the grub street diet

Laura Lee Pays Attention to a Restaurant’s Soundtrack

“Why can’t you listen to OutKast and eat caviar?”

Lee, with eggs, smoothies, and some (well-made) Caesar salad. Illustration: Margalit Cutler
Lee, with eggs, smoothies, and some (well-made) Caesar salad. Illustration: Margalit Cutler

During the day, Laura Lee is getting ready to release a new record with her band, Khruangbin, and to spend the rest of the year on tour. (The band, whose sound our friends at Vulture have called “funky, jumpy tendrils of guitar, mixed with hazy washes of surf rock,” will play a few nights at the Bowery Ballroom later this month ahead of the full tour.) But Lee is also on a mission to try every Michelin-starred restaurant in the city: “Music and food are so similar,” she says. “Chefs can make the same dish over and over and you can play the same song over and over, but it’s never the same.” She, however, is quick to point out that she is not keeping a ranking of her own: “I don’t think you can really judge art as being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ — the restaurants just speak to me.” This week, it meant a return trip to Clover Hill in Brooklyn Heights in between rehearsals, workouts, and egg breakfasts with her baby daughter.

Wednesday, February 21
I am a coffee person. Specifically, I am a Chemex person. I get my beans from JB Peel. I have not found a better bean. Sometimes with a little bit of oat milk, and sometimes black. Today it’s a splash of oat.

I have a very time-consuming job. Being a musician is not just playing shows — there’s a lot of other work involved. Right now I’m in tour prep, so I need to practice. I have interviews, meetings, and rehearsals. I also work out every day, and I now have to fit that into my workday because I’m a mom, and I only have so many hours without my kid. That’s my window to take care of everything. Because of that, my midweek eating is very functional. Eggs are my favorite food. If I had to pick one food to survive on forever, it would be an egg. I think it’s the perfect food.

I used to live full time upstate, and I went in search of the perfect egg. There are a lot of beautiful farms in the Hudson Valley, especially in Germantown, which is where I found my favorite egg. I tried, I don’t know, 25, 30 eggs. Anyway, they’re from a lovely couple who have a very small operation, relatively speaking. I think they must have 30, 40 chickens, and I can text them and go by to pick up eggs whenever I want. I eat eggs every day, and most of the time I boil them for exactly seven and a half minutes. That’s what works for these particular eggs. For me, it’s a medium egg. It’s not fully runny, and it’s not totally gelatinous yet.

As soon as my daughter’s child care comes, I go to a pretty high-intensity training workout. It’s like boot camp. I really like a good ass whooping in general — I’m kind of a “go big” person. If I’m going to work out for an hour, then I’m going to sweat out everything I have. Otherwise, what’s the point? Then I had an interview block for two hours during the day because our new album, A La Sala, is coming out. And then I practice for a few hours and have a big management call and a production call for our tour.

I have a smoothie for lunch with blueberries, spinach, banana, and chocolate collagen. Dinner is where I actually have time to enjoy cooking and food. My lunches, on the other hand, tend to be smoothies. I make sure I get my fruit, my iron, all my nutrients, my protein. I use a brand of protein formula that has two bazillion superfoods in it. It’s almost like having a multivitamin for lunch. My smoothie lunch guarantees me that five days a week I’m doing the thing that I should be doing for my body and not just eating everything that I want to eat. It’s not the most delicious thing in the world, but it gets me through my day.

For dinner, I order fish from Mermaid’s Garden, a fishmonger that a friend recommended. It’s the first time we’re trying it. I’m new to living in the city, and I don’t have my fish guy yet. This is a really good start. It’s a beautiful king salmon. I have no complaints so far, but I want to try what else they have.

My partner’s usually in charge of the protein. He’s a nerd about it, much more of a scientist in the kitchen than I am. He likes all the gadgets for temperature reading and making sure everything is perfectly cooked. I wing it, which bodes well for salads and salad dressings. Tonight, it’s a lemony, garlicky kale salad from the New York Times that’s one of my staples. I have it at least once every two weeks. I really like garlic, so I let my garlic steep for a lot longer than it says. This recipe taught me how to prepare kale in a salad. You shred it, like you would collard greens, and you roll it up and cut it. It’s a small labor of love, but it’s worth it.

Before bed, I have some Rishi tea and watch Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’m watching the new season and it kind of made me want to rewatch all of it. That’s been my routine lately: It’s the end of the day, and I’m going to watch Larry David.

Thursday, February 22
I do my normal thing: Chemex coffee and a seven-and-a-half-minute egg. I have a giant Yeti thermos for my coffee, and another for my water. I have multiple bottles that I’m carrying around with me. I usually put my smoothie in a giant mason jar, so I can kind of take everything with me on the go. There’s a lot of running errands, running to Home Depot and that kind of thing — we just moved and decided to give our place a small facelift, so it takes up a lot of time.

Tonight, we’re going to see Mitski play. Before the show, we head to Balaboosta which feels like a reliable neighborhood spot for me, even though it’s not in my neighborhood. We order hummus, fried olives, and a salad. And Einat, the chef, does a play on a soup dumpling that’s Yemenite style. She uses hilbeh, a fenugreek thing. It’s a very specific thing that people love or hate, and I love it. It’s slightly bitter and it’s delicious. It’s really a two-bite adventure, but who doesn’t love a one bite? Get it all in one. And then I have halva crème brûlée for dessert.

Mitski puts on a dynamic, stunning, healing performance. I’m going out on tour soon and I haven’t played in 18 months, and I’m terrified. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re enough, and it’s nice to see other performers do what they do. I always just feel better after I see live music. I’ve seen her at a festival, but I’ve never seen her at a venue show, so I’ve never seen Mitski fans and I mean — they’re just so awesome. I love them.

Friday, February 23
Start the morning with my Chemex coffee. I actually have less time than normal, so I eat breakfast with my daughter. She is 9 months old. Her favorite meal is a spinach omelet with cottage cheese on the side. She loves it. Last week I was like, You know what? I’m going to try it. It’s good — especially the cottage cheese. When I was a kid, and we were low on cash, my mom would make baked potatoes and put cottage cheese with salt and pepper on top. Now, we get the really nice full-fat, organic, delicious kind, and it’s great.

Enrique Olvera’s Tu Casa Mi Casa is one of the only cookbooks that I have with me in the sort of limbo period until we are fully unpacked from our move. He has a chicken soup that is so simple and pretty quick. It’s like an hour, maybe an hour and a half tops, but a lot of it’s inactive because you’re just waiting. You use a whole chicken and chayote squash, which is really easy to get in Brooklyn, which is great. It’s a light, delicious broth. I like all chicken soups, but some are heartier than others. Mexican caldo tends to be very delicate. I grew up eating Mexican food because my family’s part Mexican. To me, cilantro, white onion, serrano, and lime as an accoutrement to a soup or to anything: It’s the ultimate addition. It’s crunchy and heartwarming. I sit down to eat with my partner, and we both relax a bit. Friday nights have become our favorite night in.

I watch some more Curb before bed. I’m in season eight now, and so I’m almost caught up to the current season. I’m going to have to figure out something else to watch when this is over.

Saturday, February 24
It’s Saturday morning and I’m up at 7. I love my weekends. They look different than they ever have because they’re family days — they’re no longer about going out late and being able to sleep in. They’re much more wholesome — I love ’em. We make shakshuka pretty much every Saturday. My partner’s from Israel, so it’s his love language. I used to experience it as just tomato sauce and eggs. As somebody who ate huevos rancheros growing up, it just felt like Italian tomato sauce. Now, I’ve had it so many ways and I love it. I prefer it rustic and chunky.

We use Angel pita, which a lot of restaurants serve. It’s a bakery out of New Jersey that now sells at Whole Foods, so you can really get it anywhere and it’s perfect. We make tahini and Israeli salad, with lots of herbs chopped very finely. We serve it as a plate with shakshuka on one side, tahini in the middle, and then the salad on the other side. The tahini is like extra salad dressing and an extra sauce. We also have some Israeli pickles and peppers that come canned. It’s like a perfect meal.

For dinner, my partner and I go to Clover Hill. It was supposed to be a chance to celebrate our move in to the house today. It didn’t happen exactly as we planned, timing-wise, but we still keep our reservation. In my Michelin-star journey, it’s been my favorite. We went for the first time in November or December. I was still living upstate and we made a special trip to go to Clover Hill.

My bandmate DJ actually sent me a gift certificate. He’s not into Michelin-starred restaurants at all, but somehow it came up on his radar and he was like, “It’s one of the only Black-owned Michelin-starred restaurants in New York. You should try it.” I was thinking about that meal for weeks, like, I would wake up and think about it. I think it’s like music. You hear a song that you love and you wake up in the morning and you just want to listen to it. And it’s not accessible to me to be able to go eat at Clover Hill very often, but it was so special. So we decided to go back, celebrate, and it did not disappoint.

It’s really cozy. I’d say music selection at Michelin-starred restaurants is awful in general. It is not what they do. Maybe it’s overlooked and they don’t have somebody that realizes that it’s so important in creating an ambiance. A lot of these types of restaurants have a more sterile atmosphere, and I can appreciate that, because the emphasis is on the food. But at Clover Hill, there’s OutKast playing and it makes sense. It doesn’t feel out of place. Why can’t you listen to OutKast and eat caviar?

Right now the menu is very seafood-focused. What’s so special about this tasting menu is that every bite feels important. There wasn’t a single filler piece of food. It’s like an album, and there are no skips.

Sunday, February 25
Wake up still thinking about last night’s meal, and feeling a headache to accompany the martini, wine, and amaro we drank. It’s Chemex and oat milk time right at 7 a.m. We make huevos à la Mexicana, which is made with onions, tomato, and jalapeño or serrano. It’s like the colors of the Mexican flag with eggs. If I were to have whatever I wanted for breakfast every day and I wasn’t dead set on honoring the egg, that’s what I would have. I also make refried beans. My grandma always taught me to save my bacon fat, so I have a big old jar of bacon fat in my fridge and it makes my beans so good. So I make pinto beans with that and smash them and have them with the huevos and corn tortillas, and it’s delicious. We spend the morning organizing and packing for our move and have leftover chicken soup for lunch.

We head to Home Depot, daughter in tow. It’s a very adventurous, productive, fun day. And then at night we made chicken thighs. They are insane. I’m obsessed with these chicken thighs. They’re in Nancy Silverton’s Mozza at Home cookbook. It’s called Staff Meal Chicken Thighs. Sal, who is one of her cooks, makes them for the staff of her restaurant. The secret is that you have to take them out 24 hours before at least, and you put them in the fridge just on paper towels so it dries out the skin. The skin is so crispy, and you cook it over a bed of onions and garlic and lemon and herbs. They are insane. I’m obsessed with them. On my flight recently to Mexico, I packed three in a ziplock bag with a paper towel and I looked like such a barbarian on the airplane, eating chicken thighs with my hands. It’s so animalistic, but I don’t care.

I make Caesar salad to go with the chicken thighs. I’m very passionate about Caesar salad and I don’t know why restaurants can’t seem to get it right, but it is so awesome when it’s done correctly. Tonight, I make it correctly, according to myself. It is so decadent and delicious, and I look forward to it every time I make it.

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