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City Hall Subway station--probably the closest I'll ever get to it

City Hall Subway station–probably the closest I’ll ever get to it

A few days ago various sites were sharing photos by James and Karla Murray, authors of Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York as they were doing a ten-year update in which they revisited several iconic mom-and-pop businesses in the city from their book to see if they were still there or had caved to the whims of modern New York and closed. Sadly, many are no longer there, either being replaced with banks and Subway shops (seriously) or sitting as unused and blank spaces. Change and gentrification, especially in a place like New York, are inevitable, but it always hurts a little more when something goofy and unique is replaced with another soulless corporate box of steel and glass.

I’m angry that the glass box that replaced the M&G Diner is still going unused. Read More

Part of our to-do list in 2014

Part of our to-do list in 2014

We’re in the midst of preparations for our New Year’s Eve celebrations, i.e. our annual evening-long cooking-and-eating fest, but I wanted to drop in and wish everyone a wonderful 2014! The menu tonight is shaping up to be one of our best ever, and because one of my goals for this coming year is writing more here, I’m hoping I’ll be actually sharing it here very soon. Read More

Tortilla de patatas y finas hierbas/truita a patates amb les fines herbes

Tortilla de patatas y finas hierbas/truita a patates amb les fines herbes

I had high hopes for this tortilla, and while it was delicious and did a pretty good job of matching the idea of the final product that was in my head, there’s also much room for improvement. But that’s how cooking goes some days. The key is, of course, is to crack a few more eggs and try it again.

My initial vision was to make a Spanish-style tribute to one of the best omelettes I’ve ever had: the omelette aux fines herbes at Pastis.* It’s enormous and fluffy and comes with a side of frites, and paired with a good French 75 it’s my platonic ideal of brunch these days. While the dish as-is would be a wonderful dinner, I’m not one for making frites at home, much less on a weekday. Here’s where the Spanish inspiration came in: crumble in some high-quality potato chips (in our case, the house-made chips from Fairway) along with the herbs into the eggs, and cook it all as a tortilla, served with a big salad.

Pastis's omelette aux fines herbes with French Fries

Pastis’s omelette aux fines herbes with French Fries

Because really: if really tasty potato chips are good enough for both Feran Adrià and José Andrés to make the tortilla process a little faster, then they are good for all of us. While the resultant tortilla was tasty, it wasn’t perfectly cooked: the middle was a little runny while the exterior was just a touch too done. This didn’t bother me personally as I like runny eggs, but I’d really like to master the balance of exterior to interior doneness and make a tortilla that is as pretty as it is tasty one of these days. I’ve read that smaller pans are best, so I’ve placed a smaller nonstick on my birthday wishlist and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to report on my success or lack thereof.

So let’s call this the “before” photo, and the “after” will come when I have less pan to work with and the same number of eggs. Pending that experiment, a recipe will soon follow.

Stay tuned!

*I wasn’t into eggs, much less an omelette, until a few years ago and therefore I have a very limited data set for reference. Feel free to instruct me on where to find better omelettes in the comments.

From the entrance of Inventing Abstraction.

From the entrance of Inventing Abstraction.

One of the things I miss most about living in Manhattan is being able to go to the Museum of Modern Art whenever I felt like it. Getting the single membership was one of the most frugal things we did when we lived in the city; between Michael’s free access to the Met through his Columbia post-doc and this membership, we could partake in a magnitude of art without having to spend a ton of money on admission fees every time we had the inclination. Keeping the membership following the move was my way to maintain a tie to the city, to give us a concrete reason to return again and again.

So we go with some regularity these days, though not at the same clip we previously did. I’ve been able to catch most, if not all of the special exhibitions that have caught my eye: from Century of the Child to Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen to Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Artto Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914. Recently opened is Inventing Abstraction, an impressive survey of artists from Kandinsky to Mondrian to Duchamp who all through their various connections to each other took the early lessons of Cubism and turned it into what we would call abstract art. There’s a lovely playlist that accompanies the exhibit that you can listen to in a special room off the main exhibit, but you can also access it here if you’re unable to make it to New York before April.  Read More

 Pickled Ramps, Day 1

The end of winter/beginning of spring is a rough time to have blog friends who live in places like California. They torture you with their tales of how amazing the weather is and with their gorgeous photos of Meyer lemon trees and budding strawberries, telegraphing tales of warmth to us suckers from the Rockies to the East who have to suffer through the indignities of the winter-spring transition that usually means lackluster fruits without an end in sight. Even with the relatively mild winter we had here, this can be a rather frustrating process while we wait for spring produce and weather warm enough to finally start planting things. One benefit we do get this time of year, however, is ramp season, but because we aren’t allowed nice things for very long, that season is cruelly short.

It’s been almost a year ago to the day since I’ve last had my hands on some ramps: having taken the day off to catch the Copa del Rey final between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, I headed down to Union Square that morning to get what I figured would be the last of the ramps of the season and to finally try the pizza at Eataly. I think I ended up taking a good $12 worth home and we made salsa and pesto and all kinds of good things. (That was also the day that Michael told me that the job he wanted and eventually got was available once more, but it’s best not to get into that particular memory.) With us no longer being a mere two subway rides away from my favorite greenmarket, I had resigned myself to having a ramp-less spring this year, as Google searches came up with a lot of ways to build a ramp, but not to buy wild leeks locally. This, to be honest, didn’t surprise me all that much. Read More

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

Do you have those foods that you never, ever purchase (usually due to some combination of expense, availability, and no idea what to do with it) but long for anyway? Or foods that you have reserved in your mind to only indulge in for a very specific, very celebratory reason, regardless of whether you’ve ever tasted it or not? The image of sitting down at a fine steakhouse and ordering the Wagyu ribeye along with a glass of 80-dollar scotch comes to mind, if just a tad on the extreme side. To get to my point: it’s the treat that you know you can only indulge in as a treat maybe once a  year at most, or something you’d only buy for very, very special reasons.

I have a few things on that list like mozzarella di bufala and a really good bottle of champagne, but my biggest obsession that I never indulged in was getting some jamón ibérico de bellota either from Fairway or Despaña. While no cured ham could be considered a bargain, ibérico is the platinum standard, widely considered the apex of cured ham deliciousness and usually it can only be had for, at minimum, 100 bucks a pound. When you live in a place like New York, ephemeral luxuries like this feel far too outrageous to indulge in without knowing exactly what you’re getting, so I  told myself that I would figure out a really good reason to get some eventually. I’d see the hock of it at Fairway when it would be my turn to wait in line at the deli, but I always managed to resist an impulse to purchase it. Read More

Bone-In Ribeye Steak, aka the best damn roast beef we ever had.

One of the downsides in traveling to celebrate the holidays is not having a reason to buy any of the special holiday-only products that are usually in one’s supermarket meat department. At Fairway this is particularly difficult when you see such fascinating things like goose or capon or the crown roasts of lamb and pork that are on special and look absolutely delicious, but are far too large for two people to reasonably consume on their own. The week before Christmas tested our resistance to not hauling home a huge hunk of meat when Fairway was sampling its standing choice rib roasts: two bites of the medium-rare beef had us both sorely tempted,  but it felt a little too over-indulgent, even for us. Cut to a few days later when a gift card to my favorite store fell into my lap and it took all of five seconds for me to offer to use it to procure a couple of bones of rib roast. We purchased it the evening before we were heading to Pennsylvania for the holiday weekend, and the following morning it was in the fridge, dry-aging to perfection. Read More

Copper River Sockeye Gravlax with Goat Cheese on a a Pumpernickel Bagel

Much like any supermarket around the country, ordering anything from the deli department at Fairway can require a wait of some duration on the weekends, and you just have to roll with the punches and try not to shoot too many death glares at the hapless dad ordering half the case’s contents a quarter pound at a time. Being a New York supermarket, though, Fairway also has a smoked fish counter right next to the deli where you don’t have to take a number and usually it’s a very simple in-and-out process…until you get stuck behind the mom ordering two pounds of smoked salmon for her brunch that day, and they don’t bring in another person to help alleviate the growing line behind her as the slicer stands there methodically making her way through the enormous salmon fillet (and then another fillet because one was not enough). I guess it was to be expected–it was Saturday morning on the Upper West Side, after all–but when you only need someone to spoon some alici into a plastic dish and hand it over to you, your patience wears ever thinner as each expertly-cut slice of pink fish is added to the pile.

The mom turned to us with an apologetic smile on her face–at least she waited with us, I suppose–and remarked that maybe she should have just gotten some pizzas or sandwiches after all. I silently grumbled that Fairway has a catering office so she could have at least called ahead, but by then it was a  cow’s opinion so it didn’t matter either way. (Incidentally, one way I entertain myself while waiting for such things is mentally flipping through my internal encyclopedia of pop-culture references. That leads me to giggle for no reason, but at least that ‘s better than giving strangers the stink-eye, right?)

That particular shopping trip came to mind when I was slicing through our little piece of gravlax last week, as I was only trying to slice enough to top half a bagel each for Michael and I as a mid-afternoon snack. Getting those gorgeous slices is not nearly as easy as it looks–no wonder the pros slice at the pace they do. Read More

125th and Morningside

They took down the signs for the M&G Diner last Monday morning. I caught a glimpse of them unhooking the corner sign as well as dismantling the beautiful “ol’ fashion’ but Good!” sign from the front of the building while my cab was stopped at Morningside Drive. I was brought back to my first few bus rides to and from the train station, looking for landmarks to let me know I was near either end of the trip, and I still remember seeing the soul food restaurant from the pilot of 30 Rock for the first time ever, in real life and being completely floored that I passed this place that was on a show that I loved on a daily basis. That the building has been stripped of its iconic yellow paint and more iconic, beautiful signs…well, it’s not difficult to throw around the phrase “the end of an era.” Also, I wanted to yell “Yo! Get me ten beers!” really, really badly. Read More

Red Wine Sorbet, prior to the addition of Coca-Cola. Flashes were going off everywhere, leading to this blue light.

In a city overflowing with unique fine dining options, deciding on which ones are worth the splurge can make for a daunting task. While ideally you’d treat it as some sort of culinary bucket list, checking each location off with glee as you lean back into your chair satisfied and smiling, unless you have a fairly generous budget it’s generally not prudent to be spending triple digits (or more) on a single meal on a regular basis. This is why the list of marquee places we’ve been is relatively short–and most of the visits were made when we still lived in New Haven, and since we’ve moved here we’ve made the conscious decision to mainly focus on home cooking.

But as much as both Michael and I enjoy cooking, we do enjoy a break from the kitchen and a chance to let off some steam now and again. We tend to prefer the laid-back ease of a Dinosaur Barbecue over one of the fussy white tablecloth establishments found all over the Upper West Side, but there is something to be said to getting dressed up a bit and going someplace nice for a knockout dinner. So when an email turned up in my inbox a few weeks ago inviting us to the James Beard House for a special dinner being prepared by the Barcelona Wine Bar team, it took all of a few hours of debate and a few perusals of the menu before I was calling them up the next day to place our reservations for April 2nd. As friends of the restaurant we were generously given the member rate which made the justification a bit easier in the end, as was the knowledge that we’d be getting a fair amount of food paired with top-notch wines.

In the end we enjoyed 15 dishes (plus five or six passed appetizers)–even served tapas-style, it was a substantial feast that certainly deserved the analogy to “marathon” that was being tossed around at the end of the evening. We don’t want to bore you with the details of absolutely every dish we enjoyed, but we do want to offer both our perspectives. Continue with us (and forgive us for some blurry photos) after the jump. Read More

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