Sunday, August 22, 2010

The perfect antidote to a fatty trip to New York?

Ripe Ontario tomatoes, grainy mustard, salt and pepper on a freshly baked bagel.

Last brunch in Brooklyn... and some thoughts about trends

You're probably thinking, "Why another brunch? What happened to dinner in between?" Well, the truth is, later that day we went to browse the market:

Try one!

Try another one!

Yum, yum, yum and yum.

... then we went to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in Prospect Park and never really ate a proper dinner, so we just ordered pizza when we got in:

And can I just take a moment to linger here? ... 

I would just like to have a little sidebar, actually. And it's not to do with the pizza, which was amazing, by the way. But I do have to say that it feels sort of sacrilegious to be critical of anything to do with New York food. Well, New York anything, really. You know... it being the Mecca of cool and all.

I mean, let's be honest. As a good friend of ours said over dinner last night, seeing an emerging trend in Toronto is always accompanied by a sick feeling that the trend only exists because someone went to New York three years ago and brought it back with them. I expect fried chicken – which was on every single menu, everywhere – will be overtaking Toronto in two to three years. But, that's a whole nother issue, so don't get me started.

New York is looked at as this untouchable place where you're lucky to even be allowed to go there so just consider yourself blessed, shut up and take all the 'tude we dish out... and get the hell out quickly so we can turn your table over... and by the way, your shoes are sooooo two years ago... and aren't you a bit old and fat to be in here? ... and where exactly ARE your skinny jeans? ... and I can't believe you've never heard of macanudo. A feeling I left almost every restaurant with, by the way – mainly from the servers. None of whom, I'm willing to bet, were actually from New York. But hey. That's hipster-ville for you. I'm fine with that part. Par for the course.

But it does feel a bit strange and ballsy (especially for a mild-mannered Canadian) to point out that a trend isn't really working. I'm going to try not to make blanket statements, because we were only there for three and a half days and only went to a handful of places. But I was still left with... a feeling.

Don't get me wrong. Every single thing we ate during our stay was delicious. It was all prepared with lots of thought, care and love. You could tell. The quality was incredible. Nothing was mediocre. 


Everything we ate was absolutely deadly rich. To the point where you'd feel your throat start to close up after a few bites. Everything was just soaked in fat. Which usually, I'm all for! Typically, I'm all about adding ridic amounts of fat. I'm the first one to put butter on something. I could butter a cupcake. But it was just... out of place and frankly, unbalanced. Take our brunch at Roberta's for example.
Soft scrambled eggs, hen of the woods mushrooms and Taleggio with "grilled" bread (which apparently means toast buttered ON BOTH SIDES)

Roasted potatoes with the saltiest, richest pork hash known to man

Buttermilk biscuit with honey butter and would you please look at the amount of honey butter? Just look at it. And most of it is hiding under the "lid" of the biscuit. I assure you – it was enough to choke an ox.

Now, if our trip had fallen anywhere between November and April, this menu would have thrilled me. But during a heat wave in August with the added temperature of the subway rising up out of the concrete like the fires of hell? No. Just... no.

This pork fat/bacon/butter/cream trend is great and everything. And almost every part of me is all "yay!!" In fact, when I first arrived, I was all "yay!!" Any growing evidence of real unrefined food on this continent is very promising. But the time of year and seasonality is arguably THE most important thing to consider when developing a menu. And after a couple of meals of heart-stopping richness, I started to actually feel sick at the thought of eating. Me!

Where is the balance? It feels like the fat-and-meat-friendly trend is outweighing what should be just common sense. Where's the produce?? In the middle of August! I just went to a market just loaded with amazing produce and hardly any of it was anywhere to be found. And when it was to be found, it was to be found in the wrong places and in piddly portions. 

Truthfully, all our other meals in Brooklyn were over-rich and lacking in freshness/coolness, too. Maybe it was the places we were choosing to eat, but it felt like this was going on everywhere. Practically the only fruit and veg at Roberta's was on a pizza, smothered in cheese. And bibb lettuce soaked in dressing and laden with Gorgonzola and walnuts doesn't count. A spot of grilled pear salad with a fried duck egg and mortadella sandwich doesn't count, either. There was one mushroom in my eggs. One. There was about a pound and a half of Taleggio, though.

Come on Roberta's. Come on Brooklyn! You have so much going for you. Passion, youth, a huge market of people, just waiting to try what you have to offer. Keep up the real food and the care for quality. But it doesn't have to be heirloom and grown on your rooftop to make it on the menu. Go buy some vegetables and use them. Stop trying too hard and being overly concerned with trends and start thinking about the fact that it's 8 zillion degrees outside and if I eat one more teaspoon of bacon fat, I'm going to hurl.

I think I need to go back during the winter and eat my words. Hopefully they won't have moved on to fresh salsas and baby lettuces as "the big trend".

Thank you all so much for indulging me in such a long, drawn-out review of my stay in NY. I enjoyed every second of it. Even the near-death of my gall bladder from all the fat. I'm ready to move on now. I promise.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brunch at No. 7

Can I just say that I love appetizers? Not that I really need much in the way of appetizing. I'm usually pretty game to eat. At any time. Really, ever. But still. The idea of eating something that gets you ready for more eating? Yes. And at breakfast? Even yesser. 

Not quite hungry enough for breakfast? Oh here, eat this:

Blueberry-buttermilk doughnuts with citrus glaze

OK, before you say anything, I know this is not a flattering photo. A bit turdy, right? But believe me when I say, this was one of the most delicious things that I've ever eaten that resembled a turd. And I've eaten a lot of things that resembled turds.

Now that my tum was ready for more food, thanks to the appetizer doughnuts, I thought I'd try a little of this:

Moo shoo scrambled eggs with snow peas
First of all, it's rare that anyone gets scrambled eggs right, these days. Well done, No. 7. They were creamy and soft and perfect. Nestled in a crepe with some Asian-flavoured veg and a little house-made prune sauce? Even better. I would eat this again, in a heartbeat.

My friend M and I did sharesies with the moo shoo and this:

House Made Naan with fried tofu, scrambled eggs and cannelini beans
Very very good. And I'm not a tofu person. But the yogurt was the perfect tangy companion to the spices, the savoury beans and the creamy eggs.

The boyfriend had this:

Waffle with smashed berries and malted ginger streusel
The separating of everything into little ramekins was a little strange, but perfect if you're five and don't like things touching. My guy isn't five, but he did put a blueberry in each waffle pocket, which was (as M. was quick to point out) the same thing that the little girl at the next table did.

Great minds think alike.

The streusel part absolutely killed. I could have eaten a truckload of those sweet little cookie nugs.

Oh, can I also say that I love to drink with breakfast?

Lemon Lavender Spritzer

Appetizers and breakfast cocktails... the way of the future.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brooklyn, NY: Meal 1

OK, my long weekend in Brooklyn was awesome. My boyfriend and I were there visiting an old friend who moved there several years ago. She's moving back to Canada, soon. So, not only was it appealing to see her cute little face in person again, it was also a bonus to get some cheap New York hook-ups while I still had the opportunity.

A weekend with my friend is always just obscenely fun, no matter what city we're in. She's in food, too (went to Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and has worked at some swank places in NY, mostly in pastry), so if there's anyone who I can nerd-out with, as far as food goes, then she's in my top two, for sure.*

Throw a little New York and a little August into the mix and you get one sweaty, fatty, fun-filled, wine-soaked food frenzy. My poor boyfriend. He just sort of rode out the weekend in a state of stunned silence. I think, based on his body language, that he enjoyed himself, but you can never really be sure with men. Whatever.

We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and after cramming a deeeelicious Penn Station Auntie Anne soft pretzel into my maw – during which time I spilled yellow mustard all over my suitcase – we took the subway to my friend's apartment.

Once we got there and realized the intensity of the heat that we were about to be living in over the next 3 days, we decided to crack open a couple of bottles of pear cider and spend some time relaxing and talking about what we were going to do for basically every meal of the weekend. I can't remember what brand the pear cider was, but yum. We also ate these things, which were completely awesome:

I also feel like they were healthy because of the seaweed. Yes, let's go with healthy. I need to figure out where I can buy these things. My friend ordered a bunch from Fresh Direct and I rammed my suitcase full of them before we left.

We finally decided to go to a local resto called Marlow and Sons for dinner that night. A quirky little restaurant featuring a tiny menu with lots of words like "local", "heirloom" on it.

Our server told us about the specials and after a brief misunderstanding that I'm pretty sure was caused by a mixture of her American accent, our Canadian ears and a loud, under-lit restaurant where reading lips was nearly impossible, we decided not to order the thing that sounded like "macanudo".

Instead, we got a few different apps and a few different mains.

As is the case with so many restaurants, these days, they completely blew their wad with the apps. The main courses were nice, but nothing outstanding. The dessert was a little disappointing. I think if I ever go there again, I'll just get appetizers.

These shells once contained delicious oysters, but we ate them before I remembered to take a photo. You get the idea.

Amaaaazing salad of mixed beans, crusty croutons, heirloom tomatoes, basil and an anchovy vinaigrette. Could have licked the plate.
This may look like chocolate ice cream, but it was actually chicken liver paté. Fantastic, although their bread to paté ratio was a bit off. Thankfully Macanudo Lady brought us more bread so we didn't have to eat the rest of the paté with a spoon.

 Fried corn. It was swimming in this incredible butter sauce. Again, came dangerously close to licking the plate. I decided on swiping everything else at the table through the sauce before eating it, which was a really good idea. Terrible photo. Like I said, it was dimly lit in there and my friend was really on me about my obnoxious flash photography. Understandably. I hate those people, too.

I think this might have been sea bass. I can't exactly remember because I was pretty drunk on a combination of wine and butter at this point in the evening. It was lovely, but nothing extraordinary.

Berry shortcake with lemon verbena ice cream. Meh. I mean it was OK, but, again, the ratios were all off. Do you see enough berries there? Because I don't. For something called "berry shortcake" with local berries, I was expecting some serious hot berry-on-berry action. Something that really showcases the local seasonal fruit, rather than a big dry biscuit. The ice cream was nice, but there was waaaaay too much of it. But it tasted better than I expected. The lemon verbena was very subtle and not at all citronella candle-ey. 

There's more to come from my fun weekend, so sit tight. Next up: No. 7's brunch!

*Strangely, the other friend in my top two also went to Cordon Bleu. I have a couple of theories about why Cordon Bleu produces fun food companions, the main reason being this: there's something about going to a fancy French chef school that eradicates any hesitation about eating copious amounts of delicious fatty food. Neither of these chicks is a sissy about fat or food. There is no "dressing on the side." There is no "hold the mayo." In fact, we usually end up eating everything on our plates and then start looking at the menu again to see if there's anything we missed. They're hardcore. They love it as much as I do. And I love them.

Post-splosion fail

OK, worst excuse for a post-splosion, ever. I haven't even had a moment to dedicate to this blog since I got back from NY and I'm at a conference all this coming weekend long. Gar!!

I think, rather than try to put everything from NY into one post, which may very nearly kill me, I'm going to dribble it out a bit more slowly. Just to stay sane.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So much to say

I have so many things I want to post about right now! Many delicious things! But it's after midnight! And I'm working all day tomorrow! Followed immediately by a four-day trip to New York! Why am I yelling!

When I get home, it's gonna be on. I'm gonna post on this blog soooo hard. It's going to be post city up in here. Post-o-rama. Especially with all the New Yorkness and what not. It's gonna be a post-splosion.

Until then, adieu.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Flavour bomb: Powdered mushrooms

It's always a bit awkward when a culture has a word to describe something really basic, but for which we, as English speakers, have no word. Example: umami. The Japanese have aptly come up with a word to describe something we all understand, but sound really silly trying to describe in our own language. Meaty? Savoury? Earthy? Brothy? Slow-cooked? Protein-ey? You know when you start adding on the suffix "ey" where it doesn't belong that you have succeeded in sounding like a complete doofus. I should know, since I do it all the time.

We all know that savoury taste... that, for lack of a better word, "meatiness" that is associated with foods high in glutamates, (yes – natural MSG!) such as tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and, of course, meat. It's just that none of us has ever thought to put a word to it until the Japanese came along and did it for us. Well thank you, once again, Japan! You can add this to the list of awesome stuff you've invented, including ramen noodles and ninja stars. You even chose a word that sounds like "Oooh, Mami!", which is just downright appropriate.

Umami is the newest addition to list of basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It might even be my favourite of the basic tastes. I mean come on – mushrooms, tomatoes, slow-cooked meats, cheese? Cheese?! Yeah, it's definitely my favourite taste. It's no wonder MSG is one of the most common food additives, today. Food is more palatable when it includes an umami element, which is probably why MSG, as a chemical additive, is associated with obesity.

The great news is that you can achieve a toned-down, natural, non-chemical version of that MSG taste in many ways. My favourite shortcut way to add savouriness is with mushrooms. Mushrooms are frequently described with those same descriptors that we use for umami: meaty, earthy... all that good stuff. Dried mushrooms are even more intensely flavoured than their fresh counterparts, so you're getting a double whammy of mushrumami by using them. I like to grind dried mushrooms into a powder using a coffee grinder. From there, just sprinkle them into sauces and stews to add an instant and significant depth of flavour.

Another cool way to use mushroom powder is by mixing it, half-and-half, with a good sea salt. Mushroom salt is killer sprinkled over scrambled eggs. Or dust it onto a steak before searing it. Use it wherever you'd like to inject some insta-flavour.

My favourite mushrooms to powder are porcini and shiitake, but you can use any variety of dried mushroom, such as morels, black trumpets, chanterelles, cepes, lobster or a mixture of several different kinds. Just remember, the stronger they taste, the more of a flavour punch they'll pack. If they're not terribly strong-tasting mushrooms, they won't go very far in flavouring something.

For you mushroom haters: the resulting taste after adding powdered mushroom isn't really all that mushroomy. It almost acts like a powdered bouillon. And there is none of that mushroom texture that seems to freak you all out so much. So just suck it up and try it, OK? OK, good.