June 29, 2008

Huevos Rancheros - Brunch on the Grill

I woke up today to face a number of ill-advised promises I'd made the night before. But when MB "found" a $200 American Express card in her wallet, everything seemed more manageable. I headed down to Union Market to gather ingredients for the brunch I'd promised MB the night before. I love Union Market. Sure, the aisles are super narrow but its a grocer in Brooklyn. What are ya gonna do? Really, my only issue with the place is that the produce in the very front of the store (asparagus, avocados, and tomoatoes) always looks too good to pass up and it tends to influence my meal decisions. Today, they screamed huevos rancheros! MB sang along in unison.

I only had a few hours to prep and cook brunch before I needed to meet my friends Al and Nick up in Hell's Kitchen so I made quick work of the produce and cheese departments, grabbing some avocados, vine-ripened tomatoes, cilantro, sweet oso onions, corn, lime and Oaxacan cheese. Quickly adding some eggs, sausage, and corn tortillas to my basket, I passed through the checkout and rushed back home. If you're being lazy, huevos rancheros can take a couple of minutes to throw together but Sunday morning only comes once a week and I don't like to do a brunch unless I'm going to do it right.

MB shucked the corn and threw them in some hot water. Meanwhile, I setup the grill and got my supplies in order. As the corn and sausage went on the grill, I julienned the onion, chopped the tomatoes and cut up the cheese. The onions went in a cast iron skillet on the grill and were joined shortly thereafter by a few scrambed eggs, the corn, which I'd sliced off the cob once it was nicely charred, and the sausage, which i'd cut into bite sized chunks. As the egg mixture came together, I sliced up the avocados into thin strips. Then the tomatoes went into the mix while I flopped the tortillas onto the grill. Once I flipped the tortillas, i threw on the avocado slices and cheese. Finally, I pulled them off the grill onto our plates, added the egg mixture and topped each taco with cilantro and lime.

By that time, I had enough time to get ready for my trip into the city but not enough time to eat. It turned out to be a blessing. I had MB wrap up the tacos in some aluminum foil while I threw on a clean shirt and some sunglasses and headed to the train. By the time I opened up the foil, the steam from the egg mixture had softened the shells while the egg & cheese mixture binded together. The result, a great on-the-go meal that I could eat sans napkins - a necessity seeing as I had no napkins.

The one major failure in the dish turned out to be the decided lack of seasoning. I'd salted and peppered every part of the dish along the way but stopped MB when she'd tried to add more. Bad decision on my part. Could have also used a bit more cilantro. On the plus side, the corn was the best I'd ever prepared on the grill - every time i rotated the ears, I drizzled a little olive oil on top. Read Full Entry

June 21, 2008

Gogol In Greenpoint

On Friday night, Mary Beth and our friends Paul and Trevor joined us for our first trip to the McCarren Park Pool for our favorite Eastern European gypsy-punk band from the LES - Gogol Bordello. MB and I had seen them just 7 days before at Bonnaroo as part of this year's Superjam with Les Claypool and Kirk Hammett (if you're having a hard time processing that information, don't worry; it blew my mind and I was watching it live). I also caught them early Saturday afternoon for the first half of their Which Stage performance.

Eugene Hutz, Les Claypool (sporting a sweet Elvis mask), and Kirk Hammett @ Bonnaroo

Needless to say, the scene in Greenpoint was radically different than the field in Tennessee. And it wasn't just because I was drinking Brooklyn Lager (out of a can?!). Instead of a bunch of hippies, the crowd was a mix of hipsters, punks, and families. Where my friend Marcus shared a daiquiri with a woman he'd never met before at Bonnaroo, we eventually had to clear out of the crowd to avoid the slam dancing that started behind us. Potential injury aside, the mood was certainly exciting. Every time I see Gogol Bordello, it seems like a wave of excitement slowly spreads through the audience and by the third or fourth song, the entire audience is bouncing to the polka-punk beats. This was no exception. Within a few songs, a 30-something father in front of us lifted his young son on his shoulders and charged off to the front of the stage.

The show started with the same tunes they opened with at the 'roo. After awhile, the mess of shoving people became more trouble than it was worth and we retreated to the side of the stage. After hitting the head and grabbing a few more brews, we ran into some alternative forms of entertainment. This kid in a Notre Dame stumbled up to us and, after a brief introduction, grabbed the beer from MB's hand and proceeded to pound 7/8's of it. "Here you go man," the kid said as he tried to hand the remaining swig back to us. "I'm a gentlemen. I wouldn't drink all of it." Needless to say, I wasn't too interested in finishing this d-bag's beer so I convinced him to keep it.

After mumbling a few incoherent thoughts about the upcoming Notre Dame football season, our friend started telling us that he was ready to throw a touchdown. I had no idea what he meant by that but I didn't hesitate to point to the front of the stage and tell him that was where his touchdowns were needed most. As he took off, I never could have imagine that 30 seconds later, our friend would be on the stage throwing a touchdown (re. taking his shirt off and flailing wildly) only to be tackled another 30 seconds later and escorted out off the premises. What a dude.

As we watched this guy get strong-armed off the stage, we noticed a 20-30 piece marching band waiting off to the side of the stage. They took the stage just after we wandered out of the venue but you could hear how much sound and energy they added to an already intense stage show.

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Bonnaroo 2008 - The Duhks

One of my favorite moments at Bonnaroo came on Friday afternoon. After a stroll around the parking lots, we made our way through the arch as Stephen Marley was rockin' the What Stage. We paused to see our fellow al"UM" on the Which Stage and then made our way to That Tent for Minus the Bear, back to Which to see what Les was up to this year. Turns out he's up to a lot of the same tricks as always, mainly playing the bass better than nearly anyone else in the universe and looking equally bizarre while doing it. After we'd had our annual fill of Mr. Claypool (or so we thought until later that night) we headed to !!! (pronounced "Chk, Chk, Chk").

On the way, we were drawn to the Troo Music Lounge by the sounds of a powerful alto backed by a rock band with country sensibilities which momentarily drowned out the noise of the bigger shows. The Duhks, a five-piece from Winnipeg, were playing to a nearly packed crowd and they were taking full advantage of the opportunity. Regardless, we were ready to move on after about a song and half. You've gotta remember, its Bonnaroo. There's just not enough time to see everything. One and a half songs for a single, unknown band is a lot of time.

Then the Duhks seamlessly transitioned into Whole Lotta Love.

It was the first of several times over the course of the weekend when I showed Marcus the hairs sticking up on my arm, my barometer for a noteworthy performance. MB and I headed to the front, basking in the familiar yet unique version of the Zeppelin staple from II. I swear, Robert Plant himself would have appreciated the power of the performance (I hate to downplay the rest of the band - the were incredible - but the vocalist did Mr. Plant justice in a way that I've rarely witnessed in a live setting). As they wrapped up their set, I walked out of the tent, literally choking back tears. The performance was just that powerful. When we met up with the rest of our crew at !!!, I struggled for a few minutes to describe what we'd just witnessed. Failing miserably, I found consolation writing in my Moleskine.

The rest of the night wasn't too shabby either. M.I.A.'s "final" performance, Willie Nelson (I strolled up to his show as he finished Bobby McGee and went into the fan-favorite portion of his set - On the Road Again, You Are Always on My Mind, and one of his pot anthems), Chris Rock, Metallica (holy crap!), Tiesto, My Morning Jacket (mainly during runs to the bathroom or water trailers but their version of Erykah Badu's Tyrone while we waited out some particularly strong rain in the Troo Lounge was insane), Superjam (Les, Gogol and Kirk Hammet...uhhhhhh), and Disco Biscuits. Mix in a few brews, some simosas, an oddly wonderful, horribly beautiful karaoke version of Radiohead's Creep, and a seemingly endless ride on the Ferris wheel and I went to sleep a contented Bonnaroovian.

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June 20, 2008

Whimsical Delights in the LES

Still reeling from the past weekend’s Bonnaroo festivities and the pseudo-disastrous return trip, Mary Beth and I arrived back in the Slope to face the mountain of work that had collected in our absence. Fortunately, we had a reservation at WD-50 for our 3rd wedding anniversary to act as an incentive to get through Tuesday and Wednesday.

During our honeymoon in Bermuda, we had an ultra-extravagant meal at the Newport Room, Bermuda’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant located in the Fairmont Southampton. We had so much fun indulging in the tasting menu and wine pairing (scan the menu and link it here) that we made a pact to do something similar each year. Last year, having just finished Bill Buford’s Heat, we hit up the beyond-excessive pasta tasting menu and wine pairing (scan this menu and link it here) at Mario Batali’s Babbo. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get reservations on the night of our anniversary but, as luck would have it, we sat next to Claire Danes who had (we realized later that night) just come from an appearance on the Letterman show.

This year featured a more accurate anniversary celebration with fewer celebrities…or I should say fewer celebrities who weren’t directly related to the restaurant. As we strolled up to the 50 Clinton Street location in the LES, I couldn’t help but appreciate the buildings non-descript brick-and-glass storefront. Only a small neon sign positioned in the lower left corner of the front window displaying the restaurants name in red script gives the random passerbyer any inkling as to what might lie within. Like the exterior, WD-50’s interior is unpretentious with the focus placed on the food; there are no doors to the kitchen, giving patrons a full view of the finishing station and, at least during our visit, Mr. Dufresne.

Dinner service at WD-50 starts at 6:00 so when we showed up 15 min early for our 6:30 reservation, the place was quiet. Being a special occasion, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to order a cocktail to start our meal, an interesting decision seeing as we were about to have 10 glasses of wine with our Wednesday meal. From the very start, our waiter – Jake – found the right balance of adding funny pleasantries to our conversation without being creepy or annoying. He attempted to guess our drink orders, nailing MB’s (pH – vodka with lychee, raspberry, and something?) and coming pretty close on mine (the Pumpernickle wasn’t too far off but the Sartorial – Oban, raisin infused bourbon, bitters and orange zest – was right up my alley).

With our menus never opened past the cocktails page, Jake didn’t need to be a psychic to know the chef would be making all of our decisions that evening. After a few pieces of the paper-thin sesame “bread” and a short wait (the staff was actually waiting for us to finish our cocktails. I felt a bit rushed at the beginning of the dinner but, after 3 hours or so at the table, I think they may have been trying to do us a favor.), the courses started coming. And damn, did they come. If you’ve never sat down to a 7+ course meal, it’s a daunting task. I’m not trying to say it’s not enjoyable. Just the opposite, in fact. I’m saying the desire to get as much joy as possible out of the meal (and the money you pay for the pleasure) can almost be overwhelming. Fortunately for MB and I, we’re not amateurs. At the same time, we’re not pros either as you’ll tell when my notes drop off after the 8th or 9th course. For a course-by-course review of our meal, click here.

By the end of our evening, we'd made friends with the first couple that sat next to us and "sold" the tasting menu to second. I'm not sure if it was the up-sell or if it was obvious that we were out for our anniversary but, either way, we had charmed Jake enough by the end of the meal that he took us to meet the chef. Mr. Dufresne was hard at work at the finishing table, taking care of several dessert orders (everything bagel ice cream?!) but he was quite cordial, as was the entire kitchen staff as we tried to avoid the staff as they moved from station to station. What a great end to an evening. Much better than the unnecessary special dessert plate or extra drink we've received at other tasting dinners.

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June 19, 2008

12 Courses @ WD-50

1st Course – Fluke, kaffir lime, peach, black vinegar; Cava Reserva ‘Rosat’ Avinyo NV (Pendes, Spain)

One of the first things that struck me with this course was the lack of anything that could be called black vinegar. There were very dark crumbs on the plate but I couldn’t see how they’d equate. Of course, it was Mr. Dufresne’s first trick of the night - vinegar is baked into a cake recipe, dehydrated and crumbled. To be completely honest, I don’t remember recognizing the flavor of the vinegar but that may have been because I was so in love with the tiny squares of glazy peach topping the fluke bathing in lime. Maybe I can chalk that up to the strength of my cocktail. I liked the dish as a starter for both its textural qualities and its overall subtlety.

2nd Course – Pizza pebbles, pepperoni, shitake; Cava Reserva ‘Rosat’ Avinyo NV (Pendes, Spain)

Imagine a pizza Combo. Now imagine it dolled up for a black tie event and you’ve got Mr. Dufresne’s pizza pebbles. Small, baked tomato-and-Italian-seasoned balls of dough accompanied by thin, dehydrated slices of shitakes and oregano, all sitting atop a pepperoni infused cream sauce. The sweet flavor of the dough balls was offset nicely by both the spice and saltiness of the sauce but their texture was a little off-putting; as I chewed them, they disintegrated and clung to my teeth much like the inside of a Whopper.

3rd Course – Knot foie; Tedorigawa Arabashiri ‘Rippling Stream’ (Ishikawa-Prefecture, Japan)

Ah, the wonders of chemistry. While Mr. Dufresne’s fried mayonnaise no longer graces his tasting menu, this course certainly shows off the chef’s penchant for gelatin and making substances do what they can’t do naturally. Like tying a “rope” of foie gras into a knot, for instance. After pureeing the pate and mixing it with some type of binding agent (gelatin or otherwise), it’s pushed through a piping bag and cooled until it becomes malleable. It’s then knotted and brought back to room temperature. The tube of foie gras is then coated with rice cracker crumbs which add a light crunchiness to the plate but, in combination with the sake, gave me an almost popcorn flavor I didn’t think worked well with the plate; Mary Beth didn’t agree and absolutely loved the dish.

4th Course – Hamachi tartar, wakame, sake lees tahini, grapefruit-shallot; Chardonnay Cotes du Jura “Les Chalasses’ Gavenat 2004 (Jura, France)

Jake warned us that the hamachi would have a gamey/fishy flavor and he was right. It wasn’t overpowering but it was noticeable. The wine pairing, however, did wonders to balance the flavor.

5th Course – Eggs benedict; Pinot Noir O’Reilly’s 2007 (Willamette, Oregon)

We’d heard a lot about this course during the recent Top Chef episode where Wylie sat in as the guest judge and, being huge fans and ardent critics of the dish, we were excited to experience Mr. Dufresne’s imaginative take on this classic brunch fare. We were not disappointed. All of the classic elements were there – Canadian Bacon, hollandaise, egg, English muffin – just not the way they’re usually plated. The hollandaise sauce was (you guessed it) mixed with some sort of binding agent, rolled into balls, breaded in crumbled English muffins and deep fried. The egg got a more “traditional” treatment, at least in the sense that it was poached. The yolk was positioned by itself opposite the ball of Hollandaise in a squat little cylinder. As for the Canadian bacon, there was nothing particularly bizarre about it but the super thin slice was as crispy as regular bacon.

6th Course – Crab tail, soybean noodles, cinnamon dashi; Pinot Noir O’Reilly’s 2007 (Willamette, Oregon)

The cinnamon in this dish was borderline over-powering and definitely strange but overall, I liked both the flavor and the heat it added to the dish. Otherwise, I wasn’t overly wowed by this bowl of wontons and broth but I think that was due to the sheer number of plates (and glasses of wine) we’d seen up until this point.

7th Course – Chicken liver spaetzle, pine needle, radish, cocoa nib; Grenache ‘Old Vines’ Tir Na N’Og 2005 (McLaren Vale, Australia)

Mary Beth felt the liver was too overpowering but I thought the flavor was balanced well with the greens and pine. Still, it was a strong dish and I could see where, 7 courses in, MB thought it was tres fort.

8th Course – Beef tongue, cherry-miso, fried quinoa, palm seeds; Grenache ‘Old Vines’ Tir Na N’Og 2005 (McLaren Vale, Australia)

This was the last dish I remember in its entirety. Based on the almost veal-like texture of the beef tongue, I can only imagine it was tenderized in some sort of acid bath for hours, then cooked and cut into long ribbons with a deli slicer. The meat was plated over a swipe of sweet cherry-miso sauce and paired with a crunchy quinoa and palm seed “cracker.”

9th Course – Yogurt, olive oil jam, rhubarb

10th Course – Jasmine custard, black tea banana; Riesling Eiswein ‘Mainzer Godmerr’ Rudolf Muller 2004 (Rheinhessen, Germany)

11th Course – Toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked cashew, brown butter sorbet; Cerdon du Bugey ‘ Methode Ancestrale’ Renardat-Farche NV (Bugey, France)

12th Course – Yuzu ice cream-marcona almond

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June 17, 2008

Back from Bonnaroo

Just got back in from my 3rd trip to the 'roo. Phew. Pretty wild ride. I walked/hitchhiked into the venue this year, an incredible experience that was necessitated by some unusually decent traffic management by Superfly Productions and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. A couple people in our crew had hopped out of our RV for a smoke and when the line moved up about 100 yards, we didn't think much about it. The last several miles of the journey to every festival I've ever attended, save Echo Festival last fall, has featured stop-and-go traffic for hours on end. So when the line started moving again and didn't stop for about 3/4 of a mile, we started to worry. My friend Marcus and I put some shoes on, applied some sunscreen, grabbed 3 tickets, and threw a few beers in our bags and started walking away from the show.

Several hours and a number of bummed beers from the cars around us, we rolled up to the gates in the back of a fellow Bonnaroovian's white Chevy pickup and walked the final 100 yards or so into the venue. Later on, we'd learn that our our friends were setting up shop about 1/4 mile from the gate.

I'll write about some of the individual performances later on but for now, here's who we saw:

  • Battles
  • Vampire Weekend
  • Dark Star Orchestra
  • B.B. King
  • Ben Folds
  • Zappa Plays Zappa
  • Umphrey's McGee
  • Levon Helm & Ramble on the Road
  • Minus the Bear
  • Pearl Jam
  • Les Claypool
  • Sigur Ros
  • !!!
  • Lupe Fiasco
  • M.I.A.
  • Ghostland Observatory
  • Willie Nelson
  • Chali 2na (from Jurassic 5) with Galactic
  • Metallica
  • My Morning Jacket
  • Kanye Wet
  • Tiesto
  • Stephanie sid
  • Disco Biscuits
  • Aimee Mann
  • Super Jam (Les Claypool, Kirk Hammett & Gogol Bordello)
  • Broken Social Scene
  • The Duhks
  • Robert Plant & Allison Krauss
  • Ozomatli
  • Derek Trucks
  • Gogol Bordello
  • Widespread Panic
  • Mastadon
  • The Avett Brothers
  • Stephen Marley
  • Cat Power
We also caught three comedians: Chris Rock, Reggie Watts, and John Mulaney.

The sun sets on another Bonnaroo

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June 10, 2008

Tunes @ Work; Opus 1, No. 4


  • /=/ - Andrew Bird; Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs
  • Dear Confessor - Immaculate Machine; Fables
  • Machine Gun - Jimi Hendrix; Band of Gypsys
  • Sitting by the Riverside - The Kinks; The Village Green Preservation Society
  • Surrender - U2; Elevation Tour, University of Notre Dame, IN 2001
  • Leave My Girl Alone - Buddy Guy; The Complete Chess Studio Recordings
  • Apache - Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band; On The Floor At The Big Beat Boutique
  • Johnsburg, Illinois - Tom Waits; Big Time
  • Low Rider - War
  • The Other Side of this Life - Jefferson Airplane; Live at the Fillmore East
  • Honky Tonk Woman - The Rolling Stones
  • Mr. Incognito - A Tribe Called Quest; Hits, Rarities & Remixes
  • Goodbye Little World - Remy Zero; Villa Elaine
  • I Want the Funk - Karl Denson; Dance Lesson #2
  • Memory Lane - Elliot Smith; From the Basement on the Hill
  • Crying Shame - Jack Johnson; In Between Dreams
  • Let's Push Things Forward (Remix Featuring Roll Deep W/ Dizzzee Rascal) - The Streets; All Got Our Runnins
  • Goodnight - Galactic; Coolin' Off
  • Life During Wartime (Live) - The Talking Heads; Sand in the Vaseline
  • Johnny on the Spot - Ween
  • Creep (Radiohead) - Prince; Live at Coachella 2008
  • Come Together (The Beatles) - Prince; Live at Coachella 2008
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