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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but never underestimate the creative potential of a kitchen staff with time on its hands and a deep fryer at its disposal. Take, for example, the culinary think tank that lies behind the swinging doors at Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Burger.
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.
Not that anyone needs to be reminded, but April is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month. In honor of this auspicious occasion, we bring you our picks for New York’s best grilled cheese, from Keller-crafted high to Kraft-oozing low.
There’s more to Easter than binging on Peeps and throwing up in church — 2,000 years of beautiful history, for one, and special Sunday dinners for another. Last week, we told you where to have unusual Seders; this week, Rob and Robin tell us where to get the best Easter meals. Because our Borg-like database must continually grow — it will someday consume us all — we’ve nabbed you the menus. They run the gamut from old-school Easter antipasti and spaghetti with lamb ragù (at Lupa) to whole-roasted lambs (pictured above), rotated on the sidewalk in front of Estiatorio Milos. And none of them, we’re glad to report, include Peeps.
Easter Feasts: UptownEaster Feasts: Downtown [NYM]
There are many delicious things with which you could embellish a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich — if your goal was to make it even more calamitous to the waistlines of the general Filet-O-Fish-loving public than it already is. A Scotch egg, a pound of bacon, or a deep-fried Snickers bar all spring to mind. But if you really wanted to go all out, if you really wanted to vex the fast-food police, what you might do is simply plop an additional Filet-O-Fish on top of the first one.
By now, it’s become commonplace for restaurants of a certain environmentally correct ilk to cite their purveyors on their menus, especially when said purveyors are boutique organic farmers or tiny artisanal producers. But two restaurants, Franny’s (Brooklyn’s Chez Panissean pizzeria), and Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, might be the first establishments to name-check their energy suppliers. Franny’s credits the progressive ConEdison Solutions, while Shake Shack simply gives a shout-out to the wind, as in “The Shack’s electricity is now 100% powered by wind power!” In a similar vein, Maury Rubin’s East Village “green bakery,” Birdbath — in what might be an attempt to discourage anyone thinking of going on a cookie run in a stretch Hummer — has posted a sign advertising a 50 percent discount to customers arriving on a bicycle or skateboard. Pedestrians, presumably, pay full price. — Rob Patronite & Robin RaisfeldRelated: Danny Meyer on Shake Shack 2.0
Consider the “Greenpoint” sandwich at the new Williamsburg Vietnamese restaurant, Silent H, the world’s first Polish bánh mì. At long last, these two seemingly unfusable cuisines have fused, and no one could be happier about this blessed union than the Underground Gourmet, who yields to no one in his devotion to both Polish sausages and Vietnamese sandwiches. The “Greenpoint” is by all outward appearances a regular bánh mì (itself, of course, one of the greatest fusion dishes of all time) meticulously primped with pickled carrot, cucumber, daikon, fresh jalapeño, and cilantro. One side of the bread is slicked with pork-liver pâté, which serves nicely as a condiment rather than a filling; the other with a judicious swipe of aïoli.
Almost as much as he loves discovering and devouring worthy sandwiches, the Underground Gourmet also loves to brush up on his sandwich lore and then regale Ms. UG with his fascinating findings — which is precisely what he did after a recent excursion to Park Slope’s Flatbush Farm, where he tucked into a delicious French-dip sandwich.
As you may or may not know (Ms. UG did not), the illustrious French dip, like so much of America’s storied sandwicherie, has a slightly murky history. Two restaurants, both founded in 1908 and both located in downtown Los Angeles, lay claim to it. The owners of Philippe the Original say that the French dip was born when founder Philippe Mathieu, while making a sandwich for a policeman one day in 1918, accidentally dropped a long French-style roll into some meaty pan juices. The copper — whose name may or may not have been Officer French — liked it so much he came back the next day for an encore performance. Had Philippe possessed better reflexes or the cop fussier standards, the world might be, to this day, bereft of French dips.