Saturday Night in Chinatown: Bug Bites and Eyeballs

I really shouldn't spend any more time pondering my odd little Saturday evening Chinatown excursion, but...

After picking up a few necessities at Asia Market Corp. on Mulberry near Bayard, I discovered a shiny new and seemingly clean vegetable market further up the street, closer to Canal. But, while I was shooting the photo of the Jelly Fish Satay, my foot received a nasty little bite from a teeny tiny mystery bug. I have no idea what it was (hopefully a flea and nothing worse), but it kind of turned me off from the happy new store, and I had to get out. Oh well. Some discoveries just aren't all they're cracked up to be...

I'd heard raves about Nha Trang (87 Baxter) for years, so I accepted a last-minute invite to join the Smith family for dinner there. It was nice to finally go. While I have yet to discover a restaurant that serves Vietnamese egg rolls like the amazing ones I grew up enjoying (Nha Trang's were just OK), the rest of the food was high-quality and nicely done. We ordered a number of dishes, and among my faves were the Suoun Heo Nuong (barbecued pork chops), the Bo Luc Lac Salad (beef cubes sautéed in spice and onions with salad), and the Tom Ran Muoi (jumbo shrimp in salt & pepper sauce).

We also dove into a beautiful whole Red Snapper, which was flavorful and perfectly done...and eventually proved to be the biggest adventure of the evening. As we sat discussing cultures who consider eyeballs a delicacy, I decided to dig one of the eyes out of the fish's head so we could get a closer look. Then Jimmy dared me to eat it...and I did. It was too hard, didn't taste like anything, and squirted a bit of something when I chewed it. Otherwise, it did nothing but gross people out (and land like a little lump in my tummy). Maybe I shouldn't have gone for a fried eyeball my first time out, but in the meantime, I don't really get it.


Fiery Fig Compote

I bought a pint of beautiful black Mission figs on a walk with Jimmy today, planning on broiling them with a honey glaze. But alas, when I got home, the box had tipped and the fruit had been squashed in the bottom of my bag. What to do with smooshed figs? Time to play...

Fiery Fig Compote

• 1 pint black Mission figs, chopped
• 2 tablespoons red wine
• 1 small red chili, finely minced (remove seeds if you'd like this to be a little milder)
• 2 teaspoons honey

Pop everything into a small saucepan, cover, and simmer on medium/low heat, stirring regularly for about three minutes, or until figs fall apart and become liquidy. Remove lid and reduce until the compote thickens (about two more minutes).

I think this will be great with pork or steak, or as a crazy companion to a strong cheese.


An Architectural Aside

I just walked down Fifth Avenue in the 30s for the first time in a while, and I noticed this new tower under construction on 36th Street. Hurrah! An architect actually paying homage to the buildings (especially the incredibly historic one) around his new creation. Looks like it'll be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

Cachaça in a Can!

I'm sure this isn't news to my Brasilian peeps, but last night I was very excited to learn that cachaça comes in a can! (Cachaça's the Brasilian sugar cane liquor used to make caipirinhas.) And it was also cool to find out that my friend Claudia's grandfather founded Pitú, one of Brasil's most famous brands of cachaça. What a family business!


Adour Adoration

I never have a problem turning my birthday into a birth-month, and last night Jimmy and Dan contributed to the cause by taking me to Adour Alain Ducasse in the St. Regis New York. They'd treated each other to birthdays there and I heard the raves, so it was exciting to see what it was all about.

Jimmy told me the bar was unusual, so I arrived a bit early to check it out. Sure enough, it's probably the coolest bar I've ever seen. I want one. The top of the bar is an interactive wine list activated by a motion-sensitive projection. It has a drop down wine list offering all sorts of information, and you can even share your discoveries with the person next to you--click "share," and a little rosette of knowledge magically zooms to the spot next to you. It's incredibly fun and kind of mind-blowing, since you don't even have to touch anything to activate the selections. Frankly, the bar itself makes the restaurant a worthwhile adventure. I felt like I'd walked into a wonderful moment somewhere in the future.

Oh, and at the bartender's suggestion I ordered a Provençal rosé as an aperitif. After a hot day on Governors Island, it was perfectly refreshing.

When Jimmy and Dan arrived we popped over to our table and commenced our three-plus hour meal (sorry...I decided to enjoy myself and not be the obnoxious food photographer...). The dynamic duo spied a bottle of white Corsican wine, which was a fabulous choice and unlike anything we'd ever had. As we perused our menus, three light and crispy Gougères appeared on the table (yum). And after ordering, we were served a palate-cleansing cucumber granita, refreshing and slightly spicy.

I excitedly discussed sweetbreads--which I'd never had--with the waiter, and he convinced me that I'd love them. So, for a starter I ordered the Sweetbread "Meunière" with an "Egg Purse" (a poached egg), wild mushrooms, vegetables, and a veal reduction. All three of us are now sweetbread converts, and I actually think they're the perfect starting point for those wanting to branch out a little. The flavor is less strong then liver and kidney, and the meat melts in your mouth. At Adour, eaten in the suggested fashion (the waiter told me to combine everything on the plate), it was an incredibly full experience that hit just about every part of the palate.

The other apps were wonderful as well: Jimmy ordered the heirloom tomatoes (which actually kind of made me sad, as some of them were the variety we were growing in Beacon before the blight killed our plants), and Dan had the absolutely amazing Citrus Marinated Hamachi, served with bits of preserved lemon (a fabulous idea, and I'm stealing it).

For our main courses, I had the Butter Poached Maine Lobster (quite the treat and my first lobster of the season), Jimmy had the halibut with razor clams (casino style, which melted in your mouth) and calamari, and Dan went for the Prime Beef Rib-eye "au sautoir" with chanterelles, "onion condiment," and wonderful little pomme souffle (kind of the potato version of puri). Everything was perfectly wonderful, and Dan even liked the lobster (he's admittedly not the biggest fan).

Feeling absolutely perfect (the portions were happily small), we made dessert decisions. Warned we would receive some complimentary macarons (which were like air) and chocolates with whatever else we ordered, I decided to go for a dessert wine, and at the waiter's suggestion I chose a red sparkling (again, I don't remember what it was...I need to write this stuff down...). Jimmy and Dan had espresso and shared the "Contemporary Exotic Vecherin," an artistically-served meringue with an extraordinarily aromatic concoction of mango marmalade, coconut, and foamy passion fruit emulsion.

We worked some sort of cheerful magic, too, because the waiter gave us all the wine I'd ordered (not once, but twice). We sat, chatted, and were content.

Adour gets six thumbs up. I'll have to save up to go back--or at least treat myself to another trip to the magical bar!

Thanks guys, for the awesome treat!


Governors Island...Kind of Creepy

Since I'm such a lover of NYC, it's kind of embarrassing that I haven't made it to Governors Island...until today! Mandy and I braved the surprisingly crowded, hot, airless ferry (at least it's free), and took the short ride to the former Army/Coast Guard site. I should have done more research--we kind of went on a whim--so I'll have to go for another adventure armed with a bit more knowledge.

I have to say, the visit kind of freaked me out. It's basically a large, fairly-abandoned island that's technically part of Manhattan. The buildings are run down and creepy, so I had flashbacks to my childhood visit to Ellis Island, way before it was fixed up. But Governors Island isn't as ruined as Ellis Island was in the 70s, and it's a shame it's not put to better use. Mandy had a fabulous idea: artist studios. Let's do it!

At least the city's doing a little, allowing Creative Time to bring life to the island via the PLOT/09 installations. Overall, though, it makes for a very bizarre adventure...

Castle Williams.

The inside of Castle Williams, which looked like a cross between a dilapidated 1970s high school and a prison...

The old hospital, where I think my cousin Norma was born when her father was stationed on Governors Island.

Fort Jay.

Some of the super-creepy run-down houses on Colonels Row.

Klaus Weber's giant wind chimes near the Parade Ground made great background music for our picnic.

Anthony McCall's fantastic installation in the St. Cornelius Chapel.

There was a house filled with sculptures near Nolan Park. Not quite sure who this was, but this particular piece used the space beautifully.

The miniature golf course was a great idea badly executed. Each hole was built by a different artist, and while a few were fun, most were just incredibly frustrating and poorly built. Mix that with the heat and too many unaccompanied children, and you have one grumpy me. Note to the creators: Next time, build your pieces to stand up to not only the rough weather in the harbor, but the crazy kids as well.


New In The Neighborhood: Agua Dulce

I'm still thinking about my Tuesday lunch at Hell's Kitchen's newest addition, Agua Dulce. Specializing in what I'd categorize as modern Cuban cuisine, the creatively designed space (by Peter Siblia and Damien Vizuete) is beautiful, open, light, multifunctional, and feels more like Miami than New York (not like I've ever actually been to Miami, but let's move on...).

The atmosphere is warm--at least at lunchtime--and the friendly staff is incredibly welcoming. When I popped in yesterday afternoon to show Tony the space, we briefly met the chef, Ulrich Sterling, who also seemed to be absolutely lovely. And after a quick Google search, I learned from Time Out New York that the restaurant installed a carbon filtration system to create its own waters (still, bubbly, and flavored), the proceeds from which go to help clean water programs in underserved Latin American communities.

We decided we'd go for lunchtime cocktails: My friend, at the waiter's suggestion, went for the frozen margarita (which was much more flavorful than the typical), and I chose the one with habañero-infused tequila, mango, and something else (hmmm, I wonder why I can't remember...). Both were tasty (Reza, the bartender, does an excellent job)...and packed quite the punch. To keep us busy while we sipped our drinks, we dove into a bowl of salsa de cangrejo, warm creamy crab dip, and yuca chips (which also came with taro chips). It was a sort of nice oceany departure from what I usually order, and would make a great bar snack/share, as it was a good compliment to the cocktails.

For our main course, we decided to share two sandwiches: I usually avoid Cubanos, since they're often piles of boiled meats and Finlandia Swiss cheese (one of the few things that makes me gag). But Agua Dulce's version of the classic was a pleasant surprise, comprising chunks of shredded pork, ham, home-made pickles, and some kind of real Swiss cheese (not Finlandia). We probably would have thought it was fabulous (which it was) had we not paired it with the ropa vieja sandwich, which was completely off-the-hook. Instead of the stewy shredded strings of beef that's the usual incarnation of the dish, Agua Dulce's ropa vieja is chunks of wonderfulness--stewed then grilled short ribs (or grilled then stewed? Or just grilled?)--served on a crusty yet soft bread with a side of avocado crema. Really, really yummy. Both sandwiches were served with yuca fries (which are more substantial than French fries), so at $11 and $12 respectively, an Agua Dulce sandwich is well worth the money.

A dinner visit is a future must. I'll keep you posted.

Agua Dulce is at 802 Ninth Avenue, between 53rd and 54th Streets.


Pizza Perfection

Since the Amoeba Pizza adventure a few months back, Jimmy's made numerous forays into savory pie land, and last night, on a whim, the two of us decided to experiment some more. Sorry you weren't there, folks, because we both have to admit, we make a pretty kick-ass pizza...

For whatever reason--perhaps because we weren't in a rush or because I'm half-Sicilian--I was able to roll each half the dough paper thin. (I only had my cell last night, so I apologize for the low-quality photography.) I also managed to achieve a fairly rectangular shape slightly larger than the pan, so once I cut off the edges it fit almost perfectly on the cookie sheets.

Jimmy prepared numerous toppings and threw things onto each pie. On the first he put almost-caramelized onions, goat cheese, a minced jalapeño pepper, pine nuts, and grated Parmesan. The second was covered in fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, and minced jalapeños (we added fresh basil as a garnish as we ate). We cooked each at 500 degrees for about 9 minutes (we kept a close eye on the goings on), and they came out almost crackery and wonderful. We made many yummy sounds.

Not to waste the bits of dough I cut off the rolled-out bits, we decided to play with the leftovers. We topped one piece with olive oil, Maldon salt, Parmesan, and mystery chive-like garlicky greens from Jimmy's friend in Park Slope (wowsah, yummy); another with hot pepper jelly and goat cheese (would make a nice dessert pizza); and a third with dried currants, olive oil, dried red chili flakes, and salt (crazy!). I also made pigs-in-a-blanket-like rolls with olive oil, tomatoes, and Maldon salt (a keeper); a little currant hot pocket (Hamantascheny); and a rolled up knot of dough and olive oil (boring compared to everything else, but would make excellent fluffy bread).

Pizza is now officially in our repertoire. We can do just as well--if not better--than many of the new frou-frou joints in town, and I bet you can too. Why not take your time and play? It makes for a fun evening with excellent food. Go for it!

Bagel & Appetizing?

Spotted this place on the Upper East Side this weekend. What do you suppose they serve in addition to bagels?


Garden 34th Street: Pepper Party

Haven't made it upstate to visit the garden in a few weeks, but I've been enjoying the sudden progress of the chili hot plants in my window. A recent flower boom has given way to a new batch of baby peppers, and there are more buds on the way. Meanwhile, I'll continue to play bumble bee with my little paintbrush and hope the hot August sun continues.

And yes, these puppies pack quite the kick...


Teatime with a Tomato

I visited the greenmarket on 57th and 9th at lunchtime, where I broke down and bought two tomatoes: an heirloom (pictured here) and another marked "field tomato." They both smelled good, so I went for it... When I arrived home, I tried to get back to work, but couldn't focus. I had to have one of the tomatoes. So I called "teatime," picked some basil (which--aaarrrggghhh--has bugs!), and cut into the heirloom tomato...

Sad. I could tell right away it wasn't going to be the transcendent happy wonderfulness I'd been dreaming about. The tomatoes that managed to survive this year's blight are just not good. It's still too cool and gray. There's nothing to be done.

Regardless, I kept on with my early tea: I grilled a little toast and made a tomato salad with basil, the heirloom, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I poured some iced green tea and had a little snack.

Oh well...next year.

Julie & Julia & An Easy Pasta Salad Surprise

Before heading to see Julia & Julia last night, Steve and Lara popped over for a quick nosh, since we'd been rightfully warned not to see the film on an empty stomach. I needed something quick and cool, so I decided to throw together an easy pasta salad. With a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, zucchini from the farmers market, and green peppercorns from the Thai grocery to add a little surprise flavor, all I had to do was boil the pasta to create a refreshing summer one-dish meal. I think it's actually perfect for a pot-luck or picnic, and without the chicken, it could be a wonderful side dish, too.

It's probably not something Julia would have made--it ended up being a sort of Thailand meets Italy concoction--but it at least got us through the movie without too many problems (though we did go to Billy's Bakery afterward...what can you do?).

BTW: Julie & Julia is definitely worth a trip to the theater. Meryl Streep is, as usual, mind-blowing, and (to steal from Steve) all one needs to say about her onscreen partner is "Stanley fucking Tucci." Brilliant. Jane Lynch is hysterical as Julia's sister, and it's absolutely wonderful to watch everyone in the Julia Child portion have so much fun--it must have been a joy to go to work every day.

But the film is, unfortunately, lopsided. The dual-story aspect of Julie & Julia is merely kind of OK, and it's obvious that much more care was taken with the writing and shooting of the Julia bits (in spite of too many shots exposing Meryl's lift shoes and an out-of-era bubble envelope that kind of blew the last scene for me). Why didn't they just make a Julia Child biopic? Doesn't a woman who changed America's culinary history deserve it? Regardless, Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Chris Messina as her husband do a great job, and at least the basic underpinnings of the importance of Julie Powell's story in 2002 are there.

So--in the end--the concept and execution of the movie has flaws, but it basically works well enough. If you love good food, a good laugh, and good acting, go see it.

Easy Pasta Salad Surprise
• 1/2 to 3/4 pound dried fusilli pasta, cooked, drained, and cooled (use more or less pasta, depending on how far you'd like to stretch the dish)
• 1/2 rotisserie chicken, shredded
• 1 medium-sized zucchini, julienned
• 2 tablespoons green peppercorns (either from a Thai or French grocery)
• zest and juice of 1 lime
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• salt to taste

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the package's directions, then cool under a cold tap. Add to a large bowl, along with the other ingredients, and toss. Serve cold.


Smorkin' Labbit Is Fairly Certain He Has A Lock On This Year's Giant Squash Category

Blue Ribbon at the State Fair, for sure.

Sometimes you just have to play with your food. (And for the uninitiated, no freak outs...that's really his name.)


Fig Deal

I've been resisting the urge to splurge on fresh figs this season, but alas yesterday...I could bear no more. The sight of some beautiful Calimyrnas at the local produce place inspired me to treat myself to one of my favorite summer dishes: grilled steak and figs. Dished up with some collard green salad and sautéed new potatoes, it's a wonderful, easy, and impressive treat.

Salt and pepper a nice piece of steak (last night's was hangar, which also makes fabulous leftovers for salads). Toss on a hot grill or grill pan, and cook to your preference. For the figs, wash and slice in half lengthwise, and baste with a little olive oil. Place flesh side down on the grill, cook for about a minute, then flip and roast until they're oozing their honey-like juices.


Garden: This Week's Gratuitous Photos

This weekend's garden check-in yielded mucho maxixe, collard greens for salads (yes, you can harvest collards all season long--thanks, Tony!), more nasturtiums and salad greens, and some more squash (the plants are still unhappy, so we'll see what happens). All of the hot pepper plants are doing well, though something seems to be munching the stems, especially the Brazilian variety (pictured left), so we're a bit concerned.

The chili hots continue to happily produce, so we're hoping these last few days of some encourages them to ripen before the deer (or two-legged thieves!) run off with them...

One of the two maxixe plants has taken over a large section of the garden. There were lots of new flowers on both plants (which the honeybees were absolutely loving), so we should have lots of new little alien pods appearing in the next few weeks.


Had to Post...

Normally I wouldn't plug my birthday, but Nancy made me this absolutely beautiful buttermilk pound cake from the Times Magazine. Perfectly gorgeous...and delicious, too! (And extra special to boot, because it's usually way too hot to bake cakes in August!)

Thanks, Nance!

Lime Leaf Goodness

Throughout a fabulous birthday weekend in Beacon, Nancy and I continued to play and experiment with some of the hearty vegetable survivors from this monsoon season...I mean summer... Yesterday, I decided to crack into one of the cayenne peppers we'd harvested on Saturday, and I concocted a new pork marinade. We matched the grilled chops with a pattypan from our garden, spicy cole slaw, maxixe marinated in apple cider vinegar, and maxixe, zucchini, corn, & basil salad. The new lime leafy goodness was a hit, and we decided to make it the newest official member of our culinary rotation.

Lime Leaf Marinade
for 4 pork chops

• 1/2 fresh cayenne pepper, finely minced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 8 lime leaves, finely chopped
• juice of 1/2 lime
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Combine all ingredients and marinate pork for at least 1 hour. Grill.