Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More like "Everyone's Talking About It."

Where do deep-fried hot dogs and meticulously crafted cocktails come together? Why, at PDT, of course. PDT (it stands for Please Don't Tell, a nod to the place's speakeasy feel) is the latest arrival to New York's revived cocktail scene. Though the vibe is laid-back (this is, after all, the East Village), the emphasis is definitely on the cocktails, rather than, say, beer, or wine by the glass. Which, as you all know, is fine by me - I love a good cocktail, and PDT delivers just that, with a chili dog on the side to boot.

Why all the talk about hot dogs? PDT is reached through a false-backed phone booth tucked into a corner at the East Village restaurant Crif Dogs, famous for its wild toppings and crispy waffle fries. Hot dogs and fries are available for consumption at PDT - helpful for hangover prevention, I'm sure you'll agree. I managed to keep my consumption to two cocktails on my first visit, but I figured it was still worthwhile to partake of a little headache insurance in the form of a chili dog and fries.

To drink, I went for two cocktails, both served up in the mercifully small cocktail glasses. First up, a Newark, made with Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, Vya Sweet Vermouth, Fernet Branca, and Maraska Maraschino. This was delicious - reminded me of an apple-tinged Manhattan (and we all know I love a Manhattan), with the added complexity of the maraschino. Second, a Woolworth, made with Asyla Scotch, Lustau Manzanilla, Benedictine, and Orange Bitters.* This one was smoky, due to the Scotch, and perfect for me, an aspiring Scotch drinker - Scotch cut with a bit of sherry. Yum.

So head on over to PDT - you can call ahead and make a reservation for up to 8 people, or you can just walk in and sit at the bar. I'll tell you what, though - in a place like this, where cocktails are a craft, a seat at the bar is pure entertainment.

113 St. Mark's Place
Between 1st and Avenue A

*Thanks to Don, bartender extraordinaire, for refreshing my memory on the cocktail ingredients and names - I forgot to jot them down in my trusty Moleskine on Thursday night. Imagine that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quoting yourself isn't plagiarism, is it?

Prompted by Barry Fife's comment on the burger post from back in August, in which he cites condiments as Americana, I thought it might be fitting to dredge up this tidbit from Queenie 1.0, my 2005 newsletter and precursor to this blog.

My first edition was about ketchup, its history and how to use it in your kitchen (other than putting it on a burger, of course). Perhaps this is a bit lazy of me, but what the heck - there are recipes, too.

Queenie Catches on to Ketchup

Ah, ketchup. This thick, tomato-based sauce, so often considered quintessentially American (perhaps as a result of President Reagan’s effort to classify it as a vegetable for school lunches) is making a comeback. Gourmet ketchup lines the shelves in many a New York and middle-American grocery store, and in the past year alone, stories and recipes featuring ketchup have appeared in Gourmet, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Guardian. (Andrew F. Smith, widely regarded as America’s leading expert on the history of the tomato, even wrote ketchup its own book back in 2001.) Somewhat anachronistically, many of those recipes do not focus on ketchup as an accompaniment to a dish, but as a key component in a larger sauce. Bending our traditional notions of ketchup even further, these recipes have an Asian flair.

Feeling skeptical? So was I. It had never occurred to me to use that big old bottle of Heinz sitting in my fridge to grace anything beyond the occasional hot dog, or to do more than augment the measly two packets of ketchup the corner diner delivers with my craving-induced order of fries. But think about it – ketchup is a far more complex sauce than we give it credit for.

A culinary descendant of the infamous Roman condiment garum and a cousin to modern Asian fish sauces (both of which are essentially made by brining fish bits and draining the brine off to use as a sauce – yum), ketchup is a now-outdated way to preserve tomatoes. (So maybe Reagan didn’t have it so wrong after all.) When fresh produce became more widely available in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, ketchup bottlers had to come up with a way to keep their product (then still more a chutney than a sauce) in the marketplace. So they pureed the tomatoes and added more sugar, vinegar, and spices (including cinnamon and cayenne pepper), resulting in a concoction that slides back and forth in flavor from spicy to sour to sweet. They also created a best-selling staple of the American pantry, and one that gives an unexpected depth of flavor to various dishes, particularly when cooked (rather than, say, mixed into a salad dressing).

Some people enjoy ketchup so much that they dip anything they can find in it, including chocolate chip cookies (I have witnessed this first-hand.). I wouldn’t recommend that pairing, but I think you might enjoy these recipes, some of my favorite to incorporate ketchup as a primary ingredient. In honor of ketchup’s eastern origins (the modern version of ketchup comes to us from China, via Indonesia), I have created the menu below. I haven’t yet come up with a dessert recipe incorporating the stuff (unless you decide to go in for that whole dipping thing), but I think the lightly sweet, Asian-influenced roasted pears are a lovely counterpoint to the garlicky flavors of the meal.

Manchurian Chicken
Adapted from The Minimalist

¾ lb. boneless chicken (white or dark meat), cut into ½ inch chunks
1/3 cup flour
2 tbs. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves slivered garlic
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
½ cup ketchup
Steamed rice (accompaniment)

Toss the chicken with the flour so that it is lightly dusted, and set aside in a bowl; discard remaining flour. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 9- or 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking. Add chicken to the pan in one layer and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.

When chicken has turned golden brown on one side, toss chicken and cook until just about done – this will probably take about 4-8 minutes total, depending on the personality of your skillet and your stove. Remove the chicken to a bowl to rest while you prepare the sauce.

Reduce heat under the skillet to medium-high and add the second tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add garlic and cayenne and cook until garlic turns just slightly darker than golden brown (this should take about 2 minutes). Add ketchup to the pan and cook until the mixture bubbles, darkens, and slightly thickens (about 2-3 minutes more).

Return the chicken (and any accumulated juices from the bottom of the bowl) to the pan and cook for another minute or two. Taste and adjust seasonings before serving with the steamed rice.

Serves 2.

No kitchen nightmare, this.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Cristin called me up and asked if I was busy one impending Friday night. I had some vague, misty plans, which promptly blew aside when she mentioned what she was calling about - for her birthday gift, her lovely boyfriend Paul had booked the chef's table at Gordon Ramsay at the London. Buh-bye, half-laid plans; hello nine-course dinner!

The nine lucky guests gathered in the bar just ahead of our 8 PM reservation. Our cast of characters for the evening:

Cristin, the birthday girl
Paul, the generous host
Connie, Cristin's oldest friend
Dan, Connie's husband and dog walker
Jasmine, a colleague of Cristin's
John, Jasmine's husband
Priya, another colleague of Cristin's, and quite the foodie in her own right
Rohit, Priya's husband, a devotee of sweet and fortified wines

After a cocktail in the bar (a glass of Ayala brut for me, my absolute favorite champagne from my trip last fall, and rarely to be found here in the States), we trouped back through the dining room, down a long, narrow hallway lined with wine refrigeration, and into the hot, bustling kitchen.

We were seated at a stainless steel horseshoe-shaped table facing the pass, and since the table and its banquette were raised a couple of feet off the floor, we had a clear view of the entire kitchen, all the way down to the end where the food for the more casual restaurant, Maze, is prepared. The pass was directly in front of us, so we had a front-row seat to the executive and sous-chef's doings all night long.

The meal was one of the longest I've ever had, with eleven courses spread over four and a half hours. There were canapes, two dishes featuring foie gras, three fish courses, and three desserts (not counting the cheese or the petits fours). Each course was paired with a different wine, starting with champagne and finishing with a sherry from 1971 (the birthday girl's birth year, it's worth noting).

Each course was introduced by the cook responsible for it - the guy working the fish line introduced the scallops, the cold appetizer guy told us all about the crudo, and the grill cook told us all about our filet, and the most adorable (and patient) captain painstakingly carved and served our cheese course.

For me, the highlights of the meal were the crudo and the quail. Well, those and watching Cristin learn from the pastry chef how to make a souffle. But first things first: that crudo. Delicate circles of pale swordfish and flushed tuna were served with paper-thin slices of cucumber - the crisp cucumber added some crunch to the fleshy, unctuous fish, and the soya dressing added a hint of richness. The dish was satisfying but light, substantial but ethereal. Really, really well done.

Quail and liver make a classic pair - Ouest serves roasted quail with a side of duck liver risotto, and dinner party hosts have been impressing their quests with quail stuffed with foie gras for years now. Both represent impractical luxury at its finest - quail with its tiny bones and little bitty pieces of meat, and foie gras with its time- and care-intensive production - and both are delectably, delicately rich. This presentation was no exception - a seared leg of quail flavored with honey and soy was presented atop a sweet-and-savory pear chutney (fall creeping into the menu there), alongside a seared lobe of foie gras. We eaters were left to mix and match meat and liver to our hearts' content.

Once we'd made it through the savory courses (save the cheese), the smokers declared it was time for a break, and the rest of us started poking around the kitchen. Josh, the executive chef, took Cristin back to the pastry station, where the pastry chef and his assistant taught her all about the fine art of souffle-making (whipping the egg whites, folding in the sugar, and so on). She very much enjoyed the lesson, which she attended under Gordon's watchful eye - you know what they say: if you can't be there, a wire sculpture of your imposing mug is the next best thing.

Chef's Table
Gordon Ramsay at The London
September 28, 2007
Photos of the full menu

Selection of canapes
Melon sorbet with watermelon, blood orange and tomato
Confit of Hudson Valley foie gras with slow-cooked free-range chicken
and micro green herb salad
Joh. Jos. Prum, Graacher Himmelreich, Mosel 2004
Carpaccio of swordfish and tuna with cucumber, herb salad and soya dressing
Riesling Rosenbourg, Paul Blanck 2004
Hand-dived scallops roasted with spices, golden raisin puree
and cauliflower beignets
Alex Gambal Chassagne-Montrachet 2003
Braised Pacific halibut larded with smoked salmon,
Romaine hearts, artichokes and marinated lemon, served with
smoked horseradish veloute
Godello, As Sortes, Rafael Palacios, Valdeorras 2005
Honey and soy roasted quail with sauteed foie gras
and spiced pear chutney
Corton, Grand Cru Les Combes, Chateau Genot-Boulanger 2002
Filet of Brandt beef and braised shortrib, spaetzle with
shallot confit and beef jus
Mayacamas, Napa Valley Cabernet 1992
Selection of cheeses
Chateau La Clotte-Cazalis 2003
Pineapple puree, vanilla yoghurt, pineapple granite, coconut tuiles
Apple and caramel trifle with cider granite, cinammon doughnut
Valrhona chocolate fondant with caramelized banana ice cream,
vanilla moelleux and malted milk
Bodegas Toro Albala, PX, Gran Reserva, Montilla-Moriles 1971

Blog Widget by LinkWithin