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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bed Stuy's Down South Cafe is No More

Looks like today is the grand opening of Ma-n-Pop Soul Food which took over the spot that the legendary Down South Cafe formerly occupied. Taking a quick glance inside, I'd say the rough-hewn charm of Down South has been stamped out.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Village Voice on New Schnitzel House in Bay Ridge

As the century-old German American restaurants of Queens neighborhoods like Middle Village and Richmond Hill have been disappearing, they've been replaced with newfangled places—mainly in Lower Manhattan—that emphasize tap beer and a limited menu of wursts and schnitzels. Now along comes Bay Ridge's Schnitzel Haus, larding a lengthier menu with all sorts of modern and traditional dishes from the fatherland, many rarely seen in New York. A blonde fräulein hoisting a tray of brews greets you from the sign outside. The premises are all dark polished woods and smoke-colored tin ceilings, and the long bar is more likely to be full than the dozen or so tables, except on weekend evenings when the place crawls with elderly German Americans.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Giardini's Square Slice

Don't you love it when your expectations are exceeded? On a blistering hot summer Sunday afternoon, when the air is so clear and bright and everyone is sheltered indoors, and Brooklyn's expanse appears like a dead Western town, I stumbled into Giardini's pizzeria on Smith Street. Looking like every other corner slice joint in the city, I had low-to-zero expectations. But their square Sicilian slice was great and in fact had me returning just the other day.

Their claim to gourmet pizza may be dubious and I have not tried their regular round pies or thier so-called Pizza D'Italia, which is nothing more than pizza with a thick layer of toppings. The spaghetti pizza, for which they are "internationally recognized," sounds borderline frightening. When navigating such unchartered territory, I try to keep it simple.

And that's what turned my attention to the simple square Sicilian slices. If I have the choice between a slice topped with bagged grated "cheese food" or fresh mozzarella, I always go for the fresh mozzarella slice, which is how the square slice was prepared. It was simple -- unadulterated tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella on a crisp dough. And I really dug it. The crust is thinner than most Sicilian pies giving it a nice crunch, not chew. The sauce is simple and smooth and layered not only on the base but on top of the fresh mozzarella too.

They also offer a cheeseless slice with big chunks of tomato, chopped fresh garlic, basil and olive oil, given a nice punch when reheated in the oven -- pizza simplicity in all its glory.

Giardini is located on 363 Smith St, 718-596-5320.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Central Park Leaves

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The L Magazine on Stone Home's Expanded Menu

The daily specials scrawled on a chalkboard outside the restaurant sounded amazing, even though until recently the kitchen was secondary, serving snacks to go along with wine tasting from the 130-bottle list. The new head chef, I’m sure, is extremely talented. That much is clear from dishes like house-cured Striped Bass Tartare with shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, and peppercress ($9), and Cervena Venison Loin with roasted Brussels sprouts and cranberry jus ($22).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Beef With Tran Fats

According to the Daily News, McDonald's plans to cut trans fats in Europe but not the U.S. In all honesty I eat at McDonald's about once every 2 years if that and it's usually when I'm so hunger stricken that I have no choice but to give in. But I would like to ask McDonald's why they don't treat American consumers to the same level of health consciousness as their European customers? Don't we deserve it?

What really irks me though about the trans fats debate is how food manufacturers skirt truth in their labelling. Half the time I read the nutrition information on the back of bag of chips or cookies, it says 0 Trans Fats. Great! I think. Not so fast. Upon reading the actual ingredients I see some partially hydrogenated oil listed, a main source of trans fats. So how can a company claim 0 trans fats and still use a partially hydrogenated oil? According to the FDA, 0.5 grams is a reportable amount of trans fats. So under that allows for 0 trans fats on the label. From what I've read even that is too much.

If eating trans fats is like tying a noose around your arteries, why allow any at all?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Porchetta, Rustic Italian, Reinterpreted With a Minimalist Touch

"Yellow beets are good, but red beets are pure pleasure." So said my friend as we nipped into our cubed yellow and red beet salad at Porchetta. Without doubt these delicate braised beets with lemon thyme, Sicilian olive oil, candied citrus and perfectly round goat cheese croquettes ($8.00) were pure bliss. All of the dishes we tried were defined by delicate (if not downright dainty) arrangements, yet bold and fresh flavors with creative twists. The distinct tastes in the Brooklyn mozzarella dish with braised artichokes, shaved fennel, candied lemon zest and fresh mint ($10.00) worked so well together it was as if they were engaged in song and dance on the plate. Each of the first courses we tried came with radish carpaccio floating atop like feathers. Even the olive oil for the bread seemed a well thought out choice -- intense and fruity.

The thoughfully pared down menu is set up in the traditional Italian manner with first, second and main courses. The portions are very small, which is good, because you'll want to have 3 courses. Otherwise you may leave hungry. We split the gnocchi with nutmeg and simple tomato sauce as our second dish, but could've each easily had our own. The gnocchi were ethereally light and soft. The warm touch of nutmeg brought us into the Fall while the fresh tomato sauce was a nod to the Summer gone by. The ricotta and oregano rounded out the dish. More crisp and caramelized than tender came the cylindrical roasted pork shoulder wrapped in bacon, the special for the night ($21.00). The muggine rossa, or red mullet, came as two torpedo-shaped whole fish -- a little larger and fleshier than sardines -- with 24-hour oven-dried tomatoes and olives. The muggine were delicious. Lightly breaded and fried, they contrasted nicely with a caper-spiked caponata ($18.00). Given the small, singular portions, Porchetta may want to ponder introducing some side dishes, but then again, that may just be too Baroque.

The desserts were less spectacular. The lemon-infused buttermilk panna cotta with toasted pine nuts, a fine idea in theory, resembled a breakfast yogurt. Although subtle, the grilled figs with honey and ricotta are what Italian desserts are all about. The desserts are $6.00.

The complete gut renovation of the former Banania Cafe produced a modern decor accented by copper paneling and a modernized antique wallpaper. Striving for the contemporary antique look, I felt the decor was on its way to complementing the food, but not quite there. While the bar stools were cool in their leather and chrome, the dining chairs were run-of-the-mill. The butcher-papered tables seemed counter intuitive not only to the minimalism found in the food, but also to the rest of the atmosphere. But hey afterall we're there for the food, not the decor. Wilco, the Rolling Stones and the Cure played at an easy decible in the background softening the seriousness of the food. I also couldn't help but wonder if it was a recognition, with a wink, of Mario Batali, who is reknowned not only for inventive Italian cuisine, but also for the rock music he plays at Babbo.

I don't associate delicate platings, geometric presentations and somewhat dainty preparations with Italian food. When I think Italian, I think robust and hearty, but also simple and bold. Porchetta achieves the latter while deconstructing the dish to its simplest parts. I've read that Chef Jason Neroni fits into the school of "molecular gastronomy."

To me it's more than pure science. The mozzarella wrapper's imprint was left in the chunks of cheese in one of our appetizers. This struck me as a conscious decision to not hide the process. I also can't help but think that the square lines of gold and blood beets on the backdrop of a rectangular white plate are like the colorful lines on a white canvas in a Piet Mondrian painting. The way Mondrian painted with precision, getting to the very core of matter -- atoms and molecules -- maybe Chef Jason Neroni cooks? And maybe the New York Magazine food blog was on to something when they wrote, "If Neroni can truly combine the two schools, he will have begun to bring the culinary mainstream into the 21st century."

Porchetta is located at 241 Smith Street, 718-237-9100.

Drying Rosemary

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. I think it's so versatile. I love roasting chicken, potatoes and other root vegetables with it or floating a sprig in a batch of tomato sauce, giving it that extra depth of flavor. In the summer it's no problem when the herb is abundant and this winter with any luck I'll have a bounty of dried rosemary to cook with. I've never dried herbs before. After doing a bit of reading, I cobbled together this approach.

1. Snip rosemary. After cutting the rosemary into manageable sprigs (think brown paper bag sized), wash and thoroughly dry them. I use a salad spinner to spin off excess water then air dried them. I think even slightly wet, the rosemary will get moldy.

2. Tie them up. Take about three or four sprigs of the rosemary and tie them at the base. I used a rubber band.

3. Punch holes into brown paper bags. Putting the rosemary in paper bags will help keep them clean and the holes provide sufficient air to dry them. I hope. I used a pencil to punch the holes, but in hindsight a holepucher would work wonders. Make as many bags as you have rosemary bunches for.

4. Hang 'em up. Take the bunches of rosemary and place them in their own bags and tie the ends once again. I used rubberbands again. Leave some slack because you'll want to hang them someplace to dry. I put mine in the pantry.

I'm not sure how long to leave them drying, but I'll give it a few weeks and report back with the results.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Biscuit BBQ, Resurfaced, Isn't Smokin'

Having worked my fingers to the bone cleaning toilets at the Park Slope Co-op last night, I was famished after my shift. A friend and I wanted to grab a seat at the bar at Union Hall and bite into their tasty little burgers, but the place was packed -- on a Monday night no less. There were some fierce bocce ball matches going on and well, the screaming just wasn't conducive to a nice meal. With all of the bar seats occupied, I just wasn't in a frame of mind to balance a plate full of food on my lap.

With our commonsense over taken by hungered panic, we ventured down Fifth Avenue and landed in Biscuit BBQ which occupies the former Night & Day diner. Never having stepped foot into the place before, Biscuit BBQ feels as if it hasn't rightfully taken over the space. Unrealized is how I would describe it.

Brooklyn denizens seem to have love it or hate it relationship with Biscuit BBQ. Where exaclty I fall, well let's just say I didn't love it. We sat at the bar. Harried doesn't even begin to describe the service. After politely asking the bartender if she could take our order (we had been waiting), she shouted back at us "You'll just have to wait!" I've never experienced a bartender neglecting their own customers at the bar before.

I'm not from the South and maybe I just don't get this style of barbeque. Some have suggested it's from North Carolina. Surely North Carolina barbeque isn't exempted from quality meat. My friend and I split an order of the full rack of ribs for two with two sides ($24.00). A grilled piece of meat served with a fresh sauce on the side can be a culinary revelation, but the unsauced ribs we tried were burnt to a crisp. The bottled hot and vinegared sauces did little to rescue them. The meat was chewy and riddled with fat. The collard greens were drenched in vinegar and the macaroni and cheese was cold and mushy. A la carte, the side dishes are $4.00 each.

Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing. Could I chalk this up to initial jitters? But Biscuit BBQ had a former life on Flatbush Avenue, so what gives?

Biscuit BBQ is located at 230 Fifth Avenue.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Hammock Is Down

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shameless Product Plug: One Touch Can Opener

This thing really does work and it works great. I've never ordered a product from an infomercial before. In the back of my mind I always thought they were scams (the web site sure is cheesey.) Although it took longer than expected, it did arrive as promised. I can't say it's the sturdiest gadget in the drawer, however, I do like the fact that it's small and battery operated so you can just put it away easily. And there are no sharp edges.

NY Mag: Restaurant Revolution on Smith St?

Although the writers admit to not having eaten at Porchetta yet, they portend a revolution on Brooklyn's restaurant row:

...no guarantee that the place will be making money a year from now. But if Neroni matches his aspirations, we're fully expecting a restaurant-world shake-up.

Porchetta aims for nothing less than the domestication of molecular gastronomy. That scientific school of cooking has remained a mandarin pursuit, limited to a few hyperambitious chefs like Neroni and his master, Wylie Dufresne. But nobody really loves that kind of cooking — the geometric forms, the tiny portions, the too precious high-concept abstraction. Everybody, however, loves Italian food, which is thought to be one of the least challenging cuisines to prepare. If Neroni can truly combine the two schools, he will have begun to bring the culinary mainstream into the 21st century.