Thursday, March 12, 2009


Wrap something in bacon and there's a good chance it'll be pretty darn tasty. But this is also the reason I try not to eat tapas too often. The Spanish really know how to use rich ingredients to create bursts of flavor. That's great, as long as I don't start bursting at the seams as well.

Tonight I plan to visit my fave tapas place in New York, Alta, on West 10th Street. To prepare myself, I thought it would be nice to remember the last time I was there last July. I dined with Rob Sheffield, rock critic and local genius. What a feast we had! White sangria put us in a festive mood (it's nice and strong!) We sat upstairs at the edge of a balustrade looking down on the ground floor. The list of tasty morsels is long and colorful, so we just started choosing at random. Pretty much everything we ordered was excellent. We started with the grilled Japanese eggplant scallion gratinee, aleppo pepper & toasted sesame seeds.
Then we tried grilled chorizo-wrapped gulf shrimp with whipped avocado lime mousse. Don't let that word chorizo fool you. Basically, it's bacon!
Next up were the lamb meatballs with spiced butternut squash foam and lebne. Delish. Lebne, by the way, is kind of like Greek yogurt.
Following closely behind in this parade of calories and saturated fats, we had crabmeat canneloni with crème fraîche-verju foam, almonds and halved grapes. Oy.
Think that's rich? How about crispy duck confit. Unh.
Believe it or not, we were still hungry! We tried the Danish pork ribs with kecap manis and coriander. I couldn't resist something that included kecap manis, the sweet Indonesian soy sauce I grew to love while living in Bali.
"Oh sure, that's pretty fattening," I can hear you say, "but isn't there some dish made with about a stick of butter per serving?" Not to worry: the specialty of the house is the crispy, carmelized Brussel sprouts with Fuji apples, crème fraîche and pistachio nuts. In-sane. Scrumptious to the point of being unfair.
After such a repast, what dessert could possibly add enough calories to fill the corners of our appetites? No problem. First we tried the warm chocolate fondue with almond-scented grappa, with a side of Marcona-almond-and-orange biscuits. Actually, this was the one item I found hard to take. The alcohol of the grappa was so intense and stinging that it seriously detracted from the total pleasure of the dish.
Such concerns were short-lived, however. To put us over the edge, we ate Crema Catalana, which the Spanish claim is the predecessor to the French crème brûlée.

As I get myself ready for this meal, which is now just a few hours away, I know it will be a delight for my tongue and an assault on my arteries. So I keep telling myself, Hey, I haven't been to Alta since last July. That's a long time ago!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Holy Cow

On my recent trip to Bombay, I noticed this McDonald's menu was a little different than I'm used to seeing. It includes the McVeggie, the McChicken, the Chicken Maharaja Mac and the even the Paneer Salsa Wrap. But the one thing missing completely: beef.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Way With Words

Last November in China, I found myself standing in front of a fast food restaurant near the Beijing Silk Market. The various items on the menu were displayed in big lacquered posters mounted in the window. Everything glistened and looked pretty savory. But somehow the descriptions did not inspire me to walk in and order something. I assume something was lost in translation.Well, a duck blood cake is a duck blood cake. No way around that, really. But I never thought of pork hock as "tonic & beautifying." I think it would be hard to market that in high-end toiletries.
"Hey, Ma! Can we have chicken gristle tonight?" No, I don't see it.
I'm sure a "yellow croaker" is a lovely fish, but croaking just doesn't sound appetizing. And "coarse grains" probably means something healthful, but couldn't they have found a nicer way to phrase it?"Boiled pig's large intestines": it is what it is. And there's just no good way to phrase it."Rough fish"? What's that?
I tried a "squirrel fish" once. It was okay, actually. But please don't make me eat something called a squirrel.
At last, a dish with a charming name: "Pretty pepper fall in love with cockerel." Aww! Whatever it is, I'll have it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grapefruit Rosemary Sorbet

I am the fortunate recipient of a hand-me-down Cuisinart ice cream/sorbet machine that friends of mine didn't want and had almost never used. So I decided to invite those friends to dinner and serve them the first sorbet ever made in the machine.The flavor I settled on is grapefruit & rosemary. This may sound strange at first, but it really works: original, fresh, palate-cleansing, intensely aromatic, bitter-sweet, herbaceous, and just plain taste-bud-exploding.
I've been told that grapefruit & rosemary sounds like a bar of soap, and it well may be the case that this newest obsession was subliminally inspired by such a soap spotted while waiting on line at WholeFoods, near the impulse purchase displays. But when I woke up on a recent morning trying to come up with a good flavor combination for a sorbet recipe, I already had grapefruit in mind, and then rosemary just popped into my head.

Here's how I did it:
•1 1/2 cups sugar
•2 cups water
•1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, strained (yellow is okay, too)
•juice of half a lime, strained
•zest of one grapefruit
•pinch of salt
•3 large sprigs fresh rosemary
As per the Cuisinart instructions, I put the freezer bowl in the freezer overnight. Then I boiled the sugar, salt and water in a small saucepan with the rosemary for about 5 minutes, until sugar and salt is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Make sure the rosemary is fresh and gorgeous. For best results, try bruising it first to release the flavors. The amount is really to taste; be warned, the flavor may be intense. Don't be afraid!Meanwhile, grate the zest of one grapefruit with a very fine grater, being careful not to get any pith. When the syrup is cool, strain it well and combine it with the grapefruit and lime juices and grapefruit zest. Pour mixture into the machine's freezer bowl and switch the machine on.

Let it run about half an hour, or until good and slushy and starting to be firm. Then transfer the firm slush into a closed plastic container and store in the freezer overnight. The next day, you will know what I'm talking about!
Best served in small scoops, either by itself or accompanied by a little shortbread cookie or anything salty and buttery like that. Actually, my friends have yet to try it. They come to dinner tomorrow. In a sort of Iron Chef way, I'm book-ending it with an appetizer of jicama-cilantro-pecan-grapefruit salad. I hope they like it!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vada Pav

An article in last week's New York Times brought to mind my recent two-month trip through India. On a train in Rajasthan, I was getting very hungry. The train was several hours late and there was still a long way to go from Jaipur to Jodhpur. A vendor working the train came down the aisle selling snacks, which I had been warned against eating. I didn't want to get "Delhi belly," but I figured a sandwich he called "vegetable cutlet" didn't sound so bad. Turned out it was quite bad. Just a cold, soggy lozenge of fried potato between two pieces of white bread. The risk/reward ratio was not in my favor.

But later, on the streets of Mumbai, I eventually shed my fear of getting sick from street food and learned what a "vegetable cutlet" was truly intended to be: vada pav. As the Times article mentions, chef Anthony Bourdain singled out this humble snack as his favorite food in India. As described in the article by Kavitha Rao:
The vada pav is a glorious carb-on-carb overload — a spicy potato patty encased in a gram-flour coating, then sandwiched in a buttered bun and bathed in tangy garlic chutney.

The specimen in this photo was hot, crisp, well-spiced and delicious. In fact, I went back to the vendor for seconds. I wish I could find a street stall like this in New York!