Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Brooklyn Birthday

People like to do different things on their birthday, some throw lavish parties, some drink to excess, and some pretend they just don’t happen.  Well, not this Brooklynite! I love love love my birthday!  If I could make it a national holiday, I would…. But the reason I really love it, is that it is an excuse to eat at a ridiculously fancy and fabulous restaurant!  Well, this year, the lucky restaurant to have me and the Urban Chef was at the Chef’s table at Brooklyn Fare

Brooklyn Fare is a 2 Michelin star and 3 New York Times star restaurant.  The Urban Chef’s father actually tuned us onto this place (thanks Art!)  It is run by Chef Cesar Ramirez (a David Bouley defector).  It is an 18 seat restaurant with the places arrayed around a stainless steal chef table including stainless steal chairs (the Urban Chef loved this!)  The design invites a truly intimate experience as you watch the Chef and his three assistants make and prepare every dish.  The kitchen is behind the chef table and completed with the full set of copper pots (I am totally registering for these when the Urban Chef and I tie the knot) and 3 large ovens.  The space did not get too hot though, because most of the preparation had been done before hand, and the burners had no gas, it was all done though convection.  It is a truly beautiful and modern space, although it can feel very sterile at first, once it fills up and you take your first sip of wine and the first canapé arrives, you float away on your journey of culinary bliss. 

Reservations are notoriously hard to get and require serious patience.  You can only make them on the Monday, 6 weeks before the week you want to eat, starting at 10am.  I literally called probably every 10 seconds from 10:00 – 10:45 until I was put through.  There I remained on hold for about 10 minutes until the reservationist picked up, she then asked cutely, “how may I help you?” Now, I understand that this is polite, but I mean come on! She knows what I want…SERIOUSLY?  Can we stop with the coy “how may I help you?”  You know how can help me damn it—I want to get on the all illusive reservation list for 6 weeks from now!!!! Then she asked when I wanted a reservation, at this point, I’m like ANYTHING, but really Thursday.  Which I got! YAY!  It was almost like torture though because for six weeks, I’m left to image the meal to come…

Thursday, July 14 – Birthday Dinner At Brooklyn Fare.  So before I start, the rules are that you are not allowed to take pictures or write notes during the meal.  This may seem a bit picky, but once you are there you understand.  The food and its preparation are meant to be experienced as art.  You are supposed to watch the dance of the Chef’s preparation of the food and to appreciate the orchestration of the way his assistants interact with him and each other.  You are supposed to take in the fact that all of the kitchen work is done in almost complete silence – every move has been choreographed and rehearsed.  Chef Ramirez wants you to enjoy the precision in which his meal is prepared and note the elaborate plating and architectural flatware.  The meal is a dance of the senses and to be unfocused by trying to take pictures and notes, would ruin the experience. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hooray for Independence Day!

On this Friday, I am fondly remembering the week that just passed, so much has happened my dear Urban Chef readers!  This post will take us on a journey from food carts to Bloody Mary’s and finally to a gourmet home cooked dinner.  I hope your 4th of July was as good as mine – here are some ideas to keep your summer fun going!

Friday, July 1 – The sun was shining, I’m sitting in my office praying for the clock to hit 1pm—I had to get out! And out I did, and right in front of my office as I exit, was the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck, selling its famous Lobster Rolls.  For you locals out there, you know that the biggest trend this summer in New York is the Lobster Roll, well, and if you haven’t had one, I suggest you run, not walk, to the nearest truck (and then run back to where you were to burn off the meal!).  What a way to kick off the holiday weekend!  I didn’t really know what to expect – but I was so pleasantly surprised, it was one of the best things I’ve eaten all summer.  It comes on a warm potato roll, soft and lightly toasted, with butter poached cold lobster, that is sweet, savory and succulent, topped off with a light mayo dressing – not heavy at all, lightened with vinegar and oil.  As you eat it, the dressing runs over your fingers and down your chin, yes people will look at you – but if they have had the roll – they will understand your joy!  Not cheap though—rolls are $16... it’s a payday splurge!

 Later that night, I met up with a few friends at a bar called Laundry Service, Ave A and 13th street.  This is my NEW FAVORITE HAPPY HOUR SPOT!  They have 13 beers on tap, a great wine selection (really drinkable stuff—not that normal swill bars serve—you know, the overly sweet makes your ankles swell crap), and the happy hour runs until 8pm.  $3 beers and $3 off all wine by the glass, plus well drink specials – it was a steal!! I bought a round for 5 people for $17.  It wasn’t too crowded and we were able to get drinks easily and score a round booth table.  The bar was open and airy with lots of dark wood.  The crowd was typical older East Village, people in their late 20s early 30s, but very chill.  The music was a bit loud, but that’s a standard thing lately in all places.  It was great to catch up with old friends and a perfect way to start the relaxing 3 day weekend.
The National Grid Crew!

Saturday, July 5: The highlight today, for me, was brunch (with the urban chef) at Beast.  A cute restaurant in Prospect Heights Brooklyn with a diverse crowd and well executed upscale bar food.  We had stopped in after we picked up our bounty from the CSA.  This restaurant has a great brunch special for those who like to booze -- $5 all you can drink Bloody Mary’s or mimosa’s at the bar.  The urban chef and I passed on this, as he was off to work and well, it’s no fun to be blasted during the day alone – but we did each have a Bloody Mary.  It was the best Bloody Mary I have ever had (and I’ve had a few), salty, spicy, and light (the tomato juice wasn’t too heavy) and the perfect mix of Vodka.  Our urban chef concluded that it was the celery salt that made it so perfect.  The service was good, and when the waitress made a mix up with our order, she bought us a round of drinks to compensate – all good in my book!  If you are in the neighborhood, stop by, not worth a special trip, but a great neighborhood staple.

In the evening, I had a girls night – two of my favorite girl friends came over!  We drank raspberry lemonade and ate chips and salsa, vegetables and hummus, cannelloni bean salad, and homemade blueberry pie (this recipe was posted in “Going South”, under Glazed Fruit Pie).  The goal of Saturday night was no-cook dinner to keep the apartment cool!

Monday July 4: We spent a quite July 4 at home – we hung out in the backyard with the local kids and watched them set off fireworks.  Brooklyn at its best!  I will stick this one point in – I am really disappointed that Macy’s continues to have its fireworks on the West Side.  It completely cuts off Brooklyn and Queens, so your only recourse is to take the Subway in to the city and fight the crowds home. And do they run more trains? Of course not.  So, thank you Mayor Bloomberg, once again you prove that all you care about are those who live on the tiny island of Manhattan.  Brooklyn in the house!

Thursday July 7: To wrap up a great week, we had the Urban chef’s best friend and girlfriend over for dinner in Bushwick.  The urban chef really outdid himself, 3 courses (plus dessert from me!). 
Course 1: Mushroom croquette – a deep friend mushroom croquette with au jus and sliced chives.  Savory, woodsy, yet light as the breading was not overpowering.  For the mushroom lovers – a dish to remember.  (I was a bad girlfriend, the Chef only made 3 croquettes, and I was supposed to give him a bite of mine, but as I put the last bite in my mouth, only then I realized I hadn’t saved him any!  It was that good.  Don’t worry, I made it up to him later.)

Course 2: Zucchini flat breads with balsamic glazed – roasted fresh zucchini with homemade ricotta cheese and a sweet balsamic glaze.  All the flavors worked extremely well together, and nothing beats homemade ricotta cheese, lightly fluffy and creamy—truly decadent.
Course 3:  Grilled salmon with turnip puree and kale.  The grilled salmon is served overtop a bed of turnip purée and topped with braised kale.  The sweetness of the turnip plays well with the fattiness of the salmon and the greens ad the bitter component needed.  A truly spectacular dish!

Bravo Urban Chef!  My favorite quote of the night comes from Larry, the urban chef’s best friend.  Someone asked Larry, “What’s it like having a friend whose a chef?  Response: “What do you think it’s like? It’s like having a friend whose a chef?!” 

The meal was paired with the Indaba Chardonnay from South Africa, a steal at only $6.99 – it tastes like a $15 bottle of wine.  With strong floral notes and medium bodied, it is a perfect summer wine to pair with food.  Quick—go get a bottle before word gets out!  You can find it at Union Square Wines.

And for dessert: I made a Zucchini cake with cream cheese icing.  It is a great recipe to use up all the squash you have from the summer.  It is one of my favorite cakes – great texture and sweetness, and it is so moist-- it is seriously addictive!  This recipe is from my family. 

Zucchini Cake
This is one of those cakes which keeps well, when we are having guests during the week, I make this cake the night before and it tastes just as good the next day (perhaps better!)
Preparation time:  15 minutes.
Total time:  50 minutes.

1 ½ C all purpose flour
1 C sugar
¾ t cinnamon
¼ t salt
1 t baking soda
2 eggs lightly beaten
¾ cup oil
1 ½ c zucchini, pealed, grated
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup walnuts, chopped (I like more nuts so I use ¾ a cup)

Mix dry ingredients.  Add egg, oil and zucchini.  Fold in raisins and nuts.  Pour into greased and floured bunt pan. If you do not have a bunt pan, use 2 8” round cake pans. 
 Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes (if using a bunt pan) or 30 min if using 8” pans, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  May serve plain or with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing
 4oz cream cheese
½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 t vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter together on low setting.  Beat sugar in slowly (1/2 cup at a time).  Add vanilla.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Refrigerate. 

Happy summer all!  Let’s make it extra delicious!