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Thursday, September 16, 2010

B. Crafty

I grew up drinking nothing but the good sh#t: Natty Light, Colt 45, Crooked I, MGD and (on *special* dates) wide mouth Mickey's. Which makes me the ideal target audience for NY Craft Beer Week.

For those not in the know, said week
is an annual celebration of the New York City [sic] and its craft beer community--from the breweries and people who provide us with great beers, to the places we purchase and enjoy the amazing selection of beers available, and especially to our friends that we make time to share a beer with.
Alas, the last “friend” I shared a beer with was myself, and the enjoyment I received came from that rich wave of euphoria that only follows a dozen Newcastles and premium (self-inflicted) handjob. That said, The 'Chop is always looking to broaden our horizons, and the Festival events — from neighborhood beer walks and bar promotions to tasting festivals, food pairings and beer dinners — sound just crazy enough to get us off the sofa.

The problem is, the Informational Pre-Party took place at The Brooklyn Brewery. After 5pm. On a Friday Wednesday. Meaning there was a scientifically precise 0.00003% we would remain sober enough to deliver any useful information whatsoever. And yet for you, beer-curious reader, we maintained long enough to sort out three promising products to whet your appetite. Details below!
The only thing more annoying than wine snobs are beer snobs. It's like listening to a hobo tell you how to dress. That said, the fine folks at Chicago's family-owned 22-year old Goose Island Beer Company had us rethinking the merits of pairings, premium ingredients and luxury price points. This stuff is not cheap: a 4-pack of 12 ouncers will set you back around $16. But with elegant labels and over 50 styles, you're sure to find something worth splurging on. Their range includes borderline “festive” touches (to wit: Fleur, a Belgian Pale Ale brewed with hybiscus and Japanese tea), yet we preferred the more restrained Matilda, a light pale amber Blonde made with the wild Belgian yeast brettanomyces. Serve it with gorgonzola or spicy seafood then twist your lip at the chumps still washing down their grilled cheese with PBR. [mmmmmm.... grilled cheese. —ed. note]
Speaking of pairings, here's a little known fact to mull: beer is third (behind trees and bbq ribs) on the list of Stuff That Makes You Eat Even When You're Not Hungry. Yet sadly, quality munchies are hard to come by. Enter the flavor savvy and entrepreneurial pluck of stone cold supra geniuses Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga. Erin's fine resume includes everything from non-profit work and arts education to pastry chef, while Agatha runs a psychiatric research clinic. But they took time away from these less prestigious pursuits to bring salty/sweet treats to the masses. Their company Ovenly's products range from addictive bacon-cayenne Spicy Caramel Corn and chewy, aromatic beer and garam masala Curried Roasted Cashews to Black Olive Shortbread and Homemade Mustard Stuffed “Combos.” The only downside? They don't have a retail space as of yet. So you'll just have to hope the Craft Week folks have a secret stash.
Ditto for the fine products of Gerald Jerky, the cow-brain child of one Rachel Granville (of the Lopez Island, Washington Granvilles). She took time from being accosted by a man in a small roundish hat pitching his pickles [note: not metaphorical] to break down the genesis of her terrific dried beef. The dream of bringing it to the people first fomented as a youth watching football games with her dad. She then bought a dehydrator in college, interned with meat maestro Pat La Frieda and, a year back, started offering two varieties: classic peppered (the secret ingredient is love beer), and sweet and spicy asian made with, amongst other things, star anise and Manhattan Special. Grass-fed top round adds moral grit, but Rachel's technique is the real star. The results are everything you could hope for from a piece of meat you can eat straight from your pocket: thick cut, dry yet tender, balanced flavor profile, lean, mean and delicious. Head down to her Brooklyn Heights Cafe Iris for a firsthand sample.

Then get your swerve on and hit the road for Craft Week from September 24 - October 3. Crafty, indeed!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Fancy Foods for Tough Times

The most I ever spent on a suit was $35, and I know what you're thinking: “slow down, Mr. Fancy!”

But don't judge, hater. That sh*t was straight up velour and smelled like cheese – making it the most comfortable suit ever on every level, and therefore worth the coin.

Not that I mean to brag. Times are rough and tough like leather, and not everyone can subsidize champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Still, is deprivation necessary? Must we scale back in moments of crisis? The New York Times suggested as much in a recent ode to pared down wardrobes. As they tell it,
IMAGINE that horrible though all-too-familiar feeling: You are standing before a fully stuffed closet and yet have nothing to wear. Now, imagine something worse: Your closet contains only six items, and you are restricted to wearing only those six items for an entire month. Now, if you can bear it, [I CAN'T !!$%$@!!!$%$!!! -ed. note] imagine something unspeakable: No one notices.
Dunn.. dunn.. dunn.. dunnnnnn.

Now I know what you're thinking, good reader: who cares? this author really speaks to me and my life. I have a “fully stuffed closet” of sh*t I hate, am prone to debilitating bouts of indecision, have always suspected the merits of downsizing, and loooove recycling. But what if this sadistic wingnut has a point? Put another way, is it possible to live high on the hog with limited resources? This is a pickle that has stumped everyone from the Great Sphinx of Gza to Winston Churchill, yet for you, loyal reader, we wanted to provide a few options. Hence our report from this year's 56th Annual Fancy Food Show, Six Fancy Foods for Tough Times. Enjoy!In the sphere of affordable luxuries chocolate ranks up there with “fresh tube socks” and “premium malt liquor” — with one key bonus: ladies go gaga for cocoa. And on that front, nothing will earn you more sexytime points than the wonderful concoctions of Benjamin Desmartins' Comptoir du Cacao. I'd like to meet the cow who gave the milk that made these delicacies possible, if only because it has to be the most fetching beast ever, a plump mountain of marshmallow rolls with cornflower blue eyes, dreamy lashes and a tail that just wont quit. Either way, the end results are confections from another planet: creamy, crispy, rich and ever-so-slightly salty pralinés feuilletés constructed with the care of a fine napoleon; elegant croustines noires orangettes, twigs of dark chocolate laced with bitter orange peel; and fruit-and-nut-studded croquants noirs. Mooooo-ve over Cadbury [hahahahaha!!! -ed. note] – there's a new chocolate in town; and it's fancy!Speaking of 40s, I drank my share in the 90s largely on the strength of ad campaigns featuring slogans like “get your girl in the mood quicker, get your jimmy thicker” and “it works every time.” That said, age has steered me towards classier carbonated beverages. And on this front, Belgium delivers some of the world's best. Take, for example, Leireken, a brewery recently founded by the breakaway son of a sixth generation brewmaster family. These fine concoctions — equal parts flavorful and drinkable, and exclusively organic [ooooh!! -ed. note] — include everything from an aromatic, refreshingly unsweet Wilde Vruchten to a creamy, cloudy Witte Spelt (good for sipping and cooking both). Bonus: stylish neo-constructivist labels guaranteed to increase thirst.
Switching gears to the list of “farm animals I'd 'do' on a desert island” (don't judge) goats rank considerably lower than their bovine cousins (less bounce to the ounce). And yet, the enigmatically-named Fat Toad Farm has milked their bony bovidaes to decidedly sexy results, creating a Vermont twist on Cajeta, a Mexican riff on dulce de leche. Goat milk's unique sourness gives Fat Toad's product a wonderful balance: tang tempers sweetness, yielding caramel with a surprisingly inviting twist. Recommended uses include everything from hot milk to ice cream to boobies breakfast cereals, but we loved it straight from a spoon. And at under $10 a jar you can afford to experiment. [Note: they also source terrific lard if you want to swing on the porcine side. Contact info here.]
Still feeling sweet? Why not cool down with the wonderful fruits of Jalancina. Hailing from Valencia, Carlos Garcia and family are carrying on a tradition begun when his grandfather started making preserves in 1922. Each bottle — replete with smart Old World label and ribbon-secured cloth top — contain some of Spain's finest hand-selected fruits. I don't use the word ambrosia lightly, but everything we tasted brought transcendent bliss, from wine-soaked figs to lemon conservas to pears still studded with remnants of the branches from which they were plucked. A fruity, religious experience if ever there was; and a fancy, affordable addition to any table.But enough with the sweets, how about some meat? The first time I caught wind of the Turducken was about ten years back. John Madden took a solid fifteen minutes from smoking kush calling a Thanksgiving Day game to wax eloquent on the virtues of this Louisiana delicacy, a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. With sausage stuffing between each layer. No joke. Only in America? Too good to be true? Southern swan song to heart disease? Or all of the above? Our minds were far too blown to comprehend the matter, especially after sampling Tony Cachere's fine rendition. Suffice it to say, this is as tasty as excess gets and, considering a fifteen pound bird(s) costs under $60, economical to boot.
Aside from Tom Brady (dreamy!), the only dude I'd considering “doing” is Jose Andres. (Don't judge.) His PBS ode to good natured culinary exploration always gives me the “funny inside tingles.” He did a show once on Bunuel The Pixies Andalucía, which featured lit Spaniards pouring glasses of dry sherry from a meter out. It looked like the Most Fun Thing Ever, sitting in a plaza drinking oxidized wine with jolly strangers as the sun fades to tapas time. What we didn't know: the long pour serves a practical purpose, aerating the sherry from bottle to glass. Thanks to the wonderful folks from Vive Sano for that tidbit; and for their lovely pours of Amontillado and Manzanilla sherries.
And thanks to everyone at this year's show, who showed us how to eat fancy on a shoestring budget. There you have it friend, six ways to spruce up even your brokest of days: you can go for that!

—J. Slab
  • Note that due to Javit's Center expansion and renovation, next year's Fancy Food Show will take place in Washington DC. Boo.
  • And Extra Special Porkslaps to my team of crack reporters, Latrell Eatswell, Slimgilla and The Notorious V.I.C., for the saucy photography and Big Fun. This hog's for you.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mazed and Confused

Have you seen Inception, friend? It's downright dreamy: not all that coherent or thrilling, but nice enough to look at and mildly sleep-inducing. Audiences haven't been deterred, pushing the film to a $129.3 bonzillion opening weekend on the strength of an impenetrably slick advertising campaign and unspoken hope that this might, in fact, be “Future Batman 3.” Which suggests that, like it or not, the film is on to something.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times. In these mixed-up crazy days, the metaphor of life-as-labyrinth seems evermore appealing. This can't but help build anticipation for a film whose characters (equal parts Madmen and Matrix) spend 2 1/2 hours squinting and fretting and running into walls. But it's not a theme that translates well to the dining experience. Or so we were thinking after eating at MAZE by Gordon Ramsay.

Let me begin by saying that expectations for MAZE also ran high. I've never met Ramsay but find his “je m'en fou” attitude and exuberant disregard for Proper Conversational Etiquette charming. The London celebrity chef still has quite a bit of Lowlands pluck coursing through his veins, to wholly entertaining effect. And while MAZE is clearly not, by any stretch, his flagship eatery, it still bore his name and, we hoped, reflected the spirited standards he seems so keen to uphold on Hell's Kitchen.
On Location: Slab & Co. class it up at The London Hotel

Alas, the warning signs began with the décor itself, confusing to the point of distraction (pretentious diner? Reagan-Era Disco?) An indiscreet use of mirrors lent an 80s Dior furniture/Pacino Scarface Mansion feel which, unless you are heading to Chelsea with an eight ball to “pump it up,” grows old but fast. Nor did the weathered green faux-ostrich-skin booths and neo-Astoria Greek waitstaff uniforms set me at ease.

Not that people weren't trying. The hosts and all were extremely welcoming, but the food, like the atmosphere, told a darker tale. Consider the appetizer, Octopus Terrine with Kalamata Olives, Crisp Potatoes, Pickled Shallot and Sauce Vierge. At it's best, this ambitious dish – thinly sliced cephalopod littered with various shapes, textures and flavors – offered multiple “parties in the mouth.” But it still suffered from lack of focus and sub-par execution, most evident in the little limp cubes of “crisp” potato and side canteen of tart marinara lurking awkwardly in the wings.

The mood was thus set, good reader: hectic and sloppy, but not without potential. And so we optimistically awaited our Roasted Chicken Breast with Spring Morels, Pickled Ramps, New Potatoes, Fiddlehead Ferns and Thyme Jus. We ordered this for the mushrooms but they proved more advertising ploy than actual ingredient, two small slices sautéed to the point of lost flavor and hidden amongst a bright medley of sliced spring vegetables. This proved the high-end equivalent of one of those Big Mac ads, promising Plump Sizzle and delivering Salty Innuendo. The chicken itself was reasonably well-cooked, but the sauce – added ceremoniously (jus!!!) and without warning or explanation tableside – tasted like seawater harvested from a public swimming pool.
Dazed & Confused: Slab & Friends attempt to decipher the riddle of MAZE

At least we had Chocolate Pudding with Stout Ice Cream, Pretzel and Peanut Butter Powder in the wings. Pudding is the desert equivalent of a “fluffy kitten” YouTube video, something that brings warmth and smiles to even the most hardened of souls. But MAZE's rendition left me dazed: too sweet, too salty, too silly. Nor did the borderline “bro”-ish pairings – a glorified riff on the Reese's, and a long flat pretzel dipped in beer ice cream – clarify the target audience (undoubtedly fat and stoned, but also male and teenaged?) To make matters more confusing, or maybe just to accentuate the “high/low” tension, they added three dots of marshmallow fluff on the side.

Which left us thinking: mystery is well and good, but it has to arouse some measure of excitement or interest or clarity. Applied to a meal, it should also taste good. This is the sort of calculated wonder that chefs like Ferran and co. evoke with humor and flavor, but here fell flat in a puddle of befuddlement. MAZE is inception without exit strategy, the start of something that never earns its buzz. And that, my friend, is nothing worth experiencing.

MAZE by Gordon Ramsay
The London Hotel
151 West 54th Street, Manhattan 10019

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meat Ballin'

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Who is Action Jackson?

It's not food, but it has flavor.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who Dat!

Friday, August 28, 2009

What's Going On

Upcoming/Incoming: