Sunday, April 20, 2008

The magical mystery tour of asparagus

I’ve just been on a wonderful adventure in West Marin county and Northern California doing research for my new farm project and celebrating my friend Amanda’s birthday. One of the most magical memories of my trip was discovering the asparagus from Peter Martinelli’s farm in West Marin.

It all started when we went for dinner at the wild, wonderful compound of Evan and Madeline (for important news about Evan and Madeline stay tuned; they are worth a blog all by themselves). This may not sound so earthshaking but the big deal was this: Evan served us asparagus. I noticed the bundle with broken ends, not cut off and the stalks were green straight through, not milky white as you find them from most commercial growers. Amanda, who is a cook at Lucques in LA, was as enchanted by the look of these spears as I was. Evan simply blanched the asparagus and I can promise you that they were incredibly sweet and flavorful. He told us he got the asparagus from Peter’s Farm nearby, and when Amanda and I kept talking about it, he said we had to visit Peter. Luckily for us we were seeing him the next day.

All the way there we were fantasizing about how we would prepare Peter’s asparagus, especially the huge spears that were so juicy. (It’s nice to have a friend who is as nutty about wonderful ingredients as I am).

We got to Peter’s and learned that he really only grows enough for family and friends. Amanda went into raptures about the big spears so he showed us the plant that is responsible for these giants. Peter’s a lovely guy. He knew that Amanda had to have this asparagus so he broke off the last huge stalk and gave it to her. 16 inches tall with a diameter of 1-inch, it was fated for her kitchen.

When we got back she put our giant stalk in a glass of water along with a few other smaller ones to save for dinner the following day. The next morning we got eggs from my friend Susie’s garden to go with the asparagus. Amanda had to get out the largest stock pot in the kitchen to cook this one stalk. I prepped the hard boiled eggs, chopped parsley and shallots while Amanda cut the asparagus in thin slices and topped it with all the eggs shallots, parsley, some olive oil, meyer lemon, and salt.

We sat down with our asparagus and a bottle of Domaine Tempier Rose and were in heaven. It was almost a perfect ending to our perfect week. The only flaw was knowing we had to leave later that day.

Peter Martinelli
Fresh Run Farm

Friday, April 18, 2008

There’s a New Milkman in Town

My friend Matt asked me if I have had the milk from Milk Thistle Farms dairy at the Union Square Farmers Market and if I hadn’t to get down there asap.

The Milk Thistle Farms Dairy is selling their goods on Fridays at the market and I assume that they’ve replaced Ronnybrook Dairy which used to have that spot. Ronnybrook, meanwhile has opened a shop at Chelsea Market which used oddly enough used to be The National Biscuit Company where everything from Saltines, Barnum’s animal crackers and Oreo’s were produced.

The Milk Thistle Farms are located in Ghent NY and I chatted with the owner while I surveyed his goods. They sell whole milk, skim milk and half and half. The milk is sold in glass bottles, quart or pint sizes and have a dollar deposit which you get back when you return them. There is a quote on each bottle by Rudolf Steiner, “In its essential nature, a farm is a self-contained individuality” the father of the bio-dynaminc movement.

The milk is delicious, rich full of flavor and a little grassy in fact. Even the skim milk tastes rich. I wanted to try the half & half but it was sold out, I was told I’d have to come very early to have a chance to get a bottle. I asked if they had butter and he told me he doesn’t want to produce butter because they is so much left over skin milk he has no use for it and he could not waste it. He said maybe one day if there were a way he could use it, maybe a pig farm or something he might consider it. For now I can do without the butter and am just so happy to have this new source of milk.

Milk Thistle Dairy
Ghent, NY

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Postscript to Bar Boulud

My friends Monique and Jose were back in New York recently and asked me to join them at Bar Boulud. When I told them I’d just been there and loved it they reminded me that their talented friend Sylvan had moved from Paris to work with Gilles on the restaurant’s charcuterie. This was a meal I could not pass up.

We went for lunch and had a little tasting of just about everything. We started with the boudin blanc. This is like no other boudin blanc I’ve ever had. It is light and the flavors are all in perfect harmony with a welcome hint of black truffle. When I asked Monique what made it so good she said they use no fillers. Most boudin blanc has bread in it but not this version.

Next we had the cervelas Lyonnais en brioche, a specialty of Lyon made with saucisson aux Lyonnais, a sausage with pistachio and black truffle. These are baked individually each in its own brioche. Again, it was perfect. Then we had the rillons croustillants au poivre, hot, crispy pork belly that was delicious and decadent.

Our charcuterie tasting resulted in a new favorite-- the compote de veau en blanquette, a shredded slow braised veal short rib.

Sylvain told us that they had just been written up for having the best Croque Monsieur in town. Of course I wanted to try this classic warm sandwich filled with ham, gruyere cheese and béchamel. It really was amazing; the ham was sliced extra thin and layered like a mille feuille, a perfect touch.

Before we left I spied someone at the bar having a simple ham sandwich on a baguette with a glass of wine. It looked like the perfect lunch. Next time.

Bar Boulud
1900 Broadway
New York, New York 10023

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bar Boulud

I’m in love. There, I said it. Nothing is closer to my heart than homemade charcuterie and now I don’t have to cross the Atlantic to enjoy it. Not only has Bar Boulud brought quality charcuterie to deprived New Yorkers, it has opened up in the restaurant wasteland across from Lincoln Center where a fine meal used to be much harder to find than a ticket to opening night at the Met.

Daniel Boulud has teamed up with the Parisian charcutier Gilles Vérot, and what a dream team they make. Don’t read the critics. The food is superb but the squawking about the room is silly. It is long and narrow, but if you want to eat at a counter you can; if you want sit at a booth you can; and if you want to stand at a bar table you can do that. But you have to get there EARLY unless you have a reservation. It was packed at 6:00 on a recent Wednesday.

Lets get to the terrines. They are displayed in a gorgeous counter next to the wines, and I kept thinking terrines and terroir, terrines and terroir because the best charcuterie comes from specific villages just as wines do. My friend Lisa and I ordered the Dégustation de Charcuterie, a grand tasting accompanied by a selection of seasoned vegetables. I loved all the terrines but my favorites were the Pâté Grand-Merè, a fine country pâté with chicken liver, pork and cognac; Pâtè Grand-Père a coarse country pâtè with foie gras, truffle juice, and port; Lapin de La Garrigue a Provençal pulled rabbit terrine with carrots, zucchini; and my absolute favorite, the famous Fromage de Tête Gilles Verot, his famous head cheese. We also got a bit of his Jambon de Paris and it was outstanding.

The seasoned vegetables were good but the cournichons and exquisite pickled baby onions were even finer. The toasts that came with the charcuterie were great. Ditto the mustards.
I then ordered a salad, a Frisée Lyonnaise-- chicory, chicken liver, poached egg, lardons, and sourdough croutons. That really put me over the top; it was perfectly dressed and each component had a distinctive flavor which is what I look for in a salad.

We ordered a bottle of the Nigel Grüner Veltliner, a good value at $58, and followed it with a glass of the 2005 Cuvee Le Bec by Beckman, a delicious syrah from Santa Barbara county. Daniel Johnnes is the consulting wine director and he’s done a fab job of putting the list together.

Here is my wish: Let’s have a shop that sells this charcuterie. I’d still go to Bar Boulud because I’ve not sampled anything close to the whole menu. But let’s have a shop so we can bring home a terrine to tide us over between pilgrimages to this sacred shrine of charcuterie.

Bar Boulud
1900 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

postscript to Mercat

A friend asked me to meet her for a drink last week at El Quinto Pino. It’s near my apartment and though it has received rapturous reviews, I’ve not had a chance to visit. It’s owned by the same group that owns Tia Pol just around the corner and is a smaller version of Tia Pol, if you can imagine anything smaller than the postage sized Tia Pol. The menu is smaller too but still focused on tapas. The food is sensational and the room does not feel cramped. These are the best tapas I’ve had in NY, not because of the ingredients per se but because of the creativity and quality of each dish.

The wine list is microscopic but the choices are well edited. It’s the kind of place I want to go accompanied by one of my really great Spanish wines and relax and enjoy the lovely food.

The uni panini is insane, the pringa braised meat panini is a close second, and the salt cod croquettes are perfect. There are many more things for me to try which I will very soon, but meanwhile its nice to know that El Quinto Pino is there waiting for me to pop around the corner for something far better than a bite to eat.

El Quinto Pino
401 West 24th street
New York City, NY 10011