Mid East Flavors in Los Feliz

February 7, 2017

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Hiding beneath those lovely leaves of mint and cilantro are the crispest, flakiest little pastries filled with an enchantingly lemon-scented mix of chicken and pine nuts.  It’s the perfect way to start a meal at the airy new Kismet in Los Feliz.

I lived in this neighborhood for ten years, back in the eighties, and it’s something of a shock to stroll down this formerly derelict block and find it filled with hip new restaurants.  (Go Get Em Tiger is just a few doors down; McConnell’s is practically next door.) With its clean lines and blond wood, this newest entry is as cool and calming as a spa.

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The food is equally attractive. You might begin with this refreshing marinated feta served with roasted squash, crisp green apple and the slight bite of nasturtium leaves.  Scoop some up with pieces of bread, and you find it hits every flavor note.

But what you definitely don’t want to miss is this crisp, flaky bread – a version of the Yemeni malawach –served with a soft-boiled egg, labneh, tomatoes and spice paste. The bread looks innocent, but in its rich, buttery flakiness it is pure seduction. 

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 The restaurant is the creation of the two Saras – Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, who both worked at Blue Hill and then Glasserie before coming west to open Madcapra in the Grand Central Market. (As rents in Gotham keep climbing, expect to see more young chefs make the move to the left coast.) I haven’t been for dinner yet, but the menu offers many pleasures, including a rabbit feast for two that I can’t wait to try. 

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First Lady

February 4, 2017

Where’s Melania?

Isn’t it strange that she turns out to be the least likely First Lady in history to opt out of the traditional role?  For much of American history brilliant and successful women (think Eleanor, Hillary and Michelle) have resigned themselves to being the power behind the throne, becoming Everybody’s Mom for the duration.

Suddenly we have a woman with no career to give up, simply opting out of the role and declaring independence. One more paradox of the Trump era. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

What would a traditional First Lady be doing right now?  Giving tours of the white house, taking charge of  official entertaining, redecorating the family quarters, choosing a new chef and deciding which plates to use at state dinners.

Not to mention presiding over the upcoming Easter Egg Roll, which draws some 35,000 people. The tradition dates to the 1870s and Rutherford B. Hayes. Legend has it that when a group of egg-rolling children were shooed away from a neighboring lawn, he invited them to come to the White House on the following morning. When the guards opened the gates, the children had multiplied.

Here’s a picture of the roll during the JFK years from “Entertaining in the White House.” IMG_0590

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This one’s undated: IMG_0588

And while we’re talking White House rolls, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to share this rather strange recipe from Lou Henry Hoover:

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How to Visit Japan Without Getting on a Plane

February 3, 2017

These days, the longing to leave the country is often overwhelming.  A couple days ago, after a morning spent calling elected officials to urge them to do the right thing, I needed to escape. I chose the easy way out: a little lunchtime trip to Japan.

No restaurant in New York offers a more compelling illusion of being elsewhere than Sushi Azabu. The journey begins as you make your way past the hanging black curtain and down a narrow flight of stairs; by the time you reach the bottom you are in one of those tiny subterranean Tokyo sushi bars, being greeted by a chef quietly cutting fish behind a wooden counter.

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Pick up the chopsticks and you are instantly enchanted; light and lithe, they fit happily into your hand, a subtle way of forcing you to pay attention.

You might order a lunchtime “set” – a plate of sushi followed by a shining pair of grilled red snapper collars.

IMG_9488Or you might decide to splurge on the omakase, which promises a flight of dreamlike dishes beginning with a cold appetizer.  Today it was  tiny squid tentacles in seaweed paired with a little dish of lightly pickled fish draped in shawls of onion.

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Now the warm appetizer.  This is the luxury of snow crab, the leg still snuggled into its shell and swathed in a creamy blanket of crab miso.

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A beautifully constructed platter of sashimi tells an interesting story. All the fish is imported from Japan, and while the gentle octopus is deliciously familiar, the abalone is a startling experience. Simultaneously toothy and tender, it offers a fascinating textural paradox.  IMG_9485

Another contrast of color, taste and texture.

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And finally the purity and pleasure of raw sweet shrimp.IMG_9487

The restaurant makes a point of serving uni from Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.  This is quite different from the sea urchin found in either of America’s oceans. Here the contrast is uni from opposite ends of the island, each with its own unique flavor. The idea is to roll a bit of urchin into a crisp strip of nori, add a dab of freshly grated wasabi, give it a quick dip in soy and pop the entire package in your mouth. I could happily do that all day.

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Now the nigiri arrives, one indulgent piece of sushi after another, each superb.

Red snapperIMG_9495Scallop

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sea eel

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Finally, a strangely irresistible tamago that resembles custard more than the customary omelet.

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I’ve missed a few dishes here: wagyu beef, lightly torched and set on a little pad of rice, a few fishes, and the tiny scoop of yuzu ice cream that is the final offering before you’re sent back up into the world.

It’s hard to climb the stairs and find yourself in the gritty snowy streets with headlines blaring from every corner. But the tang of that citrus stays on your lips, reminding you that for a little while at least, you managed to escape.

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When the White House Kept Cows

February 2, 2017

9b959ff43cf84714a59553ac13b324c9President William Howard Taft (seen here in The Philippines) was undoubtably one of the most spectacular eaters to ever live in the White House. At 335 pounds, he was also the largest. Though he lamented his weight (and even kept a food journal in an attempt to slim down), he never outran his lust for the delicious.  Rumor has it that once, in desperate need of a midnight snack, he had a diner car attached to his train in the middle of the night.

Taft’s white house cook was primarily a grill master: Taft desired steak three times a day. (This was, after all, in the days when men routinely consumed five pounds of meat at grand Beefsteak dinners.)

Taft’s breakfast? A 12-oz steak, two oranges, toast, and copious amounts of coffee. Lunch was more steak, lobster Newberg, potatoes, pates, boiled vegetables, bonbons and pie. Dinner was a repeat, except that Taft doubled down, eating twice as much –  and almost always began the meal with turtle soup.

To satisfy the family appetite, First Lady Helen Taft kept several pet cows to supply fresh milk. Meet Pauline Wayne, a champion milk cow, standing in front of what’s now the Eisenhower Executive building.

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And here are some puckish workers, demonstrating the impressive capacity of the president’s custom-made bathtub: taft_bathtub

And finally this absurd account of Taft being served one of his favorite dishes.

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