Rushing at Russ & Daughters

If you had told me last night that within a three hour period the next day I would read the Sunday Times, rush down to the Lower East Side, visit Russ & Daughters for the first time and then grab tickets for the matinee of “Oedipus at Palm Springs” (by The Five Lesbian Brothers (who are also bloggers); it closed today and it was great, sorry you missed it) I would’ve called you a liar. A dirty bald-faced liar. (Bald faced? Did I make up that expression?)

But all these things did happen today. I woke up, made coffee, read the Times in bed (a new favorite ritual) and then, noticing in the Arts section that today was the last day for “Oedipus” I rushed out to catch the F Train down to 2nd Ave only the F train didn’t come on the F-train track. The D train came instead so I got on that, figuring the D train was acting like the F train today. But it took me pretty far down on Grand and as I rushed up towards Houston I realized I’d be really close to Russ & Daughters (also Katz’s, but that was out of the question timewise.) It was like 1:33 and the show started at 2. I could grab a bagel at Russ’s—this would be my first time, but now’s a better time than ever.

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I first learned of Russ & Daughters in the very first food book I ever read (and still one of my favorites) the not-so-long-ago published “Feeding a Yen” by Calvin Trillin. Have you read Calvin Trillin yet? You really should. He’s the best. (Though, did anyone try to get tickets to his walking tour of Chinatown in this year’s New Yorker festival? I was online precisely at 12 pm, right when they went on sale, and they were immediately gone at 12:01. Who got these tickets? Can I please please please have one?)

The first chapter of “Feeding A Yen” is called “Magic Bagel” and it’s totally endearing. It’s about him trying to lure his daughter back to New York (she lives in California) with the promise of tracking down a pumpernickel bagel she loved in her childhood. Here’s what Calvin writes about Russ’s:

“After spending years listening to customers tell him that he ought to move Russ & Daughters uptown, Mark Federman–the grandson of Joel Russ, the founder–was renovating the apartments above the store and expressing gratitude that his grandfather had held on to the building.

Ben’s Dairy had closed and Moishe’s Bakery had moved to a tiny place around the corner. But Russ & Daughters has been carefully preserved to look pretty much the way it did when Joel Russ himself still had his arms deep into the herring barrel.”

It’s strange because if I hadn’t known anything about Russ & Daughters and I went in there and you told me this place was built last year, I’d have believed you. But at the same time, I can believe it looks the same way it did years and years ago. Maybe that’s because the focus there isn’t the atmosphere or the decor: it’s the fish, specifically smoked fish. Men and women behind the counter slice smoked fish with long sharp knives and everything else falls into the background.

Funny enough, when I went in I think Mark Felderman (mentioned above) was there because I observed a bearded Jewish man talking to someone else and he said, “Someone’s doing a story about this place saying the smell in here is one of the best smells in New York.” (Actually, I think I’m getting that quote wrong but it had something to do with smell and New York. But the way he said it, it sounded like he owned the store.)

Besides smoked fish, though, there’s an exciting array of cream cheese:

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Check out the ones on the top and the bottom: caviar cream cheese! Horseradish cream cheese! I totally have to come back and try those.

I also noticed wasabi infused fish roe and I remembered I ate that exact same thing at Le Bernardin. This place means business.

I meant business, both in a speed sense and a hunger sense, and I asked a man behind the counter for an onion bagel with smoked salmon and tomato. This is the traditional Sunday bagel combo (maybe throw in some raw onions too, if stinky breath’s your game) and I awaited it greedily. Time passed and I kept looking at my watch but the man making my bagel wasn’t dawdling. He was sharpening his knife, then he was choosing the fish, and then he was cutting thick slices, and then he found a fresh tomato and cut slices from that, and then he slowly spread cream cheese on a soft looking onion bagel. He did everythign with great care and focus and that was great. I grabbed a fresh squeezed orange juice and the grand total was $10.25. That’s almost the same as it would be at Murray’s where I go all the time.

Here’s the bagel as it appeared on my lap as I sat on a bench outside, ready to scarf it down:

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Now let me tell you something. That bagel? It was pretty good. Soft, oniony, very nice. And the cream cheese? Creamy and fresh, just right. But that fish? Oh, that fish.

I’ve never had fresher smoked fish in my life. It really seemed like a salmon had crawled out of the sea, walked through a smoker like a car might go through a car wash, and then laid itself down on Russ’s slicing board ready for my guy to slice big thick slices. If the bagel in my lap were a Broadway show, that fish was Ethel Merman. It was fantastic.

But speaking of shows, I was late. I ate that bagel faster than you can say “You’ll be swell! You’ll be great!” I ran to the New York Theater Workshop (4th Street and 2nd Ave., so not terribly far) and got there just in time. And as I watched those lesbians act out their version of Oedipus, I knew deep down inside of me a happy salmon was swimming. Another jam-packed Sunday in New York.

Farmer’s Market Bounty

Some pretty pictures of the food I made this weekend after trips to the Farmer’s Market. This will be a shortly worded post (gasp! Adam write a shortly worded post?) because I really took these pictures for another project, let’s just not tell anyone I shared them here, k?

Red and Yellow Tomatoes with Basil

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Goat’s Milk Yogurt with Raspberries and Goldenrod Honey

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Spaghettini with Basil Pesto

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Actually, screw the shortly worded thing, I’d like to speak in praise of pesto. Pesto is so easy to make and perfect for your leftover basil which I had after the tomatoes. Pesto-making isn’t even cooking, it’s blending. You need a food processor. That’s it. Drop in 1/4 cup walnuts, 1/4 cup pignolis and 4 or 5 cloves of raw garlic. Pulse until it makes a paste. Add 2 cups of basil leaves packed. (About one big bunch.) Salt, pepper. Turn the processor on and then slowly drizzle in half a cup of olive oil. This is the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, I should mention that. But I don’t think she really owns the pesto-making patent. And in the summer time, nothing tastes better–believe me–than delicious skinny spaghettini strands coated in garlicky pesto. Go make some now, you monkey.

A Cendrillon Story, in which I fall in love with a chicken (PLUS: Sex Toys!)

Patty, my beloved classmate and friend, was very specific in our e-mail exchange regarding the lunch we were to have yesterday. “Someplace exciting and not too expensive,” she wrote.

Exciting and not too expensive? Where could we go?

Then an image popped into my head:

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I’d been in SoHo the other day working on a film for another website (you’ll hear about that soon) and we stopped in front of Cendrillon to shoot some footage. While we were shooting, two things happened. (1) We saw Ed Koch leaving the restaurant; and (2) I read the menu. And I was shocked to see how cheap their lunch menu was. Suddenly I remembered that Frank Bruni reviewed this place only a few weeks ago, giving it two stars. That’s Cafe Gray level at much cheaper prices. Most entrees were in the $8 range.

So Cendrillon I suggested and Patty accepted.

Bruni starts off his review saying, “In a city full of inquisitive diners ever eager for a change of pace, the Filipino restaurant Cendrillon should be attracting many more fans and much more interest than it does. It certainly shouldn’t be only about one-sixth full, as it was during the first of the many recent times I dined there, or one-fifth full, as it was the third.”

Sure enough, the lunch crowd yesterday was nil—and that’s being generous. Patty and I and one other couple were the only two tables eating in this large restaurant at 1 pm. When we left there were a few more tables, but where were all the people? If Bruni can’t make them come, who can?

Well let me make a case. This appetizer, called Lumpia, isn’t the strongest piece of evidence:

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That’s a purple yam crepe wrapped around sauteed vegetables. Two sauces on top (which we couldn’t identify) perked things up a bit and Patty and I enjoyed this, but we weren’t falling on the floor in ecstasy. (Also, I should say we only knew to order this because the one other couple there–a couple that looked like they’d been there many times–ordered the Lumpia, so we followed suit.)

Otherwise, I had “recommended dishes” from the NYT review written down on an index card in my pocket. I know that’s dorky but I was a bit apprehensive about the menu and wanted to order something I wouldn’t regret. And boy am I ever glad I had that, but first Patty and her Tilapia:

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Patty’s a pescatarian so she was limited to just a few entree choices. On the menu, this is listed as “Tilapia with Mango” but that, we learned, is like advertising “Six Feet Under” as “Family with Death.” (Actually, that pretty much describes it.) Patty’s plate was festooned with the most unusual and elaborate condiments we’d ever encounter. She’d pick little seeds up and pods and taste them and hand me one and ask me to help her identify what it was. We had no clue. And that was so fun!

But Patty’s mystery box plate is not why I recommend Cendrillon. I recommend it for one main reason and that’s this Chicken Adobo:

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I’ve never had chicken adobo and now I never want to stop. How to describe this? The most flavor you can imagine infused into a chicken happens here in this little pot. The first sign is the huge whiff of vinegar you get when they lift off the lid. That’s the major theme: tart vinegar, and then heat from peppers and then other exotic notes you can barely identify. But the chicken itself is perfect: meaty, crisp on the outside, and plenty there despite how boney it may look. After it’s gone, you’re so grateful for the white rice it comes with: now you get to soak up all that chickeny, vinegary sauce. I nominate this dish my #1 favorite chicken dish for 2005. I’ll let you know if that stands by the end of the year.

So go for the chicken and then stay for this dessert:

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It’s called “Buko Pie (Young Coconut)” and it’s pretty divine. Inside are long thick strips of coconut, cut like you’d cut fennel, that are steamed in the pie so they’re really tender. The outer crust is awesome–“This crust is so good,” said Patty–and the ice cream ties it all together.

In conclusion, I’m so glad Patty and I went to Cendrillon yesterday. It’s the sort of place that’s somewhere in your brain and but for strange circumstances reminding you of it, you may never remember that it’s there. Now that I’ve reminded you, though, please go. They deserve your patronage!

And if you’re STILL not convinced, check out this place next door:

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(That’s “Toys in Babeland” in case you can’t read it. Get it? It’s a reversal of “Babes in Toyland” but I’m sure you got that.)

Yes, it’s a sex toy shop and it’s right next to Cendrillon. So there’s a perfect evening right there: spicy, vinegary Filipino food and sex toys. Check out these food related products:

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Can’t wait to make a boy butter chocolate nipple cake! I’ll save that for next week. Meanwhile, eat at Cendrillon! You won’t regret it.

Three Cheers for Waldy’s Clam Pizza

A few weeks ago I reviewed Waldy’s and now my review is the number one result when you Google “Waldy’s.” That’s a lot of pressure. Also, perhaps because of the post’s Googleability, Waldy himself stumbled upon it and left a comment. That was exciting. Hi Waldy!

So in that last review I said I liked it but “full judgment must be reserved until I taste one of their more unusual pizzas. I’m excited for the clam one and the lamb one. Report to follow.”

Here’s that report. Check out this clam pizza:

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It was awesome! Really!

Basically, it’s their thin pizza crust, coated with creamy ricotta and sprinkled with garlicky breadcrumbs and the occassional clam. That’s my one complaint: for a clam pizza, there should’ve been more clams. But it’s understandable that if you’re going to do things fresh (and I’m pretty sure those clams were fresh) and you’re a new, high-volume pizza business you can’t give every customer a bucket’s worth of clams. And it’s ok, I really didn’t mind. Those breadcrumbs are awesome.

Plus, on my way out (I picked my pizza up) I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. They have fresh herbs on the condiment bar for you to clip on to your pizza. How novel! I likey.

So three cheers for Waldy’s Clam Pizza and stay tuned for my next Waldy’s adventure: lamb pizza.

You Can Beat These Beets, Despite My Beautiful Presentation

I went to Whole Foods yesterday with a goal in mind: Heirloom tomatoes. I knew they sold them at the farmer’s market but it was late and I knew Whole Foods (which is way closer) carried them too. So I went there with the Barefoot Contessa’s heirloom tomato salad recipe in mind (tomatoes, fennel, an orange for the vinaigrette) and arrived to find the grossest looking tomatoes ever. Now I know heirlooms can be funny looking, but these look scarred and some were split open and there were tiny bugs flitting around them. It was quite the unappetizing table.

I made an executive decision then and there to buy something else. Earlier that day, I’d had lunch with Patty (you’ll read about that shortly) so I wasn’t that hungry. I wanted something light for dinner, hence my heirloom agenda. So as I examined the produce I stumbled upon the beet section and I said to myself, “Adam, you’ve never made beets, maybe this is your moment.” I remembered that beets and goat cheese were a killer combination and I also remembered reading a recipe for beets and tarragon in some cookbook. So that’s what I bought: beets, tarragon and goat cheese.

I used the Gourmet technique for roasting beets. After having done it, I don’t recommend it, but it might be praised for its simplicty. You just wrap each beet (after trimming them) in a double layer of foil and put it on a baking sheet.

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You bake at 400 degrees for either 1 1/4 hours or 1 1/2 depending on if you can stick a knife through it or not. That was the fun part. It’s like stabbing a person because it bleeds:

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Not that I want to stab a person or anything.

After that you let them cool in the foil pouches for another half hour—the steam loosens the skin. Then you unwrap and rub with paper towels and get rid of the skin. That was pretty easy but it makes your fingers red.

Here’s what they look like all done:

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Very pretty, better than canned beets, surely. But the flavor was severly lacking. Now that I’ve read a few more recipes, I see that the beets are best coated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper before wrapped. Or other recipes have you peel them first and roast them open in a pan. Whichever technique you use, I recommend you think about flavor infusion during the roasting because it makes a difference.

So as you can see in the above pic, I chopped up some tarragon and tossed the beets (which I sliced) with olive oil, red wine vinegar, some tarragon, salt and pepper. Very nice.

Then for the goat cheese. I bought Coach Farm goat cheese because everyone’s always like, “Yo, Adam, buy Coach Farm goat cheese! It’s the best!”

That may be true but I didn’t like this kind of goat cheese. Maybe I bought a special weird kind that had a hard outer edge and a soft middle. I prefer the whole log to be creamy. But I sliced it like the beets and made this gorgeous presentation:

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At least I think it’s gorgeous. I just wish it tasted better. I mean it didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste as good as it should have. I had a baguette along with it and I was glad for that. And a glass of wine. That helped too.

Now imagine I just posted that final picture with no text, you’d think I had a winner there, wouldn’t you? Let that be our lesson for today. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

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Batali Breaks Up Orgy

Thanks to site reader Diesel for sending me this article from The New York Post. I can’t find the link to it so I’ll copy and paste it below. If this illegal, I apologize. But come on, it’s an orgy article not a dissertation on nuclear energy.

BATALI JOINT FIRES FOUR IN ORGY

AN after-hours orgy erupted at celebrity chef Mario Batali’s Bistro Du Vent last week, resulting in the firing of four staffers, PAGE SIX has learned.

The randy sex romp between an openly bisexual waitress, a male chef, a female manager and a waiter was captured on the West 42nd Street restaurant’s surveillance cameras, which feed to a monitor right next to the host’s stand.

We’re told that the oversexed staffers were boozing it up at the bar after closing when things got physical.

Our snitch, who saw the steamy surveillance footage, says the X-rated action took place “on the bar top, down to the floor, on top of the banquettes — chef on waitress, manager on waiter, waiter on waitress, all four tangled up in one bunch.”

But apparently the night porter caught a glimpse of the freaky festivities, and told the incoming dishwashers and busboys that morning on his way out. They, in turn, tattled to the waiters and waitresses, who all crowded around the host stand monitor and watched the orgy unspool, freeze-framing it at points for maximum enjoyment.

Later that afternoon, Bistro Du Vent general manager Jeremy Noye announced to his staff that four employees had been fired, adding, “That’s all I’m going to say, and we’re going to move on from here.”

When we called Noye for comment yesterday, he told us, “I’m going to let Mario handle this. I’m not in a position to make any official comment at this time.”

Batali’s assistant claimed her boss was “out of the office” and could not be reached.

Batali — the rotund, red-haired Food Network star best known for his Italian meccas Babbo, Lupa, Otto and Esca — recently opened Bistro Du Vent with partners Joe Bastianich and David Pasternack.

Last month, we reported that a waiter at the restaurant refused a tip from “Hurlyburly” actress Martha Plimpton because it was too skimpy. A source claimed at the time that Plimpton and her posse “were so embarrassed, they pulled cash out of their pockets, left it on the table and slithered out of there.”

Bistro Du Vent’s sturdy Gallic fare recently earned a two-star review from The Post’s Steve Cuozzo, who described it as “an oddly endearing venue for satisfying French bourgeois cooking in a Midtown arrondisement full of bad, bad restaurants.”

Podcast #3: The Paris Episode

Ah, Paris! Ah, Podcast!

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Today’s podcast (sorry for the delay between podcasts, they take me a long time to put together!) sweeps us across the Atlantic to the laptop of Clotilde Dosoulier of the internationally renowned why-are-you-reading-my-blog-and-not-her-blog-first website Chocolate & Zucchini. Clotilde was super-nice and super patient with me as I stammered through this interview. My interview philosophy is “no notes, no preparation” so that the conversation flows naturally (if a bit chunkily). I think that happens here while we discuss Paris, Clotilde’s city of residence. The podcast adds up to 30 minutes but it flies by rapidly. And I’m working with Typepad people on how to get this on to iTunes so stay tuned for that. As for now, simply click the link below and bon apetit! [Thanks again, Clotilde.]

Podcast #3: The Paris Episode.