Friday, June 22, 2007

The Red Hook ball fields

On Saturday and Sundays a slew of food stands are set up along the perimeter of the ball fields in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Fans and players, mostly Hispanic, gather here to eat and watch baseball and soccer. If you don't know Red Hook, you should. Poised on the tip of Brooklyn with no subway and only one bus, it is not the most accessible place but it is the nabe with the best water views and the hippest vibe around.

The stands are wonderful family operations serving food from Mexico, Columbia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala etc. There are picnic tables but most people just buy something to eat and sit on the lawn. The crowd is diverse, and we found ourselves with a changing array of tablemates from families who spoke only Spanish and were eager to help us identify the food, to a pair of young urban professionals here on an outing with their four week year old baby. This duo were enjoying Elotes, grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, rolled in a grated cheese called cotija, and dusted with red chili powder. They liked it but thought there might be a bit too much mayonnaise.

Most of the food is wonderful. I sampled as much as I could from various stands starting with a place that was grilling steak and making tacos. All the fixings were lined up so you could customize your taco: fabulous salsas, green sauces, jalapenos, cilantro, and so on. Something was brewing in a covered pot that turned out to be goat. I passed though my friend was eager to try it. There are no menus or prices posted but I did see a mysterious sign for us anglos that read, "Do Not Make a Line for tacos." Huh?

At a Columbian stand I ordered a plate of rice and beans with strips of fried pork that looked delicious and was. The pork was crunchy and the meat was tender. A few stands had tamales but these were substandard with a slimy masa and an unpleasant chicken filling. But the hits and misses make the whole thing fun and, fortunately, there are way more hits than misses.

I brought some wine, a bottle of Condrieu and a 2005 Landmark Overlook chardonnay. The Landmark is not an overly oaky chard; it's acidic and fruit driven and well balanced enough to hold up well to spicy food. The Condrieu, of course, was fantastic. I was warned ahead of time that it is illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in a NY City park, so be discreet if you byob.

The last thing I tried was a pupusa, which is sort of a tortilla made from corn and filled with meat and cheese and then grilled. My friend, who is a regular, said that the people who set up nearby on Sundays make far better ones so I'll go back and try those. I also missed the ceviche stand that everyone raves about but will try it next time too.
This was a great afternoon, and I will definitely come again and bring some friends.

Red Hook Ballpark Open Mid-April to late October
Saturday and Sunday 9:00 am till 10:00 pm
Clinton and Bay Streets
Red Hook

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Peking Duck House

The other day I was rummaging through my wine cellar and saw a bottle of Rangen de Than, a single vineyard Pinot Gris from Domaine Zind Humbrecht and remembered that Oliver Humbrecht once told me that Pinot Gris is the perfect wine to go with Peking Duck. I immediately called the Peking Duck House in Chinatown and asked if I could bring my own wine. They were cool with that so I booked a table. (I didn’t tell them I’d also be bringing my own glasses so I wouldn’t have to drink out of their thick, heavy tumblers. As it turned out, they didn’t mind that either. Definitely a play it as it lays kind of place!)

For comparison’s sake I also brought along a bottle of Humbrecht’s regular Pinot Gris. I invited a good friend who has spent a lot of time in China and Hong Kong and knows about Peking Duck. A word of warning: bring a sweater if you go in the summer because the air conditioning will remind you of Ice Station Zebra. Once I got past that I was fine.

We ordered the duck and a side of Chinese broccoli. We started with the regular pinot gris which was delicious: light, crisp, gorgeous fruit and a wonderful bite of acidity in the finish. The duck arrived and I was salivating. I assembled my pancake with some of the plum sauce, cucumbers, scallions and several slices of the duck. The skin was perfectly crisp. I took a bite and then a sip of my wine. Oh my God, what a thrill. It really was amazing, the wine cut the fat of the duck; the sweet plum sauce and the texture and flavors of cucumber and scallions were excellent. Now for the Rangen. I opened it curious to see how a richer more concentrated Pinot Gris would be with the duck.

I smelled it and thought, hmm, something is off. I took a sip and thought the wine might be corked. Anyone who opens a corked wine tries not to believe it is off, especially if you don’t have a backup. Well, sure enough it was corked with that unmistakable musty taste. I was bummed. But I pulled myself together and tried to enjoy the rest of my meal. I actually asked the waiter if they served wine and he said yes, they have a red or a white. I took a pass.

I’ve since found another bottle of the 2004 Rangen de Than Pinot Gris and I am going to go back to the restaurant so I can complete my experience. Meanwhile, anyone who loves Peking Duck should get Zind Humbrecht’s Pinot Gris to go with it. You are in for a magical culinary experience.

The Peking Duck House
28 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013

Sunday, June 10, 2007

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris

When I first ate at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris about five years ago, it had been open only a month. I went with a friend and we sat happily at the counter rejoicing in the fact that Joël Robuchon had come out of retirement to continue making the best food in the world. When L’ Atelier de Joël Robuchon opened in New York not long ago, I was deeply disappointed, even though I’d loved his Las Vegas place. New York just did not live up to the high standards I think Robuchon set in his other restaurants.

Well, I went back to Paris recently and arranged a lunchtime reunion at L’Atelier with my friend. We sat at the bar again, pleased to be there and to catch up on our lives. We were immediately offered a glass of champagne and a plate of “iberico de bellota, the best Spanish ham, along with some amazing toast topped with finely diced tomatoes. I knew that we were in for a long lunch and that our timing could not have been more perfect. It was a holiday; it was raining outside, and the day was ours. Ecstasy.

We ordered a plate of morels sautéed in butter and a bit of vinegar which made them melt then explode in your mouth. We also ordered his famous langoustine en papillote au basilic. I’ve had this dish in NY and in Las Vegas but only here does the langoustine taste like langoustine. With our first courses we had a bottle of 2003 Condrieu “La Loue” by a producer I never heard of, Jean Michel Gerin. It’s a soft Condrieu with extremely delicate fruit--just another heavenly variation on Condrieu, my favorite white wine in the world. Get to know it and you’ll be hooked too.

We then had the La noix d’entrecote, a steak grilled on a huge sheet of inox steel. It was perfectly cooked and the meat melted in your mouth, literally. The French fries with it were light as air.

For dessert we had the sublime Soufflé Chartreuse avec crème glacee pistache, a trademark dessert at L’Atelier. Maybe everything just tastes better in Paris, or maybe L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris just rules. Probably both. The only complaint I have is that the dollar is so weak against the euro that this sublime experience is more than a bit pricy. Luckily, I’m only in Paris a few times a year. I do know that everyone who cares about great food should make a pilgrimage here.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon,
5 rue de Montalembert,
75007, Paris, France_
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 22 56 56 _

Friday, June 8, 2007

Dinner in Cap Ferret. Part two

Bruno has been telling me about Eric, a fisherman in the next village, who braves really high waves in a small boat, throws his net, and pulls in a variety of fish. His prize catch is sea bass. When we visit Eric he wants to show us a video of him at work which sounds like a great idea until I actually watch it and feel seasick. I look around Eric’s house instead and feel right at home in the Northern California ambiance of surf boards, wet suits, and a hot tub in the backyard.

Chez Hortense is everything you want in a local seafood restaurant-- great location, a place that looks like a 50’s French movie, fresh ingredients, a boisterous crowd with everyone smoking which I know is uncool but secretly enjoy. Jay and I are wondering why there can’t be a restaurant like this in the Hamptons instead of all the pretentious, expensive places there.

Anyway, back to Chez Hortense. Bruno wants me to visit the kitchen and see the fish we are going to eat. We are having turbot and a sea bass that Eric caught that morning which is lying there with a small metal tag identifying it as his.

At the stove, they tossing mussels in a secret sauce until all of them are open. I ask but they won’t tell me what goes into the preparation. We are served them and they are amazing: small, sweet, and tender with a sauce of garlic, parsely, tomatoes, white wine and a little oil of some sort. The hand cut french fries are outstanding too; I can’t stop eating them.

The fish is grilled and we get the turbot first. It is fresh, firm and slightly dense.
The sea bass is unbelievable and unlike any I have had before. I loved the sea bass at Gato Nero in Venice but this is better…wilder with a stronger taste of the sea. I am so overwhelmed by the fish I can’t even focus on the wines. I think I was enjoying a Graves.

The sun is setting on the dunes across the bay, the laughter is rolling through the restaurant, and I am totally blissed out. Dessert, an apple pie made with layers of philo dough, doesn’t blow me away. All I want to do is take a walk on the beach and savor what the meal and the day and plot my return.

Chez Hortense a la Point
Cap Ferret 33970
05 56 60 62 56

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Lunch in Cap Ferret

While many of my friends are enjoying Memorial Day Weekend on the East Coast of the U.S., Jay and I are on the opposite side of the Altantic in Cap Ferret, a wonderfully unspoiled region along the ocean about 1 1/2 hours east of Bordeaux. We’ve come to visit our good friend Bruno Borie who has a small fishing shack in the charming village of l’Herbe.

Bruno has invited us for a simple lunch at his place, and later we will have dinner at a fish restaurant which he knows I will love. I’ve been coming here for about 10 years and not much has changed except that a fabulous boulangere has opened up to make Bruno very happy.

Lunch starts with a glass of a simple, lovely rose, Le Rosé De Floridene. We are eating on the deck and the table is filled with an array of amazing choices. Bruno has been to several fishmongers and bought spider crabs, Tourteau, a crab I’ve never heard of, local oysters, local scallops in the shell, and eel. We are also having white asparagus, baby potatoes, and cheeses from Jean d’Alos, the great cheese shop in Bordeaux---and, of course, breads from the superb bakery down the road.

I can’t decide what to start with but when Bruno produces a bottle of 2002 Chablis-Les Clos, I naturally go for the oysters. If you have never had oysters and Chablis together you have missed out on one of the greatest pleasures in the world of food and wine. The wine is flinty and earthy with gorgeous fruit, and the oysters are incredibly sweet. A magical combination. Next up, the sweetest scallops I’ve ever tasted grilled with a sauce of butter, garlic and parsley. After that, both kinds of crabs with an aioli. I love the spider crab, the other is a little too tough for my taste though the flavor is good.

Finally the eel, fried in small pieces. Earlier I had seen the creatures squirming in a bag and swore I would not eat them. Once cooked with parsely, garlic, and piment d’espelette ( a ground chili powder from the Basque region of Spain), they look so good that I am ready to enjoy several. The meat is deliciously tender yet firm like very tender chicken.

Now, totally full, I face the cheeses and a salad. The comté, one of my favorites, is great-- firm with an amazing nutty flavor.

I’m ready for a nap but first we are off to meet the surfing fisherman and after that to our rooms at a house right on the ocean. And dinner? See my next blog!