Which is more important - to eat locally, or to eat organic? It's one of the key questions facing the food industry (and any serious cook or eater) these days, and there's really no simple answer. For a long time, I came down heartily and without question on the side of the locavores - buy local, buy humane, and if it's organic, that's great, too.
And while I've recently learned that it's a bit more complicated than I'd first imagined (Exhibit A: this interview with Terri Gross), and that organic food shipped in from New Zealand can have a smaller carbon footprint than the apples from upstate New York, I'm still tipping toward local as my food movement of choice. There's something rewarding about supporting local businesses and artisans that goes beyond the environmental impact calculations.
My personal dedication to local sourcing is echoed in the philosophy on display at Cookshop, a Chelsea outpost of local eating that opened in 2005, where a giant chalkboard lists the staff's favorite farmers and artisans and where the menu is peppered with Berkshire pork, Hudson Valley rabbit, and so on. I know some people find this new convention irritating, even pretentious ("Who cares where it grew up, I just want it to taste great."), but I don't. I like knowing where my food came from, who grew it, who nurtured it, who cared enough along the way to contribute to my meal.
This past Sunday, after a matinée of Parlour Song at the Atlantic Theatre Company, my friend Cristin and I trotted down the block through the unseasonably warm, bright sunshine to an early dinner at Cookshop. I started off, of course, with a cocktail - the St. Germain Collins combines two of my current obsessions: Plymouth Gin and St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur. It's refreshing, fruity but not sweet. Plus, you get a cherry and an orange slice. Love the double garnish. When she was having trouble finding something to her liking, the bartender was kind enough to let Cristin sample not one, not two, but three wines before she settled on the Chianti. Accommodating and makes a great cocktail - good man.
Once seated, I pored over the menu - the mains (suckling pig, roast chicken) looked delicious, but I was craving variety. I hemmed and hawed a bit and then decided to throw caution to the wind and order three appetizers. I convinced Cristin to order one of the "snacks" as a middle course, so I wouldn't feel lonely, and we were off.
First up (for both of us), shrimp with grits and bacon. Prawns, smoked pork and corn go so well together, in any context, and this was no exception. The grits were creamy with a polenta-esque texture, and while the bacon was crisp on the outside, just enough fat had been left unrendered to make each chunky piece a little bit chewy.
The grits sat in a pond of a smooth, creamy sauce that hovered somewhere between broth and demiglace in thickness. It lent the dish a bit of gravitas, its meaty flavor anchoring things and reminding us that this is not home cooking - it's home cooking elevated.
For my middle course, I ordered the dandelion salad. I'd never had dandelion before, at least not as anything more than a garnish. It reminded me distinctly of a much crunchier version of arugula; bitter, quite spicy, lots of bite. Served topped with a lemony dressing, parmesan, and a fried (local) egg, it was a great way to take a break between my two richer courses.
The last appetizer I tried on Sunday was the rabbit liver mousse - I'm a big fan of liver in many forms, most notably foie gras, but pates are not always my most favorite thing. Sometimes I find their concentrated, boozy richness a bit overwhelming, but I figured if this truly was a "mousse," I might be in for something a bit lighter on the taste buds. Happily, I was right!
The mousse was light as a feather, texture-wise, though certainly rich. Speckled with rosemary, it came paired with a pot of mustard mixed with slightly sweet pickled onions - a neat and quite cool way of combining the traditional grainy dijon with the cornichons. The only bad thing I have to say about the mousse is that there was just too much of it - I had to take it home and have some for dinner the next night, too.
What's the perfect dessert to go with a "home-cooked" meal? Chocolate chip cookies, of course! These were better even than mine - and I make a damn good cookie, folks.
156 10th Avenue (at 20th Street)