New Shanghai: A Review

I hadn’t been back to New Shanghai, nor Chinatown, for nearly eight years as I was mourning the departure of Chef C.K. Sau from New Shanghai.  He’d been the chef there forever, I’d put him on public radio several times, and tried, oh well, to get him investors to move out.  I got $750,000 as backing, but the management in NYC wanted $1.2 million “in escrow” so the deal fell through.  Next thing you know C.K.’s in Wellesley: Mansions, etc.  I still love C.K. and the restaurant in exemplary, best in Boston, but I found myself in Chinatown last night, pre-gaming Lauryn Hill at the Wilbur.

So many places, none of interest.

I turned to Chowhound.  A good paragraph on New Shanghai led me in.

The room is the same: Bland, but with white table clothes.  The music is changed: Hip-hop.  You tell me.

The service: Efficient, non-English speaking, pleasant, a drove of folks.

And the food?  It’s no longer Shanghai-style.  No more heavy sauces!  It’s really delicious:

Fresh bamboo shoots sliced thinly with a light, red pepper sauce

Pork and leek dumplings

Noodles, spaghetti, really, with garlic and chopped pork

Cashew chicken: Look, we had someone in the group who ordered this.  Don’t blame me.  It was good, but it wasn’t Sichuan

Bok choy in vinegar

Thinly sliced pork with capsicum

On the whole, this restaurant is worth your time and money.  It weighed out to $13 per person.  Is it as good as Sichuan Garden?  Not on the food, which had less depth here, but still everything was a cut above, really delicious, and the service trumped other places like it.  Certainly better than most other Sichuan places in any city.

The name?  Well, think of Sabra, owned by a Lebanese couple, in Harvard Square.  Here the name tells you nothing about the food, but it is reminiscent of what was there.

For sure, I’ll be back.

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The Pizza Test: Menu for the Bunker

When the bombs start falling, be prepared.  Me?  I’m stocking up on dried fruit from Bella Viva, got my trusty Soda Club dispenser (I’m the President of the Soda Club ’round these parts), and I expect to have a freezer full of the best darn pizza money can buy.

Which leads to The Pizza Test.

In what is becoming a ritual, we are stopping at Santarpio’s, under the bridge, in East Boston, after picking anyone up at Logan Airport.  The back room where take out commences is a How You Doin’ setting, bare walls, a big Blodgett, and a merry crew that acts hardcore.  And why not?  They got the goods, yo.

The pizza?  Pretty unique and wonderful with corn meal on the bottom crust, a crust that is crisp and well done, and, here’s the kicker: The toppings are hidden under the cheese and tomatoes!  As we say in Italy, “Che, wow!”  It’s under $12 a pie and it’s pizza that…you…can’t…stop…eating.

Now here’s the conundrum.

On Sunday’s, I’ll pull into Iggy’s to get their version of thin, square, cheese and tomatoes.  The slices are simply amazing: Depth of flavor, good cheese, and a hint of onion in the red sauce.

The Sauce: I am sorry to say that while Santarpio’s has it down, times ten, Iggy’s has, well, it has tastier sauce.

The Cheese Factor: If you buy real mozzarella, it’ll run you, ballpark, $10 a pound.  Believe me, it’s true: Domestic or foreign.  A complicated issue.  We’ll settle this later, just you and me, unnerstan?

More Santarpio’s is going into the bunker.

Cassoulet, Cassoulet, Oh, My Darling

Inspired by a friend’s recent Winterlude in Paris, and this being Cassoulet weather, I’ve committed to the dish.  Dylan was close with his, “Winterlude, winterlude, oh my darling,” but had he these beans, would he have titled the song as I have done here?  One of many things we will never know.

This is another one of those brain dead recipes to be found in peasant culture.  Now it’s fancy, but for centuries it has been the fare of those who “still till the earth,” to quote another rocker, this one being Mick.

1.  Soak white beans in water overnight.

2.  On a stovetop, in an ovenproof pot, heat up a quarter cup of oil.  What kind of oil?  Does it look like I care?  Harold McGee, scientist and all-around kitchen guy, recently proved that the oil doesn’t matter in cooking in terms of flavor.  So, me?  I go for canola.  Anyway, now that that is out of the way: Salt and pepper a big lamb shank.  Put it in the hot oil.  Salt and pepper three duck legs.  Into the pot.  Add six sweet Italian sausages.  Turn the meat.  Remove the lamb when it’s brown on both sides.  Same with sausages.  Cook the duck legs until they are brown and most of the fat is gone.  Remove.  Dump out most of the fat.  Turn off the heat.  Do I need to tell you everything?

3.  Chop up three peeled carrots, two peeled onions, and two celery stalks.  Cut two garlic heads in half.  Turn up the heat.  Toss in the vegetables.  Add a little paprika and cayenne pepper.  Drain the white beans.  Put the beans in the pot.  Add a can of tomato paste.  Stir.  Cover with water.  Add the meat.

4.  Put the pot, covered, into an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees.  Relax, read a book, take a walk, check email, etc.  Check on the cassoulet every hour or so, obsessively, to be sure there is enough water.  Add water if needed; well, duh.

5.  After about four or five hours, crank the heat up to 400 and top the cassoulet with a mix of bread crumbs and chopped parsley.  Cook for 15 minutes.  Add six tablespoons of butter.  Turn on the broiler.  Turn the bread crumbs brown, baby.  Correct for salt and pepper.

Stand back and eat.

This sucker is rooted in Islamic or Jewish culture and refined via France.  It takes about 20 minutes to do the work.  The oven does the rest.

Now all you need is a princess to whom to serve this winter’s dish.

Shabu-Ya: A Review and Bondir: Perfect for Joshing

Shabu-Ya Restaurant in Harvard Square is a very interesting enterprise.  Masquerading as a Japanese restaurant–sushi, shabu-shabu–the restaurant is, in fact, home to first-rate Korean dishes.  Serving Japanese food in a Korean restaurant makes me think of a Jewish deli with a menu that has bratwurst.  Still, Japanese food is vogue and can command higher prices so who am I to knock a business plan meant to bring in the bucks?

The food here is pretty wonderful:

Pork Bulgoki 돼지불고기 $14.95 marinated pork loin with house chili sauce.

Bibim-Bap or Tofu Bibim-Bap (Vegetarian) 비빔밥/두부  비빔밥  $12.95

Stone Pot Bibim-Bap or Tofu Stone Pot Bibim-Bap (Vegetarian) $14.95

돌솥비빔밥

Nabeyaki Udon 나베야끼우동  $14.95  thick Japanese udon noodle soup with shrimp tempura

Shabuya Bulgoki 뚝배기  불고기  $14.95 Savory beef bulgoki with napa cabbage and mushroom in a hot china pot

Beef Bulgoki 불고기  $16.95 a famous Korean dish of tender and juicy, marinated beef

Beef Kalbi 갈비  $18.95 broiled beef short ribs in natural juices

Man, we’re talking savory, great textures, and heat that toys with the senses.  And on a winter’s night, no food is better than Korean.  Cold country, deeply flavored food.

Meanwhile, on another note, the Globe launched a new column today called, “Tips,”  devoted to notes on new restaurants.  Today’s column was the first.  Titled, “A cozy atmosphere for noshing,” the reviewer describes a new place called, Bondir, in Central Square.  The column makes no note of prices at all.  Small wonder.  When you go to the website, you discover the menu, changing daily, with goofy writing and exorbitant prices.  Noshing?  The reviewer must be joshing.

That menu:

Green Mountain Potato and Leek Soup

Mangalitsa Lardo, Noank Oyster, Chili Oil

9

My comment: What makes a Green mountain potato special?

Spice-Poached Beet

Pumpkin Seeds, Orange, Buttermilk Vinaigrette, Greens

10

My comment: Ten big ones for a beet?  Whose idea was that?


Laying Hen and Noodle Stew

Roasted Onion, Aged Vermont Cheese

15/28

My comment: Less said about this the better.  A “laying” hen?  Please.


Chowhound: Who Let the Dogs Out?

When I look for information about a new restaurant or a place I haven’t been, and friends can’t help with info, I turn to Chowhound, which is decidedly a mixed bag.  Goes to show how little is out there.

Principally, the bag is mixed because the “hounds” are anonymous, which can lead to rants, misinformation, and propaganda.  The misinformation is prominent: The hounds often don’t know much about food, but like the late season fan that doesn’t stop them.  Like so much of the Internet, it’s hard to weight the data.  Another difficulty is the regionalism: One town’s hounds doesn’t compare its restaurants to other towns so you find provincial views of little value.

And the elephant in the room are the site’s censors: They weed out opinions that risk controversy and instead settle for bland rather than well-seasoned or salty views.  It is as if they have a dog in this fight.

Berlusconi, Pasta, and the Wednesday Food Sections

Friends from Italy write about the disaster of Berlusconi surviving a vote of no confidence.  I think of how Italy is regarded in the imagination and how the perceptions exclude the reality.  I also think of how Berlusconi has the same number of syllables as Mussolini.  Anyhow, in NYC there is the extravaganza of EATALY and in ITALY there is the tumult of political repression and real internal dangers.

About those Wednesday Food sections?  Yikes.  Less said the better.  I mean, in The Globe, the featured recipe is for frozen shrimp (“better than fresh”) and tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes…in December?  The Globe then goes on to list recipes for “retro” dishes like cheese balls and “Swedish” meatballs and I’m thinkin’: Wow, could it get worse?  Yes, it can: A review of an Asian fusion restaurant where the kitchen is churning out food from Southeast Asia, Japan, and China.  That’s like a European fusion restaurant selling pasta, fries, and meat pies.  In the NYT, it’s a smidge better with a cover piece on blood sausages.  See?  Just a smidge.

The real food story today?  Front page, NYT Business section: Save the Children drops its call for a Soda Tax after receiving a $5 million grant from Pepsi.  They are also in negotiations with Coke to get a grant.  As Jack White said, “Hey, we can use it.  Give it to me.”  Is there no shame?

Meanwhile, in Italy, our friends in Udine console themselves with food as they ponder a future of inequity:

Tagliatelle al forno fatte in casa!




Food Trends 2011: The Food Channel Weighs in & Tips the Scales

Each year, in December, The Food Channel (TFC) predicts The Top 10 Food Trends for the year to come and each year, inshallah, I will continue to analyze closely the trends and later, in the same month, provide a list of my own.

What follows are  The Food Channel Top 10 Trends for 2011 with my observations.

1.       The Canning Comeback – “Putting Up” is gaining popularity for both economy and health. Does the TFC honestly picture millions of hard-working Americans spending weekends and evenings “putting up” food?  When people are away from work, they are eating, shopping, exercising, and watching sports.  If through some miracle granted by TFC we see more people “putting up” you can expect this trend: A huge increase in food borne illnesses like salmonella and listeria.  Leave food production to the experts!  Do you drill your own teeth?

2.       Men in Aprons – Layoffs have led to more men cooking. This is ridiculous.  More men laid off has led to spikes in Cossack vodka, B & E’s, THC, and online porn.

3.       Local Somewhere – We care about hand-tended no matter where it’s grown. No, the trend is: Cheaper.  TJ’s!  Frozen food!  Coupons!  Groupons!  Deals and bargains!

4.       Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – We’re tired of being told what we can eat. We are?  Are the editors at TFC  hearing voices?  Who is telling anyone what to eat?  I’m worried about them.  This is frankly delusional.

5.       Appetite for Food Apps – Social media is our guide and our coupon source. I don’t know what “social media” is.  Is it like a Grinch?  A hedge fund?  Don’t you hate amorphous and imprecise use of language?  I certainly do.

6.       Small is the New Big Business – Corporations are thinking like small businesses. Oh, as if that’s new.  When the car companies bought and shut down the trolley lines, when the big breweries bought the micro-breweries, when over 50% of “organic” food companies are owned by the big boys, etc.  Money talks.

7.       Fresh Every Day – Rooftop gardens are just part of this trend. What are they talking about?  Every supermarket or upscale store in December is selling spring mix salad, asparagus, tomatoes, etc.  It’s as if we’re in a lunar colony.  It’s not about fresh, it’s about competitive pricing.

8.       Chefs in Schools – Better flavor is possible in an institutional setting. Chefs are interested in two things when they cook: Salt and fat.  Followed by: Texture and deep flavor.  While the idea of a chef in a school is good, more fat and salt won’t improve diets of kids.  Teach kids to cook.   Now there’s a trend!

9.       Discomfort Foods – Change makes us comfortable with more change. This must have been added because TFC could not come up with 10 trends.  It means absolutely nothing.  The French nailed it: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

10.    Eating for Sex and Other Things – We are working longer, and want all the gusto. Who is working longer?  What does gusto mean?  Eating for sex?  Other things?  What other things?  I think the trend is obvious: Vacuous lists compiled by recent graduates of Vassar.

East By Northeast: A Review–New Chinese or The Huh Wha Style of Cooking

So little time last night between the end of a two-day HMS conference on, “Meditation and Visualization,” and a niece’s performance in the lesbian soon-to-be-classic play, “Silence,” staged in a church attic in Winter Hill.  What to do for nourishment?

Having long been interested in Chef Philip Tang’s restaurant, North by Northeast, which opened just this year  in Inman Square, we grabbed a table, last minute, at the storefront establishment.

On the whole, I’ll be back, but the place is wildly uneven.

On the plus side:

Very delicious broad noodles, made in house, served with a poached egg, smoked tofu, and beautiful vegetables

A wonderful scallion pancake with pickled onions and garlic chili sauce

Great shaomai with smoked pollock and chicken

Very good lamb cannelloni

On the minus side:

Flavors from dish to dish were extremely similar and not a single dish had depth that was memorable

The service was blase

The drinks were $12

The price for two drinks and five dishes with tax and tip was $73, which is not a good value especially considering I left hungry

On the Let’s Be Positive side of things:

The chef is ambitious and deserves support to grow and develop focus in food, servings, and style.  His concept of small shared plates might work as flavors become more intense and less muddied.  He combines so many flavors and ideas that the end result is less than the sum of the parts.  Still: I have hope.

I bet when he develops a menu of good dishes that have depth; when they serve wine other than “house red” and “house white”; when they have a bar that uses its booze to create more than the five house cocktails; when they serve draft beer; when they have service that is animated rather than robotic; when the name of the restaurant actually tells you something–I suppose East by Northeast  means “East” as in “Asia” and “Northeast” means, well, “Northeast,” but the obvious reference is to Hitchcock,’s “North by Northwest,” which is a movie and not a restaurant.  I mean all these critics are comparing the restaurant to David Chang’s place, Momofuko Ko, which only tells you that they have never been to Momofuko Ko.  Why not call this restaurant something that explains its mission…like, “Tang,” or, “Taiwan On,” or, “The China Shop.”

On the You’re Kidding Right side:

We were in and out in 45 minutes and that was trying to slow it down.  So, let’s do the math…$1.64 a minute.   Does that seem worth it to you?  Not to me.

The place was empty with one other table occupied on an early Saturday evening.

DBGB

A critical omission: The drinks @ the bar @ DBGB and that great dog stuffed with Swiss. A cold one and a crowd committed to trying to liven things up. Very hip, very smart, very much the future, past, and present.

The New York Report

What is up with New York City?  How did it become the gastronomical capital of the Western world?  Or is it Planet Earth (excluding Planet Japan)?

The full regalia:

Friday, 12/3: Late lunch @ Locanda Verde–Superb, delicious, earthy flavors of raw Piedmontese beef chopped up with hazelnuts and black truffles followed by lamb Bolognese.  The restaurant is only getting better in every way: If I lived nearby, I’d be in once a week.  Soaring intelligence in the food.  Shout out to Andrew!

Later, that night: 11 Madison–Serious, precise, and the epitome of restraint.  The kitchen knows when to stop.  Beautiful chicken veloute, white truffles on pasta, squab, etc.  OK, fine, it’s not as good as Per Se, Le Bernadin, or Daniel, but the thought of comparing the food to those iconic establishments was in my mind.  It didn’t have Per Se’s density of taste; Le Bernadin’s focus; or, Daniel’s earthy flavors, but it was just this close…

The next day: Esca, of course–Wonderful pasta with anchovies and walnuts followed by flounder for two.  Remains my favorite restaurant in the city.

In the evening, taking a break from the ooo-la-la: Brasserie En, where terrific, freshly made tofu was followed by unbelievably delicious anago said to have been flown in from Japan.  Amazing sake and shochu selections by Takahiro Okada.

On Sunday, we’re taking Mailino and then Veloce.  The day Esca closes, Mailino becomes my favorite restaurant.  Veloce?  Pizza.  Good pizza.

Punctuating the meals was a visit to Eataly on 23rd.  At first I thought: Huh?  Wha’?  Too too too much.  But I was drawn to the place three times and finally, hearing all the Italian spoken around me, I got it.  It’s pretty wonderful.  Amazing pastas, meats, fish, pizzas, etc.  Italy on Ecstasy.