Monthly Archives: May 2009

Alexandre is coming to town

Chilling out at Johnson's

Chilling out at Johnson's

So Fabrice came to New York and left and it went very well thank you. And now Alexandre is coming. Which was discussed at length when Fabrice was in town. See, Alexandre is a different animal. To my greatest despair, Alexandre doesn’t eat. Or worse yet, eating is only a purely physical need in his mind. Also, he doesn’t read blog. That’s a principle (I was shocked to learn this from Fabrice and need an explanation on this one).

Don’t get me wrong, Alexandre is a very dear friend of mine. And also of Florent & Fabrice. Hence I feel safe to say that us three were the ideal combination to design the perfect four-day stay for Alexandre in New York (and it’d better be, perfect, as it took us 2 whole years and a lot of gentle reminder on my part and pushy harassment on Florent’s part to convince him).

Eating yummy smoked beef sandwiches @ Char

Eating yummy smoked beef sandwiches @ Char

Now that you know what Alexandre dislikes, let’s go over what alex likes:

  • Beer. Cheap.
  • Happy Hour. Because it usually is synonymous to cheap beer;
  • Rockn’roll r&n b and rap, un peu;
  • Hype. But not in an obvious way. More in the “discover the hype before anyone else does” kind of way. Think  Williamsburg meets Cobble Hill and they have a drink on the Gowanus Canal.
  • Habits. He likes to go to the same places and get to know the owners.
  • Night. Alex doesn’t really understands why God created days. He thought he should have gone for nights all along.
Sweet Cocktails @ Clover Club

Sweet Cocktails @ Clover Club

So I guess you have a better picture now. Here is the dilemma: find cheap beer spots varied enough to give Alexandre a good selection of Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan sweet spots AND make him to come back and see us again.

We will start by the Gate if the sun is shining. This way he ‘ll get an idea of park slope’s real values. Hopefully there won’t be too many kids. We/I Might eat a burger at Bonnie’s Grill (I’ll escape the Gate if I have to). For after dinner (or rather post-apero, pre-cocktail hours) we’ll try Brooklyn Social. Nice cocktails. And, if the bartender is nicer than last time, Alex might even be able to listen to the wonderful juke box selection he will have put together.

On Friday, we will be heading to Barette to fulfill Alex’s needs of a Happy Hour (2 pints for the price of one ($ 5to6) from 4 to 7pm). I know, we’ll need to get there early – Lovely terrace, lovely Prospect Heights crowd. And then we’ll move two blocks down to Soda.

Alex will drink $1 wisky shots @ char 4, while I try again their lamb sausage. Very nice. Clover Club will be our late

Drinking $1 whisky shots @ Char 4

Drinking $1 whisky shots @ Char 4

night hang out. Very nice cocktails, but @ $10-15 each, we might have to put Alex to bed before then.

Then, we have a very special plan for the week-end. We will HAVE to venture to the LES and try Welcome to the Johnson’s. $1.75 a beer & nice juke box. What else can you ask for? Also, they tend to attract a lot of cute 20-something arts students who are a real pleasure for my aging eyes. Very refreshing. And perfect for Alex’s hungry eyes. At some point we will have to check out BKLYN YARD and see what’s happening (although we may have to bring our own beers). Dancing in silence with your headphones by the somewhat rusty & smelly Gowanus Canal. It doesn’t get any cooler.

(all photos courtesy of Fabrice – Merci Fabrice)

Thank you Heavenly Housewife

The Award

The Award

So I received an award from The Lovely Heavenly Housewife. And I was very flattered. Yes indeed. First because I received an award. And Second because I love what Heavenly Housewife makes and feels flattered that she would think I am worthy of an award.

The award comes with a mission:  it is now my duty to give the award to 10 blogs recently discovered and which I love. So here is my selection:

1. Quatre Cinquieme, my recession buddy. Because I love the blog and am also very fond of the fine lady behind it. You go Alice;

2. Arts &Lemons. Because I love her pictures and the combination of artsy stuff and food. And it has the word lemon in the title. Enough said.

3. The Lunch Box Project: becaude i love the lovely drawings, and dream that one day one of my recipes will be worthy of a drawing. I know, I shouldn’t admit it. And I know, this is not kikely to happen if I continue to go to restaurants instead of cooking;

4. Omnomicum. Because I fell in love with her pancakes (which I discovered thanks to a beautiful drawing of the Lunch Box Project). Now I can’t see a pancake without thinking of her multicolor pancakes.

5. anna the red’s bento factory. Because I love playing with food, but would be utterly incapable of making these kind of things. Also I am reading Oishinbo and am fascinated by Japanese cooking. I am more and more that us Occidentals are just a bunch of barbarians who butcher food. Fish especially. The funny part is, I don’t even know Japanese cuisine that well.

6. The Dustjacket Attic. She has cool music and sweet pictures.

7. Colloquial Cooking. Because she’s French and lives in the US, like me. And swears like me. And had me convinced there could actually be better hot dogs than others.

8. Angela’s Food Love. She is an eggplant-shy like me.

9. Godful Food. Among other things, I relate to her ne rien gacher philosophy (although I think she is way too young to cook & write this well).

10. Heavenly Housewife. I am pretty sure nominating the blog who nominates you defeats the purpose of the whole thing. But it would have been on my list anyway. So.

Rosewater, Park Slope – Do’s and Dont’s

IMG_0440

Go to Rosewater:

  • For dinner;
  • For the entrees. Florent’s roast chicken with fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions and watercress ($21) was the highlight: very moist chicken, and I liked the crispiness and bitterness of watercress, balancing the overall sweetness of the dish. My sauteed fluke with trumpet royale mushroom, baby bok ckoy, beluga lentils, meyer lemon aoli ($23) was also very good. Fluke cooked to – almost – perfection (but I am a perfectionist); I liked the sauce a lot – although would not call it an aioli (but that’s because my father was the only one to make aioli).  Our friend’s lightly smoked duck breast, poached rhubarb, grilled ramps, arugula, blood orange ($25) was, according to him, good although he could not quite taste the rhubarb. Which is a shame, I will agree. I stayed clear from his dish because of the ramps. I am traumatized;
  • If you like chicken (see above);
  • If you like desserts. Especially the caramelized brioche. So on the comfort side of food;
  • If you like brioche (see above);
  • For the ingredients, in general. It is particularly nice to see a chef paying so much attention to freshness and taste;
  • For the service: they offered us our deserts because we waited so long;
  • If you like free desserts (see above);
  • If you are only slightly mildly hurt by the nasty rampant recession. Bill was $174 with tips (there were 4 of us and I am a good tipper). Included a nice $43 Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Domaine Rollin 2006. So more on the high end of the scale for Park Slope.

Don’t go to Rosewater:

  • For brunch – unless you have the appetite of a bird (so not my case);
  • If you are in a hurry. We got there at 7 on a Sunday night (without reservation) and left the table at 10:30. Got seated at 7:30. Had almost finished our bottle when the entrees got there;
  • If you have not reserved (see above);
  • If you are in a hurry and want to eat duck breast (they told us the bird was responsible for the wait);
  • If you are broke (see above);

Thank you.

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So Fabrice is in Town

Nice steak & nice booze @ Jean-Claude

Good company, nice food & nice booze - Jean-Claude, NYC

Yes, he actually managed to overcome his fear of the swine flu. Good for him (and for us of course). Sadly we haven’t been able to visit all the places we wanted to take him to (yet). Typical, you will say: you have everything all planned out, and bim, Florent and Fabrice find more important stuff to do on their own. I actually  hardly saw them yesterday – apparently they had a video conference to attend to in the media room. When I tried to sneak into the room they had their headphones on and the Play Station was on. Weird. Also it was pretty noisy – sounded like a kung-fu battle with a metallic voice saying “YOU LOSE” once in a while. They told me not to worry. But I still worried a little.

That said, we did go out a little bit: I was disappointed by our Get Fresh brunch on Saturday, sadly: I could swear they did not serve as many pancakes as before. My scrambled eggs with heirloom beans and potatoes were not runny enough for me*. A bit dry.

Fabrice’s first reflex upon arrival was to drink a beer. Weird, I know. But the guy lives in Brussels after all. So we went to the Gate. Where else? And, since the weather was pretty nice last Friday we craved for Latin American flavors. So we went to Playa. Not much to say: the kind of restaurant where the food tastes AMAZING when you’ve had a lot of margharitas and beer before. But not so good when you go back there sober.

A nice discovery was Jean-Claude, in the city. I know, I know, a bit tacky to bring your French friend to a French restaurant in NYC (when the guy is only craving for burgers and various iterations of New American cuisine; whatever that means). But I must say I was really impressed by the quality of the meat there, both the lamb loin AND hanger steack: cooked to perfection, and nice gratin dauphinois. Good friends, good meat, and good service (for a French restaurant).

All in all, a nice start. We still have a lot of grounds to cover. It might prove even more difficult with the new swine flu surge. I had to convince Fabrice to get out of the apartment this morning. And that a mask with a pig groin is not (yet) trendy in NYC. We did manage to go to Root Hill for lunch though. And had a nice grilled cheese with bacon and tomato. I think Fabrice would agree that this could qualify as comfort food. Croque-Monsieur a l’americaine, quoi.

*Soon, I’ll write a post about scrambled eggs. And eggs in general actually. For there is one thing I don’t understand here, and it is the fear of eating runny eggs. Let me be clear, to me, scrambled eggs, soft boiled eggs, fried eggs are only good IF they are runny. The best being of course the oeufs a la coque. More on this later.



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Food to Comfort our Minds & Souls

Have you noticed how similar dating and job hunting are? Not that I have dated a lot in the past few years, but I do have a recollection of what it feels like. The joy when the person you like asks you out on the first date; the preparation (“What am I going to wear? What am I going to say? How should I present myself?”); the joy if the first date goes well. The “how come he has not called me yet?“; the second thoughts (“Maybe it did not go so well after all, it’s true that he actually didn’t talk that much. I was all over the place. Oh my god, I was pathetic after all.“)
And then the renewed joy when he calls back, the pressure that builds on you for the second date: “That’s when I need to score. That’s when I need to impress the guy“. And then the preparation. The talks with girlfriend, the “I have to wear something different from last time. What should I be? Corporate yet sexy? Sexy yet corporate? Funny yet focused? Ironic & realistic yet enthusiast?
The dialogues in your head (or even out loud, yes) . Of course you are the wittier funnier sexier yet corporate ever. Insomnia the night before. Butterflies in your stomach the morning of. And then comes the second interview. Well, second date, sorry.Your mouth is really dry, despite the four gums you’ve been chewing for the past three hours and the bottle of water you drank. You can’t talk. Everything you’re trying to say sounds like a pathetic rumble. Your Frrench accent ees strronger zan ever. Seriously, was that a joke I was trying to make? And there you are. Date is over. Interview is done. Your ex-future husband/ex-future boss is no doubt convinced that he made the biggest mistake in his life when accepting a second interview / granting a second date – or vice versa.

What on earth is she talking about? You’re asking yourself. This is a food blog here, not a sexandthecity/monster kind of blog. But you’ll see where I am getting at: for all this job searching has triggered a frequent and nagging need of comfort food. And I am pretty sure that, in this city of lonely souls and high unemployment, I am not the only one. So I thought it might help me, and my gazillions of lonely/unemployed readers to understand what it is that makes a dish comforting.

So here’s my stab at it. This will be my new category – my own little research on comfort food. First of all, let’s define the subject at hand.

Comfort food – i.e. food supposed to make you feel better. But let’s add one limit, just now (and this, after lengthy discussions with Fabrice on the definition and limits of comfort food). Let’s indeed, first focus on food that comforts your soul, not your body. Je m’explique: Fabrice and I agreed (and also Christian, who’s been a great help here) that there are two different types of occurrences when one might need comfort food:

1. When your body aches. For us thirty-something-with-no-kid, this most often happens when we are hangover. OR, when you have the swine flu and miss your mommy (don’t tell me this never happened to you).

2. When your mind or soul hurts. For example, when you’ve just been dumped. Or when you’ve just made a complete fool of yourself at a job interview. Or when you miss your mommy and daddy, alone on a Sunday night in an unfamiliar city.

Why, will you say, am I separating the two kinds? Well because comfort food will not answer to the same needs. In 1. comfort foods caters to a physiological need. In 2., comfort food answers to a psychological need.

So, let’s focus on the second one, and let me start by some rhetorical questions (which you gazillion readers of mine should feel free to answer nevertheless):

  • Is there an ultimate comfort food? or, rather, are there specific ingredients (and here I am thinking FAT, PASTA, POTATOES and CHEESE) which are universal comfort ingredients. OR – is comfort food completely and utterly cultural? OK – I think I know the answer to this one, but still…
  • Is comfort food mostly savory – or sweet?
  • Can comfort food be found in a restaurant? Or is comfort food quintessentially homemade?
  • Is comfort food comforting because it reminds you of happy moments in your life? La madeleine de Proust, quoi.

I won’t answer these questions today. But these will no doubt guide my thinking, which I will happily share with you in the next few weeks.

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Bacon, Bacon, Bacon

IMG_0381Did you notice how PORK was on everybody’s mind these days? Well, unless you leave in a cave, you should have. What with the swine flu, pork cheeks, pork butts, Little Giant’s Swine of the week, Park Slope Pork-Off, not to forget my Pork Shoulder of course, David Chang’s love affair with pork. Et j’en passe.

I have to say that this is actually to my liking. I love Pork. For many reasons:

  • it is cheap
  • it reminds me of my father (the venerable man was infatuated with pork, especially pork chops)
  • it is versatile
  • and it is cheap
  • also my mother (who grew up in a farm) told me that pigs were very nice pets and she would always have a pig following her around all day long (that is, before the poor animal was slaughtered).

And, like a lot of people, one of my favorite cuts is BACON. Why? Well, for the afore-mentioned reasons. The good thing about bacon is that it is a cheap and a quick way to give that soup this smokey flavor it lacked. Or to turn regular pates au fromage (the French version of the Mac&Cheese) into some sort of carbonara.

One of the problems I faced when I emigrated here though, was that bacon was not cut to my taste. Or rather, packages were so huge I was always afraid bacon would go bad. And I hate to throw food away. So I found my own little trick: I freeze it, and slice it while it’s still frozen (this way I can put the rests back in the freezer). See the picture: it’s cool, he? OK, I guess that doesn’t really work when you want your slices of bacon for breakfast. But I don’t usually do this. It’s not in my culture.

So what do I do with bacon? Pretty much everything:

  • Soups: I always add a little bacon in my soups – to give it that extra flavor of meat, fat & smoke. Granted, it is not as good as throwing the bone from the roast, but it’s pretty close. (I have the most joyful memory of a soup made by my then-best-friend’s-mother when I was a kid in the Lot (merveilleux Lot, country of melons and asparagus), cooked in the antic fireplace (and, no, I swear, I am not making this up) where she threw the rests of the night before’s roti. That was memorable. It could also be nice to add a little bacon to your chicken stock (because yes, you HAVE to make your chicken stock yourself, no excuse).
  • Add bacon to your pasta – to turn it either in carbonara (see for example my Baby Spinach Carbonara), or to your Bolognese sauce.
  • And of course, bacon is good with eggs. Very good even. Particularly in Quiche Lorraine I must say. Or any form of quiche you may think of.

Last but not least: I would advise AGAINST buying the cheapest bacon you could find. You know I am cheap. So I tried. But it was gross, let me tell you. I could barely find the bacon once I had sautee it. So please buy the good stuff. Also, when I sautee bacon (especially for Quiche Lorraine), I usually get rid of the fat before adding any other ingredients.

A Perfect Dinner…ou presque

Homey & Designy Little Giant

Homey & Designy Little Giant

So here we are at Little Giant (Lower East Side). The sun is actually shining this time. A perfect Saturday evening is unfolding before our eyes (I know it is a perfect day when I sing Lou Reed’s “oh it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you” for myself – no kidding).
I love the decor of the restaurant, there is a table on the terrace and Florent and I can sip our cocktails there – and we end up eating there as well. The menu sounds promising, all the more that there are some ingredients I quite don’t understand – and one in particular that pops up almost everywhere in the menu: RAMPS.

“Euh, excuse me, miss, please – what are “ramps” ?
“It’s a wild leek – tastes between a leek and a scallion.

Niiiiiiiiice, I thought: the sweetness of the leek with an onion twist.

So, as I said, it all started well, with a truly homy yet designy decor.  Florent, his cousin, his uncle and I ordered some of the “nibbles” well, to nibble on. The deviled eggs were a bit too dry for me, not enough mayo, quoi. I liked the ricotta in the braised artichokes: very rich. The artichokes were not very tasty though. I really liked the warm spinach & feta dip. I couldn’t quite taste the feta in there , but it reminded me of a dish I loved when I was a kid. My mother’s ex-boyfriend’s mother (my mother’s love life is…complicated) used to make it for me for Sunday lunch. That’s how I learned to like spinach:  it was a very rich and creamy spinach gratin, with the spinach du jardin and a nice thick bechamel. Delicious. And Little Giant is right to serve this as a nibble. It is pretty heavy, as you can imagine. So, Little Giant: for your Spinach Feta Dip – I am eternally grateful.

The Menu looked appetizing too

The Menu looked appetizing too

So far so good – or at least OK. I can’t say I was hugely impressed by the appetizers (besides the Feta dip, that is), but I was in good company and I liked the waitress (efficient but not in your face). In fact, we were in such a good mood that we barely noticed that 30 minutes had passed and our entrees were still not served. Let me be clear here: I hate, HATE when you are barely done with your appetizers and they already serve the entrees. I may have a big appetite (and I think Florent tends to think that my appetite is really too big these days) but I need time  between my dish, so that I can look forward to the next dish. Donc, a good 45 minutes after we finished our “nibbles”, entrees were served. And that’s when disappointment arised. Big time.

We had a ramp theme going on on our table. I was rooting for the “ramps & orrecchiette, with ramp puree & braised ramps, poached organic egg & bread crumbs” but was keeping a close eye on Florent’s “veal shortribs, all-natural milk-fed veal, sauteed ramps stone-ground grits, roasted cherry tomatoes”. Let’s start with my dish:

  • the pasta was al dente – much to my liking;
  • braised ramps. What? Braised ramps? Where? Believe me I looked. But I couldn’t find them. So I asked:

“Excuse me euh sorry to ask but, where are the braised ramps please (and sorry again)? Well, they are in the sauce. Ah, ok”*

I was not convinced by her answer. Don’t mention braised ramps if they are not visible on my plate.

  • and then the taste.  Well, let’s just say ramps are very, very powerful, more on the garlic side than the leek side of the family. And that’s something I would have liked to know before ordering. Second, I am a firm believer of using garlic & onions in reasonable amounts. Florent doesn’t like garlic or onions so I have to play tricks. Here, I couldn’t finish my plate. Which is highly, highly unusual (to Florent’s great despair). Since then, I did a little research. Turns out it is a wild leek – which smells & taste half way between garlic & scallions and looks similar to scallions. It’s harvested in the Appalachians and apparently they go crazy over that little thing there. There’s a Ramp Festival, and even an entire website dedicated to wild leeks recipes.

Let’s focus on Florent’s plate now:

  • Sauteed ramps? Check . And it was not nearly as strong as my ramps puree (or maybe my palate was numb after the orecchiette)
  • Stone-ground grits. Ok, that definitely sounds cool and natural and fancy too. But does it imply that I can actually feel the grains of grits under my teeth? Well, not in my world. In my world, polenta – and grits are all about creaminess, smoothness and tenderness. Ok, there might be some graininess involved too. But these grits were not cooked enough.
  • Veal shortrib : tenderness? Check. But the ribs were white. I mean there was no color or crispiness there. It was a bit sad.

Ramps by Adrianne Picciano

Ramps by Adrianne Picciano

So yes, I was disappointed. Luckily the desserts made everything better. I am not usually not a fan of desserts but I would give a big high five for the sticky toffee pudding. And the lemon-ricotta fritters with lemon curd were also very light and the tanginess of the curd was nicely counterbalanced by the ricotta…

Sadly, the bill came. L’addition etait plutot salee.…$90 per person (we did order two bottles of wine though).

Would I go back? Well…maybe. First because I completely trust Catherine’s tastes, (she recommended the restaurant) and I am pretty sure that she had a very nice meal when she went there. Also, they change their menu all the time (they are all about seasonality, organic, all-natural, etc.) and I certainly commend them for using unusual ingredients. And, they made me want to try and cook ramps (if I ever find any).

*I have to say that, to my despair, I am not the most assertive kind of gal. I hate scandals and people yelling and am usually a perfect well-behaved costumer.
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