A favorite hobby of mine is waking up on a weekend and hopping into the city for lunch. This is a way better hobby than getting up and, say, working out. Unfortunately, the prejudices of others conspire to keep us away from lunch menus on weekends. See, for some reason, on weekends, restaurants feel the need to abandon the food that makes them successful, the food which is the manifestation of the chef's vision, the food that makes them stand apart from their competitors, the food that people rave about on blogs, and instead of making that food, they're making freakin' pancakes and eggs and yogurt with granola. Oh, and they mix sparkling wine and orange juice.
This clearly drives me up a wall, and makes our weekend dining decisions that much more complex and time-intensive.
Thankfully there are a few (well, thousands probably) restaurants that will serve decent, non-brunch food in NYC, including Blue Smoke, North End Grill (both being Danny Meyer restaurants...I guess he knows what he's doing), and as we found out last weekend, Fatty Crab.
Representatives from the t:e organization found themselves at Rhodes North Tavern in Sloatsburg, NY, recently, and boy were we impressed.
If you're like me, you've probably driven past this place a bunch of times, and thought "hmm, looks like an interesting biker bar," but then never pulled the trigger. That was a mistake on my part, and on yours as well.
Our first impression when pulling into the parking lot was "woah, this place is packed." Thankfully, it's quite a large space, and all of those people from those cars found their way to some place other than the large, square bar, where we gleefully set up shop.
Right from go, we felt as if we were in another world. While Sloatsburg is only a few miles from the New Jersey border, there seems to be a, umm, cultural difference from your average Bergen County restaurant. In a completely good way. Was it due to the country pop music playing over the sound system? Hey listen, I hate country pop as much as the next guy (although I loves me some Big & Rich), but when subjected to it on a Sunday afternoon, you just can't help but think you're on vacation. Like in South Carolina or something. In a completely good way.
There's a Sichuan dish called "Triple Pepper Chicken", at least at some restaurants, which consists of little nuggets of somewhat crispy chicken, hot dried chilis, hot fresh chilis, and Sichuan peppercorn (3 peppers*, see?). I've been eating the hell out of this dish for some years, first at Grand Sichuan in NYC and more recently at New Jersey's unrelated yet similarly named Chengdu 1 (Cedar Grove) and Chengdu 23 (Wayne).
If you've ever had this dish, you know it's spicy and addictive. If you've never had it, you're a damned fool, and need to do yourself a favor and go to one of these restaurants and order it. Order it in double, so you have leftovers for the next day.
Although I eat Sichuan at least once a month, I have no experience in Sichuan cooking and know nothing about it, although I do have a wonderful Sichuan cookbook called Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. I should probably thumb through it some day. What I do know is that oil often plays a part in the sauces (cleverly disguising itself as the sauce), and Sichuan peppercorns are used. For some reason I figured I could duplicate this dish at home. At the very least, the main components are pretty clear (chicken, 3 peppers, oil), and maybe just throwing them together would produce a close approximation, I thought. As it turns out, I was somewhat right.
One of our recent semi-regular meals at Blue Smoke led to meeting a friend at Landmarc in the Time Warner building, where yet another burger was ordered, and critiqued. Having just had the Blue Smoke burger a few hours prior, I wasn't all that hungry, but forced down half a burger. I do this, for you. While I didn't think the burger was off-the-charts fantastic, I did detect some minerally flavors, flavors that I'd associate with dry-aged beef. This is not to say that I think Landmarc is using dry-aged beef for their burgers, but, it did plant the idea in my head that I should seek out someone who does...
I (and pretty much everyone) know that Peter Luger serves an awesome burger a lunch, made from scraps of their dry-aged beef. It was a burger without peers for a very long time. Eventually came Minetta Tavern (well, it was around for a very long time too, but only recently reborn, and now known for its burgers) with their burgers made the LaFrieda "Black Label" beef, which has that dry-aged beef that I'm on about. Wanting nothing to do with trying to get into Minetta Tavern (even the t:e organization doesn't have that kind of pull), I figured I'd give it a whirl at home. For a second time (my first attempt some years ago didn't work out too good).
Restaurant websites are pretty piss-poor around these parts in New Jersey. Trust me when I say that I don't even want to go down this road, because it this subject could end up dominating this blog, and giving me a full-time writing job that I'm not prepared to take on.
Unnecessary flash pages (which preclude the use of an iPhone and other mobile devices), ridiculous music, hard-to-find basic information (address, phone, and hours), typos, and just all-around amateurish design, are the norm, rather than the exception.
I guess you just have to give a restaurant credit for making just a wee bit of effort.
I'm not sure why I haven't posted about this deliciousness yet. In fact I'm not sure that I've posted about any deliciousness recently. Today's (or technically tomorrow's, I suppose - 5/24/09) article in the NY Times Magazine reminded me that I should.
As soon as t:e reader "Ev" tipped me off that A Mano's original pizzaiolo, Roberto, was coming back to train the staff, I had visions of A Mano returning to its past glory. Under Roberto's command, A Mano was producing wonderful Neapolitan style pizza. The place was a treasure, and a great addition to the area's mostly cookie-cutter restaurant scene. After Roberto's departure, however, the place slipped quite a bit. This was evident in the service (which was never stellar to begin with), the management, and most importantly, the pizza.
Roberto is/was indeed back, if only for the short term. From what I can tell (and I'm not a reporter, so I don't generally ask owners or managers many questions on this stuff), A Mano is now part of Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, which is one of the several professional organizations whose goal is to preserve and promote Naples' prized product. Part of A Mano's association with the associazione involves training, and I'm guessing Roberto was sent back to sort them out.
Clearly I like burgers. Clearly. It's a beautiful thing, the hamburger is.
Since most restaurants have no idea how to make a good burger, I spend a good amount -- probably an unhealthy amount -- of my time thinking about and making hamburgers at home. I never buy pre-ground beef (except from Fair Lawn's Swiss Pork Store, where they grind to order), use only high-quality interesting cheeses (most of the time at least), really good bacon, rarely ketchup, tomatoes only when in season or Campari tomatoes if not. And as for the bun? Well hell, I'm not a baker, and we don't have many options in north Jersey for fresh baked buns or brioche. So I have to concede and use store-bought mass produced buns.