Monday, September 12, 2016

Bronx Tales

Every now and then, in my continuing quest to explore "the boroughs" (and no, I haven't gotten to Staten Island yet, other than multiple trips to a friend's house for great dinners), I decide to head north and that borough up there, known colloquially as: da Bronx.

Not the largest borough (Queens), and not the most populous borough (Brooklyn), the Bronx might just be the most fun borough to visit. (And sorry if I forgot to explain what a borough is; essentially, in New York, the boroughs are counties...but not exactly.)  There's the Bronx Zoo. There's the New York Botanical Gardens.  There are Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay Parks. There are beaches. Rivers. You get the picture, right? And oh yeah - there's food.

Take Sammy's Fish Box, for example...
Sammy's Fish Box
Located on City Island (yeah, there are also islands in the Bronx), the food is pretty good if you stick with the tried and true, and it's served in what may only be called brobdignagian proportions. It's old school, so everyone gets bread and "crudités." And if soft-shell crabs are in season - they'll probably be as delicious as these...
Soft-shell crabs at Sammy's
But men and women do not live by seafood alone. So when you're in the mood for something a little different, head over to the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, where you'll find the great...
Louie & Ernie's
The pies rank right up there with our favorites anywhere. In nice weather, you can sit in the backyard and enjoy your pie. The sausage is sourced in the Bronx (where else?), and it's delicious...
Louie & Ernie's Half Sausage Pie
If seafood doesn't move you, and you're not in the mood for pizza, how about Cuban food, at one of the 2 locations of Havana Cafe
Havana Cafe
I've only been to the one pictured above on East Tremont Avenue, and only for lunch, but the ropa vieja I enjoyed was sure worthy of another trip for Significant Eater and me in the near future. I'll bet the bar scene there is hopping on a weekend night!

Arthur Avenue, which many call the "real Little Italy" in New York (though that's debatable at this point), is still worthy of a visit and probably another blog post. There are a few great butchers on the Avenue and the fresh mozzarella at Casa Della Mozzarella is superb, but you need to pick and choose your spots, as a lot of what's on offer in the neighborhood is touristy junk.

Up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, a couple (literally 2) of old-skool Jewish delis still hold out. Liebman's and Loeser's are the big names, though Sig Eater and I have only visited Liebman's so far. It's certainly good enough for a pastrami sandwich, a bissel of this and a schitckel of that, but it won't stop us from continuing our quest for the best. Here's a 2011 story from Back in the Bronx magazine about the remaining delis, with some excellent pictures.

Anything else? Oh, the Yankees, a great Etruscan Museum at Fordham University, Orchard Beach, and lots more to explore in the largest of our 5 boroughs. Me - I'm still looking for the "bodega" called Stubie's that my grandmother used to send me to in order to buy some farmer's cheese. One of these days... 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

So, Sonoma...

Significant Eater and I just spent a great week in northern California, beginning with 3 nights in Sonoma wine country, followed by 4 nights in San Francisco. You know, leaving NYC for a week during the miserable weather of late August may become habit-forming.

Central to the 6-ish northern Sonoma County wine appellations is Healdsburg, a beautiful town with nice restaurants, a few bars, and in its center, numerous tasting rooms - all within walking distance from the Camellia Inn. One of the oldest houses in Healdsburg, the Camellia Inn is a fine starting point for exploring the area, whether you set out by bike, by car, or by foot if you're just heading "downtown." Breakfast is generous, the pool out back is chill for hanging out, and the rooms are welcoming. The inn even hooked us up with some nice wine tasting freebies, as I imagine many of the lodgings in Sonoma do.

After a 3 hour drive from the airport (the traffic on Saturdays is a nightmare, but not a surprise), after checking in, and after having a quick nap, we headed into town to taste a bit before dinner. Stonestreet Winery has a room in town; we buy a few bottles from Stonestreet via their wine club - so post the standard tasting, we were treated to a vertical tasting of their 3 most recent Rockfall Cabernet Sauvignon releases - 2010, 2011, and 2012...the 2010 is already a beauty, while the 2 later vintages will benefit from a few more years of age...
Stonestreet Rockfall Vertical
Dinner that night, after catching a bit of a buzz from the travel and wine, was at SHED. Not The Shed...just SHED. SHED's a place where you can shop; where you can gather; where you can drink switchels and shims and shrubs; where you can kibbitz; and - where you can dine quite nicely, thank you. The California aesthetic is in its full glory here...
Monterey Squid, Eggplant, Red Curry, etc.
Remember back when David Chang caused a stir a few year ago, saying: "Fuckin' every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food!" Was he talking about this rabbit liver terrine, because it is figs on a plate - and so much more...
Rabbit Liver Terrine with Figs
We loved SHED, from the dishes shown, to the King salmon tartare, to the Liberty Farms duck, the lamb, the roasted peaches, the doesn't get much better than this. Great meal.

Don’t go crazy trying to visit as many wineries as possible; instead choose 2 or 3 places a day, in different appellations, so that you’re able to see as much of the scenery as you can. Me, I'm driving - so I'm not drinking, and how much wine can Sig Eater drink before dinner anyway? One of the highlights this trip was Rochioli, a pioneering Russian River Valley winery that produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Some of their vineyards...
Rochioli Vineyards
And pinot noir "berries" just about ready for picking...
Pinot Berries
Heading west from Rochioli towards the coast (stop at Porter Creek Vineyards - it's on the way), you'd hit the town of Guerneville, where we lunched at Boon Eat+Drink, a little joint that's an outpost of the Boon Hotel+Spa (what's with the ++ signs?), and where I had a good burger and eschewed the truffle fries. Walk around town after lunch, soak in the...well...remoteness of it all, along with the beauty of the redwoods that are left after the logging of the 19th and 20th centuries. Dinner this 2nd night in Healdsburg, after a sip of wine by the pool at the inn, was at Baci Cafe and Wine Bar. A fantastic wines by-the-glass list is the real draw here, in my opinion. The menu is expansive, and physically imposing, but we kept it simple, local, and somewhat light, starting with this tomato salad...
Baci Tomato, Plum, Asian Pear Salad
On a Sunday night, Baci was ready for us to leave at 9, and we got back to the inn just before the sidewalks were rolled up. Next morning we stopped back at SHED, for a fermented drink from their fermentation bar, and picked up a couple of sandwiches and great pickled stuff for a picnic lunch at Bella Winery, a property with a tasting room in their wine cave; it's at the northern end of Dry Creek Valley. Here we found one of the elusive 2015 rosés we'd been hearing about; evidentlyt 2015 was a good year for Sonoma rosés, which had sold out by Father's Day this year, but Bella had a bottle or two left - Sig Eater declared it one of the best California rosés she'd tasted. After I was unceremoniously chased off of the Bella property by a belligerent bee, we headed east, back over the Russian River to the Alexander Valley and the Robert Young Estate Winery, known for their Chardonnays and Cabs, as well as some lesser known Bordeaux varietals. Jordan, Stonestreet, and a slew of other wineries are in the Alexander Valley, and they're each a nice stop on any wine tour; check first, you may need a reservation to visit.

Down to our last night in town, we started off the evening heading to a brand new place, Duke's Spirited Cocktails. Open for less than 2 months, but helmed by some real cocktail pros, Duke's back bar is a looker...
Duke's Spirited Cocktails
And the drinks we had were unique and delicious. Here's Significant Eater's...
Duke's Rangpur Me Some More
Perfect for a summer evening, a blend of Opihr gin, Rangpur lime shrub, saffron bitters, house tonic and pink peppercorns. And my Mic Drop, a Dickel Rye based Manhattan-ish cocktail, also was good. But it was my no-name cocktail, concocted on the spot out of these ingredients, which led me to believe that in another life, if we were living in Healdsburg and I was still bitter, we'd be spending way too much time at Duke's...
Duke's No-Name Cocktail
Originally, we had scheduled dinner at a restaurant called Chalkboard, which took over the beloved Cyrus space a few years ago (we'd had a great meal at Cyrus once). But then I'd heard some whisperings about a newer place, with high aspirations, called Valette. Curing their own meats. Local boys (brothers!) made good. So we switched things up, and had dinner at Valette instead. Was it a mistake? I can't say for sure, because obviously we didn't get to taste the food at Chalkboard. And while some of what we ate was just fine, both Sig Eater and I found a few of the plates to be way too salty; for salt lovers like us, that's kinda hard to do. The wine list was a standout, however, and desserts were great, so the meal ended on a high note.

We left Healdsburg the next morning, driving south to San Francisco, which at a light traffic time on a mid-week day, takes a little over an hour. On our way out of town, we stopped into Flying Goat Coffee, a Healdsburg mainstay for 20 years. I grabbed an iced, Sig Eater an Americano. Both were just fine, and we were on our way.

A little more Healdsburg info:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Zadie's Oyster Room

Zadie's Oyster Room is the latest incarnation of Chef Marco Canora's tiny restaurant space on E. 12th St.  Previously, it was Fifty Paces, due to its location 50 paces from his much larger flagship up the block - Hearth. Before Fifty Paces it was Terroir, a much-liked wine bar, with some good snack-y food to go along; but that was ages ago in restaurant years. And now it's Zadie's. And now it's damn good.

Marco opened Zadie's as a tribute to the great oyster bars that once dotted lower Manhattan as Starbucks does today. As he explained in an interview with local blog Bedford and Bowery:

“I always had it in my mind to make a turn-of-the-century grand oyster bar,” he explained. “I would go to the New York Public Library and did a boatload of research and gathered old menus from that era,” he said, describing his fascination with the oyster industry that thrived in the city’s harbors in the late 19th and early 20th century. During his research, he was struck by their sheer proliferation of oyster bars in Manhattan. “They called them oyster rooms, oyster cellars – because a lot of them were underground, oyster saloons… there was all this verbiage around oyster bars, there were a lot of words for oyster rooms,” he said.

Marco's research also pointed out to him how oysters at those grand oyster bars were served in a variety of cooked styles, and that's exactly what's on the menu at Zadie's. Oysters at Zadie's can be ordered baked, broiled, steamed, fried, pickled, poached, and raw. Each prep is slightly different from another, but they all contain a special ingredient (shhhh - it's seaweed), as Chef likes the way seaweed punches up the flavor of the bivalve.

He's also offering an oyster-friendly wine list, with lots of bubblies, including a half dozen half bottles, as half bottles are a favorite of mine. So Significant Eater and I started off with this...
Cremant de Bourgogne
A fine, dry sparkler that went perfectly with our eats. And oh - the eats.  We began with crab cake sliders, 2 to an order; nice, generously crabby crab cakes, served with a textbook aioli and cucumber for a little crunch.  We also tried the shrimp cocktail, with beautifully poached shrimp and a nice, tangy cocktail sauce...turns out I'm not the only one who can cook shrimp properly.

But - it's an oyster room, so save room for the oysters. I've never seen so many offerings of oysters in different states of recently deceased...
Baked oysters and shrimp cocktail
Starting with the baked oysters (and obviously the shrimp cocktail), which were practically perfect. Oysters topped with prosciutto cotto, seaweed butter, egg, and leeks per the menu, and why can't I get a baked clam prepared as deliciously as this oyster is? Just one please.

See that picture? There are 3 baked oysters ; the cooked oyster dishes are served in 3s ($9.75) or 5s ($16.50) - and it's an arbitration process for Sig Eater and me at this point to see who gets the extra.

Moving on to a couple of glasses of wine to have with fried oysters, which were awesome atop their fennel slaw; we were advised to eat all in one bite with fingers; one delicious, crunchy, messy bite. The fried oysters are a must. The poached oysters, well -  I didn't love as much - though I think Sig Eater qvelled.

There's so much we missed. Broiled oysters, Pickled oysters. Steamed oysters. Smoked whitefish paté. Anchovy butter with brown bread. Even a classic Caesar, which I'm guessing Marco does right. Raw - of course there's happy hour Mon - Fri, with some oysters at half price. We'll be back soon, for a nice, casual, fun meal. If you're oyster fans like we are, head on over - you'll be happy you did.

Zadie's Oyster Room - 413 E. 12th St., NYC