New York eats

We spent a week in New York last month and naturally went armed with a list of foodie must-do places.  Some of the places exceeded the hype and others were grave disappointments (suggesting we possibly place too much value on eating).  More to come later from the boy, but here are my top finds from this trip.

Part of the trip was spent exploring Brooklyn with our lovely friend Sarah, who’s been there all summer. We ordered a trio of meals to swap and share at Rosewater in Brooklyn – lamb burger, pancakes with peaches, pistachios and cardamom, and the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Lightly griddled bread, packed with layers of tender brisket, aioli-dressed salad and the ultimate punch came from slices of juicy marinated pepper. Even though the pancakes were great (and lord knows I’m a huge fan of the fluffy American breakfast treat) I was remarkably reticent about handing over the second half of the sandwich when the time came to trade. Rosewater does a great prix-fixe brunch – $14 including a drink. When is this magical institution of proper weekend leisurely lunching going to establish itself in London?

787 Union Street, (Sixth Avenue), Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215 USA
(718) 783-3800

After very disappointing cupcakes from- oh, just about everywhere we tried, I was starting to despair a little. And contemplating about ordering some Bittersweet Bakers or Ella’s Bakehouse goodies for our return (they’re my favourite London bakers by far) to make up.

Then we made the pedestrian pilgrimage to Baked. Deep in Red Hook, it’s the artisan bakery established by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. We shared three cupcakes: Peanut Butter, Red Hook Red Hot and their signature Sweet Salty, beloved by Martha. God, they were good. I’d have to say that the chocolate chip cookies and homemade marshmallows were even better. When I saw them serving the marshmallows in their hot chocolate, I even started to wonder if we could stay long enough til I could fit a cup in.  Amazon just delivered both their books too. Will be thoroughly road-testing them soon.

359 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, New York 11231
(718) 222-0345

We stumbled across the Mac Bar and despite a planned trip to Lombardi’s later, we couldn’t resist it. We also couldn’t resist the regular size, $9.50, because… oh yes. Yes, it does. It comes in an undoubtedly environmentally unsound bright yellow plastic container in the shape of a macaroni elbow. The “Cheeseburger” option comes with ground beef, American cheese, and cheddar.  The weather had shifted that day into squally showers and this was perfect comfort food.

54 Prince St, (between Mulberry St & Lafayette St), New York, NY 10012
(212) 226-8877

Yes. I am on a diet post-holiday. Thanks to lovely Sarah for schlepping us around, she’s an excellent tour guide.

Advertisements

Vive La Cheese: La Fromagerie

At a recent Vive Le Cheese event we tasted both French cheeses and the concepts of bien vivre – or how to live well.  For me, as for many of the people who’d call themselves “foodie”, I suspect, quality of living and food are inextricably linked. Yeah, I pretty much live for food, it seems. That’s why we not only look for interesting dining experiences, but we are willing to hunt for obscure ingredients (or get friends to track them down abroad), make space for any number of unusual kitchen gadgets at the risk of skewering ourselves every time we open a cupboard, and plan holidays around restaurants bookings. Having spent time in France as a teenager I was always entranced by the amount of ceremony around mealtimes and eating there, even for everyday dining.

Bien Vivre is Vive Le Cheese’s way of convincing us of how a little effort can be disproportionately rewarding: if you must eat at your desk, then clear a space and put down a proper cloth napkin and have a china plate to eat your Pain Poilâne with some perfectly ripened Brie de Meaux, with a dressed salad.  It’s an admirable concept.  I’m not saying I always manage to do that – of course I don’t – but I do make an effort to cook meals from fresh ingredients.  Is that enough?

Even among those of us who claim a real interest in food, I suspect meaningful engagement is still patchy. We cook when we have time, we like good restaurants, but we also buy ready meals, takeaways and, often, choose restaurants on price rather than quality. The genuine ‘foodie’ hardcore: those people who cook every day, using local, seasonal non-supermarket ingredients; and who always eat at similarly conscientious independent restaurants, is how many? A few hundred thousand people nationally? That isn’t a criticism, incidentally. Britain’s food infrastructure is against us. Who, here, realistically, could completely boycott the supermarkets or Pizza Express, even if they wanted to?

The Kitchen Counter Revolution, Guardian Word of Mouth

I guess I don’t qualify as foodie by the definition above –  I don’t buy ready meals but I mix local retailers along with basic supermarket shopping for a variety of reasons including time and cost. (I’d be Waitrose and Ginger Pig all the way if I could but sometimes the pennies just don’t stretch.) Sometimes organic and Fairtrade are crucial, other times you dash to Tesco. But when you find those shops and retailers who specialise and enthuse about ingredients, and who are willing to share that knowledge, that’s when the true value of a relationship with a retailer comes into its own.

We spent a great evening at La Fromagerie, or Cheese Heaven as it should probably be known.  Vive Le Cheese and Patricia Michelson came together to introduce us to the best of French cheeses along with wine matching and a visit to the Affineur Room to find out more about exactly what happens to cheeses to make them perfect for consumption.  One of Patricia’s firm rules is not allowing people to buy too much cheese.  Yes, really.  Not that there are quotas in operation, but as she explained, sometimes it’s just not the best way to experience food. Cheese is not long-lead. Rather than shifting kilos, she advises people to buy smaller amounts and return to replenish. That way they’re getting the freshest cheese in best possible condition – and unlike many shops, Patricia’s staff spent a lot of time getting the products to the optimum conditions for eating, and promptly.

We tasted a quartet of recipes, made up in La Fromagerie’s kitchen.  You can find all of them here. I was lucky to have snuck into a group with Katrina Alloway and Lucy Bridgers, both wine experts. The William Fevre 2008 Chablis AOC – 100% Chardonnay, was my choice for most of the dishes and Lucy remarked on how neutral and therefore versatile Chardonnay can be, and it complemented the eggs in the divine souffle, the pastry of the tart and the quiche, and the Reblochon fritters.

:: Roquefort PDO and Walnut Soufflé with Spiced Pear Chutney ::

The Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac AOC 2004 was deemed ‘syrupy but in a good way’ when paired with the French Camembert and Fig Tart with Hazelnut Parsley Vinagrette which would make a fantastic dessert for those without a sweet tooth, if that makes sense.

We spent a chilly but entertaining half hour in the Affineur room, where JP talked us through how they prepare and essentially temper the cheeses. Most of the conditioning work is done in the Highbury shop, where they’re brought to temperature and moisture is added, washes are applied as necessary and so on. Affinage is essentially ‘putting your own stamp’ on it.  JP described it as having ‘a little bit of common sense, and a lot of love, for the product’.  Remember the concept of ‘terroir’ or territory when combining food and wine – items from the same region normally do well together as they come from the same ground, like serving Epoisses Affiné with a strong red Burgundy.

When storing cheese at home, double wrap in wax paper or put into Tupperware, and keep it in the fridge drawers or door.  La Fromagerie supply 89% of the London Michelin-starred restaurants and train the employees on how to maintain and maximise the cheese – trim them at the end of the evening, and store on a marble slab that’s cooled from underneath.  Again, they advise that they buy smaller amounts more often.  But don’t forget to use common sense when deciding how long you can keep cheese for – trust your nose, ultimately.  And you can always throw those parmesan rinds into soups or risottos.

The final part of the evening (sadly a little hurried) was tasting 10 different cheeses with Patricia.  I will be going back for the last ones we tasted, the Saint Nectaire, the Epoisses, Fourme D’Ambert and Vache Porte D’Aspe.  Absolutely sublime, particularly the blue. Patricia said that everything in the shop revolves around cheese (I should have asked her what to do with these) and it’s clear how passionate she is about it. This is where the benefit of local or specialist knowledge gets you excited about food again and you start planning dishes, dinners, ingredients sprees.  Her shop was one of the first of its kind and it’s enticing and inspiring. It also made me think about a French cheese tour this summer…

We left with dairy-fuelled glowing faces, and clutching recipe cards to remake the souffles and the rest at home. Next dinner party is definitely going to involve a cheese course. If I let the stuff leave the kitchen.

La Fromagerie, 2-6 Moxon Street, Marylebone, London W1U 4EW 020 7935 0341

Thanks to Patricia and all at La Fromagerie, Vive Le Cheese, and Katrina Alloway

Wahaca – Burrito testing

Wahaca Canary Wharf

Back in October, at an event organised by TikiChris for Qype, we spent a very enjoyable evening at the Wahaca site in Westfield, tasting their winter menu and being persuaded of the delights of reposado and añejo tequilas.  Tommi and Mark were keen that we gave them honest feedback that evening and impressively, we subsequently found out that they implemented suggestions the next day. I guess it’s true to say that drink talks: we may have been more vocal than they might have expected on one particular topic. The burrito. Or Cabbagegate as the redtops would probably dub it.

Wahaca’s strength is cooking authentic street food. The only dish I wasn’t wild about that night was the Vera cruz fish – Because European influence is strong in that region and though by itself it’s a delicious and healthy option from the menu, I wanted Mexican that night. Not European and certainly not Tex-Mex.

Wahaca Burrito Testing

That’s the problem with burritos. As Tommi explained this weekend at their newest branch in Canary Wharf (my Londonist review here), in Mexico a burrito is a dense parcel of meat, rice and beans that’s designed to be taken out to the fields: robust enough to survive the journey and fuel a day’s labours. What most of us know and love as a burrito is more of a Californian creation – lashings of cheese, guacamole and piquant sauces. From March, Wahaca will be offering burritos in their new takeaway service and they’re determined to get them right from the outset.  They’re staying as true to their ‘real Mexican’ ethos as possible while making them suitable for takeout and perfecting the flavours and combinations.

One of the biggest issues that the menu tasters had back in October was the presence of that one particular ingredient. I’m not necessarily a massive fan of cabbage at the best of times and it overpowered the vegetable burrito. Um, yes, it may have been me who mentioned the word ‘Sauerkraut’ and the burrito aficionados weren’t having any of it. Apparently one of the immediate changes to the Wahaca menu was a noticable reduction in the pickling vinegar.

Favourites on Sunday included chargrilled steak and slow cooked pork – surprisingly, with a complete absence of cabbage, or at least that’s what it tasted like.   The vegetable burrito oozes juicy mushrooms – I’m just too much of a carnivore to ever order it voluntarily.  Tommi isn’t threatening anyone with that knife, rather she was listening intently to the verdict on the custom burritos that she created.  Oddly enough, the clear winner for us did feature cabbage.  Hell, what do we know?

Stars: *****

Keep an eye on their blog for details of when they’ll launch.  It’s going to be good.  Tasty, filling reasonably priced fresh food. Can’t go wrong, really.