Thursday, December 31, 2009

The (food) moments that shaped my decade.

The aughts are coming to a close tonight, and I've decided to join the frenzy of lists appearing across the interwebs. Mine is a fairly personal, navel-gazing sort of list; instead of naming the biggest events in the food world in general, I've decided to focus on the most significant moments of my food- and drink-centered life over the last decade.

I turned 21 in 2000 and graduated from college in 2001, so the aughts have encompassed my early adulthood, my twenties. They're the years I spent finding my home (Hello, New York!), my career (user experience research and design, for now) and my taste (Sriracha, bacon and Vietnamese food, FTW!). In fact, it's pretty darn hard to distill the most important moments of my eating life down to a list of just ten top ones, so please forgive me for any that seem like I'm cheating by, say, essentially granting a tie to every single moment of my 2006 trip to Europe. Please?

All right, here goes!

Number 10: My first taste of Far Niente's Dolce.
As you all know, I am a huge fan of dessert wines both funky and sweet, and particularly of those that combine the two. Before I tried Sauternes or Banyuls, though, I drank Dolce - which is America's most delicious answer to the former. I still remember my first sip, which took place one boozy Saturday night in 2004, at Ouest with Nick and Louisa, when Nick ordered a 375 ml bottle for the three of us to share. I'd never tasted anything quite like it - syrupy, but not sickly, and infinitely musky and complex. I'd go on to tour the winery in 2006, where my mom practically had to restrain me from buying a whole case.

Number 9: Dinner at Alinea.
This one just made it in under the wire, happening as it did in November 2009. My first (and hopefully not last) dinner at Alinea was predictably delicious, and - despite the giant spoiler effect of following Grant Achatz's restaurant for years - surprising and exciting. It was a meal unlike any other I've ever eaten, one where craftsmanship was present in every bite and whimsy never once trumped flavor. A truly incredible experience.
Number 8: Discovering the wonder of Vietnamese food.
Gradually, over the last eight years, my Asian cuisine of choice has slowly shifted from Chinese, to Thai, and finally alighted on Vietnamese. The original Asian fusion, Vietnamese food combines Asian ingredients and flavors with French technique, and has given us such culinary delights as pho (a noodle soup like no other) and the currently super-trendy banh mi, a sandwich full of terrine, herbs, pickles and pate, served on that most French of breads, the baguette. It's slightly funky, thanks to the ever-present fish sauce, but also refined, thanks to a balance of flavors and textures. And I just can't get enough.

Number 7: Making banh mi at home.
Speaking of Vietnamese food - but, seriously, folks...I'm including this past summer's banh mi-fest not only because the results were delicious, but because I think it marks a culmination of the collaborative cooking and exploration Louisa and I have done together. We push one another to try new and different techniques and ingredients, using our time together each summer to tackle a couple of new projects. These banh mi, for which we made everything from scratch - even grinding our own meat - save the bread, are our proudest achievement to date. A repeat performance is planned, and we'll be upping the ante by baking our own baguettes.

Number 6: Ditching vodka for booze with actual flavor.
Just as there's a place for water in the pantheon of great beverages, there's one for vodka. That place, however, is not in a cocktail, and certainly not in a martini. If there's one thing for which my boozehound side is most grateful to the aughts, it's the cocktail craze, and, in particular, the resurgence of brown spirits and gin. Gin is just...better. As is bourbon. And dark rum. And...everything. Vodka is great in a Russian restaurant, served ice cold alongside caviar, but that's about it. I know some of you disagree, and that's your perogative. But, you're, um, wrong.

Number 5: Discovering Thomas Keller.
Obviously, I didn't discover Chef Keller, but he didn't mean much to me before, oh, 2003 or 2004, at which point I became obsessed with eating in at least one of his restaurants. Since then, I've cooked from three of his cookbooks (Bouchon, The French Laundry and Ad Hoc), eaten at three of his restaurants (Per Se, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery) and become a devoted fan. His mashup of American ingredients and know-how with classic French technique may no longer be revolutionary, but it's still revelatory: I dare you not to fall in love with Bouchon's entire menu. Go ahead - in fact, I double-dog dare you.

Number 4: Joining eGullet.
I joined the internet food fray in 2005, when I became a member (and, eventually, a staffer) of eGullet. For a time, it was my absolutely favorite place on the web. Full of interesting, smart people who knew a ton about home cooking and the restaurant world, it was where I first stretched my food-loving wings, and, in particular, my food-writing muscles. It's where I learned about Sriracha and how to make puff pastry. It's where I learned how to take decent photographs of food. And, most significantly, the two week-long foodblogs I did there in 2006 and 2007 gave me the confidence I needed to start my own blog, which is coming up on its (gasp) third anniversary.

Number 3: Making my first mayonnaise.
I read Amanda Hesser's memoir Cooking For Mr. Latte when it first came out in 2003. It was a sweet book, but I was more interested in the food than in the love story, and was determined to become as sophisticated an epicurean as Ms. Hesser herself. Thus inspired, I made my first mayonnaise from her recipe, and have been whisking ever since. It marked the first time I ventured into truly classical, technique-focused cooking, and the deliciousness of homemade mayonnaise convinced me that (most) shortcuts are, indeed, for suckers.

2. My trip to Europe with Louisa.
Louisa and I spent two weeks in Prague, Strasbourg, Champagne and Paris in 2006. The trip cemented us as best friends, thanks in great part to the enormous amount of bonding we did over food and drink. Whether it was duck in a Prague pub, flutes of Champagne in a Reims tasting room, or steak tartare in Paris, the food we ate and the sights we saw created a common set of memories and experiences that will be ours, alone, forever. It also happens that the trip included two of my top meals of all time (at Chez Yvonne and Camille in Strasbourg and Paris, respectively), the best eclair in history, and the most satisfying doner kebab ever. All in all, two weeks that will live in memory - actually, in perpetuity, thanks to the internet.

1. Shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Blame it on Dan Barber, Michael Pollan - whomever. For a myriad of reasons, I started shopping seasonally and locally a few years ago, and have no plans to go back. Oh, sure, I still buy frozen vegetables, and I do buy cucumbers out of season - not to mention the occasional flown-in fish. But, thanks to New York City's incredible Greenmarket network, I've been able to do a remarkable thing: support local businesses, reduce my carbon footprint, and make super food - all at the same time. Nothing's changed my eating habits more drastically in the last decade than my effort to shop as much as possible in Union Square (or at one of the other Greenmarket outposts around the city), and, for that I am grateful.

So, folks - if you've managed to stick it out this long - what were the formative moments of the aughts for you? Share in the comments - and Happy New Year!

Bring on the pork (and the pickles, and the sprouts)!

As I mentioned yesterday, we had quite a crowd here in New York for the holiday last week. Family, friends - you name it, they came. For dinner on the Wednesday before Christmas Eve, I'd made us a reservation for Momofuku Ssäm Bar's famous Bo Ssäm dinner. The Bo Ssäm is the only way to make a reservation ahead of time (much like the fried chicken dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar), and is quite the event: a Berkshire pork shoulder, smothered in sugar and spices and slow-roasted, a dozen raw oysters, rice, kimchi, condiments, and lettuce in which to wrap it all up.

But we'd have be remiss if we didn't sample some of the other menu items, wouldn't we? (The answer is, yes, we would.) In order to prevent such a situation, we provisioned ourselves with some tasty items from the regular menu. First, and most deliciously, the fried brussels sprouts. Deep fried and dressed in a fish sauce vinaigrette, the sprouts are then topped with chili-dusted crisped rice. Crispy, salty, spicy heaven. We ordered two bowlfuls, and I ate mine with Sriracha.

Next up, another old favorite, and a particular obsession of my little brother, Jeremy. The steamed pork buns. I love these buns (though I'm now slightly more in love with the mushroom buns at Noodle Bar), but not without - you guessed it - a healthy glug of my beloved Sriracha. The spiciness brings the crisp, lightly-pickled cucumbers and fatty pork belly into stark, perfect relief. Without it, the buns are a bit flat for my taste.

Bread and butter is an obvious must, and Momofuku's version, predictably, takes things way over the top. Warm, crackly baguette compliments rich, creamy butter (topped with musky black pepper) and whipped lardo (cured, rendered pig fat, people) (topped with red pepper). The butter is perfect as-is, but the lardo is brought to life by a sprinkle of salt.

After two orders of seasonal pickles (so popular they didn't even make it to my camera) and several gorgeous cocktails poured by the incomparable Don Lee (The Reverend Palmer, made with tea-infused bourbon, lemon syrup and bitters, is my new obsession), it was time for the main event.

One by one, the waiters set the components of the Bo Ssäm down on the table. First up, the dozen oysters, which were destined to be tucked inside our little lettuce wraps. Next came the lettuce itself, along with the four different condiments: kimchi, pureed kimchi, barbecue sauce and ginger scallion sauce (which also made an appearance at our fried chicken dinner).

Then, alongside two bowls of steamed white rice (nice and sticky) came the big piece of meat. There's no other way to describe it, really - it's a giant, gorgeous, hunk of pork. Crispy and sweet and fatty, it's tender all the way through and covered with a delicious, chewy skin. It is, in a word, fantastic in its pure, indulgent porkiness.

My favorite combination was lettuce, rice, a bit of kimchi, some barbecue sauce, and a squeeze of Sriracha. Can't forget the Sriracha.

After stuffing ourselves silly (between the ten of us, we finished about 7/8 of the shoulder), we turned down the offer of dessert, but accepted a round of eggnog. Light and fluffy (for eggnog, of course) and just slightly boozy, it was a great way to end what was, no doubt, the most over-the-top meal of the week. Sigh. Bo Ssäm, how I do love thee.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A festive (if delayed) repast.

When you have a group of 10 for Christmas, there's only so much cooking you can handle. That's why, for dinner on Christmas Eve, my motley crew of family and friends headed to one of my favorite, most reliable spots: Ouest.

We arrived a bit early and ordered a round of drinks. Sadly, the bar was out of the brown butter-infused bourbon I'd so enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, so I ordered a plain old Manhattan, straight up. Nick sprang for the Oue-side, a new sidecar variation that turned out to be a bit too sweet - sad, too as it's so awfully pretty (evidence above).

Our table for 10 wasn't ready until almost forty-five minutes after our reservation time, which was a problem mostly because we had a church service to make later in the evening. However, despite this snafu, I have to commend Ouest's staff for whisking us through dinner without sacrificing quality of food or service - and for buying our wine and desserts. They definitely made up for the issue.

The most popular first course at the table (I think three of us ordered it) was a new menu item. It's a bone marrow dish, but one unlike any I've had before. The bone marrow was removed from the bone and seared, which turned it into a crisped nugget of gooey goodness, and the bone was filled with a creamy, sweet short rib and onion marmalade. While I still see a place for the traditional bone marrow and parsley combo, I have to say that this version was absolutely delicious.

Jeremy ordered one of my long-time favorites, a crispy duck egg served atop a few razor-thin slices of smoked duck breast, some greens and a healthy dose of aioli. Crunchy, meaty, smoky and garlicky, it's a dish that simultaneously satisfies multiple cravings.

For my main, I went with another old standby - the squab with duck liver risotto. It it always fantastic, and Christmas Eve was no exception. The squab was perfectly cooked to a tender medium-rare, and the risotto was creamy but retained that essential bite - after all, it's not porridge, people!

Many folks stayed for dessert, but I and a few others hopped up and out to make it to church on time (I go twice a year, so it doesn't do to walk in late, you know?). Marrow, squab and Christmas carols - what more could a girl want?

Back to basics.

After almost two weeks of nonstop cooking, hostessing, and general merriment, this past Sunday was a true day of rest for me. With nowhere to go and nothing to do (until a 4:10 showing of Up In The Air, which I saw with my brother, and which we both really enjoyed) - it was time for a little cooking and a little relaxation.

Nothing says comfort food to me like pasta, and since I happened to have some saffron fettucine lying around (from an aborted attempt at pasta with beets during one of those bouts of hostessing), I decided to whip up a big bowl of comfort. I chopped some bacon, onion and garlic, defrosted a handful of frozen peas and drained a carton of heavy cream of its last dregs. A sprinkling of parmesan and a few grinds of pepper later, I had a perfect plate of pasta.

I ate it on the couch, in front of the television. I may or may not have geeked out entirely by watching Doctor Who. I'll never tell.

Pasta with Peas, Bacon and Cream

1/4 lb. fresh fettucine (plain old spaghetti from a box would work, too)
1/4 c. bacon, sliced into 1/4 inch batons
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 of a white onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 c. chives, finely chopped
1 tbs. heavy cream
1/8 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place a medium skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles when dropped on its surface. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the bacon, cooking until crisp and until most of the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour all but a light coating of the bacon fat off.

Add the olive oil to the pan and saute the onions (with a pinch of salt) for a few minutes, until they are slightly softened and beginning to turn a little golden. Add the garlic and saute for a few minutes more, until fragrant. Add the peas and half the chives, a bit more salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute for a few minutes, until peas are warmed through and garlic is golden.

Add the pasta to the pan along with the cream, and combine with the pea mixture. Keep on the heat a few minutes to cook everything together, then transfer to a plate or shallow bowl. Top with Parmesan cheese and the remaining chives, adjust seasonings and eat!

Serves one, generously.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's a hat AND a drink.

I'm always up for a new bourbon cocktail, so when Nick and Louisa suggested we try one at their hotel last week, who was I to refuse? They were staying at The Surrey, which has this nifty in-room cocktail service where you order a bottle of booze and in-room dining provides the cocktail's other ingredients. So cool.

We decided to try the Brown Derby, a bourbon cocktail named for the restaurant where it was invented, the legendary Hollywood eatery. Made with grapefruit, bourbon and honey, it seemed an intriguing blend of sour and sweet, a sort of pucker-inducing twist on a bourbon sidecar.

We were right! The cocktail is a boozy delight, garnished with a grapefruit twist for an extra kick of bitter-sour-citrus bite and fairly alcohol-forward, thanks to, well, all that bourbon. A perfect winter cocktail, and with grapefruits coming into season shortly, I plan to try this one at home - soon.

Brown Derby

2 1/2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. honey
Grapefruit twist (a 1-inch section of peel, minus the bitter pith)

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake gently until condensation appears on the side of the shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve immediately.

Serves one.

Easy + impressive = entertaining perfection.

I love gravlax. I love its slightly oily sweetness, its silky texture, its gloriously hot pink color. I also love how incredibly easy it is to prepare, and how easily it impresses those to whom you serve it. When you think about it, there is something truly special about any foodstuff cured at home - but making gravlax is a heck of a lot easier than making your own bacon.

See, this is all you have to do. This. Is. It. You take a piece of skin-on salmon fillet, rub it all over with sugar and salt, cover it in some more of the same (plus some peppercorns and dill), and let it sit for a couple days. That. Is. All.


Well, you do have to make the sauce to serve alongside, it's true. Sure, you could serve it plain, or with sour cream, but why? This espresso mustard sauce, adapted from a recipe by Aquavit's chef, Marcus Samuelsson, is so good that you'll want to eat it on everything (It's particularly good on warm potatoes, especially when you add a little dill.).

Oh, and - you still have time to make this for your New Year's Eve cocktail party (or New Year's Day brunch). Just sayin'.

Home-Cured Gravlax with Espresso-Mustard Sauce
Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson

For the gravlax:
2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. kosher salt
2 tbs. cracked peppercorns (black or white)
2 lbs. skin-on salmon fillet, in one or two pieces
1 bunch fresh dill

For the sauce:
2 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. honey
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbs. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tbs. white wine vinegar
3/4 c. grapeseed or canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the gravlax:
Combine the sugar, salt and peppercorns in a small bowl. Place the salmon in a shallow, non-reactive (glass or ceramic) dish large enough to hold the fish in one layer. Rub the fish all over with the sugar and salt mixture, then lay flat in the dish. Cover with the rest of the salt and sugar, then top with dill. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a cool place to cure for 6 hours. After 6 hours, place the dish in the refrigerator to cure for another 24-36 hours.

When ready to serve, slice off the skin and thinly slice the fillet across the grain. Serve with crackers or thinly-sliced bread and the espresso-mustard sauce.

To prepare the sauce:
Combine the mustard, honey, sugar, espresso powder and vinegar in the bowl of a blender or mini-prep. With the blender on, add the oil in a thin stream until combined. Mixture should be thick and creamy. (You can also do this with a whisk; use the technique described here for mayonnaise.) Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve alongside the gravlax.

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nominate Queenie for a Homie - if you don't mind...

It's time for Apartment Therapy's annual Homie Awards, a series of awards recognizing shelter blogs, including design & cooking. If you're so inclined, it would be lovely if you could pop over and nominate Queenie Takes Manhattan in the Home Cooking category - and don't forget to vote for your other favorites while you're there!

You can nominate Queenie here (just click on the little "+add" button in the house icon), and see all other nominees right here.

Go forth and nominate - and thank you!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, my lovely readers!

I hope that today brings you all kinds of delightful gifts and togetherness, be it family or otherwise. I'll be spending the day with family and friends - a group fairly similar to the one that accompanied me to California to celebrate my 30th birthday, including my best friend, Louisa - and I couldn't be more excited about it. Add to that the fact that I didn't have to travel this year, and I'm practically over the moon.

My mom sent me this shot of my grandparents' Connecticut living room on Christmas morning (I'm guessing it's 1984 or 1985). That there on the left is my first kitchen, which, much like my current version, has no dishwasher. I feel, therefore, that it prepared me well for Manhattan living. Well done, Mom!

What Christmas present do you remember best from years past? And what are you all up to today? Can't wait to hear all about it!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Aw, thanks!

I'm deep in the midst of Christmastide here in New York, and was very excited to see an early Christmas present in my RSS feed this afternoon. The Internet Food Association (a super-cool blog started by a bunch of D.C.-area journalists) chose my photo of Ouest's gougeres for their daily Food Porn pic.

Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Louisa and I hosted one hell of a dinner party on Saturday night (full details soon, I promise), at which eight bottles of wine were consumed between six people. (Not to mention the Manhattan apiece enjoyed by me, Nick and Louisa.) Like I said - a hell of a party. So it's no wonder that the three of us were a bit dazed when we gathered at Aquavit for brunch.

The waiter started us off with a glass of Glögg each. Glögg, for those of you who, like me, are among the uninitiated, is not dissimilar to the German mulled wine Glühwein. Marcus Samuelsson, the chef at Aquavit, starts his with citrus and spice-infused vodka and adds red wine, port and sugar. If you think that sounds potent, you'd be right. Wowza. Delicious, but a bit too much for this one post-party.

In addition to the Glögg, Aquavit offers a complimentary cocktail or glass of juice with its brunch, which is a traditional Swedish smörgåsbord - yes, a smörgåsbord! An all-you-can eat, stuff-yourself-with-gravlax-and-pickled-herring-and-meatballs brunch! For my cocktail, I chose the Danish Mary, made with aquavit (instead of vodka) and garnished with a cucumber, lemon wedge and fresh horseradish. Unlike the Glögg, this hit the spot, and the magic of the hair of the dog kicked right in.

First up, fish and eggs! Nick went straight for the table of pickled herring (there are always at least six varieties on offer), but I couldn't face it, and opted instead (clockwise from three o'clock) for a big pile of gravlax, a pond of the unparalleled espresso-mustard sauce, a bit of mushroom omelet, a tomato wedge, potato salad and a cup of langoustine bisque.

Everything was delicious, in particular the potato salad, which has a healthy dose of salty capers, and, like everything else, a bunch of chopped dill. The mushroom omelet also deserves a shout; it was filled with sauteed wild mushrooms (Yay!) and some kind of oozy, delicious, creamy substance (could have been a very mild cheese) that soothed my wounded soul.

The gravlax was, as always, superlative. I cannot get enough of Aquavit's gravlax, and I can't imagine I ever will.

Next up, a cold meats course! As you can see from my plate, I couldn't resist the siren call of the gravlax this round, either. Clockwise from the gravlax, we've got cornichons, another tomato wedge, steamed potatoes, beet salad, bread and, in the center, a slice each of foie gras and country pâté, topped with grainy Swedish mustard.

Aside from the gravlax, my favorites in this round were the country pâté (I think I'm hopelessly doomed by my Eastern European peasant roots to prefer it to foie gras forever and ever.) and the perfectly steamed potatoes. The latter went a looong way to curing my hangover blues.

Finally, the hot meats course - or, as Louisa termed it, "the hot meat injection." (I may pay later for revealing that one.) The one problem with this course is how full of gravlax I typically am by the time I make it here. I suppose I could work on that, but I don't wanna! In any case, here we have (clockwise from top) red cabbage, cucumber salad, Swedish meatballs, Johansson's Temptation (potatoes with cream and anchovy), roasted brussels sprouts and parsnip, cider-mustard rib, venison and Swedish sausages and lingonberry sauce in the middle.

I have a special affection for Aquavit's Swedish meatballs (particularly smorgasbord-style, when I can freely up the proportion of cucumber to meatball), but they were outshone by the awesomeness of the braised ribs. Holy man, were those good. Possibly their fattiness worked some sort of alchemy on my alcohol-soaked body - whatever the reason, I really want them again for dinner, preferably tonight. And the Johansson's Tempation? Also sinfully delicious. (And the fantastic name doesn't hurt, either.)

Finally, dessert. I couldn't even get up from the table to help myself, so Louisa brought me a yeasted, brioche-like roll studded with raisins and glazed with egg and sugar. It was great with coffee, but didn't rock my world like the savory courses. In fact, I have to say that dessert at Aquavit has never rocked my world. For me, it's all about the meatballs.

And the gravlax, of course.

65 East 55th Street
Between Park and Madison

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Want a cake? A really, really tasty cake?

Well, then, you're in luck! Serious Eats is giving away a whole Two Little Red Hens cake this week. If you've read the blog before, you know that I am a big fan of Two Little Red Hens' goodies - I'm even serving their scones for breakfast on Christmas morning.

That's an endorsement if ever there was one, in my opinion - but, in case you're not convinced, have a look at some of my past posts about the Hens and their fabulosity. But don't spend too long dawdling here; much as I'd love you to spend the whole day poking around in my archives, you have to enter the giveaway by noon EST on December 24th to qualify!

Go, go, go!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Snow has a way of transforming New York, of softening its edges and making it just a smidge more magical than usual. This weekend's snowstorm was a gorgeous one, leaving heaps and drifts of the white stuff in its wake.

Even midtown is magical when it snows, don't you think?

And nothing says "Christmas" like a tree covered in real, honest-to-goodness snow. Yay!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Queenie's Treasury

The holiday craziness has descended upon me, my friends. I've been cooking up a storm for two days now, getting ready for the dinner party I'm throwing with Louisa tonight. It's going to be quite a feast (if I do say so myself), and I promise full details shortly. In the meantime, here's some Treasury goodness to keep you going.

First, from New York Magazine's annual Reasons To Love New York issue, a look at the best and brightest of the city's soups. Just in time for the bitter cold weather we've been having (and my two weeks off from work). Score! (For those of you not lucky enough to be in New York right now, the magazine's Grub Street blog offers guides to soup in Boston, Philly, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.)

You all know how obsessed I am with Serious Eats' Food Lab series (mainly, I think, because I could never be patient enough to be so scientific about my food), and this week's edition is no exception. Just in time for Christmas (Does any other holiday scream "big piece o' beef" quite so loudly?), a look at how to make the perfect prime rib.

Finally, from one of my favorite blogs - Cherrypatter - comes a fantastic idea for how to spend your Christmas Eve. Apparently, a group of people gathers each year to carol around the tree in Washington Square Park. All are welcome - nay, encouraged - to join the fun, which begins at 5 PM. Let me know if you go; can't wait to hear all about it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movin' on up to the east side.

Some very exciting news was unveiled in yesterday's Dining & Wine section of the New York Times: Shake Shack has signed a lease for space at 86th and Lexington. That would be, oh, three blocks from my apartment.

Am I excited? You bet your bum I'm excited! A delicious, relatively cheap, well-made burger and fries within walking distance? On the way home from the subway, no less? Next to a bookstore?

2010 is looking up, my friends.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cocktail hour.

My love for the bar at Ouest is well-documented. The affair continued this weekend, when I met my friend Cristin there for a drink and an early dinner. Dinner was, as usual, delicious (I swear I'd sell my soul for that green salad.), but my favorite part of the evening was cocktails and gougères.

Ouest always has at least one signature brown-spirit cocktail on their menu, and their latest and greatest is the Watson, a riff on the Manhattan made with brown butter-infused (YES, you read that right.) bourbon, a dash of sweet vermouth, and an orange peel. Round, nutty, smoky perfection. (By the way, check out this interview with Eben Freeman to find out the trick of infusing liquor with fatty flavor, minus the grease.)

And, right alongside, a sizable basket of the house gougères, ripe with stinky cheese and speckled with black pepper. If you still need to be convinced of a reason to eat at the bar, these ought to do the trick. And if you're sweet, Seth might snag you a few extra when they come out of the oven.

2315 Broadway
Between 83rd and 84th Streets

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Worth the wait.

Every few weeks, I head down to the Lower East Side to have my hair done by the fabulous Holly Ivey at Fringe Salon. The neighborhood is a culinary wonderland, and whenever I go I try to squeeze in a bit of food adventure. Fringe is right next to Babycakes, the vegan bakery, and I can rarely resist an agave brownie bite. In the summer, I head around the block to Il Laboratorio del Gelato. And, this weekend, I decided it was high time for a stop at Doughnut Plant.

Doughnut Plant, in case you haven't heard, is home to what are widely regarded as the best doughnuts in New York. Mark Israel opened Doughnut Plant in 1994, making doughnuts out of a basement and selling them, wholesale, to venues around the city. In 2000, he opened a storefront on Grand Street, where the doughnuts can still be had, fresh as a daisy and piping hot, every day.

I'd had Doughnut Plant's doughnuts before; they're available all over the city, most notably at Dean & Deluca. They were always good, but I never thought they were something to write home about. I now know that's because - like all doughnuts - Doughnut Plant's doughnuts are exponentially better when they're super-fresh. For this reason, a visit to the actual store, complete with ridiculously long line, is completely worth the trip.

This time around, I ordered an Israel trademark, a yeasted, square doughnut filled with house-made jam (All the jam fillings are made in-house.). This one was also coated in a peanut butter glaze, and dotted all over with little bits of peanut. It was fantastic. Still just slightly warm from the oven, it was squishy and filled with deeply-flavored jam. Since it had only been sitting for a few minutes, the glaze was creamy rather than flaky, and melted in my mouth.

Doughnut Plant also boasts pretty respectable coffee, which you serve yourself - pints of milk are also available, for those who wish to fully recapture the taste of their youth. No matter what your beverage of choice, though, there's no denying that you'll turn giggly and goofy at one taste of the doughnuts.

Doughnut Plant
397 Grand Street
Between Essex and Ludlow
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