Dirty French – Dirty in All the Right Places

I’ll cut to the chase: I ate at what is probably the hottest opening of the (late) summer this weekend.

Dirty French, from the team behind Carbone and ZZ’s Clam Bar, among others, is on the Lower East Side and it couldn’t be cooler. It’s in The Ludlow hotel and the look is ultra cool Brooklyn meets Moroccan bazaar meets modern art gallery. It’s dark, it’s loud, and the hostesses are all impossibly beautiful. I felt pretty old and uncool, so don’t bring parents or an intimate first date here. This is prime real estate for business people with deep pockets, Euro-celebs, and – of course – foodies looking to see if Dirty French lives up to its elder siblings’ reputations.

The menu isn’t classical French – it’s made up of all of the foods of places that French cuisine has had influence – heavy on the Moroccan and New Orleans dishes.

Shall we begin?

20140906_204318 Oysters shown tableside

Honestly, it seems gimmicky. They are all East coast oysters, which I certainly enjoy, but there is nothing like a small, deep cupped, creamy West Coast oyster. I find East Coast oysters to – generally -be a little brinier and flatter tasting. These come in a variety of preparations, with spicy garnish or baked with garlic and butter, but we didn’t try any that night. Also, this raw bar selection is market price, which is always scary when it comes time for the check.
20140906_205820 Ludlow Gimlet

A refreshing, cooling citrus cocktail.None of that pine-y taste that gin sometimes has. It’s a little sweet from the apricot liqueur, which softens the tart lime juice and rounds out the edges. This is strong but not hit-you-over-the-head-powerful and it’s an ideal aperetif.
20140906_210330 Warm bread and herbed yogurt

One of the hits of the night. No kidding…what’s the last time that you can say that the complimentary bread was a better than the foie gras (which, by the way, was good enough to try but not to get again – a little greasy and lacking salt)? This arrives on a silver platter piping hot from the oven. It’s a naan/doughnut hybrid that is puffy, doughy, and slicked with butter and salt. It’s tasty enough to eat on its own, but when you spoon some sumac dusted yogurt over it and let it melt into the warm bread…well, then it’s a course unto itself. Cool, hot, creamy, tangy, soft, and buttery…I’m not writing a poem, I’m just eating bread. Really, stupidly, amazingly tasty bread.
20140906_210959 Beet and Roquefort salad

This could be so mundane, but the attention to detail makes it shine brighter than similar salads in town. The beets are clearly home roasted, with a toothsome texture and almost candy sweet taste that is echoed by the crunchy candied walnuts. Thinly sliced apples, miniscule slivers of chives, and some really creamy, salty Roquefort complete the dish. Everything is bite sized and easy to enjoy in one mouthful. Plus, it helps lighten up a meat-focused meal.
20140906_211007 Boudin with pickled onions and Creole mustard

Outstanding – a refined, subtle version of the down home original. This is what a great restaurant does – it takes something that you know and love, and honors it by putting its own stamp on the food. Dirty French succeeds here, with a sausage that is tender and rich with pork and liver flavor. It’s not overly garlicky or salty and really lets the minerally taste of the liver shine, almost like chicken liver pate. The outside is crispy and lacquered in an almost sweet glaze that works with the pickled onions and the spicy Creole mustard. If you like sausage, you just have to try this boudin…it is a show stopper.

20140906_211112 Lamb carpaccio with figs, yogurt, and pita

Unique and tasty, but not a must order. The lamb is beautifully butchered and sliced paper thin in sweet, mild slices, but it lacks a lot of taste. The figs and yogurt seem to overpower it. I prefer steak tartare to carpaccio, and perhaps if the lab was ground instead of slice, it would have been more to my liking, but here it just disappeared.
20140906_213545 Chicken with crepes

Shut. it. down.  (Thanks, Rachel Zoe). Get this. Moroccan chicken meets Peking duck. The breasts are seared and served with harissa, spicy mustard, and sweet chutney that you roll into thin crepes like Peking duck. The legs come later, barbecued under a peppery, lacquered skin that is the legal version of crack. The legs come fully intact with feet and claws, so order another cocktail if you are feeling squeamish.
20140906_213852 Or just eat another one or 2 of the white meat filled crepes.

I didn’t even touch on the salmon maison or the absolutely EXCELLENT, UNMISSABLE POMMES FRITES (do not leave here without getting these!). So, most of the food was excellent and the vibe was super cool – why am I not giving this place an unmitigated rave review? A few things brought down the general feel of the night:

Service: Aloof at first, then warmed up to excellent service by the end of the night. Still, the beginning was so reserved and slow (cocktails alone took about 20 minutes), that it was hard to shake that.

Price: It’s expensive and without many of the perks that you get from restaurants in a similar price range. No mignardises, no super personalized attention, no questions about allergies to certain foods.

Location: Wherever you live, this is not near it. It’s just a PITA to get down here, and while I might visit it a lot more if it was farther west or farther uptown, I’m unlikely to make another special visit here.

So, what’s my takeaway? This place is great, if expensive. It needs to iron out a few kinks, but the food is interesting and delicious – not to mention, much needed in the Moroccan void that is NYC. Its longevity will, I predict, be determined by how well it fine tunes its service and listens to the neighborhood’s demands, since few of us are likely to make this a weekly trip.

But, with pommes frites and bread like this…a trip at least once is well worth it.

Dirty French on Urbanspoon

Creamy Moroccan Carrot Soup

I have been on a carrot streak lately.

Roasting them with hot chile paste. Shredding them into coleslaw mix. Dipping them into blue cheese dressing, au naturel.

And making them into this decidedly un-summery soup. It’s vegetarian and extremely easy to make – in an hour or so, you have a homemade, creamy, comforting soup with zam-pow punch that will knock you off your feet.

Creamy Moroccan Carrot Soup

2011-12-18 tsimis brisket liver hummus latkes Ingredients:

1 lb. peeled and roughly chopped carrots (yes, I used the baby ones…it’s easy, so kill me.)

1 tbsp. veggie oil

1 onion, 1 garlic clove, 1 bunch celery, chopped

2 tsp. grated ginger, fresh or frozen but not dried

2 tsp-1 tbsp. harissa paste (no tomato in the mix)

2 good glugs of ketchup

2 tbsp. ras el hanout

6 cups chicken stock

cream, salt, and pepper to taste

cilantro to garnish

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1. Get those onions, garlic, and celery, in the olive oil over medium heat. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are softened and start to turn translucent.

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2. Add the carrots, the chicken stock, harissa paste, ras el hanout, and ketchup. Yes, ketchup. Trust me, it’s the secret star ingredient. Stir and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the carrots are soft. Check once, halfway through, to make sure that he veggies aren’t burning to the bottom of the pan.

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3. Using an immersion blender, bend the carrots when they are mushy and falling apart. Add some cream and taste for seasonings. I always add a lot of pepper and just a touch of salt.

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4. Garnish with cilantro and serve

This soup will cure what ails you. It takes ginger carrot soup to the next level. Ras el Hanout is a North African spice mixture that includes ginger, cumin, corinader, and many other spices. It’s floral, earthy, and fragrant. It is flavorful but not at all spicy – that’s where the harissa comes in. Just use a little because it’s quite potent! And the ketchup….oh, that’s the ticket. It provides a totally unidentifiable sweet, bright backnote. It’s sweet, bright, and brings  a whole new flavor dimension to the creamy soup. Don’t skimp on the cilantro at the end – I thought it was optional, but then I added it and was like – oh. Yeah. This is very important. Mhm.

And this soup altogether is very important for making my carrot obsession seem totally legit. Mhm.

Moroccan Turkey Kebabs

I haven’t posted a recipe since 1999, or so it seems.

Well, what can I say? I have been making a lot of old favorites that just haven’t needed repeating. However, I am now firmly back on the recipe development bandwagon and offer to you this – my favorite new recipe. It requires a bit of prep work, but then comes together very quickly. I love Moroccan food because it’s so complex – sweet, spicy, fragrant, crunchy, soft…it really appeals to all the flavors and textures that I crave. However, I rarely make it because just like the flavors are complex, the cooking methods can also be somewhat time-consuming.  This dish takes the best things about Moroccan cooking (the flavors) and the best things about American cooking (45 minute meals) and fuses them together for a dish that is unique enough for company but easy enough to make for yourself on a weeknight.

Moroccan Turey Kebabs

moroccan chicken Ingredients:

1 lb. ground turkey

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 onion, half diced, half sliced into rings

3/4 cup harissa tomato sauce

3 tbsp. cilantro

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (quinoa flakes or oatmeal also work)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tbsp. Moroccan seasoning

1/4 cup orange juice

olive oil to drizzle
20140623_173945 1. Mix all of the ingredients together except for the sliced portion of the onion. The mixture will be very loose and moist. Preheat the oven to 350F.  20140623_174302 2. Put the sliced onions in a baking dish and form the turkey into large, quenelle shaped patties. Place them on top of the onions – it’s okay if they touch. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil – not a huge amount, just enough to help the onions along since the turkey has no fat.  20140623_182057 3. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the turkey is completely cooked though (it may look a little pink inside even when it’s totally cooked through because of the harissa. You know that it’s cooked by using a meat thermometer or when the meat loses its mushy quality and becomes firm). 20140623_202258 4. Serve with tomato and cucumber salad and Greek yogurt. 20140623_202339 It’s hard to explain just how satisfying this dish is. It’s incredibly fragrant with the cumin, cinnamon, and various spices in that Moroccan spice mixture. Definitely get a spice mix if you don’t make Moroccan food a lot – it lasts a long time and adds an unmistakably North African feel to your food. The cilantro is bright and the orange juice lends a faint, sweet backnote. The texture is wonderfully soft and juicy, thanks to the breadcrumbs and mayo, and the outside becomes crispy and golden brown. Best of all is the harissa tomato paste…that takes this over the top. It’s quite spicy, so go easy on it if it’s your first time using this. It has the heat of cayenne with a low, slow burn like chipotle. Plus there is the added sweetness of the tomatoes…wow, it’s just delicious.

Best of all, this reheats really well.

Not that there will be any leftovers.

Moroccan Lamb Stew

Here’s a recipe from years ago when my only followers were my mom and my stalkers. It’s a wonderful, intricate, hearty dish that I can’t recommend enough. Moroccan food is SUCH an undervalued ethnic cuisine. Because Morocco was occupied by so many cultures over the years, along with its proximity to Spain, Moroccan food has influences from the Mediterranean, France, and Africa.  It results in a cuisine that is hearty, sweet, spicy, and relies heavily on the use of nuts, dried fruits and lamb.

I am relying heavily on your kindness because this is a recipe from the archives that is lacking photos, ingredient amounts, and a general sense of purpose.

What can I say, I was green. But I still made a hell of a stew.

Moroccan Lamb Stew (based off of this recipe
Ingredients:
4 lbs of stew meat lamb
1 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 bunches carrots, chopped into large pieces
2 bunches celery, chopped into large pieces
8 onions, chopped into large pieces
2 28 oz cans of peeled tomatoes
4 boxes of chicken or veal stock
1.5 cups red wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of prunes 1 small can tomato paste
2 heaping tablespoon harissa or other chili paste (I used sambal olek, but even crushed red pepper paste would be just dandy)
1 palmful each of:
cumin
coriander
allspice
nutmeg
cinnamon
salt
pepper
4 cups Greek Style Yogurt mixed with 1 bunch each of chopped mint and cilantro and 2 tablespoons of Za’atar (a middle eastern spice mixture containing sumac, sesame seeds, oregano, and salt. )

1. Throw all of the lamb into a bowl, then coat it with the flour.

2. Brown the lamb  over a medium high flame, with just a thin layer of oil in the bottom of the pan, until the meat is just barely seared and still raw on the inside. Make sure to do the lab in batches so they sear, not steam.  Remove the lamb after it is done and reserve it on the side.

3. Re-oil the pan and add your chopped veggies,  canned tomatoes, broth, wine, chile paste, and spices.

 4. Cover the pot tightly (yes, with tinfoil if you lost your pot lid) and put it into a 400 degree oven for about 3 hours, or until the house is incredibly fragrant and the lamb is tender and almost falls apart when poked with a fork.  
5. Add the tomato paste and the prunes, and let the stew cook for another 30 minutes or until it looks…

like this. The prunes will have mostly melted into the stew.

6. Enjoy with Greek yogurt and couscous. No final picture –  remember how I used to be even worse at taking photos than I am now?

 This stew is so outstanding.  Gamey, sweet, savory, spicy, rich, fragrant, and complex. It takes a long time to make but it’s really not difficult.  It’s warming, comfortaing, and perfect for a cold winter night when beef stew just sounds a wee bit pedestrian.
It’s worthy enough to get a re-post – what more can you want?

Moroccan Cured King Salmon Gravlax

As part of the Copper River Salmon Fresh Catch Crew, I was recently sent another shipment of fresh salmon from Alaska.

I know, my life really doesn’t suck right now.

The King salmon I was sent is aptly named – it is nothing less than  regal. It is the largest of the salmon that run the Copper River, with the highest fat content. It has a saturated orange color and an extremely rich mouthfeel. This salmon has only a one month season, so I didn’t want to play with it too much. I was very lucky to get some, and just wanted to accentuate its natural lushness and mild taste.

That’s when I came across this recipe for Moroccan gravlax. I had no idea how it would work, and I also didn’t want to spend THAT much time finding all the spices, toasting them, measuring them…etc. Bottom line – I wanted a shortcut.

That’s when I thought about using ras el hanout. Though there are many different varieties, this Moroccan spice blend tends to use aromatic and smoky spices like cumin, coriander, and ground rose. It has the deep, complex charictaristics of curry without actually USING any curry. Thus, it is perfect for accenting the fish instead of overpowering it. I thought I would add some aromatic vegetables and give it a whirl.

What I came up with might just be the best fish recipe I have ever made. Mild, complex, smooth, and incredibly easy to make!

Moroccan Cured Gravlax

Ingredients:

1 lb. salmon fillet

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup ras el hanout

Zest of 1 orange

1/4 cup fennel bulb, diced

1 loaf pan lined with cling wrap

1 brick or a few heavy cans

1. Mix all ingredients except salmon in a bowl until they are well combined.

2. Put the salmon skin side down into the loaf pan, and rub the seasoning all over the visible parts of the fish.

Be sure to get it everywhere, including the sides. You really want to pat it on thickly.

3. Roll up the sides of the cling wrap so the salmon is totally enclosed in plastic.

Add another piece or two of cling wrap if you need to ensure that the salmon is totally enclosed.

4. Put your weight, brick, or cans atop the salmon. Then put it in the fridge for 48 hours. No moving, no peeking!

5. By the time that you check on the salmon, it should have released quite a bit of moisture in the loaf pan, and the salmon should be  flat. Unwrap the salmon and put it on a plate.

6. Using the back of a butter knife, scrape excess seasoning off the salmon. Be gentle, as you will see that the salmon has become very delicate.

It will also have turned an almost glowing pinky-orange. This is the result of the salt and sugar curing the salmon.

7. Using a gravlax knife or a very sharp, flexible knife, slice velum thin slices of the salmon, just down to the skin but not cutting through the skin. Angle the knife so that you cut away thin pieces of the salmon without the skin. Go against the grain, on the bias. The grain changes on the salmon, and you may have to change the direction that you cut several times.

If you are not very skilled, you will end up leaving quite a bit of salmon on the skin – it just gets too difficult to slice all the way down to the skin, and you really want thin, even slices. It’s okay – just let it go or feed it to the cat. Lucky cat…

8. Garnish with a sprig of fennel and serve.

This is just astonishingly delicious. The salmon takes on the fresh orange taste, the sweet fennel, and the smoky warmth of the ras el hanout. It is not at all salty like some gravlax, just saline in the natural way that seafood is. When sliced thin, it almost melts on the tongue, leaving behind just the taste of the salmon and the aromatic  spices. This is almost the un-recipe – very set it and forget it! It is a welcome mix up from the classic dill gravlax and is fabulous with greek yogurt on brown bread.

With a gravlax like this, it’s easy to say long live the King!

Disclaimer: I was given the sockeye salmon as a sample. I am not being monetarily compensated for my opinions or recipes.

Boulud Sud – A Triumph from Daniel Boulud

 Daniel Boulud is known for his classical French fare, his trendy downtown eatery, and being the man who first put haute burgers on the map. Now, with his latest venture, Boulud Sud, he brings his classical techniques and innovative tastes to the Upper West Side.

Boulud Sud is a Mediterranean restaurant that is upscale without being stuffy. The dining room is small, but with high ceilings, large windows, and a spacious layout that keeps it from feeling cramped.

There is also an open kitchen, where diners can see flatbreads being fired, vegetables being turned, and plates being finished before they eat a bite.

Bread and Olive Oil

The bakery is the sleeper hit at this restaurant. The breads, both an olive sourdough and a tomato foccacia, are some of the best I have had in NYC. Excellent hole structure, well salted, with juicy olives and sweet tomatoes. This is bread that really eats like a meal. The olive oil, served with rosemary and a sliver of garlic, is fruity and sweet. The sliver of raw garlic is ingenious – it adds a spice to the oil without being overly pungent.

Jamon Iberico with olives and grilled ciabatta

Iberico ham has always been one of my favorite foods, and the version served here is as fine as any I have ever had. Served in thin, but not wafer-thin slices, it retains the natural heartiness of pork combined with the sweetness of the fat – you can really taste the nutty, sweet acorns that the pigs ate. The opaque fat starts to melt on the warm, charred ciabatta, the perfect union of crunchy wheat and lush fat. The olives, meaty and briny, add another layer to this decadent appetizer.

Chickpea and Eggplant – Herb Falafel, Spring Pea Hummus, Babaganoush, Lavash

Crispy, greaseless falafel is fragrant with herbs, served steaming and fluffy on the inside. Even so, that is not the star of this dish. The star are the dips – the babaganoush is so creamy that it seems to be whipped with egg yolks, but it lacks any heaviness or greasiness. It is just rich and creamy, with a strong punch of garlic and the citrusy taste of sumac in there. The hummus is also outstanding – smooth, very grassy, and tasting intensely of sweet, fresh peas. The cumin around the edge ups the earthiness of the dish. The lavash is a winner – very thin and crisp, with a heavy dusting of za’atar, that zesty, full flavored middle eastern spice.

Harira Soup with Lamb Merguez meatballs, Lentils, Vermicelli, and Chickpeas

A Moroccan version of  minestrone soup – hearty, warming, chock full of goodies. Toothsome chickpeas, al dente vermicelli, tender lentils, and soft lamb meatballs swim in a spicy, harissa scented broth. The carrots, onions, and other vegetables in the sop are all brunoised, resulting in an elegant texture in the otherwise rustic soup. This is not lip-searing, just gently zesty – unmissable for anyone who loves a good soup or tagine.

Za’atar Baked Cod with Mussels, Greek Yogurt, Radishes

Who would mix yogurt with fish? Boulud, that’s who, and the result is astonishing. The cod, often a rather slimy, soft fish, becomes substantial and flaky beneath its assertive za’atar crust. Sitting atop a pool of thick Greek yogurt, it tastes firm and moist without being mushy. Paired with sweet mussels and spicy braised radishes, the cod’s natural salinity comes through, and the result is the best cod dish I have had to date – fish and chips and miso glaze be damned. This is multi layered, tasting sweet and creamy one minute, peppery and bright the next. This is Boulud’s genius – he takes classic ingredients, like cod and white wine, and turns it on its ear with classical technique and a few unexpected ingredients. I can’t wait to try to make this dish at home, though I doubt I can do it so well.

Grapefruit Givre with Sesame Halva, Rose Loukoum, Grapefruit Sorbet

This dessert is a showstopper before you even take a bite. Just look at it – it looks like some psychedelic muppet gone all top chef! The flavor isn’t as good as the presentation – it’s actually better. The halvah has the texture of cotton candy and the sweet, peanutty taste of Butterfinger candy bars. The sorbet inside is smooth and refreshingly tart,  interspersed with diced grapefruit supreme, crunchy bits of traditional halvah, and jellied Turkish delight that tastes more like citrus than rose (thankfully). Topped with a caramel crisp, this really couldn’t be more refreshing or delicious.

*Note: the service can either make or break a meal. In this case, though the food was excellent, the service was outstanding. The first dessert I ordered came in a glass that must have had a tiny hairline fracture, because it shattered the moment my spoon clinked gently against it. No sooner had the glass broken than 2 servers and a manager swooped over to my table with apologies, a fresh tablecloth and table setting, and not one, but 2 replacement desserts. Though I assured them that this was not necessary they insisted. The manager stopped over twice more before I finished eating to ensure that I was enjoying my new deser (s). Let it be known that people al over the restaurant were taking photos with their phones – there was not way for them to tell that I was reviewing the place. They just wanted to make sure that I had the most relaxing, high end experience possible. No matter that it was lunch and that I didn’t order wine. No matter that I was taking forever to eat. No matter that most women in the restaurant had handbags that cost more than my college education. There is no snobbishness here, no special treatment to those who seem like they deserve better treatment. The whole idea here is that anyone dining at a Daniel Boulud restaurant deserves the Daniel Boulud experience.*

The Daniel Boulud experience isn’t just elegance. It isn’t just excitement. It isn’t just delicious food prepared in ways that you could never imagine. It is about relaxing into a lovely space and enjoying not just a meal, but an experience, served and prepared by people who want you to have a memorable experience.

And this experience is memorable indeed.

Boulud Sud on Urbanspoon

Nomad – Moroccan Tapas in the East Village

The East Village is one of my favorite food neighborhoods in NYC. High end establishments sit next to tiny mom and pop shops. Indian food neighbors French fare. Rowdy bars are just a block down from exclusive and elegant cocktail lounges. There is something for whatever mood or appetite you may have.
 Nomad is a Moroccan inspired tapas bar. The mood inside is a slightly sexed up version of Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion. Rose colored walls, a cloud-painted ceiling, pillowed banquettes…it was campy, but in a good way, and put me in the mood to sit back and enjoy.
 Trio of Dips (from bottom left): Hummus, Fava Bean and Feta Artichoke. 
The ample servings of the dips arrived with warm, crispy outside and fluffy inside pita bread. 
Hummus – creamy, lemony, only slightly garlicky. Neither too gluey nor too grainy, a generous slick of fruity olive oil on top made the citrus flavors stand out. Excellent hummus. 
Fava Beans – I had never had fava bean dip before and it was totally delicious. Earthy like beats, toothsome like chickpeas and zesty with garlic and cumin, it was a heartier and more complex version of hummus. Slightly thicker, with more chew and less creaminess than traditional hummus, this was my favorite dip of the night. 
Artichoke and Feta – Now, I loved this but not everyone did. It was extremely pungent and grassy – like goat’s cheese gone wild and funky. Salty and smooth with meaty chunks of artichokes, it was full of dill and – you guessed it – garlic. 
Luckily, this was a gals only meal. Cause no one would want to kiss me after this meal. 
 Grilled Calamari Salad with Pears, Fennel, Greens, Tomato, and Red Onion. 
This was a shockingly excellent version of grilled calamari. I wasn’t expecting such tender, mild, well made calamari. It wasn’t at all mushy, but was quite tender with just hte barest spring to it that lovers of calamari enjoy. The dressing was incredibly bright and tart, melding with the sweet fennel, the juicy pears, the acidic tomatoes and the gentle bite of the red onion. This is an excellent dish for someone who has never had grilled calamari – very mild, not at all fishy or rubbery.
Duck Pastilla L’Orange with Duck and Almonds. 
This is why you come here. It’s why Moroccan food is so popular. A crispy, crackling phyllo dough sprinkled with powdered sugar and tart-sweet orange syrup surrounds a slightly gamy duck filling. The ground duck is mixed with almonds, cinnamon and cumin and the many sweet aspects of the pastilla made the savory ones taste even more savory and hearty. Sweet and savory is the name of the game here, and if you like samosa or duck, you will LOVE this dish. 
And, if you happen by this restaurant, chances are you will be very pleased. Pleasant staff, low prices and tasty food make for an enjoyable meal or snack. It isn’t a destination meal, but it is absolutely worthwhile if you are in the neighborhood and want to try some Moroccan food.
Nomad on Urbanspoon