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The Underground Gourmet

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It’s Alive! The Tasting Room’s Kimchee-and-Cheese Sandwich

When Slow Food practitioner Colin Alevras, the chef-owner of the Tasting Room and as familiar a Greenmarket presence as corn in August, sets out to make a cheese sandwich for his new Tasting Room Wine Bar & Café, you don’t expect him to slap together some Kraft singles between two slices of Pepperidge Farm whole wheat and call it a day. No, what you expect is great, local ingredients, cleverly combined. What you expect is what our colleague, Adam Platt, would undoubtedly call a sandwich conceived and crafted in the Haute Barnyard style.

Keith McNally on Why Morandi Will Be His Last Restaurant Ever

This Sunday, if all goes according to plan, Keith McNally will fling open the doors of Morandi, his new West Village trattoria. (See our opening announcement; here’s the menu.) Until then, there is pine to be varnished, Italian bread to be baked at Balthazar Bakery, and pasta to be rolled and stuffed by chef Jody Williams, with the fortuitous help of a McNally deputy’s visiting 80-year-old Bolognese mother. In the midst of the pre-opening chaos, Mr. McNally took some time to explain why the Brit who invented the New York breed of French brasserie is opening an Italian place in his own backyard.

Sneaking Past Security for the Sandwich of the Week

Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based purveyor of chicken-breast sandwiches, is the second largest chicken-centric fast-food operation in the country, and yet there is only one branch in New York — and it doesn’t even really count. Opened three years ago to little foodie fanfare, the local outpost is ensconced between Quizno’s and JW’s Grille in the food court of NYU’s Joe Weinstein Center (5-11 University Pl., nr. 8th St.), and as such it’s been a well-kept undergrad secret.

Batali Helps Devise Insane Feast for Spotted Pig Staff

When one thinks of the great feast-givers throughout history, one thinks of the medieval dukes, earls, and kings of England. One thinks of Chinese and Roman emperors, the Persians, the Turks, maybe a Fijian cannibal chief or two. Add to this illustrious list of revelers Sir Ken D. Friedman, the owner of West Village gastropub the Spotted Pig. This past Sunday, Friedman threw a belated holiday–Super Bowl party at Del Posto for his 80-person staff, and it was of such Rabelaisian excess that, like an old Woodstock hippie, the restaurateur is having trouble remembering it all.

Where Should I Eat on Valentine’s Day — Alone?

Grub Street, So how about suggesting places to go on Valentine’s Day when you’re alone and don’t have a valentine? Signed, R Dear R, It just so happens that the Underground Gourmet recommended a “breakup burger” yesterday. But if you’re not simply looking to drown your sorrows in a “ripe slab of Limburger cheese and a pile of chopped raw onion,” may we suggest the following candidates, each perfect, in different ways, for solo dining.

Sandwich of the Week: The Twisted Burger’s Breakup Burger

breakup burger
Every day is Valentine’s Day at the love nest known as UG headquarters, but that doesn’t mean the Underground Gourmet has forgotten those leaden-hearted singles who, come this February 14, find themselves dateless, forlorn, and generally feeling unfit for human consumption. And neither has Chris Ballerini, the happily married owner of the East Village sandwich shop the Twisted Burger. In an effort to pump up the self-esteem of these poor souls on what many consider the worst restaurant day of the year, Ballerini is bringing back his infamous Breakup Burger for a limited engagement, much in the way that McDonald’s dusts off its Shamrock Shake machine every March 17.

Sandwich of the Week: City Bakery’s Barbecued Tofu — Yes, Tofu

Ever since man discovered tofu, he’s been trying to trick himself into thinking it’s meat. Traditionally, this is attempted by playing with texture, form, and flavor, and the results, needless to say, aren’t always successful. There is good fake-meat tofu (Chinese mock duck, the Unchicken Buffalo Wings at Kate’s Joint in the East Village), and bad fake-meat tofu (the Tofurkey). Now, however, comes what some might consider a major breakthrough in the history of tofu chicanery — the City Bakery’s new barbecued-tofu sandwich.

The Underground Gourmet, Now With a Side of News

Rob and Robin’s new column, "Sides," debuts in this week’s issue. In addition to scouring the city for great food, they’ll now be picking up bits and pieces of food and restaurant news. This week the Underground Gourmet discovers a new food magazine actually worth reading; follows an itinerant, sweatpants-clad chef to his new home; and tells a story of some little pigs and how they’re spending their Chinese New Year celebration (hint: it’s not setting off fireworks). The Underground Gourmet: Sides [NYM]

Centovini’s Porchetta Sandwich Makes Us Think of Hall & Oates

Ever since Philadelphia-based Tony Luke’s set up a Hell’s Kitchen outpost, the Underground Gourmet, in spite of Ms. UG’s protests, has looked for any excuse to find himself in the dismal vicinity of Ninth Avenue and 41st Street. The reason? Tony Luke’s syntactically challenged signature sandwich, the Roast Pork Italian. What distinguishes this substantial specimen from other hoagies is the ingenious addition of bitter broccoli rabe to the combination of juicy pork and sharp provolone.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar Serving More Food More of the Time

Official Hours-of-Operation Keeper at Dave Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar must be the hardest job in the restaurant business. The sleek spot, which began its life as a cafeteria-style restaurant serving Asian burritos every day from 12 noon to 10 p.m. and then, several weeks later, entered its phase-two transformation into a full-service “latenight” restaurant on Wednesdays through Sundays, continues to tweak its hours and menu. Not unintelligent East Villagers are perplexed, if not downright baffled.

Josh DeChellis on How to Cook With Your Christmas Tree

Everyone knows a good cook is a frugal cook, and no one takes this culinary code more seriously than Josh DeChellis, the skateboard-riding boy-wonder chef behind Sumile (recently tweaked and rechristened Sumile Sushi). In the spirit of the post-holiday season, DeChellis has come up with an idea that is not only environmentally responsible but also would make Euell Gibbons’s eyes goggle and his mouth water. “I was helping my parents take down the Christmas tree and the perfume was amazing,” DeChellis says. “So I took a few branches off and roasted a piece of grilled beef over the needles in an aluminum-foil pouch and I loved it!” DeChellis was kind enough to pass along a similar pine-scented recipe, below, so that Grub Street readers can recycle any trees or wreaths they have lying around the house instead of just dragging them outside to the curb. DeChellis also has a suggestion for stale gingerbread cookies: “Grind them up and crust scallops with it. Serve with a sauce of brown butter, gingerbread powder, and milk blended in a blender with Brussels sprout leaves on the side.” Delish! — Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld

Charlie Rose, Chicken Thief

There are those who think the life of the Underground Gourmet is one endless, lavish feast, all swanky press dinners and unbidden “gifts from the chef.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We get the bad tables, the slipshod service, and the gristly cuts as often as our fellow diners. This past Monday night was a good example.

Teach a Man to Make a Sandwich of the Week ...

Last week, the Underground Gourmet recommended Zingerman's Reuben sandwich kit as the perfect holiday gift for the sandwich nut on your list. This week — in acknowledgement of the fact that even Kate's Paperie cannot wrap a Reuben sandwich well enough so that placing it beneath a Christmas tree for several days would not run the risk of Taco-Belling the giftee — the UG has come up with a superb alternative gift idea. It's the new book, called Simple Italian Sandwiches (HarperCollins; $21.95), by Jennifer and Jason Denton, and it requires no refrigeration. As anyone who knows anything about Italian sandwiches is aware, Jason Denton is to panini, bruschetta, and tramezzini what Masa Takayama is to sushi, sashimi, and Kobe sukiyaki. The Dentons opened the West Village panini parlor 'ino back in 1998, and it's fair to say that they started the whole local craze for delicately balanced, deceptively simple Italian sandwiches, and that no one outside of the Boot does a better job of it.

Sandwich of the Week: Special Holiday Reuben!

The Underground Gourmet has nothing against sending a mail-order fruitcake to the gastronome on your holiday gift list (provided, of course, that the fruitcake is made by Berkeley preserves specialist June Taylor). But who in their right mind wouldn't rather receive a nice Reuben sandwich in the mail? Zingerman's, the excellent Ann Arbor–based purveyor of everything from Hungarian Liptauer cheese to sour-cream coffee cake, has practically made Reuben-giving a sacred holiday tradition — at least that's how it is chez UG. And although you will find no reference to corned beef, sauerkraut, or Swiss cheese in any of the works of Charles Dickens, according to Brad in the Zingerman's mail-order department, the company ships approximately 3,000 Reuben kits every year, 1,000 of which are ordered in the month of December. That may not approach national fruitcake numbers, but you have to consider the fruitcake regifting factor — no one, as far as the UG knows, has ever regifted a Zingerman's Reuben. s

Sandwich of the Week: Philly Slim's Cheesesteak Widowmaker

It's hard enough for the Underground Gourmet to maintain his svelte and soigné figure given the gluttonous nature of the profession. When devious restaurateurs clearly in defiance of the proposed trans-fat ban tempt him with subtle and sophisticated marketing ploys, the challenge becomes immeasurably greater. Such was the case the other day, as the UG gamboled along University Place on his way to the Union Square Greenmarket for some healthful burdock root and lamb's quarters when a chalkboard sign outside Philly Slim's Cheesesteak shop froze him in his tracks. "Come in and try a Widowmaker — steak, Whiz, bacon, onion rings, BBQ sauce" it read in a Helter-Skelterlike scrawl. "Why would someone want to eat a sandwich that claimed that it would kill him?" wondered the UG, his mouth beginning to drool and his limbs starting to twitch, as if he'd accidentally stepped on an electric Con Edison plate. Within seconds, having regained his composure, he entered the brightly lit shack and decided to find out. A few minutes later, the sandwich in question — a kind of saucy supersized cross between a Manwich and a traditional cheesesteak — appeared before him. Although the foot-long monstrosity did not kill the UG, it might have scratched a year or two off his life. At the very least, it is the type of sandwich that should you finish it in a single sitting, the management, in deference to your stamina, should offer it free of charge. Either that or commemorate the event with an engraved bronze plaque mounted prominently on the wall. Philly Slim's Cheesesteak, 106 University Pl., nr. 12th St.; 212-989-8281 — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

Sandwich of the Week: Sausage on ... a Pretzel Roll?

Like old, happily married couples, certain sandwich fillings and certain sandwich breads seem made for each other. Consider a Hellmann's-laced lobster salad and the top-loading Pepperidge Farm hot-dog bun, for instance. Where would one component be without the other? For that matter, where would corned beef be without its turtle dove, rye? And who can imagine a sloppy gray blob of greasy chopped beef and fried onions swimming in a sea of Cheez Whiz separated from its squishy but beloved Philly-style roll?

Sandwich of the Week: Egg's Amazing Breakfast Treat

While the humble egg — gently poached at low temperatures and served in creative ways once reserved for hunks of meat or fish — is having its moment on dinner menus across the city, so too is the even humbler egg sandwich. Witness City Bakery's new fried-egg-bacon-and-Cato-Corner-cheese brunch biscuit, the "Egg on a Roll" on Prune's just-debuted lunch menu, and Starbucks's McDonald's-inspired line of breakfast sandwiches available throughout the day.

The Ham That Drives Men Mad

New York Magazine has gone Spain-crazy this week. Adam Platt sates his bottomless hunger at Boqueria, and Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld interview Spain's most illustrious chef, Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Let Grub Street pile on, then, with talk of the secret society of Spanish pork. This society may be unofficial, but we belong to it. It is made of men and women who have tasted the meat of the celebrated pata negra, or black-foot pig, and will do anything for more. "Once you taste ibérico, you can't compare it to anything else," Bar Jamón chef Andy Nusser has said. The society's holy grail, though, remains tantalizingly out of reach for Americans — even ones with a deep affinity for Spain.

Sandwich of the Week: Like Dragging Bacon Through a Car Wash With a Marmalade Spray Gun

The Underground Gourmet expects nothing less than divine sandwich inspiration from Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune. After all, this is the woman who introduced Triscuits with sardines and Dijon mustard to fine dining — to say nothing of a brunch that's like a cross between Barney Greengrass and H.R. Pufnstuf. Now Hamilton has added a lunch menu to her superb repertoire, and the centerpiece is a bacon-and-marmalade-on-pumpernickel sandwich. Hamilton says it's an old suburban-Jersey-family favorite, but its roots may in fact be British — something an eccentric grouse hunter might bring along with him for sustenance on the shoot.

Outrageously Simple, Extravagantly Expensive, and Totally Worth-It Sandwich

Although the Underground Gourmet makes it a practice never to go grocery shopping when beset by a ravenous, goatlike hunger — lest he return home with a king-size bag of Screaming Yellow Zonkers and some Geno's pizza rolls — whenever he's starved for a good sandwich, he ambles over to his friendly neighborhood imported-foods or cheese shop. Some of the best places to get a good sandwich in this town, after all, are where you wouldn't necessarily expect to find one.