I hope you've noticed I've been on hiatus. A two week trip to Kenya (!) coupled with the delights of moving to Williamsburg (have I become a cliché? Don't answer that) have left me with very little time to chow down and expound on culinary delights. After fantastic fresh seafood and too much rosé on vacation, I returned ready to explore the new 'hoods goods.
1. Shrimp Stuffed Squash Blossoms - Allswell (Brooklyn, NY)
I've been admiring Allswell from afar since hearing of their much loved Happy Hour meatloaf sandwich. We stopped in for dinner, and following a lethal bourbon cocktail, settled into the dim lighting for some seasonal delights. When prepared correctly, stuffed zucchini blossoms are a thing of beauty; crunchy, herbal and filled with a molten formaggio surprise. Allswell's dish departed from tradition, using the blossom as a vessel not for herbed ricotta, but instead for minced shrimp. The shrimp was shaped into a cylindrical mass, referred to as a "re-invented corndog" by my bar food-loving consort. Encased in the flower's thin sheath, the filling was flavorful and delicate. The blossoms were surrounded by a light basil-accented tomato sauce which we sopped up with bread and fresh ricotta on the side. Shrimp squash blossoms--it's the new corndog.
2. BBQ Braised Short Rib Sliders - Traif (Brooklyn, NY)
I don't hate shared plates. There, I said it. In fact, for someone who so often experiences plate envy, remorse, and the all-consuming need to change my order (thereby chasing the server to the kitchen in a display of athletic prowess and insanity) the trendy custom of shared plates is something I fully support. Now, of course, there are boundaries to shared plate experiences, like first dates ("what do you mean you don't like fermented bean curd?! This is never going to work"), meals with children ("honey, just try the salmon roe, it's like mini Gushers filled with fish juice!") and your grandparents ("yes, I know it's $24, but they grew the kale here! Kale? It's sort of like cabbage but harder to digest...") Overflowing with short rib shreds, the miniature slider buns were perfectly dense, shrinking under pressure and delightfully doughy. And, arriving in an even number with no need for division, they were a shared-plate triumph.
3. Udon Soup - Sushi Yasaka (New York, NY)
Straying from raw fish at a sushi temple like Yasaka may seem like an unorthodox choice, but when my friend ordered a macrobiotic noodle soup it seemed like a good idea. This friend was leaving New York for fish & chip pastures across the pond, and we both needed some edible comfort to ease the goodbye. The udon noodles were thick and substantial, absorbing the light restorative broth with each moment of steeping. Vegetables swirled in the mix, as did a thick disk of fish cake, all conspiring to warm me, as I watched the sushi chefs hard at work slicing and molding in front of me. I emerged belly full but heart a bit emptier.
4. Chicken Steak - Roebling Tea Room (Brooklyn, NY)
When I worry that our society is becoming overly health-conscious, I go out to brunch. I'm always confident that amongst the eggs and pancakes I can soothe myself with all manner of artery-clogging offerings. Kale juice and chia seeds may be ubiquitous, but so is good old fried meat drenched in dairy. Although my smoked salmon plate was perfectly tasty (and healthy to boot!) I couldn't stop myself from attacking the plate across from me, gathering crisp morsels of deep-fried meat and deluging them in rich porky gravy. The crisp skin never became soggy, even after a waterfall of creamy sauce, and the knowledge that my metabolism has only a few more years of supporting this kind of hedonism inspired me to go further, and conquer much of my dining partner's plate. Aorta, be damned.
5. Matzoh Ball Soup - Friend's House (Scarsdale, NY)
I've met few matzoh balls I didn't like, but fewer still that I've loved. When I go to my friend's house in Scarsdale, whether for a Jewish holiday or simply a Friday night dinner, I know I'll encounter love. Stella, who has long been a fixture in the family, expertly handfashions the balls with precision (and years of practice), then floats them in her long-simmered chicken soup. The result is perfection--an exemplary portrayal of everything matzoh ball could and should be. Intensely chicken-y, without too much salt, the broth is packed with shreds of tender chicken meat and juicy sweet carrots. The balls are an edible tempurpedic experience--dense and comforting with an outer layer of fluffiness. While I'm not a religious person, Stella's matzoh balls are an undoubtedly religious experience, and one that I can (and will) never resist. Happy New Year, indeed.