Friday, March 4, 2011

Noshes of Note: Fork These Into Your Planner

I manage to eat out more than a person who loves to cook should. Yet perhaps it's that affinity for food creation that fuels my gusto for dining out. And, it's an inevitable result of living surrounded by prime pickings in New York, especially when you have an encouraging partner in crime. But hey, I'm not complaining. How else can you discover good eats? I call it inspiration - research if you will. Here are some noteworthy findings. So join me on the bandwagon, from breakfast to supper, as I most definitely will be returning to all of the below:

WORD OF THE DAY: PANCAKE
Pineapple Pancake
Top o' the mornin' to ya! I was at Clinton Street Baking Co. in the Lower East Side when the doors opened at 8am. Every February is their self-created "Pancake Month" when they feature specially created flavors that change about every two days. This particular day served up caramelized pineapple pancakes sprinkled with toasted coconut and macadamia nuts, and warm maple butter for the slatherin'.  And while this fruity flavor was favorable to the one I tried last year (a chili-chocolate with no kick), it wasn't wamb-bamb-thank-you-m'am outstanding either. I could have done with a more generous helping of shredded coconut (which was fresh indeed) and macadamia nuts, which merely flecked the top layer. (I want that goodness throughout!) With that said, they do make a fine, fluffy pancake, generated from an excellent batter, and you would be more than satisfied with the consistent ones served year-round -  if you are willing to dish the 15 bucks, that is.


BRUNCH OF JEWS
Pickle me this
Hallelujah Challah
What am I, chopped liver?
Smokey Fish and Beefy Brisket
Oy Vey! - in a good way. The Jew in me was pleasantly surprised by this Montreal delicatessen's transplant to Brooklyn. Who doesn't love a good beef brisket on rye with a smoked fish salad and chopped liver? Add to that the most satisfyingly crunchy, rotund sour pickles you've ever had. Well, I'd say you've been initiated into the Jewish Breakfast Club. Ale sure was, as she had never had the pleasure of indulging in a proper Jew-food fest. Which made me all the more pleased that the fare was authentic, ushering in the nostalgia of the many sable-on-a-bagel breakfasts of my youth. It kept that traditional quality that my ancestors would appreciate, but somehow felt modern and fresh. The saltiness of the chopped liver was beautifully balanced by a sweet onion relish, and the smoked whitefish salad was refreshingly mayo-free, thus light on the palate, allowing that fresh fishiness to shine through. And those layers of smoked beef brisket were done right, sitting simply on a schmear of mustard between good slices of rye. Though I must say, there was a lot of hype surrounding this mysterious Montreal bagel, which was truthfully unremarkable. They got nothin' on a New York bagel! We left with a sweet-treat in tow: a twice-baked chunk of challah with a berry and pistachio compote on the side. The bread itself nestled raisins and slivered almonds to boot! The Saturday brunch in this smallish space was a half-hour wait for two, so expect Sunday to be even longer. I was proud of my people this day. Kinahora for the Canadian.


 DIM SUM ANYONE?
Mai fun mania
British high tea, Spanish tapas, and French a la carte all wrapped into one awesomely Asian  mid-day meal package. This, to me, is dim sum in sum and there is no better way to experience Chinese grub. With steaming baskets of shu mei, dumplings, and who knows what else, competing for room on your table, it's hard to keep track of what you have sampled. So was the story here, when we found ourselves moseying into Sunshine 27 at 3:15pm just after a stroll off the Manhattan Bridge into Chinatown. Turns out this was peak dim sum hour, as the place was boisterously packed with locals getting their fix before 4pm close. We seemed to be the only non-Asian faces to populate the countless communal round tables - an already tell-tale sign that this spot would be on the money. And on the money saved me money; this was probably the cheapest, yet great quality, dim sum offered up in Chinatown at a mere $2 per serving, no matter the size! Well bring those carts 'round, I say! The entrances and exits of our dishes were too quick to capture by camera, but I did manage to snap all that remained of our whimsical feasting fiasco: a heaping haystack of vermicelli-like mai fun noodles with diced seafood and veggies (which is not a cart-trotting item, but must be ordered from the menu). Eating with our eyes afforded us to pick out - and pig out on - pork and shrimp dumplings, beef and peanut dumplings, puffy pork buns, shrimp-stuffed juicy eggplant, and something I had never seen before but was by far my favorite surprise: shrimp wrapped in thick white noodle sheets,  forming three long and flat pillowy tubes on the plate. The doughy mouthfeel of the noodle was unlike anything I'd ever tasted, and since it was a dish thankfully pushed upon us (you can't say no to noodle), I may never know what it is I ate. So whether your tummy is rumbling, or your fixin' on a light snack, dim sum at Sunshine 27 is the perfect solution for your Chinese craving - and it may even brighten your day.
*AJI ICHIBAN
 *Just around the corner, I happened upon this authentic Japanese candy shop (I recognized many goodies from my travels to Tokyo). If you have time, pop in and sample the countless rows of non-traditional treats on display. Any takers for dried, candied squid?!


SNACK TIME
Stuffed Pepper
Beet Gnudi
Don't let the name fool you. There is nothing childish about this cozy contemporary Italian kitchenette in that no-name nook between Brooklyn Heights, downtown Brooklyn, and Carroll Gardens. Time and time again, I passed it taking note of the attractive menu and funky vibe. On one evening, we actually stopped, opened the door, and savored one of the most de(light)ful early-bird suppers. Emphasis on the light, for the plates are considerably modest  in size for their immodest price points. But that is sometimes what you get with an ever-changing menu, in flux with what's in stock, which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Only a few items remain staples year-round, so almost everything is a special, keeping you coming back for more.) To start we shared toasty bread with a unique tomato butter, not too sweet, not too salty. We also split a cheese-stuffed chayote pepper (not spicy) dressed with a yogurt sauce and a repeat performance of that tomato butter, as well as homemade beet gnudi (dumplings) simply garnished with chips and a light cream sauce. Both very tasty. Both very tiny. You can definitely taste the quality of the ingredients at Brucie, which are sophisticated and fresh. My only qualm is that prices are a bit pretentious for portion. I definitely left wanting more food in my belly, but the cleverly constructed menu items bank on repeat customers who want to try emerging new flavor combinations. Guilty as charged.


NO PRUNING NEEDED
On a lovely double date, which is quite the rare occasion, we had all the more reason to do dinner up. At the suggestion of the other couple, whose palates we most certainly trust, we found ourselves at a snug four-top in the corner of this no frills but quite elite eatery in the East Village. Boasting bone marrow and sweetbreads, this is another find that caters to the eclectic palate featuring a "what's good now" menu. A menu, which by the way, is perfectly sized in number of dishes and balanced in variation of ingredients. Cut to our split-four-ways dinner: the perfect illustration of my mantra, "All you need in life is good food and good company." It's a statistically direct relationship (according to my keen research): The more good company you have, the more good food you get to try.  And we certainly tried a little bit of everything (accompanied by a lovely Spanish bottle of red from Penedes, of course). So in a departure from the usual, this time it was double the pleasure and double the fun.
Lovely Bones
Octopus

  For starters, it was my first try at hollowing out bones, but what I found inside was quite pleasing. The texture of the marrow was more pronounced to me than the taste, which was surprisingly neutral. It was substantially meaty but had the delicate and slick quality of an oyster. It was enjoyed with mint garnish, which gave it a bright pop in my mouth. The true quality of the sea came by way of a classically grilled and marinated octopus appetizer, firm yet surrendering to the bite, garnished with celery and roasted red peppers. Can't go wrong with a staple like that. Our mains showed off the restaurant's assertive knowledge of food; food that could be challenging but was mastered with confidence. Our braised rabbit legs (also a first for me) were perfectly fall-off-the bone tender, with a most glorious vinegar jus that packed so much flavor, I could have slurped it as a soup. The rabbit had a similar consistency to chicken but a flavor all its own, more like pork than poultry. And then there is the lamb: a confit shank served with a potato-like puree called skordalia and wilted dandelion greens. An oft ill-prepared meat that winds up too dry and gamey for the tongue, this one could not have been more opposite.  Cutting into this baby with a steak knife revealed the proper pink hue of medium rare, with its succulent juices escaping to a puddle on the plate. (Wait, are you sure this isn't steak? Could have fooled me.) What I will say about this cut of lamb is that it was amply cushioned with fat. All the more carvin' to do, my pretty. Our sides were beautiful supports that married magnificently with our mains: chunky butter beans in a tomato and honey sauce, and soft sweet yams - buttery on the brink of puree - as a supple bed for crispy and salty chips made from its skin. (Now that's the way to use a veggie. No waste here.) After all this, we still hadn't had our fill and acquired two additional small plates: King trumpet mushrooms with broccoli rabe, and a celery and fennel salad with shaved radishes (which was astonishingly to my liking, as I am a fan of neither celery nor fennel. And if you can get me to like these two things,  moreover together,  in a dish, well I consider that pure magic and worth a few gold stars). Not only was the food delicious, but the service was incredible. It's often you will find a New York restaurant rests on its laurels of a strong menu, disregarding the importance of a strong waitstaff to deliver. You especially find this in the upper-echelon eateries that inconspicuously tuck themselves in trendy, grungy neighborhoods as to not appear too bourgeois.  The perfect trap for Prune. But it did not fall into it. The standout service, relaxed ambiance, and of course, stellar provisions assure me that it is undoubtedly money well-spent.

Lamb to the left, Rabbit to the right (look how that alliteration worked out)
Beans and Yams, but it ain't no country supper

So who's hungry? Try these spots as per my experience, or maybe get creative and work your day backwards. Brunch at Prune, anyone?