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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Green Balloon

When I was a little boy, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. McDaniel, gave me an album concerning Patrick Muldoon and his Magic Balloon, narrated and sung in an utterly charming and absolutely fascinating manner by the copper-haired Irish lass Carmel Quinn, who got her start with Arthur Godfrey and later, used to perform regularly on the Jack Paar, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson shows.

The story is, you see, that one day, a wee small slip of a lad (generally good and rarely bad) named Patrick O'Reilly McGinty Muldoon, discovers a tiny, shiny, green balloon bobbing ever so gently on a hedge. When asked by the balloon if he'd like to go flying somewhere, curiosity grabs ahold of Patrick as quickly as he grabs hold of the balloon string and away they go.
Together, they witness the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, yodel at a festival in Switzerland, greet Mario the Marionette in Italy, question what the Sphinx thinks, sing a Cherry Blossom Lullabye in Japan and land in New York just in time for the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.

I've never forgotten the album, have since had it transferred to tape, then cd (it's also on my iPod), and on the rare occasion when spirits move me, I enact the story in its 30-minute entirety roughly around 3 o'clock in the morning for my more stalwart, patient friends.

My sophmore year of college, I quite grew up, matured, or what-have-you, and fell in love for the first time in London, but I never did see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I don't really linger upon that: my particular balloon and I have had our own impossible flights of fancy. Having had the great fortune to live in New York for almost 17 years, on St. Patrick's Day I still play "We're Paintin' the Town Green for the Irish" from the album, yet I've never been to the parade on Fifth Avenue. I just love marching back and forth across the apartment in time, while singing along to the song. Silly, I know, perhaps.
Last year, when Baby and I went to Italy, it really struck me though: when any of us are fortunate enough to travel, it is by the string of a magic balloon, isn't it?

I haven't sung to the Sphinx yet, nor have I sniffed Cherry Blossoms in Japan, but so suddenly it seems, we are flying off to Switzerland in a week, where I hope to find someone to teach me to yodel. We are also traveling down to the South of France, to Marseille to try the bouillabaisse; Cassis for sea urchin plucked out of the Mediterranean Sea; then, Lake Como for cocktail views at sunset and perhaps a George Clooney sighting; and Milan for who knows what other adventures we will find.

Please hold on to the string with me, would you?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bacon, Eggs, and...Vodka?

Baby and I were looking for a place to have brunch and like that nagging kernel of popcorn caught in the teeth, I remembered I had always wanted to try the Red Eye cocktail at Bar Breton. It's good, but it's certainly wild and I truly appreciated the creativity behind it. The menu lists amongst its ingredients fresh tomato juice, smoked Spanish paprika, bacon and a soft-boiled egg! Thyme, horseradish, and rosemary are also in cahoots with the whole thing. The "mirepoix vodka" they used is indeed a vodka (Chopin) infused with the French trinity of carrot, celery and onion. I do relish the pluck.

My Eggs en Cocotte pouches were served on top of completely buttery mashed potatoes with chives surrounded by a short rib glaze. Excellent. Baby's Gallette (Bar Breton's specialty) featured a buckwheat pancake that enveloped a poached egg, mushrooms and parmesan in a spinach coulis.

I didn't get to try the Hotel California cocktail, but attempted to recreate it at home afterwards. I'm infusing vodka with bay leaves as we speak, but for a quick fix I merely topped the drink with a few of the dried leaves. We made tomato and cucumber waters with our newly acquired fabulous juicer and after skimming, shook the whole lot with ice in a shaker. I muddled some cucumber and added that to the mix, with a sprinkle of ground white pepper on top.

Bar Breton definitely put some Spring in our step!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Everything But The...Juicer!

Our friends just gave us a Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer! Although this is not a particular endorsement that I ever thought I would feature on my blog, Baby and I have had a ball juicing all sorts of fruits and vegetables.

Our favorite so far follows:

1 beet

1 medium cucumber

5 leaves of red Swiss chard, including stems

1/4 lemon

1 shallot

1 Granny Smith apple

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Praise The Pearl - Blue Smoke's Bleu Smoke Martini

So after the fit I had succumbed to whilst reading about the Blood Orange Margarita from Blue Smoke in New York magazine, which I did manage to successfully recreate at home, I still wanted to go directly to the source. It was just as wonderful (but also prohibitive at $13 a pop), if a little different. New York magazine doesn't tell you that the generic orange liqueur they suggest should really be Grand Gala or Grand Marnier (as Blue Smoke's waiters offer up).

And while I was at Blue Smoke, I did discover another gem, amidst the many fabulous cocktails that they also serve, to whit: the Bleu Smoke Martini.

Now, I like my martinis like I like my martinis: blisteringly dry and readily available. And too, I understand the idea of subbing something different for the vermouth in a martini, as I'd first witnessed such some years ago at the Astor Hotel in Miami, where a drop of Campari and a whisp of Chivas Regal stepped into a Black Tie Martini. Loved it. So when I saw that Blue Smoke offered a cocktail that tangled with Stoli, Ardbeg 10 year scotch (and blue cheese stuffed olives), I was more than eager to try.

The Ardbeg has a very peaty nose and there's just enough of the Stoli to temper it, with a cunning little fork to stab the olives. Although they didn't give me the recipe, I'll wager this is how you'd make it at home:

3 oz. Stoli
A rinse of Ardbeg
Any number of blue cheese stuffed olives

Rinse the glass with Ardbeg, shake the Stoli with ice, douse the olives and enjoy.

The Sole Series - Part One, A Sunday Supper

Julia Child featured three different sole dishes on The French Chef. With Easter upon us, instead of the usual hams and lambs, I thought of the miracle of the loaves and fishes and turning water into wine. So what else to make but Sole au Vin Blanc (The Hundred and First Show), fish fillets poached in white wine! But there would be no loaves for our guests as Baby's family is Jewish and was still enduring the rigors of Passover. No, the only bread we served was unleavened--Matzoh Brie with smoked salmon and braised onions.

It was quite a week for celebration! Two seders with Baby's family and friends in Long Island and frankly by the time Easter Sunday came around, I could barely move! Actually, that's not true at all. We had a wonderful time. I was very excited to make an early supper for Baby's family.

To tell you the truth though, out in Long Island I was shocked at some of the kids texting while we were at the table. My Father would never have tolerated that in a million years and neither did I. I told them to put their phones away. I honestly don't understand it; when I was their age, I was enthralled to be at the adults table, to hear their stories and hopefully engage them too. Schnitz (Baby's sister-in-law) told me that's just what kids do these days. Well, not at my table. When Girl and Boy (Baby's niece and nephew) arrived on Sunday, I confiscated their phones and told them they could have their phones back before they had to leave. I don't want them to only remember texting somebody (that they probably won't remember or still be friends with) when they are old and gray.
I can't resist Peeps and placed one on a Japanese ceramic spoon on every plate as a decorative what-have-you. The supper began with ramekins of Oeufs en Cocotte (baked eggs) from The Forty-sixth Show. It's an impressive dish that really is very simple but I didn't trust myself and overcooked the eggs the first time out. They still tasted good though, with herbes de Provence and a lash of salt and pepper. I love how Julia uses the word trembling, to describe the eggs when they are ready, however it left a little too much room for interpretation and I was disappointed as my eggs were overdone. So you know what? I'll know better next time. Forging on:
The good news is, the sole was stupendous! It's a delicate fish and the sauce itself is very gentle. It also struck me as very reminiscent of the 70's, perhaps when I first had a similar fish dish as a very young boy. Once I put the fish in the oven, after it simmered first on the top of the stove, everything moved very fast from kitchen to table. I messed up the sauce a little, I was to combine the butter and flour together first and then add the fish stock, and instead I just threw it all together at once, but it worked out just the same (I think). I stirred it furiously so as to avoid any lumps or curdling. Haricots Verts au Maitre D'Hotel (The Fifteenth Show), fresh green beans (that I boiled the evening before) tossed with butter, lemon and parsley was an excellent side. I added sliced almonds. Perfect. The Matzoh Brie that Baby made was also just great. I didn't understand that it was going to be similar to a hearty frittata of sorts, just wonderful, with creme fraiche. We served it with nibbles of smoked salmon and onions that we braised for hours it seemed, indeed might have been, with butter and olive oil until they were richly blackened.

For dessert, Baby and I took Boy and Girl to the prettily pink Sweetiepie done up like an early 20th century soda shoppe, which we just loved. We sat in an overgrown gilded birdcage by the window, to the envy of those around us. Hamburger Sliders, Shirley Temples and a perfectly giddy staff made us all feel like kids again. A creamy Rose Petal and Raspberry Fool was an utter delight, as were adorable mini-ice cream cones and a plate of cookies served with a pot of fudge.

Girl and I worked out the rest of the evening trying to master the dance moves from Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) video.

Et bien, mes petit choux, a suitable supper of sole!

Soundtrack: Nick at Night's Patio Pool Party; Beatles, Rubber Soul; Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis; James Brown, The CD of JB (Sex Machine and Other Soul Classics); Oscar Brown, Jr., Sin & Soul...and then some.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The John Dopy

To be perfectly frank (if you'll be Barbra), some things just really burn my cork. When Baby, Ace, ID and I went to The John Dory restaurant (the latest offering from The Spotted Pig folks), it didn't go so swimmingly. And although I love John Dory, the fish, The John Dory is not off the hook.

I'm not talking about the food. I don't know about the food, none of us do. We never got to try the food. We never had the chance! No, I'm not talking about the food that I looked forward to, because I've always enjoyed The Spotted Pig. I'm talking about the friendly, idiotic, and beleaguered staff that wouldn't know a trout from a trollop and the subsequent mind-numbing matrix we were drawn into.

There was no chance at a last minute reservation we were told over the phone, but we could certainly sit at the oyster bar. I don't know if oyster bar should get caps or not and I don't care. So we show up and are told, yes the oyster bar is available, probably in about 30 minutes. Not such a bad wait. Name please? We're put on a list. In the meantime, the earnestly flighty hostess (or whatever position it is she holds) suggests to have drinks at the front bar while we may. Delighted! Off we went to the front bar. But ID and I didn't see Baby and Ace behind us trying to negotiate the stairs as a barback almost sent them spiraling down with a large (and apparently very heavy) tray of things from storage. So they didn't hear about this list and after recovering from the tray mishap went on back to the oyster bar, spying empty stools, looking for us. ID and I saw them though and tried to get their attention, commenting to one other that they were going to be sent out of there faster than a flying fish. And they were. Very rudely. Ace, above all else, detests anything indelicate. That and maybe a rare steak. She was already over the whole thing and wanted out.

Stools were clearing up at the cramped bar though and suggesting patience, we took seats and ordered a saving balm of cocktails. Are we on the list, the sweet bartendress asks. Yes, I reply. But she was inquiring about another list. As our drinks were poured and placed before us, that hostess spots us, leans in and tells us that we can't sit just now, the list of people privileged to sit at the bar hasn't gotten to us yet. What list? We were already on the oyster bar list and were told to sit at the bar while waiting. Yes sorry, we're informed, not sit, just stand. There is a wait for that too, a list to sit at the front bar before our names come up on the list to sit in the rear at the oyster bar. We must get back up and stand while people on the front bar list get a seat before being seated at the oyster bar and I hope by now you understand this includes all of us who didn't have a reservation to sit in the few paltry seats they have in the ridiculously designed space. You see, there is no place to stand at the bar or anywhere else! The seats are in the way! So you know what? We didn't stand for any of it at all. Exeunt omnes posthaste, our unpaid, untasted cocktails left sweating on the bar. What fresh fish is this?

In about two seconds though, it didn't matter. We went to halfsteak next door, the spacious, yet amiable lounge that serves as a (much cheaper) preface to Tom Colicchio's craftsteak in the back room, his restaurant proper. They were more than happy to seat us and we loved it. John Dopy who? They have the most gorgeous oyster shooters (we had several of them), with delicious sake, cubes of cucumber, and Meyer lemon. Martinis with floral Hendrick's gin! Fried oysters with smoked cole slaw and and an oyster roast with BBQ butter! They have a raw bar with a bounty of oysters just upon entering--and space to sit and talk. All of us were more than happy to get our oysters on here. John Dopy's got a fine nerve.

An arugula salad with parmesan was great with our burgers--the sliders with balsamic onions and truffled pecorino, and the halfsteak burger with hand cut fries. Gooey Monkey Bread with a petite ladle of creme fraiche was eaten quickly by those of us not dieting.

Both craftsteak and halfsteak have got to be worth double the investment and half the trouble, given the impenetrable mess, wholly incapable of any proper form of service upon entering The John Dory, only a few misguided steps away, next door.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Everything But The...Kitchen Shears!

Isn't it just gorgeous? Wustof is definitely on the cutting edge with the most fetching kitchen shears, offering a good weight and a firm grip, perfect to hack a chicken apart, cutting cleanly and easily through the bone. I'm sure Baby and I will find other uses for this cunning device. In the meantime, we find it to be shear genius!