Category Archives: NYC

The Tao of Richard Blais: Part I

Richard Blais is a truly nice guy and an amazing chef. He also plays one on TV.

And although part of me wishes his last name was “Blaze” and he secretly fought crime with a combination of modern gastronomical techniques and hair product, that’s just not him. The guy is a beast in the kitchen, but one of the most cordial, approachable of the new rank of “food celebrities.”

How do I know this? I actually got a chance to meet the winner of Top Chef All-Stars last week at the National Pork Board’s pop-up Pork Inspiration Cafe.

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Breakfast in Bed (Except Not in Bed and Not Breakfast)

But that was the name of the class we attended at ICE: The Institute of Culinary Education way back in October.

Actually, the full name was “Couples: Gourmet Breakfast in Bed” and we had been meaning to go for almost two years. It was a Christmas gift, you see, and a good one at that. My wife gave it to me for Christmas 2007, back when we were in Philadelphia. Two location changes later and we were running out of time, so here we were.

James Briscione

Our instructors were the husband-and-wife team of James Briscione (a professional chef who some may recognize from his appearances on Chopped) and  Brooke Parkhurst (an author). Overall, the class was loose, fun and informative.

Our group consisted of the instructors and five other couples, whose experience ran the gamut from novice to fairly good. We split into three groups to tackle the six dishes on the menu.

The wife and I (and our partners) were responsible for two of the more basic dishes: blueberry pancakes and breakfast burritos. After James taught us some knife skills (including a killer move for chopping sweet peppers), we were basically left alone to go at it. Some interesting things I learned along the way:

  • Breakfast burritos are a favorite meal of many chefs. James was not the first who’s told me that it’s his go-to comfort food.
  • You don’t have to cover rice to cook it. You can make it “pasta style” by adding the rice to salted water and draining the results.
  • If you want the blueberries to stay in the middle of a pancake, do not mix them into the batter. Instead, add a handful into each pancake right before you flip it.

In addition to the above two dishes, each person was given the chance to make a perfect lump crabmeat omelet. If you do it right (like James), it takes only a few minutes to cook. He taught us the French folding technique, which makes these omelets look more like crepes than what you see in a typical diner. Mine turned out pretty well, although it was slightly overcooked on the bottom. (Though compared to some of my fellow classmates’ attempts, my omelet was a masterpiece.)

After assembling the burritos and making a ton of pancakes, we were ready to assemble all of the dishes for a breakfast feast. Of course, it was a Friday night, which is kind of weird time to have a breakfast feast.

Here’s a final rundown of the dishes. See if you can identify them all in the images.

1. Sherry Shrimp and Grits

2. Blueberry Pancakes

3. Buttermilk Raspberry Muffins

4. Baked Apples with Creme Fraiche

5. Savory Sweet Potato Tart with Garlic Custard

6. Lump Crabmeat Omelet

7. Breakfast Burritos

For the most part, everything turned out nicely. Some of the muffins were a bit undercooked, but the tart was amazing! Not only was the experience worth the time and money, but we got to take home the recipes. Writing this may be the inspiration I need to finally whip up some burritos.

To the kitchen, mi amigos!

The Upper West Side: OK, It’s Not All Bad

big nick inside

Even though I’m thinking of moving all my restaurant reviews to Yelp, I figure I at least owe you this post. And by “you” I mean both my readers (are you still here?) and my neighborhood.

Ready? Let’s do this.

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The Upper West Side: A Vast Culinary Wasteland

Citrus

It really saddens me to say this, but my new neighborhood is a vast culinary wasteland.

Sure, I haven’t eaten out nearly as much as I used to. The economy and the fabled NYC cost of living increase has certainly taken their toll. However, the wife and I have tried several eateries in the past month and a half, and we were not impressed.

To wit:

Citrus (photo above)

This restaurant is only a few block from my apartment and boasts “Latin fare with Asian flair.” It’s a fun motto, which is matched by the almost clubby atmosphere of the interior. It’s a modern place, very glossy looking, with the patronage to match.

Unfortunately, the food’s not very good.

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Random Meal Roundup

bistro2

As you may have noticed, my posting frequency has taken a nosedive over the past few months. I won’t go into all the excuses, but I think this once-a-weekend schedule is probably going to be sticking around for a while.

Since I’m now doing a lot of quick hits on Twitter, I’m going to try to give you longer, more in-depth reads for the main site. That’s why I’m smushing together three separate meals into one amazing article (amazingness not guaranteed).

Let’s get started…

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My Lunch: Chicken and Rice

chicken-and-rice

OK, I admit it… the above picture looks like vomit.

But here’s the thing: it tastes really good and it’s dirt cheap. That’s why I eat it two to three times a week.

Although I’ve written about cart food before, I haven’t sampled much of it. Sure, I’ve had the odd pretzel here and there, and even a hot dog if I’m feeling brave . But that fully prepared stuff? I tend to stay away.

cr-2After a few months at the new NYC job, however, I became bored with deli sandwiches. I craved something more substantial. And yet, my lunch budget wouldn’t allow anything new that spiked above the $5 – $10 range.

Enter: the chicken and rice plate.

For a mere $5, you get a complete meal that’s tasty, filling and not terribly bad for you. Best of all, it’s not as scary as you think.

Here’s what goes into it:

  1. Dirty or yellow rice: well-seasoned and flavorful
  2. A small salad: generally of lettuce and tomato
  3. Chunks of chicken: soaked in a secret-spice marinade and combined on the grill with onions, carrots and peppers
  4. Sauce(s): a creamy, slightly tangy white one and/or a spicy red deal

(For only $1 more, you can get a combo of chicken and doner kebab lamb.)

The two carts I frequent are only a block away from each other, but they each have a distinct take on chicken and rice.

  • On 60th Street, close to Broadway, they give you bigger chunks of shredded chicken, but no choice of rice. This is the one pictured.
  • The 59th Street, between Broadway and Ninth, location has smaller, less tender pieces of chicken, but provides a choice of rice. The red sauce is also a good deal spicier.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either of these place, or most of the carts in the city. I’ve found this food to be the absolute best value for a New York City lunch.

Now, if they could only do something about those styrofoam containers…

Friend of a Farmer

2friendofafarmer

The one word I would use to describe Friend of a Farmer, a country restaurant in the middle of Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood, is “oasis.”

This is not a restaurant one would expect in the New York suburbs, let alone in the city itself. The closest thing I can compare it to – although it’s painful to do so – is Cracker Barrel. There’s the creaky, natural wood floors, the rural decor and homey, comfort food.

But unlike that bastion of roadside diversion, Friend of a Farmer has the advantage of being one little place within the controlled chaos that is New York City. As a stand-alone shop, the place is not trafficking in mass food in a faux setting with questionable service. Our server was extremely friendly (although with a punkish vibe that would be unwelcome in Kansas) and the cozy atmosphere seemed stripped wholesale from a real country house.

And the food was mmm-mmm good! I honestly can’t remember the appetizers, but it’s hard to forget the entrees, especially when three of the four of our party ordered the same thing. This was the Fresh Roasted Turkey (cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, fresh cranberry sauce & giblet gravy), a Thanksgiving meal on a plate. Enjoyed by my wife, my friend and his fiance, the food captured the quintessential family feel, with succulent pieces of turkey and accouterments worthy of any hard-cooking mom (or dad).

I, of course, picked the least country item on the menu: Honey Glazed Shrimp (mixed greens, mandarin oranges, pears, maytag blue cheese & grapes with a sesame ginger mandarin dressing). This was because 1. I had a big, heavy lunch and 2. my stomach was bothering me, probably because of 1. The salad was extremely tasty, with the tang of the various fruit playing off the sweetness of the shrimp and creaminess of the cheese. It was certainly well-balanced, but I could have used a few more shrimp and definitely more pear.

For dessert… PIE! I would have been extremely disappointed if a place like this didn’t offer at least one homemade pie. Luckily, the restaurant has a mini-bakery in its kitchen, offering a bunch of warm, carby goodies.  Both couples went with the delicious apple crumb pie, a la mode. At first they had run out of vanilla ice cream, but managed to find some tucked away in the back. Between the gooeyness of the pie and the lightness of the ice cream, this was the perfect capper to a country meal.

Since Friend of a Farmer is now a friend of mine, I think I’ll return for breakfast… and brunch… and lunch… and more dinner. Care to join me?