August 30, 2013
My Dinner at Blanca
Went out to Bushwick last night, enjoying the subway ride. When you change from the 2 line to the L, your fellow subway riders undergo a remarkable transformation. Suddenly they’re young, hip and very well dressed. The women all have bare legs, high heels, great makeup. Get off at Morgan Avenue and two food carts are waiting by the entrance; even at 9:30 the street is alive with people walking, talking, drinking coffee.
At Roberta’s the scene is even wilder, noisier, happier, a great jumble of people drinking beer, eating pizza. But you walk through the garden to Blanca in the back, and everything changes. Suddenly your surroundings are quiet, sedate, serious.
Blanca is a bit strange, a huge windowless white space, all kitchen, where 12 privileged people are slowly served a couple dozen tiny courses. The meal takes a few hours. The room was clearly designed to be something else, and what should be an intimate experience is overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. There must be six feet of empty space between you and the kitchen, so you feel disconnected from the cooks bending over the plates, tweezering each little tidbit with scientific precision.
And the food? What we had was almost entirely wonderful: the meal began with a small square of perfectly ripe white melon in a bright green, intense anise broth. It went on to a wedge of peach, and a single raspberry in almond milk.
Pictures are forbidden, and note-taking frowned upon so many details have escaped. What I remember best is crudo: shrimp so soft and white they might have been velvet. Rich, oily mackerel. a single circle of octopus. A magenta rectangle of tuna….
Raw shaved wagyu beef, a mineral mouthful, arrived bright red, then slowly darkened as the lovely young server poured concentrated beef broth across it. A pillow of tofu was brightened with fresh epazote. A bit of weakfish was brilliantly topped with black lime. Tiny tomatoes reveled in the sweetness of a corn puree.
The chef seems to be challenging himself to wrest the maximum amount of flavor out of every ingredient, wanting to satisfy you with a single bite. A little tortellini had a filling so powerful you sat there, your mouth pulsing with flavor, long after the dish had been taken away. I looked down the counter: everyone looked stunned, happy.
I enjoyed every minute of that meal. But I wonder where the restaurant will be five years from now. At the moment these expensive tasting experiences for a small, exclusive audience- think Ko, Aterra, Brooklyn Fare – are the meals of the moment. How will they evolve?
Every chef dreams of doing meals like these, but if they are to last I expect they’ll have to offer more than merely fabulous food and wonderful wine. Patrons will demand interaction with the kitchen, comfortable seats, good lighting, a more integrated experience.
American food is at a high point; we’ve never had more talented chefs or more interesting restaurants. But that’s precisely why the smartest chefs are thinking beyond cuisine to the total experience. When you leave a restaurant like Blanca, you want to remember more than the pleasant service and wonderful food.
August 28, 2013
Taking the bread out of the oven this morning, it hit me that this wonderfully homely creature is the most-used pot I've got.
I bought my Dutch oven at a thrift store, maybe thirty years ago, for five bucks. Since then I've used it almost every day. It's perfect for baking bread; if you put it in a really hot oven before you put the dough in, it becomes an oven within an oven, shooting intense heat at your dough from all sides so it emerges with a fine, crisp crust.
It's wonderful for braises; the little raised points inside collect steam, returning it as liquid so your meat is constantly basting itself. Nothing makes a better pot roast. On top of the stove it's teh perfect vehicle for stews, soups and sauces.
You could buy a new Dutch oven, but why would you? Thrift stores almost always have a few on hand. It's not just that you're saving money, but getting a little bit of history as well. I like to think about my Dutch oven's last life – and wonder about its next one.
August 26, 2013
Wish I'd made it….
The Chef was Chris Cannon, formerly of L'Impero, Convivio, Marea, etc. I've always thought of him as a front of the house man, but the guy can cook. The food was stunning – a perfect high summer meal.
Grilled Filone with Burning Heart Farm Scrambled Eggs and Black Truffles:
A bright golden pillow of eggs laced with truffles. Irresistible
Mosefund Farm Mangalitsa Sopressata
From the world's most adorable pigs.
Mosefund Farm Mangalitsa Lardo Crostini with Figs and Black Pepper
Soft figs, bursting open beneath melting lardo.
Forty North Mantoloking Oysters,
Manzanilla Sherry, Castelvetrano Olives and Shallots
Those oysters! Big, juicy, briny.
Papardelle with Maine Lobster, Fava Beans, Corn and Tarragon
Like the richest lobster bisque you've ever had, tossed with noodles, fresh favas and corn.
Jameson Farms Loin of Lamb, Parmigiana of Graffiti Eggplant, Jersey Tomatoes, Taggiasca Olives and Green Lentils
Lovely little lamb, and a whole new way to think of eggplant parmesan.
Grilled Jersey Yellow Peaches, Basil
Lambrusco Vinegar, Vincotto, Toasted Almonds and Mozzarella di Buffala
The high point of a fantastic meal. For me at least. The peaches were ripe and smokey, and they clung to that pliant mozzarella. Every once in a while, the surpriing crunch of almonds. This is going to become a summer staple in my house.
August 23, 2013
There are many great cookbook writers, but at this time of year Elizabeth David is my favorite. Her recipes depend on nothing so much as perfect produce. She collects these gorgeous specimens, and allows them to speak for themselves.It would be foolish to attempt her Mediterreanean recipes in the middle of a snowstorm, but right now they're elemental and completely satisfying.
High summer is the time for one of my all-time David favorites. You simply take tomatoes, slice them, and cover them with good thick cream. That's it. You won't believe how delicious they are. My only embellishment? A little bit of basil.
Tomatoes and Cream
3 ripe tomatoes
freshly ground pepper
¼ cup fresh heavy cream
5 basil leaves, shredded (optional)
1. Stack the basil leaves and roll them tightly. Slice crosswise into thin shreds and immerse them in the cream.
2. Slice the tomatoes into rounds and sprinkle liberally with good salt and freshly ground pepper.
3. Pour the cream mixture over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the shredded basil.
Try not to lick the plate….
August 21, 2013
When Michael brought this enormous cast iron skillet home, I was furious. It weighs a ton. It takes up too much room in the cupboard. And I knew he’d use it exactly once.
I was right about the last part. And dead wrong about everything else. Lately I find myself reaching for this huge (15 inches across) black beauty with increasing frequency. It can cook a dozen lambchops on the stove. It can make pancakes for a crowd. And it slides easily into the oven, where it makes the perfect roasting pan for a chicken with a lot of potatoes, garlic and onions.
And because it’s pre-seasoned, it’s extremely easy to care for.
It costs about $70 – and I’m sure it will last forever. How did I ever live without it?