joearay@gmail.com / +1 206 446 2425


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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Down at the Dutch

I’d been looking forward to dining at The Dutch for almost exactly a year. It was almost impossible to read Sam Sifton’s glowing NYT review and not want to immediately get on the subway, or a plane for that matter, and head to SoHo’s newest hotspot. The amazing Blaine Wetzel told me his dinner at The Dutch the best meal he had when he was in the city for a 48-hour chef-fest last fall, beating out his experience at a not-to-be-named Michelin three-star.

When my wife, two friends and I visited The Dutch a few weeks ago, however, I wondered if too much of chef Carmellini’s energy had been siphoned off into The Dutch in Miami, which opened last fall. So many great chefs are tempted to replicate a good thing with other restaurants or even a product line – Wolfgang Puck Vanilla Fusion Coffee, anyone? – but it’s an art form that needs to be backed with a lot of good business sense and an unflappable team.

Stacked atop The Dutch in Miami (Dutch Deux?!?!), Tribeca’s acclaimed Locanda Verde and a sausage joint in Madison Square Garden, The Dutch in New York seems to be teetering.

To set things straight from the get-go, ours was a solid dinner. “Little oyster sandwiches” lifted the whole fried oyster genre, allowing their full briny goodness to shine through in two perfect bites. Korean-style hanger steak had a sensual, sushi-like quality to it. The waiter referred to the dish I’d get – black fettuccine, octopus, rock shrimp and Calabrian chili – as “seafood everything” and, sure enough, the tentacles of perfectly-cooked squid mingled in with the dark noodles as if they’d tangled together on the tide.

But there was a lot about our meal that went pear-shaped.

When my wife asked the not-too-busy bartender if she’d let the hostess know that the other two members of our party arrived, the response was full of New York snarkiness:

“I can do that as soon as I’m finished making drinks,” she said, implying that they’d be the drinks at the end of her shift, so I did it myself.

A steamed halibut, crispy rice and mushroom-yuzu broth dish – a variation one of the signature dishes here –  was solid, but gave no indication why it had become a favorite.

Dario, our Italian friend, went big and ordered $52 bone-in New York Strip, aged for 28 days, but he waved his arms about in trademark Italian style, trying to come up with a way to describe his disappointment.

His steak, which had come all the way from Nebraska, could have done with a few more days in the cooler. There was an odd, cake-like texture – not unpleasant, but not what I want from a steak – and that ambrosial combination of concentrated flavors, tender texture and lovely nuttiness that aging a steak imparts were absent. It was solid, but not the steak-house quality that its price tag implied.

The Dutch is a beautiful spot, we had a great waiter, a fantastic sommelier and a couple of lovely desserts to boot. The space is an assembly of great moods depending on where you sit, and it’s the spot rumored to be heir to Balthazar’s throne – a place to see and be seen while soaking up all of the components of a great meal. That’s the kind of restaurant I wanted to eat in and the one I’m still sincerely hoping to visit.

The Dutch
131 Sullivan Street, Manhattan
+1 (212) 677-6200
http://www.thedutchnyc.com

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review - Prime Meats: They do that as well as anyone these days

I stretched my birthday a bit. Last Monday’s delightful diner à deux at Roberta’s is followed, a few days later, by dinner with friends.

For this, Prime Meats does not disappoint. Here, you get all the thick glasses, beards, vests and cocktails you need to know that you’re smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn. It’s a fantastic spot and with our big table for 11 at one end of wooden-paneled, high-ceiling-ed dining room, it felt like a tiny church in New England.

Tipplers in the pews, we finish our cocktails (old fashioned this time, applejack Sazerac next time), and I ask the wonderful Amy Zavatto to be in chargee of picking out a few bottles for the table. Among others, she steers us toward a fantastic 2009 Red Tail Ridge from New York State. New York reds – who knew?

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Plates arrive – an order or two of bluefish rillettes, (a clever natural for that preparation) create quite a stir, but I’m almost too happy nibbling away at smoked sweetbreads to notice. I want to share and hoard.

The real sharing comes with the mains – I share bites of my steak frites – with just about everyone and reap the benefits. Friends return the favor with crispy and moist schnitzel, juicy, taut bratwurst, and tangy homemade sauerkraut. Elisabeth has an iceberg lettuce salad with Maytag blue and bacon.

“They do that as well as anyone these days,” she says.

I look over at Amy, who, after biting into her cod, takes on the look of a parishioner at prayer and Jonathan does the same when I offer him a second bite of my New York strip. It’s crispy on the outside, with a ribbon of tasty fat on one edge, and pink happiness within.

“You know,” he says, snapping out of his trance, “you can throw all the ingredients you want in a dish, dress it up however you’d like, but that? That’s hard to beat.”

***

A quibble - It took a little while to get to our seats; Two people in our group were running rather late and, in short, the staff didn’t want to sit us until every member of the party of eleven arrived. We offered to order right away, offered to wait to order until they arrived. The staff, some polite, some a little less so, declined, but it wasn’t quite full enough in there to put up that kind of a stink. I get it if half of a party of four is missing, but how rare is it that one couple in a much larger group gets held up? It puts a good dent in the pleasure of an evening.


Prime Meats
465 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY
+1 (718) 254 0327
frankspm.com



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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Pizza and Perfection on the L Train

Cue the rock music, throw on a cool T-shirt and hop in the L train to Williamsburg – Roberta’s cures what ails you. While the possibility of a lamb dish worthy of a spot in Daniel next to a pizza might sound a bit schizophrenic, here it works just fine.

With its woodsy feel and merry, multicolored light garlands on the walls, Roberta’s, est. 2008, has a feeling of a saloon that sits not too far from the 49th parallel – one that hits full swing by 7 and stays that way till the last tippler is pushed into the Brooklyn night at closing time. I was invited by my sweetheart, Elisabeth, who’d picked up on some very strong hints on where I’d like to celebrate my birthday and we were not let down.

These guys, particularly chef Carlo Mirachi, have some serous friends in the food sourcing business. ‘Beef Carpaccio’ shows up with the marbling of something noteworthy and turns out to be Wagyu from a farm on a big, flat state out west. A drizzle of stellar olive oil creates a dreamy, one-two-three-four adagio progression between vegetal freshness, slick vegetable fat, beefy meatiness and Wagyu fat. I got as much pleasure nibbling away at it as watching Elisabeth enjoy it – something she readily encouraged.

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One plate over, tiny bay scallops with crispy bits of trout skin, Meyer lemon and poppies snuggled in a bowl, reminding me of not one but two childhood favorites – Mom’s broiled scallops, and, thanks to the poppies and the almost bread-y flavor to the broth they waded in, the frozen Pepperidge Farm rolls she’d make in the oven when I was little.

The big gun, however, was the lamb breast main course, cooked sous-vide for a long time then sizzled for a short time to create a crispy/melting combination that recalls the textures of a savory crème brulée. Nearby, a comma of yogurt, dollops of a light mint aspic and gently-braised leaves of, I believe, radicchio and Swiss chard provided punctuation marks of acidity, bitterness and a faint sweetness. Any three-star restaurant would be proud to serve the dish at three times the price.

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Next to the lamb, we’d ordered a pizza – this is a pizzeria, after all – and maybe because it was next to something so spectacular, our pie was the evening’s only relative whiff. The ‘Tracy Patty’ pie features tasty mozzarella, ricotta, lip-smacking boquerones (vinegar-drenched anchovies), garlic and savoy cabbage, but it lacked some juicy agent like tomatoes or more of that amazing olive oil to shuttle each slice it to its final home.

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No matter. Next time we go, we’ll likely try another pie. Perhaps the ‘Voltron’ – it’s got sopressata.

While some crow that the bar-like atmosphere is an odd or uncomfortable place for food this sophisticated, we could have cared less. This is the kind of spot where you want to grab good friend or three on your birthday and have one of the best nights of the year, fussiness be damned. Mirachi’s created an American doppelganger of Sicilian chef Francesco Cassarino’s wonderful Pizzeria Caravanserraglio.

On the subway and once nibbling some of Elisabeth’s fantastic birthday cake at home, we got talking about the best dishes we’d ever had. Rare are the meals that engender that sort of conversation.

“What were the tens?” Elisabeth asked, a question that brought us around the world and back to the meal still in our bellies.

Our lamb, we agreed, was a 9 ½, the scallops a scarce point and a half behind.

“What about the Wagyu carpaccio?” I asked. “A solid eight?”

She responded without hesitation.

“That was a ten.”

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Roberta’s
261 Moore St.
Brooklyn
(718) 417-1118
www.robertaspizza.com

(Editor’s note: No reservations at Roberta’s - go early or wait in line.)

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Chicken Wings With Sriracha Hot Sauce

New wing story bonus #2! You’ll have to go to DBGB to try chef Kevin Lobene’s smoked BBQ wings, but I got him to share his sriracha hot sauce recipe…

WINGS
20-30 wings, cut into flats and drumettes

SAUCE
¼ lb. (one stick) melted butter
2 cups sriracha hot sauce
½ cup honey
crushed red pepper

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

BLUE CHEESE DRESSING
2 cups sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup blue cheese crumbles
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup lemon juice
Celery & Carrots, cut into sticks.

Combine melted butter, sriracha, honey and a pinch of crushed red pepper in a saucepan and set aside.

Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Bring 1.5 qt of canola oil to 350 degrees in a wok or Dutch oven and lower wings in with a metal skimmer or strainer. Fry, stirring occasionally for 13-15 minutes.
Dry wings on a paper towel, then transfer to a metal mixing bowl.

Coat wings with hot sauce and serve in a bowl, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Serve with a side of blue cheese dressing, carrots and celery.



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Saturday, February 04, 2012

If You Go To Buffalo…

As a little bonus for my chicken wing story in The Daily, here are a few of favorite places to visit for wings in Buffalo. To avoid fights, I’ll just say here that this is neither an exhaustive list, nor a top ten, but they’re all good!

Anchor Bar
1047 Main Street
Buffalo, New York
anchorbar.com

Kelly’s Korner
2526 Delaware Ave.
(716) 877-9466

Papa Jake’s
1672 Elmwood Ave.
(716) 874-3878

Casa di Pizza
477 Elmwood Ave.
(716) 883-8200
casadipizza.com

Gabriel’s Gate
145 Allen Street
(716) 886-0602

DBGB
253 Allen St.
(716) 240-9359
dukesbohemiangrovebar.com

And when you can take no more…
Allen Street Hardware
245 Allen St.
(716) 882-8843
allenstreethardware.com



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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Paris The World Champion of Gastronomy?

That’s the question French food critic Francois Simon posed to a little panel: Nick Lander, Carlo Petrini, Ken Hom, Anissa Helou, Yumiko Inukai and…yours truly. For a recent article in Le Figaro’s magazine, Figaroscope.

Here’s my response in Version Originale…


World capital? That’s loaded question.

Twenty years – even 10 – ago, the question was bandied about for fun but we already knew the answer, but now, just using the places I know well, it’s a legitimate debate. Barcelona combines an unquenchable curiosity and solid base to keep themselves on cuisine’s front edge. Sicily combines incredible raw ingredients with solid value and New York could win on sheer numbers yet it is Paris’ equal in quality and exponentially more diverse. India is a time machine whose cuisine never ages.

Plus, in Paris, coffee is awful and the beer second rate. It’s also pricey. That said, you forget all problems instantly when the former butcher who can hold four bottles of wine in one hand and owns Le Severo puts a côte de boeuf aged 40 days under your nose. You forget it when Pierre Gagnaire boils down a great vat of red wine to make a tiny component of a sauce. You forget it when Laetitia at Le Bistro Paul Bert greets you with a smile, seats you at your favorite table and gifts you with a glass of wine and when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine doesn’t foist something you can’t afford on you. You forget it when three bottles, two glasses of Calvados and one conversation into a meal, you realize with a start that it’s 5 a.m. and you’ve been at the table for nine hours.

Undeniable world champ? Not anymore. However, the French exception still reigns. Let’s call Paris first among equals.

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



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Thursday, November 10, 2011

NEWS FLASH: EARLY CHRISTMAS IN COBBLE HILL

The Txikito gang has been doing some early Christmas shopping. Alex Raij and Eder Montero, the couple who made Chelsea a better place by opening both Txikito and El Quinto Pino, signed a lease on Monday for a new Brooklyn restaurant, La Vara, slated to open in early 2012.

Located in the spot recently vacated by the ill-fated Breuckelen restaurant at 268 Clinton St. - next to the lovely Ted & Honey Café - Raij says the cuisine will be “Spanish food seen through its Moorish and Jewish roots.”

The food will be a mix of small plates and shareable larger dishes.

“The basis will be home cooking, not the traditional ‘meat, starch, veg,’” says Raij.

Who’ll be running the line? “We will, for now,” she says.

Somewhere in there, Raij will also be having a baby.

“We did our last opening like that,” she jokes.

Why change now?


Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



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Friday, September 09, 2011

GOING NATIVE

I met Hilary Nangle, a fellow Boston Globe freelancer, Maine specialist, skier extraordinaire, and all-around good egg, at a travel writer’s conference last year. Late this summer, I sent her a pair of desperate notes:

ME:
Hi! Heading to maine w family for the afternoon. Got any snack/clam shack recs between Kittery and Ogunquit? Thanks!

This is a sort of abuse of a perk of the trade on my part, particularly when you note my timing. Yet within an hour I had a response…

HILARY:
Bob’s Clam Hut, Route 1, Kittery, tops a lot of lists of the best fried clams. If you’re craving Jamaican fare, there’s a funky takeout spot on the inland side of Route 1, in Cape Neddick, north of York. Flo’s Steamed Dogs have a legacy of their own (written about in both Gourmet and Saveur). It’s also on Route 1 in Cape Neddick (ocean side, look for a reddish-brown roadside shack, open to 3 and not a minute later). Brown’s Ice Cream, Nubble Rd, York, is wonderful, and if you want an old timey experience, stop by the Goldenrod in York Beach (makes taffy, fudge, ice cream). No culinary traveler should miss Stonewall Kitchen just off 95 on Route 1 in York (heading north, exit just before toll). In Ogunquit, Bread and Roses bakery always has wonderful treats.

We try as much as we can - Bob’s is the bomb (see photo), the Jamaican joint was closed, Flo’s was fantastic (they serve Moxie!), and Bread and Roses’ coffee (Carpe Diem) does the trick in spades.

ME:
My word, have I not even written back to say thanks? I’m such a dog. One last question - turns out we’re coming up for a lobstah story Monday & Tuesday (post hurricane, I hope!) any Freeport-area places to stay?
Grazie!
Joe

HILARY:
Grin! Freeport, you can’t beat the Harraseeket Inn (http://www.harraseeketinn.com, it’s close to everything—steps from Bean’s, outlets, shops, restaurants, and it has the best dining in Freeport (okay, new chef since I last went, so can’t guarantee that, but innkeepers are committed to excellence and have deep Maine roots.

Other good spots:
• White Cedar Inn, http://www.whitecedarinn.com (Where we ended up staying - Try the pancakes.)
• James Place Inn, http://www.jamesplaceinn.com
Those are both downtown
Just south of town, Casco Bay Inn: http://www.cascobayinn.com
And if all you want is a cheap sleep, try these tourist cabin:www.maineidyll.com

As for food, I prefer Day’s Lobster, on Route 1 on the Freeport/Yarmouth town line. Nothing fancy, but there are picnic tables on the back lawn overlooking a tidal estuary.

Other good spots in Freeport: Mediterranean Grill, Azure Cafe.
H.

All this lady does is throw strikes! Follow Maine’s self-proclaimed Travel Maven on Facebook.

Thank you, Hilary!



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Thursday, September 08, 2011

GHOST RESTAURANT

NYC - The boss is in town, looking to dine and wants to know where we should go. I almost panic. Where do you take the most-feared food critic in France? I call friends and comb over the list of places I’ve been until I remember the place I really want to try: M. Wells in Queens.

Something of a media darling, M. Wells is/was also a gastronomic UFO housed in a diner: they do what they wanted to, which is pretty admirable in my book. It received incredible raves and, since I’ve been there, one blazing, bizarre review whose subject matter I’m not touching with a ten-foot pole.

Since then, the restaurant has apparently been forced out of their Long Island City location by their landlord and, at this point, there are only rumors about it resurfacing.

When we arrive, François promises to share some of his Caesar salad with smoked herring but it disappears before I point my fork in his direction. I try ‘Bacalao Magasin’ a veritable bath of olive oil that poaches, heats or finishes carrots, shrimp, beans, peas and salt cod in a great terracotta bowl.

For our ‘Big Dish’ – menu choices here are divided into ‘big’ and ‘small’ – we try the ‘BibiM Wells,’ a seafood riff on the Korean dish, which is something of a bunt that could have been a home run with more thought given to the play of texture that make the original so good.

The night we’re there, I wish we were with a much larger group to try the big dishes, where much of the creativity appears to lie – BBQ short ribs, lamb saddle with za’atar, tahini and pomegranate molasses, chicken wonton pot-au-feu – but get a sense of the bigger game the chefs seem to be after with an escargot and bone marrow pasta dish with shallots and a red wine ‘purée’ – the mollusk cousin to octopus and bone marrow pasta. M. Wells’ snails are served right in the bone, two forms of slippery goodness bathing in the wine sauce, covered with crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs.

What is (“What was”?) most interesting at M. Wells is the idea factory the place became. Francois and I get talking about it - in Paris, you’d wonder about the chef’s motives, what they want to accomplish and, often, what their next step will be. Here, creation seems to be the whole point – there is no next step.

Brouhaha aside (please) it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.



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Monday, August 22, 2011

GARBANZO HEAVEN - A SICILIAN BID FOR THE PERFECT STREET FOOD SANDWICH

PALERMO - There are moments when I come back to this city and wonder if it isn’t the coolest place on Earth.

(This is before I’ve been here too long and the too-close buildings become too close, but till then, hoo boy.)

I cooled my heels after some field research for my WSJ gelato story, sat outside of Caffè Malavoglia, ordered a whiskey (they were out of Fernet), and slow-sipped until peckishness settled in and I realized that even on a Monday, I could roll down to the nighttime fest of the Ballarò market for a panelle sandwich.

Who would have thought that a chickpea fritter sandwich from a street vendor could be so good?

Here’s why: extra-fresh bread laden with sesame seeds, extra hot fritters, along with a shot of lemon and a spritz of salt to wake it up, all in an atmosphere that makes you feel alive.

Hoo baby. So good, I burned the roof of my mouth. Twice.
After that, as my good friend Francesco says, the shutters go down. Time for bed.

This is Joe Ray reporting from The Motherland.



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