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

Friday, April 27, 2007

San Pellegrino's Best Restaurants of 2007

Some interesting results in San Pellegrino's survey of the world's best restaurants. New York doesn't really make an impressive showing. These are the top ten:

1. El Bulli Spain
2. The Fat Duck U.K.
3. Pierre Gagnaire France
4. The French Laundry U.S.
5. Tetsuya's Australia
6. Bras France
7. Mugaritz Spain
8. Le Louis XV Monaco
9. Per Se U.S.
10. Arzak Spain

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More on the Brooklyn BBQ Front

Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice gives Williamsburg's Fette Sau a mixed review.
The brisket can be spectacular, sliced thick and rimmed with crisp fat. The pork short ribs ($11 half rack, $22 full rack) are tasty, but a bit dry and hammy due to oversmoking. One evening, shredded lamb was a big hit with my crew; it was fragrant with the odor of pasturage. Sometimes—according to the chalkboard menu, which promises more than it can deliver—there are baseball-bat beef ribs, which I didn't get to try. The pork sausages are smoky and greasy, but too chunky inside for my taste.

Fette Sau is brought to us by the same owners as Spuyten Duyvil, which I just love. They have an incredible beer selection.

In other BBQ news, Flatbush Farm is having two barbecue events this Saturday and Sunday featuring grilled clams, barbecue chicken wings, spare ribs and pulled pork sandwiches with a DJ spinning tunes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

3 Muggings in 3 Years, What Would You Do?

Occasionally I feel the need to vent about non-food related issues. What the hell. I guess I've got another existential crisis on my hands, though this one is more tangible than trying to figure out my purpose on this planet.

I don't know why, but I've always had a dream to own a brownstone on a tree-lined city block. Maybe I saw it as the antidote to growing up in a suburbia of strip malls and subdivisions. Or maybe it was the romanticism evoked by The Cosby Show or Moonstruck. Or maybe it was hearing about my mother's own experience growing up in Jersey City. Or maybe it was just a bad idea.

After 5 years in London, I moved to New York. I was instinctively drawn to Brooklyn. I had never been before, but I knew it was where I wanted to be. My mind imagined not only low-rise residential beauty and bohemia, but also distinct neighborhoods where the old New York still lived, and yes, those big, beautiful brownstones.

So three and half years ago (after a year on the Upper West Side), my partner and I took our profits from the sale of our London flat, family loans, and loose change and purchased a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Our dream home was in near move-in condition and dripping with details. We'd find out later, just what "move-in condition" really meant. Outpriced in Harlem, Park Slope, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, to me Bed Stuy was our last hope. Nearly four years later, we still await many simple amenities that make life easier, but change is in the air. More now than ever.

We moved in on a rainy October day in 2003. By the time we unloaded the last box from the rental truck, it was 1am. 1am and raining. The asphalt was shiny and slick and the street lights reflected yellow, red and green. Our block had the feeling of a movie set. It was picture perfect. Just as we closed the door to the truck with a thump, a passerby turned around and held us up. He ripped through my pockets frantically searching for cash. And I stupidly had $500.00 in my front pocket. I slipped a few singles off the wad of dough and gave it to him. He started walking away and came back with a vengeance as if the few singles I had given him were like spitting in his face. He ransacked my pockets again. Nothing. He never found the $500.00. Picture perfect and no one around.

We felt nothing but horror and panic later that night as we searched out the safest corner of the house to sleep -- the fourth floor front room overlooking the top of the sycamore tree. With our sleeping bags on pine floors, our hearts pounded and kept us up all night. We had spent our life savings only to be held up at gunpoint. We felt we had been had.

Our life in Bed Stuy from that point on was marked by paranoia. We picked up visiting friends at the subway station with our car, took cabs home late at night and called one another with our cell phones when walking home from the subway. "I'm just crossing Chauncey... Now I'm at Macon." We thought cell phones would help us be safer until we discovered that nearly everyone we knew had been mugged for their cell phones. It was hard to overcome the false safety of the cell phone, but we stopped using them in the open.

Fast forward to about 8pm on a day in February 2006. There was snow on the ground and teenagers outside the subway station decided to peg me with snowballs as I crossed their path. I had reached my limit. A block away I decided to call the cops. Next thing I knew one of the kids came up from behind and started pummeling me in the side of the head. Stunned and bloody, I fell into a stoop dropping my bags and cell phone. He continued to punch. I managed to kick him off me, grabbed my bags and ran home. Cell phone left behind.

Later that same night I canvassed the neighborhood with the police. Whenever they came across a group of teenagers hanging out, they lined them up on the sidewalk. Me, I was in the back seat of the cop car with ice on my wounded head and asked to identify the kids who beat me. There was no way I could. As the cops drove me home, they got a call about a shooting up the street. They were looking for a white Nissan Maxima. Of course the suspect car passed us. There I am still in the back seat. The cops whipped the car around and chased the white Nissan Maxima. They pulled it over. And I ran home for a second time that night.

Our existence in Bed Stuy continued to be marked by fear. Each time I came home from the subway, my stomach felt as if it was being eaten from the inside out. Again, I chalked this up. We stuck it out and miraculously as the year went on, things felt better in the neighborhood. What does it mean for a neighborhood to "feel" better? I don't know. It's an instinctual feeling. The tension wasn't as intense.

Like I said we stuck it out. We refused to be driven out of the place we decided to call home. A few months ago we decided to take out a loan to renovate. As far as renovations go, we're moving along slowly, but steadily. We've nearly finished the basement, the kitchen has been gutted, the wood stripped and the ground floor and parlour floor rewired and my favorite -- French doors to the garden installed. There have been frustrations along the way like the basement flooding from a broken pipe and a boiler dying on us when it snowed in April. We're over the hump and the excitement about the finished product is barely containable.

We're active in our block association. We know a lot of people in the neighborhood and very often bump into people we know. We have wonderful neighbors too.

Last night I got mugged again. One block from my house and in front of a church, a 6 foot, 200lb man wrapped his arm around my neck, repeatedly threatened to kill me and asked for all my money and my cell phone. I handed over about 60 bucks and my new phone. I went through the rigmarole with the cops again. I doubt we will find him.

I am mad at myself. I'm mad at myself for trusting, for not dressing tough enough, for letting my guard down and creating a window of opportunity, for not fighting back. I can't help but wonder if the muggings are a result of a series of stupid mistakes I've made. Or if I could've altered fate by walking a little slower or stopping in the bodega or catching the next train. I replay the events in my head often only with me winning. I never thought mugging would become routine in my life. It's so absurd I could laugh, but I also feel like crying and punching someone's lights.

I feel paralyzed. The rational voice says "Leave now." The voice of fantasy says "Stick it out. It'll be worth it in the long run." Maybe I was stupid for not having left three and half years ago. With the neighborhood in transition and deep into renovation and debt, what would you do?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Video: Bed Stuy Baker Bakes a Wedding Cake

For Realmeals.tv, Bed-Stuy-based baker Shannon Pridgen of Heavenly Crumbs Bakery and Shelly Everett of The Gourmet Angel Catering demonstrate how to make a wedding cake in this video.

Check out the rest of the web site too. Interesting stuff.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Roebling Tea Room

For $6.00 I was impressed with the frittata at the Roebling Tea Room. Tasty and light, it was chock full of tomatoes and asparagus. Served with a side of lightly-dressed arugula, it's perfect for breakfast or a lunch with a glass of wine. For $1.50 the toasted pumpernickel from Amy's bakery is another good deal. That bread was delicious.

With its general store meets industrial chic atmosphere the restaurant is also charming.

Roebling Tea Room is located at 143 Roebling Street, 718-963-0760

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Grillin' on the Bay: BBQ Contest

Last Saturday I had the privilege of being a guest judge at the Grillin' on the Bay barbecue contest in Sheepshead Bay to benefit the St. Mark's Sports Association and sanctioned by the New England Barbecue Society (who knew?).

As a lover of barbecue, and really who isn't, I was excited at this opportunity, even missing out on a friend's wedding ceremony. (I did make the reception though.) But, as a first time judge, I was also a little nervous. The co-judges at my table were seasoned, serious and certified. Did you know they had courses in barbecue contest judging? While my compatriots in judging, one of whom is a year-round Santa, were testing the spring of the meat off the bone, I didn't know where to begin. Little bites or big bites? Or measured tastes of each morsel so as not to give away which one I liked best? When do I eat the Saltine? Finally, I just ate. After all, as we all concurred, it comes down to individual taste.

Barbecue contest judging is serious business and the rules are strict. For instance, no pooling is allowed, which means the sauce isn't allowed to puddle at the bottom of the container. Also, the only garnish allowed is green leaf lettuce, Italian parsley, flat-leaf parsley or cilantro. Luckily, we didn't have to disqualify anyone. That would be heartbreaking. Contestants spend countless hours perfecting their recipes and the anonymity of the contestants is strictly enforced. I understand why, but it's also a bit of a bummer since you don't get to match up the winner with the winning meat you may have tasted.

Our jovial table captain made sure our table was well stocked with bottles of water and Saltines for cleansing the palate between tastes. We judged three criteria: appearance, taste and tenderness on a scale of 2-9 with a starting point of 6 and the best being 9. We were strictly instructed to judge each entry on its own merits.

The first round of judging was the chicken dish. The table captain passed around a styrofoam container with six pieces, one for each judge. The judges selected their piece and put it on one of the slots of their judging plate. (See right). You may not begin tasting until all judges have their piece of meat. With a plate full of chicken pieces, "this is gunna be fun," I thought, as a huge smile grew across my face. The reality is that chicken is a bit boring and some of contestants unfortunately chose run of the mill chicken breast which is just so hard to keep moist, let alone interesting.

Next up was the fish. My favorite was a perfectly seared piece of tuna wrapped in a light barbecue sauce with a hint of wasabi. I liked the fact they successfully paired tuna with something unexpected like barbecue sauce while bringing you back to tradition with the hint of wasabi.

Barbecue is made for pork and in my opinion the pork round had the most consistently good entries and was the most fun to judge and eat. We all had differing opinions however with some more seasoned judges somewhat disappointed. I loved the rib in slot number three (upper right). It was meaty, moist and the judiciously applied barbecue sauce had just the right hint of clove. Although I showed up at the event starving, I have no idea how I made it this far without exploding. It becomes quite an art figuring out how much to eat and when I really liked what I tasted, I was prone to devour the whole thing.

There was also a category for chef's choice, which is the most creative. We sampled everything from lobster tail and short ribs to a piece of filet mignon wrapped by a scallion with asparagus, shrimp and mushroom. An incredible physical feat. Overall, I felt that the contestants just tried too hard. Let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves and try not to wow me with fancy preparations and platings. This is barbecue after all. Another entry was grilled pizza with shrimp on top. Anyhow, there was one standout and that was a big piece of beef rubbed in peppery spices and grilled perfectly rare. I just loved the way the spices combined with the meat's juice in the mouth. Needless to say, that piece of meat disappeared effortlessly from my plate.

After consuming nearly 2 pounds of meat within 2 hours, this is the part where I get to say, "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it."