Friday, April 23, 2010

Gumbo is On! It's Time For Jazz Fest

It's that time. New Orleans Jazz Fest. Damn I miss Louisiana.

In honor of my dear friends who are getting ready to make their way down to the Fairgrounds, I give you my one and only gumbo recipe.... which I promise will rival and/or defeat any bowl you'll have in the Big Easy! You can hang in your own, air conditioned home and enjoy the tastes of jazz fest.

Grab your ingredients, turn up your jazz and get to cooking.

Andre's Gumbo Like I Like It

4-5 Quarts Chicken Stock
4 pounds frozen okra (you can use fresh, but you'll never know the difference)
1 lrg can of diced tomatoes (drain off some of the juice)
1 regular can of diced tomatoes
2 large white onions, diced fine (yellow are OK, too)
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
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, stir well, 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 (¾ 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.

Andre’s Lagnaippe: Keep in mind, each and every pot of gumbo is different... but one thing will never change. It will taste better tomorrow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Hog Pit = Serious Fried Chicken

Get Over Your Hangups... Go For The Chicken

Make no mistake about it. I am a fried chicken eatin’ fool.

Maybe it was my southern upbringing. Trips to Popeye’s, Mrs. Winner’s, Church’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (it wasn’t KFC back then), Piccadilly and even Albertson’s the local grocery store (that still has amazing fried chicken), the legendary but closed Joe-D’s grocery for a fried chicken poboy…. or perhaps homemade chicken in our very own kitchen.

I love fried chicken.

Believe it or not, New York City is fried chicken challenged. Really. Sure, there are a few soul food places north of 116th that can fry some decent fried chicken, and you can read the rave reviews for the chicken at Blue Ribbon (and now Brooklyn Bowl)…. but truth be told, you have to look far and wide for really spectacular fried chicken.

Into the list of not darn good chicken, but damn good chicken…. I give you, The Hog Pit.

Now, before you shake your head and complain how the Meatpacking Hog Pit was better than the new Chelsea Hog Pit, save it. You are right. Blah, blah, blah.

But we are talking chicken here, and the details around the rest of it don’t change the way these fine folks fry chicken. The place isn’t pretty. The service is uneven at best. The neighborhood is dingy.

But the chicken.

I will admit I was a bit nervous ordering. I read the Yelp reviews, the complaining on MenuPages, etc…. but I was so desperate for good fried chicken that I made the call. The stuff from Soul Fixin’s down the street just isn’t doing it for me.

“Cash only?,” I remarked. “Cash only,” she said.

So on its way to my place were two fried chicken dinners… a half chicken (breast, thigh, wing and leg) each, with a cup full of honey on the side…. along with an order of fried okra and cheese grits. I ordered mac n’ cheese on the side as well (I’m not stupid).

First the chicken.

What a surprise. The crust, although a bit dark and thick…. was hot and crunchy… just how great chicken should be. I don’t know about you, but in Louisiana the skin part is as important as the inside part. Just sayin.

The skin had a salt and peppery flavor with a hint of garlic and onion… and was superb. When I tasted it, I knew the inside would be perfect, and I was right.

The meat (even the breast) was juicy, meaning the chicken was cooked at the right temp. Someone in that kitchen knows what they are doing.

But do you know the final TELL ALL test? It’s how that darn chicken tastes the next morning coming out of your fridge….and this chicken was terrific. Even more spice had emerged, juicy inside and the skin still crunchy. Wow.

The sides we maybe the biggest surprise.

The fried okra was hot and crispy and perfectly seasoned. If you lived farther than I do from The Hog Pit, this could be come a casualty as they package in airtight plastic containers (that usually leads to soggy fried food) but this was terrific and held it’s own.

The cheese grits didn’t pretend to be something they weren’t… they were just plain good. Processed cheese (I love you Velveeta) and butter stirred into a pot of hot grits. I ate every last grit in that bowl.

The mac n’ cheese was also very good… and not greasy. This is a dish that some places really struggle with, but the kitchen at the Hog Pit has it down. Good texture and flavor, and not overcooked into yellow mush.

The collard greens were also delicious, tender and bacon flavored just like I like them. Again, there is some skill at hand back at the Hog Pit… and it shows in side dishes that have the flavor of these.

I didn’t taste the other sides which include sweet potato fries, baked beans, green beans, etc… but I can tell you that if the okra and cheese grits were happening, I would guess the rest of the sides would also be terrific. Especially when hot.

So the verdict?

Well, by know you can guess that I like this place. Or at least the food…. Which has all of a 2 block walk to get to my house…. Great news for me!

There are other southern specialties on this menu like fried catfish and meatloaf which are intriguing… so I’ll be sure and report back.

Until then, I’ll be seeing you (or not) at The Hog Pit.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Strip House: Getting Better With Age

A Tried and True NYC Favorite Keeps It Simple

The New York steak scene is brutal.

There are so many good options… and I mean great options… that to stay afloat you have to be on your game every night. Look at CraftSteak… gone. And even some of the old NYC mainstays have trouble in a tight economy to fill their dining rooms at times. So where do you go for a low risk, can't miss night of USDA Prime?

Welcome to The Strip House.

Solid. Warm. Delicious. That’s what you get in this Village spot. There is nothing spectacular, nothing groundbreaking… just solid steaks and sides, in a single room steeped in steakhouse history.

When I visited The Strip House last week, it had been quite a while since my last visit, but nothing had really changed. The room was still boudoir red, the bar stocked with my brand of single malt scotch and the lounge chock full of after work pals swilling cocktails and complaining about their bosses. Just how I remembered it.

Our group of four was met with a surprise floorshow on this Thursday evening, as the Governor of New York was seated directly across from our cozy booth with “company” of his own. He was accompanied by two guests, one resembled an official bodyguard type, and the other…. well didn’t. Let’s just leave it at that.

Our waiter was energetic and a tad cocky, but pleasant none the less. He was quick to remind the table about the way things are done at The Strip House (steaks charred, sides shared, etc) and the table was happy to hear it. La-dee-da.

The salads (we tried several including the Bibb) were terrific and perfectly dressed. But the star of the apps was easy the Roasted Bacon…. which reminded me more of pork belly than bacon. It was melt in your mouth good… and the table consumed with smiles from ear to ear. This was more delicate that the mountain of Lugar’s bacon we have come to know and love… and I liked it all the same. Crazy good.

Of course steaks were the call on this night, and again The Strip House didn’t disappoint. From the NY Strip, to the bone-in Ribeye, they were cooked perfectly, and were full of flavor. If sauces are your thing, The Strip House serves several that are house-made, including a Béarnaise that was an instant hit with our group.

The sides are also very good, but perhaps not on par with Quality Meats or Keens. The best item on our table proved to be the Potatoes Romanoff… and the Creamed Corn with Pancetta was solid…. but for some reason I now yearn for Buttered Edamame and Corn Crème Brulee wherever I eat steak. This is a bad thing. Damn you Quality Meats.


We came to the restaurant knowing of the cake lore that awaited… but had to skip this course as we were headed across town to finish our meal outdoors to take advantage of the terrific night of weather we were having… but make no mistake about it…. the chocolate cake is legendary and worth the trip alone to many who rave about the 20+ layers of magic. Next time. Next time.

So let’s summarize.

Sexy, attractive room. Check.

Celebrity/Politician sighting. Check.

Comfortable table and neat, timely service. Check.

Damn good steak. Check.

Well that just about sums it up. The secret to the longevity of The Strip House? This is a restaurant that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s that simple. Do something well, and then do it again.

And those who appreciate a great meal will follow.

Even the Governor. And his friend.

+ sexy room is never as crowded as the younger, hipster steakhouses

+ steaks are top quality, wet aged, and charred to perfection

+ they serve goose-fat potatoes. Enough said.

- they sometimes charge for split plates

- the waiters can be a little to big for their britches, but are still harmless

- it’s so dark, you could bring your girlfriend and the Mrs. would never see you

The Strip House

13 E 12th St, New York 10003

(Btwn 5th Ave & University Pl)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Bryant Park Grill: A Midtown Disappointment

With This Location and These Prices... What The Hell?

It’s a sad day when I have to blog that one of New York’s most picturesque restaurants serves what may possibly be the worst food in the city.

One thing I am not, is a negative food blogger. I spend my time hunting down terrific places to eat… and then spread the news. I live to gush over restaurants. I love them. But when I encounter such a disaster as the Bryant Park Grill, I just can’t keep it to myself.

I’ve visited this restaurant several times over the past year, being under whelmed each visit. But at lunch this week, the low quality of their food fell below the bar, into the inedible category.

Lunch started with a salad for myself and lunch guest. My salad, an artichoke heart with tender greens salad, was a disappointment. Why? Mainly because the artichoke mixture had been mixed well before hand, and it tasted so. This wasn’t a “fresh” dish, but something thrown together out of a few refrigerated containers in the cooler, topped off with a few over ripe cherry tomatoes.

Then came the entrees.

I need to tell you now… avoid pasta dishes at Bryant Park Grill. My dish, the Strozzapreti Pasta (jumbo shrimp, broccoli florets, pomodoro sauce) was an overcooked bowl of mush. Again, the dish was thrown together – and when you uncovered the mushy pasta, fishy tasting shrimp, overcooked broccoli and jar-like tomato sauce… well I’d been much happier with a frozen Stouffer’s entrée popped in the microwave. Honest.

My friend also ordered pasta… the Wild Mushroom and Fontina Ravioli.. a dish with spinach, peas, blistered tomatoes (?) in a parmesan broth. What arrived were ravioli in a bowl of yellow soup… possibly the most unappetizing dish I have ever seen. To make matters worse, the waiter (who spoke such poor english he couldn’t really explain the menu what so ever) had told us the “blistered” tomatoes were cherry-like tomatoes… when in fact they were not. They were stewed… specifically what my colleague had asked to avoid.

What all of this screams is a kitchen and/or chef that doesn’t care. There is no respectable chef in this city (I would hope) that would ever send one of these dishes out of the kitchen… no matter how bad a day they were having. In this setting, for these prices… I expect much much more…. and so should you.

Thinking a good dessert would help ease the disaster of our main course, I ordered the “Bananas For Bananas”… a banana brioche pudding, salty peanut ice cream, peanut butter caramel bananas, fudge sauce with a dab of whip cream. The brioche was cold and was fresh from the cooler, the ice cream has a piece of peanut brittle that was nearly frozen and the rest was grocery store quality. This was a dish thrown together by a line cook or waiter. $9.50 down the drain. Again, what the hell.

I am guessing the safe bets at Bryant Park Grill would be lunch-type salads and sandwiches, which can be hard to ruin… although the deft approach of this kitchen would certainly give it a try.

Note to the management at Bryant Park Grill: have a sit down meeting with your chef (or kitchen manager, whoever) and actually sit down and eat this food. Look at your menu. Adapt a “fresh” approach to your park side location with more emphasis on local farmers who supply bright, robust flavors. Local bakers who can supply artisan breads and desserts. Rethink the entire approach to foods that are simple and fresh.

You have one of the best locations in Manhattan… create a menu to match.

+ the setting, indoors and out, is superb

+ easy to reach from anywhere in the city

+ easy to reserve a table ahead of time

- some of the food is inedible

- some of the wait staff can’t communicate at all due to language barriers