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

Monday, October 30, 2006

Porchetta Sounding Pretty Darn Good

In what used to be a favorite brunch spot, Banania Cafe, is now Porchetta. New York Magazine has high hopes.

On the menu: nutmeg gnocchi with a straight pomodoro sauce, chicken-liver terrine with fig marmalade and a pistachio crumble, and deep-fried pork belly with a dried-fruit mostarda and melted cauliflower. Smith Street hasn't seen anything quite like this.

"F" Stands for Funny at New Bed Stuy Pizzeria

A shimmering new pizzeria on a not-so-shimmering stretch of Bedford Avenue caught my eye. The gigantic advertisement promised "brick-oven focaccia." I was intrigued. Is the gentrification of Williamsburg reaching this far South? I was excited by the prospect of being within the delivery radius of a decent pizzeria.

Why funny? The concept if you can't guess from the name, Focaccino, is a pizzeria and espresso bar. The decor is modern and sleek, but accented with an upholstered banquette covered in plastic, an odd rendition of Times Square that had me wondering what exactly it was and an "F" logo that only reminded me of the "S" on Superman's chest. It comes across as a naive interpretation of "Manhattan cool." I can't imagine spending any significant amount of time enjoying pizza or espresso there. But all this can be endearing.

Focaccino is about a month old and offers focaccia, pizza, salads and sandwiches and espresso drinks. The pizzas and focaccia come in both personal and family sizes and either regular or brick oven ranging from about $5.00-$10.00. Toppings are $2.00 each. I tried the rosemary brick oven focaccia and the regular pizza with grilled parmesan and roasted red peppers. I was curious about the grilled parmesan, but it was just regular grated parmesan and the roasted peppers still had their skins intact. The rosemary focaccia came with melted blue cheese, which jolted my taste buds upon first bite. The consistency and overwhelming sweetness of the dough lead me to question whether their "special dough" was made on the premises or mass produced. Brick oven treatment gives the dough a boost though.

Focaccino doesn't have a take out menu yet, but they do plan to deliver eventually. With a little tweaking (fresh mozzarella would be nice) and especially improving the dough (how about homemade), Focaccino could be a boon to a brick oven pizzeria starved section of Brooklyn

Focaccino is located at 1069 Bedford Avenue, 718- 622-2228.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cafe LULUc: What Every Neighborhood Needs

Although at times inconsistent, Cafe LULUc along with spots like Fort Greene's Chez Oskar represent in my mind the solid and reasonably priced neighborhood bistros that seem to have all but died on the other side of the East River. Reliable dinners and standard brunches are what every neighborhood needs.

Clad in warm-toned reds and whites, the atmosphere isn't quite French, but more French colonial -- at least that's my interpretation. The waiters wear guayaberas.

The food, like the hangar steak with caramelized onions, is grounded in French bistro cuisine but Latin American and pan-European influences abound. Although it's not haute, it is satisfying. The roasted rosemary chicken ($14.50) served with mushroom risotto is crisp and moist and presents itself as the fallback on the menu. LULUc also makes a mean pulled pork and fontina cheese sandwich ($8.50) and a thick, juicy burger ($7.50) accompanied by perfectly crisped skinny fries. One of the specials, sea bass with couscous, was a lighter option and just as comforting as the others.

Due to the "spinach crisis" they replaced their autumnal pork chop with spinach and squash with one in a peach wine sauce. That disappointed me. I was looking forward to a nice fall pork dish, not a summery peach one. Why couldn't they have replaced the spinach with Swiss chard? When the molten chocolate cake hits the mark, it's got to be one of the best desserts around, but I've unfortunately had it when it misses the mark.

Cafe LULUc is staple on the Smith Street restaurant scene and its wide-reaching menu is sure to have something for everyone.

Cafe LULUc is located at 214 Smith Street, 718- 625- 3815.


Here's a couple of noteworthy events I thought I'd pass along:

One Girl Cookies is having an apple bie baking class just in time for the holidays. The cost is $50.00. It's on Nov. 8 from 7:30 to 9:30. Call 212 675 4996 or email info@onegirlcookies.com.

Flatbush Farm in conjunction with NYC Slowfood is hosting a $40.00 four-course dinner. Each course will be served with a beer from Six Point Craft Ales. It's on Nov. 6 at 7:30. Call 718-622-3276.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Orecchiette con Broccoli

I used to make this Puglian pasta dish at least once a week. I love it. It's simple and flavorfull. As you can see it can be made with penne, but if you can find hand-made dried orecchiette all the better. In Italian it means little ears and the nooks and crannies do a good job capturing the sauce.

There are a lot of different version. It's often made with rapini or broccoli rabe. I used some small sweet peppers and pine nuts. Not that that is traditional, but I had to use them up.

Here's what I did. I was pleased with the results.

Half head garlic, cloves sliced
One red onion chopped
About 10-12 anchovy filets packed in olive oil. The anchovies lose their distinctive taste and add a depth of flavor to the sauce. So even if you don't like anchovies, you won't taste them.
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 or 3 tablespoons
1 lemon
1 large head broccoli. Tops cut off and stems peeled and sliced.
5 or 6 sweet red peppers, thinly sliced. The ones I found were small.
About a tablespoon hot red pepper flakes.
1/2 cup pine nuts toasted
1 pound orecchiette
Grated pecorino romano and salt and pepper to taste

Saute the red peppers and pepper flakes in the 3 tablespoons olive oil until soft. Bring large pot of water to boil. When it starts to boil, add some salt. Then add the broccoli. When broccoli starts to become soft after about 7 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon. Leave water boiling and add the pasta. Cook 10 minutes or until al dente. Meanwhile, in another pan, saute onion and anchovies till soft and the anchovies dissolve, then add the garlic and cook until it gives off a fragrance about 1 minute. Add the peppers, pine nuts and broccoli to the onions and garlic. Squeeze lemon over sauce. When pasta is done toss it with sauce and add grated cheese, salt and pepper.

Monday, October 23, 2006

NY Mag on Recently Opened Sheep Station

On the western fringe of Park Slope, Sheep Station is a roomy new Australian pub, outfitted with corrugated tin, salvaged wall paneling, and a fireplace in the back room, where the owners show local art and plan to air rugby and cricket matches. Martine Lafond, onetime managing partner of Smith Street Kitchen, cooks simple but satisfying bar food like the “shearer’s burger” (anointed, in classic Aussie style, with beets, pineapple, and a fried egg), and a flaky minced-meat pie.

Photos of the Day

Chair, East Village. Photos by EFB.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pan-Latin Cooking in a Brooklyn Brownstone: NY Times

Bean-stuffed, Salvadoran-style pupusas are served steaming from the griddle and topped with pickled slaw and avocado ($7). The mole for the duck tamales ($7 at lunch) is thick and bittersweet, which Mr. Gautier attributes to the whole-roasted plantains, skins and all, puréed into the sauce, a trick he learned from a carpenter who worked on the restaurant and now cooks in his kitchen.

Not all the dishes are traditional. Pan-fried trout over fresh corn-studded grits ($9), cooked in stock steeped with corn cobs, is a riff on a Haitian classic usually made with bacalao. Rosemary-spiked rabbit stew with root vegetables and purple potatoes ($21) is the kind of satisfying one-potter home cooks all over South America probably make.

Dishes can skew too spartan for some tastes. Avocado salad ($4) is simply a ripe Hass with red onion and tart vinaigrette, perfect for tucking into coaster-size house-made tortillas ($2 for a stack), with black beans and rice ($4), but uninspiring on its own.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Dumbo

I do realize that photos of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline are cliched, but I had fun taking these with my new point and shoot digital. I took these on Sunday afternoon. The last few are of installation art in Dumbo. The woman with the writing on her body invited people to write slurs they themselves have been called on her body with a Sharpie. Warning: there are some nasty words.

In other news, Jacques Torres appears to be open on Sundays now and they have a separate stand set up for their luscious hot chocolate.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Alan Richman's Honest Take on Peter Luger's

I have to admit, after reading year after year Gourmet's gushing praise on Peter Luger's, I'm glad someone is finally telling it like it is. Don't get me wrong. I think it's a fine steak, but Alan Richman concedes inconsistent. The sides for the most part are dreadful, except for the renowned bacon. I couldn't agree more with his take on the sliced tomatoes and red sauce. Above all, the attitude is so passe. From Richman's article for Bloomberg News:
Yet for me, after four recent visits, hot buttered steak does not define the place. A mean-spirited attitude does. Peter Luger has lost touch with the concept of restaurant hospitality.

The waiters, who seem all-knowing, will recommend the following: sliced tomatoes, which were supermarket-quality at the height of tomato season. The extra-thick, smoky bacon, not to be missed. The creamed spinach, salty but uplifted by masterful mixing of spinach and cream. French fries that taste fresh but were undercooked three of the four times I ordered them. The house-made whipped cream, which is indeed prepared on premises, unlike the strudels, pies and tarts. The thuddingly dull cheesecake.

Read more.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cafe Mexicano for a Taste of Oaxaca

Cafe Mexicano on Union Street near 4th Avenue is such a small place you would easily walk right by if not for the few outdoor tables. It's easily overshadowed by the larger Mexican bistro next door. I understand the two are not related. But don't just walk right by Cafe Mexicano. Given the prices, the "hole-in-the-wall" serves up some mighty tasty Oaxacan food. The service is friendly and attentive too.

Some items on the menu like tacloyos and Aztec hoggie you don't see at other Mexican restaurants. We started off with a simple nacho dish ($4.50). Black bean puree, traditional Mexican sour cream and avocado sauce set off the stale fried tortillas. Yes. That's right. I said "stale." They fry up old tortillas into nacho chips which I guess means they save the freshest tortillas for the other dishes. I appreciate this utilitarian approach to cooking and don't mind the stale taste, especially since it serves a purpose. The chicken enchiladas poblanos in mole sauce ($6.00) came with shredded lettuce, sliced avocado and sesame seeds on top. I was struck by the simplicity and freshness of ingredients. I must admit. I enjoyed mixing up the crunchy Romaine with the hot enchiladas and mole sauce. Another treat were the chicken tinga tacloyos, corn cakes stufffed with Oaxacan cheese and chicken with chipotle sauce.

All this goes down nicely with a few Negra Modellos at an outside table.

Cafe Mexicano is located at 671 Union St., 718-623-6574

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jose Gonzalez at Brooklyn Lyceum Last Night

What the hell. I'm branching out. Here's some footage I took of the Jose Gonzalez show at the Brooklyn Lyceum last night. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Flatbush Farm Opens Restaurant

Ok so, it may have been a few weeks ago, but Flatbush Farm has expanded their recently opened bar and made a restaurant as well. The restaurant's continental-inspired menu is being headed by Chef Eric Lind from Bayard's in Manhattan. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but with items like like braised lamb shoulder with bubble and squeak, pork goulash and spatzle with mushroom ragout, the menu is certainly intriguing.

Flatbush Farm is located at 76-78 St. Marks Avenue at Flatbush, 718.622.3276

In Unrelated-to-Food News: Rhinebeck House Tour

On Saturday, some friends and I piled into the "Monte" (an '88 Chevy Monte Carlo) and headed out to the country, Hudson Valley to be precise. I had never been there, but I always welcome a respite from the city. Rhinebeck is a picture-perfect Norman Rockwell painting of a town. The overcast morning gave way to a glorious afternoon of sunshine, only to be aided by the start of the changing leaves. It was a perfect fall day.

We bought tickets for the Rhinebeck house tour. Overall I was disappointed in the houses on the tour. From the outside, many of the houses were intact Victorian houses, but once inside any charm was lost to modernization in the form of Home Depot suburbia. There was one house built in the mid 1700s that I did love. It was a small stone farm house with beamed ceilings and the widest plank floors I've ever seen. Sorry, no inside photography was allowed. Here's some shots of the outsides of the houses on the tour.

First house on the tour. It's a b&b. Squat and funny looking I thought.

Tiny Victorian.

Not on the tour, but I was impressed with the paint job that was in progress. As a brownstone owner, I can attest to the difficulty of finding good contractors, let alone an excellent painter.

Not on the tour, but I thought it was elegant.

Heh. Another one not on the tour.

Nice from the outside. This is two houses in one. They built an enormous extension onto the old original house.

I don't know if you can see this, but the hand-carved date on this tombstone is from 1775. I thought that was kind of cool.

I really liked this house. Believe it or not, it's a Sears & Roebuck house from the late 1920s. It came entirely flatpacked and perfectly pre-measured. Nice prefab. The owner built a stone foundation and put the house up over it. It felt very solid and had nice details like wood floors and a spacious foyer. Until 6 years ago, the house had been in the same family. I fear the current owners are making some unfortunate decisions to "modernize."

These last three shots were of my favorite house on the tour. The mansion, Wilderstein, was also on the tour. The amount and intensity of detail in that house was mind boggling. My camera's batteries died on me, so I have no shots unfortunately.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Taku Goes Mediterranean

According to the New York Times' Off the Menu segment, the owner of Taku, which served Japanese food, is changing its menu to Mediterranean to make ends meet. The place never got transformed into an everyday restaurant, despite or perhaps because of glowing reviews. Locals seemed to view it as a special occasion restaurant.

Greasy and Sublime on Grand Street: Village Voice

Williamsburg's Grand Street is gradually developing as a dining destination, and Baci & Abbracci ("Kisses and Hugs") is proving to be its flagship. In addition to the garden—which won't be of much use come late October—the restaurant offers a spare and diffusely lit interior of bare brick and a menu with a bravura combination of wood-oven pizzas, solid but predictable apps, quirky and amazing pastas, and voluminous secondi. The thin-crust pizzas cost around $13 each, and one is enough for two people if each also orders an appetizer. With the same name as the restaurant, the signature pie is a char-dappled wonder of creamy mozzarella, sweet caramelized onions, and pancetta, which, rather than being cut up into unsatisfying slivers, is thrown in huge greasy gobs onto the pie. The union of sweet and salty flavors is sublime.