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Posts from August 2013

Sable: Chicago, IL

The internet advised us that Sable Kitchen & Bar has decent food and something of a cocktail program. So, you know, off we went.

Our first visit was for cocktails only, and Sable went quickly to the short list of places to try in Chicago.

The cocktail list is truely voluminous. Several pages of original cocktail after original cocktail, and then another one or two pages of classic cocktails. Holy cow you could spend a week here and not make a dent. But that didn't stop us from trying.

Sable-cocktailI assume I took this shot while falling off the stool

While I didn't take any notes and quite frankly don't have the foggiest idea what the hell we drank, I can say with some authority that they were deftly made and all interesting. Lots of use of fresh juices and bitters and herbs at Sable. Lots of gin. More bourbon than even my own liquor cabinet. Certainly a very serious cocktail bar. Oh, and lots of tattoos and funny clothes on the bartenders, too, which helps.  By funny I mean suspenders and vests and old time-y stuff like that. I think I spotted a Fedora.

Sable-menuNow this is a proper freakin' brunch menu

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Fast food workers strike: make a burger at home

From what the TV box is saying, there's some sort of strike at fast food places today. What's a guy to do? Well I'll tell ya.

Get some short ribs and hanger steak (a winning blend), chop them up into smallish pieces, throw them in the freezer until they get a little bit frozen, grind them in your Kitchenaid attachment (coarse grind, one pass), and make your own damned burgers, you lazy pricks.

One of my favorite ways of making a single burger is to use a small frying pan, with a bit of oil or clarified butter, and a salted patty. The burger essentially fries in its own fat. A sear like this you will not find from many other methods.

Pickles, red onion, some ketchup, or "catsup," if you're very strange, melted standard issue American "cheese," on a toasted brioche, and you've got the best damned burger that you've had all day.

Get to it; the strike might end soon.


The Purple Pig: Chicago, IL

Purple-pig-menuThis is a light and those are menus at The Purple Pig

A last minute-trip to Chicago left me wondering not so much what hotel to stay in or what museums to visit, but where to eat.

I put that question out to the people who occasionally read this blog, and got lots of good advice. One reader mentioned The Purple Pig. When I saw the tag line of "cheese, swine & wine," it quickly made a place onto the short list. When I saw the menu, it went to the top.

It was a rainy, miserable day in Chicago when we arrived, and we didn't have a lot of time to fit in our first meal. On the bright side, we had chosen a hotel right across the street from The Purple Pig on N. Michigan Ave, so we could check-in and run across the street to eat. On the not very bright side, the hotel wasn't to our liking, and we had to call an audible, ultimately landing at The James a few blocks away. Much better. By the time we got back to The Purple Pig, we were sweaty, stressed, and wouldn't you know it, the place was a madhouse

Rather than follow my instincts and bail before finding out how long the wait would be, I did have the sense to ask. We were told it would only be about 5 minutes, which turned out to be accurate.

The place isn't very large, considering its location right on N. Michigan Ave. The bar probably holds 20 people, and much of the seating is communal. Thankfully we got a two top, with just enough room between us and the couple next to us to be comfortable, which translates to about 5 times the space you'd find in a NYC restaurant.

We had obligations that afternoon, which gave us only about 40 minutes to eat. This is not preferable, but the server was nice enough to expedite for us. Here's what he expedited:

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What's happening to Fairway: Paramus?

Photo (55)
I've been a big supporter of Fairway in Paramus, NJ, since they opened a few years ago.

Generally, I enjoy shopping there, and they have a decent selection of stuff that I need on a daily basis.

The folks manning the checkout lanes are efficient and pleasant, and it's never too hard to find someone to tell you where something is. And given all of the reorganization they do, that's often necessary.

There have always been some shortcomings with Fairway, but I usually write them off as my expectations being too high. For example, that basil that they get is just horrible. There's nothing bright tasting about it. Just dull stuff.  For the life of me, I don't know why they can't get good, heirloom tomatoes from small farms in there during the summer months. At times it's hard to find a butcher who knows a nose from a tail. But by far the biggest issues I've had are with the cheese department.

Sure, they seem to have lots of cheese. But too many times I've been directed to the plastic wrapped case for selections. Worse, that cheese has too often been way past its prime. I'm no expert, but if there's enough of an ammonia smell to knock you on your ass, and it doesn't come anywhere near "blowing off" after a few hours of breathing, it's good for one thing: the garbage. I've thrown out a lot of cheese from Fairway.

Today's trip, however, was beyond annoying. I picked up a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and noticed mold growing on it. This was a first for me. I've never seen mold on Parmigiano-Reggiano. I looked at the other pieces and most every one I glanced at had mold.

Photo (56)
I brought a piece to the attention of the two kids behind the cheese counter and pointed out the mold. They instructed me to just put it down in front of them, and didn't seem concerned at all. I noted that there were a bunch of similar pieces out there, and that they should tell their manager.  They could barely be bothered to lift their heads.

I figured since these kids have no skin in the game, and it's hard to blame them since the responsibility for their training and that cheese falls on management, I'd just ask for the manager myself, to discuss the cheese. "The manager is off today," one said, seemingly just dismissing my request.  There was no manager to whom I could speak? Ridiculous. I'm a food blogger for crying out loud. Don't they know that 10s if not 20s of people every day go out of their way to hear what I have to say?

Which brings me here, reluctantly, to vent, and more importantly, to bring this to the attention of the nice folks at Fairway. In the big scheme of things, some mold on a piece of cheese isn't the end of the world. But it's the ongoing sketchiness of the operation that worries me.

Let's hope their aggressive expansion isn't going to drag down the quality control in the stores. If it keeps up, I'll be spending a lot more time at Whole Foods and the Cheese Shop in Ridgewood.

Update: Fairway contacted me and offered a gift card and said they are taking the matter very seriously and will be looking into it. An appropriate reaction for sure.

Update: (11/3/13): I commenter below notes that there was an issue with some cheese just recently.



The soon-to-be-famous Ooooooo-tommy: burger


Two, not one, not three, readers, have recently brought the Umami Burger thing to my attention.

While I'm sure it's wonderful, there are two problems with Umami Burger: 

1) it's not 10 minutes from my house
and 3) I don't wait in line for food ('cept BBQ)

The odds of me getting to Umami Burger are slim to none, with none way out in front.

Rather than be left out of the umami craze completely, as I was the Cro-nut and Ramen Burger things, I'll just make one at home, using all of the stuff Umami Burger uses. It will be called the Oooooo-tommy: Burger.  Pronounced as if I touched you just right, and then "tom-me," followed by "bur-ger." Go ahead. Say it out loud. That's right baby.

I'll be using a blend of chuck and short rib (50/50). I'll be making some shiitake mushrooms cooked in butter. I'll be making some caramelized onions. I'll be making and perhaps photographing a parmesan crisp.  And I'll be making some oven roasted tomatoes. I'll be incorporating some Worcestershire in some of this, because that stuff has cuh-ray-zee umami, as you know. I will not be making homemade ketchup, because homemade ketchup, regardless of how much umami, is never preferable.

I'll be placing all of this stuff on a brioche bun, and then I'll be eating it.

If it's fantastic, you'll be informed.

If you never hear from me on this again, it was just OK, or, very possibly, it sucked.

Update: I'm here to tell you it was pretty freakin' fantastic. Click me for more on the Ooooo-tommy:burger.


A Little Slice of New Haven: Pizza, New Haven, CT


Note: this post is from 2007. I've republished it to test something. I suspect all of my brilliant insights remain valid...

A recent trip to Newport, RI, sent us right through what is purported to be the pizza capital of New England.   Yay for me.

New Haven, CT, is conveniently located right off of Interstate 95.  Easy off, easy on.  This fact pretty much answered the question of "where are we stopping to eat on the way to Newport" as well as "where are we stopping to eat on the way back from Newport." 

After some extensive googling we  determined that there are many other options, and the dividing lines are clearly drawn.  Everyone has their favorite and thinks their not-favorite "isn't as good as it used to be."  Oh for eff's sake.  We settled on Modern Apizza on the way up, and Frank Pepe's on the way back.

First the way up...

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Escape Montclair: Montclair, NJ [CLOSED]


Update: Escape Montclair has closed. Check out Chef Gregg's current work with his small plates concept at Tastes By Bryan Gregg.

As much as I try to shy away from using overused phrases, no matter how much I like them, I will use one, right now: Escape Montclair is my jam.

One of the many very friendly readers of t:e brought this three month old restaurant to my attention. I took a look at the website and liked what I saw. Off I went for a lunch to see if Chef Bryan Gregg's new joint was worthwhile.

The minimalist decor and overall aesthetic struck me first. Exposed brick and HVAC, a few blackboards listing cheese and meat and food, funky retro chairs and neat table settings, prices all rounded to the dollar instead of the "95 cents" nonsense that you see at chains and restaurants that think people can't possibly understand that 20.95=21, all add up to clean and functional and practical. Characteristics I like in just about everything.

Escape Montclair is serious about the farm-to-table/local concept, making fools of other restaurants that have jumped on the bandwagon while serving what all too often tastes as though Sysco is the local farm. You'll have a very good idea of where your food is coming from with a quick glance to the blackboards or menu. New Jersey's Bobolink Dairy, Valley Sheppard Creamery, Cherry Grove Farm are among the cheese providers, and Branchville's Møsefund, is providing much of the cured meat.

There's a three course prix fixe offer at lunch, at the absurdly low price of $15 (there are now some items with supplements, understandably).

My first lunch included an appetizer of pork belly with a jam, and a bit of lettuce that was more than just a prop. I forget if they're making the curing the pork belly in-house, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are. Salty, porky, crunchy, luscious, bacon.

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Pizza making: at home

I've been using my patented dual-oven approach to pizza making for about 6 years now (accept no imitations). As I've documented, this entails leveraging two standard (electric) ovens to minimize baking times (quick bakes are preferable for pizza). The results are about the best I can expect from a standard electric oven, and I'm very pleased with the pizza.

Yesterday's dinner party (that sounds pretentious: people were over for dinner) introduced a wrinkle to this process. Having to make 8 pizzas in somewhat rapid succession dictated that I couldn't use two ovens for one pizza: I'd have to bake two at the same time.

Instead of skipping around all day long, as I generally do on pizza-making days, I was kind of moping, knowing that my patented dual-oven approach had to be abandoned for this cook.  On top of that, my dough wasn't springing to life as much as I was hoping. I used less sourdough starter than usual, and ta boot, didn't get the dough out of the fridge as early as I should have. I generally want the dough out of the fridge 12 hours before baking.

All of the concerns ended up being for naught, because while these weren't the best pies I've made, they were, in fact, f*cking amore.

Dough stuff

The dough was 63% hydration, with 5% sourdough starter. I did the typical autolyse step (mixing about 1/3 of the flour with the water and letting stand for 20 minutes). Then added the salt, starter, and remaining flour, and mixed until it was just coming together. No need to mix too much when you're putting it down in the fridge for a few days (3 days is standard for me).

Oven stuff

The ovens were, as usual, preheated for over an hour, at 550, each with a stone about 3-4 inches from the top (second rack, in mine). Once the ovens got to temp, the oven doors were opened to cool the air down, and closed again so the oven would continue to heat. And repeat. This process gets the stones good and hot, since the air cools down quickly, causing the oven to cycle back on, adding more energy to the stones.

The stones were about 640 degrees for the first pies (and slightly less as the pies went on).

The pizze were done in about 3.5 minutes. Not wood-burning oven times, and not even the dual-oven times, but pretty damned fast. A surprisingly even cook on the bottom and top, as well.

The pictures are not pretty, as I snapped quick shots with my phone, but here are the pies in their full-sized iPhone glory:

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