Chuko

No one knows how to dress these days. Is it hot out or cold today? Should I wear jeans and a t-shirt, no jacket? Flats and a sweater? Or will I be burning up and wish I’d worn a skirt? But my legs haven’t seen the light of day in months! They aren’t ready for exposure! So what does one eat when one doesn’t know what to wear? I’ve shivered on a patio trying to enjoy early summer fare and felt itchy and unseasonable sporting wool socks and spooning a slow-cooked, root vegetable stew. The other night I had a Goldilocks moment: Eating a crunchy, spicy brussels sprout salad and a steaming bowl of ramen in the stark interior of Chucko — a ramen joint in Prospect Heights which opened in August of 2011 — seemed just right.

Chefs and owners, Jamison Blankenship, David Koon and James Sato, of the meatpacking district’s Morimoto, have traded glitz for simplicity, with a straightforward menu — bites and ramen — and not one piece of decoration in their “sauna-esque storefront.” There’s no alcohol to be had, but bars aplenty surround the restaurant — perfect for grabbing a pre-dinner drink while you wait for a table.

It was a tough decision between the Kale Salad and the Brussels Sprouts, and next time I’ll get both, because while I vowed to try the kale on my next visit, there’s no way I could walk into Chuko and not order the Brussels Sprouts. Fried in fish sauce and sprinkled with roasted peanuts, this crispy dish is a firey wonder. Mix and match your ramen broth, noodles and toppings, but take the sage advice of the waiters, who are as enthusiastic about the food as you will be by the time you finish your meal. If there’s one perk to cold weather, it’s an excuse to eat ramen at Chuko. But even as the weather warms — or does whatever it’s doing these days — I expect to be dining at Chuko all year round.

Can’t Wait for Thanksgiving? You Don’t Have to!

New Yorkers may be known for a lot of things. Patience isn’t one of them. We like our lines short, our take-out fast and our coffee on the go. If you’re wondering who’s standing in an hour-long line for a cupcake, it isn’t a New Yorker.

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Henry Public’s Turkey Leg Sandwich.
Photo Credit: Dan Hallman
 

Some things, however, are worth waiting for, and on this short list, Thanksgiving will always make the cut. New Yorker or not, we all look forward to that joyous day when we gather our loved ones and stuff ourselves with turkey and gravy. Maybe we’ll watch a parade or some football, or maybe we’ll completely unplug for the day. Whatever we do, the feast is always the main event. It’s a day, and a feast, worth waiting for… Unless you absolutely can’t.

If you simply can’t wait for the last Thursday in November, or if you love this day of gluttony so much that you need a sneak preview — an amuse-bouche, if you’d like — then fear not. There is bounty of restaurants serving Thanksgiving fare all year round in this wonderfully impatient, 24/7 city. Thanksgiving at a restaurant. How New York. Yes, flocks of New Yorkers will be eating their annual feast in a restaurant this year, like they have in years past. If you’re looking for day-of Thanksgiving dinners, restaurants from Williamsburg’s new Reynard to the classic Katz’s Delicatessen will be serving grand feasts this year.

But if you need a quick, Thanksgiving fix before the big day, you can find what you’re craving if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorites for Thanksgiving a la carte:

Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch, one of last year’s hottest restaurants, serves a buttery corn bread to every dinner table. If it’s mashed potatoes you love, the ever-expanding Meatball Shop serves a decadent side of creamy, mashed potatoes that’s not to be missed. If you’re looking for something a little different, Westvilleserves a great plate of pesto mashed potatoes. I’m still searching for good stuffing — the king of Thanksgiving, in my book. Homemade stuffing is really hard to contend with. Any recommendations on restaurants serving great stuffing?

For turkey, look no further than Henry Public, the charming, antique-filled bar and restaurant where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 19th century. Henry Public’s turkey leg sandwich is legendary among Brooklynites. Braised in milk, the meat is so tender it’s almost shocking, and this sandwich is definitely worthy of all the hype.

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts will be dawning many a Thanksgiving table, and these days they’re practically everywhere you look. Some of the best can be found at Alta, served crispy with fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachios. For a totally unique version, Prospect Height’s Chuko serves spicy, crunchy Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and peanuts.

Some of the best pumpkin pie hails from Hill Country Chicken, which has its very own pie menu. Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Park Slope, selling whole pies or by the slice, also makes a mean pumpkin pie — as well as other Fall pies like salted caramel apple.

And if you want it all in one, Momofuko Milk Bar‘s Thanksgiving croissant couldn’t get much better.

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Hill Country Chicken’s Pumpkin Pie
Photo Credit: Hill Country Chicken
 

The best part is, when the day finally comes and goes, and you’ve plowed through the last of your leftovers, these Thanksgiving staples will still be around, for the best of Thanksgiving, all year round.

Ina Garten’s Macacroni and Cheese (Or How I Won My Boyfriend Over)

If I didn’t win my lovely boyfriend over with my wit and my charm, I won him over with homemade macaroni and cheese. I made it once, and now I have to make it on a regular basis, otherwise my lovely boyfriend might not think I’m so lovely anymore! I kid. But he really, really likes it. Anyway, my favorite recipe belongs to the queen of the Hamptons herself: Ina Garten.  She has a classic recipe that you can modify to cook in a cast iron skillet instead of the oven, to save some time or if it’s just too hot to deal with the oven.

I cherish the few Barefoot Contessa‘s cookbooks that I own. Actually, I cherish all of the cookbooks I own. But Ina’s are special- they set a mood of summertime. Summertime filled with garden dinner parties, fresh squeezed lemonade, and beautiful friends dressed exclusively in white linen. Thank you, Ina, for bringing me summertime all year-round. (And thank you for helping me seal the deal with my lovely one.)
xo
Alison

Farro Salad with Squash, Kale and Goat Cheese

Farro, a soft and nutty grain, is my new favorite fall ingredient. Somewhat high maintenance at first, farro can be difficult to find and requires a four to five hour bath before it’s to ready warm up. But once it’s soaked and simmered, farro is effortlessly appealing and has “comforting” written all over it. The subtly chewy, hearty texture is somewhere between wheat berries and pearled barley. It’s great on its own but also makes fabulous, substantial salads.

I’ve made this farro salad with squash, kale and goat cheese a few times already this fall, and each time I’m delighted with the outcome and pleasantly surprised at how well it keeps for left-overs. I’ve actually brought this dish to three, separate potlucks, and each time it’s been a real crowd-pleaser. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and goes well with a range of flavors, making it a perfect potluck offering.

After soaking and draining the grains, I cover the farro with about two to three inches of water, and let the water simmer on very low heat for about 60-75 minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll peel the squash and cube (or if I’m in a time-crunch, use pre-cut squash), and dice a medium onion. I mix the squash and onion together in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on a baking sheet. The squash and onion cooks at 400 in the oven for about 30 minutes, and I make sure to push it around on the baking sheet every so often.

With the squash and onion mixture in the oven and the farro still on the stove, I’ll remove the stems from a bunch of kale, chop up the leaves, wash them and then blanch them for about one minute – just until the leaves turn bright green, so they’re tender but still retain some crunch. I’ve also been known to saute the kale with garlic in olive oil – and both methods turn out great. When the farro is soft but not too chewy, it’s as simple as mixing all the components together with roughly 3 tablespoons of walnut oil, more salt and pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh thyme. Adding chopped walnuts is optional (as is the walnut oil if allergies are a a concern). The final touch is crumbling a generous amount of goat cheese on top of the salad, and I never skimp on this, because it’s everyone’s favorite part. And there it is: an easy but unique, loveable fall salad.

For the recipe and what to cook next

A Hurricane’s Caramel Corn

With Hurricane Sandy raging outside our windows last night and the Internet recently down, I, like many, thought it would be a good occasion to try out some recipes. I’ve never made caramel popcorn, and it turns out it’s really easy (which may or may not be a good thing, since I’ll now be tempted to make it at the drop of a hat). Crunchy, salty, caramel goodness to keep us company as we hunkered.

The destruction is massive, the “region crippled,” and it’s not over yet. It’s no time for making light of the situation. But when life gives you popcorn (with nowhere to go, and a long list of movies you’ve been meaning to watch), make caramel corn. I hope everyone is as safe and sound as they can be!

For the recipe and what to cook next

Crunchy Caramel Corn
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

4 tablespoons butter, plus more for baking sheet
1/2 cup popcorn kernels, freshly popped
1 cup cashews, coarsely chopped (optional)
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
Coarse salt

– Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
– Butter a large rimmed baking sheet
– Place popcorn in a large bowl or keep in pot it was popped in
– Mix in cashews
– In a small saucepan, bring butter, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons water to a boil, stirring constantly.
– Once boiling, quickly, drizzle popcorn with sugar syrup and toss
– Spread popcorn evenly on prepared baking sheet.
– Bake, tossing occasionally, until golden and shiny, about 40 minutes.
– Let cool about 10 minutes

What to do with leftover caramel? Well, you didn’t put enough on the popcorn, first of all. But if you did make too much caramel, drizzle it over apple slices, ice cream or pancakes. I think I’m making pumpkin pancakes next!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Brunch at Buvette

The best thing I ate last week was brunch at Buvette. Jodi Williams, the masterful chef behind this charming, self-described “gastrotheque” on Grove Street and Bleeker, is also the chef of my all-time favorite: Gottino, the “Gastroteca” not far away on Greenwich Avenue. Two of the most lovely establishments in Manhattan, Buvette and Gottino are oriented towards small plates for any hour of the day. Brunch at Buvette is full of butter – and why shouldn’t it be? The food is french-inspired and the beautiful, 50-person two-room space, with a communal table in the back, feels like an elegant kitchen straight out of Provence.

We started brunch at Buvette with Anchoiade – a tartine with salted butter and anchovies; Pesto Di Noci – a walnut pesto tartine with parmesan and thyme; and a fig and honey tartine. Next I had steamed eggs with smoked salmon and creme fraiche on buttered toast, while my neighbor had Les Oeufs Americaine — sunny-side up eggs and bacon on toast. Everything was heavenly. As its website says, “I love Buvette.”

Los Angeles: 3 Nights, 24 Dishes

Few cities can compete with New York when it comes to dining, but LA is definitely a worthy contender. Last weekend I spent three nights in the City of Angels with three of my favorite ladies, my favorite faux-cousin and my favorite former boss. Spending time with my friends made the two red-eyes in four nights well worth it — and so did all the food we ate! In three nights, I tried 24 dishes. (And that was just dinner — there was also brunch, ice cream, poolside cocktails, lunch salads and many glasses of wine.)

On night number one I ate at Red Medecine, night number two at Ink and night number three at Son of a Gun.  Each restaurant’s menu consisted of seasonal dishes for sharing, and share we did. From Sweatbreads to Lobster Rolls to getting some of the last legal Foie Gras in CA (I don’t even like Foie Gras but we couldn’t resist ordering it while we still had the chance, a mere week before it was illegal to buy), we really had it all. The precise intention, superior caliber and distinct rarity of each ingredient made every single dish nothing short of an artistic masterpiece.  Every course was spectacular in its own right, but my standouts include the Akaushi Beef from Red Medecine; the Sugar Snap Peas, Octopus and Poutine from Ink; and the Linguine and Clams from Son of a Gun.

Here’s the list of 24, from three of the best restaurants in Los Angeles:

Red Medecine 

SNAP PEAS / soymilk custard, verbena,
mint coconut water

AMBERJACK / red seaweed, buttermilk, lotus root,
tapioca, succulents

DUNGENESS CRAB / passion fruit, brown butter,
black garlic, vietnamese crepe, hearts of palm

SWEETBREADS / prune, leeks, mustard, chicory,
smoked bone marrow

AKAUSHI BEEF / pistachio, lettuce stems, celery,
fermented tea

BRUSSELS SPROUTS / caramelized shallots, fish sauce,
vermouth

Snap Peas with soymilk custard, verbena, mint coconut water

Amberjack with red seaweed, buttermilk, lotus root, tapioca, succulents

Ink

beau soleil oysters, oyster leaf, mignonette ice

burrata, trout roe, apricot, persian saffron

sugar snap peas, a mojo of itself, coffee, cardamom, coconut

shishito peppers, almond-bonito sand, tofu mustard

hamachi, dashi sponge, soy-yuzu, radish, rice cracker

foie gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce

brussels sprouts, pig ears, lardo, apple

soft shell crab, tarragon mayo, caper, potato

octopus, ink. shells, young fennel, pimenton

halibut, embers of zucchini and potato, tomato dashi

poutine, chickpea fries, yogurt curds, lamb neck gravy

wagyu beef, carrots, tendon, horseradish tofu

apple, caramel, walnut,burnt wood ice cream

Beau Soleil Oysters, oyster leaf, mignonette ice

Sugar Snap Peas, a mojo of itself, coffee, cardamom, coconut

Shishito Peppers, almond-bonito sand, tofu mustard

Hamachi, dashi sponge, soy-yuzu, radish, rice cracker

Foie Gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce

Soft Shell Crab, tarragon mayo, caper, potato

Octopus, ink. shells, young fennel, pimenton

Son of a Gun

lobster roll, celery, lemon aioli

puntarelle, fava, artichoke, pecorino, lemon

kennebec french fries, malt vinegar aioli

linguine and clams, uni aglio-olio, chili, breadcrumbs

frozen lime yogurt, graham crumble, toasted meringue


I do have to admit that after so many small plates, meant to share, that came out as they were ready; after too many upgrades on street food and too many deconstructed desserts, I was really ready for a slice of pizza. For my next trip to LA, I’m going to skip the multi-mini-course feasts and keep it simple. I’m going to look for some of the other food the city does best, like tacos, sushi and frozen yogurt — each meal on its own, one at a time, and preferably not to share. That said, there’s little better, in my opinion, than sharing food with friends, no matter how precious or plebeian. So would I do it all again? Yes!

Beverage of Choice: London Buck

The London Buck

Dry Gin, Ginger, Fresh Lime Juice, and Chilled SeltzerCourtesy of The Beagle

Learning the ABCs has never tasted so good. A most wonderful new addition to Avenue A is the Beagle – a beautiful Cocktail bar and restaurant that opened in May of this year. A few weeks ago, I met two friends there for a drink, and it took everything I had to keep it to just one. The London Buck is a fabulous summer refreshment, and served with a metal straw (that you can purchase for $3 according to the menu), felt just right.

So now one repetition for memory’s sake:

On Avenue A, it’s the Beagle for Cocktails.

Next time I’ll add a D for dinner.

Meredith Marks Jewelery

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of going to Meredith Marks’ trunk show at the Gramercy Hotel.  Meredith Marks is Chicago-based jewelry designer whose line combines practicality with exoticism for a wearable but glamorous look.  A former model who also happens to hold a JD and MBA from Northwestern and certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, Meredith’s own beauty and smarts come through in her work.

I am no expert when it comes to jewelry — except that I adore it like any girl does — but Meredith seems to have created a very special line: one that has struck a  perfect balance of exoticism and simplicity.  From dangly earrings to bangles, from studs to cuffs, every piece is somehow both bold and delicate. The simplicity of her designs makes even the most ornate jewels into everyday pieces.  

Much of her collection is inspired by Indian jewelry, which is typically quite opulent — the more, the bigger, the better. Meredith’s pieces, however, are stripped versions of these often over-the-top, magnificent ornaments, making them accessible for daily wear. Her signature earrings sparkle femininity, and have caught the eye of a growing list of celebrities, including Courtney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler. I was instantly drawn to the Indian-inspired design channeled through a clean and basic composition. Try as I might to pick out my favorites, I was constantly finding new ones that took first place.

Meredith’s jewelry is as inspiring as she is: a mother of two, she built the business from scratch in just a few years and her pieces are now popping up in boutiques from LA to Chicago. I have my eyes set on these smoky earrings for now, but as soon as I keep scanning the collection, I know I’ll find something else that steals my heart.

Meal on-the-go: GranDaisy Flatbread

If you find yourself needing to eat on the go (as I do far more often that I would like), and you find yourself in Tribeca (or Soho or the Upper West side- see below for exact locations), the flatbreads at GranDaisy Bakery are great.

My go-to is the Pizza Zucchini, which is served on a thin-crust flatbread with gruyere cheese. Their Pizza Cauliflower, also made with gruyere cheese, and Pizza Pomodoro, which, with nothing but tomato sauce, is as perfectly simple as it gets, are also favorites. For something different, I go for the Pizza Sciacchiata, whose sweet Champagne Grapes and Anise compliment the salty crust really nicely.
One makes a great snack, and two a fine lunch. For eating on the go, GranDaisy Bakery is one of the best bets I’ve found for something relatively light, not too unhealthy, and always supremely delicious.

Tribeca: 250 West Broadway, between Beach and North Moore
Soho: 73 Sullivan Street, between Spring and Broom
Upper West Side: 176 West 72nd Street, at Amsterdam

Artichoke Bruschetta

Eating out and ordering in are facts of life in New York City. The restaurants are too many and the hours between work and sleep and work again are too few to cook. And perhaps most importantly, our kitchens are just too small. Those of us who can’t give up cooking must cope with inches of counter space, miniature fridges, and cupboards that hold little more than a lone frying pan. We must become masters of improvisation and substitution: a pot makes a great mixing bowl, and a stepping stool an excellent cooling rack.

One of my favorite recipes that requires just one pan and a cutting board is Artichoke Bruschetta. Using only one receptacle and one surface, it’s doable in even the tiniest of kitchens, and all of the ingredients are available at almost any bodega in the city (let’s not get into the ordeal of grocery shopping in New York. Suffice it to say that your corner, or the next corner’s, bodega should carry everything you need for this recipe).

For the recipe and what to cook next…

Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade

Today Alex and I woke up and decided to go to Coney Island. The last and only time I had been there was for a Daft Punk concert that still reigns as one of, if not the, very best nights of my life. And I was excited to see Coney Island in daylight and in the comfort of cut-offs and a tank-top, as opposed to the gold, spandex leggings I sported at the concert.

As we approached the train station, we realized that our spur-of-the-moment day trip to Coney Island was going to coincide with the Mermaid Parade – an annual art festival celebrating the beginning of sum
mer.

Every summer since I moved to New York, I’ve been tempted to follow the mermaids and sea creature-clad paraders that I spot on the train down to Coney Island to see them in action.

Today turned out to be that day! Hipster neon replaced by aquamarine and magenta, high-tops and skinny jeans by seashell bikinis and umbrella-converted jelly fish, Coney Island was still a carnival through and through.

When we got off the train among the thousands of Mermaid Paraders, we watched the beginning of the parade and paid equal attention to the lively audience.

Then we indulged in Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, fries and beer.
(I also had a chocolate and vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles in a waffle cone, to the audible envy of every woman I passed).

Next we walked to the boardwalk and strolled onto the pier, where the people-watching was almost as good as the ocean view.

Leaning over the railing and noting the deep green of the water, all of a sudden we saw a fisherman tugging his string. “He’s got something!”

A few seconds later, to our amazement, we watched him pull a thrashing sting ray out of the water!

Needless to say, the catch caused quite the commotion on the pier, and a small crowd gathered around to watch the fisherman unhook the flopping ray.

Everyone watched in nervous excitement as the fisherman, an old hand at the job, got to work. I’ll spare you the rest of the story, but will say that Coney Island certainly offered more bizarre thrills than I had expected.

We sat out on the beach for a few hours, which, although not the most pristine in the world, was great for a beach read and for soaking in some… rays?

We didn’t ride the Cyclone, so we’ll have to return for some more adventure. For now, I’m happy I finally got to see the Mermaid Parade in all its glory, with a few added delights and surprises along the way.

The Best Things I Ate This Spring

It’s been over three months since I’ve written a “best of last week” post, so I thought I’d collect a bunch of highlights from spring, and share them all at once. I’ve written here and there about some great highlights from this season, but here are a few more, in no particular order:

>> By the way, let’s visit my friend’s blog for mom and baby ^^ : best car seat & stroller combo

Fried chicken dinner at Momofuko: This large-format dinner at Momofuko’s noodle bar is worth planning for: reservations go almost instantly once they’re available online, a month out. Tables get two, whole fried chickens, one southern style and one (which I preferred) Korean style, with pancakes, sauces and vegetables. Ramen, wings and buns will win every time for me at Momofuko, but this dinner is really fun.

Clam pizza from Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven: New Haven is known for its clam pizza, and Pepe’s Pizzeria is the place to find the best of the best. I went with my girlfriend for an early lunch – ok, it was breakfast – after a late night, and honestly nothing could have been better. I’ll drive two hours any time for that pie.

Astoria, Oregon: Where Everything Old Is New Again

We arrived in Astoria after dark. It was just before 9 p.m., and the streets were deserted. The only sign of life was the electric blue neon sign marking our hotel, the only sound a dull buzz from the light. As soon as we checked into the Norblad Hotel & Hostel, we were directed to Fort George Brewery, the only place we were guaranteed to get a meal at this hour. Just around the corner, the brewery looked a lot like the hotel — a two-story, brick building spanning almost the entire length of the block, the street outside as desolate the Norblad’s. Inside, however, we found a whole different story.

The bar was warm and lively. Glasses clinked and groups of friends scrunched together around tables, playing board games or sharing food. Sliding into a large booth by the window, we joined the party. Men young and old sported bushy beards — the kind Brooklyn hipsters aspire to grow themselves, only these ones looked authentic and not for show. The same plaid shirts that have become a quintessential item in the hipster wardrobe looked much better here. If Portland, the so-called birthplace of the hipster, has become disingenuous, Astoria feels just the opposite. It’s not trying to be gritty, rustic and cool — it just is. As we drank house-brewed beer and ate fresh albacore tuna fish and chips, we felt far from Brooklyn, but also right at home.

A town of not quite 10,000 on the northern coast of Oregon, Astoria has been through boom and bust, and is now going through something of a cultural rebirth, again. The oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria was founded as a fur trading post and quickly became a fishing hub in the late 1800s, situated perfectly on the Columbia River, just a few miles from the Pacific, Ocean. With the advent of salmon canning, Astoria became the center of the commercial salmon industry. In the early 1900s, Bumble Bee opened canneries in Astoria, first producing salmon but then capitalizing on the albacore tuna that has since become synonymous with the company’s name. Seeing a surge of jobs with Bumblebee’s popularity, Astoria “you might say, is to canned tuna what Detroit is to the automobile,” says Freda Moon in the New York Times.

Anise at All Hours: Anise Biscotti

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trials with anise- how my taste for that licorice flavor has developed over the years and how I’ve been experimenting with this distinct flavor in my baking and cooking. Biscotti is a hallmark in anise’s repertoire, and since I like nothing better than dunking a biscotti into my coffee or tea (or wine), I decided to try my hand at this traditional, Italian cookie.

I used a recipe from the king of American Italian cooking – Mario Batali – and it was much easier than I had anticipated. The key to making this biscotti is baking the dough twice: once for 20 minutes in a log shape, and then, after letting it cool for about 40 and slicing the dough into cookies, baking it again for another 20. The word “biscotti” actually comes from the Latin word “biscotus,” which means “twice-cooked/baked.”

The cookies should last about two weeks in an airtight container, but, if you’re like me and find pretty much any occasion the right one for a little biscotti dunk (as a quick breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a nightcap) these cookies may not last so long.

For Mario Batali’s biscotti recipe, see here.

Stuck in the City This Summer? Spend a Night on the Canal

That’s right: the Gowanus Canal. Sure it’s a Superfund site, but all the more reason to show it some love. As a neighborhood, Gowanus is transforming. Like other Brooklyn neighborhoods, Gowanus has seen factory spaces and warehouses repurposed as lofts and condos, a new chapter beginning in 2005 when a residential boom took off against much of the community’s wishes to retain the industrial purpose and feel of their narrow neighborhood. Three years later, the Bell House, a converted 1920s warehouse turned music venue and event space, opened its doors, and today, while it’s not quite like neighboring Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill or Boerum Hill, — all indisputably gentrified at this point — Gowanus is moving further and further from its manufacturing roots.

Two recent additions to the neighborhood are accelerating Gowanus’ otherwise gradual transformation.Littleneck, a seafood joint on Third Avenue, and freshly opened Lavender Lake, a massive bar with a laid back vibe, are both a stone’s throw from the charming draw bridge that crosses the canal. The grimy water and vacant lots nearby only amplify the lure of both restaurant and bar.

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Littleneck serves clams, of course, but highlights include the Maine Lobster Roll, well-priced oysters and the tastefully nautical theme. The door handle is a dock cleat and inside fishing accessories deck the walls, but nothing risks feeling overdone. The short, straightforward menu leaves little room for error. Fries are a necessary side to the meaty lobster roll, which is served with only a touch of mayonnaise. The New England Clam Chowder is light on cream and heavy on potatoes, and a Pea Shoot Salad with golden beets makes a refreshing appetizer or side to any dish.

When dinner’s over, around the corner awaits two-week-old Lavender Lake. Between the enormous, double-decker patio and the even larger bar hall, you won’t have trouble finding a place to sit, but you may never want to leave once you settle in. An old horse stable, the space itself really impresses, and the backyard is the perfect place to kick back and forget you’re in the city for a few hours. Wooden planks render the feeling of sitting on a dock, and umbrellas shading picnic tables heighten the lake-side experience (Also check the best foldable picnic table reviews).

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If you’re lucky and can take a peek behind the wood picket fence, try to steal a glimpse at the largest garden gnome you’ll ever see. Apparently it was sitting upright, peering over the fence onto the patio when the bar first opened. But the owners thought it might detract from the ambiance, so the gnome had to lay back down, out of site. While admittedly creepy, the gnome would certainly have marked Lavender Lake’s territory. I hope they keep it around for special occasions.

Occasion or no occasion, if you’re looking to escape the city for a little while but can’t make it out of town, a great night awaits you down by the Gowanus canal.

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A Negroni at Benoit

One of my best friends started drinking Negronis last year, and since I trust her blindly (she’s my best friend, afterall) and know she has great taste, I followed her lead and gave the classic cocktail, which was new to me, a try. Traditionally, a Negroni is one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one Campari, with an orange peel garnish. Hailing from 1920s Florence, it’s a bitter drink, perfect before dinner or all night long. Why not?

The best Negroni I’ve had lately came not from an Italian restaurant, but from a classic French bistro:Benoit, Alain Ducasse’s classic, midtown offshoot of the 100-year-old original in Paris. Strong, bitter and refreshing, this cocktail was just right. I don’t know what made it so good — was it an extra splash of Campari or another liqueur? While sipping on this delightful beverage, I decided not to ask the bartender what made it so special. One, he had a very Parisian, no-nonsense attitude and didn’t really look like he was ready to strike up a conversation (which I respect), but two, some things are better left a mystery.

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Summer is the season for BBQ, and this summer, Texas BBQ seems to be getting a lot of attention in New York. Hill Country Barbecue Market, which opened five years ago in June of 2007, is in the spotlight once again, after Pete Wells of the New York Times gave it two stars (and “BBQ snob” Daniel Vaughn acknowledged it had all the right pieces but fell victim to one of New York’s biggest clichés: it was rushed). There’s more to Texan cuisine, however, than BBQ, and food-forward Brooklyn is now home to New York’s most recent Texan import: the Kolache.

Brooklyn is the ultimate haven for specialty food shops. From Brooklyn Brine Co.’s pickles to the recently opened gourmet mayonnaise shop Empire Mayo, you can find pretty much any specialty food you want in Brooklyn. Up until two moths ago, however, Texans looking for a taste of home couldn’t find one important part of their morning routine: the Kolache. Czech in origin, a Kolache is a round, doughy pastry with a sweet or savory filling, and is apparently a popular breakfast on-the-go in the Lone Star State. When Texas native Autumn Stanford moved to Brooklyn, she was shocked to find that with all its specialty food shops, Brooklyn was missing these “neat-to-eat” pastries.

Stanford started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for what would become Brooklyn Kolache Co., the one and only Kolache establishment in the borough. It opened in March of 2012, on Dekalb Avenue at Bedford Avenue in BedStuy. With its big, open seating area and sizable garden out back, there’s more space and exposed brick at Brooklyn Kolache Co. than you’re likely to find anywhere closer to Manhattan. In addition to Kolaches, you can find Pigs in a Blanket and Cinnamon Rolls — who can argue with that comfort-food combo? Coffee comes from Kitten Coffee, a gourmet coffee roaster right up the street, which, incidentally, founded the firstBarista school in the New York.

I had never tried a Kolache before I visited Brooklyn Kolache Co., and like many firsts, this one was one to remember. I started with a Cherry and Cheese Kolache: the dough was fluffy and slightly chewy, and the smooth, sweet-cheese filling was the perfect anchor for the tart, cherry topping. Next I tried the Sausage, Cheese and Jalapeno Kolache, which I could see becoming an addictive hangover cure.

Whatever the filling, the dough itself is the main event. Slightly sweet, it compliments both a sweet and savory middle, and the ratio of dough to filling — heavy on the dough, light on the filling — leaves no confusion as to who’s boss.

The cafe is bright and casual, with funky art covering the walls and mellow music playing at a perfect volume for getting some work done or for enjoying a peaceful breakfast. Light pours in from french doors that open to the lovely back yard, where more tables can be found for lingering over these decadent Texan treats. Follow their website’s suggestion: “Stop by and try one!” Somewhere between a bagel and a doughnut, a Kolache is a cross between two New York staples, and this Texan treasure is working perfectly in Brooklyn.

Hanging Onto Summer

Labor Day has come and gone. It is now September and summer is undeniably over. If you’re like me and you’re not ready to let go of long days, sandals and outdoor grilling; if you find yourself prematurely flipping through your summer photos and resisting putting your white pants away; and if you’re already nostalgic for salt, sand and sunshine, then you might find these summer recipes worth giving one last try, and you might like their variations, which will allow you to hang onto summer well into the winter.

Some Simple Summer Recipes
Corn Soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt; 2 teaspoons cumin,
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced; 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced (or jalapeno chiles)
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 cup water
8 ears shucked corn
1 roasted red pepper, peeled seeded and finely chopped
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

– cut corn kernels off ears of corn and set aside
– cut corn cubs in 3 pieces
– heat oil in heavy pot over moderately low heat and add garlic, stirring for a few minutes
– add onion, poblano chilies and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 4 minutes
– add cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes
– increase to moderate heat and add carrots and celery, and cook for about 5 minutes
– add 3/12 cups of stock, water and corn cobbs and bring to boil
– reduce heat and simmer, uncooked for about 15 minutes
– add all corn kernels EXCEPT 1 cup, which should be reserved for later
– allow soup to simmer, covered, until corn kernels are tender, about 15 minutes
– remove corn cobs and allow soup to cool
– when soup has cooled, puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth
– cook the 1 cup of reserved corn in a small saucepan of boiling water until tender – about 3 minutes
– drain and rins under cold water to stop from cooking further
– stir corn kernels into the soup
– add the chopped red pepper, cilantro and chipotle chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste
– can serve at room temperature or heat slightly if desired

 

Wheat Berry Salad

1 1/2 cups wheat berries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup scallion
3 tablespoons olive oil

– place wheat berries in a pot and submerge them in enough water to cover them by about 2 inches
– bring water to boil and let wheat berries cook until soft, for about 1 hour in uncovered pot
– drain and toss with dry ingredients, then oil and lemon juice


For more simple, summer recipes and winter substitutions.

(For pet lover, also check my friend’s blog reviewing on best outdoor cat shelter & house for garden space)

Purple Rice & Stir-Fry

Everyone knows January is Holiday-Hangover month, where New Years resolutions to eat healthy abound. Everyone also knows that good intentions to improve one’s diet don’t always make it past the first month of the new year (or the first few hours, in my case. My blog posts from last January say it all: healthy chickpea recipes; followed by an indulgent, guacamole-filled trip to Tulum, Mexico; swooning over my favorite cupcake from Billy’s Bakery; all capped off by a Sunday afternoon baking Momofuko Milk Bar’sCompost Cookie.) Needless to say, it’s easy to slip back into old habits and let resolutions to eat healthier wait until next year.

It’s not all hopeless, however. One strategy that helps me follow my intention to eat healthier is making healthy food – cooking and eating it – interesting. If I can get excited about trying something new, be it challenging or easy, then eating healthily doesn’t feel quite like a punishment.

In my resolve to keep things interesting this year, I recently tried purple sticky rice as a substitute for the brown rice I typically use when making a vegetable stir-fry (one of my favorite, post-work dinners when I get home late). A new, wonderful friend in my life gave some to me to try, and I’m so grateful to her for introducing me to something new. Purple rice, originally grown in Thailand, is sticky and sweet and often used in desserts (no wonder I like it). Its chewy texture and vibrant color revitalized what was becoming a predictable dinner for me. I added the purple rice to sauteed shallot and garlic, and cooked it on low heat for about one minute before adding the water and letting the rice simmer for about 30 minutes.

I served the rice with a red pepper, snow pea and onion stir-fry, and a tofu and brocoli stir-fry, garnished with cilantro and shaved carrots. Now I’m excited to try purple rice in a lunch salad, and stay on track by keeping things interesting.