The Family @ The Smith + Pinisi

Sunday, December 30, 2007 3comments No tags Permalink 0


My family is here!!
Which is good because mom, dad, and sister love to eat. But it’s bad at the same time because…

(pokes pudgy belly)

…we’re gonna eat lots! The other night we had a rather nice family dinner at The Smith. It’s been a while since all four of us have sat down for a meal, you know, for family bonding and catch up and stuff? :) Good memories.

The restaurant was near empty around 6pm but started to fill us just as we were leaving. We were led to a cozy booth towards the back of the restaurant where our waiter promptly filled our water glasses and set down bottles of both flat and sparking water. Both bottles were continually refilled throughout the night – even when they were still half full. The service here is beyond attentive. Friendly, but sometimes a bit too much – you get that feel the waiter is always watching your table out of the side of his eye, making sure water is full, plates are removed…borderline intrusive. But because they were so nice we cannot use the word ‘intrusive’, haha.

The bread? A simple, though forgettable baguette served at room temperature with a pat of salt dusted butter. The bread too, would continued to be replenished throughout the dinner – a rather nice gesture as bread refills typically stops coming after the food arrives.

I’m sorry the photos are so blurred. It was extremely dark inside the restaurant, and it didn’t even occur to me to use flash. I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen next time :)

My main reason for wanting to visit The Smith was for a taste of the ricotta gnocchi. Gnocchi is my favourite type of ‘pasta’ and it’s often first priority for me when it shows up on a menu. Lightly buttered in an indulgent bath of truffle cream, the gnocchi here came sixteen pieces to an order. The serving portion may not look like much at first glance, but given the richness of this dish, most diners may be content to eat eight pieces and call it day. But alas, each rounded cube was so perfectly tender, a wealth of ricotta with slightly crisp surfaces and I could not help but eat all sixteen. Perhaps it would be wiser to have split this dish with someone else and order a salad on the side. Or a pot of mussels and fries…all depends on your mood, eh? ;)

Mom went with the Lamb Schnitzel, a large tender cut of lamb enrobed in a thin parmesan crust and fried, not the least bit greasy and crisp to boot. Hidden beneath was a bounty of smashed potatoes, skin and all, which is a real plus in my opinion. The tangle of vinaigrette laced ‘salad’ was nice, though negligible – who needs salad when you got fried meat & potatoes?!

Dad’s Grilled Chicken Sausage came accompanied by, “street fair peppers, onions and potatoes.” Beautiful presentation though not awkwardly so, making the dish easy to eat. The thin twirl of sweet grilled sausage functioned as a ‘hat’ of sorts to the mound of peppers, onions and potatoes. We found the sausage to be sweeter than necessary, but the peppers were somewhat of a shock. SALTY. Someone must have drenched them in a bowl of salt before plating the dish! They were deemed inedible, just cause it hurt your mouth to eat all that salt in a single bite.

Sister was very satisfied with her burger and wolfed it down quick. She was quick to note that the fries tasted exactly like those at Kua Aina back home in Hawaii. Short cut, extremely crisp with just a few dashes of salt. A few bites of the burger on my part left me happy, but it hovered on the bland side, making me a bit reminiscent for the Spotted Pig’s Roquefort burger – now that was good stuff!

Mom, dad, and sister proclaimed they were satisfied after the meal…though dad took back his word after he saw the dismayed look on my face. “Oh! Perhaps, I will share a dessert with you.” Yay dad! The dessert menu is simple: Ice cream sundaes. Done eight different ways. The options all sound spectacular, whether you crave a ‘Pink Pussy Cat’ made from strawberry ice cream, fresh strawberries, red velvet cake, and whipped cream, or ‘Caramel & Nuts’ which includes peanut butter ice cream, peanut brittle, caramel and chocolate sauce. Even ‘The Rocket’ sounds tempting with espresso ice cream, ground espresso beans, espresso syrup, and chocolate sauce…though we might have a hard time falling asleep after that! But alas, my fate was quickly decided when I saw the ‘Bread Pudding Sundae’. And what a deal this is for only $5! A base of brioche bread pudding topped with caramel ice cream, caramelized bananas, candied walnuts, and a whizzle of rum sauce. The bread pudding itself was on the dry side (I like my puddings custardy), but with a triple scoop of caramel ice cream soaking in, what’s not to love? I could definitely see myself returning here late at night just for dessert.

Post dinner we decided to walk home because the weather was nice, and it always feels good to take a long walk after any meal. We went down 2nd Avenue, past many streets and turned left on 4th Street. I didn’t pick that street for any particular reason – we needed to turn eventually, so why not then. But as luck would have it, 4th St just happened to be the location of Pinisi! I guess my subconscious led me to turn that way…either that, or my body must have magnetic attractions to bakeries!

About 20 steps from the entrance to Pinisi, I suggested to my parents, “lets turn in here!” “Ooh, noo Kathy, no more desserts for today,” they responded. But it was too late, cause were already in. I introduced Andy to my parents – it’s always great to see him and his wife at work with the desserts, never fails to make you feel all warm and happy inside.

After ooogling all treats in the glass case we settled on slices of a flourless chocolate cake, carrot cake and eight square of rainbow cake. Andy was also so sweet to add in a last minute surprise of crème brulee! Four desserts for all four us turned out to be perfect because everyone found a favourite. My sister devoured the flourless chocolate cake so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to take a bite. Dad loved the crème brulee mainly because it was simple, creamy and not very sweet. I just wish they would give it more of a ‘crust’ – I never get shatter effect when you breaking through the ‘shells’ of the crème brulee from Pinisi.

I liked the rainbow cake the best, I’m sure a huge factor had to do with the fact that they were sooo fresh. These rainbow cakes are found at every Italian bakery in the city, but more often than not, they’re extremely dry with a chalky chocolate frosting. These were a world apart! Three layers of soft and moist almond cake separated by the thinnest smear of raspberry jam, a gloss of dark chocolate to finish, and there you go – the perfect late night or early morning tea treat.

We saved the carrot cake for the next morning, and shizzles, was it awesome straight out of the fridge with a cup of coffee! Frosting on the sweeter side, which is odd, cause the main reason I like Pinisi so much is because his baked goods tend to be less sweet than most bakeries. No matters, I hope it was just a fluke. Frosting wooes aside, the cake itself was a lovely creation, big carrot studded crumbs and not too dense or fluffy, no walnuts this time – sometimes he adds walnuts, sometime he does not. You just have to get lucky :) However my vote for the best carrot cake EVER still goes to the one found at M&I International last weekend. Jeebuzes. You really must try that carrot cake. It was crazy!

Hope you all have a great New Years weekend!

The Smith
55 3rd Ave
NY, NY 10003
(212) 420-9800

Pinisi Cafe & Bakery
128 East 4th St
NY, NY 10003
(212) 614-9079

Russsssssssian

Wednesday, December 26, 2007 10comments No tags Permalink 0

When I finally tucked myself into bed Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder: why couldn’t have been born Russian?

12/22/07, Brighton Beach, off the Q train

Hours before, when the sun was still up on the bright weekend morning, I tumbled out of bed eager to begin the day. I had a plan. I had an agenda. I was to meet Sergei in Brighton Beach. Earlier in the week, Sergei had offered to show me around his neighbourhood, a land filled with Russian markets and restaurants. Coincidentally enough, I had visited Brighton Beach for the first time just two weeks earlier. It’s not often I make the hour long trek from Manhattan, but as my first visit was quite the experience, I was excited to make a return trip.


Brighton Beach Avenue

First off, I must say a humungous THANK YOU to Sergei for spending his entire day with me. Aside from introducing me to a fantastic restaurant, an impressive selection of food, nearly every single market in the neighbourhood, a walk along the beach and a cuppa tea, he was indeed great company. Hooray! :)

For lunch, we stopped in at Ocean View Cafe, right on Brighton Beach Avenue. The menu was in both Russian and English, which makes it somewhat easier to decipher…but still, without the help of a native Russian or a good understanding of Russian food, you’d still be pretty lost. Luckily I had Sergei. Per his recommendation, I first started with a glass of compote. A mild, cherry based fruit drink made simply from boiled cherries, water and sugar. It’s not too sweet, which was the main selling point for me. Another plus was the two dozen or so soft pitted cherries at the bottom of the glass. I can imagine what a great dessert this would make if the drink (with the cherries and all) was frozen into a popsicle! After the compote, I moved on to bottles of Heineken…which to my delight, went very well with the dishes we ordered!

Soon after we arrived at the restaurant, we were joined by Sergei’s friend, and a few other friends that friend brought along. They were all Russian! And as they spoke to one another in Russian, I couldn’t help but think, gee, that’s just sooo cool! Hehe. Accents. I really like accents. All accents! Oh. Except for Chinese accents. Sigh. Haha. Yeah. Chinese accents…perhaps the least attractive of all accents. British, Australian, and now we can move Russian up to the top of the list – I like ’em all! But this is not a blog on accents, yes? So we will go back to food. After we placed our orders, the waiter brought out a basket of bread, napkins, forks and knives, all laid on top of each other. “This,” Sergei declares, “is Russian service.” Hehe. The brown bread was my favourite of the two, simple and nutty. I noticed the others ate it with smears of butter and a sprinkle of salt, so I proceeded to do the same.

There was much to pick from on the menu, and as you could imagine, I had a terrible time deciding…my eyes are much too enormous for my stomach! So instead of for just a single entree, I ordered one entree for myself, split another entree with Sergei, started with a bowl of soup, and then finished off with a few cherry varenikis. That is what you call strategic planning! Solyanka was the soup of choice, a chunky hearty creation with plenty cuts of various meats such as ham, veal and sausages. The soup had a distinct tomato flavour and a well received sour tang that I later on learned was from the addition of pickles and pickle juice. My favourite part was the abundance of big black pitted olives, which provided a welcome contrast both in terms of flavour and texture to the heavier fried meats and the broth itself. The soup was served along with slices of lemons, and a silver cup of housemade sour cream which Sergei urged me to stir into the soup. The cream melted easily like butter, turning the soup a lighter shade, thicker, and much richer in texture. From now on…sour cream must go in all my soups!

Sergei and I split the beef and mushroom crepes, which would turn out to be my favourite dish of the day. Goodness, these were amazing, I’d make a trip back here for the crepes alone! The crepes were the perfect thickness – not so delicate that they’d easily fall apart, yet not too thick as to overwhelm the dish. Crisp and lacy edges all around and a creamy savoury filling of the most wonderful sort. I’m sure there was much more than simply beef, mushrooms and cream that went into this dish, but I am sorry to report that I was too busy gobbling down the deliciousness that it was to pay attention to incorporated herbs or spices. But I will be back. And next time I’ll take notes, cause maaaannn, it was nutso. Steam rose from the innards as I sliced right through the heart of the crepe, the crisp skin giving way to a generous fill of ground beef mingled with chopped mushrooms all bathing in an earth, warming cream. This dish makes me wish winter would last forever.

I was debating between the beef stroganoff and a rabbit dish for the main entree, but Sergei made it easier by suggesting that we order both and share a bit of each. Sharing, as I have quickly come to learn, is the best way to go :) Silly you may think, why travel all the way out here for beef stroganoff? BECAUSE. IT IS SO GOOD! The meat, holy shizzles. I haven’t had too many dishes of beef stroganoff in my life, but if all of them are resemble this particular one you see above, then I should be eating more! The meat is not fork-tender per se. Not like braised beef where you poke and the just faalllll apart. But it is indeed tooth-tender. Yes. You spoon up some of the beef along with that creamy meaty sauce and a bit of the potatoes and put it all in your mouth. Smooosh. You may attempt to chew, but even before you do so the whole mass simply goes all bezerk and melt at the touch of a tooth. Yet another winter dish. This makes me really look forward to the cold days!

The stewed rabbit was equally tender. The menu said it comes with a “white sauce,” but what came on the plate was a carrot and onion studded broth based sauce made richer with cream. Oh cream, I like how it is used with great luxury in all these dishes! Oh! You can also opt to have these entrees with fried instead of mashed potatoes, but I was in a soft, moooooshy mood. Plus, I think mashed went better with the heavier sauce on the stroganoff.

By the time I tucked away my last bit of the entrees I was holybeshjeakhdals stuffed. But Russian food is so cool! And even though my tummy said, or rather, screamed, NOOOOOOOO. My eyes said YESSSSSSS. So for that day, I did my mind well and listened to my eyes. I lifted my fork with a heavy hand and great pleasure to monch monch on the cherry vareniki, ordered by Segei’s friend. Is this dessert or is it an entree? I think you can go either way. The vareniki comes with various fillings, you can go sweet or savoury, or even take a cheesy route if you so desire! These cherry stuffed dumplings were boiled and served with a sweetened cherry based sauce. All sweet, but not too sweet at once? Does that make sense? I have a feeling if this was an American dish, I’d die from a sugar high. But. Because other cultures can eat sweet and make sweet without offering diabetes and heart attack and whatnot along with the bargain, this ‘dessert’ could comp as a fulfilling meal.

And that was lunch.
That maybe accounted for 20% of what I ate that day.
I could have tried to eat everything in this neighbourhood, but rest assured, there will be many, many return visits!

After our (very filling) meal, Sergei and I parted ways with his friends and we went off to explore the markets. And holey moley was there much to explore. Our first stop was at Gold Label Gourmet Foods, just a few blocks away from the restaurant. The nice thing about this area is that all the good stuff is condensed along Brighton Beach Avenue, making it easy to navigate your way around.

The first thing that came to mind was, whoooah, sensory overload! There was tons to look every where I turned.

And everything was new, everything was exotic. And yes, there were many questions. Pastries of every size, shape and sort…

…no less than half a dozen soups. That’s hot borsch above being pour out from one huge pot to another. There was pea soup, solyanka, various vegetable soups, and hearty stews.

In the freezer section I bought packages of various varenikis, I think I’ll be retiring my staple of Chinese dumplings for a bit while I sample my way around all these Russian dumplings…

…I also made sure to get bags of cheese and beef & pork pelmenis…how can there be so much food that I’ve never even heard of?! Even as I scoured my want through the market with Sergei’s guidance, I could not help but feel that I was only scraping the lightest surface of Russian food. Surely, there must be much more to learn?

At the prepared foods counter, Sergei pointed out each and every item, giving a delicious crash course in their fried goodies. Seeing as I could only point and no order (cause the ladies behind the counter only spoke Russian), Sergei helped order a few treats: sirniki, a farmer’s cheese based pancake, and two other pancakey-esque creatures, blinchiki, one stuffed with raisins and another cherries (cherries seem to be a common theme in Russian foods!). The rectangular item on the bottom left is UNIDENTIFIED. I do not know. I took the pastries home to share with Robyn later on in ths night. We sample them all, but could not, simple could not, figure out what this was! It was bland, heavy and tasted of not much at all. I suspect these treats would be most delicious fresh out of the frying pan, but after sitting around all day the quality greatly diminishes.

Near the row of desserts, I couldn’t help but be atttacted to the very pretty, if not dainty looking display of zefirs that looked to be a cross between meringues and marshmallows. Sergei tried to explain them to me, but there really is not substitute for actually tasting it yourself. So taste we did! I ate the zefir when I met up with Robyn later on in the night and you know what? I’m not sure I like it. It was like marshmallow that didn’t quite make it’s way there. At first touch, they had the feel of a marshmallow, the bounce of one. But then I bite…and it didn’t chew. It simply broke off into two neat, albeit sticky pieces. But it didn’t have the pull I craved, the desire. It just. Was.

Sergei also pointed out a box of biezpiens, little treats much akin in taste and texture to a chilled farmers’ cheese. The cheeses are sweetened with flavours like chestnut and hazelnut, they’ve even got fruit flavours such as peach, kiwi and strawberry. The rectangles are then dipped in chocolate and eaten either straight out of the freezer or refrigerated. Like mini chocolate covered cheesecake squares…gone Russian.

Squares of cheese for dessert? I thought to myself. Oh, but oooh, that was only the beginning! Seconds after dropping the biezpiens into our basket that was growing heavier by the minute, Sergei picked out a clear plastic box. “Cheese,” he said. I looked and asked, “how do you eat this?” “With a spoon,” he replies. Hehe. I love a culture where soft raisin studded sweet cheese spooned out of a container constitutes dessert. The texture is similar to whipped cream cheese made both lighter and sweeter. But you know how you’d never eat spoonfuls of cream cheese for dessert? This you would eat. By the spoonful, by the finger swipe, and even by the toast point dip.

Wasting no time, we finished off our visit to the first market and then flew on to M&I International, a dizzying emporium of Russian food.

Cheese! + Fried!

Funny, now that I think of it, but did not really notice at the moment. The music was Russian, the voices in the air were Russian. The people were Russian. But I didn’t feel out of place for a minute. Perhaps I would have if Sergei were not there leading and explaining everything to me.

Kavass. Ingredients: water, malt, sugar, yeast, and raisins

We first passed a cooler section loaded with various brands of kvass, a fermented malt based drink. Sergei was debating between two brands, when I heard a women who brushed past us assertively declare in a quiet but confident tone, “ajdshlkjsafhsakjdhflsajdf.”

Or that’s what it sounded like to me.
She spoke in Russian.
Thank god Sergei is fluent!

It turns out that she proclaimed the drink held in his right hand to be superior. She said it was so goon in fact, that we ought to buy three! The kvass should be drunk very, very cold, like beer. It’s got just the faintest fizz with the colour of rootbeer and a near medicinal flavour. It tastes as if it should be healthy. But I doubt it is. I don’t know if I like it very much either…too ‘rooty’ tasting? Not sure if that makes sense, haha. Perhaps I should give it a second try.

We made our ways through enormous crowds of people (and you thought Sunday mornings at Costco in Hawaii was bad!!) my eyes nearly exploded from their sockets as I saw the variety of pastries and bread offered. SO MUCH TO SEE!! I could have gone the whole day without blinking my eyes if I didn’t stop to remind myself to do every once in a while.

“The pastries here are very good,” Sergei noted. Ooooh? They were?! Then off to the pastry section it was! At the top left of the busy counter, he pointed out a line of tall triangular pastries. Those he liked. Very much so. I was advised to try them. Pastry advice, of all sorts, I welcome with a very open mouth.

The pastries shatter with the cut of a knife, flaky shells breaking into a sticky meringue lined innards dotted with walnut halves and raisins. Robyn and I ate one at room temperature and another heated in the oven. Much better warm. I don’t know the name of this pastry, but it is a wonder to look at, no? I love how Russian pastries incorporate many nuts and dried fruits. Even when nuts and fruits are used in American desserts, they are most often done so with a lighter hand, placing more emphasis on the cake/dough/pastry itself. But here, the nuts and fruit compose a substantial bulk of the sweet.

We edge along the bakery counter where I eyed what I thought to be a gorgeous walnut cake…

…however it was only beautiful by sight, as the slice I purchased (top left) was both dry and extremely heavy. On the big circular ball you see was another dense, pastry of sorts. Also on the bland side, rolled in chopped nuts. The sweet was of the thick and pastry sort. It came in various shapes: logs, square and balls. As for the mysterious square on the right? Read on!

As the lady packed up my order and handed it over the counter, I gasped out loud as I saw the lady next to her cut a slice of carrot cake. IT WAS UNLIKE ANY CUTTING I HAVE EVER SEEN. You see, the carrot cake was simple, as you can tell from above. One enormous piece. No frosting. Unadorned. Simple. It was uncut when I placed my order and I didn’t give it a second thought. Stupid of me. Cause when the customer behind me ordered it, and the counter lady cut it, it was all I could do from moaning, “uuuuuughhh,” and drooling all over the floor. THE CRUST! She made the cut and the crust CRACKLED. Noooo. It CACKLED! Like a wickedly delicious laugh I could not get enough of. Crazies.

“Oooooooo,” I said to Sergei, and semi pointed.
He got my point, that was all that mattered.
And in less than a minute, I found myself with another treat in hand: one and half pounds of carrot cake.
Smiles all around!

After a brief stop at the Brighton Bazaar and many more moments of, “ooos” and “ahhhs,” and Sergei’s many patient answers to my never endings streams of “what is this?” what is that?” “omg, lets get that!!” we wound back up at his place for a hot tea, the travel channel and the most awesomest carrot cake of my life.

I am telling you.
MOST AWESOMEST.

So it turns out that the BEST CARROT CAKE OF MY LIFE was found in a Russian Supermarket. You know, really, I thought it would be in a Manhattan bakery, a hotsy totsy restaurant, perhaps at my all time favourite bakery Europane in Pasadena. But no. It was at the market. And you must trust me on this one, if nothing else. The cake was INCREDIBLE. A thin, super crisp crusty surface and innards that will blow your mind if nothing else. Thick forests of shredded carrots (not the thin shredded carrots you find in American carrot cakes, but thiiiick shredded), handfuls of walnut chunks and tons of raisins, of both the dark and golden breed. The cake itself? Incredibly moist with soft tender crumbs. Lucky for us, we purchased the cake fresh out of the oven…it still was a touch warm when savoured with tea. The best part? NO FROSTING. I love good cream cheese frosting, but good frosting is hard to come along unless you make it yourself. So until then, it is best to do without frosting. It’s all for the better. Because this cake was so splendid, so memorable, that frosting would be terribly unnecessary and just serve to do nothing but detract from the cake.

When I return, I shall have beef & mushroom crepes and a lot of carrot cake.

Rooftops in Brighton Beach, Saturday Afternoon

I left Brighton Beach early in the evening. Very full. And very content. Exhausted too. It was an eye opening day not only because I learned a great deal, also because I had excellent company! I even got to see the beach – something I did not expect to do two days before Christmas. Granted, it was not my Hawaii beaches, but it was beach nonetheless! I also came back about two pounds heavier. Oh well. All in the name of food and learning, right? ;)

When I arrived back in Manhattan, the city was dark, it was night. I sent Robyn a message, “come over, I’ve Russian snacks for you!” (or something to that extent). And we met up at my apartment an hour later to sample them all.

We also did some memorable fooding that night!
But that’ll be saved for another post :)

Oceanview Cafe
290 Brighton Beach Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 332-1900

Gold Label Gourmet Food
281 Brighton Beach Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 743-3900

M&I International Foods
249 Brighton Beach Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 615-1011

Brighton Bazaar
1007 Brighton Beach Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 769-1700

Sunday Night Bakery

Monday, December 24, 2007 11comments No tags Permalink 0

Some moments in this city leave me wondering if I’m living in a dream. Manhattan is very conducive to dreams. In a city where one travels on foot and one odd turn, one corner can lead into another world, it’s not hard to find yourself in unexpected places Actually I guess, this city can be anything you want it to be.

This Sunday was a rainy day. But a warm one. And a windy one! My hat flew away at least three times, and now it is all dirty. I will put it through the washer tomorrow. I finished up the last of holiday shopping today. Last minute, I know. The rain grew harder as the night wore on, as I shopped my way across the East Village and Union Square. And the wind! Oh boy, was it nutso. Finding myself in the West Village after dinner at Maoz, I ducked into the bakery I frequent most often in evenings, arms weighed down by shopping bags, my hair resembling a birdnest on steroids. The wind – crazy.

I wanted to pick up a jar of creamed honey for breakfast. One of the most delicious things to eat in the early mornings is a slice of toasted brioche, topped with a smother of mascarpone, honey and then a handful of berries or any fruit you have on hand. I had my eye on this particular jar of honey during my last few visits, and with my parents visiting tomorrow, I figure what better way to usher them into my tiny apartment than with a fresh jar of honey, bread, and fruits?

As I paid for the purchase, the boy I always run into at the bakery asked, “how do you feel about our chocolate cookies?” I responded, “why, I enjoy them very much.” He put the honey into a big bag and along with the jar, wrapped up two double chocolate chip cookie. Well! I had not planned on eating sweets at the moment, but how can one deny the opportunity for a fresh cookie? So I put my bags down, nabbed a copy of the Sunday New York Times and had myself a little cooking & reading party on the brown bakery bench. Such is Sunday night. The cookie, is my favourite of all the Build a Green Bakery cookies. It intensely chocolatey, near fudgey with soft moist innards, but sharp crisp edges. A little bit and the best of all worlds.

Hat down low and the Sunday business section propped up high, I admit I was more focused on the steady flow of customers popping into the bakery for post dinner sweets than I was on reading the paper. Most of them were couples or single men, or men in groups of two. Do most women not come to bakeries alone? I even saw a stoner who stopped in to ask the time. He came back 15 minutes later for a cup of coffee.

In moments when the bakery was empty the boy and I had little chats on food and the city, and the strange and wonderful people in this city. It was nice. We debated on every single pastry in the shop, the pros and cons of each cookie, the vegan muffins and the lack of music. The bakery, when no one is speaking, is eerily quiet. We talked about steaks, and cubanos, and pizza. I really craved a cubano after the sweet cookie. He mentioned the apple miso muffin as his favourite item in the bakery. I said the bakers muffin was my weakness.

Customers came and customers went. And soon I had to leave. Had to leave to go back home and tidy the apartment and wash my hat. “Hey guess what?” he says. I turn. “We have extra bakers muffin that’ll be thrown away at the end of the night if they’re not sold.” The bakery was about to close soon. So he popped two into a brown paper bag. I thanked him and smiled.

Sometimes, it is very hard not to smile.

The bakers muffin is perfect as far as I’m concerned. I loves sweets that are not sweet, hence my affection for croissants and brioche. So this treat. It is a ‘muffin’ only by shape. It is a croissant by all other names. Bits of croissant dough torn, a la ‘monkey bread’, layered with walnuts and raisins into a muffin tin. Baked up high till the top surface is wonderfully golden with buttery edges that crumble upon bites. A dash of powdered sugar for the faintest touch of sweet.

We shook hands and I left. It was no longer raining out, and I daresay, the night was quite warm. I walked slowly to the subway station, taking my time, because tomorrow is Christmas and there is no reason to rush. I passed brownstones that I’ve owned in dreams and restaurants where content expressions, glasses of wines and perfect lighting all meet for an evening.

And then I ate the entire bakers muffin on the subway ride home.

Build a Green Bakery
175 7th Ave
NY, NY 10014
(646) 722-6570

Currently…

Friday, December 21, 2007 9comments No tags Permalink 0

…slumped over the desk at my audit work room on the corner of 46th & Park. Everyone in the city who is from Hawaii has gone. To the warm. To the, sob, beach. To the Ala Moana Food Court. Waialae Avenue. Okazuyas.

I miss. Driving home to the Manoa Valley. Andy’s sandwiches. My grandma. Okoshi. The Kahala Mall Long’s. Bentos. Lunch with my mom. Bank of Hawaii. Curry House. Ani’s Sweetbread. Peaceful mornings alone with chow funn. Taro Rolls. The bestest bread pudding in the world. KCC Farmers market. Chinatown. Ohta Wafers. Bughughuhgu. I even miss the H1 Freeway. And the long Kapiolani Blvd exit off-ramp. One char siu bao, please.

Currently: reading Ono Kine Grindz. reading The Tasty Island.

About ready: to burst into tears.

Please: take me hooooooome to Hawaii :(

Bone Marrow, Sweetbreads, Duck Confit…and Dessert!

Friday, December 21, 2007 8comments No tags Permalink 0

In terms of food posting schedule on this blog, I am very far behind. Meals from October, August, and even some from summer in Hawaii sit the ‘Pictures’ file of my computer, patiently waiting its’ turn. The thing is, there’s just so much wonderful food and many adventures, stories waiting to be told. But. There is never enough time. So I’ll do the best I can, because each one of these meals, shared with friends or enjoyed on my own, are surely worth recounting.

Bread Basket #1

A few weeks back I had dinner at one my all time favourite restaurants in the city, Blue Ribbon Bakery. There are many reasons why I love this restaurant. Off the top of head: the bread basket, the bread in general, the bone marrow, the bread pudding, the cozy (though not cramped) seating, the huge bakery area downstairs. And the cute waiters. That is always a plus.

Robyn and I were the last of our party of six to arrive and the bread basket had already graced the table by the time we were seated. What else could we do but dig in? hehe. The bread here is spectacular, and there’s so much variety. Robyn and Justin were particularly enamoured with a simple white bread with the craziest golden crackly crust. There was a cheesy bread. And a tomatoey one. Many others but I can’t remember. Too much too sample. Not enough brain cells to think. I’ll just enjoy.

Bread Basket #2

On my way to the washroom I passed by the gigantic bread baking area, in full action during the dinner hours. Oven fresh loves popping out here and there, billowing rounds of dough. And the smell! Oh! Wonderful! And then out of the corner of my eye I spotted CHALLAH. Oh goodness, I love challah! It’s my third favourite bread, coming in close after brioche and baguette. I mentioned the challah to Justin upon returning to the table, and being the gentleman he is, he asked the waiter to include challah in our next round of bread. Yay! So you see, that is challah to the right. Little did I know there would be more challah to come during dinner…

I knew what I wanted to order far in advance. Bone Marrow. I am obsessed with bone marrow. And you should be too :) The dish is listed on the menu as an appetizer, but after all the bread consumed from the overflowing baskets, and all the bread that comes with the dish, you could easily call it a meal. Bone marrow is like, ahhhhh, magic! Meaty, buttery, near custard-esque in texture. It’s quite ugly looking – the actual marrow innards themselves, but it feels rather lovely in your mouth. It’s a fatty and salty grey blob, somewhat akin to booooogers (hehe), only infinite times tastier. Especially with a spoonful of the red wine reduction and a sprinkle of salt on challah. Wait! Did I just say more CHALLAH? Yes, yes!!!

And just like I promised, more challah! Five, thick cut, grilled slices to be exact. I actually buttered a few of slices before topping it with the marrow, red wine reduction and salt. Buttah. Is amazing. Three hunks of bone marrow may not look like much, but you’ll be exhausted from all that digging (it’s hard to get all the marrow out you know??), and surprisingly full.

Here’s the whole set laid out just for your eyes!

Robyn has this crazy infatuation with duck confit, a result of her semester in Paris. Some people come back from other countries with a fine appreciation for art, others for culture. Robyn comes back with a love of duck confit and macarons. How could we not get along? ;) Want to know what she thought of the confit? Click HERE!

Justin continued his day of innards eating (he had pancetta & calf’s liver for lunch) with a dinner of crisp fried sweetbreads. Accompanied by warm grilled onion compote and a fennel & herb salad, it was the ideal winter meal. Lucky for Justin, he was seated closest to the bread basket, which allowed him to compose a meal of warm bread, butter, and sweetbreads. Sweetbread, as you must know, are amazing. I love meat, but I don’t like chewing as much. I must say, I am a lazy eater. I love soft plushy foods. I love foods that crunch, and pop. But chew? Too much effort when there are many other options. Robyn said it best when she declared sweetbreads to be,

“like light meaty fat with a fine crust. And I mean meaty fat, not fatty meat. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you best go find yourself some sweetbreads, for they are HEAVENLY BLOBS OF GLANDULAR MATTER!”

Hehe.

Steph was still full from the enormous burger we had at Spotted Pig just hours before and took a slightly healthier route with the Vegetable & Saffron rice plate. Look at all those colours, quite the balanced meal, no? ;)

Shann took a different route and composed her meal from two appetizers. We all partook in her escargots, or rather, the little pools of hot garlicky butter. All the bread was put to good use as we soaked up every last bit of that indulgently savoury fattiness. Nothing. Goes to waste.

She also had a side of roasted red pepper & tomato crostini. I figure you really cannot go wrong with any dish that involves bread at this restaurant!

I think this makes it the 8th slice of Pinisi’s red velvet I’ve had this fall? hehe.

Post dinner we strolled up to Billy’s Bakery, only to sadly discover that they had closed for the day! :( So we parted with Robyn who headed back home and walked over a few blocks east to meet up with Marie. We then took the subway back down to the East Village and shared a few treats at Pinisi on 4th Street.

Andy had a few treats up his sleeve that evening, and excited to meet all “your friends from Hawaii,” he welcomed us in and dished out plates of chocolate mousse & pears in phyllo along with…

…frangipane berry tarts. It’s an understatement to say that I simply feel welcomed at the bakery. It feels more like home. The best sort of smelling home, hot rugelach coming from the oven, buttery danishes in the morning. The coziest sort of home, shelves of cream cheese muffins, chocolate pound cake and cases filled with apple pie and strawberry tiramisu. And of course, the friendliest sort of home. That’s last part is probably more important than the food itself. You can duck in the bakery on a snowy day, after a late night of work, and no matter the mood, the time, the weather, once you enter, it’s an everlasting state of bliss.

And so you see. NEVER call it day without dessert!

Happy Friday everyone!

Blue Ribbon Bakery
33 Downing St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 337-0404

Pinisi Cafe & Bakery
128 East 4th St
NY, NY 10003
(212) 614-9079