Monday, September 28, 2009

Poll of the Week - 9.28.2009

This weekend, I had the great fortune to see a good friend of mine start a new life with her husband, a wonderful man who’s been known to leave comments here on Little Scarlet! It was a beautiful wedding, with dancing, drinking, general merriment, and (naturally) amazing food!

In honor of the happy couple, this week's “Poll of the Week” asks what is your favorite hors d’œuvre?

Congratulations to Meghan and Brian!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shrimp & Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Gumbo is a Creole stew from Louisiana, which takes advantage of the “Holy Trinity” of Southern cooking - celery, bell peppers, and onions. Traditional gumbos typically incorporate some type of poultry, smoked pork, and shellfish, but this recipe only calls for shrimp and andouille sausage, and is thickened with okra instead of a dark roux. This gumbo has a noticeably greater concentration of vegetables than most others, but this is strictly a matter of personal preference. You can play around with the proportions as much as you like - if you like the way it smells, that’s a good indication that you’re on the right track!

1 lb okra
2 tbsp olive oil
8 oz andouille sausage
20 oz canned whole, peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
½ cup chopped celery
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2-3 bay leaves
2 tbsp chopped jalapeno
12 oz vegetable stock
1 lb medium shrimp
1-2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
  1. Wash the okra; trim the stems and tips and cut into ¼” rounds.
  2. Heat olive in a large pot, over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and stir often, to render out the fat, for about 5 minutes. Add the okra, stirring constantly, for 10-12 minutes, or until most of the slime is gone.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes (including their juice), onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Stir for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and the okra slime has completely disappeared. Add the salt, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, jalapeño, and vegetable stock.
  4. Season the shrimp in a separate bowl with a generous coating of Old Bay. Reduce heat to medium, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve over long-grained, white rice, with a few liberal splashes of Frank’s for extra heat.

Poll of the Week - 9.21.2009

If you’ve been reading along with Little Scarlet, you know about my failed attempts at key lime pie. Finally, with the help of a store-bought graham cracker crust (so much for my vision of a dark, gingersnap crust), I was able to come up with something half-way decent this weekend, although I wish it had been more tart and less sweet. Maybe it’s because key limes make me think of the South, but mid-way through my second piece, I found myself craving the red beans and rice that my mom makes. Obviously, this got me craving all of the Southern foods I was able to indulge in while at school in Virginia - and brings us to this week’s “Poll of the Week”!

What’s your favorite Southern food? If I’ve made any sinful omissions (I realize now that pecan pie isn't on here!), please tell me about your own personal favorite in the “Comments” section.

And if this “Poll of the Week” has you feeling inspired, make sure you check back later tonight for my gumbo recipe!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pearl Oyster Bar - Cornelia St & W4th St

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St.

I love going to Pearl Oyster Bar - this weekend marked the fourth time I’ve been back in a year, and each visit is as delightful as the first. Pearl Oyster Bar has all the rustic charm of the Maine coast (where owner and chef Rebecca Charles grew up), but with a dash of polish, courtesy of Manhattan chicness. The long, marble bar and cream- and gray-painted walls evoke the inside of an oyster shell, while touches like old photographs, a hand-lettered sign above the bar, and the daily specials marked on a blackboard conjure up memories of your favorite New England lobster shack. Pearl Oyster Bar doesn’t take reservations (and isn’t open on Sundays), but if you’re willing to sit at the counter, the wait isn’t usually more than half-an-hour.

In all my visits, I don't think I've ever had a bad meal here. The chowder is thick and full of heavy cream, sweet clams, and smoky bacon; scallops and whole grilled fish are well-seasoned and cooked perfectly; and the bouillabaisse is spot-on, full of plump mussels, clams that taste like the ocean, and a succulent lobster tail, all swimming in sweet, salty lobster stock. The two stand-out dishes here, though, are the fried oysters and the lobster roll - without question.

Six to a serving, the big, plump oysters are dipped in batter and fried, then served on a layer of tartar sauce on the half shell, with lemon wedges on the side. I don't like tartar sauce, but something about Pearl Oyster Bar's combination of mayonnaise, scallions, red onions, and chopped pickles makes me want to lick the shells clean! The batter is light, and you’re still able to taste the oyster’s brisk, ocean flavor, even through the other competing flavors and ingredients.

Lobster rolls are a long-standing summer tradition, particularly on the rocky coasts of New England. Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll is one I crave in all seasons, though - large, sweet hunks of tender, pink tail meat are gorgeously piled high on a top-split, toasted, buttered roll. Charles uses a small amount of mayonnaise, along with finely chopped celery, lemon juice, and chives, but the mayonnaise-to-lobster ratio is still high enough to put your napkin to good use. The lobster roll is served alongside a mountain of shoestring fries, which are hot, salty, and begging for malt vinegar.

The incredible delight and satisfaction that comes from devouring one of Charles’s lobster rolls is perfect for any occasion. Finally got that promotion? Trying to shake off a bad date? I can think of no greater indulgence or consolation than an evening at Pearl Oyster Bar. And if you’re lucky enough to still have room for dessert, the lemon-scented blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream is enough to make Manhattan traffic sound like a foghorn sounding off the coast of Maine.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tahini/Edna's Falafel Shop - St. Mark’s Place & 3rd Ave

Tahini/Edna’s Falafel Shop
23 3rd Ave

What’s the name of this place?  Is it “Tahini”? “Edna’s Falafel Shop”?

This East Village falafel place seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis, but it still serves a pretty good falafel sandwich. The halal cart near my office sells falafel sandwiches for $3, making Tahini’s (Edna’s?) $5 price tag seem a little steep, but Tahini’s does do it better. The pita is warm and the falafel is bright green when you bite into it. The vegetables taste fresh and crisp and come with an assorted choice of sauces, none of which are labeled, so I’ll just call them yellow, green, “spicy”, and white (tzatziki, I assume).

The chicken kabob pita sandwich is also quite good, although it’s a bit of a misnomer since the chicken does not come from a kabob, but is shaved off a tall, vertical spit, like the ones used for gyros. The chicken was tender and surprisingly flavorful, tasting almost Indian with spices like cardamom and turmeric. This is also served with chopped vegetables and in the same warm pita as the falafel.

St. Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenue is full of falafel joints - some boast $1 falafel, others look like a front for more illicit (and probably illegal) behavior, but Tahini stands out to me - it’s clean and fresh, with good, filling food.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Calexico Cart - Wooster St & Prince St

Calexico Cart
*** (for what it is)
NW Corner of Wooster St & Prince St
(see also: Broadway St & Broome St)

The Calexico Cart has built up a huge cult following over the years, earning the 2008 Vendy Award for best “sidewalk chef” in New York City. New York is not exactly known for its Mexican food, but Calexico serves tacos, burritos, and rolled-up quesadillas with a California-Mexico flair (get it? Cal-exico??), and is rumored to be the closest you can get to really great Mexican food in the US, outside of the California/Texas area. One of my friends at work is from Texas and is a huge Mexican food snob (and rightfully so, it’s pretty amazing out there), so we got a crew together during lunch to visit their Wooster & Prince location, to see if Calexico lives up to the hype.

Burrito bowl: rice, beans, carne asada (hiding under the rice), pico de gallo, avocado crema – also comes with a wedge of lime, and more cheese than the regular burrito. If the burritos had everything that the burrito bowls do, that would have helped make them as “AMAZING” as I’d heard they would be.

The burrito is supposed to come with beans, rice, and steak, along with pico de gallo and avocado crema, but none of our burritos actually had any pico de gallo in them. I didn’t happen to get any steak in my first burrito bite, just average-tasting rice and slightly overcooked beans, so I was starting to get nervous that this burrito was no better than what you’d find at the Chipotle down the street. And then I had a bite of the steak.

Calexico’s carne asada is the most amazing hanger steak I’ve ever been served, outside of prestigious restaurants like L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Just to be clear, a street vendor like Calexico can’t compare at all to a Michelin-starred restaurant like L’Atelier, but all too often, nice restaurants will serve hanger steak as a tough, stringy mess - which makes Calexico’s great steak that much more impressive, since its prepared on the street by a couple of Cali-hipsters.

The burrito is littered throughout with tender chunks of wonderfully seasoned steak - delicately spicy, and with a subtle heat that lingers afterward. If you like a little more spice, they have to-go packets of Cholula hot sauce, which can be washed down with a Jarrito’s soda (watermelon, lemon-lime, or mandarin orange).

The pork and chicken are also great choices, but with carne asada this good, I wouldn’t waste my time on anything else. Calexico Cart has earned a new place in my lunchtime rotation!

Click here for full cart menu; burritos only are served at the Broadway & Broome location.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Poll of the Week - 9.14.2009

As Little Scarlet mentioned earlier, NY Craft Beer Week has officially started! In honor of this celebration of craft beers and their brewers, this week’s “Poll of the Week” is dedicated to the craft brewers of New York City, and the surrounding area (Long Island, we're looking at you!).

What's your favorite New York brewer?

Are you planning to participate in NY Craft Beer Week? Any particular brew on your “must try” list? Little Scarlet wants to hear all about it!

Additional information on NY Craft Beer Week can be found here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NY Craft Beer Week

NY Craft Beer Week (September 11-20, 2009)
$$ (Passport, $35 + $2/beer - 20 beers for $75!)

2009 marks the second annual NY Craft Beer Week, a celebration of 162 craft beers from New York City and beyond - 71 breweries from 19 states! NY Craft Beer Week is great because all of these wonderful beers that can usually only be bought in special beer stores are available for mass consumption at your favorite local bar. 83 bars throughout New York’s five boroughs will be participating in NY Craft Beer 2009, and the best way to take advantage of this week is the “passport” - for $35, any of the 162 craft beers served can be purchased for just $2, along with a few other additional perks. This is a huge discount over New York’s regular, pricey drinks - only seven drinks over a week-and-a-half will have you break even!

The NY Craft Beer Week starts with the Gotham Cask Festival, but make sure you check out the website for a full list of events happening this week:

Gotham Cask Festival (September 11-13, 2009)
$$ ($20 buys about 6 half-pints of cask-conditioned beer)

The Gotham Cask Festival was this past weekend, but it’s a recurring part of NY Craft Beer Week and is a definite must if you love beer, want to learn more about it, or just like drinking things that taste good with people who are excited about them! Over the course of three days, over 60 kinds of cask-conditioned beer are served at three different bars - Swift Hibernian Lounge, Rattle 'n' Hum, and Jimmy’s No. 43.

This weekend, Jimmy’s, for instance, served 18 different firkins of ale, served in one of their anterior rooms where private tastings happen (admission - $20). Cask-conditioned ale is often called “real ale” - this unfiltered, unpasteurized beer is naturally carbonated by secondary fermentation. By definition, no additional carbonation is used to push these beers through their taps, like you would normally find in a regular bar; the casks at Jimmy’s use gravity to dispense beer through a tap hammered into the casks’ front. Also, cask-conditioned beer is meant to be served cool, but not chilled, at a temperature around 55° F. These two elements make the beer taste “warmer” and “flatter” than what most people are used to - that sounds pretty gross, but it actually tastes terrific. And it’s a great thing because it lets you notice all of the flavors that would be overlooked when you can only notice the cold bubbles.

The cask-conditioned beers are served as half- or full-pints. If you’re feeling ambitious, I’d recommend taking a group to one bar each night and getting enough half-pints so that you and your friends can taste them all (click “Read More” for a list of beers featured at Jimmy’s No. 43).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Momofuku Noodle Bar - 11th St & 1st Ave

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave

This weekend, Little Scarlet posted a loving review of Ippudo. It’s hard to think of Ippudo, though, without drawing comparisons to its East Village neighbor and competitor, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Chef Morimoto may have ranked Momofuku higher by a single point - swayed in large part by David Chang’s personally serving Iron Chef Morimoto - but what kind of experience can the average ramen eater expect? It’s only fair that Little Scarlet revisit Momofuku Noodle Bar, so read on for the results of the competition!

Both ramen houses have lauded menus, full of successful, delicious items, but the real stand-outs at both are steamed pork buns and ramen:

Steamed pork buns
Both pork buns have the same steamed, white bun folded in half around slices of fat-laden pork belly, crisp vegetables, and Asian-flavored sauce. The bun is softer and lighter at Ippudo, and their pork seems to be fattier, and therefore more tender. Ippudo has a spicier, creamier sauce that makes a kind of slaw out of the iceberg lettuce and cabbage beneath it, but I prefer Momofuku’s sweeter hoisin sauce, with its raw cucumbers and finely diced scallion rings.
Winner:      Tie
Both pork buns are amazingly good with no clear winner, so it's up to personal preference to determine the “superior” bun.

Ramen (Momofuku Ramen vs. Akamaru Shin Classic ramen)
There are no additional toppings to order at Momofuku, but with piles of scallions, sliced radishes, bamboo shoots, both sliced pork belly and braised pork shoulder, and a perfectly poached egg, there isn't need for much more! One poke of a chopstick sends the egg's beautiful, sunny yolk oozing out over curled, squiggly noodles - much like bibimbap, these toppings are meant to be mixed on your own, at the table.
Winner:      Ippudo
The Momofuku Ramen gets extra depth and richness from the two cuts of pork, while Ippudo’s ramen is cleaner, flavored by the combination of ginger, miso, red-pepper paste, and sesame oil. Maybe it's the aphrodisiacal quality of Ippudo’s braised pork belly, but Ippudo’s Akamaru Shin ramen ranks ahead - but only by one point!

Ippudo's energetic attitude, shared tables, and “split-sofa” chairs make for a fun, cozy date night; all of Momofuku's chairs are backless (not the best for the geriatric crowd), but sitting at the counter is exciting, like dinner and a show!

Little Scarlet would sooner revisit Ippudo than Momofuku Noodle Bar, but it's such close competition, you should really taste for yourself - and then come back here and comment!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Poll of the Week - 9.7.2009

Last week's “Poll of the Week” focused on things to love about the kitchen, so to keep the scales even, this week is going to focus on things to hate about the kitchen. Faulty equipment, ovens that heat unevenly, and kitchens that morph into saunas all rank high on my list, but nothing gets under my skin and agitates me more than certain hard-to-clean items.

Which of the following kitchen tools do you hate cleaning the most?

I've left major kitchen appliances (refrigerators, ovens, etc.) off this list, as well as awful baked-on disasters, but please use the comment section as a place to vent about any kind of kitchen annoyance!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ippudo - 10th St & 4th Ave

65 4th Ave

Last October, famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto listed the top five ramen joints in the East Village, and Ippudo came in second only to David Chang's revered Momofuku Noodle Bar - by 1 point out of 20. I’d been to Momofuku Noodle Bar once before and loved it, so when Scott was craving udon noodle soup, I convinced him to try the ramen at Ippudo, instead.

Ippudo doesn't take reservations, so the wait can be pretty long - at 10 pm on a Friday, we still had a 30-minute wait. We killed time having a drink at the bar, which offers mostly sake, shochu (Sake cocktails), and Asian beer. I had a Cherry Blossom, which is plum wine, Campari, and white grapefruit juice - it was delicious and really interesting! It truly tasted of sweet plums, but the grapefruit juice’s tartness kept the sweetness from being overpowering.

The restaurant itself is fun and energetic, with a waitstaff to match. There are some private booths in the back, but I recommend sitting at one of the two large tables in the center of the room. These tables have giant pits cut out of the center, which are painted blood-red and filled with charred driftwood and candles. The chairs surrounding these tables are like small, love seat sofas cut down the middle. Each chair has a back and an arm on one side, so that two chairs pushed together make up one unit – it’s fun and cozy, but you need to like the person you're out with!

Everything we tried here was amazing! The hirata buns (steamed pork buns) are slices of very tender, delicately spiced pork with just enough fat to truly melt in your mouth. Topped with chopped iceberg lettuce and a mildly spicy sauce, the whole creation is cradled in the folds of a pillowy, steamed bun. The real show-stoppers here, though, are the ramen dishes, and Ippudo offers additional ramen toppings, like hard-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and braised pork belly.

Left: Akamaru Moden ramen; Right: Shiromaru Hakata Classic ramen (click to enlarge). Both ramens are featured with an additional order of braised pork belly.

The braised pork belly is so amazing that I could never come back to Ippudo without ordering it. It’s plump and fatty, and really picks up extra salty flavor from the ramen broth. It pulls apart sensually in your mouth into tender bits of fat and meat that burst with flavor as they dissolve on your tongue.

With the pork belly added to it, the Akamaru ramen is just unbelievably good. The noodles are thin and al dente, and the broth is so silky and smooth, it's… almost creamy, but without any dairy. The red-pepper paste, sesame oil, and scallions mix together beautifully, and the more you eat, the more you're able to notice the subtle ginger notes. But the pork belly... it's truly worth mentioning again how good it is - having had it, I now can't imagine any ramen without it!

If you’re really hungry and don’t think that a huge bowl of ramen is enough food, you can ask for “Kae-Dama” – if you time it properly and finish your noodles about halfway through your soup, you can ask for an extra order of noodles to finish off the broth. I couldn't possibly eat two orders of noodles without hurting myself, but Ippudo is so good, I want to try!

I'd need to go back to Momofuku to double-check, but I think the pork buns and the ramen are better at Ippudo - it’s a fantastic meal, and I can't wait to go back! If only they could do something about the 90-minute wait during the dinner rush…