Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Post Haste

Just a couple of notes from my El Rey Del Sabor visit yesterday. In the frenzy and excitement that I wrote the post, I missed a few key points I wanted to make.

  • Out of the 4 tacos I had, chorizo, pollo, carnitas & al pastor, the chorizo is the one that stood out the most. I might have to pass on hot sauces next time in order to fully taste all the meats. The chorizo was the only one whose flavor stood out over the sauce.
  • The tacos would be better with some acidity. My coworker and I both agreed that a nice wedge of lime would have gone a long way.
  • After having another tamale for a snack today, I don't think it can be beat value wise. For $1.50 you get a very good tamale. I haven't yet, but I'm sure you can ask for a side of mole which would make it perfect.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

El Rey Del Sabor

El Rey Del Sabor Truck

For me, the El Rey Del Sabor Truck has been elusive. A friend had discovered the truck during Thanksgiving day visit to Manhattan. Filled with stories about these great tacos he randomly had during turkey day around the midtown Bloomingdale's, I searched high and low for this cart that I had never seen. I would walk around the exterior of the mega clothing store searching for a taco truck. It was a weekend. No cart. I would make a detour post-run around Central Park. Too late in the day. No cart. I would go try to visit pre-run. Still too late. No cart.

I was starting to think that the truck didn't exist. Until my friend moved to the city and his apartment happened to be a block away. Then he did his research. It pretty much catered only to the lunch crowd closing at 4:30 and open only on weekdays. I was about to give up all hope in every trying the tacos there until I overheard that there were other locations.

On a whim, I checked the trustworthy Midtown Lunch
and found that they had just opened up in my work neighborhood (43rd & 6th). Not only that, but there was a fight the day before! I had decided on a lunch place for the day.

First off, I have to say that the guys in the truck were awesome. They had had a slow start to the day after having slept in the truck overnight because of the ruckus from the day before. Plus, their groceries for the day didn't arrive until 10:30 as lines started form. They seemed to be tired but making the best of it and having a blast.

El Rey Del Sabor - tacos
Tacos (left to right): chorizo, pollo, carnitas, al pastor.

The taco filling had some pretty good flavor. The pork and chicken from the Red Hook taco truck was better, but the beef wins here. The green and red sauce were nice and gave the tacos a nice medium kick. The traditional double corn tortillas are also nicely grilled. At $2.50 a taco, a lunch consisting of just tacos can get pretty expensive. But as a quick bite, I would take these over a hotdog any day.

El Rey Del Sabor - Tamales
Chicken Tamales

These tamales were a delight. I've been jonesing for some tamales for a week or so. So when I saw these on the menu, I had to have one. They did not disappoint. The masa was light and had some very nice flavors. The chicken filling was moist and had a nice kick. I actually had it after my tacos and immediately wished I had gotten another. At $1.50 it was definitely worth it. The only thing that the tamale could have used was some mole. Next time I might have to get my tamale with some enchiladas which come with mole.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Momofuku Ssam Bar

Momofuku Ssam Bar

Ssam Bar was the last David Chang outpost that I needed to visit. Each of David's joints has a specific feel and purpose but his style ties all of them together. His menus seem to come together in similar fashion with quality components and a creative mind coming together give an odd but exciting twists to traditional (and not so traditional) dishes. What I do find is that no matter how 'exotic' the dish, the presentation always makes the food approachable.

Ssam Bar has long been on my list just because it was the missing piece for me to close my Momofuku loop. By this time, I feel like I understand the chef's food and know what to expect. The new car smell has worn off. That's not to say that the food no longer excites me, because it does. (I don't think I'll ever grow weary of pork belly buns.)

What I have come to appreciate is the high quality of food the Momofuku kitchens have been able to churn out. Some dishes have been hit or miss, but the quality, precision, and care put into a dish has never been lacking. I do have to applaud the Momofuku crew for running a first rate operation.

As for the meal at Ssam Bar itself? I do have to admit that my post comes over a month after my visit and with no notes, its becoming quite hard to remember all the details of the meal. I'm not sure if this is all for the worse since the few things I do remember, I remember fondly.

Bev Eggelston's Country Ham
Bev Eggelston's Country Ham (Shenandoah Valley, VA), red-eye gravy, Sullivan Street Bakery baguette.

The country ham stole the show. Actually, it was the show. The ham itself was sliced delicately and the bread was what I would expect from Jim Lahey's bakery. Both wonderful selections for David Chang to showcase on his menu. But what really elevated the collection of 3rd party goods was the 'red-eye gravy'. Broken down, red-eye gravy is coffee flavored mayo. Put together, its a creamy bitter smoky concoction. It brought and already perfect combination to a level I never knew existed. I would be happy just ordering all the ham's on the menu, just to see how the gravy would compliment.

The rest sort of fades from my mind. I remember the crispy pig's head to be good. Nice and crispy as advertised with a great fattiness to it. The pork buns have yet to disappoint. The chicken fried chicken sounded great but fell short. The asparagus with burgundy snails I don't remember at all.

My next Momofuku experience? I hope its the infamous Bo Ssam...

Crispy Pig's Head
Crispy Pig's Head (Newman's Farm, MO), lime pickle, frisee.

Pork belly buns
Pork Belly Buns

Bell & Evan's Chicken Fried Chicken
Bell & Evan's Chicken Fried Chicken with ramps, morels, and eggs.

Asparagus and Burgundy Snails
Asparagus and Burgundy Snails, onion dashi, market greens.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Dutch Kills

Dutch Kills bar

Hidden in industrial Long Island City, away from all the new high rises, is a bar by the name of Dutch Kills. Run by the same guy behind the notoriously exclusive Milk and Honey, Dutch Kills brings to the New York scene a place where a person can get a well mixed drink at a reasonable price. Its a place where you can find some creative concoctions, interpretations of classics, & the classics themselves. For around $9 a cocktail, the quality of bartending here is on par with other pricier city establishments (PDT, Randolph, etc). It's a gem and I hope that its location will keep it that way.

The place is easy to find if you are looking for it, but almost impossible to stumble across. The only clue that Dutch Kills exists is the sign on the door. But armed with an address its hard to miss. Everyone who shows up came for a reason; its not a place to visit during your weekend bar crawl.

The place is dark. Real dark. With wood paneling all around and no windows, our group staggered in during a late afternoon summer and let the world around us stop, reentering hours later to the glorious setting sun. I have never felt like such an alcoholic stumbling out of a bar; the world so bright. And that wasn't a bad thing.

Dutch Kills Seating

The first round of drinks we ordered were off the menu. The flavors were bold. The flavors providing big flavors to accompany their fermented friends. Heavy tones of ginger (Gershwin), grape (Garibaldi), and nutmeg (Infante). It was a nice change of pace to be able to sit at a table, indulge in our drinks, and converse quietly. It might have been the time of day, most likely it was, but I can't see the place getting too packed even late nights.

Dutch Kills Menu
The menu.

Dutch Kills drinks
From bottom left(clockwise): Garibaldi, Gershwin, Infante

What Dutch Kills currently lacks is a kitchen. I would be more than happy with some nice roasted peanuts (in the shells please!). Just a little something to munch on while you drink. The hostess made it seem like a kitchen was in the works. But until then, I'll be more than happy with drinks and intoxicated ride back into the city.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Grilling

Al Pastor on the grill

Summer isn't really summer until you've fired up the grill at least once. Grilling is the one cooking task that every man feels like he should be able to do. In the most simple forms it is a giant fire, outdoors, with lots of meat. There are few people I know who did not grow up with some sort of grilling in their life. But most at some point have embraced at least hot dogs and hamburgers thrown on a grill. And even if those hamburger patties and hot dogs are generic and frozen, I have never met a grill that will not make it 100x better. Maybe its the char from an open flame; Something that is hard to replicate indoors. But I'd like to think that its the camaraderie. I think when it comes down to it those Coleman commercials are right, the original social networking networking site was a campsite, with a fire pit and lots of meat.

This year summer has been slow to approach the Northeast. With 3 weeks of rain to start the month of June, I decided to take summer into my own hands and grill for Father's Day, rain be damned. It seemed to work since the next chance I got to grill was for July 4th, where the rain held off and gave us a beautiful day of sun and fun.

I also decided to try new things this year on the grill. The normal fare has always been in pretty generic: home ground hamburgers, chicken wings, marinated chicken breasts, dry rubbed baby back ribs, corn, etc. This year, with some inspiration from the newly revamped and its grilling issue and my friends' trip to Mexico, the food has taken a noticeable turn towards South America.

What I've found amazing in all the recipe's I've tried is the ease in which the items can be eaten over long periods of time. For the July 4th celebration food hit the grill around noon and last almost to midnight and an amazing time was had by all. I think that's the best component of the South American themed feasts. Everything can be put into a corn tortilla and be eaten in moderation. Not to pigeon hole all of South America into one stereo type, but I feel like the culture around that part of the world (or at least my perception of it) translates well to slow drawn out meals.

The food I ended up cooking was inspired by Mexico and Argentina. Both places I have never traveled to but feel very drawn to. Especially when it comes to Mexico's reputation on quick bites and Argentina's grilled meats. I mean my two favorite episode's of Bourdain's show are from those countries. Yes, the Asia episodes always want to make me visit the country of my brethren but the South American episodes make me feel I can get lost in a country I have little understanding of.

Out of all the food pictured, the sticky balsamic ribs are by far my favorite. The al pastor comes in a close second, but I really feel like it needs to be done whole on a spit instead of in chunks on skewers. Others may disagree since it seems like the pork is always the first to go.

Al Pastor
Al pastor: the pineapple chunks are awesome with this. Some day I will get a spit going and do this right.

Sticky Balsamic RIbs
Sticky Balsamic Ribs: My favorite so far. Sweet sweet ribs. A good change from your traditional spicy bbq.

Grilled Corn
Grilled corn. Always a favorite but our attempt to make this with special sauce and crumbly cheese was only a minor success.

Grilled Shrimp with Pineapples
Grilled shrimp. Did this with the wildly addicting miso mayo I previously posted.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On emulsions


There is something magical about an emulsion that makes me giddy. My introduction to emulsions started with mayonnaise. It's amazingly simple. Delicate. Versatile. Lighter than the jarred stuff you grew up with.

The magic is in the process of watching something teeter between a sloppy greasy mess or a light and fluffy spread. A little too much oil at any one moment and your mayo will turn on you quickly. But I've never been prouder than when I saw with my own eyes, something that started to appear like a mayo. There was a point where I thought I had done something wrong. Where it wasn't quite a sloppy mess but nowhere close to what it should be. And then, poof, with it turned for the better. All the whisking was worth it.

The beauty of it all is that this can be a base for so many different flavors. The mayo above turned into a miso mayo based on a Gourmet magazine recipe. I replaced the white miso with a red creating a less creamy and bolder flavor. It was every bit as addictive as Gourmet suggests.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Red Hook Street Vendors

Red Hook Vendors

There's been a lot of drama in the past year surrounding the street vendors in Red Hook, but with all the dust seemingly settled, I was able to make the trek out to the soccer fields, via the free IKEA shuttle and enjoy some tacos.

Two of my friends had just gotten back from a trip down through central Mexico, lounging and relaxing. It seemed the thing they missed the most from their trip was a good Mexican taco. It seemed as if Red Hook would be the next best thing to flying back south of the border.

Tacos Barbacoa, Chicharrón, Al Pastor.

I had 3 tacos (left to right: Barbacoa, Chicharrón, Al Pastor) from the southern most taco truck.

My favorite was definitely the Al Pastor. There was such an intensity of flavors. A perfect blend of sweetness, acidity, and spice. The meat was tender. I wish I had room for more.

The Barbacoa and Chicharrón were mediocre, probably more because of the contrast to the Al Pastor. The Barbacoa was nice because of the perfect subtlety of the goat meat, but the flavors seemed so mellow and passive comparatively. The Chicharrón was odd in a taco and much better by itself. I could have done with a piece just as a side.

Seafood Ceviche

The fish & shrimp ceviche was amazing. There was a chewy texture to the cubes of fish that I could not get enough of. It was a great dish with bold flavors and addicted textures.

The vendors in Red Hook make cheap and delicious food but I'm still on the fence on whether its worth the trip. Even with the free IKEA making it more convenient to get to, its still ends up being a bit of a hike. The ferry doesn't leave as frequently as one might like with more than 40 minutes between each departure. Next time I go, it might have to be a larger part of my day by taking advantage of the nice parks surrounding the vendors and picking up supplies from the giant Swedish chain that provides the transportation.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sake Bar Hagi

Interior Bar Sake Hagi

On the outskirts of the bright lights of Times Square, Sake Bar Hagi sits in the shadows. Its not the type of bar you would expect so close to Times Square. Its so very close to being engulfed by the bright lights, but there it sits in the shadows; an unexpected find even for those who expect to find it. I was looking for it and still I missed it.

A few friends were in town and wanted to visit a late night spot for some food and drink. We decided to give Sake Bar Hagi a try because of its NYTimes review and guest appearance on No Reservations. Bourdain has yet to let me down as a reference point.

Watari Bune, chilling

Our first order of business was deciding on a sake. What we ended up getting was a bottle of Watari Bune's Junmai Ginjo 55 which was a beautiful sweet sake. The flavors were unique with a clean finish. I'm not sure how to fully describe it other than it was a joy to drink throughout the night.

The food was also consistently good, especially for the price point. Even with our sampling of the menu there were a few things I would go back just to try. Overall the menu was a selection of small plates, much like tapas, that go great shared with friends and/or alcohol. Good conversation is a must.

I really liked Sake Bar Hagi because of this. Unlike many places in New York, I wasn't strained when talking to friends. The noise was not overwhelming. The place operated like a restaurant but it felt like a lounge. At least for me, even though the food piqued our interests throughout the night, it was the sake that really defined it. Unique and definitely a clean finish.

Radish Salad w/ crispy baby sardine
Radish Salad w/ crispy baby sardine. This dish was the star of the evening. Ordered 3 times, I would have been happy if it was the only dish. The lightness and subtlety of a lightly pickled daikon, fragrance of a little sesame oil, sweetness and acidity of rice wine vinegar, crispiness of the lightly fried baby sardines, and unique flavor of seaweed all meld together perfectly in this delightful dish.

Yakitori (left to right: chicken skin, chicken meatball, duck, pork belly, chicken). This was pretty average except for the the chicken meatball which was impressively tender and juicy.

Okonomiyaki. This chewy doughy pancake was a delight to eat. I loved the texture of the pancake along with the sauce and bonito.

Grilled Yellowtail Collar w/ salt
Grilled Yellowtail Collar w/ salt. This was a bit salty at times, but the greasy white fish meat was great with the sake. I probably would have liked this more later on in the night, but at that point it may have been harder to handle than I would have liked.

Takoyaki. It might have been because I let this sit a while before I had a piece, but it was a bit soggy for my tastes. The flavors were spot on though.

Cherrystone Clams
Cherrystone Clams. Refreshingly good. Although it did seem like we got one that was pretty bad.

Cold Tofu
Cold Tofu. I didn't have any of this, but I'm not a big fan of most cold tofu's prepped this way. Looked like pretty standard fare.

Some sort of fried root
These were good, but not memorable. It was some sort of fried root. Off the specials menu


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pop Burger

Outside Pop Burger

Pop Burger is one of those places that I constantly walk by but never visit. I've always been intrigued by the glowing interior and just the novelty of it all. I never imagined the food to be stellar. Mostly because the place seemed empty no matter what time I passed. But this week, after my excursion through the Upper West Side back towards my Midtown apartment, I was hungry enough to stop by. Plus, I had a weird craving for a burger of sorts.

Inside Pop Burger

I have to admit, the place was pretty intimidating once I walk in. With glowing walls, no line, and eager employees waiting for my order, I felt the pressure. After taking a quick glance at the menu, I decided on the Pop Burgers. 2 sliders with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce. Pretty generic. It's named after the place. Why not? While I'm at it, a side of onion rings sound good.

Pop Burger(s) & onion rings

The burger was OK. Nothing special. Actually, it was cooked at a pretty good medium. The patty was juicy. The cheese was melty. The biggest infraction? Too much bun for the meat. As far as sliders are concerned, I don't really like it when there is too much bread. With so much bun, it hides a lot of the beef, which was a shame since the patty was actually pretty good. I think I would have loved this if it had more of a softer thinner bun.

The surprise of the meal? The onion rings. I'm pretty picky about my onion rings. I find at most places that the onions are too wet or the the batter is too fried. These were actually perfect. A good crispy fried batter with a dry onion. Not too oily. Perfect with some ketchup/mustard.

After some post meal research, I realized that Pop Burger also has a lounge (follow the red velvet ropes) whose menu (both food and drink) didn't really pique any interest. Would I be returning? Not often and not for the sliders. If I do end up back at Pop Burger, I'd probably try the chicken sandwich which looked pretty well sized and popular. Oh and of course the onion rings.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Making Drinks

a bartender's lemons and limes

You know you've walked into a bartender's home if you see the image above. Not just a mix of lemons, limes, and other fruit but ones that are perfectly zested. I guess the other tell tale signs are the buckets of fermenting peach wine and the well stocked bar.

My friend Stephen is a great guy to have driving the death of your liver. We started off some wine he was able to get at wholesale prices which really made us ponder the ridiculous markup at restaurants. But what I was really looking forward to was what he would serve us once the wine ran out. Now don't get me wrong, the wine was great but its always enjoyable to see a man practice his craft in his own time and environment.

I've always found it difficult to put together menus when cooking for guests. There's a part of me that wants to do something impressive but that usually ends up being so much work that I end up just being the cook and not the host. What I realized works better is to make things that are amazingly simple that require either very little attention or time. That way, with good prep, you can carry on conversation and cook smoothly without breaking a proverbial sweat.

making drinks

This is exactly how Stephen approached the situation. He had a bottle of dark rum he was looking to finish off so he simply paired it with some lemon juice, well shaken with ice, and then strained into your vessel of choice.

The drink? It was nice and smooth and perfectly refreshing the evening and mood. What really got me at the moment was how natural it all felt. The transition from wine to a light mixed drink. The beginning and end of a meal. And how it all complimented a nice evening with friends.