Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Hit and a Miss in Park Slope, Brooklyn

In the last week, my husband and I have tried two restaurants new to us on Park Slope's 5th Avenue. One, Lobo, was a huge miss (in every respect) and the other, Brooklyn Fish Camp, a delight. Here's the skinny on both:

MISS: Lobo, 188 5th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn.
In search of a place to watch the playoffs and eat a little dinner, my husband and I popped into Lobo last weekend. This Tex-Mex restaurant, however, had awful and indifferent service, unpalatable food, and a lonely atmosphere. We sat at the bar where we were essentially ignored by the bartender. After we'd managed to attract his attention (we were two of only four people seated here, by the way) and order drinks, we perused the rather conventional menu. My husband settled on pork tacos and I went for the cheese and bean chalupa. The food was crated out in record time (a sure sign that very little was prepared to order) on huge, boat-like plates that would have individually served an entire football team. If the food had been good, this might have been nice (leftovers!); however, it was so bland, insipid, and uninspired that I left 80% of it behind. The worst part: the processed cheese they used on the chalupa (pretty much everything tasted like it came out of a can). We will most definitely not be returning here and would advise others to seek out better Mexican food down the street at El Jalapeno or up on 7th Avenue.

Lobo on Urbanspoon

HIT: Brooklyn Fish Camp, 162 5th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Fish Camp is pretty well known, yet we only got around to giving it a try recently. And I'm so happy that we did! The place itself is quite small and has a charming atmosphere. Past the bar, you'll find a handful of tables, each with a view of the open kitchen where all the seafood magic takes places. Fish Camp features whole roasted fish, lobster (in the shell or as lobster rolls), a smattering of more elegant fish preparations, and a series of sandwiches. I went for the pan-seared cod sandwich, which was served on a fabulous and fresh roll with a lemony-garlicky aioli and arugula. It was SO GOOD. The sandwich came with shoestring frites that were incredibly addictive. My husband had the shrimp tacos, which I think he might have regretted ordering. They tasted good, but the fish seems to be the source of the best dishes here.

Brooklyn Fish Camp on Urbanspoon

Saturday Morning Blueberry Muffins

Every weekend I wake up feeling the urge to make something special for breakfast. And every weekend I open the fridge only to realize that, yes, it has been several days since I've been to the store and supplies are dangerously low. There is no syrup, so pancakes are out. The bagels hiding in the back of the fridge are hard and give off an 'eat me and regret it' vibe. Then I peek in the freezer and see those yummy frozen blueberries I bought to make smoothies and never used. I smile and think: "Blueberry muffins!" If you're thinking the same thing, here's a great recipe to try. It's a bit different in that it relies on yogurt rather than milk or sour cream to provide body.

Saturday Morning Blueberry Muffins
Serves 3 (makes 6 muffins)

4 Tbs softened butter (I use salted organic)
1/2 cup sugar (I use raw)
2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt (I like Stonyfield)
1/2 - 3/4 cup of frozen organic blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Position the oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Beat the softened butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla until well incorporated.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add half of this mixture to the egg/butter mixture and beat until just incorporated. Add 1/4 cup of the yogurt and beat until just incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour and yogurt. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Line muffin tin with paper cups and fill each with batter (I fill them nearly full). Dust the tops of each with a little sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown. Let them rest in the tin for 5 minutes after removing from the oven. Remove to a rack and cool.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Obscenely Good Cupcakes

Well, if you didn't put on as much extra weight as you were fearing over the holidays, I recommend these cupcakes as the perfect solution. They are, as the title of this post asserts, obscenely good. These have a light texture but buttery mouthfeel and the almond adds a subtle but addictive flavor. I've adapted this from the "Barefoot Contessa Cookbook"

Homemade Yellow Cupcakes w/Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes 24 cupcakes)

Ingredients (cupcakes)
3/4 lb salted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp of pure almond extract
3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature

Instructions (cupcakes)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about five minutes - don't skimp on time here, this step is important). Before you begin creaming, make certain the butter is at room temperature! After five minutes, set the mixer on low and add each egg, one at a time. Beat at least 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate each egg fully and create a light, airy mixture. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine.

In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in three separate additions, alternating with the buttermilk (beginning and ending with the dry). Incorporate until *just* blended (you don't want to overbeat the flour, it will toughen the batter).

Line a muffin tin with liners and fill each cup to the top with batter. Bake for about 30 minutes (begin checking at 25 minutes). The cupcakes should be a light golden brown on top (you may need to bake as long as 35 minutes). Take them from the oven and let them cool 15 minutes in the tin. Then remove from the tin and cool completely on a rack.

Ingredients (for the icing)
16 ounces cream cheese (I like Philadelphia brand) at room temperature
3/4 stick of butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
About 1 cup confectioners sugar (to taste)
4 oz bittersweet baking chocolate, melted (I like Ghiradelli)

Instructions (for the icing)
While the cupcakes are baking, remove the cream cheese and butter from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy and well-incorporate (about 2 minutes). Add the vanilla and almond. Beat in the confectioners sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Taste after each addition, adding more if you want the frosting sweeter. Add the melted chocolate with the beaters on low, fully incorporating. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed. Chill icing in the fridge until the cupcakes are ready to be frosted.

Assemble the cooled cupcakes by piping or spreading the icing on. Store the cupcakes in the fridge (though I recommend bringing them to room temperature before eating)

I dare you to eat just one cupcake at a time!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Char No. 4: Meat, Smoke, Whiskey, Good

Restaurant Name: Char No. 4
Restaurant Location: 196 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY

(photo credit: Robyn Lee)

Sid and I have been eying Char No. 4 up like a leg of lamb for some time now. And, finally, last night, we took a bite. Did it live up to our drool-inducing expectations? Hell yes.

First, this is no place for vegetarians. I believe I saw some sort of vegetarian pasta on the menu...but let's face it: however upscale this spot might be, it's a bbq joint and in bbq cooking, veggies are a garnish. Plus, the meat here is awesome - perfectly cooked, perfectly smoked, and super-tender.

For starters, we had the Smoked and Fried Pork Nuggets with Char No. 4 Hot Sauce and the House Cured Lamb Pastrami with Coriander Aoili and Rye Toasts. Both were great. The nuggets were super-crisp on the outside and soft, soft, soft inside (the interior was smoked, minced pork meat) While delicious, I think I might have preferred meat that had not been minced. The sauce was HOT and though it was advertised as a "house" sauce, it tasted suspiciously like Sirracha to me.

The pastrami (pictured above) was delicate, sweet, salty, and generally fabulous. It was mounded atop a mustardy aoili and topped with pickled onions and tiny micro-cilantro (which I'd never had...and LOVED). I'm not certain I've seen Sid eat anything quite so happily in all my life.

For dinner, we tried the House Smoked Spare Ribs with Jalapeno-Bacon Cornbread and Baked Beans and the Smoked Pork and Maple Sausage with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon. Again, both were great. The ribs were very meaty and very juicy. The outsides were crusty with spices (though the sauce they were served with was perhaps a bit on the vinegary side). The cornbread was the most awesome thing EVER. I could have consumed an entire plate and still wanted more. It was fluffy, tender, flecked with fresh jalapeno, studded with crisp bacon, and served with honey butter. Good lord.

The beans were the big disappointment of the evening. Cloying, thick, and almost crunchy (undercooked?)--they generally sucked.

The housemade pork sausage was delicious - very juicy, creamy with pork fat, and slightly sweet from the maple. It was served on a bed of tiny Brussels sprouts that had been sauted with crisp bacon nuggets and (I think) some hazelnuts. Very rich.

Though Char No. 4 is billed as a Whiskey house (and they have a truly impressive array of Whiskey cocktails, etc.), they also have a small but solid wine and beer list. Overall, great food and drinks, friendly, helpful service and a fun atmosphere. Plus, there's that cornbread....mmmmmmm.

Bon Appetit!

Char No. 4 on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lark: Happiness on Little Plates

Restaurant Name: Lark
Restaurant Location: 926 12th Avenue, Seattle

Jonathan Sundstrom's little gem of a restaurant is all rustic elegance and sinful indulgence. Happily, this is all perfectly justifiable when such rich cuisine is served in small, restrained plates. Here is a place to literally order everything you want and not feel (too) guilty about it in the morning!

Divided up into sections (cheese, vegetables/grains, charcuterie, fish, meat, and desserts), the menu entices...and everything on it is good, which I can attest to since six of dined here over the holidays and probably ordered about 12 different dishes between us.

A few highlights included:
* The Beet, Apple, and Goat Gheese Salad with hazelnuts and pomegranate (dusky, sweet, tart, and creamy)

* The Rosti Potatoes with Clabber Cream (the crispy exterior and fluffy interior, all smothered with melty cream, was irresistible...although, it may just be my obsessive love of potatoes that makes me feel this way.)

* The Pork Rillettes with toasts and Armagnac prunes (rillette perfection--the ideal ratio of fat, to meat, to spices)

* The Landjager with two mustards (a simple, slightly spiced cured sausage...addictive)

* The Carpaccio of Yellowtail (Sid, Jeff, and I were actually fighting over this one. It was super-fresh with bright flavors and a supple texture)

* The Crispy Pork Belly with leeks, lentils, and black truffle (earthy, fatty...sin on a plate)

* The Coulotte Steak with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Mushrooms (free-range beefiness exemplified)

For dessert, the standout was the Chocolate Madeleines with Chocolate Sauce (served hot, folded into a warm shared).

While every single thing we tasted (including several items not listed here) was wonderful, I think that in hindsight it might have been better to order a smaller range of dishes that would pair well together (including duplicates to ensure enough food for a large party). Overall, though, Lark is a comfortable little pleasure-house for the senses.

Bon Appetit!

Lark on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Canlis: Classic Elegance & Amazing Food

Restaurant Name: Canlis
Restaurant Location: 2576 Aurora Avenue North, Seattle

After working with the excellent Daniel Humm at New York's Eleven Madison Park (see review of EMP in this blog), Chef Jason Franey has now moved to Seattle's Canlis Restaurant, where he serves as Executive Chef. He brings with him a modern and fresh touch, which he appears to have applied deftly and subtly to Canlis' classic menu. After 60 years, Canlis still remains relevant...and well worth a visit.

So, after a long day of holiday shopping, my parents and I braved the traffic along highway 99 and made our way to Canlis. We were ushered out of the chaos and into a serene island of low lighting, tasteful decor, and breath-taking views. The service was impeccable without being snobbish or over-bearing and the food was...somehow thrilling and comforting at the same time.

With a long week of eating ahead of us (ah, the holidays...), we opted to order several small plates rather than indulge in a larger tasting menu.

I began with a Canlis classic: the Canlis Salad. I'd actually seen this salad featured in an issue of Food & Wine (or maybe Bon Appetit?) recently and had wondered what the fuss was all about. After all, it's just a salad. But, having tried it, I can report that this salad is truly fuss-worthy.

A riff on a Cesar salad, the Canlis salad features crisp, perfect Romaine, amongst which hide nuggets of bacon and shreds of fresh herbs. The dressing was Cesar-like, but more citrus-y. I literally could not stop eating it.

I followed the salad up with another classic, the Peter Canlis Prawns. What could be more simple than the freshest, plumpest, sweetest prawns cooked until *just* crisp-tender, curled beneath a delicate mound of micro-greens and surrounded by a slick of golden, creamy sauce? Nothing - that's what. My taste-buds were literally purring after the first bite.

Cindy started her meal with the Dungeness Crab Cake. As is proper, this was nearly all crab meat, sweet and glistening and bound together with just the slightest hint of breadcrumbs. It was garnished (quite cleverly, I thought) with thin matchsticks of Granny Smith Apple and a bright cilantro-curry sauce. She followed this up with the only actual entree we ordered: the homemade Wild Mushroom Ravioli. Filled with savory mushrooms and sweetly creamy mascapone, doused with vin jaune, and topped with a beautiful foam, this dish was perhaps the most reminiscent of Eleven Madison Park's offerings (and, as such, awesome).

Steve began his dinner with a chilled salad of Prawn, Mango, and Avocado, served with a delicate sprinkling of micro-herbs, a pomegranate glaze and chive oil. He followed this with the Seared Scallops served with butternut squash, hearts of palm, and chorizo (these were sweet and perfect).

For dessert, we shared the classic Grand Marnier Souffle with vanilla bean creme anglaise and the Warm Apple-Filled Donuts with Cinnamon Ice Cream. While the donuts were truly delicious and would have shone in practically any other context, the souffle upstaged everything. It was literally perfect. The entire thing rose to the exact same, elegant height on all sides. It was gleaming and golden on top and ethereal and white on the inside...and the creme anglaise...oh, give me a few gallons and a big spoon and I'd die happy.

It may have been the busy rush and tumble of the day, or the pleasure of dinner with my parents after a long absence, but dining at Canlis that night was like a vacation in of itself: elegant, relaxing, and full of beautiful things.

Bon Appetit!

Canlis on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top Food Experiences of the Decade

In no particular order the following is a list of the Great sources of entertaining company and awesome food enjoyed over the decade just completed.

Chefs Steve and Miranda: Meals at home and on vacations with family and friends have in many ways been the best of all. Over this decade I like to think I have learned to plan, select, prepare, and serve many truly outstanding meals. Sharing that joy and gift with my daughter Miranda has added a depth and breadth to our relationship that is inestimable and truly treasured. Today we Skype several times a week about cooking, and food.

Thomas Keller: Per Se in NY and Bouchon Bistro in Yountville and Las Vegas have been enjoyed with Family as really top experiences. Meeting Thomas Keller, touring his kitchen with him, and the sublime meal at Per Se is a real life experience for me. Also the Thomas Keller French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc cookbooks have been life changing in the evoluion of my cooking techniques.

Jason Wilson: Chef Jason Wilson and his restaurant Crush have provided some of the best and perhaps the most memorable (my daughter Miranda's wedding dinner in our garden, meals of my life. Jason has a skill in the kitchen, especially with sous vide cooking, that really speaks to my palate.

Hostellerie Jérôme - Bruno Cirino: This restaurant in La Turbie France has provided many awesome meals with family and friends. It is definitely the location of my foodie daughter Miranda's food epiphany. My love of France, French food, French Service, and the amuse bouche has really been influenced by Bruno Cirino and his wonderful restaurant.

Restaurant Le Clos de la Violette Aix-en-Provence - France : A wonderful long lunch here with Cindy, Miranda, and hosted by our good friends Beth Presslar and Raleigh Roarch is one of my fondest food memories. A 3 hour drive from opposite directions for both of us - getting hopelessly lost for an hour within a block of the restaurant and then and sublime meal. thank you Beth and Raleigh

Les Deux Freres Restaurant Roquebrune - France Many lunch's on the Patio overlooking Monte Carlo and Cap Martin with family and friends like Bill, Shirley, and Melania Page are truly memorable. In many seasons, states of health, weather, I can actually remember them all with great fondness. I believe that a trip there with Melania started her on her route to being an expat in Europe.

La Favorita Restaurant Apricale Italy - Zabaglone! Shirley drinking everyones Grappa! - What a fun little village restaurant high in the hills, on a little road that follows an ancient abandoned Roman aqueduct. Again, many a fine meal with friends and family.

Carla Giomi wine and food guide, San Gimignano Italy - My first great food trip and travel bonding experience with my daughter Amy was an Epiculinary Trip to Italy in November 2001 with Carla as our guide. Cindy and I subsequently went back and revisited most of the spots with Carla in 2002. Part of the tour with Amy was a tour and lunch at Fattoria die Barbi that I will never forget. This estate has a wonderful private restuarant and makes at least 5 different wines including the Brunello. Being right after 9/11 we were the ONLY people on the tour. Amy was having some stomach travel problems so she just has plain pasta and water. I on the other had got to do the special Epicurious Tour lunch and wine tasting which included a whole, large carafe of each of their wines - they were good and they were extremely proud of them so I didn't want to just take a sip of each one.... glad Carla was driving.

Eleven Madison Park - New York - Daniel Humm. This Fall Cindy, Sid, Miranda, and I had what Cindy considers her best restaurant meal ever at this NY Times 4 star restaurant. See the blog. this is the highest end of Danny Meyers string of great restaurants - another we have had many a great meal in is Gramercy Tavern

Holly Smith - Cafe Juanita north of Seattle. Holly, James Beard award winner, is a great chef with a fabulous northern Italian fine dining establishment. When I choose a really important meal to me personally - such as my retirement dinner or birthday - Cafe Juanita always wins. The Rabbit is to die for. In 2009 6 of the best owner/chefs in the area did a six event dinner series at each others restaurants. Each Chef did a different course at each event - we attended all with family and friends. At the end of the event I chose the best course of the 6 courses out of each dinner. the result was Cafe Juanita was best on 5 out of the 6 courses even when cooking in someone else's kitchen. Wow!

Baby Fat - Lyla makes me a fatty

Well, This time last year I pontificated on how to stay thin - calories in vs calories out. Exercise more and eat well. I had it right I am afraid. With the undertaking of babysitting 2 days a week starting in January of 2009 I managed to gain 10 lbs this year. While I did burn an extra 125 thousand calories on the Lifecycle and walking I walked Scout and exercised less on over 100 days resulting in a reduction in calories burned of almost 100 thousand vs 2008. The body does try to regulate it's weight. In theory I should have gained a lot more weight - it took 10,000 calories for each extra pound gained and since I only gained 4 lbs of fat each lb of fat required 25,000 fewer calories burned over the course of the year. Unfortunately, as all dieters know, that same math will work against my losing the weight gained.
I have to say I certainly don't regret the babysitting - Lyla is AWESOME. I do need to get my act together in 2010 and get the exercise back up where it needs to be. Since Lyla is going to be an outdoor fan I can walk with her instead of Scout on babysitting days and there is a nice exercycle at Lyla's house.
We will have to see how I have done this time next year.