Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I’m always looking for a way to recapture the experience of eating in Barcelona, so I was happy when Mercat, Jaime Reixach’s Spanish restaurant, opened about seven months ago. Reixach is from Barcelona where food is king. I first went to Mercat for a private party given by wine importer Chris Cambell for his Spanish winemakers. I liked the food and looked forward to returning. And I did.

Half way through my dinner at Mercat recently I said to myself that on a scale of 1-10, I would give the room a 10, the wine list a 10, and the food somewhere around 6 or 7. Let me explain:
The dining room is fabulous--great long bars at both ends with a ham bar in the center and scattered tables in the back. It’s spacious and really comfortable. The second level of the restaurant is a glass enclosed wine cellar with a spectacular selection of Spanish wines second only to the list at Casa Mono. The menu has a selection of tapas, cheeses, hams and some interesting main courses. The food is good but I was not blown away. Oddly enough that really didn’t matter.

What I was looking for at Mercat were the ingredients that make eating in Barcelona so special: the great Joselito pata negra ham, lomo (the sliced loin of the pata negra), that great Barcelona chorizo, the tomaquet de sucar tomatoes, and the piment de pardon. This is all simple stuff but it is very special simple stuff, and each of these things make Barcelona tapas the absolute best (for the gold standard in Barcelona tapas see the Hungry Girl Special at the end of this blog). So, judged by that standard which is probably unfair, Mercat falls a little short. But hey, do I always have to be fair?

The prices on most restaurant wine lists are currently outrageous. A mediocre wine that sells for $20 at your local wine story often goes for $80 to $100 in a restaurant. Who says there is a recession? Mercat, on the other hand, has an outstanding selection of delicious wines for under $ 60.00. I had the 2005 Organza de Sierra Cantabria, a white wine made with Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca grapes. It’s a light, crisp wine that is well made and was just perfect with my meal. In fact, I loved this wine so much I am going to get a couple of cases for the summer.

Mercat uses Shishito peppers instead of the Piment de Padron for their Padrones which were sautéed in olive oil and salt. (I told them about Happy Quail Farms which grows Piment de Padrons year round and they were happy to know of that source). The Patates Bravas, fried potatoes topped with the spicy garlic mayonnaise were perfect except the for squiggly design decorating the top.
The Croquetas De Gamba, which my friend Doug described as Hush Puppies by another name were delicious as well, with yummy chunks of shrimp in them. The Pa Amb Tomaquet was not great. This is a classic Catalan recipe in which bread is rubbed with garlic and tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil. Considering all the amazing breads you can find in New York, why did Mercat use this lifeless loaf?

Next we tried the Pebrots Rellenons -- piquillo peppers stuffed with beef short ribs served on a bed of caramelized beans. This was really good. We finished with churros served with a chocolate dipping sauce. Again, good but not amazing.

Everything I had was good and well made and I enjoyed my meal. Mercat is going to be a regular place for me, because there are a lot of times when I don’t want to be blown away. I want a good honest meal, a great Spanish wine, and a little something that evokes the memory of Barcelona even if it can recreate it perfectly.

45 Bond Street
New York, NY 10012

Villa Viniteca

If you find yourself in Barcelona be sure to go to Villa Viniteca as often as possible. It’s actually two places--a wine shop and a grocery store/cafe across the street from each other. The wine store has the finest possible selection of Spanish wines along with a impressive selection from around the world. The grocery store sells the best hams and cheeses in Spain along with other Spanish foods. Go in to the grocery, sit down, order some wine and get a plate of the sublime Joselito Grand Riserva Pata Negra which is very difficult to find elsewhere. As an accompaniment order their Pa amb Tomaquet. When in season it's made with the famous Tomaquet de Sucar tomatoes, the best I've ever tasted!

Villa Viniteca
Agullers 9
08003 Barcelona

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Blue Ribbon Bakery & Market

Here’s something I’m really excited about: a number of good restaurants in New York City are opening small markets and selling the ingredients that make their food so special. Marlow & Sons and the Blue Ribbon Bakery in Manhattan have done this, and the hugely popular Franny’s in Brooklyn is about to do so. This trend adds to our choices of produce, meat and cheese at the greenmarkets with things for the pantry. Hooray!

The Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, another spinoff of the Broomberg Bros. empire, is actually one of my favorite pit stops in Manhattan. It’s on Bedford only a block away from the Blue Ribbon Bakery and sells the great breads for which BR is known. My favorites are the flax seed loaf, the soft ciabatta, and of course the hamburger buns which I wrote about in my blog on The Spotted Pig. The have a Pullman loaf too which is great for grilled sandwiches like the croquet monsieur. I made one recently that was a major hit.

The shelves and the counters at the BR Market are stacked with many, many jars of raw Mexican honey. When I asked about this bonanza I was told that their restaurant has a honey source in Vera Cruz that produces in it five flavors. My favorite of these is the Vera Cruz orange. I love orange blossom honey with Roquefort cheese, but this one is far better for that combination than any other I have had.

Here are some other things you shouldn’t miss at BR Market: their churned butter, farm eggs, cheeses, and many wonderful kinds of salt. It’s a tiny 400 square foot shop, but they really pack in a lot of great stuff, AND they serve delicious soups and sandwiches during the day.

Bring your GPS. If you don’t know the neighborhood, the shop can be hard to find. It’s worth it though.

Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
14 Bedford Street
New York, NY 10014

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Postscript to Marlow & Sons

Well I went back to Marlow & Sons with my friends Jay, Anne and Dominique. It was a last minute dinner and I was so excited to see what Jay thought of the wine list and the food. He loved both and Jay of course zero’d in on an amazing wine, Domaine Romaneaux, a Vin De Pays from the Ardeche. It was a white wine with a blend of viognier and marsanne grapes and it was fantastic. Crisp and the fruit was so fresh and great with the food they serve. Jay’s favorite wine is Condrieu, which is made with the viognier grape and the Rhone where the wine is made is also one of Jay’s favorite wine regions. We did try the St. Peray from Yves Cuilleron and it was good but not as good as Domaine Romaneaux.

Everyone loved the restaurant and we did sneak back and take a look at the Airstream behind The Diner. So cool and I want to have a dinner there…

Marlow & Sons
81 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Are We There Yet? Marlow & Sons.

I’ve been trying to get to Marlow & Sons for months and last week I finally organized a group of my girlfriends to join me for a road trip across the Williamsburg Bridge to do just that. “Are we there yet?” Or, “Seems kind of far…” my friend Sally mentioned several times, even though we had only gone a couple of miles, so by the time we arrived I really felt we had taken a road trip.

Marlow & Sons is located down the street from the landmark restaurant, Peter Lugers and is right under the Williamsburg Bridge. The minute I walked through the front door I was in love. You first see a small grocery store and bakery which has a couple of tables set up, shelves lined with a cornucopia of ingredients. Then you enter the dining room which, with its dark walls, benches and coat hooks, feels more like a clubhouse for locals than a restaurant.

The menu is small and all the ingredients focus on local and sustainable when possible. There is a cool selection of cocktails, great beers like the local Blue Point Ale and the wine list is fantastic. When I saw a bottle of Dard & Ribo Crozes-Hermitage I was sold. This is a wine I discovered at my friend Marc’s wine shop Augé in Paris. It is an organic, natural wine using no sulfites and has quite a cult following. It’s a wine that tastes alive and fresh, earthy and funky and it’s a treat. Other great treats on the list were a sparkling Macon Chardonnay from Thevenet, a great winemaker, a St.Peray, Marsanne from Yves Cuilleron and a Berthet-Bondet Jura, Chardonnay that I was very curious to try. I love the wines from Jura and this is one I will order on my next visit.

The menu is great and some of it changes daily. You can have a selection of East Coast oysters and great meats and cheeses, panini’s, appetizers. There are usually only a few entrees to choose from. We shared the finnochiona salumi, the chicken liver pate and the crostini which was covered with local Salvatore’s ricotta and then drizzled with Que Sera honey which was outrageous and everyone’s favorite. I loved the chicken liver pate as well. Caroline was beside herself when she saw oysters from North Haven, Maine. She goes there every summer. We ordered a few but I didn’t love them, found them bland, yet they were very fresh.

Our waitress was so cool and nice and I mentioned that I was going to blog our dinner and she sent us out a Battered Pollack fish sandwich that was outrageous. Three of us had the brick chicken and Caroline ordered the risotto with Maine Shrimp. The brick chicken was perfect comfort food served with a side of buttered cabbage, (though traditionally in Italy they often use a brick to weigh it down—here they use a skillet. I asked.) The end result is a flattened chicken, which is more like a paillard. Caroline ordered the Maine shrimp risotto but it didn’t blow me away. It was a bit fishy for my taste but the rice was cooked perfectly.

We then had a couple of desserts. The cream ice cream was served with salted caramelized pignoli that was drizzled with olive oil. It was insane and disappeared instantly. The chocolate caramel tart topped with sea salt, which I loved the sound of, was overpowered by the salt on top and the texture of chocolate to caramel didn’t work.

All in all we all had a blast and all of us want to come back and try their other restaurant The Diner next door and maybe somehow sneak a peak and see their Airstream trailer in the back where I hear you can book a private dinner.

Marlow & Sons
81 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Momofuku Ssäm Bar

Momofuku is not news (although Momofuku Ko, which is opening soon, will be). Momofuku is a nondescript restaurant in the East Village that has been the darling of the New York City food world ever since it opened—and deservedly so. It’s a bit eccentric, very creative and relies on excellent ingredients: a winning formula if done right. What hooked me was the menu. A raw bar with sliced Wild Striped Bass on a bed of huckleberries followed by country hams, steamed pork buns, various ssäm dishes (their trademark) including a Bo ssäm at $200.00 which is a whole butt of pork for 8-10 people, reserve in advance. I guess so! Not something I am going to order spontaneously. I love that it is on the menu, though, because it shows the confidence that comes from a strong point of view. Someone in the kitchen really cares.

The menu at lunch is different from the one in the evenings and yesterday we had a 58 degree day. A sense of springtime in the winter. I wanted to go out to lunch and was feeling the hit to go Momofuku. I started with, of course, the country ham. Let me explain that David Chang, the owner, is Korean-American but was born and raised in Virgina, hence the selection of smoked hams. I had the Finchville Farms’ Country Ham from Kentucky. Smoky, woodsy and not too salty, it was delicious and it comes with a sauce they call a coffee mayonnaise. Odd, but it worked. The sauce also has sriraca in it (hot chili) that gave it a bite. I enjoyed it along with a glass of 2006 Danu Bio’ Gruner Veltliner (Kremstal), a nice match.

Next I had the Cured Hamachi with an edamame and horseradish sauce. I was not going in any particular order here, and maybe I was not doing it right but I was in a weird mood and wasn’t sure what I wanted. The Hamachi was fresh as could be, though I prefer it sliced thinner. The sauce was magical. Perfectly subtle.

Then of course I had to have my favorite Steamed Pork Buns with Pork Belly, Hoisin sauce, cucumbers and scallions. I am torn between the Pork Buns here and the ones at Fatty Crab. I am leaning towards Fatty Crab but don’t get me wrong, these are good. I had a glass of the 2006 Brüder Dr. Becker, Spatlese Scheurebe (Rheinhessen) which was rich and luscious and stood up to the Hamachi and the Pork Bun.

I keep thinking everytime I leave Momofuku that one of these days I am coming back for that Bo Ssäm dinner with a group of friends (and Dominique, one of my favorite hungry girls, says she’ll spring for it). In the meantime I will be checking out Momofuku Ko in the next few weeks. I am very excited about it.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second avenue
NYC, NY 10003