Saturday, June 21, 2008

The UnFancy Food Show

For those of ya'll who have neither the time nor discipline to make your way over to the Javits Center and enjoy one of the coolest events ever, there is an alternative form of food enlightenment available on the same weekend.

The UnFancy Food Show was created in 2007 as an alternative for people who are more interested in local, artisanal products than the majority of those available at the Fancy Food Show. While the selection is certainly dwarfed by the FFS, there will be some fantastic products available for sampling and the suggested admission is only $5.

A misleading poster as no actual alcohol or Olympian meat will be served

Some of my favorite food producers will be on hand including Wheelhouse Pickles (try the beets) and Salvatore (dreamy ricotta).

Some of the foods you'll be able to sample

If given the choice, I'd attend the Fancy Foods Show over this small gathering 1000 times out of 1000, but this is a nice alternative if you're looking for something fun to do on June 29th.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Fancy Food Show - June 29 through July 1, 2008

Of all the posts that I have made on this blog, I hope that this one will have the most actual influence on my readers. I implore you to read on, and follow my simple advice to markedly improve your life the last weekend of June 2008.

The Gateway to Gluttony

For three days every year, the Jacob Javits Center on Manhattan's west side hosts the New York Fancy Food Show (FFS). The FFS is a forum for food manufacturers and distributors to show off their products to the grocers, caterers, restauranteurs, wholesalers and other potential buyers of large quantities of these items.

In addition to handing out order sheets and discussing the foods and beverages with their clientele, almost every purveyor offers samples of their products. This is where your eyes should perk up.

Imagine if you went into a Costco and they were offering samples of every single food and drink that they offer. Picture that this dream warehouse is about 250 times the size of a typical Costco food section. Finally, imagine that in addition to everything you normally find at Costco, there were thousands of exotic products like Jalapeno Lemonade, Pinot Noir Ice Cream, Wagyu Beef, and much, much, much more.

Not quite dessert wine, but....

How much more? Try over 2,300 different vendors showing off over 180,000 different items.

So what does this have to do with you, dear reader?

You are allowed to attend this sampling of food heaven.

If you register before June 27th, for a mere $35, you will have access to this wonderland of deliciousness. That's three days of access to a culinary cornucopia; truly the very best the world has to offer.

Whether you're looking for the world's hottest hot sauce, tantalizing Texan T-Bones, outstanding Italian olive oils, France's finest foie gras, or just about anything else you could possibly imagine, you can sample it freely at the Fancy Food Show.

I've had the genuine privilege of attending the FFS the past two years and each time it has been an eye-opening, thrilling experience. The purveyors, for the most part, are genuinely excited to have you sample their products and are happy to discuss them with their visitors. There are also opportunities to meet various culinary luminaries. Past exhibitors hawking their own products have included Emeril Lagasse, Rick Bayless, Paul Prudhomme, David Burke, and many more, if you're into that kind of thing.

For the last time, I'm not Dom DeLuise!

If you can make it for even one of the days, I suggest in the strongest possible terms that you sign up now, and thank me later. It will be the best $35 you spend this year.

Note: If you are in the San Francisco area, there will be a west coast version of the show January 18th - 20th, 2009.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lunch Deals At Manhattan's Best Restaurants

Though I'm sad to report that some of my 10 favorite deals have ended or changed (related articles have been updated), I am reassured by the fact that many great lunch deals still exist. Here is a good sampling of lunch deals at some of New York's finest:

By STEVE CUOZZO, New York Post

June 11, 2008 --

ANTHOS, 36 W. 52nd St.; 212-582-6900. Its three-course, $28 lunch option is remarkable at a Michelin-starred place whose chef, Michael Psilakis, pioneered forward-Greek cooking and made this month's Food & Wine cover as one of the best new chefs in America.

BENOIT, 60 W. 55th St.; 646-943-7373. Alain Ducasse's new bistro isn't very expensive, but a daily $28, three-course menu (mounted on each table) is cheaper still, offering three courses in each category.

BLUE WATER GRILL, 31 Union Square West; 212-675-9500. One of the few places where a $24.07, three-course lunch is worth the trouble.

CHANTERELLE, 2 Harrison St.; 212-966-6960. Chef/owner David Waltuck offers a three-course lunch for $42, with three choices in each category at this TriBeCa classic (where lunch entrees run to $32 if ordered separately). The dishes vary from day to day, but include items from the $95 prix-fixe dinner menu, such as striped bass with wild mushroom broth.

CHINATOWN BRASSERIE, 380 Lafayette St.; 212-533-7000. At this colorful and trendy setting near Astor Place, the prix-fixe lunch is cheaper than in the real Chinatown, offering a choice of four dim sum dumplings plus an entrée for $12.

ELEVEN MADISON PARK, 11 Madison Ave.; 212-889-0905. Daily "market menu" lets you sample brilliant chef Daniel Humm's work for just $38 for two courses - yesterday, it was beet veloute and lamb belly.

GOTHAM BAR & GRILL, 12 E. 12th St.; 212-620-4020. Alfred Portale's perennial favorite can be raucous at night. It's more civilized at lunch, when entrees run to $28. But the three-course special is just $31, including such favorites as miso-marinated black cod with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, sticky rice and soy lemongrass ginger sauce.

LE BERNARDIN, 155 W. 51st St.; 212-554-1515. It's hard to believe you can lunch for just $40 a head in a place with three Michelin stars, four New York Times stars, and the Zagat Survey's highest food ranking. The current City Harvest option buys you fluke, sauteed cod with broccoli rabe, chorizo and garlic cream, and chocolate peanut dessert, plus the house's signature salmon spread and cookies.

LE CIRQUE, 151 E. 58th St.; 212-644-0202. Who knew you could eat at the Maccioni family's legendary celebrity hangout for $28? That's the price of a great two-course menu in the spiffily redesigned café section, where choices include grilled dourade and monkfish.

LA GRENOUILLE, 3 E. 52nd St.; 212-752-1495. At the city's prettiest traditional French restaurant, the three-course lunch is a mere $55, compared to $95 at dinner. And you can spend even less - the a la carte option lets you order single courses such as grain-fed roast chicken ($29).

MICHAEL JORDAN'S STEAKHOUSE, Grand Central Terminal mezzanine; 212-655-2300. You can spend $40 for a single cut of meat here - or $24 for a three-course lunch that offers petit filet mignon and pan-seared wild striped bass among entrées, as well as a great view of the terminal floor.

MILOS, 125 W. 55th St.; 212-245-7400. At night, the city's priciest Greek place can easily set you back more than $100 a head, thanks to its fish-by-the-pound policy. But the $39, three-course lunchtime "business" menu is a steal and includes one of the joint's signature whole fishes simply grilled. A three-course option for just $24.07 is too limited.

OCEANA, 55 E. 54th St.; 212-759-5941. The luxurious seafood temple's three-course, $48 lunch has long been one of the city's best bargains, offering nearly as many choices as the $78 dinner menu. But a new, three-course option for $33 is simply shocking.

OSTERIA DEL CIRCO, 120 W. 55th St.; 212-265-3636. I blink every time I have the three-course, $28 lunch, which offers four generously sized choices of appetizer and entrée.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good Eating at the Ball Park

For some unknown reason, going to baseball games makes me ravenous.  

The Baseball Food Pyramid

Evidently, I'm not the only one.  Here's a fun map of the best and worst foods available at each major league ball park.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Big Apple BBQ Preview

My favorite weekend of the year, the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, is upon us.

With over a dozen different BBQ joints offering their wares this year, navigating the meaty landscape may require a guide.

I hereby humbly offer myself, if you choose to read on.

Our format will be as follows: I am dismissing all of the New York City restaurants in attendance. They are all too easy to try at any other time (including this very weekend after the festival hours end) to warrant consideration. That leaves us with the following contenders.

I will approach this from the standpoint that every BBQ lover has their own personal meat preference. This guide intends to steer you towards those pit masters who create versions of their meats that I believe to be the most outstanding relative to the average example. Without further adieu, here is the list:

If you can only eat one plate of BBQ…

Get a pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, from Decatur, Alabama. Pit master Chris Lilly’s pork is chock full of nuanced smoky flavor and signature spices, while remaining moist and tender.

Bite into one of these sandwiches with your eyes closed and concentrate on letting flavors swirl around your mouth. You’ll understand why everyone is lining up.

If you can only eat two plates of BBQ…

Get a pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and…

a plate of brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick, of Driftwood, Texas. Michael Rodriguez and crew are no longer the winners of the “longest distance traveled” award, but they are still the beef bbq kings. I’ll be the first to admit that their product is superior on their home turf (I’ve had the fortune of visiting the Driftwood local), but they are still turning out pink smoke laden beef and juicy, spicy sausage that bests the competition when they hit the big apple. Be sure to ask for a bit of the “moist” end of the brisket. You won’t be disappointed.

If you can only eat three plates of BBQ…

Get a pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and a plate of brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick and…

a whole hog sandwich from Mitchell’s BBQ, of Wilson, North Carolina. For those unfamiliar to whole hog cooking, it involves slicing an entire pig right down the middle, seasoning the insides with spices and marinades and then smoking the whole thing on a huge grill. Whether your barbecue block party cravings lead you to sampling some of Ed Mitchell’s fine fare or not, you should definitely visit his area to check out the preparation process. Just like the enormous cauldron of Brunswick stew from the Proclamation Stew Crew, this is a spectacle not to be missed.

The meat, fortunately, more than makes up for the effort it takes to prepare it. Juicier than the traditional pulled pork sandwich, Mitchell’s whole hog is replete with a vinegar based sauce that gives it a kick not found in some of the other sandwiches on offering. The meat is rich and incredibly flavorful, though it lacks a bit of the complexity from smoke penetration found in the best pork shoulder creations.

If you can only eat four plates of BBQ…

Get a pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and a plate of brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick, a whole hog sandwich from Mitchell’s BBQ and…

a plate of ribs from the17th Street Bar & Grill of Murphysboro, Illinois. Two years ago, I proclaimed these ribs to be the best thing I ate the whole weekend. Last year, the portion I received lacked the tenderness and balanced flavors of the prior festival's. These are traditional Memphis style baby back ribs which are dry rubbed to let the succulent meat shine.

Lovers of bbq baked beans should make it a particular point to stop by the 17th Street stand as their version (which is included with 2-3 ribs in their plate) is quite simply the finest I've ever tasted.

If you're going to get more than 4 plates, you probably know more about the festival than, me, so I'm not going to bother...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Good Things I've Made Recently (Kimchi Edition)

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.

Nowhere is that statement truer than in the kitchen. How else could you explain the fact that humans eat (and even love) strange animal parts such as tripe, sweetbreads, foie gras, rocky mountain oysters and the like? Or that they’ve consumed horrible smelling fruit like durian?

I suppose that some of these culinary oddities might have been first consumed on a dare, but most likely these foods were first eaten by humans in order to survive. Figuring out how to make them taste great was simply a natural progression.

While I certainly am not in the dire straits of our ancestors, sometimes I find myself hungry, with little time to prepare a meal, and with a host of ingredients that don’t add up to the parts of any typical recipes.

It is at these times that I often have the most fun experimenting and creating new dishes that range from just plain awful (cornmeal and smoked salmon pancakes) to tasty/interesting (grilled scallop and jalapeno sandwiches on polenta rounds) to favorites that I add to my repertoire (see below).

The following are a couple of examples of the “hits” that I’ve come up with in the past few weeks.

Korean Rice Cakes with Kimchi, Bacon and Ramps

Whenever I find myself in Koreatown, I inevitably hit up the Korean grocery store on 32nd between 5th and 6th Avenues. It is filled with strange and interesting products that us round-eyes aren’t familiar with.

I happened to be on that block a few weeks ago and thought I’d stop by to pick up some kimchi for cooking with and just enjoying out of the jar. As it was by far the best deal, I ended up purchasing a three pound tub of the spicy pickled cabbage (which I’m still working though). I also snagged a bag of what is quickly becoming my favorite pasta substitute, Korean rice cakes.

The next day I had a softball game in the early afternoon and needed a hearty meal to sate myself before the game. With only an hour to cook and eat, I gazed into my nearly barren refrigerator. My eyes locked on to those delicious and fun to eat rice cakes. To that I decided to add a little protein, in the form of some Niman Ranch bacon I had left over from a Bucatini Alla’ Amantriciana I had made on Friday night.

To cut through a bit of the bacon’s fattiness, I decided (taking a page out of David Chang’s book) to throw in a bit of the aforementioned kimchi, which would also serve to flavor the rice cakes. Finally, I added in some fresh ramps, both the leaves and the firm bottoms, as my roommates were clamoring for me to get them out of the house (it seems they were causing a bit of a stench…)

I boiled about ¾ of a pound of the rice cakes while I fried three strips of bacon in a cast iron skillet. Normally, I cook bacon in an oven, but this time I wanted to catch the drippings to sauté the ramps and kimchi in.

When the bacon was properly crispy, I threw a ½ cup of Kimchi and its juices as well as 3 minced ramps into the bacon drippings. After four minutes, I tossed in the rice cakes and the bacon, which I had diced, and let the whole thing cook together for another two minutes.

What resulted was a fantastic mixture of textures, complex flavors and general yumminess. It was so good, in fact, that I made it for dinner that night as well. While I won’t be able to find ramps the rest of the year (they are highly seasonal), fresh garlic should be a fine stand-in. This dish is definitely going on the all-star list.

Jerk Mahi-Mahi Lettuce Wraps with Fresh Basil, Mint, Kimchi and Bean Sprouts

The second high quality dish I threw together over Memorial Day weekend. I had purchased some mahi mahi with the intention of making fish tacos for my roommates and I. It turned out, unfortunately, that they all had dates planned for that evening. Lazy as it sounds, I didn't feel like hitting up the grocery store to buy tortillas, jalapenos, and the like for a solo venture.

I decided to make do with what I had on hand and see what resulted.

I first rubbed the mahi mahi with jerk seasoning and sauteed it in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, for about four minutes per side. I then sliced the fish into portions small enough to fit into the lettuce wraps that I was going to use as a vessel to transport them from plate to mouth.

In addition to the jerk rubbed fish, I added bean sprouts, kimchi, fresh mint and fresh basil to the bibb lettuce leaves before consuming. The bean sprouts and kimchi added a nice crunch to the dish, while the herbs both tempered the spiciness of the jerk and kimchi and provided their own clean flavors that rounded out the dish.

The whole meal took about 15 minutes to prepare and turned out quite well. Next time I find myself with mahi mahi, I'm not so sure my first instinct will be fish tacos...

Fun With Miracle Fruit

Last night, I ripped into a ripe lemon. It tasted of delicious lemonade.

I tore into a tart lime. It tasted of Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice.

I scarfed down a fist full of goat cheese. It tasted like cheesecake.

I chugged a shot of Frank's Red Hot Sauce. It tasted like spicy fruit glaze.

Why was I eating these foods? And, more importantly, why did I perceive their taste differently? The answer is miracle fruit.

Inspired by a New York Times article (I was actually invited to the party discussed in the article, but could not attend), my roommate and I ordered miracle fruit tablets through e-bay.

We gathered a group of six adventurous palates and their possessors and let the tablets dissolve on our tongues. Ironically, the tablets tasted a bit sour themselves. After five to six minutes of rolling the tablet over my tongue, it had completely dissolved. The idea is that the protein in the fruit, called miraculin, will bind with the taste buds and act as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids.

We had set up a spread of foods that looked like some bizzaro buffet of things someone found around their house. The reality was that all of these items were selected for their acidity, bitterness or sourness that normally is tempered by a sweetener (e.g. sugar, honey, the Maillard reaction).

So what did they taste like?

The citrus fruits and hot sauce were the best of the bunch.

Grapefruit, a favorite of mine already, was especially delicious as its natural juices lost their astringency and simply refreshed with sweetness.

The hot sauce was a new experience entirely. It tasted as if someone had combined apple, mango and a dash of habanero, blended it with sugar and turned it into a syrup. Slightly piquant and wholly delicious.

The jalapeno actually lost its heat when eaten "on the pill" and the radish simply tasted like firm canned water chestnuts (a texture that I love, but somewhat bland). The gorgonzola cheese was made more mild by the pill and the brie tasted a bit sweeter, which did it well (as brie is often paired with fruit).

100% unsweetened chocolate was horrible, just as it is sans-miracle fruit. 70% was better, but didn't taste that different from a good 40-50% bar.

The schonzberries tasted like schonzberries.

The effect of the tablets wore off after about 15 minutes.

With the torrid pace we were eating at, that was probably a good thing.

There are no bad side effects to speak of, other that the fact that a few shots of hot sauce mixed with shots of apple cider vinegar (tasted like apple juice), oatmeal stout (chocolate milk) and all that citrus juice mixed in an empty stomach might not be the most savory combination.

In the end, it was a really fun experiment, that cost each patron about $5 a head for the pill and the food. Next time, we're going to try out the real berries.

Adventure to be continued....