It’s Almost Thanksgiving…

…so of course I’m thinking about how to best cope with most of my extended family in my house at the same time, while a turkey that nobody likes dries to sawdusty ash in the oven, and my sister Instagrams fun pictures from her festive and stress-free “friendsgiving” out of state.

That’s right, I’m thinking alcohol. Bloody Marys, to be exact, because they ae appropriate to drink at any time of day, ESPECIALLY before noon.

Which is especially when I’ll need that little helper.

Of course, you might want to eat while you drink. In that case, check out my latest article for Chow.com.

Or just indulge in a glass or 6 of the real stuff.

Happy weekend!

Charming Charleston – One Fabulous Dinner at Husk

It’s been a long time since an American focused fancy restaurant has really wowed me. Maybe that’s because I generally prefer the assertive tastes and spices of Southeast Asian cuisine. Maybe it’s because if I have a special occasion meal, I want the pomp and circumstance that French restaurants offer. Maybe it’s because I have been known to eat a slow cooker full of meat and cheese dip on Superbowl Sunday.

Whatever the reason, I just don’t usually get fine dining American restaurants.

But then, I don’t usually get to eat at Husk.

Sean Brock’s restaurants have earned him cookbook deals, James Beard Awards, and the respect of the entire country – it’s easy to see why. Husk prides itself on being an entirely Southern restaurant. As in, everything that you eat has originated in the South and will be prepared in traditional Southern ways, with a few fusion and high end touches thrown in for good measure.

20141115_203652 The board that shows where the products come from each day. Pork, beef, fish, kale, sesame seeds…every damn thing comes from the South. It takes locavorism to a whole new level.
20141115_211738 Though this restaurant is widely regarded as one of Charleston’s best, but it isn’t at all stuffy. You want to wear a collared shirt or a cocktail dress, but you are greeted warmly and practically expected to pick up chicken bones with your fingers to be sure to get every succulent morsel. This place is perfect for a night out with real foodie friends.  20141115_214302 Benne seed rolls and pork butter

Sesame seeds are widely used in Charleston’s cuisine and are called benne seeds, from the African word for sesame seeds. The rolls are warm and fluffy – a little sweet and cottony for my tastes, but he butter absolves these of any evils. Pork butter. Sweet, savory, and a little salty. It compliments the slight nuttiness of the seed-topped bread and as it melts in yellow rivulets onto the rolls, it brings bread to a new level. Great way to start the night.

20141115_214753 Kentuckyaki Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Napa Cabbage and Shiitake “Slaw” with Toasted Peanuts, Cucumber-Lime Dressing

The best pig’s ears I have ever had – and I love pig ears. These were highly recommended by our gregarious server, and he was dead on. These put bacon to SHAME – they are so crispy, so crunchy, but not too hard or stiff to easily bite. They are infused with barnyard, porky flavor that is intense and complex – to me, it tastes almost like boar in its flavor. Not gamy, just deep. They are tossed in a sweet and salty Asian bbq style sauce. The ears are topped with a crunchy, tart slaw and wrapped in sweet butter lettuce leaves. This is an excellent balance of flavors and textures, using an ingredient that we don’t see too much up here in NYC. It’s also the restaurant’s philosophy in a single bite. Local ingredients, traditional techniques, fusion and high end flavors. Fantastic. I almost ordered another one of these for dessert.  20141115_214806 Wood Fired Clams, Sweet Corn “Chowder,” Hot Sauce with Herbed Chicken Fat, Mustard Greens and Crispy Chicken Skins

Finally, Jewish comfort food and Southern comfort food united in all of their savory glories. This is talk stoppingly delicious. Corn chowder is sweet and rich, but not at all greasy – it’s just rich with the corn milk and probably some butter. The clams are juicy and soft, offering some briny, salty flavor to the earthy soup. The chicken skins are…unreal. Almost like fried clams themselves, with a feather-light textures and crispy, potato-chip crunchiness. And get a load of that beautiful wooden serving bowl!
20141115_221719 Amberjack from Mark Marhefka, Roasted Cauliflower and Butternut Squash, Tuscan Lacinato Kale, Brown Butter

Amberjack is one of my favorite fish and I was incredibly pleased with this preparation. I liken this fish to a slightly firmer Chilean sea basS (Which I haven’T had in years, since it’s in danger of becoming extinct). It’s mild, soft, and extremely delicious. The brown butter is so..buttery. Nutty, rich, sweet. It really anchors the fish and is perfect with the tender kale. The squash is a little underdone, but the cauliflower is crispy, brown, and addictive.  20141115_224715 Espresso and Doughnuts

Espresso cake and doughnut ice cream. Super caffeinated and super sweet. I especially love the extra smooth ice cream with crumbles of doughnuts beneath.

Husk is a must visit when in Charleston. It’s so wonderful that it’s almost worth a trip just to eat there. I never really GOT Southern food before  I visited Charleston. This meal was delicious, the portions are great, and the prices are beyond fair. I can’t wait to go back for more pig ears.

I’ll see ya soon, Charleston.

Two Hits and a Miss

20141113_090929 Honey Haus latte

This tiny East Village coffee shop looks ho-hum from the outside, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This is the finest latte I have ever had in NYC, with some of the friendliest service. Get it with whole milk and you will absolutely marvel at the complex taste of the espresso. Deep, earthy, spicy, a little sweet, and – shockingly – not at all bitter. Either they roast their beans expertly, pour just enough milk to counteract the burn of the espresso, or both. It’s creamy, warming, and so tasty that it requires no sugar. Grab one of the 2 seats at the wee little bar at the window if you can, and watch the parade of humanity as you sip. 
20141113_170703 Drugstore cornstarch substitution

Lots of savory recipes need cornstarch, especially when making beef with broccoli (a technique called velveting that makes the protein tender). However, when it’s cold and rainy and mama has had a long day…she ain’t schlepping through Trader Joe’s just for a tiny box of cornstarch. Luckily, your local drugstore probably has the substitute in the grocery section. Gravy packets might taste like nasty sodium bombs on their own, but it’s almost ENTIRELY cornstarch with some salt. So, use it to velvet your protein or thicken your sauce, reduce the salt, and voila…the joys of cornstarch with none of the grocery store hassle. 

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Momofuku cookbook fish sauce vinaigrette

One of my favorite cookbooks, one of the worst sauces I have ever put in my mouth. Honestly…vom. Like putrid, rotten anchovies with a hit of spice. That’s it. Yigghhh. I guess I’m not as authentically Vietnamese as I wish.

 

Charming Charleston: Hominy Grill Turns a Yankee to a Southern Belle

My 24 hour jaunt to Charleston started off with a BANG!

20141115_122539 Hominy Grill is one of Charleston’s most lauded brunch spots. It focuses on Southern comfort food and the entire feel to the place is homey, relaxed, and fun. Hominy Grill doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait in line (with cocktail, of course!) or take your chances on getting seated on the patio. It was a chilly day so we were lucky enough to snag a heating lamp and get seated right away on the patio.  20141115_123733 Bloody Mary

Spicy, strong, and savory. Homemade bloody mix with quite a healthy kick of Mary. It’s not too spicy but it has a definite nasal-kicking hit of horseradish. It’s just what you want in a Bloody Mary and it starts the weekend off RIGHT.  20141115_124715 Fried green tomatoes with homemade ranch dressing

Perfect. Crispy, thin breading around tart, juicy green tomatoes. They are piping hot – literally,s teaming in the middle – and served with creamy, herb flecked ranch dressing that redefines my idea of that condiment. These aren’t like fried pickles or tart picked green tomatoes – they have a mild, almost sweet taste and are totally addictive.

20141115_125446 Nasty Charleston

Let’s break it down:

Biscuit – sky high and tender with a texture so light tha it almost floats away. Not too buttery or at all salty – it’s all about the texture and providing a backdrop to the other ingredients.

Fried chicken – delicious. Crispy, thick exterior spiked with garlic and salt. the interior is uniformly thin but thick enough to be juicy. It’s fresh and succulent – it would be ideal on its own with a dash of Tabasco.

Cheddar cheese – sharp, melty, salty and – importantly – not overwhelming.

Sausage gravy – creamy, peppery, porky, perfect.

Basically, biscuits and gravy have a new place in my heart and stomach.
20141115_125513 Fried Chicken

A revelation, plain and simple. The best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my life. Juicy, crispy, and tender. Drizzled with spicy honey and tempered with pickled okra and carrots.  20141115_130011 Fatty and juicy and meaty and crunchy. All of my favorite words. I am in no way a fried chicken person, and I am telling you that this is a dish for the ages. I still dream of it.  20141115_132716 Hominy Grill is delightful. It’s just the simplest food made better than any Yankee has ever had it. The fried chicken is unmissable and the service is so kind and friendly that you may just friend your server on Facebook when you leave the restaurant. The food is downright CHEAP and the menu is so full of delicious things that I wouldn’t even repeat anything next time! Except for the bloody mary. And those tomatoes. And the duck sausage hash that I didn’t even photograph. Okay, I would repeat a lot of dishes.

What can I say, I love me some Hominy Grill.

Charming Charleston: Drinks and Dessert

I can finally say that I see the light. I see why people are obsessed with the South and don’t want to leave it once they visit there. 

I have seen the light in the form of Charleston, South Carolina. Beautiful shop-lined streets, horse and carriage rides just because it’s Saturday, and food.

WOW. FOOD. 

I had two outrageously delicious restaurant meals, but if you wanted to get just drinks and desserts, you could do that in Charleston and be mighty pleased.  20141115_134448 Sugar Bakeshop

This diminutive bakery is what Magnolia must have been before “Sex and the City” turned it into the slut of the West Village. It’s no larger than your first studio walk up and filled to the brim with cookies and cupcakes. The servers are helpful, the prices are more than fair, and the cupcakes are DIVINE. Don’t miss the cream cheese icing if you can help it – it’s the smoothest, creamiest icing I have ever enjoyed, with just the slightest tang.  20141115_134759 Lemon cupcake

For the true lemon baked goods connoisseur. The cake is fluffy and moist, with a very tender, loose crumb. It doesn’t crumble, it more melts in your mouth. The center is filled with a tart, pleasantly lip-puckering lemon curd, and the icing is bright, rich, and very sweet. It’s refreshing and decadent at the same time. A must get, especially if the weather is nice enough so that you can enjoy the bakery’s adorable courtyard while you indulge. 
20141115_195101 The Gin Joint

Some of the best cocktails for the price that I have enjoyed anywhere. For $10…that’s right, $10…I treated myself to a bespoke cocktail using only the words “vegetal” and “strong.” This beaut came with gin, aperol, and cucumber. It’s definitely strong, but also well balanced – sweet, tart, and a little savory. It’s the ideal way to start the evening – or end it! The restaurant is tiny (a theme in Charleston eateries), but friendly and upscale-casual. I would definitely go back for another drink or one of the delicious looking pork buns!

Next up: Bloody Marys and fried chicken

Black Bean Soup

This is a great detox soup for when you have eaten too much meat, too much bread, and too much wine.

It’s vegan, filled with fiber, and comes together in about 30 minutes.

Better than that…it acutally tastes like none of the above.

It’s rich and hearty and spicy and savory.

Not to mention crazy cheap.

That’s right…it’s black bean soup time.

Black Bean Soup

black bean soup Ingredients:

2 cans black beans, drained

2 cups low sodium or unsalted chicken or vegetable stock

1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 3 big carrots, all diced

2 tsp. fresh or frozen ginger

4 jalapenos or 2 serranos en escabeche, chopped

2 tbsp. each cumin and coriander

1 tbsp. oil

salt and pepper to taste

cheese, sour cream, and cilantro to garnish

IMG_1791 1. Sautee the garlic, onions, carrots, and peppers in an oiled pan over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions have turned translucent and the garlic has released its scent.  IMG_1795 You want the onions to brown and the garlic to turn golden but not too dark – no burning here! IMG_1820 2. Add the stock, seasonings, and one can of the beans. Turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then bring it down to medium and let it all cook under a lid for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are super soft.  IMG_1828 3. Bring out that immersion blender and whirl it into a smooth paste – add more stock if necessary. Now, add the next can of beans and taste for seasonings.  IMG_1829 4. Serve with garnishes.

This looks like mud and tastes like home. Piping hot and creamy, with the kick coriander and the tang of those vinegary preserved peppers. I highly recommend that you de-veganize this by adding some creamy Greek yogurt and some sharp cheddar cheese. My better half perefers some sausage in this, but I think it’s perfect as is. It is so filling and tastes rich, but what is it, really? Some veggies and broth…that’s it!

It almost makes detox look fun.

Blue Smoke – My Favorite BBQ in NYC

I’m not a big one for BBQ. I would almost always rather have the Korean version or some steak. But, when the group wants some ribs and beers, I can hunker down with the best of them. This particular group voted to try Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke.

20141109_182410 This restaurant is huge and casual – big bar playing sports on the televisions, massive tables, and Texan sized booths. This is perfect for a rowdy crowd of friends, a family with young kids, or some folks who want some wings and beer while they watch the game.


20141109_184455 BBQ potato chips with blue cheese bacon dip

Sleeper hit of my LIFE! This is almost perfect - greaseless, crispy chips that are HUGE, smoky, and a little sweet. Then they are dipped in some of the greatest blue cheese dressing that I have ever enjoyed. I mean, really…excellent dressing. Super tick and tangy with hunks of salty, funky cheese, sharp chives, and crispy bacon crumbles. The only way that this could be better is if the chips were warm, which the menu stated that they should be. These are a MUST GET.
20141109_191320 Grits

Soupier than I normally have, but delicious. A little sweet, super buttery,and the perfect vehicle for the vineagary house made hot sauce.  20141109_191325 Sampler platter

A must get if , like me, you are new to this ‘cue.

Backyard chicken – surprisingly delicious! The chicken is charred and smoky, with a hefty dose of salt and pepper. Teh meat inside is juicy and prime for the tangy housemade bbq sauce.

Sausage – I wasn’t even fast enough to snag this.

Pulled pork – excellent. Tender but not cottony with an equal balance of meat, spicy, tangy, and savory flavors. Didn’t need any other accompaniment.

Ribs – the best. I would get these baby backs again any day of the week. Sublime - almost as good as Chinese ribs. A thickly burnished, lacquered surface with fatty, soft, meaty flesh. The favorite of the platter, especially when enjoyed with the sweet and salty pickles.

20141109_200213 Chocolate layer cake

Nothing that great – a little dry, a little flat in the flavor department. The banana cream pie fares much better, but best of all is the espresso, served with a side of amaretto.

This place is great! It’ ain’t REAL down home ‘cue, but it beats the heck out of Dinosaur and it certainly scratches the itch for some great ribs and grits.

Mile End’s Awesome Smoked Meat Hash

A little late to the game, I headed to Mile End for brunch.

20141109_100728 Upside of being late to the game: Now wait at primo brunch time. Walk tight in, grab a table, and order a TON of Montreal Jewish food.

They have poutine at 10 am, y’all. I serious regret not ordering it.

20141109_102308 Latkes

The only dark spot in an otherwise shining experience. These are properly crispy without  but much too dense, bordering on leaden, within. I want my latkes like crunchy flavor ninjas not heavy potato bombs.  20141109_102314 Montreal style bagel with whitefish

The bagel is almost a revelation. It’s fluffy and chewy within, with a slightly sweet, thin, properly crispy crust. It’s lighter than typical NY bagels but with a pleasant sour tang that Montreal bagels lack. It’s a fantastic hybrid. The whitefish salad isn’t my favorite – it’s not creamy enough or seasoned enough. I far prefer Russ and Daughters -but this bagel would be fabulous with a schmear and some lox. Destination worthy item for sure.  20141109_102320 Smoked meat hash

My favorite hash in town. Sorry, mom, this even beats yours. The smoked meat here – pastrami to us hooligans in NYC – is phenomenal. Fatty and thick cut, with a peppery, spicy edge that isn’t too salty or unnecessarily greasy. It’s paired with sweet onions and soft on the inside, cirsp on the outside, cubed potatoes. Oh yeah, and it’s topped with a lovely fried egg. Add some Sriracha (available on request), and you’re in business.

The shocking part about this isn’t that it isn’t crazy heavy – the portion is perfect for sharing and the flavors are balanced and tasty.  20141109_102330 Chicken liver with gribenes

It ain’t Sammy’s, but what is? Add some pickles to the light, creamy pate and you are in business. What it lacks in salt it makes up for in smooth texture and deep, mineral flavors. Those pickled onions are sweet, tangy, and really phenomenal. I would absolutely order this again – the soft pumpernickel bread ain’t no slouch, either.

20141109_100847 Mile End was worth the wait! Prices are on the high side, but portions are fair, service is great, and food is awesome! Head here for some smoked meat and a bagel. I loved this so much that my next stop might just have to be Montreal!

Upland – A Tasty, if Pricey, Neighborhood Bistro

First the moral: Don’t run to a new restaurant just because it’s on Eater’s hot list.

Now the story:

Last Saturday night, we rushed to our reservation at Upland, the much buzzed about new restaurant by chef Justin Smille, lately of Il Buco Alimentari. It’s a seasonal restaurant with California twists from his native Upland. I used to do improv matches in Upland all the time, so I was obviously eager to see how someone could make my hometown comfort food seem high end and special.

Upland is casual but trendy, with a long, oval bar and plenty of seating. The space is dark but not too much so, and seems perfect for a double date or a quick appetizer with friends before hitting the town.

20141108_190739 Potato bread and butter with smoked salt, chives, and lemon zest

A high point of the evening. The bread arrives warm and light, with a fluffy but not cottony texture. The butter melts quickly on the bread, imparting a slightly sharp, slightly citrusy scent to the bread. We devoured this loaf and would have gladly asked for another.  20141108_193652 Beef tartare with puffed rice, anchovy, and egg yolk

Meh. The seasoning is all off for me – mushrooms make it earthy to the point of tasting like dirt. The puffed rice seems textually incongruent and the whole thing lacks salt and spice. Some tabasco sauce or lemon juice would do wonders for this, because the beef is tender and hand cut and the yolk is wonderfully rich. Unfortunately, this falls way flat for me.  20141108_193701 Crispy artichokes

Very good, if uninspired. The artichokes come in full, meaty bites with clumps of super crispy leaves. They are like potato chips, but even better because of their garlicky-buttery-lemony bath. They aren’t too greasy or too salty – bar food done really  well.  20141108_195736 Farro spaghetti with uni, scallion, and sesame

The best entree that we ordered (skip the branzino, which is fine but nothing more.) The pasta comes chilled and is naturally al dente, with a lovely, wheaty taste. It contrasts well with the briny, clean, almost sweet uni. This must be Santa Barbara uni, judging from its mild flavor. The cold, chewy pasta is tempered with nutty sesame oil, sharp scallions,and just a hint of heat. This is an excellent dish - while not destination worthy, its certainly a must get if you are here.
20141108_203801 Cinnamon sugar doughnuts

Warm, light, sweet. Very tasty, especially with the stracciatella ice cream.

20141108_190338 If this meal were half the price, I would declare it a triumph. However, for the pacing and the price…well, this is just not a great value. The food tastes like a very good neighborhood spot, but the hype is that it’s the second coming of you-know who. If this were billed as what it is – a lovely neighborhood joint – I would have loved it. So, if you go there with those expectations and very deep pockets – you will be impressed. And don’t miss the carbs here – bread, spaghetti, and doughnuts make a mighty fine meal here.

Upland on Urbanspoon

Pure Thai Shophouse’s Subtle Lunch

It’s been a long time since I went to Pure Thai Shophouse, mostly because I moved out of the neighborhood. It’s too casual to be a destination place – stools with no backs, no reservations taken, usually a long line out back. But when I stopped by the old neighborhood for lunch, I popped in here.

And wow was it worth it.

via

Curry puffs

The best curry puffs in the city. I have tried them all, so you may believe me on this. These are sublime. The pastry is buttery and flaky, strong enough to dip into the accompanying sweet and tangy cucumber sauce without breaking. The filling is dense and fragrant with curry powder. Curry has so many layers of flavor – floral and earthy and savory and spicy. This curry has them all – it’s a small handful but the flavor packs quite a punch. Don’t miss these fabulous vegetarian curry puffs.

20141103_140901

Pork Larb

This daily special is light, subtly flavored, and downright delicious. Many versions of larb rely heavily on garlic, onion, and chiles – this was all about he subtle flavors. The earthiness of gritty toasted rice powder. Pork’s inherent sweetness. Cilantro’s grassy scent. The onions are tempered by a quick minute over the heat and the garlic is not overpowering. This is a must get.

20141103_140643

Green Papaya Salad

Good but not spectacular.The chewy little dried shrimp are a welcome addition and the papaya is crunchy in a citrusy dressing. However, the dressing is too soupy and not nearly spicy enough. even though I asked for it a s spicy as it comes, it was barely at a medium heat level. This is a nice palate cleanser, but not much more than that.

Pure Thai is great for a quick Thai lunch that is easy on the wallet and the halitosis. It’s not as garlicky or spicy as my beloved Pam, but it’s not as salty either – you won’t leave feeling bloated. I’ll be back for those curry puffs ASAP!