The Brilliance of Good Menu Art (aka the “Always Delightful Brunching at Isa” post)

Nothing sets the tone of a meal like what’s placed on the table upon seating — the humble menu.

The table setting, the restaurant decor, the waitstaff, the restaurant’s general ambiance — they’re clues to the dining experience to which the menu is the key. Menu in hand, all of the pieces fall into place. Menus tell a restaurant’s story on paper, an introduction to the chapters that will be devoured on the plates that are yet to come.

There are menus — and then there is menu art. Which brings me to Isa, a laid back, rustic-chic restaurant appropriately located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, serving up fresh, loosely “Mediterranean” fare for which the wood burning oven is the through line.

Isa_menus
November 2015 menus at Isa in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Elegant, refined, classy — Isa’s menus are not. But they are by no means an afterthought (one of the worst things a restaurant can do is not give proper consideration to the design of their menu, IMHO). A riotous mashup of color, collage, equal parts whimsy and cheeky, Isa’s menus always elicit a smile (and perhaps an arched eyebrow). Their menus change often and live on for perpetuity on their Tumblr blog. Without a doubt, their current cocktail menu, pictured above right, is one of my all-time favorites. YES, I want whatever he’s having! Let’s hang out and then go catch a wave! Oh, right … it’s November in New York.

Isabrunch
Brunch at Isa, clockwise from top: Breakfast pizza, Clawhammer Farms bacon, wood-fired chicken, wood-oven baked eggs.

The undisputed star of Isa’s brunch menu is their breakfast pizza, which is topped with eggs, Fontina cheese, coppa and a caper herb vinaigrette. Someone at the table has to get it and inevitably shares with the table whatever portion they’re incapable of finishing. And while the brunch menu does feature variations of egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches and other brunch staples, the offerings are overall thoughtful, original, clever and delicious — four adjectives you could also use to describe Isa’s menus. Delicious? A paper menu?

I’m not advising you to eat the menu — only to devour with your eyes.

What’s In an Egg? (aka the “Size Does Matter” Post)

There are few grocery staples as beguiling as the egg: color, size, grade, omega-3s …. seriously?

Prior to my Market Research column in amNewYork newspaper, my methodology for buying eggs may as well have been to cover my eyes and point randomly, giving preference to the more expensive, brown eggs over the most basic white eggs, eventually compromising on some middling dozen without really knowing why.

So when I was given the green light for this assignment, I just couldn’t wait to get in those little eggies’ faces.

Research

I skulked around the egg sections at more than a half-dozen major markets around the city like some crazy chicken lady — Whole Foods, Gristedes, Food Emporium, C-Town, Gourmet Garage, among them — before I settled on five packages that covered the spectrum of the egg kingdom.

They were:

Jack’s Egg Farm (Brooklyn), Grade AA, Medium, white ($1.99)
Eggland’s Best (various), Grade A, Large, white ($3.79)
Horizon Organic (Colorado), Grade A, Large, brown ($5.69)
Giving Nature (Newton, Pa.), Grade A, Extra Large, white ($3.79)
The Country Hen (Hubbardston, Mass.), Grade A, Jumbo, brown ($4.19/6)

Methodology

On the day of the tasting, the chef and I cracked one of each of the eggs open to compare size and color of yolk; stature of egg white; taste of egg (sunny side up, runny yolk) with just the slightest dash of kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper as our quality control.

Admittedly, I’m not sure I knew how varied egg size and yolk color could be until I poured out five eggs at one time.

In terms of taste, hand’s down, the winningest eggs were from Jack’s Egg Farm and The Country Hen — the cheapest and most expensive eggs in the survey, comparatively.

Huh. So you’re saying that I could pay less than $2.50 for a dozen eggs from a local manufacturer — which happen to be graded as AA — or I could pay $0.70 per egg (albeit, a guaranteed excellent egg that was conceived in living facilities with sunlit porches)?

Four words: Egg King for life! (That’s Jack’s Eggs Farm’s tag line.)

Sooo…. if you don’t spend the time to read my less-than-500-word article (read it!) here’s what you need to know about eggs:

(+) The only difference between brown eggs and white eggs is the bird from which they’re laid. Brown eggs are more expensive because the birds that lay brown eggs are larger and require more feed;

(+) Doesn’t matter how eggs are packaged. According to my source at the American Egg Board,  the only difference in type of packaging is cost. “In the production industry, if you put good eggs in the carton, the carton should protect the eggs,” she said.

(+) The grade of AA is higher than Grade A; however, due to manufacturing processes, by the time that many eggs labeled “Grade AA” reach the market, they’ve become Grade A eggs. The difference is slight to consumers.

(+) Eggs naturally have about 100 mg of omega-3, so when a company (such as Eggland’s Best) boasts that their eggs are a good source of omega-3, having 115mg omega-3 per egg … it’s purely a marketing ploy. (If omega-3s are your deal, look for eggs that have 200 mg to 300 mg omega-3s per egg, such as Giving Nature‘s eggs or The Country Hen.)

(+) Recipes generally call for large sized eggs.

Nom nom nom!

KP: So Yeah, I Know How To Make Really Good Quiche (Here’s How)

Quiche and I, we just get each other. It’s a natural evolution from one of my earliest cooking comfort zones, eggs, which are one of my Dad’s specialties — and so they’re one of mine, too.

But it goes deeper than that: Quiche is not just about eggs. This dish as I’ve interpreted it (and probably bastardized it) lies at the nexus of eggs, the utilitarian meal (could be breakfast/lunch/dinner or all of the above) (I have a tough time with the strictly breakfast-for-breakfast-only foods), and the kitchen sink dish — really, so long as your mix-ins are not rotten and play nicely together, and you chop them up small enough, you can probably stick them in a quiche and it’ll turn out just fine.

In this case, I had a ton of meat from a lovely rotisserie chicken that needed a home. I had plenty of orphaned eggs, left over from different six-count or 12-count packages. I had a fat zucchini that was asking to be utilized, and a pair of red bell peppers that were about to give their death gasp. (I ended up using about half of one. The remainder was too far gone.)

Quiche doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s why:

photo-2

Fail -Safe Kitchen Sink Quiche

4 eggs
1. c. milk (of your choice)
1c 1/2 meat of your choice, diced small (if you use something really salty, like bacon or smoked salmon, adjust significantly)
1c 1/2 shredded cheese (your choice)
1c minimum, preferably 1c 1/2 fresh vegetables, diced or thinly sliced. Can be anything: baby broccoli florets, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, … get creative, but keep it basic.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Key no. 1: Prep all vegetables and protein first. This is the longest bit. Mix eggs and milk in a bowl, set aside. Layer dry quiche ingredients into the frozen (slightly thawed is better) pie crust. Pour egg mixture evenly over ingredients.

Key no. 2: Gently, ever so gently, stir/mix ingredients and egg mixture within pie crust so you get a little bit of everything spread out — if you chose a good combination, it might start to look festive, little dots of color, like sprinkled confetti.

Manage to slide liquidy quiche into the oven — whew. You’re almost there. Now all it has to do is bake for 45-60 minutes.

Key no. 3: Do not, absolutely resist, taking the quiche out just because it’s puffed up in the center, it looks like it’s baked, it’s been in the oven for more than 45 minutes and it smells damn good. You’re so wrong.

Let it be … The quiche will continue to puff and continue to brown a deep, golden color around the edges and the whole apartment will continue to smell tantalizing — deal with it.

The point at which the quiche should be taken out and left to rest/cool for at least 10-15 minutes before cutting into it is when it starts to look so golden brown you’re on the verge of worrying it’s going to burn/be overdone. (And, the toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking, and that’s Fail-Safe Kitchen Sink Quiche.

Dinner: Spam. (The “Single-Serving Spam and Eggs” Post)

photo-5I have a soft spot in my heart for the Spam, it’s true. I love it’s fallout shelter kitsch, and quaint, mid-20th century packaging. I love how the Hawaiian culture has adopted it, and turned it into a breakfast side, a sandwich meat and sushi.

I picked up these “single serving” portions a few months ago from Jack’s 99-cent Store, for when I had a stray Spam craving.

photo-4photo-6…Well, that hasn’t happened yet, but trying to make something out of not much at all, staring into the fridge, at the eggs, and the onion, and staring at the tomatoes about to turn, I had a vision of an egg dish … that needed a salty protein, like ham. Or, in a pinch, Spam.

Why not? I pan-fried half a slice (a whole “single serving” has something like 60% of your daily allowance of fat), and, mixed with the fried tomatoes, onion, radish and chopped flat-leaf parsley, it was just the right touch. Now, what to do with the second half of my single serving?

Breakfast: OJ and (Hard-Boiled) Eggs, a Still Life

photoThe simplest of shapes and colors are so pretty.

That’s the thought that made me pause in the midst of the whirlwind that is me rushing around the apartment, getting ready to leave for work, and snap this photo.

I downed the juice, headed out the door … peeled and popped the hard-boiled eggs down the gullet a little later on.

Breakfast: $3.75 Breakfast Burrito that Doesn’t Suck, Imagine That!

photo“How much is that breakfast burrito?” 
          “$3.75.”
“How much is that vegetable omelette?”
        “$3.75. But the difference is, the potatoes go into the burrito and with the omelette, they’re on the side. They’re just there on the plate there for the display.”

So I’ve heard a couple of rumors of a breakfast cart in the neighborhood that does breakfast sandwiches with a meat option of real chorizo; I know where it is but I haven’t had the morning window of time to quite get there yet. 

So I had a soft spot in my heart already when I found this display at Amici 36 deli (which, if you check out the link, you’ll see I frequent on occasion) — despite the whole-wheat tortilla, which reminds me of a wrap in an unpleasant way. (And I don’t like wraps.)

I think I found a little gem: 

photo-1— First entry into the breakfast sandwich tag/category that hasn’t begged for a dribble of Mexican-style hot sauce. I think it’s just that right combination of egg, cheese, meat and potato in one bite. Mmm…

— If you want a sausage in your breakfast burrito, which would otherwise cost an additional $1.50 to any other breakfast, but comes optionally-included in the burrito… I think that’s called a loophole.

Amici 36, southwest corner of W. 36th Street and 8th Avenue, NYC