The Park Slope Gastronome

Back in Park Slope.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Today's Lunch: Grand Central Oyster Bar

Today I had lunch with my boss Rob at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, which is in Grand Central Station, perhaps my favorite building in the city. We sat at one of the rickety U-shaped counters and were each immediately greeted with a plate of everything-flavored flatbread as well as a crumbly sweet biscuit-like roll. These flatbreads are so good. There's just the right amount of each seasoning portioned out, unlike everything bagels which taste like salt licks half the time.

Having ingested a large quantity of fried food (chicken hands, mozzarella sticks, wings, etc...) yesterday at an off-site work outing, I tried to steer away from anything cooked in hot oil. I only sort of succeeded by ordering the crab cake sandwich - pan fried is different, right? The sandwich was served with a side of marinara sauce but I also ordered a dish of cole slaw to top the cake with. Rob got the tuna burger, rare of course, which everyone else at our counter seemed to order, and we also shared a half dozen oysters. Although Rob asked for medium to small sized oysters, we wound up with two Belon-whatsitorother from the West Coast on our plate whose shells were the size of a City Bakery Cookie. There were also two each of Tomahawk (MA) and Kumamto (OR). Oysters are so fucking delicious. Why did I have to be a moron and never eat these before the age of 20 or 21? I lost out on a lot of oysters in my life. My father would come home with a big bag of fresh clams and oysters which he would shuck with speed and precision in our backyard for family gatherings. A dash of Tabasco sauce was the only adornment. I'm sure I was whining about how I wanted cheeseburgers or Callahan's. Haha.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We move out of Park Slope and a Korean restaurant finally moves in

When I lived in Park Slope, I dreamed about the day that a nice bakery or Korean restaurant would finally open in our neighborhood. It was just my luck that both moved in when Dan and I were on our way to Clinton Hill!

The Korean place I refer to is Moim, a very modernly designed restaurant housed on the ground floor of a Garfield Place brownstone. Moim, which means gathering in Korean, is owned by a Park Slope family who in 1991 made the real estate decision we all wish we had. They purchased a full brownstone for less than the price of what a 500-600 square foot 1-BR apartment in the same area goes for these days.

Dan and I got to Moim a little early so we sat at the bar and had a drink. I was delighted to see they had Hite on tap. Hite is a Korean lager that's not really great, but I love it nonetheless. It's pretty similar to OB, which is like the Bud of Korea. Anyway, Hite reminds me of being in Korea last summer with my best guy. Christy and Carl arrived and we were seated at a table towards the back of the restaurant. We noticed a lovely, renovated outdoor space that was empty and pondered its function.

I had read that banchan was not really served here (a big pet peeve of mine with newer, more Westernized Korean restaurant) so I suggested we order the namul (seasoned vegetable) trio to start. But we did get served a trio of house banchan, so more to eat for everyone. There were little black beans (콩) in a sweet, sticky soy glaze, a favorite from my childhood, some kimchi, marinated beansprouts and tangy shreds of snow-white radish.

The rest of our meal was highlighted by how many dishes with kimchi we could order. To start we shared the stir-fried kimchi with pork and tofu, and the kimchi dumplings stuffed with our favorite fermented spicy cabbage and even more ground pork and tofu. The dumplings came five to an order and we let Carl have the extra one - he was psyched!

Our entire table opted for the dolsot bibimbop, but then we decided to order a fifth entree of kimchi fried rice for everyone to share. I love fifth entrees!

The bibimbop is served very regally here, with the stone bowl sitting atop a pedestal.

I was a little wary because I had also read the bibimbop came pre-sauced and that the bowl wasn't hot enough to create the much desired rice crust at the bottom. The former turned out to be true - the kitchen places a dollop of red pepper paste atop your rice. I think this is really ill-advised. There's nothing wrong with offering it up in a side dish, where the diner can add and adjust to their desired level of spiciness. My rice was a little spicier than I normally like it to be. The latter turned out to be a false alarm - it couldn't have been further from the truth. My dolsot bibimbop created one of the best crusts I've ever had for this dish and I've had plenty in my life. There was a period when I was in my pre-teens where I probably ate this practically every Saturday or Sunday, as I accompanied my parents to dinner, or at lunch after church.

The portions are smaller than what you'd find in Koreatown so the fifth entree was a wise choice. I think the fried rice came with shrimp, but I don't remember eating any.

For desert we shared some green tea ice cream and a tangerine (or was it orange?) chocolate cake, which Christy astutely pointed out smelled just like Froot Loops!

I'm hoping this place will succeed. It's got charm, the food is good and I don't think the prices are out of line with what the rest of Park Slope charges. Moim doesn't offer a take-out option yet but they should consider it for the items on the menu that could travel ok. If I still lived in the neighborhood, I'd probably be calling in for a pick up once a week.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

A perfect Brooklyn day

The day started off at Totonno's in Coney Island. It was my second time there this summer, and in fact, ever! Oda and DMR had both been before, but Nellie and Jimbo popped their Totonno's cherry. It was also Little Henry's first visit, but he's still trying to master pureed foods so no pizza for him! Our group had to wait about 10 minutes outside as we arrived before doors even opened but that meant we got the first pie of the day! They were not quite as delicious as I recalled my first taste of Totonno's, but pretty close.

Then it was off to catch the Cyclones take on the Staten Island Yankees. But first, I took a quick side trip to Nathan's to grab a hot dog. Well, I thought it would be quick when I took my place on line and saw there were only 4 or 5 patrons in front of me. In a cruel twist of fate, the cashier turned out to be a moron. She was incredibly slow and then she disappeared for 10 minutes! She just walked way from her register and couldn't be found. We tried to flag down managers and assistant managers to find her, but nobody could (or care less, actually). Finally, she reappeared and she did a crappy job of putting together my very basic dog with sauerkraut and onions. I lost 30 minutes of my life to get hot dog in a wet bun. Sigh.

At the Cyclones game, I had tons of water and a lemonade to keep myself hydrated. By sheer coincidence, members of the Sweet Meats, our bocce rivals (well, can you call it a rivalry when you have never beat a team?) were seated next to us.

Then it was off to Avenue U in Bensonhurst to stuff our faces at and with Russian Style Ravioli! We had to split up into two tables as our crew had grown in number since Totonno's and the restaurant denied us the VIP section up front. DMR and I shared a table with Anne and Alex and we began with a pitcher of kompot, a non-carbonated, non-alchoholic drink made with cherries. Tasty, but it was not very cold and a few ice cubes in our glass would have really upped the ante.

Anne and Alex went with a couple variations on pelmeni (Siberian and chicken) and an order of fried cabbage vareniki. Dan and I ordered potato vareniki, Siberian pelmeni and a beef stroganoff (with a choice of kasha or potatoes, we picked the latter).

The vareniki and pelmeni portions at Russian Style Ravioli are huge and super cheap - less than $5 for an order. Did you know that there is a pelmeni eating record? Dale Boone ate 274 of them in just six minutes. He deserves a round of applause.

Potato vereniki served with intensely caramelized onion bits. They need to add the onions as a side dish.

Siberian pelmeni, simply prepared and served. What can I say, I love any sort of dumpling. Dump 'em into a bowl, give me a fork or spoon and get outta my way.

The stroganoff was served in a bread bowl! It was like the most delicious, rich, creamy chowder ever, with a bounty of tender beef strips and vegetables. Anne abstained, but Alex, Dan and I all put in solid efforts.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Getting stuffed at Scandanavia House

I'm stuffed! I just returned from lunch with the CLC at the Scandanavia
, which is a stone's throw from my work! Turns out Aquavit runs a small cafe here and I would have never discovered the delights of this place had it not been for my boss who hipped me to it last week.

We both ordered the exact same meal, a pear Kristall drink and the Smorgasbord platter, which was 3 types or herring, 2 types of salmon, a single Swedish meatball bathed in gravy and lingonberry sauce, a wedge of Jarlsberg, a lone potato and some shrimp salad in dill sauce. In the center of the plate was some mustard with a bulls-eye of espresso. A piece of dark sourdough-esque bread and also a flat crisp bread accompanied.

Overall there was probably a little too much herring on my plate (mustard sauce, cream sauce and I'm not positive about this one, but possibly a tangy curry sauce), but this was a great delight! I love having a variety of foods to eat and making different combinations. My favorite combo was the classic shrimp salad on crisp bread, but I also liked swishing my potato in the lingonberries. The mustard worked really well with the gravlax. Now I am stuffed and really like a big time porker!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Three delicious meals sans photos because the camera stopped working or I just forgot: Momofuku Ssam Bar, Brio, Snack Taverna

Snack Taverna: This is the slightly fancier older sibling to Snack, a tiny Greek inspired place in Soho. It's not much bigger than Snack either. Our table ordered a two small plates to begin: Pikilia, a trio of melitzanosalata, taramosalata and tzatziki served with warm pita and dolmades, and the pan cried cod cakes.

I never pronounce it correctly, but wow, do I love taramosalata. There's a jarred version that's sold in stores in case you can't get to a Greek joint. I usually say, "taramotsola" or "taramasala" by accident. Whoops. I love the way the tiny beads of roe feel against your tongue. They are like some ancient, piscine version of pop rocks. Pita arrived cut in quarters and warm, as promised. We quickly polished off the first basket and asked for a refill. I could eat warm pita and dips all day long. The cod cakes were pretty good but didn't blow me away. I did especially liked the tangy dressing that accompanied the greens the two cakes sat atop.

For our mains, DMR had the pastitsio, which came in an individual crock making it look like a gigantic french onion soup. Nils ordered the roast pork tenderloin with orzo in a spicy avgolemono sauce. I had the enormous whole roasted branzino filet served with an equally large portion of roasted fingerling potatoes, mizuna and two roasted tomato halves. The potatoes were a little bland, but the tomatoes were bursting with sweetness and, I don't know how better to describe it, but intense tomato flavor. As I had filled up on bread, as usual, so I was not able to finish my fish. Actually, I put up a really weak showing, which was unfortunate because it was perfectly seasoned and cooked.

Momofuku Ssam Bar: Can I tell you how excited I was to eat here and take photos? This is the night my camera died. It refused to take a single photo. This is the story of my life. Anyway, this was a dinner with a bunch of work people, including super special guest star Emma C. all the way from the UK.

I think David Chang is awesome. He's kind of the first celebrity chef of Korean heritage, right? I guess there's Edward Lee who used to own Clay in Noho, before moving to Louisville to start Magnolia, but he's not nearly the household name that Chang is. I love his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, even though it's cramped and sometimes the a/c is on so high it cools down your soup way too quickly. I don't care. I love that he doesn't cook Korean cuisine but inputs lots of Korean personality and history into his food.

We ordered a whole mess of plates for everyone to share, with the exception of Molly, the lone vegetarian, who managed to find an heirloom tomato and tofu dish she could eat. The pickle plate was a rainbow of colors and tastes featuring shitake mushrooms, cucumbers, hot and spicy radish and cabbage kimchi, carrots, beets, tangy fennel, celery and even some pickled melon! Edward's Wigwam smoked ham from Virginia was served in paper thin slices, a la prosciutto, and along with a little dish of what our server called a red eye gravy. It was not your typical red eye gravy. In the dark light of Momofuku, it looked like a mustard, but it was actually mayo based. It sounds gross, but the combo of coffee, drippings and Kewpie created this savory butterscotch flavor which I became I addicted to. The ham came with two warm pieces of bread and we immediately asked for more and to that we were told we could order the bread and butter dish. Well, they told us. Their bread plate was basically a warmed baguette with two types of butter: sea salt from Vermont and St. Helen's Farms goat butter from England that definitely tasted like it came from a goat. I preferred the salty butter. A plate of cured hamachi featured nearly translucent pieces of one of my favorite fishies in the world. We were informed it was one of the house specialties and it did not disappoint. Toasted seawood, edamame and wasabi sauce rounded out the plate. There were also these round, pale yellow, circular mystery crunchy bits. I have no idea what they were, maybe from a furikake mixture? These too were pop rockish and I hope I wasn't being too rude as I picked them off the plate. To meet our vegetable quotient, we also got the roasted cauliflower, with came sprinkled with toasted puffed rice and bathed in a light fish sauce. I've become a recent convert to cauliflower. I had no idea it could taste this good.

Then came the mains, three porcine variations: spare ribs, steamed buns and saam. I'll start with the steamed buns, because this is the homerun dish at both Momofukus. A hunk of braised Berkshire pork belly with glistening fat that melts in your mouth is tucked into a white, slightly sweet bun. It gets dressed with a little hoisin and cucumber slices add a necessary crunch. It is a magical combination that sadly disappears in like two bites. Onto the pork ribs, a pile of meaty bones slathered in a subtly, spicy sauce that recalled the kochujang (red chili pepper paste) based concoction my mom would slather on her ribs, which she'd cook on an aluminum foil covered pan in the oven. Did I mention the ribs were sprinkled with toasted shallots, which is another one of my favorite things in the world? The ribs came with a small dish of pickled green tomatoes and a creamy potato salad.

The third dish was probably my least favorite, but still tasty. Eating this variation of ssam is like eating Vietnamese spring rolls, but instead of a spring roll, slabs of coarse ground pork sausage (kinda in the shape of SPAM, no less!) served as the centerpiece. You could pack your piece of bibb lettuce with pork, pickled carrots and radish and then dip into the fish sauce based dressing. To drink, a couple bottles of Hitachino Nest Ale for me, of course. Just like its sister space, Momofuku Ssam bar is loud and crowded. They cram in too many seats and you don't have any leg or elbow room. But it also serves some of the tastiest food ever.

Brio - We were served an enormous amount of cheese, including two plates of burrata, which I had never had before and now can't stop thinking about. There was also a plate of sopressata, prosciutto, and bresoala. For my main, I got the parpadelle with sausage, cherry tomatoes and cremini mushrooms. But since I had stuffed my face with burrata and Parmigiano-Reggiano, I barely made a dent. I managed to rally to try the assortment of desserts: ricotta cheesecake, panna cotta with balsamic, tiramisu and an addictive Napolean cake.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

I Hate You Bistro Marketplace

That would be the one on Park Avenue b/w 41st and 42nd.

Seriously, what's the logic in charging me more for a one egg + salami on a roll than 2 eggs + ham, bacon or sausage on a roll? Lame, especially you grillmaster rolly eyes. You're a deli in New York, no one has ever asked you for salami and eggs?

Never going back there again.

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