Megnut

Archive for June 2007

Without the bitterness produced by hot water, cold-brewed coffee had hints of chocolate, even caramel. Which makes for a delicious iced coffee. Better yet, "cold-brewed coffee is actually dirt simple to make at home." A recipe is included with the article. Sounds like something worth trying.

Jay Vogler of Charlotte's Pizza on Earth retrieves a "China Blue" from the depths of his wood-fired oven, its top roiling from the 700-degree heat, edges erupting into dark-brown blisters. An article about the popularity of pizza in Vermont includes a look at my uncle Jay and his pizza operation! If you're ever in the Burlington area, you should definitely stop by the farm on a pizza night and check it out. The pies are delicious. I even worked one night with him, when his regular partner was sick. He made the pies, I managed the oven. It didn't take long to get a hang of using the long wooden peel to move the pies around the wood-burning oven. And it was lots of fun.

The New York Times has more information on the nonorganic/organic issue with Nonorganic Exceptions Ruffle Enthusiasts of Organic Food. Here's an interesting bit: "John Foraker, chief executive of Annie’s Homegrown, argued that nonorganic annatto was a crucial ingredient in the company’s macaroni and cheese. 'Making orange colored macaroni and cheese is an important element of our offering. Without annatto, our macaroni-and-cheese products would be white.'” So? So your organic mac-n-cheese is white. And your non-organic mac-n-cheese can be day-glo orange like your competitors. I don't buy any of the excuses the industry is trotting out. Not enough organic hops? Grow more organic hops, don't change the rules to allow organic beer to be brewed with nonorganic hops.

I've been eating a lot of cherries lately, and was wondering what health benefits, if any, I was accruing. This nutritional summary for sherries, sweet, raw is amazingly comprehensive! I can't believe I haven't been to NutrionData before. It's going to be my source from now on whenever I need any info about an ingredient. And it turns out those cherries are a good source of vitamin C and fiber, which is what I'd suspected.

Put your fresh salad greens in a big plastic bag, gather up the neck, blow a little air (a.k.a carbon dioxide) inside, then seal it up quick. Apparently this trick will keep your greens "bright, firm, and flavorful for at least a week."

Deborah Coleman/Pixar
Deborah Coleman/Pixar
Over the weekend there was a sneak preview of Ratatouille in New York City and my husband and I were lucky enough to snag tickets. Oh how I wish it were out already in the theater, because then I could go see it again! I think it's my favorite Pixar film yet, and if you have any interest in food, or France, or animation, I think you'll agree. Jason's written an excellent review on his site to which there's very little I can add. As usual, Pixar's loaded its film with commentary on contemporary culture. There's some great stuff on chefs as brands and the nature of criticism. And for those of us in NYC, rats in the restaurant kitchen couldn't be a more current topic. Ratatouille opens June 29.

Chef’s Story is a new 26-part television series of interviews and cooking segments with today’s most renowned chefs. The show is hosted by Dorothy Hamilton, founder and CEO of The French Culinary Institute. I caught the episode with Daniel Boulud the other day and it was great. First he talked about his experiences growing up, working in various famous French kitchens, etc. and then he cooked for a bit. I don't know what was more enjoyable, listening to him talk about working with chefs like Roger Vergé and Georges Blanc or watching him dice leeks. Knife skills like his are a joy to behold.

There's an interview with Alinea's Grant Achatz in July's Chicago Magazine in which we learn his favorite movie hero is "Mr. Incredible," he drinks several cans of Diet Coke a day, he doesn't sleep much, and most importantly his favorite blogs are: kottke.org, chicagoist.com and megnut.com! Megnut.com!! Can you believe it? I'm flattered and honored, and now I feel like I really should be doing a better job of posting!

remy_ratatouille.jpg
Deborah Coleman/Pixar
Although the story line has its charms, the precisely rendered detail of a professional kitchen will appeal to the food-obsessed. A fascinating look behind the creation of Pixar's upcoming Ratatouille. "The Pixar crew took cooking classes, ate at notable restaurants in Paris and worked alongside Mr. Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif." Thomas Keller and other chefs also advised on the dishes prepared in the movie, and many of the scenes are based on famous Paris restaurants. I can't wait to see this!

If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism. The Times looks inside the freegan movement, perhaps best know for its advocacy of food scavenging from dumpsters. But it's much more than scoring free food, it's an attempt to remove as much as oneself from the system as possible. "[F]reegans...believe that the production and transport of every product contributes to economic and social injustice."

Ed's Lobster Bar is much more than a knock-off. It's an exact duplicate of Pearl. Thirty-one of the 34 dishes on his menu are simply lifted from Pearl. Serious Eats has more on the oyster bar lawsuit, including many details that don't appear in the New York Times article. Sounds like it's more of an outright copy than that article lead me to believe. Still, I fear a dangerous precedent if she succeeds with this suit.

“Ratatouille” is a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. The New York Times weighs in with its review. The movie opens today and I can't wait to go back and see it again!

From last year, but one of my favorite things I've ever written for this site: Strawberry Fields Forever, a look at my family's strawberry growing tradition. I haven't made it there yet this year so I've been forced to eat local berries. And I have to say the berries at the Greenmarket here in New York pale in comparison to my grandfather's.

New menu items at Ssäm Bar

Jason and I popped into Momofuku Ssäm Bar last night for an early dinner. We hadn't been in a few weeks, and it turns out during our time away, the menu's been updated with lots of new items and some old stand-byes received new treatment. My favorite sea scallops are now served with the crunchy seaweed that usually accompanies the cured hamachi, and are layered over a lemon puree and accompanied by pickled cherries. We had local sugar snap peas sprinkled with ham bits and softened onions, floating in a ham broth. Jason pointed out it was a nice play on the flavors of split pea soup, delicious!

On the meat side of the menu, we tried roasted lamb belly from Four Story Hill Farm, PA on a bed of wilted swiss chard. When our server placed it in front of us, I had a whiff of doughnuts. Doughnuts? Closer sniffing revealed it to be a cinnamony smell, maybe the lamb had a bit of cinnamon rub? Regardless, it was moist and sweet, with a thick layer of fat. No one does belly and fat like the Chang crew! We also ordered a Chicken Ballontine, which was beautifully executed and each bite revealed the essence of chicken. It was nice to see such a traditional preparation on the menu, and so well done.

Our final new menu item was the Crispy Pig's Head, also from Four Story Hill Farm. Oh my! If it weren't for a staff recommendation from our man Cory, I would have been too scared to try this, but it was amazing. Deep fried, it arrived looking like a fish stick, only larger. But a single bite revealed a creamy, gelatinous interior melting with tender pork meat and, you guessed it, more fat! The accompanying spicy mustard sauce and lettuce cleansed just the right amount of grease from the tongue, leaving me sighing with delight after each bite.

For dessert we had strawberry shortcake with local berries and fresh whipped cream. The shortcakes were perfect: crumbly without being dry, and had a nice sweetness to them. The strawberries were left whole, and weren't doused in sugar like in many places, so the sweet of the dessert actually came more from the shortcake, and the berries and cream countered it a bit. This morning I was thinking about stopping in again tonight, just for dessert!

I love Ssäm Bar, but with any place you frequent, you can sometimes tire of even the best food. It was so exciting to see all the new stuff on the menu and realize it's better than ever over there. Now the only question is when will my arteries be able stand a return trip!

Restaurant concept lawsuits run amok

Since opening Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village 10 years ago, Rebecca Charles has ruefully watched the arrival of a string of restaurants she considers “knockoffs” of her own. So "yesterday she filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the latest and, she said, the most brazen of her imitators: Ed McFarland, chef and co-owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo and her sous-chef at Pearl for six years." She claims he copied “each and every element” of Pearl Oyster Bar, from the paint and chairs to her recipe for Caesar salad.

Guh, this stinks. One one hand, I can see how she's frustrated after pouring so much into her restaurant and watching her former employees go open similar places. But filing a lawsuit seems ridiculous to me. I'm no fan of copyrighting recipes (see Keep recipes free) and I'm not much in favor of intellectual property claims on restaurant themes either. Lobster rolls? "Packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting?" A "white marble bar" for seafood? Have you ever been to New England or France? Rebecca Charles hardly invented these concepts ten years ago. Instead, she was free to incorporate them in her new place because they've existed for so long and been used by so many; because they haven't been copyrighted and trademarked by lawyers and corporations. These details are the essence of our seafood restaurant vernacular, that's why they resonate with so many potential customers and give her West Village restaurant an authenticity she's now trying to control. Mr. McFarland would be hard-pressed to open an authentic-seeming lobster bar without including at least some similar items.

The real problems here are a lack of originality being demonstrated by Ms. Charles' former employees, and New Yorkers' demand for faux New England seafood shack restaurants. Regarding the former, it would be nice to see chefs move on to open their own places that build on what they've learned in previous kitchens, not copy the concept outright. Regarding the latter, in the throes of summer, those unlucky souls trapped in the sweltering city can dream of coastal Maine or Cape Cod by digging into fried clams and lobster rolls right here in Manhattan. And if you've seen the lines at Pearl or Mary's Fish Camp, you know there's room in this city for a few more joints. I've always said I'd like to see Danny Meyer do a Clam Shack, and I'd like to see him do it without the fear of a lawsuit.

For two weeks in August, Matt Reynolds will live in a tent, hit several towns a day, and eat nothing but wings. He will film a documentary as he travels across New York State to find the perfect Buffalo wing, and fittingly will end his trip in that city on the shores of Lake Erie. Whose wing will reign supreme?

This fight is not about diners enjoying unfettered access to delectable lobster rolls and Caesar salads. "It's about a violation of trust, resentment, and betrayal behind the counter and the stove at a couple of restaurants in New York." Ed Levine stops by both restaurants in oyster/lobster bar lawsuit to see what's really going on.

per_se_steak_salad.jpgPer Se’s summery Wagyu-steak salad keeps appearing on the frequently-changing menu. It's made with Japanese Wagyu, "graded A5, one of the very highest grades," watercress, vinaigrette made with rendered Wagyu fat, carrots, chive blossoms, radishes, and spiced peanuts. Mmmm, looks and sounds fantastic. I could go for that for dinner tonight!

Enjoying the Tavern Room

Jason and I wandered over to Gramercy Tavern last night for an early dinner. Though we used to eat in the tavern room (the front room where entrees are less expensive and they don't take reservations) every few months, for some reason we hadn't been over there since last fall. Encouraged by Frank Bruni's recent three star re-review, The Constant Comfort of an Old Friend, I was looking forward to our meal. And I wasn't disappointed. I had an excellent appetizer: a soft shell crab accompanied by yellow and green beans, pickled rhubarb, and micro greens. For my main course I had bacon-wrapped trout with lentils. Both were super yummy, especially the crab. Jason had asparagus soup to start and a giant meatball that was filled with oozy cheese. Also super good.

But it wasn't just the food, or the service, or the vibe (which always strikes me as the perfect balance between casual and upscale), it's also the quality for the price. My crab app was $12. I can't think of anyplace else where you can get an appetizer that good, of that quality, prepared with such attention to detail and served in such a setting, for that price. I'm glad we went because it reminded me how much I like eating there. We'll have to return again soon.

Coffee troubles

It's getting hot out, and you know what that means? Time to order iced coffee drinks from the local barista. Sadly though, the state of coffee ordering has gotten so complex for me that the addition of "iced" seems to throw my whole order into doubt. I switched to decaf ages ago. I used to order soy milk, now I usually get cow's milk, but never skim. And I mostly order small drinks, though sometimes medium. And I never know in what order to place all the different variables. Today I tried for "small decaf iced latte" and when the women said something about milk, I assumed she asked if I wanted whole milk, so I said yes. Two seconds later, I was served an iced coffee.

"Oh, sorry. I wanted a latte," I said, "An decaf latte."

It seemed to be corrected and one women went to make it while the other began to ring me up.

"Iced medium latte," she said.

Apparently at this coffee shop, latte = coffee and decaf = medium. Or maybe I was just mumbly? I'm not anymore, now I'm all ZIPPY! From what seems to be a medium NOT DECAF iced latte!!

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