“The things they carried…P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits…they carried diseases…malaria and dysentery…lice and ringworm and leeches…and the land itself…the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing – these were intangibles…They carried their own lives.”
from The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (Haughton Mifflin, 1990)
It’s been a quarter century since peace finally came to the lands of Southeast Asia. For centuries it was part of the fabled “spice route” between the eastern and western worlds, yet in the 20th century more than twice the tonnage of bombs were dropped on Indochina than in all of World War II. I’ll be leaving Sunday to spend 43 days in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. I’ll have no worries or fears, unlike the brave but misled soldiers of that ill-fated war.
For me who narrowly escaped experiencing the horror of those past times, it feels odd that I’ll enjoy first class hotels, renowned cuisine, stunning scenery, cities and sites that have survived millennia of wars and legendary hospitality. From all my research of the past six months in preparation for this trip I expect to see, or even feel, little evidence (except in museums) of last century’s strife. As a chef, historian and travel writer I’m preparing myself for a flood of experiences that will test my ability to process this trip with all five senses – especially taste. Foods that few westerners ever have the opportunity to see, no less taste, await me, with fusion cuisine developed over centuries of east-west contact – durian cheesecake anyone?
Oddly, I’ll carry some of the same objects listed by Tim O’Brien – can opener (cork screw in my case), pocket knife, wristwatch, mosquito repellant, bottled water, sewing kit and malaria pills (one-a-day for 51 days). I’ll have to still be mindful of bed bugs – carrying bed bug repellant (fortunately I’m already aware of what they look, and feel, like.) Lice, leeches, dysentery are all still present – this is the tropics – which means swimming in lakes and rivers is out. I’ll carry my ignorance of customs – no pointing either with fingers or, especially, with one’s foot. I’ll be ignorant of the languages. For the first time in my life as a traveller I’ll be hopelessly unaware of what anyone is saying (with the exception of tourism workers that speak English). Language will become music, much nicer than the karaoke sounds my research says is the favorite throughout all four countries.
The best thing I’ll carry? A sense of wonder.
My first blog, from Bangkok, will post Tuesday, 8 February.
What am I saying? I had a pleasant, imaginative, moderately priced lunch in a major urban museum’s cafe? An oxymoran….0r lack of oxygen….?
Just off the multi-storey glass atrium of the striking American Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the airy, glass walled dining space occupied by the Petrie Court Cafe & Wine Bar. My experience in most museum cafes is to forgo the over priced, microwaved offerings in favor of a coffee, but the menu at Petrie is neither overpriced nor nuked.
Perhaps the Pennsylvania Dutch were Italian, because Petrie’s pappardelle noodles (top left) are as rich as anything eaten in a Lancaster farmhouse. Tossed with a light buttery cream sauce, earthy sautéed wild mushrooms and spinach with a garnish of spinach puree, it was an inspired pasta dish ($17.95.) The Cream of Pumpkin soup (bottom left)was velvety and light – not the thick vegetable puree served in so many restaurants. A flavorful stock underpinned the soup, but the aroma of the roasted pumpkin seed oil garnish raised this common dish to a new level of flavor ($8.95). Salads should delight the eye and the taste buds. (bottom right) Spicy arugula and mixed greens tossed in a light citrus vinaigrette with slightly salty manchego cheese, pears, bright fresh pomegranate seeds and deep red pomegranate puree garnish accomplished the task nicely ($9.95). Fresh sourdough rolls accompanied the meal. Most wines were in the $8 – $9.00/glass range. Despite a busy lunch time, service was smooth and professional. Interestingly, there are few restaurants of any type within walking distance of the MET in its wealthy Upper East Side location, making the Petrie Cafe & Wine Bar a welcome, and much-needed, addition to the neighborhood.
Little Giant cafe, on the corner of Broome and Orchard Streets, certainly would not have existed in 1870’s Lower East Side New York – or even 1970’s. Not that eating establishments didn’t exist back then. Taverns and street vendors have flourished from the city’s founding nearly 400 years ago. In the picture above, left side, you can see the sign for famous Katzs Deli serving the (then immigrant) Jewish community since 1888. Now an institution, but still terrific, its 21st century clientele is an ever-increasing affluent population of “post-immigrant” residents. Just a block down from the Tenement Museum, Little Giant is a laid back cafe in a renovated, exposed brick store front in an early 20th century Lower East Side building. In earlier days maybe it was a cloth store? It’s small space – seats 20/25 – is filled even at 3:00 pm on a weekday and keeps the small staff busy. The menu is brief but items are freshly made so be patient. The Angus Beef burger was fresh ground and grilled medium rare as requested ($9.95). A “little giant” portion of their own Mac and Cheese was excellent. Like Petrie’s Pumpkin Soup, Little Giant’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese eschewed thickeners and relied on a well seasoned, but medium, cheese sauce to bind the macaroni and garnished with a nice crust of browned bread crumbs for texture ($7.00/$14.00). A well seasoned “salad” of sautéed kale with oyster mushrooms was tasty and nutritious for anyone wondering about all that red meat ($9.95). The bar served a nice selection of micro beers on tap and bottle, wines by the glass and a great Bloody Mary with horseradish-infused vodka ($10.00). With its large store front windows, it was pleasant leisurely having lunch while watching the bustle which is always New York.
Finding imaginative Southwest American cuisine in New York is as difficult as in Albuquerque. Face it, real Southwest/Tex-Mex/Mexican-American is comfort food – like pasta with red sauce for Italians. To find chefs that create new dishes using old techniques is always nice and not common in the commercial world of the food industry.
Sante Fe, 73, West 71st Street, in the leafy but happening Upper West Side of New York, serves recognizable southwest dishes yet tweak the recipes giving them new life. Citrus and herb marinated thin-sliced grilled skirt steak is wrapped in a tortilla and served with a micro green salad ($12.95). A fresh lump-meat crab cake topped with a poached egg and covered with a roasted smoky tomato sauce is a flavorful variation on a brunch standard, with a green salad and rice pilaf ($14.95). Excellent house salsa accompanied corn chips and the house Margarita ($8.00 or $11.00) was citrus fresh and tequilla rich – not a mix. The restaurant itself is a relaxing space in light airy southwest peach, art, a fireplace and good acoustics (quiet!)
New York can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy to find great food in this “world capital” at prices most people tolerate at their local shopping mall’s food court!
“A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the Meat in Order.: Oysters. 1. A collar of brawn. 2. Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones. 3. A grand Sallet. 4. A pottage of caponets. 5. A breast of veal in stoffado. 6. A boil’d partridge. 7. A chine of beef, or surloin roast. 8. Minced pies. 9. A Jegote of mutton with anchove sauce. 10. A made dish of sweet-bread. 11. A swan roast. 12. A pasty of venison. 13. A kid with a pudding in his belly. 14. A steak pie. 15. A hanch of venison roasted. 16. A turkey roast and stuck with cloves. 17. A made dish of chickens in puff paste. 18. Two bran geese roasted, one larded. 19. Two large capons, one larded. 20. A Custard.
“The second course for the same Mess. Oranges and Lemons. 1. A Young lamb or kid. 2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded. 3. A pig souc’t with tongues. 4. Three ducks, one larded. 5. Three pheasants, 1 larded. 6. A Swan Pye. 7. Three brace of partridge, three larded. 8. Made dish in puff paste. 9. Bolonia sausages, and anChoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish. 10. Six teels, three larded. 11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon. 12. Ten plovers, five larded. 13. A quince Pye, or warden pye. 14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded. 15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins &c. 16. A dish of Larks. 17. Six dried neats tongues. 18. Sturgeon. 19. Powdered Geese. Jellies.”
—The Accomplisht Cook, Robert May, facsimile 1685 edition [Prospect Books:Devon] 2000 (pages unnumbered)
In the later 1700’s George Washington would have finished his dinner at Mount Vernon with his own recipe for eggnog:
1 quart of cream, 1 quart of milk, 12 eggs, some sugar, 2 cups brandy, 1 cup rye whiskey, 1/2 cup rum, 1/2 cup sherry.
And we thought all our founding fathers were Puritans?
Thomas Massey House (1696 brick section)
Anglican and Catholic Southerners did celebrate Christmas with considerable feasting, unlike the Puritan, Congregationalist, Quaker, and Mennonite Northern colonists but both traditions blended in the keystone colony of Pennsylvania. The prior history of the Delaware Valley and William Penn’s inclusive policies created an ethnic and religious mix not found in the other twelve colonies. Swedes, Germans, French Huguenots, Welsh among others settled and celebrated their traditions next to their simple Quaker neighbors. The prosperity of Pennsylvania led even Quaker families to decorate their homes with greens and dine on the bounty of the colonies. Thirty and forty course dinners in wealthy Philadelphia homes were not uncommon by the 1770’s.
Thomas Massey, a prosperous self-made Quaker farmer with over 300 acres,would have celebrated Christmas in a restrained manner in these early years (17th century) of the colony. At the recent (11 December 2010) Christmas reception at the Thomas Massey House – a Pennsylvania Historic Site – the variety of holiday traditions in colonial Pennsylvania was celebrated – minus the thirty course dinner.
Quaker simplicity is evident in the sparsely furnished and decorated sitting room. Dried fruits and gingerbread were both seasonal luxuries and celebratory foods.
Swedish settlement in the Delaware Valley preceded William Penn, and they remained an important part of the colony. They brought over their pre-Christmas festival of St. Lucia (above left) its saffron bun (Lussekatter) and simple woven decorations (lower right). Although there is no evidence that the Christmas tree was used by Germans in the colonial period, they did decorate with boughs of greens, made pretzels (praying hands – see center picture) and a number of cookies that have become American traditions – Lebkuchen, Pfeffernusse, Anisplatzchen.
On an original William Penn land grant, Richard Wall began construction on his house in 1682. Like all surviving houses from this era, additions were numerous. Even though both the Wall and Massey houses remained private residences for over 250 years, major structural renovations seem to have ceased by the early 19th century. As a house museum, the Cheltenham Historical Society interprets the interior of the Wall House to reflect the changing taste in furnishings and fashion during 250 years as a home and the events that shaped the lives of the residence.
The parlor is Victorian with early crocheted decorations (center). A room devoted to World War II memories displays a field hospital “tree” decorated with blue and white ribbon, paper and painted tongue depressors (left). The entrance tree is aglow with 19th and early 20th century German glass ornaments (right).
The Wall House kitchen contains an extraordinary collection of 18th and 19th century tools and well as a well restored hearth. In honor of the season, the table was set for Christmas dinner in true 18th century fashion – all the dishes on the table at once.
Having served as a Quaker Meeting House in its very early years, a stop on the Underground Railroad, and the home center of the Shoemaker-Bosler Mill complex until the 1920’s, the Wall House reflects the human stories that are history and displays with great care the objects of everyday life.
Today, toys are always Christmas, although not in Colonial times. Among the many everyday treasures at the Wall House is a stunning 5 foot tall, 9 room doll house. Constructed in 1915, furnishings were painstakingly assembled over the next forty years.
Nearly everything within the house was hand-made or adapted. Miniature electrified chandeliers glow, a sub-miniature electric train operates and even an attic is appropriately cluttered including a discarded toilet. It’s awesome whimsy – just the spirit Christmas is supposed to generate. The Wall and Massey Houses prove that in Pennsylvania we have been enjoying that spirit for centuries.
Good food and good tools – a chef’s first love. To wander and discover – a travel writer’s first love. To experience it in your own back yard – nice.
Italy is indisputably a preeminent center for design be it clothing, jewelry or kitchen tools. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s current exhibition: Alessi: Ethical and Radical, is a virtual catalogue of Alessi kitchen design over the past 75 years. It’s quite literally the catalogue if you browse both the exhibit and their website. Currently operated by the third generation, the family owned Alessi Design Factory is a major supplier of restaurant small ware, home kitchen tools, home and office decor, but it’s the designs and the company’s philosophy that the exhibit in the Perelman Building is celebrating.
From the simplest restaurant coffee pot to partnerships with some of the world’s foremost designers, artists and architects, Alessi has consistently striven to explore the boundaries of form while not compromising function or quality. Although the titanium tea and coffee set could be mistaken for a sculpture, it is a functioning service.
Alessi is renowned for seeking out artists world-wide and devoting financial resources, space and time allowing them the freedom to create. Philadelphia architect Robert Venturi’s tea and coffee service for Alessi (see picture at top of post) combines spherical form, classic colonial elements and Philadelphia’s own silver tradition.
The whimsical and the practical are both well within Alessi’s vision. The simple Brazilian designed wire baskets with leather binding and the amusing coffee pot show off this side of the line.
Since the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800’s, South Philly – the area bounded by South Street to the north, the Delaware river to the east, the Schuylkill River to the south and Broad Street to the west – has been Philadelphia’s ownLittle Italy. It’s a compact, densely populated area of neatly maintained row houses, small shops, churches and Union halls. Cars tend to park where ever it’s legal, which seems to be places I’d never suspect. Although much of the heavy industry that first attracted immigrants to the city has vanished, South Philly is still a center for food markets – the famous Italian Market – fabrics and Italian restaurants.
Paradiso Restaurant & Wine Bar at 1627 East Passyunk Avenue, near Tasker Street, is in the heart of South Philly. I was not familiar with the restaurant, but we wanted to eat in the middle of the neighborhood, and we were not disappointed. Early on a Sunday evening, having a table without a reservation seemed fine, but counting the number of regulars, I’d recommend reservations any other night. At less than ten-years old, Paradiso is not a South Philly institution allowing it the freedom to combine tradition with innovation. Chef/owner Lynn Marie Rinaldi’s Rice Pudding ($8.50) with dried sour cherries, cinnamon and vanilla beans, is an award-winning (Philadelphia Magazine 2005) perennial favorite, and if I can believe our server (her brother) the Braised Tripe with Fresh Tomato and Parmigiano Reggiano ($8.50) was their South Philly grandmother’s recipe.
The Seared Skate accompanied by Fregola Sarda with lump crabmeat ($22.00), is not a South Philly regular – or even a Philadelphia regular – menu item. Skate is the tender wing of this ray fish and enjoying its natural butter-softness with Paradiso’s well seasoned searing was a rare delight. Fregola Sarda is Italian couscous made by a time-consuming process of rubbing tiny grains of semolina together with a bit of water and toasting them, repeating until you end up with tiny toasted pasta balls that are the size of Israeli couscous – not the tiny Moroccan. Paradiso made it an opulent side dish with the addition of crabmeat. We had not seen Fettuccine with Wild Boar Ragu ($17.00) on a menu since a trip to Siena several years ago. This rich, earthy pasta dish is perfect for winter time, and Paradiso gilded the recipe by adding ground chestnuts to the pasta dough. Paradiso has an extensive wine list, yet on Sunday patrons may BYOB.
South Philly celebrates Christmas with exuberance. Entire blocks compete for decorating honors and the bakeries overflow with Italian treats. It’s not too early to order your pig, that whole pig, at Cannuli’s in the Italian Market.
And little rivulets from the rocks add beauty to my grove.
I drink the wine my hills produce; On wholesome food I dine;
My little offspring ‘round me Are like clusters on the vine…”
Thomas Livezey, circa 1750
It’s Friday evening and we’re sitting on the great marble staircase having a drink and listening to jazz at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art After Five. Stepping out into the courtyard, the city at night glitters and hums like an urban engine. The following day, we leisurely stroll down Forbidden Drive in bucolic Valley Green after having lunch in an 1850 Inn. Mounted horses pass at full gallop and geese float down the Wissahickon Creek. We’re still within the city. Like all great urban centers, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. Like all great cities, these neighborhoods evolve, and so it is with William Penn’s original square mile city of Philadelphia as well as leafy Chestnut Hill/Valley Green. The future doesn’t always preserve the past, and sometimes that’s good.
William Penn’s original square mile city, bounded by the four squares of Rittenhouse, Washington, Franklin and Logan, still retains an orderly grid. The absence of a glass and steel jungle blotting out the sun, and the presence of 300 year old alleyways lined with colonial houses allows Philadelphia to feel like a home for humans, rather than just an economic engine. Visionary city planners as early as the late 1700’s designed the grand boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that stretches from City Hall/Logan Circle to the Art Museum. It’s hard to experience a finer entrance to a city than the tree-lined, flag bedecked, fountain anchored Parkway. Its space, like a giant front lawn, is shared by commuters, strollers, special events, runners, frisby players, three generations of Calder family sculptures and many cultural institutions. Yet one square mile Philadelphia was an urban economic engine in the 18th and 19th centuries with all the accompanying issues of pollution, muddy streets, poor sanitation and summer “fever” epidemics.
The 1920’s Greek temple that is the Philadelphia Museum of Art stands, appropriately, on a hill at the far end of the Parkway. Its galleries contain priceless collections spanning millennia. Music and social events are not new to museums, but Art After 5 (every Friday from 5:00 to 8:00) has become a fixture in Philadelphia’s “TGIF” venues. There are a limited number of tables that fill quickly but sitting on the smooth marble of the grand staircase, under the gaze of an enormous backlit “Diana,” creates an amphitheater feel. The central hall rises up one floor to a broad mezzanine where it’s possible to sit as well. Two full service bars and a professional, personable wait staff serve light fare and drinks. It’s an informal, club atmosphere and people wander through the adjoining galleries while the music filters in as doors open adding to the visual experience.
From the gazebos that sits on a rocky promontory outside the museum there’s a nice view of the Waterworks and Boathouse Row.
An engineering marvel when it opened in the early 19th century, the municipal Waterworks pumped fresh Schuylkill River water directly into an ever-expanding city. Today its restored buildings house a pricey restaurant, small museum and provide public space as part of Fairmount Park. Boathouse Row stretches just beyond. This collection of late 19th century stone and wooden houses represent generations of private university associated sculling clubs. Although the sport is often thought of in the same league as polo, dressage and fox-hunting, the skill necessary to compete in sculling is achieved only after arduous physical training. In Philadelphia, it’s a serious sport.
The 1740 Livezey House has that stately look of so many of the well-preserved antique houses in Valley Green and the neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. From the Art Museum it’s possible to hike or bike the five miles on trails that meander through the thickly forested Park, along the river and creek, directly to Valley Green and Chestnut Hill. Yet except for the pre-1870 houses, little of this countryside was bucolic as late as the 1870’s. The banks of the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Creek had been denuded of trees for nearly 200 years and over built with a series of small company towns while its polluted waters were harnessed to provide energy for the mills that were part of Philadelphia’s economic engine. Mr. Thomas Livezey made a nice fortune from his Wissahickon Creek mill but his surroundings were certainly not as attractive as today.
It was the threat to Philadelphia’s drinking water that spurred the building of the long-planned 9,000 acre Fairmount city park. Its serpentine shape deliberately included both the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Creek within its boundaries. Gone were dozens of Colonial and early 19th century mills, houses and entire small company towns. The Park-owned historic Rittenhouse Town is an exception and provides a glimpse of life when it was a company town/suburb to Philadelphia’s one square mile city. Yet since the town’s business was paper making one can be sure few trees existed when it was purchased by the Park Commission in the 1870’s. Restoration of the watershed, over a century later, is still ongoing. These generally affluent neighborhoods today have the look and feel of story book versions of leafy, bucolic Colonial villages, and yet they’re within the bounds of a 21st century city.
The Valley Green Inn on Forbidden Drive (cars were banned in 1920) has been open since 1850 but with a checkered history. In the past few years it seems to have secured its future as a venue for fine interpretations of classic American and Continental fare. It’s setting directly on the Wissahickon Creek with its antique decorated dining rooms make it an ideal venue for any occasion. There’s nothing better than taking a walk along the 7-mile Forbidden Drive after lunch nearly any time of the year, and if you’re riding your horse, you can still hitch it to the posts outside the Inn.
(I am posting some photos not printed with the articles)
Global Writes, the 54 year old journal of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (http://global-writes.com/ ) published Sweet Fire in Ushuaia, my article on the incomparable food enterprise Dulce Fuego in Ushuaia, Argentina run by 20-something-year-old chefs.
The unexpected fireworks were free, in celebration of the 2010 New York Marathon that would be run the following day. We had just stepped out of Pasha Restaurant on West 71st Street, when the booming commenced. It was an unexpected end to a pleasant Turkish dinner, one of the great cuisines. The interior of Pasha is comfortable with soft lighting and well modulated background music. From 5:00 to 7:00 PM the $23.95, 3-course, prix fixe menu is well thought out attracting repeat customers with five choices from the main menu (not the boredom of so many prix fixe selections.) My wife had the prix fixe with a salad, Piya (Cannellini beans tossed with sweet onions, scallions, parsley, tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil) with warm flaky rolls to absorb the herbs. Alabalik Tava followed (Boneless brook trout dusted with cornmeal and pan seared). Dessert was a wedge of perfect baklava – (non-syrupy) – spice, nut and honey infused pyhllo pastry. For $24.95, I had the fish entrée of the day: a whole, wood-grilled Chilean Sea Bass. Its moist white meat was encased by its crispy, herbed skin. Side dishes were crisp, steamed vegetables and an herb-infused rice pilaf. It was not wise to arrive on a Saturday night without a reservation – even if it was only 5:30 PM. Yet Pasha was gracious and had a table that was not booked until 7:30 PM, but I would recommend reservations since the dinning room was full by 6:30.
At West 78th’s Drilling Company Theater, we attended a moving and jarring new play, superbly acted and produced by this award-winning 11-year old company. Eric Sanders’ Reservoir is a heart wrenching look at the psychological detritus of war – the “survivors”. At $18/ticket, the Drilling Company proves that top theater is found everywhere in New York before it moves on to $200/ticket on Broadway. Saturday evening’s dinner, theater (and fireworks) cost less than $130/couple.
Actually, Lederhosen Bierhaus is not nearly as kitsch as their home web site suggests. On Grove Street, off Christopher Street in the trendy East Village, Lederhosen has the atmosphere of a neighborhood bierhaus. In my two visits, over a six month period, I’ve yet to see any staff wear either lederhosen or rhinestone decorated milk-maid dresses. Of course, I’ve yet to order the decidedly college-fraternity sized boot of beer. In smaller, more manageable quantities, their superb selections on-tap, and in bottles, set the stage for equally authentic Bavarian bierhaus food. Main courses ranged from the classic Schnitzel to sautéed herring fillets with mushroom sauce (I had that). Each generous portion comes with a variety of sides, minimum four – green and red cabbage slaw, potato salads, sautéed potatoes, bean salads, spatzzle. (average entrée $10 – 19) Soft, aromatic, in-house pretzels are served with german mustards ($3.00) along with a variety of wurst on crispy rolls with toppings ($5.00), appetizers for pickle and herring lovers ($5.00) and generous soups and sandwiches ($5.00- $10.00) round out a menu to be enjoyed in a convivial atmosphere that’s hard to top – unless you just really don’t like German food, but then…you can always try their flights of beer (8, I believe) with shots of schnapps.
On our first visit to Lederhosen we were with an Austrian friend who was impressed with the quality of this everyday German pub faire. In the picture above the three dishes are from left: Boneless Herring Fillets with a choice of sauces ($10), Currywurst grilled beef sausage ($5.00) and Wiener Schnitzel ($17) Ah yes, those are lederhosen hanging from the ceiling (top left). The restaurant has three small rooms that fill quickly for lunch and dinner. Reservations are not accepted except for special occasions, but waiting times are typically not long, and you can always have a beer while you stand in the social bar entrance area.
Marie’s Crisis Cafe, 59 Grove Street,is oddly unique in bridging a number of Lower Manhattan social stages. The below street level bar is dark as should be expected when in an 18th century building – once home to Tom Paine, where he penned his famous revolutionary essays The Crisis Papers. It went down-hill after that going from bar/brothel to worse until Prohibition (by the 1920’s it was known as Marie’s). After Prohibition’s 1930’s end, Marie’s somehow qualified for a stunning WPA funded reverse painted glass wall mural depicting both the French and American Revolutions, launching a new era.
On Grove Street just off Christopher and 7th Ave, (and only 4 or 5 blocks from the Lederhosen) this area of the Village was always known for being largely gay, hip and culturally cutting edge. For over 35 years the latest reincarnation of Marie’s Crises Cafe has witnessed the neighborhood’s transformation from grunge to designer chic. Yet Marie’s Crises Cafe has remained a relaxing, straight-friendly, singing piano bar and neighborhood hangout. My wife, friends and I have spent several evenings enjoying the ongoing concert with professional theater pianist playing at the separate piano bar. The pianists of the evening have terrific voices and encyclopedic musical theater repertoire, but its the participation of patrons that take Marie’s to a different level. We’re not talking karaoke here. Regular patrons at Marie’s are often the seasoned professional as well as the young aspiring male or female stage singers. There is more standing room than sitting room and the bar is basic but inexpensive ($6 – $7/beer and $8 – $10/shots and drinks). Yet there’s no cover for this top-notch entertainment.
Between Lederhosen Bierhaus and Marie’s Crisis piano bar, a Friday evening in Manhattan’s Village for two, with dinner, entertainment and drinks cost us less than $100.00
We were staying with a friend on Staten Island, a pleasant, free, 20 minute ferry ride that passes Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but it’s viewing Manhattan at night that’s magical. Staten Island’s an article in itself, but one restaurant stands out, amidst a sea of mediocrity.
We had Sunday dinner at Bayou Restaurant, 1072 Bay Street, in the middle of a nondescript commercial strip. Yet there’s nothing nondescript about the execution of its Louisiana inspired menu. My wife, a New Orleans native was impressed with the Cajun Seafood stew, our friend’s Seafood bake and my rack of lamb – all with Cajun spices and Louisiana’s French/Spanish inspired sauces. Dinner per person, with wine and tip, for 3 was $136.00 ($46/per person). Everything else we did that day of the Marathon was free(no, we didn’t run…now if it was a hike…).
True, we spent the weekend at a friend’s apartment, but before the invitation, I had planned to use some rewards points for two-nights at a first class Manhattan hotel that, without points, would have cost $600 for the weekend. Responsible use of travel reward credit cards can result in significant savings on future trips.
For a bit over $350/couple we had dinner and entertainment for three weekend days, two nights, plus subway fares on the city’s efficient, renovated system. Manhattan on a budget? Actually, no – Manhattan on the smarts. With a little reading/skimming – New York Times (paper or on-line), New Yorker magazine and blogs – it’s easy to create a list of favorites.
There’s nothing like New York…at least to visit for a weekend.
The fire’s roaring in the kitchen of the 1696 Thomas Massey House, trying to take the chill out of the beautiful autumn morning in this 17th century stone house. Eight of us are gathered around a colonial cooking icon – Clarissa Dillon, Ph.D. I’ll refrain from using the word “legend” since I heard one well known Philadelphia chef recently reject that term when applied to him saying, “I can’t be a legend; I’m not dead yet.” Neither is Dr. Dillon, an octogenarian who next year on her annual trip to the British Isles will study whiskey distilling in Scotland.
Clarissa is one of the foremost authorities – and she’ll freely say still a “student”- of 18th century American Colonial cooking, farming, gardening and household activities. I’ll leave all the details to your exploration of her web site. Needless to say, she’s a stickler on authenticity – writing, editing and traveling extensively to get the facts and set the history books straight.
A life-long teacher, she conducts seminars, cooking and gardening classes at many 18th century historic homes that are the legacy of William Penn’s Pennsylvania colony – Pennsbury Manor, the Wyck and Morris Mansions, Pottsgrove Manor, Anselma Mills, Ephrata Cloister just to name a few.
On this Saturday morning we are learning about, and preparing, an autumn dinner on an open hearth using 18th century utensils with vegetables and herbs from the Massey House garden.
Stewed duck with bacon and veal forcemeat
It’s confusing at first when I hear the word “receipt” used instead of recipe, but our modern word is, well, 20th century. For years, receipt meant cooking preparation instructions as well as accounts, and even Dr. Dillion says it’s often confusing until she sees the actual document.
Colonial American receipts were, for the most part, English, which makes perfect sense. After all, we were English colonies with very English sensibilities. Catherine Brooks, The Complete English Cook, 1762, was one of the popular sources for Colonial kitchens.
Brooks’ receipt for Stewing Ducks Whole: (all receipts are written in 18th century format)
Draw your ducks (pluck the feathers, etc.) and wash them clean, then put them into a stew-pan, with strong Broth, Anchovy, Lemon-peel, whole Pepper, and Onion, Mace and red Wine; when well stewed, put one piece of butter and some grated bread to thicken it; lay force Meatballs and crisped bacon round them and garnish with Shallots.
To translate: for 8 servings – 2 to 3 whole ducks covered with water or chicken stock. Add 5 to 6 chopped anchovy filets, peel of one lemon, 12 – 15 whole pepper corns, and one large onion chopped, 1 t. ground mace, and 1-1/2 cups red wine. Simmer until ducks register 165 degrees with a meat thermometer. Remove the ducks from the stock and keep warm. Strain the stock. Skim as much fat as possible. (If you prepare in advance, refrigerate both the ducks and the stock overnight. All the duck fat will solidify on the top and you can simply remove it.) Return to the fire, or stove, and add 1 to 2 cups of bread crumbs and ¼ pound of butter. Simmer until thickened.
Anchovy fillets, and other small salted fish, had been used since pre-Roman days as a salt substitute. Until the 19th century, salt was an expensive item commonly used for food preservation, not in a bowl on the dining table unless you were very rich!
Catharine Brooks’ Veal Force-meat Balls:
Take half a pound of suet, as much veal cut fine, and beat them in a marble Mortar or wooden bowl; have a few sweet Herbs shred fine, and a little Mace dried and beat fine, a little lemon-peel cut very fine, a small Nutmeg grated, or half a large one, a little pepper and salt, and the Yolks of two eggs; mix all these well together, then roll them into little round balls, and some in long ones; roll them in flour, and fry them brown.
To translate: for 8 servings – I’d use 3/4th pound each suet and ground veal. Buy suet from a butcher or good grocery store (DO NOT use suet for birds!!!) and chop very fine in a food processor. Add 1t. crushed dried thyme, 1 T. fresh minced parsley, 1/2 t. nutmeg, ¼ t. mace, ½ t. grated fresh lemon peel, ¼ t. each salt and pepper and the egg yolks. Roll into balls and coat with flour or bread crumbs. Fry in butter.
Bacon: Cut half a pound of sliced bacon into thirds and fry until crisp.
Presentation: Arrange the ducks on a platter, arrange the meatballs and bacon around the ducks and sprinkle with 2 sliced shallots. Serve the gravy in a separate bowl.
In the 18th century, pies were generally thought of as savory dishes whether made from beef and kidneys or fruit. Ann Peckham’s 18th century Cranberry Pie was meant to be served as a side dish. As a counter point to the richness of the Duck dish, the tart cranberries and flakey crust were terrific. In the 18th century, the crust was frequently so thick it was not meant to be eaten. It served as the “dish” from which the filling was spooned out.
Ann Peckham’s Cranberry Tart:
Roll a sheet of tart paste, put it into your dish, boil up some cranberries with loaf sugar; when cold put them in, and trellis them over with the puff paste, cut a border out to lie round your dish, and bake it.
To make the paste for tarts: Take a pound of flour, and half a pound of butter, rub the butter into the flour, two eggs, and a little water, and make it into a paste.
To translate: Make the filling by combining 1-½ pounds of fresh cranberries and 1 to 1-½ pounds of sugar. Place on the fire, or the stove, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain through a colander. (Reserve the liquid, if you wish, adding ½ to 1 pound more sugar. Bring to a boil until reduced by half, and you have a cranberry syrup to use on pancakes, etc.)
For the crust: Cut the butter into the flour either with two knives, a pastry blender or in a food processor. In the bowl, using clean hands, lightly rub the flour and butter together to coat the flour with the fat, BUT don’t knead it together like bread. The heat in your hands will melt the butter and toughen the dough. Add the eggs and combine with a fork. If the mixture is not combining into a ball sprinkle in a little ice cold water just until the dough forms. Roll out 2/3’s of the dough and line a deep pie pan. After the cranberries have cooled to room temperature, pour into the crust. With the remaining 1/3 of the crust, roll out and cut into strips making a lattice design on top of the pie. Place into an oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
If baking on an open fire, place the pie pan into a cast iron Dutch oven and cover with the lid. Place on the coals of the fire, or better, on a cast iron trivet above the fire, and cover the top of the lid with coals. Rotate the Dutch oven after 20 minutes. Check the pie after 40 minutes by removing the coals from the top of the lid and checking to see the color of the crust.
Serve the pie as a side dish to the duck.
Carrots are carrots and even in this very late October day, they were still fresh in the garden. Scorzonera though is something else and you’ll not find it in any market. You have to grow it yourself. Known in England as Viper grass, its root is the only edible part, but it’s a very thin root. After scraping the skin off, what you have are very thin pieces of a root vegetable which was fried or steamed and frequently cream and butter were added. Its flavor is akin to a mild carrot. In the 19th century it fell out of the general cooking repertoire and was replaced by parsnips. Since the amount was so small we simply added them to the carrots and simmerd both over the fire for about one hour.
Hard apple cider was the beverage of choice for the common English/Colonial person for most meals and the major reason for cultivating apple trees in the first place.
As delicious as this dinner was, more fascinating were the tidbits of knowledge I was able to absorb at this first class.
The green tops of the carrots were used as a wool dye. After boiling, the wool turns yellow.
Claret, a common wine in English receipts, is French Bordeaux.
Suet for all recipes is the thick layer of creamy white fat that cushions the kidneys.
Kitchen gardens were first created by the Dutch and not adopted in England until the 16th century, even then only the affluent had extra land around their houses for a garden. Most kitchen gardens were for medicinal purposes – sage, turnips and potatoes being among the many forms of produce used for medicine. The average person gathered wild herbs, green onions in the spring, nuts etc. for cooking until the 19th century.
American colonial cooking was not in any way influenced by the Native American diet – with the exception of common vegetables such as corn. Native Americans, considered savages, were ignored and condemned. John Bartram, the famous 18th century Philadelphia medicinal gardener grudgingly served as a go-between with the Onondaga in order to increase his knowledge.
The Colonial diet was as far from organic, vegetarian and low-fat as one can imagine. Human manure was commonly used as fertilizer. Meat was devoured especially in winter and copious amounts of fat were used in all dishes.
Cheese was a summer substitute for meat since cattle was not slaughtered until winter – they needed the summer to fatten. Cheese and butter were made in late spring and summer when the grass the cows were munching on were free from spring onions and other weeds that would taint the milk sour. Most cheeses were of the soft, fresh variety. Obviously the wealthy could afford to preserve or import high quality, and harder, English cheeses such as cheddar.
Because hearth cooking made it difficult to keep food hot while waiting for the remainder of the meal to cook, dishes were frequently eaten at room temperature which often does not detract from the flavors. All dishes would be placed on the table at once – even those deemed “sweets.”
A very wealthy household with many servants frequently served three courses with an average of 20 – 25 different dishes per course – “buffet style.” Meats, fish, seafood, vegetables, pies and puddings would all be part of each course. The first course would be “hardy” – beef, etc. Second course lighter – chicken, small birds, etc. The dessert course usually consisted of fresh and dried fruits, nuts and chocolate coated nuts.
Wine was made from everything including turnips and parsnips and brewing beer was part of every houshold and farm. “Fresh water” for drinking was an anomaly. Wherever there were towns and farms, lakes and streams were polluted with human and animal waste.
This is just the proverbial “tip of the ice berg” when it comes to my knowledge of 18th century food preparation, but it was sufficient to make me desire more!
The Thomas Massey House hosts authentic Colonial dinners, by candlelight, several times during the year, check their web site, and will host a Christmas house event on 11 December 2010 highlighting the food of the various ethnic groups that comprised Penn’s colony. Pat Martin is the very capable, and overly modest, chef of these dinners.
Oh…the church key. Clarissa said it soon will cease to be manufactured because few liquids these days are canned that necessitate the punch section of the opener. Except that in Colonial cooking, items such as canned milk are necessary. She urged that we all stock up on this simple and effective tool. Nothing, including Dr. Clarissa Dillon, ever loses its usefulness!
This is not what Marie Antoinette, the young ravishing French Queen had in mind when she spoke her famous “Let them eat cake” as Paris burned – or was that Nero in Rome? Doesn’t matter. “Cake” in the 18th century was the semi-charred bottom of a loaf of bread – at least the cook hoped it was only semi-charred – the result of thin sheet pans sitting directly on the hot bricks of a wood heated oven. The cook would slice off the charred bottom section and send the “upper crust” of the loaf to the dining table. The Queen was suggesting that the tens of thousands of bottom crusts – the cake – from the bread shops be distributed to the poor instead of going to the pigs…misinformation…it’s enough to make you lose your head.
The delectable 8″ lemon and raspberry cake, in the first photo, was purchased for $23.00 at the Night Kitchen, Chestnut Hill’s (Philadelphia) premier bakery, for my wife’s birthday. Prior to 1856, making such a cake would have cost dearly in real money, and it all had to do with the one simple ingredient of the egg white. Only rich households could afford the expensive sugar, flavorings and the hired help that would laboriously hand whip the egg whites in copper pans to produce the essential white foam required to help lift the batter into the light texture we so prize in a cake – not to mention getting the oven temperature correct. It took American ingenuity to bring this über luxury into the middle class home.
“An egg beater having a manually cranked drive wheel with opposed gear faces which are engaged by a pair of pinions keyed to the shafts of intermeshing beater elements whereby the turning wheel causes these elements to rotate in opposite directions.”
Why is this genius? What we take for granted as a simple device was, in reality, a seminal invention – a gear mechanism responsible for such essential tools as the hand drill for everyday home use, the oil drill exploring for “black gold” and the automobile transmission. But first it revolutionized the kitchen allowing for today’s bakeries, Dunkin Donuts and Mom’s birthday cakes for the children.
Ingenuity quickly ignited creativity with elegant cast iron designs – beautiful glass containers to prevent splatter, thin dashers allowing beaters to be inserted in jars and stands allowing them to stay up in a bowl. (Please click photos to enlarge.)
I was eleven years old when I graduated from box cake mixes and wanted to make real cakes. The dreaded egg whites where the killer. Coming from a family that enjoyed good food, at restaurants, but had no time for home cooking, it took a lot of trial and error before I mastered the technique.
To whip egg whites:
(1) always seperate cold eggs, dropping the white, one at a time, into a small bowl and putting the yolks into a seperate bowl.
(2) Check the white and make sure there is not even a speck of egg yolk in the white. Any yolk at all will cause the whites to fail. Transfer the whites, one at a time, to a clean, grease-free mixing bowl. Repeat this until you’ve seperated all the eggs.
(3) The egg whites must sit at room temperature for one hour – cold egg whites will not produce the necessary volume.
(4) Make sure the mixer’s dashers are grease free and clean. Whip at high speed until soft peaks form, hold but gently fold over as you lift the dashers. Do not over mix because the whites will become stiff and actually lose the essential air that’s been incorporated.
(5) If you are making a meringue, start adding the sugar once the whites begin to foam, but, sprinkle the sugar slowly as the whites are beating. Adding the sugar too fast will cause the whites to collapse.
My 140 egg beater collection (at current count) started some years ago. I always liked old tools, but it was an uncle that piqued my interest in the egg beater over 25 years ago when he gave me my first two antiques. Curiously the one on the left, above, is not based on the 1856 gear mechanism but rather the 3rd century Archimedes screw principle. This rare 1906 beater was considered by its inventor, George Flowers of Philadelphia, to be an improvement because of its lack of gears that could get out of alignment. In 1921 a patent was granted for a portable hand-held electric mixer. Hamilton Beach made the motor and Dormeyer marketed the beater. The motor housing detaches so the dashers can be washed. It still works fine.
Years later, as a Chef/Educator, student interest in old kitchen tools led me to explore antique markets, and ebay, where I discovered a new world – the enormous variety of eggbeaters, their ingenuity and fascinating industrial designs. From beating egg whites, inventors turned to simplifying other common kitchen tasks.
Heavy cream splatters when beating to create whipped cream. Although incorporating air into cream is necessary, it doesn’t require the volume traditional dashers provide. By the late 1800’s inventors were creating flat, horizontal dashers. The 1897 Lyon has a unique set of double dashers that rotate in opposing directions. The Dunlap Sanitary Silver Blade came with a dedicated ironstone bowl with an indentation that fit a tip on the blade’s bottom to keep the beater in place. Other designs were meant to fit into dedicated glass jars.
Everyone wants to avoid splattering their clothes. Putting a beater in a glass jar had been an idea since the 1880’s. Besides the rotary gear and the Archimedes slide screw, a basic spring coil that agitates the mixture is a common mechanism in many beaters. One ingenious device marries the Archimedes with a counter weight that spins a single dasher in continuous motion just like a child’s toy top – the 1939 Jiffy Mixer.
By the 1920’s, heavy cast iron egg beaters were losing their appeal. For a collector, the cast iron beaters are beautiful with elaborate and imaginative designs – the golden age. For the cook they were heavy, brittle and the gears needed constant lubrication and adjustment to stay aligned. By the early 20th century, tin and aluminum were replacing cast iron. Many tin beaters were inexpensive and flimsy – like early plastic – but the aluminum beaters were innovative, extremely light and high-end. Louis Ullman, New York City, patented his all aluminum American Beauty and created an instant success.
Clarence Elliott of Kansas City developed a high-end, sturdy beater sought after by collectors and known as “KC’s.” Inside the round dashers he placed additional round rings dubbed “soap bubbles” which aerated a mixture with great efficiency. His 1935 model with a folding side handle is a particularly nice design.
Kansas City folding handle 1935
In the 1920’s less than 50% of the American population had electricity in their homes. Water powered glass jar eggbeaters were the high-end kitchen tool in these households. Operated by attaching a hose or tightening a faucet connection, water circulated through the cap turning the dashers – the water emptied down the tube. Even better for the thrifty farm cook, the mechanism attached to a standard one quart Ball canning jar.
Before 1860, making butter was a laborious process of aerating the cream by plunging a wood dasher up and down. The egg beater gear mechanism revolutionized butter allowing any kitchen to make fresh butter, and its accompanying butter milk, in “two minutes.” Actually, it took about five minutes when I use the 1914 Two Minute butter churn.
Mayonnaise has been a beloved sauce, especially in France and Spain, since the early 1700’s. Its preparation by hand, even today, requires patience, skill and time. Prior to the egg beater, the whole eggs had to be beaten with a whisk for a considerable amount of time while the oil was added drop by drop. Adding the oil too quickly – faster than a drop at a time – will cause the eggs to stay flat and thin because the oil will fail to bond with the yolk protein during aeration. Not only did the eggbeater lessen the hand drudgery, but the ingenious addition of an attached funnel allowed the cook to control the drops of oil by adjusting a valve.
The French created fanciful designs for their dashers, as evidenced by the above three egg beaters.
These Archimedes beaters, above, attest to both interesting designs and marketing. The second from the left, with the jar, is English, Horlick’s Malted Milk powder, created by the aristocratic Horlick brothers, but manufactured in Racine, Wisconsin for the American market. Their simple beater and jar, which included the mixing procedure, was frequently included for free when a customer purchased their first supply of powder.
Labor saving devices were the hallmark of the Industrial Revolution. The 1905 Universal Cake Mixer went one step further allowing the baker to combine all ingredients and gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.
The Yoder Food Mixer’s interchangeable dashers was revolutionary for a hand mixer. Its encased housing allowed easy lubrication of the gears providing, to this day, smooth operation for all mixing needs.
My two personal favorites are the Aureluis Brothers triple dasher and the Maynard Master Mixer. The triple dasher is the only one of its kind manufactured in the United States. Even though the Aureluis Brothers Co. of Braham, Minn., made many types of tools, it was Eugene Aureluis who became fascinated with the egg beater. From 1926 through 1949 he designed and manufactured 4 egg beaters that were built to last. Although the company no longer makes egg beaters, it is still in Braham and owned by the second generation of one of the company’s first employees.
The Maynard Manufacturing Co. of Glendale, CA, made some of the finest manual eggbeaters ever. Once more, they were like tanks and used state-of-the-art materials such as stainless steel and nylon. The gears were encased in hard plastic with a hole to add lubricating oil. The 1950 Master Mixer was based on a 1923 design. The dashers minimize splashing by using hard nylon plastic. The Master Mixer was awarded New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) award for industrial design and is part of their permanent kitchen tool collection.
Oddly, the beater to the left looks similar to the Master Mixer, but it’s a cheap knockoff. Perhaps Maynard sold this design to Stanhome, Inc. of Westfield, MA. It’s a flimsy plastic version that was a house gift for a Stanley Hostess Party, a 1950’s “tupperware-like” house party event for kitchen and household products, in the days before Wal-Mart.
The Soviet dominated East German manufacturing industry was infamous for making shoddy products and the Gloria, (below left) is a prime example. Despite its similarity to the Maynard, the plastic housing encloses gears that rattle and the beater would definitely not last long under constant use. The thin wire squeeze whip on the right, below, is of unknown origin and, hopefully, few were ever manufactured.
Ron Propeil, founder of Ronco Industries, was a true American marketing genius. Following a long tradition of traveling salesmen and hawkers, he created the TV infomercial that is the solace of so many people awake at 3:00 a.m. Versions of his inexpensive inventions remain on the market today – the Veg-O-Matic, the Chop-O-Matic and the Whip-O-Matic. Combining inexpensive plastic, Hobart planetary dasher design and marketing chutzpah, Propeil launched an empire, created an entire advertising niche and earned a devoted following among collectors and consumers looking for cheap products.
The egg beater gear design advanced the modernization of equipment for many professions. The 1931 Whip-Mix Spatulator, was, as stated by its inventor, “For mixing compounds for the preparation of molds in dental castings.”
The first electric egg beater, meant for commercial baking, was granted a patent in 1885. It was a huge machine with a fan belt running from the motor to the gears that turned the dashers. Yet it was not long before the lure of electricity was pulling the affluent household away from the ingenuity and beauty of many hand beaters. An interesting 1930 example was the Bersted mixer. Mr. Bersted was infamous for purchasing profitable companies and eviscerating their tools turning them into cheap products. He would then sell the company before his scams caught on. The Eskimo Co. had a reputation for excellent electric fans. Bersted simply took the fan motor, added a handle and shaft with a blender blade and sold it as a milk shake mixer. Few of his “reinvented” companies survived after he bailed out with hefty profits.
Herbert Johnson, in 1908, revolutionized the electric egg beater through his invention of “planetary action” in which an individually rotating beater travels in one direction around the inside of a mixing bowl while the dasher revolves in the opposite direction resulting in superior mixing. Johnson envisioned that his mixer could accommodate a plethora of attachments from beater, whip, bread hook, meat grinder, juicer etc. – a total kitchen appliance. When the Hobart company began marketing the KitchenAid in 1916 it sold for the very high-end price of $189.50 ($2,400 in 2010 dollars.) Today, an average KitchenAid sells for less than $300.
The world of the eggbeater is vast and this article simply introduces the story. It revolutionized home and commercial baking. From the 16 1/2 inch cast iron Dover Mammoth 300, weighing 6 pounds, to the Taplin child’s toy beater, the Betty Taplin, weighing ounces, the eggbeater is a true American success story. My use of the word story is deliberate, because what is ingenuity but the personal stories of visionaries.
I have two reasons to travel: explore and eat. I can accomplish this goal in my own hometown or 14,000’ in the Andes. Add an interesting dish or a great market, an elegant restaurant or a hot plate in a hostel and I’m the proverbial happy traveler.
I’ve had the opportunity to explore Houston airport (George Bush Intercontinental) over a dozen times in the past couple of years making flight connections. Airport food, in general, is barely a cut above airline food and it’s over-priced. Yet occasionally there is a surprise. Pappadeaux, on concourse E, although part of a corporate chain, does manage to present Cajun/Louisiana style food that even my New Orleans born wife thinks is pretty good. In the past I’ve sampled lots on their menu including good Asian sushi type rolls, burgers and imaginative entrée salads. Portions are generous, the atmosphere is congenial – you forget you’re in an airport – and it has a lively bar scene. On my last visit just a few weeks ago, I had three sautéed soft shell crabs on a large bed of dirty rice. I’d never had dirty rice before and it was a nice combination of nutty/spicy, although my wife said it could have been more seasoned, but this is Cajun/Louisiana for the general public. My wife’s crab cakes were all crab held together with a crisp coating that had been lightly sautéed. The crab flavor was fresh, but we both agreed they lacked any distinctive seasoning (and she makes excellent Cajun crab cakes). It was served on top of an odd lemon white wine sauce with small crawfish that did not add to the dish, especially since it was served with shoestring potatoes – an odd choice. Dirty Rice would have been a more appropriate accompaniment, with or without the sauce, and it would have been interesting if the crawfish had been in the crab cakes. We shared Pappadeaux’s excellent version of a lettuce wedge salad with blue cheese and it definitely was a major improvement for this ubiquitous American favorite. A generous wedge of iceberg was smothered with sliced yellow and orange sweet peppers, scallions, crisp smoky bacon, chopped tomatoes and crumbled blue cheese. The entrees were in the $18.00 range and the salad was $9.00. I’ll be back in Houston airport in the near future and will return to Pappadeaux.
Seattle has no shortage of fresh ingredients, from its fruits and produce to the incomparable oysters of the Northwest Pacific Coast. Pike Place Market is a symbol of the region’s bounty and its dependence on the Japanese Americans who have grown its products and sell at the market. A sobering experience is both seeing the mural painted in their honor and the plaque that restates the infamous, and racist, Federal order of 1942 stripping all Japanese Americans of their civil rights, property and herding them into concentration camps for the next four years – a disaster for both the nation and the Market. Rapidly recovering after the war, Pike Place Market thrives on both abundant tourism and copious patronage by Seattle natives. (See my blog Seattle: Just a Tease).
Pear Delicatessen & Shoppe, 1926 Pike Place, is just opposite the Market. It’s a combination deli and gourmet shop. Every day it prepares superb, imaginative hot and cold sandwiches and salads for take-out and eat-in. Both sandwiches (click to enlarge collage and read the menu description) were excellent, and I’d return to have them again. Sitting at the counter looking out onto the constantly changing tableau on the street was great entertainment.
At first when I heard of Elliott’s Oyster House Pier 56 I thought “tourist trap” because despite my weakness for dining with a water view, I’m frequently disappointed with both the quality and prices of such establishments. Yet Seattle seems to be an anomaly. Not only is the waterfront a major tourist attraction, but like Pike Place Market, the waterfront and Elliott’s are a beloved gathering place for all Seattle age groups. Elliott’s not only has stunning views of Puget Sound but moderate prices and excellent fish and seafood. We ate twice and would come back for more, especially for the incomparable Monday through Friday Oyster Happy Hours (hours is correct: 3:00 – 6:00 PM). I am an oyster freak – raw, steamed, and baked – and Elliott’s features over one dozen varieties of Pacific Coast oysters each day depending on the catch. Beginning at 3:00 PM, the Chef chooses the variety of the day. Each person may order one dozen – or a maximum of three dozen per table – each half hour. The oysters come beautifully displayed on mounds of shaved ice with lemons and cocktail sauce. From 3:00 to 3:30 the price is $.50 per oyster! Each half hour until 5:30 the price increases only $.25/per to a maximum of $1.75 an oyster – still on an average $.25 less than normal Seattle restaurant cost.
When I heard of Elliott’s system, I devised a strategy that proved successful. I figured any deal like this at a very popular restaurant had to be sought after. We decided to arrive around 2:00 to have a late but light lunch. At that time, the dining area was two-thirds full. For $7.00 per person, I had a generous bowl of New England clam chowder, full of clams, thick with cream and the aroma of good smoky bacon. My wife had an equally flavorful bowl of seafood chowder. Both chowders came with Caesar salads. By 3:00 PM there was a waiting line outside the restaurant with all the outside/dockside tables full plus the bar. We remained until 5:00 enjoying a dinner of three dozen briny, ice cold raw oysters – all for a total price for the oysters of $21.00. A Happy Hour drink menu did have reduced price mixed drinks, beer and wines from their extensive bar, but the star drink was their signature, the Oyster Shooter. It’s an inspired variation on the Bloody Mary. In a double shot glass is peppered vodka, their fresh tomato Bloody Mary mix and one raw oyster – at $3.00 it’s so good, it’s dangerous.
New York City is considered to be the “capital” of many things in America including the food industry, and like most superlatives, it simply is not true. Having lived less than 90 miles from Manhattan most of my life, I have had just as many disappointing and over-priced restaurant meals in New York as I’ve had at interstate rest stops. There are always those finds when one explores. In the past few years I have discovered the neighborhood of Little Brazil in Mid-town Manhattan next to the Diamond District. After three dinners, where I’ve never been disappointed with either the atmosphere, quality of food or the price, Ipanema Restaurant is a true find. Brazilian cuisine, like Argentine, is heavy on beef – lean, tender aged cuts – grilled to perfection and seasoned with the classicChimichurri Sauce. River and ocean fish – trout, monk and cod – along with chicken are well featured. My wife had a tender breast of chicken smothered in stewed tropical fruits with creamy whipped potates. Side dishes include superb steamed collard greens, rice and beans and home-made lightly fried potato rounds. Prices are moderate – entrees in the $18.00 range – service friendly and professional and you will hear more Portuguese and Spanish spoken than English – always a good sign that the restaurant cooks authentic cuisine.
Philadelphia, my home city, was a culinary desert when I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s. Known for “rolling up the sidewalks” at 7:00 PM, Blue Laws that closed most restaurants on Sundays and overcooked vegetables, meat and potatoes. Everything changed in the mid-1970’s. A new generation of trained chefs tapped into a new generation of worldy clientele and the Philadelphia Restaurant Rennaisance was underway. Today it is difficult to get a bad meal – cheesesteaks are upscaled. Even ethnic restaurants delve deeper into their native cuisines to present the diner with authentic dishes. Rarely though does a dinner have the opportunity to participate in a 20 course Chinese banquet. Every first Monday of the month, the Philadelpia location at 108 Chestnut Street of Han Dynsty Restaurant does exactly that – and for $25.00 per person!
Before you reach for the phone, as of last week they had a few seats, of the 70 reservation maximum for each banquet, available for February 2011. It is worth the wait.
Han Dynasty Restaurant presents a Chinese “tasting menu” for 70 people (one sitting at 7:00 PM) but after 20 satisfying (aka: filling) courses I call this a banquet. The 20 Dishes span Chinese cuisine with nearly half containing an amount of hot peppers many Americans may not prefer. Yet keep two points in mind: (1) many of the tiny red peppers are whole and can be removed – some dishes are in sauces and you cannot, (2) the bowl or platter of food is served communally, the 70 diners are seated at group tables, so each diner controls their own portion size, (3) There are an equal number of soothing, non-pepper dishes. The structure of the 20 courses involves meat, poultry, fish, noodles, rice, spices, hot, cold, and vegetable – in small portions. That is the cultural ideal of a Chinese Banquet – the four elements (earth, fire, wind, water) and Han Dynasty achieves this goal. There is no set menu for the dinner, it changes each month and you’re going to know when it’s placed in front of you – be open to an adventure, and some noise since the downstairs room gets crowded.
I do have three recommendations for the excellent chef to take the expertise to a vaulted level: (1) each hot pepper dish should be followed by one without hot peppers, (2) even though it may raise the cost, the diners’ plates should be refreshed a few times during the dinner to exclude blending of previous flavors onto the next superb dish; and instead of fish for a final course (3) there should have been some dessert (sweet element) preferably chilled.
Han’s regular dining room menu is just as imaginative having eaten there previously, but the “tasting menu” is a true experience well worth the wait for a reservation. (BYOB, $25/person not including tip).