Impromptu Sushi Dinner on the UWS (aka the “This is Never a Bad View” Post)

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: It’s really hard to find quality, affordable sushi in New York City. Spoiled from living in Los Angeles? Sure. The fish markets of Tokyo are that much closer. In New York, you can find the most impeccable sushi — at an equally impeccable price. You can also find the “meh”/get the job done pre-made sushi in various refrigerated cases at markets everywhere. Compared to its bookends, the middling ground is seriously underrepresented.

So, after attempting to go to a certain pickle-centric restaurant on the Upper West Side and failing yet again (they have this policy of no reservations for parties under 6 — wait time of an hour for seating for 2 — it’s ridiculous) we looked across the way and felt the pull of a certain welcoming red awning: Kitaro Sushi. Busy enough but not packed; we have a movie to catch in 50 minutes; let’s give it a shot!

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This is never a bad view.

[Aside: There is so much about this particular story that reminds me of why I love New York City. Unexpected, impromptu, serendipitous, happenstance … simply, perfect for the moment.]

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Pictured: fuko make roll & sake (salmon) hand rolls

The spouse and I sat at the sushi bar and ordered at will: gyoza; ohitashi (delicious spinach!); baby yellowtail; yellowtail / jalapeño / ponzu; fuko maki roll (crab stick, avocado, delicious pickled vegetables); 2 sake (salmon) hand rolls. And it rocked — in that way that sushi of this class should: Chefs hands flying deftly; order after order delivered with impeccable timing; hot sake and cold beer; graciousness all around. (I so wish I took a photo of Kitaro Sushi’s menu. “Special Rolls” circa 2011.)

The point being: Kitaro Sushi is a true local, neighborhood gem. And a New York City sushi gem at that. Wishing the Kitaro Sushi family/team many years of prosperity and keep on keeping on. You are doing so much that is right. Thank you!

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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.

Spicy Korean Soup on a Cold Winter’s Night? (aka the “Riff on Sundubu” Post)

Why should big, bold, beautiful flavors be complicated? The answer is — they don’t have to be. In this simple soup recipe, inspired by sundubu jjigae, a traditional spicy Korean soup made with tofu and kimchi, a few authentic ingredients do the heavy lifting.

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The key to this recipe, which comes together quickly, is to prep all vegetables in advance of cooking. Additionally, homemade stock adds complexity and deliciousness. Choice of add-ins means that this soup can be vegetarian — or not. We used leftover braised leg of lamb and it was absolutely delicious.

Spicy Korean Soup (aka Sundubu)
Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili pepper, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 T anchovy paste
6 c. homemade stock (chicken, pork or veg.)
2 T Korean hot pepper paste (also known as kochujang or gochujang)
8 oz kale, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste (alternatively, soy sauce and pepper)

Suggested add-ins: 
Soft or silken tofu, cubed
Kimchee (to taste)
Shredded chicken, pork, or leftover braised leg of lamb — at room temp
Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles or bean thread noodles)

Optional toppings: 
Thinly sliced Serrano peppers
Sliced scallions
Toasted sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes

Directions: Sauté garlic, serrano pepper and onion in 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant; add anchovy paste and stir until combined. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add stock, cover and and bring soup to a simmer; stir in Korean hot pepper paste until combined and add kale. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, approx. 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prep soup bowls with add-ins of choice. Once soup is ready, ladle soup into bowls and add toppings (optional). Enjoy!

The Collective: Sorta Like Grandma’s House Went Down the Rabbit Hole … and Ended Up in MePa

How to describe The Collective. It’s sorta like grandma’s house went down the rabbit hole…

Pillars are draped in faux bling, bound in cable ties to look like a bristle brush or covered in a knotted weave of those skinny, noodley balloons (called twisting balloons) used to make balloon animals.

Tables have been inlaid with incomplete Scrabble tile sets purchased on eBay; street signs, bath tubs and even a classic “Walk/Don’t Walk” sign (which makes for a particularly warming seat) are now chairs.

The light fixtures are striking, particularly the prescription pill bottle chandelier with its surprisingly delicate orange glow and the giant sculptural ceiling light made of styrofoam. It just goes on and on…

Bottom line: Thanks to the craftsmanship of some crazy, brilliant, out-there, what’s old is new again and hardly anything is what it seems. Everything in the restaurant is reclaimed or redone somehow, or used in an unexpected way.

Even the truffled deviled eggs came out lined up in an overturned egg carton, and the chicken-n-waffles ($12) — a table favorite — came out in a hot cast-iron skillet, presumably the one that had something to do with how the dish was cooked.

But then, everything else was presented on … white plates. Rectangular white plates, oblong white plates, white bowls, all uniform white, white, white.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if all the plates, glasses and flatware were mismatched, too?” our table mused. “They could be sourced from flea markets or … bought up at auctions from restaurants or wholesalers in incomplete sets. Something…”

Really, so insignificant. But we just loved the decor so much we wanted it to go all the way, down to the level of detail where that aesthetic would still be there even when we finally pulled our eyes away to look down at our food.

Oh yeah, the food! Lands solidly in the “grub” category. There are more ladylike dishes on the menu, but the best of what I sampled was the hands-on finger foods.

So whether it’s Hong Kong ribs ($20) at 10 p.m., a late-night dessert of the (darling) housemade fudgesicles on a stick ($8), or a 4 a.m. order of disco fries ($12) to sop up the booze, just get messy.

The Collective, 1 Little W. 12th St., at 9th Ave., 212-255-9717. More information can be found here.

Something Kind of Magic Under the JMZ (aka the “Hello, Moto” Post)

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that such an utterly romantic, sweetly nostalgic restaurant as Moto could exist — nay, thrive — in a corner of Brooklyn predominantly known for its Hasidic and Dominican communities and fast-food neon …

And yet, that’s exactly where I found myself on a quiet afternoon this last weekend, sipping a black velvet ($7) — a deceptively effervescent Guinness and champagne concoction — and channeling every bit of my attention that wasn’t swooning over the jazz music, muffled and crackling as if from another era, or the way the wooden ceiling fan cast an oscillating pattern of shadows onto the antiquated turnkey clock, while the JMZ Train rumbled on overhead … wait, where am I?

Oh yes, the task at hand: I was alternating between skewering mushrooms that had been marinated in olive oil and sherry vinegar, and finished with capers, rosemary and red pepper flakes, with toothpicks, and constructing gorgeous bites from a deconstructed salad composed of slices of cucumber, tomato, radish and soppressata, hulks of Bulgarian feta, garnishes of fresh mint and black olives.

This was just to sample something the menu; I will surely be back for more.

Moto evades categorization except to be called “excellent.” The best I can do is to say that as I sat there in my reverie, studying my surroundings, more than once I considered comparisons between Moto and such old timey, Euro-inspired cycling-centric bits of pop culture as The Triplets of Belville and that Stella Atrois commercial from last year, which I’ve pasted below:

Moto, 394 Broadway, at Hooper Street, E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-6895. Photos of the restaurant and a bit more information here, great writeup by the Village Voice here.

Beer-Roasted Chicken & Veggies (aka the “Finally, We’re Cooking With Gas!” Post)

New apartment =s new kitchen =s gas range =s GAME. CHANGING.

Now that we’re cooking with gas… ::pausing to rub palms together in a furtive motion::… drawing a blank except for bad cooking puns…

Eh, eff it. Let’s just cook.

Beer-Roasted Chicken & Veggies
Serves 4

roasting vegetables:
4 ribs celery, chopped
3 parsnips,
peeled & chopped
3 carrots,
peeled & chopped
3 small potatoes, chopped
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
1/2 onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 Tlbs. olive oil (a healthy pour)
salt & pepper to taste


chicken:

1 large broiling chicken — (We purchased one of these fat boys (3.75 lbs.!) from The Meat Hook, a fantastic local butcher shop focusing on local and sustainable products.)
1 lemon, sliced
fresh rosemary
sea salt & pepper to taste

(1) 12 oz. beer … says the chef. One for the clucker, the rest for the homies

1.) Prep celery, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, onion and garlic. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.) Place roasting pan across two stovetop burners set to medium heat; add olive oil and all roasting vegetables, including leaves from rosemary sprigs.

3.) Roast vegetables until they begin to soften and start browning, or about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

4.) Fun alert: As the olive oil dissipates, pour beer over the vegetables.

5.) To prep the chicken, tuck several slices of lemon underneath the skin and line chicken cavity with sprigs of rosemary. Salt and pepper generously.

6.) Once the vegetables have begun to soften — but are still mostly firm — turn off heat. Stuff chicken cavity with vegetable mixture and sliced lemon.

7.) Nest chicken in the center of the vegetables in the roasting pan and bake at 350 degrees for roughly 1 1/2 hours. (Smaller chickens will likely cook quicker.)

9.) At least twice during the cooking time, baste chicken with the broth utilizing a deep spoon or a baster.

10.) For the final 10 minutes, flip the chicken over so the reverse side has a chance to brown.

Let the chicken rest a few minutes, then dive in! We suggest plating the chicken and vegetables with a small side salad, and paring with the same beer you used to cook.

Enjoy!