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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Trip to the Origins of American Pizza: Naples

I have a fascination with the origins of Italian-American cooking. So different, yet so similar. For instance, I always wondered why do we get espresso with a lemon peel here in the States, but never in Italy?

One obvious answer to the differences is that Italian-Americans used the ingredients they found in their new country. It could also be that each started out nearly the same, but just evolved differently. This seems to be true of pizza.

From my understanding, pizza in the U.S. has been around for nearly as long as the pizza in Italy, but each evolved in its own way. In fact, much of the pizza made in Italy is made with wheat from the U.S. At any rate, as I said in my Fornino post, I love both.

Robert Sietsema was lucky enough to travel to Naples (Do I sound jealous?) recently to explore the true pizza of Naples, a place that when I visited also reminded me of Brooklyn. A place where I could easily spot Italian-American roots.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Catching Up: Fornino and Subway in Williamsburg

I have a lot of catching up to do. I've been to a few places recently that I'd like to write about. Let me start with Fornino, a gourmet pizza restaurant in Williamsburg.

Simply, the pizza I had at Fornino was excellent. Not in the DiFara's/Grimaldi's league, Fornino is a wood-fired, artisanal league of its own. This pizza really reminds me of the kind you get in Italy. I love both New York style pizza and the Italian pies. Neither is better, just different.

The dough was crispy, yet airy. I loved the combination of toppings they offered. I had the "Al Roker" with capicola and roasted red peppers. Another hit were the clams -- very fresh in a simple sauce of white wine, clam juice and a hint of lemon.

To me pizza is the perfect food, especially if done right. Fornino should be put on the list for any pizza lover.

I don't live in Williamsburg, but I go occasionally, especially when I hear about a place like Fornino. I happened to notice the new Subway Restaurant on Bedfored Avenue and frankly it saddened me to see the encroachment of franchises. Not only a trend in Williamsburg, but in all of New York City. When we have such a wonderful selection of owner-operated restaurants, why do we need a Subway and McDonald's?

So it's no surprise to me that Newsday came out with this story last week -- Starbucks, Subway, allegedly McDonald's. It's important to strike a balance, but once the corporate onslaught starts, we know who ends up winning, despite community efforts.

Sorry for going off on a tangent here, but as a homeowner in the borough, I'm deeply troubled by the lack of say and influence that actual residents have on the community they live in. While I realize in a free market society Subway and McDonald's can open shop wherever they like and I don't begrudge them that (or want protectionist policies), I just feel strongly that people should have a say in the way their community develops. In New York, that isn't happening.

Fornino is located at 187 Bedford Ave., 718-384-6004, and Subway is located at, well, everywhere.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One Girl Cookies, Jacques Torres Brighten Up a Rainy Day

Saturday morning I headed out to Bar Tabac on Smith Street for brunch. This place seems to be a favorite with people from the neighborhood (it was crowded).

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of French cuisine, I'm just usually turned off by French-themed restaurants. Can't we enjoy French food without the kitsch? I doubt very many restaurants in France are adorned with reproduction Lillet posters and faux smoke-stained walls. Decor aside, Bar Tabac served up standard brunch fare with a French twist. While the popular eggs benedict that kept flowing by our table looked every bit its part, I opted for the steak and eggs with fries. Although my over-easy eggs were over medium, the piece of steak was surprisingly tender given the price (about $11.00). I always love mesclun salad with taragon white wine vinegar and a hint of mustard. One stand out was the caffe latte. It had a smooth and chocolatey taste.

What really sparked my interest though was a little shop around the corner from Bar Tabac. With its just off Smith location, One Girl Cookies is a gem of a shop. The baby blue walls and chocolate-brown accents are inviting. Although there are bar stools for coffee and cookies, it's really a storefront for a cookie operation. The expansive kitchen in the back says: "We mean business." Who would've thought there would be such a market for painstakingly homemade cookies, but the copious reviews put that question to rest. Not only a cute place to go for a cup of joe, this could be a special alternative to the predictable cake.

Next on my list for that rainy and cold day, was Jacques Torres Chocolate in Dumbo. This European styled shop is a chocolate lovers dream. There's a wide selection of handmade chocolates and the velvety smooth and thick classic hot chocolate is among the best I've had. Their other hot chocolate made with hot peppers is "Wicked." Caramelized and crunchy, the twice-baked chocolate croissant is a truly blissful experience. And don't even get me started on the chocolate chocolate chip cookie.

Bar Tabac is located at 128 Smith St. in Cobble Hill, 718-923-0918, and One Girl Cookies is located at 68 Dean Street also in Cobble Hill, 212-675-4996. Jacques Torres Chocolate is located at 66 Water Street in Dumbo, 718-875-9772.

Braised Escarole and White Beans

Over at Words to Eat By, fellow Brooklynite Debbie prepared braised escarole and white beans from one of our favorite new cookbooks. I just love white beans. I haven't had a chance to try any recipes yet, but after this I can't wait.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NPR's Lopate Interviews Food Bloggers

Who knew there were so many food blogs? NPR's Leonard Lopate talks with Gourmet's Ruth Reichl, The Foodsection.com's Josh Friedland, snack.blogs.com's Jennifer Leuzzi and gastropoda.com's Regina Schrambling.

I always wondered what kind of impact food blogs have on the mainstream food media and do readers trust food bloggers more than say Gourmet or Saveur? What makes someone write about food?

New York Times Dining Filled With Brooklyn Today

I'm a big fan of Al di La and today in the Times Frank Bruni takes it on:

"Food lovers who live in Brooklyn, especially food lovers who moved there from Manhattan, love to say that they have better restaurants, ones that wed equally fine food to a humility often absent in the taller, shinier, haughtier borough across the water. Sometimes these people are simply falling prey to local pride and grading on a generous curve.

Other times they're talking about Al di Là."

In another article Lisa Amand describes South African restaurant Madiba's expansion to Miami:

"Flip-flop-wearing diners and their scarf-wearing counterparts at Madiba New York will simultaneously savor ostrich carpaccio, prawns peri-peri and curry-filled bread called bunny chow."

Frankly, it took Bruni long enough to get over to Al di La.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Today's Link

Sea of Peas: It's m'hammer time at small and cozy Red Hook Moroccan (Village Voice)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Year's Resolution: Braise More

Ok so, maybe I shouldn't be so flippant about New Year's resolutions. Maybe I should lose weight, read more, work out more, bring about world peace or give up meat. But I recently purchased a wonderful cookbook about braising so it's highly unlikely I'll give up meat.

Braising is the art of cooking food over a long period of time in a vessel like a Dutch oven with very little liquid which combines with the liquid given off by the chosen meat or vegetable to create an intensely flavorful dish. The cookbook I'm referring to is Molly Stevens's All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking. What appeals to me isn't the idea of easy recipes. I enjoy cooking so I don't always look for easy recipes. What I like about it is the concept of communal eating. With braising everyone eats from the same pot. I really like food that can be shared and utilizes the simplest and best ingredients to create a meal from the earth, ultimately returning to the unfussy origins of good eating.

Ms. Stevens's recipes run the gamut from traditional European dishes like Sauerbraten and Coq au Vin to Asian and Caribbean influenced meals. There are also plenty of recipes for braising vegetables. I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, but I'm looking forward to it. This will be a good year -- 2006-- the year of braising.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Here's to happy eating in 2006.