Stopped by The Waverly Inn and Garden last night with Wife and was offered what was marked as a preview menu, so I will give a simple preview report. Based on a single meal I feel that this place is going to get all kinds of positive and negative attention going forward and because it varies so greatly in its levels of execution that it will probably deserve it. But my feeling is all in all taken as an Inn, as it brands itself, and nothing else it is a success and worth visiting.
Obviously what an Inn is has changed over time as all things do, but the genesis is a place serving decent fare to travelers. From this beginning, across the long roads of times and places lost, what would an Inn evolve to were it dropped on the corner of Waverly and Bank Street in 2006 Greenwich Village? Probably this:
Décor: I assume it was named Inn because of the Ye Olde feel of the space, otherwise it would have had to be covered in mud and called The Cave. Three-fourths of the building has short ceilings topping narrow rooms that are warm bordering on hot. Then there is the Garden part, a small room in back which is more of an atrium. An oasis of a large airy space with a vaulted glass ceiling trussed with beautifully decorative ornate iron. Throughout, the decoration is that good kind of clutter of a person into collecting American antiques but with a semblance of taste who jams disparate items into cohesion. Touches like a wallpaper border in the men’s room that looks like it was stolen from Margot Tenenbaum’s childhood bedroom, and different sized and patterned oriental carpets laid to fit and fill the floor as if by happenstance not design, give it that welcoming long existing traveler’s rest spot feeling.
Service: in an old-fashioned inn the people serving you would probably be of the contemporaneous working class and live in the exact building in which you were taking your rest. In our new Greenwich Village Inn they are the contemporary version of this –actors on their way to Broadway. While the service borders on comical, the servers are sweet, good-natured and cheery enough to forgive many various little mistakes (awesome biscuits, I suspect lard, were served hot with spreadable butter but no knife) and are most decidedly the West Village version of the working class. I can’t not mention that the management of the seating borders on the incompetent, but it is the same type of incompetence has caused less good places to seem interesting to the New York dining crowd so I won’t go deeper. Just know that the people at the front have the most to work on at this point.
Wine List: the preview menu seemed to have a good variety of unique offerings, and what seemed middle of the road pricing.
Menu: again presented as preview, it must be accepted (though not happily) that the Monday special of Macaroni and cheese with shaved truffle is not yet available. But overall the entire Inn notion is well applied here if you keep in mind that the intended clientele has done little actual hard work or traveling in most of their lifetimes. Mostly hearty fare, with simple touches of our times applied. If the contemporary traveler arrives in the Village late on a blustery night just back from some place like Aspen or the Caribbean (or more likely just in from work in LA or London) weary from the demanding travel, and comes in a cab as opposed to riding through the cold night on dirt roads in a horse-drawn wagon, this would be the substantial type of offerings they would want to fill their belly before a restorative night’s sleep.
Food: in a word good.
Truffle fries: thin cut, appropriately salted and dressed in truffle oil (enough to present the aroma of truffles but remain crisp and as dry as a fry typically is).
Whole steamed artichoke: pared including about an inch and a half of the tail, simply and a little over steamed, served with drawn butter and a loose mayo which actually dresses the fries quite nicely.
Grilled vegetable salad (small): If there is anything New York needs it is neither more small homey places nor Japanese mega-restaurants, steak houses or burger shops. It is places that competently make decent salads that can actually stand up as a component of a meal. This is my first nomination for that salad. The small was a good size for splitting as a starter between the two of us, but I expect the large and a side of fries would pass as a light meal. Properly grilled summer squashes and asparagus are joined with oak lettuces, frisee, out of season tomatoes, avocados, and corn off the cob, dressed in a simple vinaigrette with accompanying lemon and lime on the side for a perfect acidic zing, the entire package (except the tomatoes) coming together to be a substantial but not overwhelming course with great flavor variety. Quite nice as an alternative to the more hearty offerings that comprise a large part of the rest of the menu, as well as those of the myriad other places in town that seem to either serve either light or hearty but never a decent salad in the middle
Hudson valley free-range chicken potpie: a red clay dish hidden beneath a crispy puff pastry cover holds shredded chicken, peas, pearl onions, carrots, and creamy sauce; pretty much a standard chicken potpie filing, unique for the quality and bite of the vegetables and its touch of tarragon. Tarragon is indeed a cruel mistress and it is well handled here, though I would leave any visible green strands in the dish as bites that included it ran right up against that soapy wall.
Amish organic free-range chicken with foraged mushrooms: how well you roast a chicken is a very good indicator of how talented your kitchen is; this one is commendable, served in two parts with crisp skin and pan juices that mix nicely with roasted mushrooms and winter squash. If you choose this you will probably want to get one of the à la carte side dishes to round it out.
So our new Inn is open, bustling, warm, and homey. The food is pleasing and the staff is amiable. It is definitely a solid addition to the neighborhood. Believe people who say they had a great time and good food, stop in when you are hungry, but be suspicious of anybody using words like “incredible” and phrases like “you have to try their…” They are most probably just excited by what they hear and not the facts. That’s my story, at least until the truffle Macaroni and cheese is available.
Wine with Thanksgiving dinner seems well discussed these days. Personally, for an all around suggestion when asked I tend to recommend Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Salmon Run Riesling.
There are three levels to the classic Thanksgiving dinner as far as a see it. The first are the immutable dishes that absolutely must be included no matter what else you do: roasted turkey, gravy, horrible canned cranberry jelly (other versions are great but nothing has the insane acidity combined with sweetness of the can-shaped blob), stuffing (which varies regionally), and fluffy white mashed potatoes. In the second level are the standards that round out this meal and are interchangeable but will appear in variations: sweet potatoes (roasted with glaze or mashed and topped with marshmallow), green beans (almandine, baked with onion crisps, steamed), creamed pearl onions, green salad, and way too many other ingredients and preparations to go on listing. The third level is one I heartily endorse as long as it does not attempt to replace any of the core five components; it is comprised of the foodie items. Here is where truffle whipped potatoes will show, great in addition to mashed but not a good substitute. Orange-glazed grilled acorn squash can sit right next to sweet potato purée or replace it, but must sit proudly next to the simple, straightforward traditional roast turkey dinner. In my opinion, you can fancy yourself a foodie all you like and try new things with your family and strive to impress, but to impress me make a better turkey than I have ever had; perfect the flavors, don’t replace them.
Over the years I have tried many wine parings to this traditional meal. I have had the very American and egocentric “if I like drinking it, I will like food with it” dinner in which mostly Bordeaux was served. We did the all rosé dinner and the champagne/rosé champagne dinner. I’ve been to the “only vitis grape indigenous to America is Zinfandel” dinner (really indigenous to Croatia by the way), and have tried the always-a-failure “Beaujolais Nouveau with turkey” dinner. In the long run, I have come to feel that the best parings are aromatic whites: they handle the tartness of cranberries, the richness of mashed potatoes, draw out the subtlety of well roasted turkey and stuffing, and stand the best chance of pairing with the thousands of other dishes that will appear over the years.
Having been through all the Alsatian versions, the German versions, the Austrians and the Americans, I have a couple of standbys: Austrian Grüner Veltliner is quite good; in France go with Pinot Gris or Blanc; and in Germany go with the earliest of the Rieslings, Kabinette or Spatlese. As far as America goes, I wanted it to be the home of the perfect wine for the American holiday but had found most of the aromatic whites of America to be overwrought and/or cloying. Then I tried Salmon Run and the other Rieslings of the Finger Lakes region.
Salmon Run is the second label of Dr. Konstantin Frank, the man credited with bringing viticulture to the Finger Lakes. His is a fascinating story well worth learning, but has little to do with pairing wine to turkey. His wine though is my favorite for gifting, bringing, suggesting, and drinking (at least till the crowd forces the move to red) for Thanksgiving dinner.
Autumnal by nature, dry Riesling is pretty well suited to the Thanksgiving meal. Salmon Run benefits from being local – American if that’s you, and New York for me. I have sampled the current vintages over the last five years and have found them, in spite of vintage variation, to be light, minerally and steely, with driving acids enough to contrast well while having enough autumnal fruit and spices on the nose to compliment. And best of all, since a reasonable amount of any one wine for my family gatherings is at least a case, it is very fairly priced ($12.99 on the website).
Start the way I did, add one bottle to that collection of under twenties we all end up mixing into a case with bright ideas like California Sangiovese and see how it suits you.
Thoughts on my dinner at Gordon Ramsay at the London:
This is exactly the place to take people who love food, but not necessarily a destination for foodies.
The food I was served could not have been better prepared.
Like an Olympic dive that could never get a ten because of its low degree of difficulty, the perfection is a bit perplexing. Nothing was so original or inspired as to amaze, but at the same time each component of each dish was exceptional in quality and execution.
The room, if described in parts, would sound busy, but as experienced comes together much like the food: it is warm and intimate enough to be alive, while leaving the space to enjoy your meal and your company comfortably.
The swivel chairs are by far the best seating I have encountered in a fine restaurant.
There are aspects of the room that feel like the subtlest interpretations of Western motif, particularly the some wagon wheel-esqe chandeliers and bridle-y wall hangings.
All in all the place feels like one of the greatest values in town on a dollars-spent-to-experience-provided ratio.
Go because you want fine food, not because you want to be awed.
… I just assume diners know that real Kobe is back in America after a hiatus. But Meg recently linked this rather fluffy piece in the Post so I figured I would offer my experience with it here. I became aware of the embargo’s end shortly before I had what I assumed was real Kobe on my second L’Atelier visit. I didn’t ask so I can’t swear it was authentic, what I can say is it was exponentially better than all the other meat I have been served around town that was branded as Kobe or Waygu (don’t know if you have been to Old Homestead but little in New York food is as pathetic as their offerings).
When I had this discussion with my friend Mark, the Chef De Cuisine at Morimoto, he explained that to truly appreciate the finest Kobe it should be prepared Shabu Shabu. In a nutshell, you quickly swish very thinly sliced Kobe through a hot, flavored liquid and pair it to differing vegetables and dipping sauces. Absolutely convinced that Mark had gone insane from too much Japanese exposure and that meat with that kind of fat content could not be better boiled than seared, I accepted his challenge, leading to my first ever full meal at Morimoto not at the Omakase bar.
The meal left me feeling three things: that Mark is a very good chef producing very cool food from the Morimoto kitchen, that I am a bad friend for confining my dining at his restaurant to the Omakase bar with which he is not involved, and that I was totally wrong – Shabu Shabu is indeed the superior manner for Kobe preparation.
Grilled/seared/roasted and all other high heat methods scorch the predominant and flavorful fats, while with Shabu Shabu the flavored broth heated by an incredibly hot rock releases and encourages them to bloom, offering more of a slightly melted silky texture. Words like rich, buttery, and unctuous describe fast high heat preparations of Kobe and they are indeed special. However, I have no words to describe the sensation of this dish. I will tell you it ended a headache that I had in my temples and I spent most of the rest of the evening with the aromas running through my head in rather blissful contemplation.
There are many reasons to be into trying Kobe and it is an amazing ingredient. If your inspiration is that you are into flavor contemplation and you have an opportunity to try it as Shabu Shabu I think it is well worth taking.
Not sure why I never posted a report on the meal; maybe because I didn’t keep good enough notes, or didn’t want to concede my wrongness to Mark. Either way it was an exceptional meal. I did shoot it, though. Here are the pics of the Kobe Shabu Shabu course:
It takes nerves of steel to decorate your restaurant with a three foot cockroach. To be fair, I am not sure it is a cockroach or that it is carved from driftwood, but that’s how it looked to me suspended from the ceiling in the back corner of Café Cluny, the new little French place in the West Village serving straightforward bistro food. I am sure you are asking, “the West Village needed a new small restaurant serving French bistro food, how will it stand out?” Well, besides the three foot driftwood cockroach, a serious collection of sketches of flora and fauna, and a strikingly good portrait of a young Jonathan Waxman in pencil, it has a stupendous appetizer.
Like Gavroche, Jarnac, La Ripaille, Le Gamin, Paris Commune, Tartine, and the many places in the neighborhood that also serve standard French bistro food but don’t identify themselves as uniquely French, this is a quaint room jammed full of little, two-person tables and bistro chairs that encourages an intimacy with the crowd. You are, after all, about ten inches from your fellow diners in two of the three directions that aren’t facing the table. Also, like all of these places, this one was full of patrons; it would seem outside Paris the best place to be a Parisian bistro is in the part of New York City where the East-West streets start running diagonally SE-NW.
When Wife and I walked in around six on a Monday to a rather sparsely sat restaurant we were told they could accommodate two but that we would need to finish by 7:30pm. This initiated a gamut of feelings in me. First was this isn’t Nobu and I stopped eating at Nobu because of the “I need the table back” thing they do. Second was, well, maybe the table has been reserved and this host is kindly squeezing me in, making a fair deal for both of us (we weren’t going to be long anyway, people who sit before six seldom are and he must know that or he wouldn’t be the gatekeeper at a restaurant in Manhattan). Third was what kind of inept reservationist loads a book around 7:30pm on a Monday? Finally, when the third phrase uttered by our waiter was “there is no rush” I figured best to write it off to new place jitters not worth being distracted by.
Ok, so the place is not very unique and is very popular very early in its run. What matters is the food and wine:
The wine list is trite and dear, however every bottle of wine on the short list is also offered by the glass. A tough program to maintain that would end up wasting a lot of fine wine, it seemed sensible with these simpler selections which may even improve with a little oxidization. The menu doesn’t care what you drink with it so neither should you. Get a glass of whatever you feel like; Swordfish “Au Poivre” will be fine with Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.
Mixed Greens Salad: there can be beauty in a simple salad, as this example shows. Crisp, well selected greens with fine herbs mixed through, dressed in sherry vinegar and a nutty olive oil vinaigrette. There is a margin for error in such simplicity that many versions of this salad fall victim to, happily not here.
Sea Scallops w/ cauliflower puree & beet jus: no doubt the dish of the night. Seared scallops dotted with a touch of caviar resting on a velvety cauliflower purée which has been ringed with reduced beet juice, all topped with a scattering of what I assumed to be baby mache. The scallops, seared to a taut level, had a smooth texture, perfectly complimenting the luscious purée I would bet was 99% butter. The beet sauce offered a light sweetness, the caviar provided saline bursts that stood well individually rather than homogenizing as salt would have otherwise, and the mini-lettuce offered a light bitter touch of vegetal astringency to play off the tight spectrum of sweetness, saltiness, tartness, and richness of the other components.
For entrées we had Roasted All Natural Chicken w/ autumn vegetables and Hanger “Steak Frites” w/ fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard and garlic butter. The good side of both was the cooking. The steak had a great char with a tender, exactly-cooked center, the chicken’s skin was crispy while the flesh remained succulent; both were as good as or better than most of the versions around town. The accompanying vegetables were as good. The fingerling potatoes were called confit in the sides part of the menu, by which I assume they mean poached in oil, either way their waxy flesh had a sumptuous bite. The braised chard was light with only enough vegetal bitterness left to compliment the beef. The vegetables with the chicken were roasted Jerusalem artichokes, onions, carrots, and spinach, a mélange that played quite well with the deep reduction of chicken stock (with its zip of long roasted bones and vegetables) dressing the plate.
Notwithstanding the menu’s annoying habit of presenting certain options “in quotations,” the weakness of the entrées was a pronounced lack of salt, which is often the weakness at new restaurants. I never complain about salt in a restaurant that provides it on the table. If it’s there I can use it after all, but the level of preparation in this case wanted far better salt than was available in the shaker on the table. In the chicken dish the breast, the vegetables, and the sauce were properly salted, the thigh however was entirely lacking (I have to imagine because it was plated under the breast the last touch before service missed it). As for the steak, it was missing salt entirely as were its accompanying potatoes. After three bites I added some of the table salt, only to have it wash through and make the meat taste coated in salt rather than seasoned with. Better table salt would cure this, but I assume from the level of attention in the rest of the preparation it won’t be necessary for long.
So that I could say I tried a dessert I sampled the Concord Grape Tarte with Peanut Butter Ice Cream (apparently the pastry chef does not believe in shorthand). People often try to reinterpret childhood memories like PB&J in dishes, some to good effect, some to poor. This one works, both components are solid and well produced but in no way genius, much like the ingredients they ape. The result is a fun, good take on the fondly familiar.
I originally thought Café Cluny would serve best as a way to skip the line around the corner at Tartine and its sibling good French bistros, except that a week in they are already very full, which leaves us with that scallop. The staff has nailed that cute and adept, if not expert, thing that usually takes years to get down. The food is good enough to expect it will get better. The best you can hope for from a restaurant serving the standards that are on this menu is aptitude, which this place has. Have a bad jones for simply roast chicken? This place will be as safe a stop-off as any other. But I would definitely be willing wait around a short amount of time at the cute little bar and have some drinks in order to eat more of their scallops.
One of the truths I love most about travel is that as great as the better restaurants in the major cities often are, most often the best time to be had is wandering into the small little hole-in-the-wall place on a side street or the long-standing restaurant in the converted country house just beyond the last road in town that a local mentioned as good.
Nowhere is this truer than in Italy, so much so that the same lesson can be applied to its cities. No one should die without seeing Rome, Venice, and Florence, but I have found that with them already visited, cities like Erbusco, Udine and Monforte d’Alba offer better return on your travel time than the more major cities.
Italy is a very regional place and each region is unique. Larger cities there, like everywhere else, tend to draw from many regions and the world, creating a blended cuisine that, while universally appealing, is not necessarily unique. Smaller, less cosmopolitan cities tend toward a regional cuisine typical to the place, the tradeoff being that most often it is rustic dining with humble foods born of humble tradition reveling in their humility. Finding a fine dining establishment at this moment whose focus lies beyond foie, Kobe, and bluefin tuna is a true feat indeed.
I found Trattoria Della Posta the first time the way you find all those “best ever” places anywhere you travel – a local friend said it was a very good place for me and Wife to dine on the optimal versions of Piemonte’s regional dishes during our honeymoon. We went back because it was just that. This time we enjoyed:
Amuse of porcini and tomato: porcinis and tomatoes that I suspect were roasted with herbs and puréed with olive oil. The result was an earthy, coarse emulsification with the metallic tinge of tomato paste that made me wish we had gotten a sparkler to start.
La carne cruda battuta al coltello con tartufo bianco d’Alba: I try the carne cruda at every single restaurant because of how interesting the variations of the dish can be. Here it is as polished as it will get, hand chopped veal formed in a ring mold, drizzled with good olive oil which picks up the aroma of a pile of cinnamon colored white truffle that has been shaved over its top, with micro greens, pomegranate kernels and bits of Castelmagno garnishing. The meat itself is lightly sanguine and perfectly salted, the olive oil fruity, the Castelmageno wonderfully and unapologetically strong in pieces small enough to blend well and provide a lactic contrast to the meat’s richness, the pomegranate sweet and texturally opposed to the other components, the greens light and slightly astringent, and the truffle the kind you fly to Italy in October for.
La cipolla ripena di toma di murazzano e salsiccia di Bra cotto al forno: this dish was not on the truffle tasting menu but is a house specialty that was well remembered from the honeymoon trip, so we requested it as a substitute for Wife’s raw meat course (she is on a brief raw meat hiatus). This is a light, tangy fondue made of aromatic local cheeses and strewn with bits of seasoned meat, collected in a roasted onion and roasted again at high heat. Because it was a substitute for a course on the truffle menu they were kind enough to top it with truffle in a shade of ecru. The resulting mélange was like a perfect version of southern American sausage gravy, except with light, zesty cheese aromas as opposed to simple milk (it now occurs to me that white gravy may be a good way to get more truffle in my egg dishes, a dilemma I am continuously facing).
L’uovo in camicia con fonduta di toma d’elva a tartufo bianco d’Alba: a gorgeous yellow fonduta in a covered bowl laden with white truffle. There are many cheeses in the Langhe region and all the ones that are used in fonduta make each version unique. Those made with toma tend to fall a
little flat in my experience, but not in this case. Definitely mellowed, it still held nuance of its healthy aroma and sharpness of its lactic notes. Once the egg set in the center of the dish is stirred through, its brilliant orange yolk turns the dish a vibrant saffron color and you have what is almost undeniably the perfect vehicle for white truffle enjoyment.
Gli agnnoloti del plin al burro fuso e tartufo bianco d’Alba: a savory meat stuffing with the slight tang of game in a dense chewy pasta envelope, simply dressed with butter and topped with taupe colored truffle. A respectable dish that I would never reject, though it was not necessarily in the league of fits-like-a-glove the other dishes inhabited with their truffle accoutrements. The dish was exceptional and made sense as unique and typical to the region, but the pasta outshone the truffle in this paring.
Il filetto di fassone con la cappella di fungo porcino e tartufo bianco d’Alba: tornadoes of filet mignon, seared and topped with roasted porcini caps, dressed with demi-glace and topped with a snowy white truffle. These were sided with a skewer of autumnal vegetables draped with the thinnest strip of pancetta, and a square of polenta topped with a thick oleaginous mixture that, although on the stranger side of the texture spectrum, was as thick with the foresty flavor of mushrooms as its consistency suggested.
Cheese: a world-class cheese cart was presented and I deferred to the woman pushing it to choose five from the area, each more pungent than the next, and she did, well.
A mini crème brulée was served for its appropriate bit of sweetness at the end of the meal.
Dessert was a puff pastry tart full of apples and apple brandy that I had in the place of chocolate soufflé. Nice and light, it suffered from so much sugar caramelization that it was more caustic than anything else.
We washed this feast down with a bottle of ’97 Giacamo Conterno Monfortino, followed delightfully by a magnum of the ’93. In America I would be terrified to open these gems so early in their maturation (Barolo traditionally made as this is I find best saved), but while wandering around
the mile or so between the Conterno vineyard and this restaurant we learned that these two vintages are drinking well at this time, in this, their place. They were both beautiful – vibrant, elegant and youthful, with austere red fruit and soft, mature tannins. It could just be they are best suited to the food of their region, could be they taste better breathing the same air the grapes expelled on the vine, could be we were on vacation and relaxed enough to forgive the bawdiness of premature Barolo opening. No matter what, this was one of those meals where the food and the wine were in perfect synergy.
More often than not, as humble food is refined it ends up losing its roots to some degree. Provincial cuisine tends to trade a certain integrity when it aspires to a global standard of fineness, making a place offering food at a top level, unlike that to be found in the closest city to the region or the major-metropolitan cities of the world, a exceptional find in the gamut of food.
This is the perfect meal for celebrating the wealth of products indigenous to and better in this area which keep drawing us back across the ocean. A version of everything we had is available in almost every restaurant in Piemonte. Good sense and long tradition have made these the dishes available because they showcase the indigenous product as well as can be done.
Without turning to the indistinct food of the fine dining world, but offering fine dining all the same, this restaurant a couple of kilometers from the center of town in Monforte D’Alba sits right at the crossroads of rustic and haute. Della Posta produces food of the utmost quality and precision without ever losing a sense of its localness, and this is reason enough to make the trek.
Well, I finally made it to Momofuku Ssäm Bar. It was my birthday and with many Rhones, steins, and Jagers well consumed we decided it was time to throw ourselves into the hands of David Chang and his partners in crime. Eight of us strolled in on our ankles around midnight, proudly wielding a white truffle (a birthday present from Asam and Seraph), presented it to David, and asked him to feed the eight of us until we could safely assume the edges would be dulled of what otherwise promised to be hangovers as sharp as the cutting edge of the awesome Masamoto knife Wife gave me earlier in the night.
I was way too well served to fairly critique the meal, but I feel safe declaring that based on how fun this food was drunk it is probably quite good sober. Here are pictures, some shot at particularly jaunty angles, of what it looked like. Over the course of the meal there was heat, sweetness, sourness, unctuousness, lightness and depth, a lot of dishes were consumed running quite a spectrum of flavors and textures.
Of the two oysters, I preferred the one with the red in the dressing. I woke up wishing I could eat another couple pounds of the roasted pork shoulder in bibb lettuce leaves with pureed kimchee. The lightly pickled vegetables were great, the mushrooms my favorite for their distinct ginger zing. Dishes like veal head terrine, fried cauliflower salad, and anything involving apples and bacon start at good and can only be made better. I remember these as better. The truffle played in two dishes, a roasted poussin that was near perfect, and a dish with wide gauged chewy, gummy Asian noodles with a poached egg that besides being first-rate was exactly the unique type of experience I look for. The hamachi was the first truly original uncooked fish appetizer I have encountered in a long time of eating uncooked fish appetizers. As for the pork buns, well they are possibly the greatest après-Jager food there is.
Col. Bill Newsom’s Country Ham (Princeton, Kentucky) Edward’s Wigwam Smoked Ham (Surry, Virginia) Finchville Farms Country Ham (Finchville,Kentucky)
Bo Ssäm-Berkshire butt (except I swear when it was presented it was called a shoulder, whichever it was it was great), dozen oysters, kimchi, rice, bibb lettuce.
It was my birthday so I am sure if you ask Wife, Thursday, Bear, Soho, Octopus, Code, or O’Groom you may get a better feel for nuance and subtlety. But as far as my old drunk self goes this place hit me like a happy hammer, and I’ll be back.
…Because I see it as such a simple reality that the trans-fat ban is stupid and will in the long run hurt the cause of American health more than help I haven’t really paid attention to it much, but this article in the Motley Fool has forced my hand. To learn the lesson of why a trans-fat ban is stupid you need look no further than the origins of the problem.
At some point some genius decided that butter (a component of the human diet for a very long time) was bad for you and said we shouldn’t eat it, giving the American population the belief that butter = bad. Then some other genius invented a way to make non-animal products behave and seem somewhat like animal products, and for some reason believed and got others to believe that a substance with zero equivalents in nature was better nutrition for humans than milk that had been stirred a lot. Americans got the message that margarine was fine and began consuming more of it than they ever did butter. Later, the truth that science does not make better food but alternate food became obvious, and the fact that the created food item was bad for you was probably also apparent but not necessarily admitted to.
So now here we are. Turns out the alternate food is basically poison to some degree or other, but rather than learn from past mistakes and put energy into teaching Americans the nature of fats and that natural fats used appropriately are far better for you than any other possible substitute, big business has created a new food, this time from a plant they created that has a resistance to poison added to its genetic make up, and Americans are getting the message that fried chicken at KFC is not as bad for you as it used to be.
Rather than go back to the naturally occurring lipids that were doing little if any harm originally, the solution is a new synthetic food. The article notes:
"In an interesting aside, the company that provides the Vistive brand of low-linolenic soybeansis none other than biotech giant Monsanto(NYSE: MON). Monsanto put out a press release applauding KFC's move, while KFC said it is working with several possible suppliers, including Monsanto, to secure its oil. Known for genetically modified agricultural products, Monsanto says that Vistive soybeans are grown through conventional breeding techniques, but critics say that's a bit misleading because they still contain the Roundup Ready trait.
Connections to GM foods make this an issue that could, at some point, become controversial, since some people believe that GM foods might prove dangerous in their own right. Of course, it seems unlikely that the people who police their diet against GM foods are the same consumers who frequent fast-food establishments such as KFC, Wendy's, and McDonald's. (In a news conference, KFC President Gregg Dedrick said he didn't know whether the oil would contain GM soybeans). "
Nevertheless, the trans-fat ban will equate in the American conscience to “they made fried chicken safe” and our culture will take one more step toward ill health, particularly in the lower income populations that are the predominant consumers the of offerings of YUM brands.
I know there is no reason to believe me, I am an anonymous, credential-less guy with a website about food, but I hold these truths self evident none the less:
Fried chicken is one of the greatest foods of all time and should be eaten in its proper place in a balanced diet
Because you can’t eat fried chicken all the time you should try to eat the best when you do.
There is a local place making better fried chicken than KFC in every town in America
KFC is never in the running for good fried chicken.
Oil made from a plant bred from genetically altered parents to resist one of the most thorough poisons known at the moment will definitely be shown to be bad for you and will be banned at some point after this has been discovered, just like the current laboratory fats.
So get some lard and a flavorful bird raised on a farm, not in a warehouse, bread it and fry it in a cast-iron pan. Even if you do it every day it is better for you than KFC, but if you do it right it will be just what it should be: comfort food perfect for good times…
A while back I did a post about the glories of the acorn-fed black footed pigs of Spain and the hams and charcuterie that arise from them. Soon after, I received an email from a gentleman named Woody explaining that he was a chestnut farmer/breeder and had recently been raising some pigs on the chestnuts he had been farming. While at this point he is not producing the pigs for sale so I couldn’t buy them, he explained that he would happily give me some for sampling if I was interested and would give him feedback. After entertaining the idea that he might be related to the wine guy at A Voce or some other restaurateur I have been less than nice to, I decided this would be quite an elaborate ruse and that maybe this guy was on the up and up.
Last week, right before my Alba trip, a Styrofoam cooler box filled with dry ice and some pig showed up (so it is worth noting all this meat spent 10 days in my freezer before the tasting). There was a tube of ground pork, a pork liver, an Iowa chop, and some bacon. In the interest of giving good feedback and running this meat through its courses I decided on three tests:
First test – Bacon. For the bacon I went over Pichon’s and did a side by side comparison with what I felt would be a competent competitor. For the other bacon we chose Seriously Good bacon from the guys at the Greenmarket with the Seriously Good Bacon sign.
To be fair, the Seriously Good bacon guys had no idea they were entering a competition, but there was a drastic difference between the two bacons physically. Woody’s bacon was striated with fat while the Seriously Good bacon was more a fat cap next to meat. Both types possessed almost a one to one ratio of meat to fat, the Woody bacon however had its fat spread throughout, while the Seriously Good bacon was more two distinct sides.
We went with two methods of preparation: microwave for its exactness and lack of human error, and pan-frying, because it tastes better. Each preparation was done separately, so as not to commingle flavors. The pan-frying was performed by Pichon in two pans, the microwaving for four minutes at half power in two waves.
I don’t know how much of these results were due to cut and how much were the chestnut raising, but texture does not seem a fair point of comparison. Woody’s won hands down. The fat on the Seriously Good was just getting limber while the meat was already too tough. The Woody pig, however, benefited from its fat being distributed in striations so that crisp was crisp rather than crunchy. This carried even into the tasting – as you chewed the Seriously Good bacon the sensation was of freeing trapped salt from the limber fat, while Woody’s was uniform enough to be perceived as one thing.
As for flavor, in order we preferred the Woody bacon in a frying pan, the Woody bacon in the microwave, the Seriously Good bacon in the microwave, with the Seriously Good bacon in a frying pan bringing up the rear. We tried desperately not to use the word “nutty” to describe the flavor of the Woody bacon. The best alternative we could come up with was when Ringwald noted its faint aromas of roasted winter squash, which did make some sense of the flavor. Sadly, as clichéd as it sounds, the fat of the nut-raised pigs was nutty, wonderfully nutty. Both bacons were salt cured, though the salt notes were far more pronounced in the harder fat of the Seriously Good bacon.
I chose Seriously Good bacon because I love it and wanted as fair a competition as possible. Going in, Pichon absolutely declared he doubted one bacon could be better, or even very different. But side by side I may have designed an unfair competition. Whether we admit it or not, bacon is about fat and the fat of nut-raised pigs just tastes better, more interesting, more complex, more pastoral and in general just more. Hands down the victor of this round was Woody’s bacon.
Second test-was actually an experiment. For the liver I decided we should try to recreate the sofritto Nettasdad made when we roasted the pig in October. I had tasted Nettasdad’s sofritto but was too busy with pig roasting and wine drinking to see him make it. What we had to go on was that awesome old hand Italian cook thing where he mumbled the recipe as: “the liver, the heart, some pork meat, some tomatoes, some garlic, some wine, some peppers oh yea and some peppers.” With this in mind, the gift liver seemed a fair excuse for me to test my hand at some-some-some.
We grated about four garlic cloves and set them in a cool pan with olive oil to wait while I chopped up the liver in a rough dice and mixed the ground pork in.
Once the liver was cut up and the ground pork was added to it I turned the heat under the pan to high.
As the garlic started to brown I added the pile of meat and spread it around evenly. I moved it a little too much, I think, because in the long run the meat more grayed then browned. (Next time I will brown the offal first, then the meat).
Once everything was uniformly grayish brown I added some twists of salt, black pepper, and a couple shakes of chili flake.
Then we threw a large fistful of rough-chopped vinegar peppers in and let it simmer for about fifteen minute with about four glugs from a bottle of a California Cabernet Sauvignon we were drinking (‘97 McKenzie Muller to be exact).
The first taste lacked a certain acidic zing so I added a couple more twists of salt, a couple more twists of pepper, a few more shakes of chili flake, and about a quarter cup of the vinegar from the peppers.
Then Pichon remembered that Nettasdad had said tomatoes so we added about a half cup of chopped tomatoes and their liquid and let that cook down for another fifteen minutes. This added a different and sweeter acidity, rounding the dish out nicely.
Was it as good as Nettasdad’s? Who knows? (Like I said, I was Busy drinking and roasting while he made it.) It was very good and I think I can make it better next time. I would happily serve it to friends as well as enemies as was. How much of the credit belongs to Woody’s pig meat and liver? At this point I am willing to split credit, the worst critique we got was “that’s awesome” and that was from a sober person. If I am sure of anything it is that great cooking may cover mediocre ingredients, but just as much when fooling around in the kitchen trying to reproduce someone else’s good results great ingredients will give you a huge amount of leeway which I definitely enjoyed.
I gave the chop to Joey wrapped hoping he would be able to mask from me which was which; sadly this could not happen. So I never saw it uncooked. On the plate, though, Woody’s was a more traditional chop and obviously different from Joey’s very thick one so I decided to turn the tables, cutting them down to bite-sized morsels and presenting them to Joey and one of his waiters blind, both of whom preferred the house chop.
Again, this was an expected outcome. Joey, his recipe, and his chop have come together over time to be a pretty special combination and just throwing Woody’s chop in deprived it a fair evolution. There is no doubt, though, that Chef Campanaro was fair in the kitchen; both chops were the same hue of pink in the middle, the Woody chop a little more succulent and the Joey chop toothier, apparently by nature.
Once the four of us had tasted, the consensus seemed to be: -- that the fat on the Woody chop scorched on the grill, giving it an acrid note. We figure that this cut may be better suited to roasting or some other longer, lower heat aplication. -- that the fat in the Woody chop really adopted the fennel and black pepper notes of Joey’s marinade, so much that some bites were a little overpowering, and that the aroma of these lingered far longer with the Woody chop.
So what have we learned? First and foremost, it may be bad to accept candy from strangers, but pork should always be welcome. Second, that a diet of nuts makes for far more interesting pork. I don’t know what it will take for Woody to move from the fooling-around-raising-pigs-on-the-nuts-left-over-after-the-humans-are-taken-care-of phase to the pig-raising phase, but I hope it happens soon. This meat was amazing, seriously reminiscent of the greatest pigs I have had.