April 7, 2014
Met Doc Willoughby for dinner last night at a sweet tiny new restaurant. It was cozy and friendly, and we really wanted to like it, but the service was so clueless that after telling us the special the waitress had no idea how much it cost. That would have been okay. But the food wasn't very good, and we poked around at it a bit and then gave up. We left hungry and wandered around for a while, searching out something good to eat.
When we passed Charlie Bird I looked wistfully through the window. The place is always packed, reservations impossible to get. But the one time I was there I loved the food, so we went in and asked if there might be a seat at the bar.
No wonder people love this place so much! The hostess greeted us as if we were just the people she'd been wishing would come walking through the door. The waiter was equally welcoming. The sommelier offered to serve us a half bottle of any wine on the list. And every single item on the menu looked appealing.
We'd already nibbled around one dinner, so we restrained ourselves. We started with this light little plate of raw fluke sliced into silvery, shining sheets and scattered with slivered almonds and tomatoes.
I couldn't resist "tripe lovely style." The two little toasts heaped with tomato-stewed, cheese-strewn tripe were fantastic: funkily flavorful, satisfying and just enough.
We had a dish of broccoli raab too, tossed with olive oil, a few secretive chiles underlying the vegetable's bitter edge.
The food at Charlie Bird has a joyful exuberance that makes me happy. But what made me happiest was that pasta at the top: made with duck eggs, it was tossed with sea urchin and hints of lemon before being topped with crisped guanciale. Pure delight.
Chefs clearly love this place. Nick Kim, the wonderful sushi chef who worked with Masa before opening Neta a couple of years ago, was sitting at the bar. Nick's no longer at Neta; he and his partner are opening a new restaurant this summer.
I can hardly wait.
April 3, 2014
The Daily Meal has asked an intriguing question: Name the ten most important people in the history of food.
I’ve been struggling with my answers for the past couple of days, and keep changing my mind. The first person I thought of was Christopher Columbus, who completely changed the way the world eats. Before his voyage there were no horses, pigs or cows on the American continet. He also took a whole slew of plants to Europe from whence they traveled to Africa and Asia. Without Columbus there’d be no tomatoes in Italy, chiles in Thailand, peanuts in Africa or potatoes in Ireland. And that’s just for starters.
But before Columbus there was Alexander the Great, whose tutor Aristotle encouraged him to take botanists on his journeys of conquest. In the third century, BCE, he changed Greek society by bringing them citrus, peaches, pistachios and peacocks.
In between, of course, there was Marco Polo. He may not have brought noodles back from Asia, but he returned with many other foodstuffs.
Then there are the cookbook writers. Careme, Escoffier. The English Robert Mays, who wrote a much-read English cookbook in 1588. The author of the extremely influential Le Cuisiner Francois, which disseminated the principles of French cooking in 1651 and was widely translated into other languages. (It was in print, in English, for more than 200 years.) And of course the great Chinese scholar of the Ch’ing Dynasty, Yuan Mei.
What if we concentrate only on America? Even so, it’s hard to narrow down the list, which would probably have to start with Thomas Jefferson, who was responsible for bringing us so much of what we eat today. He even tried planting olive trees in Virginia. “The olive," he wrote, "is a tree least known in America, and yet the most worthy of being known. Of all the gifts of heaven to man, it is next to the most precious, if it be not the most precious. Perhaps it may claim a preference even to bread; because there is such an infinitude of vegetables which it renders a proper and comfortable nourishment.” (Jefferson may have been the Michael Pollan of his time; he was a great believer in eating vegetables.)
I’m imagining that the Daily Meal list will concentrate most heavily on contemporary influencers. Even so, I worry that the great Angelo Pelligrini, who pretty much invented Slow Food 60 years before its time, will be overlooked. And what about Fanny Farmer, who made cooking “scientific”? Or Chuck Williams, who brought us most of the tools we now consider necessary, thus reinventing the way we cook?
Thinking about this has been a lot of fun. Who’s on your list?
April 2, 2014
I've been thinking about my father as I flip through the old copy of Luchow's German Cookbook I just found. It was his favorite restaurant, and I was searching out the recipe for that sauerbraten he always ordered. Then I stumbled across this fabulously old fashioned dish
It's hard to imagine stuffing this much richness into every bite. I'm intrigued. It's almost shad roe season, and this is definitely on a future menu.
Luchow's Stuffed Shad Roe
2 good-size shad roes
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 or 3 tablespoons Bechamel Sauce
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup boiling broth or bouillon
1/4 cup Veloute Sauce
2 tablespoons Hollandaise Sauce
2 tablespoons whipped cream
Rinse roes. Pat dry. Place each on a squre of waxed paper. Make a cut lengthwise in the roe to form a pocket for stuffing.
Mix the chopped eggs, nutmeg, Bechamel Sauce, chives, salt and pepper. Stuff the roes with the mixture. Fold the waxed paper over each; close tightly at both ends by turning it under twice.
Place in boiling broth, cover and boil 10 minutes. Remove roes from paper to a warmed serving dish.
Cover with sauce made by mixing the Veloute, Hollandaise and whipped cream.
Place unter broiler and heat a few seconds until lightly brown.
(Veloute Sauce, incidentally, is basically a bechamel made with broth instead of milk.)