heated up to release just the right amount of sweetness. Most of the draft beers, except some of the pricier imports like Belgium's Delirium Tremens (overrated if you ask me), are $3.00.

This is the perfect place for the day after a bender or perhaps for one as well.

Soda Bar is located at 629 Vanderbilt Avenue. 718-230-8393

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Today's Link

Closer to the Bone (New York Times)

I really agree with this article in the Times' dining section today. So many people don't like eating meat on the bone, but there is a lot of flavorful value in the bone. To quote:

"Bones have become totally optional - people don't realize they have value," Ms. McLagan said. "But we are losing an important part of traditional cooking without even noticing it."

Monday, October 24, 2005

My First Coq au Vin

Coq au vin is one of those dishes that I've always wanted to make and for some reason never got around to it, until yesterday. I'm not sure what drove me to make it other than an unusual abundance of red wine in the house and a brisk fall day that I think this dish is perfect for.

Often before I cook something for the first time, I cross-reference recipes. For this dish I consulted Balthazar's cookbook and Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking. As David states there are many ways to prepare coq au vin. Her recipe calls for a whole chicken and brandy. Since I didn't have either, I opted to loosely follow the recipe in Balthazar's cookbook. I have to say I was really happy with the results.

Here's an approximation of the recipe. The beauty of a dish like this is that the recipe doesn't have to be exact.

4 chicken legs
1 yellow onion chopped medium
1 large carrot chopped medium
2 celery stalks chopped medium
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bouquet garni consisting of a few sprigs of thyme, parsley and a bay leaf
1 bottle of decent red wine
Tomato paste
White, unbleached flour
Olive oil
3 cups of chicken stock. Balthazar's book calls for veal stock, which I didn't have, but I imagine it would add a nice dimension.
1lb of small white mushrooms
5 streaks of bacon
10-12oz pearl onions peeled
Dutch oven

First step: Marinate the chicken in the wine, chopped onion, celery, carrot and garlic with the bouquet garni for 24-36 hours. Now whenever I see this as the first step, I always get upset that they wait until then to tell you. I wanted to make it that day, not the next day, so I marinated it for about 3 hours. Also, I was using good quality organic free-range chicken, not an old hen that would need to be marinated.

Second step: After marinating, strain the wine and keep. Remove as much of the vegetables from the chicken as possible. Brown the chicken in about 1/4 cup of olive oil in the Dutch oven on the stove top. I did this over high heat so the skin would become nice and crispy, but the inside wouldn't cook. Do this in batches if necessary. Remove chicken and discard oil. Add fresh oil and saute the onion, celery, carrot and garlic for about 5-8 minutes over medium heat. Then add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Mix until absorbed. Add 3 tablespoons of flour after that and stir until thickened. Then pour in the wine and reduce on med-high heat for about 20-25 minutes.

Third step: Add the chicken and chicken stock and simmer for about an hour. (Balthazar actually forgets to tell you when to add the chicken back!)

In the meantime: Boil the pearl onions for about 5-7 minutes until tender. This seems like a an unnecessary step, but believe me, the onions are delicious this way. Cook the bacon until brown, remove the bacon and cook the mushrooms in the bacon grease until brown. Remove mushrooms and saute the pearl onions until brown. Save the bacon, pearl onions and mushrooms for later.

After cooking the chicken for about an hour the meat practically falls off the bone. Remove the chicken legs from the sauce. Strain the sauce and discard the vegetables and bouquet garni. Add the liquid back to the Dutch oven and reduce by half. Add the chicken, bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions back to the Dutch oven and simmer for about 15 minutes. There will be some fat surfacing you can skim this off as you reduce it, or run it through a gravy separator.

I served it with crusty bread and a salad.

Et voila.

Please note, this is not a professionally written recipe. It's more of a guideline. I don't feel people need to be told every little obvious step. Part of the fun of cooking is winging it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Nosh Brings You Home on Atlantic Ave

With 1950s bubble-gum pop music playing, bright red and white colors and classic-looking display cases, Nosh tries to capture the Brooklyn of yesteryear. Nosh, as you can guess by the name, serves up Jewish comfort food. Upon entering you'll be greeted with a "Welcome Home."

The owner is enthusiastic and the concept is fun, but I suspect it is still being ironed out. I tried the latkes with sour cream and apple sauce. They were too thin and overcooked, making them crunchy and almost burnt. The grilled footlong hotdog is a far cry from the regular boiled hotdog which I was served originally by mistake leading me to believe the kitchen staff is still catching on. The sauerkraut has a nice tang and reminds me of the kind you get at ballparks, an intentional effect I imagine.

Nosh claims to serve 100% Brooklyn foods from sources like Acme Smoked Fish, Beigels Baking Company and D'amico Coffee among others.

Nosh is not Kosher and has typical delicatessen foods like pastrami, beef brisket, and gefilte fish, not to mention Ruebens and "knocks" (knockwurst).

Desserts are baked on the premises by pastry chef Alice Cronin and that's looking like one of the best reasons to go. However, given the enthusiasm and quality-sourced ingredients, I'm willing to give Nosh a chance to become my second home.

Nosh is located at 214 Atlantic Avenue at Court St. (718) 596 2328

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Whole Lotta Brooklyn in Latest Zagat

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn reports on Zagat's latest findings in the "outer boroughs."

"The shift toward the outer boroughs has been accelerated in the past year," the survey's co-founder, Tim Zagat, said. "If you look at the indexes of Brooklyn, Queens, etc., it's a really substantial number. It wasn't half that a few years ago."

But we knew that all along.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Today's Links

The Best of NYC, 2005 (Village Voice)

Close-Up on Boerum Hill (Village Voice)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

One of the Best Deals in Town at Cafe Steinhof

Now that we are firmly in fall, I hate to remind you that winter is right around the corner. One bright spot, however, is Monday nights at Cafe Steinhof, a funky Austrian bistro in Park Slope.

Five bucks will get you a generous bowl of beef and potato goulash with just the right amount of sweet paprika and peppery kick coupled with Semel (or hard rolls). If beef isn't your thing, they also offer a $6.00 filet of trout. For dessert, how can anyone resist a $3.00 bread pudding?

Happy hour is from 4-7 every day (except Monday and Tuesday they open at 5). German and Austrian beers are half price, making Monday nights at Cafe Steinhof one of the best deals in town.

Cafe Steinhof is located at 422 Seventh Avenue near 14th St, Park Slope. 718-369-7776

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

In Defense of English Food

Time to leave Brooklyn for a bit and travel to the other side of the pond.

As a former resident of London, I'm loving this article in the NY Times about English food and cooking. It is stirring up a bevy of memories.

We all know the stereotype about how bad English food is, but the reality can be quite different if you're willing to seek it out. As R.W. Apple rightly notes London is one of the greatest food cities in the world. In fact, many would agree that London surpasses Paris.

However, one problem has always been: where do you find great, traditional English food?

The article focuses mainly on "aristocratic" restaurants. However, don't expect chicken breast and filet mignon. English cooking usually means the whole pig (or cow or chicken or rabbit, etc.), from snout to tail, including offal. One place that specializes in it is St. John. It's one restaurant that I unfortunately never got to try while I lived in London, but it is known as a force behind the resurgence in British cooking. It's one place I'm determined to try when I go back.

My last meal at J. Sheekey's, an excellent, excellent seafood restaurant (it's not a bistro like the article says), is also one of my most memorable ever. Apple really hits the nail on the head in his description of it. And Simon Hopkinson's cookbook Roast Chicken and Other Stories has been one of my favorite cookbooks for years now. Apple doesn't discuss Rules, a very traditional English restaurant, which is understandable. It is a restaurant I love more for the atmosphere than the food. It is also allegedly London's oldest restaurant.

I'm relieved to see no mention of Delia Smith (a sort of Martha Stewart of the U.K.) whose cookbooks on how to boil water I find more ridiculous than anything else. Apple also made no note of the rise of the gastropub (perhaps for a different article).

Sticky toffee pudding is one of my all time favorite desserts and if I ever get to St. John I'll have no problem trying anything they throw my way. One thing I can't bring myself to eat, however, is jellied eel. The name alone conjures up that old stereotype.

Pesto Update

I just wanted to link to this excellent post about freezing pesto for the winter. If you freeze pesto don't add the cheese or pine nuts until you're ready to eat it.

I would just like to add an update to my previous recipe: add about 3 tablespoons of grated Pecorino Romano and I find that 2 cloves of garlic work better for me.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lodge and Castro's Offer Dining Contrasts

Following up on a recommendation in New York Magazine's article about South Williamsburg, I ventured out to Lodge Saturday night. I was doing housework until 11pm. Lodge is open until 2am, 7 nights a week. Perfect I thought.

Not so fast.

The magazine said Lodge will make you feel like you're at a cabin in the Adirondacks, but upon entering the place, it immediately felt more sleek than cozy, more New York than Killington. With stone walls and cool antler pendant lights, there were definitely hints of a ski lodge in the decor, but to me the restaurant was suffering an identity crisis. Does it really want to be a lodge or an ironic interpretation of one? Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright and Led Zeppelin played over the speakers. Robert Plant seemingly screaming in your ear while trying to eat isn't that much fun. Well, for some it might be. The tables are practically on top of each other.

While prices ($10-15 for an entree) are reasonable, the food also suffers from an identity crisis. Mostly down home American with parts Mediterranean and Asian, what I ate didn't inspire. The best part of the meal was the special cheese plate consisting of an aged Gouda, goat cheese and a third that I can't remember the name of (sorry!) with slices of granny smith apple and seasoned walnuts. The insipid grilled trout was served with some sort of equally lifeless red pepper puree and asparagus. My dinner companion had the special seafood stew which tasted of frozen fish and mushy vegetables.

Then came dessert. We ordered the flourless chocolate cake which was dried out and stale. We didn't eat it and the waitress never asked why. When the bill came, I wondered why we should have to pay for something that simply wasn't good? Afterall, you can return a shirt if you don't like it.

My impression of Lodge is that it aims for a formula and lacks passion.

On Sunday, I ate lunch at Castro's, a small, authentic Mexican restaurant on Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill. What a contrast.

Castro's is my favorite Mexican restaurant in the borough. The tacos are excellent as is the mole sauce and pollo pepian. I had the carnitas en salsa verde, a roasted pork in "green" sauce. The grease of the meat combined with the green sauce to create a mouthwatering dish. Throw in a few Negra Modello's and I'm good to go.

Lodge is located at 318 Grand St at Havemeyer 718-486-9400. Castro's is located at 511 Myrtle Avenue 718-398-1459.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Today's Link

It's Dippity-Doo-Dah at Dyker Heights Greek Cypriot restaurant (Village Voice)