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The Underground Gourmet

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Introducing the ‘Gastroteca’

Even in the dead of winter, good new things keep happening to New York City. The Underground Gourmet giddily points out a new wine bar, Gottino, that is outpacing its panini-packing rivals. The Insatiable Critic found a new, urbane restaurant in Dovetail and loves the Sunday prix fixe. Among this week's openings, Periyali adds a midtown sister in Persephone, giving the city another blue-chip Greek restaurant. Ah, New York: Even our lean seasons have their harvests.

Steve Schirripa Has No Problem With Little Italy, Steaks

Steve Schirripa
In his new cable cooking show, Steve Schirripa’s Hungry (Lifeskool network, debuting December 6), Uncle June’s faithful manservant Bobby Baccalieri tours his favorite New York Italian kitchens and takes some sauce-splattered pointers from pals like Rao’s Frank Pellegrino and Peasant’s Frank De Carlo. Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld asked the man Tony Soprano immortalized as a “calzone with legs” to expound on his favorite pastime — eating on and off the set. There are a lot of cooking shows out there these days. What distinguishes yours from the competition? This is a real guy going into a real kitchen; I think after you watch this, you’re really going to learn how to make the meatballs from Rao’s. It’s a combination of talking, comedy, and how-to. Who does the cooking at home? My wife; I eat, she cooks. Which is why I’m doing this new show. They’re teaching me how to cook. In one episode, you spotlight the Mulberry Street restaurant Il Cortile. Do you think that Little Italy gets a bad rap? I think it does. First of all, it’s a lot of fun down there. There’s a lot of tourists, but Il Cortile is as good an Italian restaurant as any in the city.

Sandwich of the Week: The Cheesesteak

cheesesteaks
Waitrose Food Illustrated, the British magazine put out by the Waitrose supermarket chain, recently listed its “100 Greatest Moments in Food,” and, initially at least, the Underground Gourmet along with the gluttonous staff at Sandwich of the Week couldn’t have been more pleased had someone sent them a six-foot hoagie. Coming in at No. 2 on the list, you see, right after the harnessing of fire for cooking purposes, was John (4th Earl of Sandwich) Montagu’s invention of the sandwich.

Women Chefs Take the Reins in This Week’s Issue

“It’s a man’s man’s man’s world,” James Brown once sang. Was it the official anthem of the restaurant world? Sometimes it seems like that, but this week’s issue has eight reasons to the contrary. The names of the first seven are April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig), Rebecca Charles (Pearl Oyster Bar), Alex Guarnaschelli (Butter), Sara Jenkins (formerly of 50 Carmine), Anita Lo (Annisa), Jody Williams (Morandi), and Patricia Yeo (formerly of Monkey Bar and Sapa). All talked about a woman’s place in the kitchen in a special New York forum. The eighth reason? Alex Raij, whose new tapas restaurant, El Quinto Pino, gets three stars from the Underground Gourmet. All this, and a recipe for pan-roasted chicken (plus a video!), come at you in this week’s issue of New York. A Woman’s Place? Small Is Beautiful In Season: Pasture Raised Chicken [NYM]

The Cutest Sea-Urchin-Egg Sandwich Ever at El Quinto Pino

Uni Panini
There is no end to what you can shove between two slices of bread and call a sandwich, and that, of course, is the beauty of the thing. But is everything edible suitable sandwich material? That was the point brought up for debate the other night at El Quinto Pino, the new taperia from the Tía Pol folks, where the UG tucked into a ficelle smeared with rich blobs of sea-urchin roe. Oddly, the sandwich in question was listed on the otherwise all-Spanish chalkboard menu as an “uni panini.” It came swaddled in a wax-paper jacket like a Danny Meyer Shackburger, still warm from a gentle turn in the sandwich press and smeared with butter flavored with a zingy Korean mustard oil. And although it was only about the size of a Tootsie Roll and the UG could have finished it off in a bite and a half, it was the kind of toothsome tidbit you want to savor slowly.

Sandwich of the Week: The Pavarotti at Alidoro

Pavarotti
When an international celebrity of Luciano Pavarotti’s magnitude dies, it’s only to be expected that there will soon follow a flood of posthumous recordings. But what to make of the posthumous hoagie? That was the question on the Underground Gourmet’s mind after the Golden Tenor had taken his final bow, and Walter Momente, the owner of the Soho sandwich shop Alidoro, had decided that a fitting tribute to the opera superstar would be to meticulously layer salami, smoked mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and sweet peppers into a titanic semolina loaf and call it the Pavarotti. “We had to do something for him,” says Italian-born Momente. “Besides, I am a huge soccer fan, and before he became a singer, Pavarotti was a very good professional soccer player.”

Where to Shop Like a Chef

Market Table
The current issue of New York features a command performance by Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld. Their extensive guide to the new trend of food markets spun off from restaurants belongs on every New Yorker's refrigerator door — these stores are "stocked with the precision and artistry of museum curators." And in their guise as the Underground Gourmet, they introduce us to a former art-supply store now serving what the Robs say is some of the best Mexican food in Brooklyn. Something tells us Dumbo General Store is going to be packed this week.

Cheap Eats est Arrivé!

The annual Cheap Eats issue arrives this week and represents, as usual, a massive compendium of low-end gastronomic wisdom. The Underground Gourmet round up some of the city’s very best cheap eats in the main section, but Adam Platt also weighs in on what passes for cheap in the city’s high-end places, some top chefs give their own picks, and three of the city’s greenmarket specialists vie to outdo each other not just in locavorism but also in “cheapavorism.” Add to that laser-focused profiles on burgers, barbecue, and Korean fried chicken, and you have a Cheap Eats supplement to put all others to shame.

Tuscan Square’s Meatball Maven Gets His Say — and Sandwich of the Week

If you saw Page Six last Thursday, you know that there may be a vast meatball conspiracy upon us. A quick recap of the item: Restaurateur Pino Luongo yields to no one in his devotion to the study and the making of meatballs, and along with Coco Pazzo chef Mark Strausman, he is feverishly scribbling a manuscript entitled Two Meatballs in the Italian Kitchen. Yet Luongo was ignominiously left out of an article by the Lee brothers in the Times’s Dining Section entitled “The Expanding Meatball Universe,” which traced the not-so-recent popularity of the things to the giant beef-veal-and-pork orbs made by Ápizz chef-owner John LaFemina (author of A Man and His Meatballs). Luongo smelled a rotten polpetta.

Taco Mix’s Torta Cubana May Be Overstuffed, But It’s Also Sandwich of the Week

A good sandwich is a balanced sandwich. This, as any faithful reader of the Underground Gourmet's sandwich dispatches can tell you, goes without saying. Good sandwich-making requires not only skill but also a delicate touch. Frantically stuffing a sandwich the way cartoon bank robbers cram bills into sacks emblazoned with $$$ symbols is considered bad form among the sandwich elite, and emblematic of what is wrong, culinarily and nutritionally, with our Supersize Nation. As Mario Batali once explained to the UG in between dainty bites of a toasted panino, “The American tendency is to obfuscate the perfect simplicity of the sandwich by putting too much crap in it.” Despite prevailing carbophobic biases and the legacy of a certain diet doctor, Batali asserted, “The bread is the main event. There shouldn't be more stuff inside than outside.”

Sandwich of the Week: The No Mayo Tuna Sandwich at Henri Bendel of All Places

Eating for a living takes the Underground Gourmet to all sorts of strange and mysterious places — the Upper West Side, for instance — but none more sinisterly exotic than the typical department-store café. As anyone who’s ever lunched on frozen yogurt and cantaloupe at Bloomingdale’s Forty Carrots or nibbled miniature quiche at the American Girl Cafe can attest, these shopaholic fuel stations are not the manliest places to tie on the noonday feedbag. So how the UG found himself ensconced at a petite table at Henri Bendel’s new third-floor Chocolate Bar the other day, God and Ms. UG only know.

The Underground Gourmet Taps Pig’s Ass As Sandwich of the Week

Three words the Underground Gourmet never imagined he’d hear bandied about in a nice, respectable restaurant: Pig’s Ass Sandwich. And yet, there he was the other night at the brand-new Casellula Cheese & Wine Café surrounded by otherwise upstanding citizens speaking to their waiters in low, excited voices and putting in their orders thusly: “I’d like the Pig’s Ass Sandwich, please.”

Sandwich of the Week: Lassi’s Tamarind-Pork Sandwich

When the Underground Gourmet ponders flashes of fusion brilliance in the sandwich realm, he thinks of Zak Pelaccio’s interpretive Cubano at 5 Ninth, made with prosciutto and Boerenkass; the Greenpoint sandwich, a.k.a., the Polish bánh mì, at Williamsburg’s Silent H; and Sullivan St. Bakery’s deranged but delicious PBM (pancetta, basil, and mango). Add to this illustrious list the tamarind-pork sandwich at Lassi.

Sandwich of the Week: Sullivan St. Bakery’s Brilliant ‘Anti-Bread’ Sandwich

One of the greatest gifts to the sandwich world, the Underground Gourmet has always said, is Sullivan St. Bakery’s ciabatta. With its smallish size, not-too-dense crumb, and sturdy crust, it has, over the past decade or so, become the bread of choice for discriminating sandwich chewers all over town, and, consequently, as brazenly knocked off as a Gucci handbag.

New York’s Restaurant Jungle Grows a Little Lusher

When spring comes, branches and leaves appear in the most unexpected places. This week’s food coverage is like that: There are no huge openings, analogous to maples or firs springing up overnight, but rather a rich carpet of new sprouts and saplings. Rob and Robin glory in the pig-out that is Resto, the new Belgian restaurant on Park Avenue South; Gael Greene stops in to enjoy the immense, spanking-new Landmarc in the Time Warner Center; David Chang knows just what to do with the long-awaited, precious ramps in In Season; and other unexpected treats, from a waterside barbecue in one of the Short Lists to a slew of spring Openings fill out the foliage.

Resto’s Tête de Cochon Is Our Sandwich of the Week

It’s a sad fact of life that some of the best things to eat in restaurants never make it out of the kitchen and onto the Underground Gourmet’s plate. We’re talking about staff or “family” meals, of course, those rustic snacks that kitchen crews deem unfit for mass consumption but then greedily hoard behind kitchen doors like hungry wolves around a fresh carcass. Happily, that was not the fate of one of the best sandwiches the UG has ever sunk his teeth into, the tête de cochon at the new Belgian restaurant Resto.

Sandwich of the Week: One Cheesesteak on Quotation Marks, Coming Up

The Underground Gourmet is not from Philadelphia, but if he were, according to a native Philly friend, his natural response upon being presented with Degustation’s new “cheesesteak” sandwich would be to either sue the chef for false advertising or wait for him outside the restaurant with a horsewhip. Of course, Philadelphians are born with Cheez Whiz running through their veins and that tends to cloud their judgment on such matters.

This Week: Contents Under Pressure

This week’s food section is all about pressure: A pastry chef has to cook every night for a president who hates pineapples and will send him packing at the first hint of progressive dessert-making; Vinh Nguyen, a first generation Vietnamese-American, rolls the dice with his Williamsburg restaurant Silent H, and, as far as Rob and Robin are concerned, comes up lucky seven; Jeffrey Chodorow, fresh off his battle with Frank Bruni and Adam Platt, opens a big new restaurant and hopes for the best; and four new restaurants open, surely hoping for the best as well. Even this week’s In Season is rife with tension, calling as it does for a delicate filleting operation that could easily destroy a beautifully roasted flounder. The New York food world is not for the faint of heart.