Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Who Knew The Lower East Side Could Raise The Bar So High

I used to be scared of the Lower East Side.

I’ll admit it. I just didn’t go down there. Spooky. Dirty. Scary.

But my, my how things have changed. I won’t go as far as comparing the rebirth of the Lower East Side (or coming out I should say) to what has happened in Chelsea or even Hell’s Kitchen… but the truth is with the opening and success of The Hotel on Rivington as well as a half a dozen other outposts, well, the Lower East Side is da bomb.

If you have no reason to ever make the trip, I am about to give you one. It is simply one of the best restaurants in this city…

and it’s called ‘inoteca.

There just isn’t anything else like it… or that I have found as of yet… and on a recent Sunday, it again welcomed me in, stood me still, and knocked my socks off.

This isn’t a place that slops plates of spaghetti, lamb chops or mama’s lasagna. Think tapas. Bowls of olives. Plates of cheese (my god, the cheese). And killer panini.

Throw in a wine list that reads like an Italian best seller, and you get a spot that is just about as cool as I can handle.

It is a funky yet calm spot that sports wooden tables and chairs, including a communal table in the middle of the room. The glass doors that serve as walls on this corner eatery slide open in warm months to allow the city breeze and sidewalk chatter to infuse the space. I observed a wide range of pedestrian traffic… you name it, I saw it.

So, what to order? One who has been will tell you that the truffled egg toast isn’t to be missed, and if you a truffle person, I’d have to agree.

On my Sunday morning visit, I nibbled on hard cheeses, including fantastic hard goat, romano and ubriaco varieties… olives… grapes and almonds…. and culatello panini with noci and mozzarella.

But the killer dish?

Holy crap, try the assorted bruschette. Paired with the right wine, the lightly toasted bread included an olive spread, fresh tomatoes…. and then, the noci. Amazing ground walnuts mixed with italian olive oil.

The walnut spread on this bread has beat out the egg toast in my book. Think out of your mind peanut butter, with herbs…. on fresh french bread. Subtle, rich, salty, earthy, perfect.

I can blog my fingers off and recommend a number of dishes, but honestly, everything on this menu is a winner. So, plan a trip and block out several hours… you’re gonna need it.

‘inoteca. The restaurant LA and Chicago only wish they had.

KILLER DISH: bruschette with noci

WHY THEY RULE: open 7 days, until 3am nightly

WHEN YOU ARE DONE: walk a block to economy candy and buy a box of zotz and a pack of candy cigs

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Now That's One Damn Fine Wiener

When Life Presents Options, Take The Sausage

When I first glanced at the flight plan for my recent trip to Europe, I was overjoyed to see I had a change in planes in one of my favorite places, Frankfort, Germany.

Sure, airports are airports… but Frankfort is special. As the name alludes, Frankfort is home and birthplace of the frankfurter, and as you may know… I am a sausage fanatic. So true to form, the Frankfort airport has several outlets to stock up while you are waiting for your flight to faraway places.

Just as my excitment was growing, I looked at the flight times. Ouch. Fourty five minutes between flights.

Well, this is a problem.

And sure enough, as carefully as I tried to map out my strategy, the day would turn into a logistical nightmare… with the real possibility I’d be leaving Frankfurt sausage-less. A mortal and culinary sin.

As my flight from Nice rolled to a stop on the Frankfort tarmac, I glanced at my watch as if I had just began taping an episode of “Alias”. It was 9:14. Seated in the last row of an overbooked airplane, I needed to get off the plane, board a bus to the terminal, clear passport control, walk down 2 long hallways, re-enter the departure terminal, have my carry-on bags checked and pass through security, and run down two very long hallways to gate 34. Before 9:50. The flight would leave at 10:00am.

Forget shopping or going to the bathroom… just making the connection would be tricky.

Of course, my fellow passengers had no idea of the seemingly impossible task ahead as they slugged along… which was favorable. Could I maneuver around them in warp speed?

It took what seemed like an hour to reach the terminal, and get into the building, through passport control, and to the sea of people now waiting to re-enter the terminal and pass through security. With this many people, just getting to the place would be difficult. With the sizable crown growing and only a few positions available to check people through, the crowd grumbled and moaned… causing a brief meeting between the 3 officers in charge of the entry point. With my German being marginal at best, I could decipher one thing…. They we going to open 2 extra lines….. and fast.

As I observed, the crowd separated to my left, and like the Holy Grail, appeared what I had seen in my dreams. The Francfort Haus of Sausage.

Now, I am torn. Any moment several new lines will form, and with my knowledge of the plan, I am certain to be at the front of one of them… but when? 30 seconds? 1 minute?

I gazed in a painful, confused manner into the store at a female clerk that could see me agonizing on whether or not I could get in and out. I even stutter stepped twice, like the beginning of a race… struggling with a decision that could possible take me off of an international flight to New York.

Staring at the girl in the store, I mouthed the words “can you check me out in 60 seconds?”…. she paused for a moment, looked at an empty cash register at the end of a long aisle and shook her head yes.

I was off.

I ran through the store like a madman I know, but karma was on my side. I had hit the wiener mother load.

There was bierwurst, bockwurst, bratwurst. Knockwurst, knackwurst and weisswurst. Frankfurters, wienerwurst and cervelat. Rings and rings of fresh German rope sausages as well as the 2 foot long varieties you would see hanging in a butcher shop somewhere in the middle of town. I though I was going to pass out.

In the next isle are the accompaniments; sweet, hot, spicy, course and smooth mustards (or zenf), every variety of bread and roll imaginable… and jars of kraut and pickled everything to make the sausage happy. Oh yea, they had pretzels, too.

Without thinking, I began grabbing cans and packages like a contestant on “The Price is Right”. With my arms full, I ran to my girl *Inga (replace with a nicer German name please) and dumped it all on an empty counter.

I quickly began grabbing each item and asking the question, “Good… or No Good”.

As I grabbed, she nodded and smiled yes buy that, or frowned so-so you may not need that. 30 seconds later, I had a bag of snap skin frankfurters, weisswurst, bockwurst, 3 rings of beer sausage, a massive German beef log, 2 tubes of mustard and a Visa bill to sign.

Yes, believe it, within 60 seconds I had entered the store, shopped, sorted, purchased and bagged… and was now headed for a line that had not a person in it.

Before I could count to 10, a security officer made his way to my line, unhooked the rope, and pointed me to a newly opened x-ray machine and metal detector thingy.

I felt as if I had won The Amazing Race.

I quickly slipped through security checkpoint number 2, down the hallway yet again, to another ticket control point, and to the gate. She slipped my boarding pass through the computer and I walked down the jetway. It was 9:48am.

Yes, I was the last on, which yielded yet another advantage…. finding an entire row of empty seats and claiming them as my own. I stored the luggage overhead, and pulled out one of the sausage ropes to celebrate.

Settling in my seat, I tore off a piece and nibbled, laughing at the notion that the entire gamble could have gone terribly wrong. About that time, the female flight attendant noticed my snack, and leaned over to me as she looked to see if my seatbelt was fastened.

“Sehr gut, ya?”… or “That’s Good?!”… she smiled.

“If you only knew how good”… I remarked.

If in fact she only knew…..

Friday, May 19, 2006

How Do They Do It?

Two European Gems Raise The Bar…. Again

**note André is traveling the French and Italian Riviera and files this blog from somewhere in Northern Italy

Surely one of the joys of traveling abroad is pretending to be a local, and eating like one.

When visiting areas I’ve yet to explore, I tend to spend very little time in the touristy haunts and more in the back streets and neighborhoods, roaming through grocery stores and the like…. finding out what people really eat. It’s a hobby of mine. While my wife looks for shoes, I am tasting salami and buying bread. It’s sometimes more of an obsession than a hobby now that I think of it.

While I don’t have too much time to blog on, let me recap a few standout meals that you’ll need to eat in this lifetime. Amazing stuff.

Nice, France

There is lots to like about Nice as I wrote a month ago on an early trip, but there is one Brasserie that takes the cake. Brasserie Flo.

Yes, it sounds like a bad French diner located somewhere in Indianapolis, but when you get there you realize, this may be the only restaurant of it’s kind in the world.

That’s because Brasserie Flo is built inside of a dramatic old French theatre… using the theatre space for cozy banquette seating, and get this…. the stage for a kitchen.
Upon walking in the front door, the ticket booth area has been scraped for a glass enclosed seafood prep area, teaming with cold oysters, lobsters and salmon. Descending into the dining room is truly breathtaking, as the vaulting coffered ceilings reveal the thick velvet curtains that frame the busy kitchen on the stage. Behind a glass wall, the noise and hustle of the kitchen disappear into what simply becomes one of the most novel things you have ever seen…. and why not? Isn’t the food the real show?

As for dinner, it’s what we expected…. terrific. A perfect plate of warm asparagus topped with herbs and a light vinaigrette, a cucumber gazpacho with a small scoop of ice cream floating on top for pure sweetness, outstanding regional wines and steaks with locally grown potatoes, halved and pan sautéed with chives. Top it off with green apple sorbet and a perfect crème brulé and you go home happy. Really happy.

As much as I enjoy terrific French fare, I was longing to reach the Italian town of Rapallo to sample true Ligurian foods. Liguria is the northwest region of Italy many people skip over in lieu of Milano, Florence and Rome… and what they miss is gastronomic.

It’s this region (and possibly town) that invented pesto, so having a pasta dish with pesto here is an out of body experience. It is like nothing I have ever tasted, so I can only tell you that if you think you have had great pesto, think again. The subtle and fresh flavor that this sauce has here in Italy reminds me why we get on airplanes and fly until our butt burns. It’s worth every second.

On the water in Rapallo is Nattuno, a terrific local spot frequented by tourists and locals alike. They specialize in pizzas, pastas and seafood specialties, but make no mistake, it’s all about the pesto.

Our meal began with fresh buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes, a plate of homemade salami and cured parma hams, followed by two pasta dishes….
Pesto with trofie… a small, hand twisted pasta that carries the sauce perfectly, and a penne dish with pesto, tomatoes and cream. Whatever.

By the time the pizza came, we were in pain. As hard as it was, we asked for a box, drank a few cappuccinos and began a stroll along the water past the 15th Century castle that sits in the up lit harbor under the stars. It was so authentic, we laughed of how it resembled a movie set.

So, time to make a reservation. Look at the calendar, put in some vacation time, and book a trip. Anywhere. The only way to taste what’s out there is to get out there and discover…. and… uh, get the pesto.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Everyday Italian, NY Apartment Style

When All Else Fails, Cook It At Home!

Without question, moving to New York has reintroduced me to what is likely my favorite ethnic cuisine... Italian food. Louisiana, although rich with Italian immigrants and history, is not known for it’s authentic Italian fare. With the Gulf of Mexico in your backyard, who can you blame?

So, most folks in the south do their italian cooking at home. The cooking and sauces tend to be very “sicilian” in nature, with thick, rich meat sauces that cook for hours.
Homemade meatballs abound in South Louisiana.... not always headed for a gravy, but often for a meatball poboy, on fresh french bread.

I’ve said before that my simple corner Italian restaurant here in my Upper West Side neighborhood is better than the best Italian restaurant in Baton Rouge... so the quality of New York Italian restaurants should start becoming evident to you.... we are talking unreal. Outside of Italy (and sometimes inside) New York has the best Italian food in the world.

I guess my favorite part of choosing an Italian restaurant in New York is actually having the ability to choose the regional flare in which the restaurant will represent. Do they cook in a light Milanese style, or a Venetian way? Are the meats prepared in a Tuscan tradition or Florentine? Or do we look for a true Roman meal?.... or and age-old Sicilian dive?

Of course, in my restaurant world, it’s all about stealing. Yes, I steal daily from great restaurants... ideas, recipes, presentation, wine pairings, you name it. After all, they got it from someone, too... changed it, made it their own... much like what I’ll do.

I’m not into taking all the credit (although it would be fun) but we do share with our guests where the ideas were lifted.

Like a few weekends ago, when we entertained a few couples here at the apartment. We had a nice spread with various vegetables and spreads, a terrific artichoke and onion crostini appetizer with boursin cheese (I stole that one years ago) and a large plate of fresh hard Italian cheeses with dipping sauces... a dish I experience at Mario Batali’s “Otto” in the Village (I review Otto somewhere down the page, a few months back). Topped off with a few bottles of good wine.... dinner didn’t seem like such a life and death proposition.... we were enjoying the snacking.

That too is something we do a lot of here, “appetizing”. We simply load up a platter of veggies, cheeses, crackers, salami, etc.... pop open a bottle of wine... and, well, dinner is served. If we are able to clear the platter and finish the wine, dinner seems to be an afterthought.

So, if you are needing Italian “goodies”.... I mean, fantastic stuff to make your own trays and platters, I’d like to share with you my favorite haunts in New York. Even if you don’t live here, put them on your list for when you visit. You’ll be the envy of the plane on your way home.

I’ll follow my list with a wonderful, home-cooked meat ragu, that has become a staple at our house. I love his sauce, and really really love it the next day.

André’s Favorite Italian Markets and Food Shops

155 W. 66th Street
Yes, I miss the Village mecca this once was, but it’s back and fighting for culinary supremacy with the others in town who took advantage of their absence. This store is still terrific, and continues to bottle their specialty sauces that originally put them on the map. The 8th Ave at 14th locale is now open as well.

Borgatti’s Ravioli

632 E. 187th, Bronx
It’s a hike, but it may be the best homemade ravioli in the city. Mr. Borgatti has been making the little gems (along with egg noodles) since 1930. Folks in the Bronx line up for them, and I can’t blame them.

Garden of Eden Market
7. E. 14th Street, others....
It’s not a hard core Italian dive, but the fare here is so fresh and so good, I have to mention it. This is a spot where you can find “hard to find” stuff... Lavazza and Illy coffee blends, great cheeses, quality meats, and your favorite european crackers and cookies. Sure you’ll drop $100 here, but you smile all the way home.

270 Bleeker St.
So, it’s not a market exactly, but I just had to include it, because you can take it home with you.... I have always liked risotto, but when I found this place, with over 50 risotto’s on the menu, I flipped. They are all made to order, and are fantastic. If you are headed for the subway, they’ll pack it up for the trip home.

Russo Mozzarella and Pasta
344 E. 11th Street
Yes, the pasta is terrific, but it’s the mozzarella that has had customers returning for nearly 100 years. They have other goodies here as well, including some fine sauces for that pile of fresh linguine you just bought.

Murray’s Cheese
254 Bleeker Street
It truly is my very favorite cheese shop in New York City, although I am sure there may be better. There is just something about the place that pushes my buttons... perhaps it’s the cheese vault at the rear of the store? Or maybe the t-shirts they sell that say “You Have A Friend in Cheeses”? For whatever reason, it’s the real deal, and you can likely find what you are looking for here... and a lot of what you’re not.

Faicco’s Pork Store
260 Bleeker Street
Thank god for Faicco’s. Sure, they have been open for 65 years, and yes, the cuts of meat and pork are superb.... but forget all of it. Open the door, walk to the back, and order a bag full of rice balls (arancini). The lightly fried room-temp rice balls are golf ball sized gifts from god. The creamy rice is blended with a mild goat cheese and herbs, making for an “Italian Boudin” ball I adore. I have tried to get these home without eating them all, and have failed miserably. Four times.


2245 Broadway
We all know about Zabar’s, the mecca of all things wonderful. From fresh roasted coffees, to jewish delights, to fresh meats and pastas, to pierogies... well, you name it, they got it. Not to mention an upstairs of kitchen gadgets that will make a home cook break down and weep. Put aside a good hour, you’ll need it.

2135 Broadway, 424 Sixth Ave, 1313 Third Ave, etc......
It didn’t take long after Balducci’s closes their legendary Village outpost for Citarella to become king of all things expensive and italian... and they did. What is left is one of the finest prepared grocery stores in America, with everything imaginable under one roof. The gourmet stuff here is not to be believed, but what I love about Citarella is the stuff you just can’t find anywhere else... like imported tomatoes (San Marzano brands I never knew existed). The fish counter is loaded with great stuff as well... enjoy.

So, planning an Italian night in your own humble abode? Here is a sauce that will make your guests sing. Adapted from a recipe I found several years ago.

André’s Favorite Meat Ragu

2 lbs. lean ground beef

2 tbls. olive oil

1 lb. ground pork or 1 medium pkg. of pork spareribs

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 cups chopped yellow onions

1 cup chopped bell pepper

2 stalks celery, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. Italian link sausage (I like the spicy here, but sweet works well, too)

2 (6-oz.) cans tomato paste

2 (6-oz.) cans tomato sauce

2 (10-oz.) cans tomato purée (San Marzano if you can swing it)

1 (10-oz.) can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies

4 tbls. dark brown sugar

3 bay leaves

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed

1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp. Tony Chachere's Original Seasoning
(or your favorite cajun seasoning)
1 tsp. kosher salt

4 cups water (use some to rinse out tomato paste cans before adding water to pot)

6 cups chicken stock or broth

1/2 bunch fresh chopped curly parsley

1. In a large Dutch oven, stew pot or Le Creset pot, brown ground beef in olive oil. Remove browned meat from pot and set aside. If using ground pork, brown in same pot. Remove from pot and set aside.

2. Add onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic and sauté until transparent.

3. While the meats are browning and vegetables are sautéing, cut sausage into 1/2-inch pieces and cook in a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Drain oil and set aside.

4. Add tomato paste to the Dutch oven (my large le cruset pot is perfect!) with the sautéed vegetables. If using spareribs, also add at this time. Stir and blend for 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to let the tomato paste burn or stick.

5. Add the tomato sauce, tomato purée, all seasonings and Rotel tomatoes and cook on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring gently to keep mixture from sticking. Add fresh chopped parsley, simmer on low for an additional hour. Add chicken broth to get the gravy the right thickness... the way you like it!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Take Me Out

There's More Going On At The Park Than Hot Dogs

I love baseball.

But when I say baseball, I mean all of it. Sure, the games are fun in person... and every once in a while, you get a good one (with a 9th inning comeback).... but to me baseball is much, much more. Without spending an hour paying homeage to George Will, I'll explain.

As a kid, I became infatuated with stadiums. I loved everything about them… the architecture, the sightlines, the electricity of the game, the food. I loved the smell of the fresh cut grass when you walked into the right field bleachers of Wrigley Field. The call of the 85-year-old guy selling programs at Dodger Stadium from his soap box.

I loved it all.

By the time I was 30, I had been to over 75 college and pro baseball, basketball and football stadiums. Through my journey, I was able to do something special…. I was able to put my finger on the pulse of a community just by attending a game. How were the fans? Are they respectful? Did they support losing teams? Are there families in the stands? How friendly are the vendors? All of it made sense, and I was able to garner a real opinion that most of the time was right on target. Before you move to a new city?.... attend a local baseball game.

So, since I am here to talk food, I won’t spend a lot of time on communities and stadiums, but I can tell you this. People in Seattle love their sports… and cater to families. There is astounding dedication in Buffalo, where Bills fans fry bologna in 10 degree weather. Kansas City fans tailgate NCAA style…. and Florida Gator fans?... well, they can go to hell :) .

Of course, there is nothing like Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night….. but that’s an entirely separate blog.

OK, back to food.

Each visit on my baseball travels grew into a culinary adventure, ballpark style. I have always judged a stadium on its hotdog. I have my own dream dog mind you… a natural casing snap skin wiener, steamed hot in its own freshly steamed bun, with onions and mustard. But hotdogs aside, ballparks these days offer a whole lot more than dogs.

So with the help of the USA Today, I’ve compiled the latest and greatest… with my own comments sprinkled in. If you live near one of the parks, call in sick, grab your glove, and get to the park. Sometimes, we need to feel 12 again.

In these cities, this is what I eat!

Whoever thought food would become part of a home-field advantage?

American League

: The Angels recognize the appeal of Mexican fare and offer shredded beef tamales. Mexican beer on tap. Ole!

Baltimore: The Orioles are from crab country and serve an acceptable crabcake. It's not all lump crabmeat, but it isn't packed with filler either. It isn't a native dish, but an open-pit barbecue sometimes run by former Baltimore slugger Boog Powell is popular. Love this park.

Boston: The Red Sox serve Legal Seafoods chowder, a mainstay at inaugurations. ...
The Hilltop restaurant is famed for a steak tips sandwich you can get at Fenway Park. True local flavor, even if you hate 'em like a Yankee.

Chicago: The White Sox serve a popular Polish dog, and a kosher hot dog with grilled onions. ...They also have a Mexican cantina in center field. Nothing too crazy, and I miss the pizza from the old days.

Cleveland: The city is famous for pierogies, savory potato dumplings, sometimes filled with meat. You can find them at Jacobs Field, where the filling is potatoes and cheese with sour cream and sautéed onions on the side. ... The brown mustard at The Jake is nationally known and marketed.

Detroit: Motor City fans are devoted to Coney Islands (chili dogs) from the Leo's Coney Island stand at Comerica Park. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch owns Little Caesar's Pizza, served at the yard. Love this new park, they did a great job... and the Tigers are winning again.

Kansas City: Gates Barbecue and Arthur Bryant's Barbecue in Kansas City are national barbecue landmarks. The Royals have Gates barbecue on sale. They even scream "Hi, May I Help You".... but the way, I could drink this BBQ sauce. Check my old blogs...

Minnesota: No local specialties. Where's the Walleye Pike and wild rice?

New York: The Yankees offer knishes (rolled dough with filling) and kosher hot dogs.

Oakland: No local specialties of note beyond varied sausages. Considering the aggressiveness of A's fans, maybe raw meat should be on the menu. Stadium is horrible for all pro sports.

Seattle: You can get a rich, creamy chowder, dished up by Ivar's, a local restaurant. Tacos del Mar serves fish tacos. What would Seattle be without coffee? Tully's coffee is all over the ballpark. The Hit it Here Cafe is awesome. This may be the best designed and fan friendly park in America.

Tampa Bay: The Columbia Restaurant, anchored in Ybor City, Fla., is a Tampa area landmark. It has a stand at Tropicana Field serving Cuban sandwiches. Great food, terrible baseball.

Texas: They take barbecue seriously in the Lone Star State. So do the Rangers. They smoke brisket on site. You can smell it in the outfield, and it's enough to drive you insane.

Toronto: It's hard to identify any single food creation with Toronto. Fast-food franchises Pizza Pizza and Mr. Sub have stands at SkyDome. Otherwise this stadium stopped being cool about 10 years ago.

National League

Arizona: The D'backs don't go heavy on Southwestern cuisine. Instead they have a stand offering a specialty food from the visiting club's home. Nice in the summer evening with roof open.

Atlanta: Bison burgers from bison raised on owner Ted Turner's massive Montana ranch are an item that can't be found anywhere else. And oh yea, the Braves win a lot.

Chicago: The Cubs serve three favorites -- Italian beef, Chicago hot dogs and deep-dish pizza. Italian beef is shaved slices of well-done roast beef, with peppers and onions and plenty of au jus soaking the bun.
Take a steamed hot dog on a big, seeded bun. Add bright yellow mustard and bright green pickle relish, chopped onions, two slices of tomato, one of cucumber and a sprinkle of celery salt for a Chicago dog . Deep-dish pizza started in Chicago... and it rocks.

Cincinnati: The Reds offer Cincinnati chili, a cinnamon-scented concoction that is less meaty than classic Texas chili. Chiliheads live in Cincy and visit parlors there where it tops spaghetti or hot dogs. Skyline is my favorite, and is available at the park!

Colorado: The Rockies serve Rocky Mountain oysters, lingo for the testicles of cattle. Yummmy! They also offer buffalo dogs, burgers and brats. After that, you probably will need to drink one of the seven microbrews at Coors Field. Ready for this? They pump the beer from ice cold kegs underneath the stadium.

Florida: Think your espresso is strong? Drink dense Turkish coffee? Prefer a brew with 10W-30 viscosity? Cafe Cubano, Cuban coffee, is for you. It gives you a hair-raising jolt, especially if you let them ladle in the sugar. It's at Pro Player Stadium. ... The Marlins also offer the ubiquitous Cuban sandwiches, crusty bread toasted with boiled ham, roast pork, salami, turkey (optional), Swiss cheese and pickles.

Houston: Sheriff Blaylock's barbecue is in the Texas tradition. Rosa's Cantina fajitas, chicken and beef, are popular. If only they had the rocket pitching.

Los Angeles: The local specialty, Farmer John's Dodger dogs, can be made at home or gobbled at Dodger Stadium. They are grilled, never boiled, and the best dogs west of Chi-town... also serve great mexican food as well.

Milwaukee: The bratwurst with red sauce is a legendary item in Wisconsin.
It made the walk from County Stadium to Miller Park. Foodies nationwide are rejoicing. ... Of course it wouldn't be Milwaukee without beer. Miller Park does have beer.

Washington: Nothing going on other than dippin' dots and average hot dogs.

New York: Shea's best fare: Brooklyn soft pretzel and kosher hot dog.

Philadelphia: You can get a Philly cheesesteak at Veterans Stadium, a good one, not a cheap imitation, plus Italian water ice (frozen, flavored ices, very refreshing) and soft pretzels. ... It's a real taste of the city, short only scrapple (slices from a loaf of meat scraps and filler).

Pittsburgh: Two unique items made the move from Three Rivers Stadium to PNC Park: One is Primanti's, a cheesesteak with cole slaw and fries on it, messy and tasty; and the local favorite, Benkovitz's fish sandwich.... awesome.

St. Louis: The Cardinals offer toasted ravioli, a nationally recognized St. Louis snack food specialty, and prize-winning Super Smokers barbecue, done St. Louis style (i.e. meaty ribs). The new park is great, and the food is rockin.

San Diego: Former Padres Cy Young winner Randy Jones serves succulent barbecue. ... You can get fish tacos from the Rubio's chain. They're big in Southern California. ... Try kettle corn, sweet and salty baby!

San Francisco
: The Giants have been adventurous concessionaires for some time (aromatic garlic fries and 40-clove chicken sandwich, for instance). They didn't change with their move to Pacific Bell Park. They have on the stadium promenade a fresh catch stand with Pacific seafood specialties and Orlando's Caribbean BBQ with a marinade from the family kitchen of former Giants great Orlando Cepeda. This is a great park and even with Barry Bonds, worth a trip. The bay setting is amazing.

NEXT BLOG: A report from Rapallo, Italy.... see you from the Italy next week... home of Ligurian Cuisine!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

In Search of Pierogie

The Polish Obsession I Just Can't Shake

If you have been following this blog for a while, by now you figured out that I have a serious obsession with food.

Early on, it was purely taste for me. I loved to eat good food, and lots of it. But later in life, my tastes begin to change (for the better) and my interest in food deepened beyond the sensory perception of a meal or dish.... but to it’s origins. Knowing more about the history, the ingredients, the preparation... the “tradition”.... well, just makes the food taste better.

That said, I have a truly unique background that has been more than enough fuel for my culinary travels... and today, I’d like to chat with you about a food that I have a deep, deep passion for.


Wasn’t expecting that, were you! Yes, I am from South Louisiana, born and raised in Baton Rouge. What you may not have known is that I had a polish grandmother on my Dad’s side (my Grammy) from New Hampshire that could make a pierogie like you’ve never tasted.

Growing up I always looked forward to visits from my Grammy. She was a ball of energy, fun-loving and always on the go. Even though I was twice her size, she could eat like nobody’s business... eat and eat and eat. Not huge amounts... just a constant nibble. She had a undeniable love for food and it showed.

Inevitably during her trips, we’d have a pierogie day... a full day of assembling these little gems, and a full evening of eating them. Now Grammy could make a serious cabbage roll as well as some of the best coffee cake you’ll ever eat... but make no mistake about it, her visits were about the pierogies. She was the pierogie master.

If you haven’t had a pierogie (and no, those nasty frozen things at your grocer don’t count) let me explain. A pierogie is a flat dumpling... half-moon shaped, stuffed with a variety of fillings. The dough is not tough and chewy, but pasta like. They are served one of two ways... boiled and pan fried (some folks deep fry theirs, but yuch... not the way to go). Hardcore pierogie folks tend to go either way... but my way is pan fried in butter until hot and crispy.

These days, you can find pierogies filled with just about anything. The most popular filling is potato, a throwback to the old days in Poland when this was just about the only vegetable you could count on. A mashed potato filling, either plain or with onions. The dish would be likely topped with sauteed onions and served with a dollop of sour cream. You can also find mushroom, spinach, cabbage, kielbasa as well as a dozen dessert types.

My favorite filling is the one my Grammy made... sauerkraut and mushroom. The filling really was kapusta... a mixture of cabbage, kraut and mushrooms, cooked down in bacon grease. Fantastic. For my brother, she’d make a meat filling... also good, but very different.

So if you’re not a pierogie eater, or wondering why you don’t see these little guys everywhere, the answer is really simple. They may be amazing to eat... but they are a pain in the #!^@%$ to make. Having a wife who is also nuts about pierogies, I get talked into making them myself about twice a year... and believe me, I clear my calendar for a day.

First, making pierogies takes patience. The dough must be made from scratch and be just the right texture. The cabbage for the kapusta filling must be first boiled, then cooled, shredded and added to the kraut, mushroom and onion mixture.... which then must cook down, and then cool. When ready, the dough must be rolled thin, and cut into circles to be filled. Once filled and sealed, the pierogies must then be carefully par boiled then removed to cool. At that point, you can place in the fridge, freezer... or go straight to a hot skillet to fry and brown in butter.

Now, a warning. If you haven’t had these, and decide to read further about how to procure your own... they can become extremely addictive. Think Polish crack.

There, you’ve been warned.

In New York, the Polish neighbors of the Lower East Side have pierogies galore. Stores like First Ave. Pierogie and Deli (130 First Ave. btw. 7th and St. Marks) have a huge variety and will package for a train ride home. Of course, stay and eat a dozen there before you leave. Also good are the polish “diners” in this neighborhood, including NEPTUNE, a favorite of mine on 1st Ave. at 12th. Their pierogies are great as well as their borsht, which has won awards. It’s a dive, but the food is cheap and the real deal. Many folks drift to Velselka, the stylish polish outpost on 2nd Ave and 9th, and open 24-hours, their food is terrific.... but the pierogie here is not my style, unless you like them boiled. Their fried variety get thrown into a deep fryer, and this changes the essence entirely.

Pieogies have stormed into the internet, and a few googles can scrape up a few quality joints. My favorite so far is Pierogies Plus, in suburban Pittsburgh. Their kraut and mushroom are excellent, and each is made by hand. Believe me, once you’ve had a sweet polish lady stuff your pierogies, you’ll never consider eating store bought again.

You can find them here: http://www.pierogiesplus.com/home.htm .

There you have it. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing my own recipe, something I’ve never done. If you can’t wait until then, hit one of the links above... you won’t be disappointed!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Dylan Prime : Tribeca Does Steak

But Can It Compete With The Big Boys?

The Tribeca area of Manhattan is hardly recognizable from its earnest beginnings as a gritty lower west side industrial hub.

Sure the buildings remain the same, but my how the insides have changed. The development and growth of Tribeca has a direct relationship to the emergence of New York City becoming the business center of America. Tribeca was the center of the fresh fruit and produce market, the shipping capital of the United States, and the site of the first "skyscraper" in America, the Woolworth Building. It was in the Tribeca area that the textile industry grew into one of the largest employer and producer in New York.

Today, this area is loaded with trendy loft spaces, sleek bars and groundbreaking restaurant spaces. While the area prides itself on resting well ahead of the cutting edge, it also carries a charm that much of the city wishes it had…. a feeling that can only be duplicated by space, sunlight and city planning.

Tucked away in the heart of Tribeca is the funky steak house, Dylan Prime. A hip, stylish joint, Dylan attracts an upscale local clientele as well as those on expense accounts entertaining clients. Upon entering, Dylan offers a large (by New York standards) lounge area, with several beers on tap as well as a stocked back bar. Martinis feel right at home here, and seem to be the drink of choice. The main dining room is smallish but well appointed, if not a bit dark. It also features a bar area, which I am guessing serves as overflow on late weekend nights when scoring a table here becomes a 2 + hour wait.

As far as the food goes, I’d love to light this webpage on fire with glowing reviews, but in general I found the experience average. The steaks are good and well prepared… but if its meat you are craving, this certainly wouldn’t be my final destination. That said, if you live nearby and didn’t want to make the trek to Brooklyn or Midtown, Dylan Prime is just fine.

The menu is fairly simple but offers several interesting choices. We started with the fondue…. a good sized pot of bubbly hot gruyere cheese, with sliced apples, crusty bread and fresh crumbled bacon. Until the cheese cooled, the dish was good and perfect to share.

The menu is ala carte, with a decent choice of pricy steaks. I opted for a ribeye, and chose a few sides… homemade mac and cheese and green beans tossed with garlic.
The ribeye was a bit fatty… not thick and marbled as I was expecting. The meat was good, but the outside was well seasoned, a trick not needed if the meat is well aged and brimming with flavor.

The sides were solid, and the green beans stood out. Served tender crisp, they quickly became the focal point of my meal… not a good sign when plopping down over $30 on a steak.

What happened to Dylan Prime is what happens to most hip restaurant spots…. at some point, the food fades into the shadows, and the scene takes over. When I walked in the room to be seated, each and every head in the space turned to check me out… meaning this is a place to see and be seen... not to savor USDA Prime beef. That said, Dylan Prime is a cool hang and a spot I wouldn’t hesitate returning to for a cocktail or snack at the bar… just don’t waste your “steak” dollars here…. it’s worth the trip to Peter Lugar when you need a real fix.

Dylan Prime
62 Laight St., New York, NY 10013
at Greenwich St.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Pastis: Deal or No Deal?

Pastis has a challenge. Does it shift gears and become a formidable top shelf bistro…. or continue to serve as the “in” spot on the southern edge of the white-hot Meatpacking District on New York’s lower west side. Does it matter?

To those seeking authentic bistro fare without the watered down versions of tried and true French dishes, yes. To those who rubber-neck in the oh-so-crowded dining room, not really. To everyone else, well it really doesn’t matter, because they can’t get a table.

My weekend trip to Pastis was done the right way… with a 3-week in advance reservation… at 6:30 on a Saturday night. We arrived and were seated in the busy main dining room immediately… a good sign. The room was washed in faded yellow and adorned with giant mirrors featuring the menu, hand painted on the fronts. Hmmm. Feels French.

The menu at Pastis is refreshingly authentic, down to the Pernod and Mint cocktail. Yes, there are steak frites (I am guessing half of the restaurant was eating beef), but just as appealing were the simple pastas, seared tuna and braised beef. With the bubbly onion soup and stinky tomato and goat cheese tart… well, it really felt like a Parisian bistro. We even had a French waitress who tried to yell the daily specials over the roar of the packed dining room. Hmmmm. Sounds French.

With thick steaks, delicious fries and gravy boats full of béarnaise sauce piled high, my dinner (the only stray) arrived. A thin sliced pork Milanese… pounded thin and fried, with spinach and mushroom salad on the side. Hmmmm. Tastes French.

My only hiccup was the service. While the waitress seemed to have her act together, busboys hovered uncomfortably over the table all night…. as they were waiting to scoop up the plates, change the tablecloth and welcome the next table. As a general rule, each time one of these guys make a motion to pick up my plate before I am finished, I tack on an automatic 10 minutes (per attempt). You can guess how popular I have become at some restaurants.

The bottom line: Not so French.

Pastis is a great spot for solid bistro food. Unfortunately the “scene” that has developed around the space now dominates the dining experience… so don’t expect any life-changing stuff here. I believe other neighborhood spots in the city (Nice Matin on the Upper West Side) have equally good food without the Trendy McTrenderson’s.

Pack up and head north…. Why travel into the deep when you can get average food and decent service at Café Luxembourg?

9 Ninth Avenue, (at Little West 12th Street)
New York City, NY 10014-1203