Archive | December, 2010

Roberta’s

21 Dec

In the ever raging battle of Burgers Vs Pizza beef is way ahead. Pizza’s have been woefully under represented in this blog up until now so I have to make a mad dash to even things up in the next two weeks.

I do not think Di Fara, the legend of New York pizza is going to make it on this trip, the logistics are just all wrong and I cannot reconcile the costs/benefit analysis in the biting cold….. For some reason I have not made it to Franny’s yet, Donatella’s and Paulie Gee’s are not exciting me right now so this leaves only Roberta’s, a place I have heard lots about but not ventured to before now.

Yes, the picture above really is the front entrance to the restaurant. I think we have all seen public toilets that are better maintained, however exiting the subway station told me all I needed to know about the area. (I have found in NY the state of the subway station tells you a lot about the area you are in. Much like The London Underground different stations are at different levels of decay, however in NY they generally start at a lower point so the bad ones really are quite shitty) Roberta’s is on the border between NE Williamsburg and Bushwick, it’s another classic tale of a good neighbourhood gone bad as soon as the major employer (Breweries) leave town.

Back to Roberta’s, in fairness to the place it never makes out to be anything other than it is; a ramshackle place devoted to good food, good beer and good times. You can tell there was no business plan, no grand scheme, just a lot of love and a great deal of hard work to achieve what they have.

While it is certainly better on the inside than the outside there are no interior designer touches here, just things placed where they are needed and random extras thrown in to add flavour to the place.

To the food: There are two distinct kitchens here, one is right up front dominated by the bright red pizza oven and the other tucked away at the back dealing with all the other food. It seems to work quite well although it must add to the staff cost, I counted at least 7 kitchen staff on a quiet lunch.

The pizza was very good, not in Motorino’s league, but still a very good pizza. The dough was quite dry and the mozzarella just a little too white for my liking, (someone in NY decided mozzarella should be as white as a Hollywood wannabe’s smile so there is a tendency to add chemical whitening agents to the cheese), although I do not think that this is the case here. On the plus side a very good sauce and excellent Sopressata Piccante. I enviously watched as the table next to mine tucked into the Fried chicken special, but as I was eating alone today I had to settle for just pizza. Looking at the menu this place offers a whole lot more and I would love to go back with a larger party to sample the rest of the food.

It rates as a really good pizza option, but with much more besides. They are soon to start baking their own bread out of an oven built into a shipping container and last weekend hosted their own Beerfest. Having walked around the neighbourhood a little it seems there is not too much in the way of competition yet, but I am sure this will not last too long, after all one good joint always brings another.

After I ate I walked and got a little trigger happy with the camera….so much graffiti to enjoy…..

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Milk and Honey NY

20 Dec
  • In my mind M&H NY has always been my favourite bar in the world, but until now I had only visited once before and as such it is difficult to rate it so highly without further evidence.

TThis was a Cherry Gimlet, absolutely delicious and the only drink I can remember the name ofhis place is even more secretive than the London Milk and Honey. It’s on a totally non descript street with barely any other points of interest and if you did not know what you were looking for you would have no hope of chancing upon it.
Just as in London there is a blank door on which you have to knock before it magically opens and you are beckoned in through some heavy curtains.
Once inside you could imagine yourself transported to just about any era from the 1920s onwards. The narrow room is lit by candle and the music so subtle that until we settled into out surroundings we could not tell if it was playing.
There are several things to love about this place, from the amazing drinks, friendly service to the intimate atmosphere.
All the drinks are made with freshly squeezed juices and premium spirits. They will make you just about anything so don’t waste your time with mojitos etc, just tell them what flavours you like and they will do the rest.

The only downside is that the place is small and without a reservation you have very little chance of getting a table (no standing room). However it really is the kind of place you know you want to go to in advance, either to impress a date or to enjoy drinks with friends without having to shout above the DJ.

For reservations click here. I believe the maximum number of people in any one party is 5, and there are only around 10 tables but you can stay as long as you like.

The drinks are by no means cheap at $16 each, but they pack a punch and considering the benefits of the place very worthwhile.

Special thanks to Miranda who first brought me and Nicky here many years ago, it really was as good as I remembered.

Sourdough Bread; Version 1,2,3 and 4

19 Dec

Since my Artisanal Bread course at the French Culinary Institute in November I have been baking at home with varying degrees of success. The best measure available is that since November 7th I have not bought any bread

My first forays into baking were based on straightforward yeast recipes learnt in class, but I knew I also wanted to have a go at the more complicated sourdough varieties in Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf (Thanks Natasha). My first attempt at the levain (above) proved to be somewhat ill-timed. The process takes 6 days preparation before it is ready to begin baking, having got to the sixth day I realised that the recipe basically requires you to be at home all day, and I was not at a point in my baking relationship where I could commit.

Above was my aborted first attempt, I obviously do not know how it would have worked out, however I don’t think it was quite right. I didn’t really pay strict attention to the storage temperature of the levain and kept it at well above the prescribed (20c) room temperature, hence the many bubbles and constant levain flows escaping the Kilner jar.

The second attempt was with the experience of baking class, and while we only touched very briefly on sourdough (as this was another class altogether) I did have some key knowledge that was previously lacking.

If you are going to attempt home baking I would recommend the following tools. Baking stone, oven thermometer, probe thermometer, dough scraper and good quality electric scales. This time around with the advantage of the probe thermometer I was  able to keep an accurate read on the temperature of the water I was adding, and the temperature of the dough, ensuring optimum conditions.

My first actual sourdough out of the oven was definitely of a homemade style.

It was slightly burnt, but had excellent flavour. The bread developed an almost pointed pyramid shape for a couple of reasons. Firstly the oven being too hot, and also because I had under floured the towel (couch) that the dough had been in for its final proof.  This meant I had to over handle the dough to release it, knocking a lot of the air out.

Consequently the heat of the oven had to do all the rising (this can be seen in the picture where the dough is almost flat) and forced the peak up. The result of this can be seen in the large holes at the top half of the bread, whereas the bottom has a better structure.

Still effort number 2 certainly looked like bread and tasted pretty good.

Effort number 3 (BELOW) was a real success. I learnt from the previous days mistake and ensured a really good covering of flour on the ‘couche’. It was still a struggle to free the dough but less so. The result, much more even aeration and rise while maintaining really good crust and flavour. My normal test for sourdough holes is that if you can make a sandwich without the filling coming through then it’s good.

I was very pleased with this bread so froze one and kept the other for instant gratification…..

I took a day off and then decided to play around with the recipe a little so made some mini baguette style breads and then went even further off piste by adapting the recipe to make a light caraway seed rye.

For the baguettes I followed the original recipe only changing the shaping process before the final 4 hour rise. The rye was an experiment for which I made up a different recipe. I used the same mix initially as with the plain sourdough but added some rye flour, water and toasted caraway seed. I was going for approximately a 15% rye/white flour mix. After my usual burning of the first lot of caraway I added all the ingredients to the dough and fully incorporated, again following the same steps until the final rise where I shaped into a batard.

Really good results all around.

I used this bread for dinner. Char-grilled chicken with homemade pesto mayonnaise, red onion and rocket on sourdough….Absolutely delicious!!!

The flavour of the rye bread was a little off, it needed more salt and less caraway seeds, and asthetically could have done with a light egg glaze, but still very edible and perfect for tuna sandwiches, or better still salt beef…..

Click on the image to enlarge for recipe and method.

Upstate

17 Dec

Here are some images from a short trip we took to Rhinebeck NY. Pretty little town on the Hudson River two hours outside the city.

The Train ride offers great views as the track runs all along the river.

How can you not love cows……fun to look at and also good to eat…..

We took a long walk into town from our hotel. Definitely got some funny looks from the motorists speeding past….I don’t think they see pedestrians that often….

Which is the more vacuous sign? Bear in mind this was on a pretty deserted stretch of road a good mile out-of-town.

Great to discover this little farm shop in town. They had only opened the week before, but its nice to see that some of the produce you see in all the NYC Farmers markets does stay in area where it is grown.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Tour

14 Dec

I took this tour as I was inspired by a blog that my former boss posted about the Mast Brothers Fleur De Sel chocolate bar that he had bought from the chocolatiers Paul A Young in London. Whilst I had known of the Mast Brothers fame and had bought several of their bars as gifts for people back home I had done little to investigate their growing empire. First alerted to these beardy wonders back in 2008 in an Edible article, they were the first people to start bean to bar production in New York. They have steadily grown and are now to be found in many gourmet shops, several hip clothing stores and even top restaurants such as Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

The tour itself was of the short and sweet variety. Admittedly the production facility is fairly small, with a roasting and conching room, a tempering room, some storage and admin space and then the store front which also doubles as the packing room. What is amazing is how quickly the business has expanded since 2007, now producing upwards of 1000 bars per week. Even as they have grown though they have stayed small, their mentality is to create not just a product but a community that includes the farmers, the chefs, the packaging designers and the customer. The very fact that their storefront is part of the factory ties you into the experience, as you see the bars being packaged and smell the beans being roasted.

The little tasting we did at the end of the tour brought home the uniqueness of the different bars. We tried three single origin bars, Venezuelan, Dominican Republic and Madagascan, all with their own flavour profile ranging from very dark, tobacco like flavour to sweeter citrus notes. Of all single origin chocolate the Madagascan has always been my favourite and The Mast Brothers version was no different, with strong hints of berry and citrus fruit.

You can taste all of the different flavours in the store where the patient girl behind the counter will happily offer you samples. These were my picks, mainly as gifts but with a Madagascan tucked away for my own eating pleasure, be warned the Serrano pepper bar certainly packs a punch……..

I would definitely recommend the tour ($10 at Paper Tickets) if you are interested in the process, but do not expect too much in-depth info, the main advantage is that at the end you are in the store where the bars are reasonably priced at $7 each or 3 for $20.

Some more links to Mast Brothers info,

http://www.theselby.com/1_8_10_mast_brothers/ good photos….

They are going on an amazing sounding trip taking a 70 foot hand-built Schooner to Dominican Republic to buy 20.000 pounds of cacao, really doing their bit to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, totally wind powered journey. Sounds awesome, I offered my services but was politely declined…..

http://vimeo.com/13664547…video blog

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

12 Dec

Williamsburg really is a scene. There is no getting away from the coolness of the place. It has the gritty warehouses inhabited by artists and musicians, it has the new restaurant scene with locavores aswarming, and it has so many entrepreneurial start-ups that Alan Sugar and Donald trump combined would be hard pressed to keep up. Gentrification is also insidiously creeping into the area to the extent that within 10 years it could resemble a caricature of itself.

But there is no need to fret about that right now I just wanted to point out some of its many current plus points so that anyone deciding on visiting NY would not be crazy enough to say, “oh we never made it to Brooklyn”.

Firstly it is a stones throw from Manhattan, simply jump on an L train from 14th Street (look out for all the amusing artwork in the subway) and get out at Bedford and you will be in the heart of Williamsburg. All along Bedford Avenue there are shops, restaurants, galleries and best of all barely a chain store in sight. Head west off of Bedford and it will take you towards The East River Park where these shots are taken from. All along the streets in-between there are interesting shops, cafes and art installations. I stumbled across a great coffee place I had never heard of, called Blue Bottle Coffee. They have a cafe and roastery on site, all totally open so you can see the whole process from bean to cup; that’s a new one for me.

I didn’t even want a coffee but having spent 5 minutes in the place I could not help myself. This turned out to be a bad idea, what with the chocolate tasting I had just come from at Mast Brothers Chocolate and a lack of any lunch I was completely wired until a glass of wine several hours later finally took the edge off. It was, however, still a very good cup of coffee and it only fuelled my desire to explore more.

I walked past some music venues that host both well established artists and the more up and coming, there was Brooklyn Bowl one of the new wave of bowling alleys serving proper food, and artisan beers from the many micro-breweries in NY. There was also The Brooklyn Brewery who offer tours and tasting sessions.

Beyond all these places there are many more of interest, all you need is a little time and you can discover the joys of an energetic, gritty and exciting place delightfully lacking in the sterile monotony of GAP, BODY SHOP, AMERICAN APPAREL, TESCO F**KING EXPRESS and any other endlessly dull chain stores that are killing every city across the globe.

Ok, rant over and breath……enjoy the pictures.

Monday 13th December

It has just been pointed out to me that on the same day I posted this, Paul Harris of the UK Observer Newspaper published a very similarly themed article, here is the link. OBSERVER WILLIAMSBURG ARTICLE. I promise no collusion, I only read the article the day after it was published.

I googled this to find out its meaning but it seems it can be interpreted as many things from drug gangs to the end of the school year, read for yourself....

Not Eating Out

12 Dec

One of the first things I did when I landed back in Brooklyn was to seek out the latest edition of Edible, where I read about Cathy Erway. Cathy is a fellow Brooklynite who had become bored with spending more money than she could afford on too often disappointing restaurant meals. She decided to take action and pretty much for 2 years avoided restaurants when at all possible. I remembered as I read the article liking the idea, but since my aim was almost the opposite (ie to eat all of NYC) it seemed of little use to me, however it obviously planted a seed.

At the beginning of this week I found myself rubbing my belly as it creaked from the pressure of 4 days of solid eating out (my sister was in town and needed to be entertained) and the memory of ‘Not Eating Out’ sparked. Hence I set myself the modest goal of no restaurants for 10 days, when a trip upstate will necessitate. With cookbook in hand I began to search for ideas. I decided best to avoid meaty dishes just to give myself a break and tried to think more of fish and vegetables as my friends.

Cauliflower and broccoli soup with cheddar

First up I decided on some Cauliflower soup. Delia online took care of that one, and while her recipe called for Roquefort I left the cheesy element out but made some tweaks of my own. Instead of adding the cheese into the soup I cooked off some broccoli then added it to the soup and sprinkled some cheddar on top and popped it under the grill. It was delicious, and with an extra helping of vegetables even more virtuous!

Next up I decided on some fish pie. This was one of the classic Melrose and Morgan dishes that the business was built upon, and while I have eaten many, I am ashamed to say this was my first go at cooking one.

Success! For a first effort it worked very well, I used a Mark Hix recipe and while it was good I think next time I will change it slightly as I found the sauce quite rich, I think due to the addition of mustard and Worcestershire sauce. I must say hats off to anyone who does this from scratch cooking often. What with making the stock, and all the other components it took a good 4-6 hours in total, but at least now I have a frozen supply of fish stock and hopefully next time I will be a bit quicker.

It is Saturday now and we have been living off the soup and pie since Tuesday, supplemented by lots of veggies and some delicious leafy clementines. In the meantime I have prepared some more dough and toppings as we are going round to friends tonight for pizza, I have a new batch of sourdough starter bubbling away which will be ready to start baking with on Monday and there is chicken stock reducing away on the stove as I type.

It has been a great week and I have not once had a craving for burgers, fries or any other pre-prepared foods. I am looking forward to more cooking and hopefully a little less belly!