Saturday, March 11, 2006

Reservation? What reservation?.......

Live and learn.

Do you really need a reservation to get into many of New York's best restaurants? Yes. Is there a way around this? Yes.

It's called bar dining, and in recent months, I have learned that not only does it offer great experiences... it can sometimes rival that of the table in the back corner. Let me explain.

On a recent trip to Lupa, Mario Batali's gem of a spot in the village... I arrive at 5pm on a Saturday (yes there was a line already there) and asked to be seated at the bar, before the BIG rush arrives. No problems... found a stool, checked my coat... off to the races.

Because the bar wasn't slammed yet, I got very personal attention. The bartenders at fine resturants know as much about the menu as the waiters do, if not more. Not sure about wines?.... my bartender poured me 3 tastes so I could choose what I really wanted.... and because the bar tickets print a bit out of sync in the kitchen, my food came out ahead of most everyone in the place. I love bar dining. My point?... if you walk in and the place is packed.. check the bar. At most places, they will offer the full menu there... and you won't have to wait long for a drink refill!

This week, my NY secret is a place on 53rd and 6th, Del Frisco's Steakhouse. Listen to this.

Sure, this is a fancy schmancy place. A huge bar and dining room share what looks to be a oak and mahogany airplane hanger... with windows that look onto 6th Ave. There are two levels, with two bars, and rich, leather booths. This is that place... the clean, stiff oversized martini, crisp linen tabelcloths, ala carte laden menu, executive stuffed scene. The steaks are good to sometimes excellent.... but not to be confused with truly legendary steak and chop houses that have called NY home for decades.

But the best deal is at the bar. Arrive early, and grab a seat. Order that martini, or glass of wine. Expensive, but you get your money's worth. But here is the secret... order an appetizer. Order the FILET TIPS. Oh yea, they are $9.95.

What you'll get is a plate of 6 huge chunks of grilled filet mignon, done to your liking, placed around a mound of homemade mashed potatoes. If it sounds like a meal, well it is. I am a big guy, and a martini and this plate of food has me ready to skip desert.

Whan I asked the bartender "what the hell"... he shrugged. "It's the best deal in NY, and we can't believe it's $10"..... he exclaimed. "Hell, I order this after work... I can't at this well at a fast food place for the money".....

And he's right. It is the perfect "what do I want I don't know what I want but I want something because I may not eat later and where will I be" dish. And for $9.95, I land on one of these bar stool once a week. Really.

Weather here in NYC turned mild this week... but weeks past have been chilly, which spurred me to cook my first pot of NYC gumbo. After hunting for the ingredients, I was thrilled to find them all (with the exception of white gulf shrimp, but hey beggars can't be choosers).... and I pulled out the 5 gallon Le Cruset and got to stewing. Hours later, I had a pot of homemade Shrimp and Okra gumbo... I think I just finished the last of it a day ago... thank god for the freezer.

I've also made a few pots of white beans, red beans, etc.... but I am waiting to get into the serious stuff until we wrangle some company over to the Central Park West apartment.... I'm thinking a nice trout pecan with dirty rice, shrimp and andouille sausage over charleston style grits, slow cooked butter beans and maple bread pudding with a blackberry cream sauce.

That leads me to my recipe of the week... I hope you enjoy.

Andre’s Gumbo Like I Like It

(Shrimp and Okra Version)

4- 5 Quarts Chicken Stock
4 pounds frozen okra
1 lrg can of diced tomatoes
1 regular can of diced tomatoes
2 large white onions, diced fine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 teaspoon chopped garlic, fine
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
3⁄4 cup all purpose flour
3⁄4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoon of lea and perrin’s
2 tablespoons crystal hot sauce (or frank’s)
1 1⁄2 tablespoons of creole seasoning (Emerils or Tony’s)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1⁄2 teaspoon thyme
2-3 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped parsley, fine
4 pounds peeled medium shrimp
Chopped green onions

In a separate pot, heat 3 tbl vegetable oil, and sauté white onions. Add garlic, frozen okra and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium low heat until tender (at least an hour, if not longer). Okra should be very tender and want to break up. In a large stockpot, heat oil (3/4 cup) and add flour to make roux. Stir constantly over medium heat, making sure not to burn. Bring to desired color… peanut butter color is recommended for best flavor. Once desired color is reached, whisk in chicken stock, 4 qts first and save the rest if needed (chicken base dissolved in water can also be used , but NOT bullion). Add seasonings (wet and dry) and kitchen bouquet for desired color. Add okra mixture and bring to boil. Reduce to low simmer, and cook for 1 1⁄2 hours. Last half hour, add shrimp and parsley and simmer and very low temp, not to overcook shrimp. Serve in bowls, topped with a scoop of cooked long grain rice and top with sprinkle of green onion.

Gumbo is best if cooked day before. Make sure to cool completely before storing in fridge.