Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New York Part 3 - New York treats

Every time you visit New York, there are a few things that you need to have at some point and time during your visit. The first of these treats is the infamous New York Bagel. There are quite a few places that you can get a good bagel, such as Ess-A-Bagel or Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, but the one that I truly enjoy is H & H bagels. A simple shop that has now become a worldwide shipping machine has not lost the recipe for great bagels. The old rotating oven continues to put out the best bagel in town. As soon as you walk in the door, the smell of fresh dough fills the air. The usual compliments are offered in the small shop, smoked salmon, butter, and of course, cream cheese. I decided to go with my usual which is an everything bagel. The bagel was covered with onion, garlic, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds. It was exactly you want out of a bagel, light, fresh and most importantly warm. Each bite was clean and not doughy. I ate one half plain because it was just that good and put cream cheese on the other half which only added to already great flavor.

H & H Bagels on Urbanspoon
The second treat I would like talk about may not be a staple in New York, but maybe it should be. Now a trip to chinatown is something that everyone visiting the city should do and visiting the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is also a must for big ice cream fans, such as myself. This tiny ice cream shop is probably no bigger than an average hallway in someone's house but produces some of the best ice cream I have ever had. Very creamy texture is a common theme through all the flavors I tasted. Being a Chinese ice cream shop, I decided to go with those classic flavors and get a scoop of red bean, green tea, and plum. Each one of these were probably the best renditions of those flavors I've tasted. I liked the fact that none were too sweet but the right balance of all taste. And their regular flavors, like plain vanilla, were equally delicious. Now I have to admit that Bluebell's homemade vanilla is probably my favorite but this vanilla was pretty darn good. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is definitely a place, I would put on a "must see" list for anyone in New York.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Urbanspoon
The last treat I want to talk about is probably the one most people think about when they think about the city, CHEESECAKE. Now I am sure the debate about the best cheesecake in town is one that has been going on for quite some time and will never be resolved. But I want to tell you about my favorite. I tried a few different slices around town, Roxy's and a few other restaurants. However, my favorite sits on the corner of Kenmare and Cleveland in Soho. Eileen's Special Cheesecake is a small shop that has been making cheesecake for over 30 years. And after all those years you can still taste the "love" in every bite of this sweet treat. One of the nice things about Eileen's is that you can buy small individual size cheesecakes, so you can try a couple different flavors. That day I tried strawberry, caramel pecan, and marble varieties. Each bit was the perfect mix of creaminess and sweetness, while still keeping that rich cream cheese flavor.

Eileen's Special Cheesecake on Urbanspoon

Now I know when you visit New York, there are many culinary adventures to be had. Thousands of restaurants fill Manhattan alone. Trying to find the "best" is a fun search that I proudly took part of that while in the city. Now I may have not found what everyone else considers the best but I found my favorites. So the debate continues. Happy Eating!

Monday, October 26, 2009

New York Part 2 - Craftbar

Having to walk through some scaffolding, only to come upon this small door as being the only sign of where Craftbar was located, I was only hoping I had found the right place. But as soon as I walked in and saw the beautiful restaurant I knew I was in for something special. A very sleek design with dark browns and  simple paper menus this was my kinda place. The toughest part about the menu was trying to choose. Every dish on the menu looked amazing, and thanks to my friend Matt, my family and I got to taste most of them. The first wave was an array of appetizers with each one providing an unique flavor.  The first one I tasted was a braised Berkshire pork shoulder served with a tomato molasses and ramp marmalade. The pork was very tender and punched me in the mouth with its flavor. It was served with some bibb lettuce to make wraps and that little crunch from the lettuce was a nice contrast to the silkiness of the pork. Other appetizers included Pecorino fondue with acacia honey and hazelnuts, hierloom tomato salad with sweet basil seed (WOW and I am not usually a fan of raw tomatoes), and probably my favorite, field mushroom bruschetta with fontina. This appetizer was probably the simplest of all of the them, but the freshness of the dish was what made it perfect. The bread was crusty on the outside and soft in the center, just like any good bread, and the mushrooms were clean and sauteed just enough to bring out their flavor but leave them with some texture. The cheese added a perfect amount of saltiness to round out the dish.

Wave number two came shortly after, and the entrees didn't disappoint. My parents spilt a baby beet salad with smoked bacon and pickled egg, and a pressed organic chicken sandwich. Both of these were delicious. But the stars of the entrees were the veal ricotta meatballs, brother's dish, and roasted organic chicken with lovage, jerusalem artichokes, and leeks, my dish. The meatballs were almost the size of a softball and cooked perfectly. Served over some homemade pasta and with a simple marinara, the meatballs were juicy and luscious. The roasted chicken was a wonderful expression of letting the ingredients speak for themselves. The breast was roasted separately and served sliced over the dish. Moist and succulent the breast just got you excited for what was underneath. The broth was a nice chicken jus, probably from the roasting, and all the vegetables and dark meat of the chicken were nice compliments.

Now for the big finish! Dessert is probably the only way to really finish a meal. I am a firm believer that all meals, especially good ones, should finish with something sweet. Matt again surprised us with an array from the dessert menu. First was a tray of assorted cookies and confections which included a nut brittle, mini ice cream sandwiches, and a poppy seed cookie with lemon curd. Second was a creme fraiche panna cotta with market fresh berries and black pepper biscotti. While both were great, my favorite was the ricotta fritters with blueberry compote and buttermilk sorbet. The light, fluffy fritters were crispy on the outside and not too sweet. The sorbet wasn't very sweet either but the compote provided the right amount of sugar to complete the dish.
After the great meal, I got to take a tour of the kitchen. A very small, two story kitchen, like most in New York, sits with the main service kitchen on the same floor as the dining room, and the prep and pantry areas are in the basement.  I was pretty amazed that something this size could produce the meal we were just served. But like any good chefs, we can make masterpieces out of almost anything. Craftbar was a lovely meal and I thank Matt, the service staff, and the other chefs in the kitchen that made it possible.
Craftbar on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 23, 2009

New York Part 1 - Carnagie Delicatessen

New York is considered by many to be the culinary mecca of the United States and after my recent trip to this city I understand why. Over the next posts I will be discussing the amazing adventures I had with food in the week long trip I took. The first stop on my culinary adventure was the famed Carnagie Delicatessen, a place that you can't help but love as soon as you pass the window with the huge Strawberry covered cheese cakes.

As soon as you walk in the hustle and bustle of this famed deli hit you right in the face. Lots of yelling and and order calling fills the air and being from the back of the house, those sounds fell right at home. You are seated at family style tables where you don't know exactly who you are sitting to, but that always makes for interesting conversation, especially with the amount of tourists that come to New York. The first thing that you immediately taste upon sitting down are these great homemade pickles that are waiting on each table. There are two types and both with unique flavors that get your taste buds excited for what is in store ahead. After perusing what seems to be a very intricate menu, one sandwich stood out above the rest. When at Carnagie you have to get one of two things, pastrami or corned beef. So why not get them both in the mega sandwich known as the "Woody Allen", the one sandwich to rule them all.

As soon as our very entertaining server, Fergi from Egypt, set down this behemoth of a sandwich you quickly become intimidated. But as soon as you take the first bite, intimidation turns into an aggression to try to eat the entire sandwich. Both the corned beef and pastrami are amazing. You can taste every hour that those cooks put into each meat. The mix of spice and perfect tenderness of the two cuts give the sandwich an explosion of flavors in every bite. After making a valiant effort at the sandwich, I think I did pretty good.

Beside the food, the front of house is equally talented. The way the floor is worked in this place by the staff is impressive. For being such a small space they make use of every inch of it and I don't know how they keep it all straight. The way people simply come and go from the tables, there is no beginning or end to the meal but simply a revolving door that spins the entire time they are open. I can't say that I have been to many delicatessens but this one has definitely set the bar pretty high for the ones that I may venture to in the future.

Carnegie Deli on Urbanspoon

Early Food Memories

Growing up in such a large food town like New Orleans, food has always been a big part of my life. Food was the centerpiece of all gatherings of family and friends. For every holiday or special occasion, an intoxicating smell filled the air as an endless buffet sat on the many tables in the kitchen. Of course the staples of fried turkeys (really the only way to eat turkey) at Thanksgiving and hams at Christmas were always present, but it was always fun to see what new recipes that my aunts and uncles would bring. Now it was never a competition, but as any good chef would tell you, you always want to have the best dish for that year. To hear the words of praise and "can I get that recipe" give an affirmation of "being the man" for this holiday. The crawfish enchiladas, homemade traditional tamales, one grandma's carrot cake (to this day the best one ever), other grandma's gumbo, and aunt's homemade breads are some of my fondest memories from those  dinner tables. But the one thing that to this day I sometimes crave is my mother's crab soup. This very simple soup is a great combination of flavor. It is a creamy soup that has a hint of sweetness from the crabmeat and just the right amount of spice from the Zatarain's liquid crab boil. Every time I even smell this soup in the house my mouth begins to water and I can't wait to dig in. Always a favorite by my family I hope you can enjoy this soup as much as i have over the many years:

1 stick of butter
1 bundle of green onion, chopped
2 large cans (26 oz) of cream of mushroom soup
54 oz of whole milk
1 Tbsp of Zatarain's liquid crab boil
1 lb.  lump crabmeat

1. Saute the chopped green onions in the stick of butter until softened
2. Add the pound of crabmeat and saute for few minutes
3. Add the two cans of soup, whole milk, and crab boil and allow to come to a simmer.
4. Allow soup to simmer for about 15 minutes to allow flavors to come together
5. Serve hot with oyster crackers for a little crunch 

This soup is delicious on its own but can also be used as a base for many additions. My family has added  things such as corn and shrimp.  Happy Cooking

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where to Begin

First just to give a brief history of myself, I am a chef and have been in the business for over 6 years. I have held almost every position in the restaurant business from the front of house(serving and managing), short order cooking, fine dining, pub food, catering services, and most recently Sous chef of a steakhouse. I might be the easiest diner to impress but also one of the easiest to become annoyed by poor performance.
This Blog is going to hopefully give a glimpse of what a chef thinks anytime he/she sits down to a meal, wether it be in a restaurant or just my own personal cooking/eating experiences. Look forward to reviews of many restaurants from all over the country as well as recipes and posts about crazy food that my friends and I like to whip up.
Chefs have a burden, which we freely accept, of being the "expert" about food amongst our friends. I always love when my friends invite me over for dinner and say things like "well it's not as good as what you could do" or "I hope this is up to your standards'. Honestly, anytime I sit down to a meal I am always appreciative of the time that is put into making that food, especially with the "love" I like to put into my own food. Food for me is a very exciting and creative expression of the cook. The possibilities are limitless and experimentation is always welcome. I hope you have as much fun reading about my thoughts as I do talking about the one thing I truly love, FOOD.