January 2007

A Very Thoughtful Review of B.L.T. Burger

Of BLT Burger, Peter Meehan writes in the New York Times: “I was left with the impression that no one in the kitchen is paying attention to these sandwiches.” Nick Paumgarten says in The New Yorker: “The patties are five ounces of Black Angus beef at the low end of the salt and fat range, which likely costs them a medal in the best-burger sweepstakes.” A few of my foodie friends slammed the place and so I went, recently, with James Felder (Snapshot Artifact) and crafted the following thoughtful review of my own.

Park Slope Picks: Franny’s, Taro Sushi, NoNo Kitchen

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” – Dorothy, Wizard of Oz

Good point, Dorothy! And since I live in Park Slope it’s time to stop trekking into Manhattan for my stomach’s desire and time to start searching right here where I live. Especially because it’s snowing. And icy. And cold.

So here’s what I found. I found this awesome pizza at Franny’s:

Franny’s was in my brain like a forgettable cousin, flitting around the Bar Mitzvah of my consciousness, never really getting noticed as I was lifted in my chair to Hava Nagila. I knew Diana went on a date at Franny’s (prognosis: good pizza, bad date). And then I had dinner with Julie, Lauren’s girlfriend, here for work from D.C. and she told me she’d been to Franny’s with her co-workers and she couldn’t believe I’d never been there. Especially because I live a few blocks away. And so I went with Craig to Franny’s.

Nibbles 12.0 (including: Chili, Top Chef, Broadway, Art, and Lamb)

I apologize for my lack of posts towards the end of the week: I had a big one planned and then I decided to watch “You Can Count On Me” for the 8th time on DVD. It’s one of my top five favorite movies, a list that also includes “Defending Your Life” which has two of my favorite movie themes: life-after-death and food. What follows is a random list of Nibbles, small bites of content for you to nibble on over the weekend.

– This chili is awesome:

It was from last month’s Bon Apetit, you can read the recipe here and it’s the perfect thing to eat when you’re freezing. The night I made this our heat was out because a construction crew hit the gas pipe on the street and our apartment fell to 55 degrees which Craig says isn’t really that awful but I think it is. Making chili when you’re that cold is one of the smartest things you can do next to buying a space heater. Two things that make this chili soar: the chipolte chilis in adobo sauce (which I found in the ethnic food aisle of my Key Foods) and the Sam Adams cream stout. Not only does it give the chili lots of flavor, it’s great to drink with the chili when you’re done. I served the chili with tortilla chips instead of spoons. Diana said it was the best chili she’d ever had.

– Let’s talk about part one of the Top Chef season finale. I think I’m ready to acknowledge that the quality of this season is beneath that of last season. It feels more dramatic, yes, but it also feels less credible. I don’t believe that either of the two finalists are ready to command a kitchen. Marcel is the more obvious bonehead, but he’s a social bonehead.


I do think his food looks good and I really believe that the judges like it. The bigger bonehead, though, is Ilan.


He reminds me of the worst sort of bully, the one who doesn’t have the spine to actually stand up to his victim but who prefers to skulk around egging everyone else on. Like when Cliff had Marcel pinned and he was urging Elia to shave his head; or, on this episode, when he tells Elia to say something about Marcel at the judge’s table: my cringes had cringes. I’m sure that his disgust for Marcel is justified–it seems that everyone on the show, even the most likable, took issue with Marcel–but what Ilan doesn’t realize is that he’s an adult and when you’re an adult you have to ignore people like that. Especially when you’re on national television and your entire career swings on how people perceive you. I completely disagree with Tom Colicchio about kitchen behavior being irrelevant: it’s incredibly relevant. Great chefs are great leaders, they lead the people who work for them to greatness. So ta-ta to Sam, a natural leader who made good solid food, and hello to Ilan: the world’s biggest follower. Wouldn’t it be great if, at the end, Marcel wins but he breaks down crying and he says to Ilan, “You were right. I am a ruthless virgin” and he passes the prize to Ilan who, incredibly touched, reveals that beneath his disgust is raw animal attraction and the two start making out and they stay in Hawaii and they get married? Umm… is this thing on? Ok, next nibble.

– Hey! I saw a show last week for free (I know, I know, I’m the world’s biggest mooch: but there’s a difference between getting things for free passively, and actively seeking them out—I get free theater tickets from a company that asks that I blog about shows if I like them, which I’m very honest about: there’ve been plenty of shows we’ve seen for free that I haven’t blogged about, one of which Craig said, “If you had a gun to my head and said I had to see this show again or get shot, I’d have a really hard time answering”). This show was “The Little Dog Laughed,” a really fun romp about a gay movie star and his lesbian agent who tries to get him to stay in the closet so he doesn’t ruin his career. The best thing about the show is Julie White who is hilarious in her part: a part that’s garnered her tons of critical praise. So check it out before it closes in a few weeks. We really liked it.

– Another thing to check out is the Spanish art exhibit at the Guggenheim. I went yesterday and took the free audio tour and really enjoyed spiraling my way through. There is a food connection here, much of the art features food–including this really cool painting by Juan Sánchez Cotán called “Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables.” Can you name all the fruit and vegetables you see here?


– When you’re done at the Guggenheim, don’t miss the excellent coffee and pastries at Cafe Sabarsky only two blocks down. It’s a great New York afternoon: Spanish art and Austrian pastries. Can life get any better?

– Another awesome winter dish (and our final nibble for the day) is the Lamb Shank with Oranges and Olives from Mario Batali’s “Molto Italiano”:


As you can see I served it on wet polenta. The key is browning the shank for the full 15 minutes on high heat so it really gets seared and dark brown:


The braise has whole oranges that are cut up into segments:


It’s really easy to do and will fill your apartment with joy and warmth and good cheer, especially if there’s wine:


Stay warm this weekend!

The Salad In Winter

After reading Regina Schrambling’s L.A. Times piece on winter salads last week, I was inspired to make this fennel, green apple and watercress salad from A Voce. There are many wonderful things about this salad, most of all the lemon zest: it makes it so zingy and bright you’ll forget it’s winter (as if the 80 degree weather hasn’t already done that.) I tweaked the salad and used arugula instead of watercress but that’s just because I’m lazy and pre-washed arugula is more user-friendly that dirty, sandy watercress that you have to wash yourself. Don’t skimp on the golden raisins, though, or the fresh Parmesan. I’m also proud of my restraint, here. I used the smallest amount of olive oil I could–usually I pour with a heavy hand–and it worked wonders. It’s a winter salad for the ages.

The Thank You Meals: Part Two, Duck Ragu for James (Plus A Wild Walnut Salad)

James, on the other hand, deserved a meal for taking my picture multiple times for my book’s “author photo.” You can see James’s terrific photography on his site, Snapshot Artifact. We went out a few times to get the perfect picture, but nothing was really working. Then James had the idea of taking pictures of me while cooking. It was a brilliant notion and a perfect opportunity to cook him a dinner of gratitude. And here he is looking grateful next to Diana looking ungrateful:

The Thank You Meals: Part One, Southern Food for Stella (Cheese Straws, Squash Casserole, Coconut Cream Pie)

One of the perks of being a person who cooks is that, as a person who cooks, you can get people to do things for you in exchange for cooking. So Stella, my dear friend, agreed to cat-sit for me while I was in Seattle if I agreed to cook her a Southern dinner when I got back. Deal! Here she is waiting for her reward and laughing at something funny:

In front of her (and Diana and Craig) you’ll see a salad, which was the one consolation I made to health before the dinner began. Every thing else would be a nose-dive into Southern hedonism.

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