Beast of Bourbon’s Bringing it to Bed-Stuy (aka the “Damn Good Barbecue” Post)

Last night Bed-Stuy barbecue joint slash music venue Beast of Bourbon threw a little shindig in honor of their new pit master, Nestor Laracuente, who carved up hunks of brisket and pork belly for an endlessly regenerating queue of barbecue fans — or, at least, fans of free barbecue. A pair of salads accompanied the meaty tastes: a vinegary cucumber salad and a shredded carrot salad with macerated cherries, which was unexpected and totally delicious.

Hook, line and sinker: Those bites only stoked my appetite, so on my way out I ordered one of the “power trios” to go: 1/2 lb. brisket and two small sides, in this case, brisket beans and meat-studded collard greens, plus cornbread: $21.

The brisket power trio

Such a good move, and frankly, a bargain: Two of us shared (or rather, devoured) the meal, as pictured above, and were totally satisfied. The brisket has a gorgeous, peppery crust and is falling apart tender; the beans and collards were incredibly flavorful with smokey notes imbued from the meaty bits; the cornbread, outstanding.

For a 2014 article on brisket in the New York Times, Laracuente is quoted as saying, “Cooking is science, but barbecue is magic.” If ‘cue is magic, the man most definitely has the magic touch. Smart move by the Beast to bring him to Bed-Stuy — that brisket’s worthy of a G Train trip any day.

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Chinese and Japanese, Together Under One Roof? (aka the “No, Not Fusion… Something Else” Post)

“Hunan Delight Matsuya
Chinese & Japanese Cuisine”

One phone number, one address. And then there’s the matter of the handwritten sign that reads “FREE WINE” in the window.

What. I’ve been perplexed by this locals Upper East Side restaurant since I moved into the area.

The take-away menus make certain that it’s two restaurants — Hunan Delight, a Chinese restaurant, and Matsua Japanese cuisine — in one space. How can two such disparate cuisines — different ingredients, techniques, cultural histories — cohabit? How can this possibly work?

Well, except, it does. The food’s actually really good.

We came for the free wine, the Chinese food (after I found out Hunan Delight gets rave reviews online, to my surprise) and maybe a California roll. (It’s hard to mess up a roll made of crab stick, avocado and cucumber.)

What we discovered:

— Free wine offer is truly free: one glass of cheap, but crisp and very drinkable white wine, per person at dinner

— One of my new favorite Chinese dishes, called Green Jade Chicken ($11.95). Plump white meat pieces woked over high heat in “chef’s spicy sauce” (not really that spicy) along with matchstick-sized pieces of fresh ginger and string beans.

In the heat, the sauce caramelizes into a crisp, light glaze on the beans and chicken; the fresh ginger adds a welcome kick. This dish is the exact antithesis to the soggy, fatty, greasy Chinese food of styrofoam yore. It’s just lovely.

— And the sushi? You can find far worse sushi in supermarkets everywhere. Entranced by the platter of Dragon Rolls the sushi chef was putting up on the counter (see below) … so we ordered one.

It turned out to be a cooked roll (I still haven’t tried the raw sushi here) — shrimp tempura and cucumber on the inside, wrapped in eel and avocado on the outside.

— Doting, attentive service, of the sort you only get at a restaurant where the proprietors are that hands on, that involved, with everything.

There was a certain activity in the restaurant the night we were there, tables being reconfigured, the sushi chef turning out dragon rolls like nobody’s business, a party of young twenty-somethings turns up with a bottle of Johnny Walker.

Turns out, on this particular night the restaurant was hosting a friends and family Chinese New Year feast of epic proportions after the restaurant closed (11p). Being the last guests in the restaurant, and obviously geeking out about the Chinese New Year food, they kindly invited us to join … we didn’t, and in hindsight, wish we did. The food looked A-mazing and it was of epic proportions.

Still, this sit-down dinner for two totaled just $42.30 … also known in New York City as cheap.

Hunan Delight, a Chinese restaurant, and Matsuya Sushi, Japanese cuisine, share 1467 York Avenue, at 78th Street, 212-628-8161

$7 (and Under) Lunch: Meat and Potatoes, Kolache Mama Style

First impression of Kolache Mama: pink tiles, stainless steel interior, pop-y, cutesy, logo and fonts — some kind of Beard Papa’s copycat?

Then I read a blurb in Time Out NY, which describes a kolache is “a type of stuffed pastry from Central Europe.” Huh? I did not get that at all.

photo-3photo-2Truth is, Kolache Mama is all of the above — and then some. It has more sweet-style kolaches than savory — 10 of the 25 on the menu are listed under the “SweetieMama” section. But, there is a conspicuous bottle of Sriracha sauce sharing a counter with coffee sweeteners and stirs. And the whole interior is pretty, in that anime sort of way.

photo-4Which brings me to the menu: Many of the “MeatieMama” and “VeggieMama” options are even more difficult to grasp than the idea of a central European snack food gone anime rogue.

Options include everything egg-topped versions (presumably for breakfast but sold all day); a “Street Dog” version, in which the lightly-sweet buns that are used as the base for all of the kolaches — sweet or savory — are wrapped around an All Beef Hebrew National Frank; and the “Combo Nosh,” a veggie version, which is topped with hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki and spices — and just about everything in between.

photo-1All are priced equally: $2.99 ea. or a pair for $5 ($5.44 with tax). Given that common denominator, I picked my two based purely on looks: The reuben, which, according to the menu, was a roll topped with corned beef, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and caraway seed, and the twice baked potato one, one of my favorite styles of potatoes, and came topped with mashed red potatoes with flecks of red potato skin, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives.

photoSurprisingly, I preferred the potato one, although the idea of starch-on-starch seriously unsettled me, at first. The corned beef version was okay; I ended up eating all of the topping and only about half the bun underneath, plus the whole thing was a little dried out — in part because, so far, people aren’t buying them quick enough. The only other people to stop in while I was making up my mind about the prettiest kolaches to try were two guys, who said something along the lines of, “We’re just stopping by to try to figure out what this place is about.”

My thoughts exactly.

Sunday: The Perfect Pre-Park Pit Stop (Hint: It’s the Only Thing Swedish About Columbus Circle)

One of these days, I’ll get around to actually dining in at AQ Kafé in Columbus Circle — the room certainly looks pleasant enough, with its woods and Swedish minimalism, and the menu is stacked with classic Swedish entreés you just don’t find in every neighborhood.

photo-5But so far, I just haven’t been able to get past the draw of that oasis of green that lingers in your peripheral view, no matter where you look. Every time I’ve been here so far there comes a point when I give in, forget it, let’s just get something to-go and go find a place to sit in Central Park.

I mean, it’s right there.

I’ve tried a number of things before, including the gravlax sandwich ($9.95), the potato salad and pickled cucumbers ($2.95 ea.), all worthy picnic items. Yesterday, looking for the simplest thing to put in my stomach that wouldn’t have me sugar-crashing two hours later, I tried one of their bagels ($1.95), which are made fresh daily in their bakery.

photo-6photo-7Cheap, fresh, original — and of modest size. This bagel appeals to me more than any other plain bagel of recent memory. An everything bagel sandwich stacked with gravlax, tomato, onion, capers, cream cheese, etc., from a fine purveyor like Murray’s Bagels is in a class of its own, but in general, the huge, doughy bagels people order in delis around the city every day and they terrify me. I can only think of one word: Dry. So, so, dry. And so, so bland.

On the other hand, AQ Kafe’s bagel is… delightful. Just like that green space that’s right across the street.

Dinner: Gringo Rotisserie Chicken Torta Goodness

Just look at this chicken. Gorgeous. When I spotted the words “rotisserie chicken” stacked like that in white caps on the side of an awning from down the block — and the store turns out to be a poultry shop — well, there’s no way I’m missing out on that.

photo-12photo-11                                 I brought home a hefty half rotisserie chicken ($7.10) the other day, and tonight I finally got around to finishing it off in a Mexican-style sandwich, or torta. Or let’s call it my interpretation thereof: 

photo-10I tossed the chicken in a combination of Drew’s Organic Salsa — heat level medium; bought it on sale, not super memorable — and Melinda’s Original Habanero XXXtra Hot Sauce — this Costa Rican import includes such other flavor-enhancing ingredients as onion, lime juice, vinegar, garlic and salt, not just butane to shock your tastebuds. It’s really good.

Then, I laid out the sauced meat on top of a row of white onion slices, laid a couple of slices of pepper jack cheese on top of the chicken and on top of the peppers, and broiled both halves in the toaster oven until the cheese was molten.

photo-8Voila, gringo torta.

I got curious about how my torta compared to others. A Google image search reveals I’m not entirely off the mark: Like a majority of good tortas, I had meat that was sauced or juicy enough to soak into the crusty white roll; I had the crusty white roll; I had cheese, sliced onion, alas no shredded iceberg lettuce.

Next time I’m throwing in some of those pickled carrots or jalapeno peppers —and a couple of cervezas — that’d do the trick.

Dinner: Friday, April 17, 2009

photo-61For anyone unconvinced of the merits of either the iPhone’s two megapixel non-flash camera, or of Papaya Dog* in general (*vouching for this location only, more on that later) — let me prove you wrong.

Or at least, let me start you on the path to baby steps.

photo-112photo-37Rule no. 1: For starters, don’t eat Papaya Dog often, and skip the dogs and fries which *might* have been sitting out on display for a while.

Rule no. 2: Go for made to order. Chicken strips? “Hold on a moment, let me throw some in.” Jalepano poppers? “So delicious, right? You’re going to have to wait a moment, I don’t have any ready.” Fish sandwich, “Yes! Great call!” 

Rule no. 3: Eat. Now. It tastes way better than after microwaved at home, and infinitely better than when discovered in the fridge/next to the bed/ hours later (to the Nth), and you realize you’re still hungry. Better to just get full first.

Rule no. 4: Go forth and be merry. You’re adjacent to just about everything … so go forth, and conquer! 

COST: $2.50
PREP TIME: (for my not real dinner: 5 min)