Friday, May 30, 2008

Ballistic At Balthazar

Well, that is a bit of a stretch. Nobody went ballistic, exactly. However I did get sharply reprimanded for having the audacity to take a picture of the interior of Balthazar's. More on that later.

The Mysterious Chinese Woman and I met up with a couple of her equally Mysterious Sisters for dinner at Balthazar in the ever so fashionable SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. SoHo is another of those cute names they give to little sections of the City and is short for South of Houston. Houston (pronounced How Stun in New York, just to confuse the tourists) is a major street running east and west across Manhattan.


This is quite a well known French Bistro type restaurant located on busy Spring Street. It is a fairly large restaurant with a separate bar area and an adjacent bakery which may be even more popular than the restaurant.

The Big Picture

New York is a very interesting city for many reasons. One is the wide variety of neighborhoods and even streets within a neighborhood. Although Spring Street was crowded with cars and pedestrians, right around the corner was this almost deserted, partially covered-over, cobblestone street.

Almost Pastoral

I managed to get to Balthazar about fifteen minutes early so I had time to pop into the bar for a couple of beers.

Wetting The Old Whistle

It was fairly early so the bar hadn't packed up, quite. It was crowded enough so that there were only a few barstools open. There were three bartenders on duty so I had time to chat with mine a bit. He was very friendly and we talked about beers. I didn't get a chance to get his name or a picture though, my fault really.

The bar is quite stylish in an old French Bistro simulated kind of way. Nice though. For some reason they had those black-knobbed beer taps though so you don't really know what they have unless you ask. I think they had about six draft beers. I opted for a Corsendonk and a Belgian White. I don't know what kind of a Belgian White though, and neither did the bartender. It was good though, as was the Corsendonk.

They also had peanuts and olives and thin cracker-like bread on the bar to nibble on. That is always a nice touch. It was a pleasant enough place and would probably be fun to stop into some afternoon for a stretch. I bet is is too crowded for the likes of me in the evening though. It was pretty packed up by the time we finished dinner, and that was early by New York standards.

The dining room was as nicely appointed as the bar and it, again, had the ambiance of an upscale bistro in Paris. Except one end of the dining room was occupied by a large raw bar. That is something I don't recall ever seeing anywhere but here.

Our waiter was very attentive and quickly took our drink order, an Alsatian wine, and it arrived promptly. He kept a watchful, but unobtrusive, eye on our table and was quick to take our order when it looked like we were ready.

We started with smoked octopus as an appetizer and it was excellent. Nice and crispy on the outside with a real grilled flavor to it. Real tender on the inside. This is not the easiest thing to accomplish so the dinner got off to a nice start.

One of the Mysterious Sisters ordered the duck confit that was served with crispy fried potatoes, wild mushrooms, and a salad of some kind. I didn't taste it but it got good reviews from everyone who did. It certainly looked delicious, browned and crispy.

The other Mysterious Sister ordered grilled chicken paillard and she also commented on how good it was. The Mysterious Chinese Woman ordered pasta (in a French restaurant, go figure) with pancetta and green peas. Not exactly my cup of tea, but what do I know. She also said hers was quite good.

I ordered the Steak Frites and my opinion is a bit mixed. The frites were quite good, thin and crispy just the way I like them. I ordered the steak medium-rare and that was how it came, so no complaints there. However, it wasn't the most tender cut of meat I had ever had and, for the price of $30, it should have been. Not bad, but I would recommend that if you do order it you get it at least medium.

We split two desserts between the four of us and they were delicious. We had an apple tart with ice cream that was dynamite. Nice crispy crust and an apple filling my mother would have been proud to call her own. The other dessert was Lemon Mille-Feuille. Not sure what that means, but it too was outstanding. Kind of a crispy lemon meringue with a lemon custard. My descriptions are not doing justice to these so you will just have to try them yourself.

During the course of our meal I saw an interesting greenish cocktail go by with a lime slice hanging on the rim of the glass. It looked like a margarita but I wasn't sure. I wanted one, but I didn't want it if it was some kind of a melon thing. The waiter tracked the drink down and informed me that it was, indeed, a margarita. So I had one. Lip smacking good it was too. Tasted like they used real lime juice and not a mix.

Now if this place wasn't so hard to get into I might go more often. The problem is that you have to make reservations almost a month in advance. Kind of eliminates just spontaneously popping in. And if I am going to plan on going to a restaurant a month in advance I probably wouldn't pick this one.

Oh, the picture thing. I had no problem taking pictures in the bar area but after we sat down at our table I snapped this one and the guy entering the frame from the right immediately came over and told me that no pictures were allowed. As you can see, I wasn't taking any pictures of other patrons and he wouldn't have been in it if he hadn't started to rush over to the table when he saw my camera.

No Pictures, Except This One

I half expected him to make me delete that one too.

To compensate I pulled this picture off of the web. It will have to do.

Purloined Picture

To sum the place up, decor was nice in a pseudo fancy French bistro kind of way, service was excellent, food was by-and-large very good, desserts were to die for. Oh, and the bread they served with the meal was fabulous. As I wandered off at least one of the Mysterious Sisters was standing in line in the bakery to buy some bread to take home. She said she wanted it to make sandwiches out of some leftover lamb from our Memorial Day outing.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Something Fishy Here

Well, nobody correctly identified the tasty looking dish that was pictured in my previous blog. But, as promised, all shall now be revealed.

I shouldn't have been quite as surprised about this as I was. Earlier in the week Jim had sent me an email asking me if I knew what a buffalo fish was. I told him I thought it was like a carp, a bottom feeding "rough" fish. In the Midwest, where I am originally from, nobody eats carp though, and they are considered a nuisance because they can crowd out other more desirable species. Jim, of course, showed up with a fourteen pound buffalo fish.

Ah, Beautiful

Of course Jim then left it to me to deal with this monstrosity on my own. And I wasn't too sure what to do with it either. It hadn't been cleaned, of course, and was too big to fit into my smoker.

Trying My Best

A Lot Of Eggs

Yep, that delicious looking dish was a lot, a whole lot, of buffalo fish eggs. In fact there were more eggs in that fish than meat. I tried my best to fillet the fish, but I pretty much botched that up and ended up with mess of meat.

Not A Pretty Sight

Sadly, things got worse. The top of the smoker is supposed to fit loose, but I have a dent in mine. You have to line up the dents to get the top on right. For some reason I was impatient and kind of whomped it down. Then, when I went to open it, it was stuck so I had to jerk it pretty hard. When the top popped off the grill dislodged and all of the fish meat fell directly onto the coals.

A Fiasco

Jim was bound and determined to at least try some of the fish so he gamely tried to pick some of it out of the charcoal.

There Has Got To Be A Bite In There Somewhere

To his credit, he did manage to salvage a plateful. Not much to show for a fourteen pound fish though.

Slim Pickings

I did salvage the head though, which I plan on using to make fish stock.

Bar Man And Fish Head

You can see a beer poking into the above picture and yes, it was time for a beer.

It's Beer Time

Just to let you all know, earlier in the day I did successfully smoke a chicken and a boneless leg of lamb. The chicken I soaked overnight in root beer and some kosher salt. Then I glazed it with an orange/honey glaze. It was deemed to be a great success. For the lamb I used a dry rub that I made and everyone liked that as well.

The next day I decided to put the fish behind me and start afresh.

A New Day

I did two racks of ribs, one with the dry rub I made and the other with soy sauce and five spice powder.

Ribs Getting Ready To Go

I also did another chicken, this time brined overnight with pineapple and orange juice with kosher salt and a duck brined with apple juice and kosher salt. I used the same glaze that I used on the chicken the day before.

Just Perfect

And, of course, I had to cook the fish eggs.

Giving It The Old College Try

As you may recall, they did turn out pretty good. In fact just like they were supposed to. They had a smooth creamy texture with a bit of a crunch on the outside.

Beautiful To Behold

And yes, Jim and I did eat some. Not a lot, but some. Maybe one tablespoon full each.

Yummy, Not!

They basically tasted like fishy Cream of Wheat.

It was Jim's birthday though so we were able to clean our palate with his cake.

Cutting The Cake

I guess Jim was still upset about the whole fish thing and was taking it out on the cake. Well, better the cake than the cook.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finally, The End Of A Long Day

Okay, just so everyone is clear, I am still writing about the Sunday before last, May 18th. Some of my long-time readers remember when I coordinated the date of my post with the date of the events. I haven't been doing this lately, although perhaps I should start again. Let me know what you think. At any rate, this blog ends Jim's visit to Brooklyn, an eventful day.

After leaving the Waterfront Ale House Jim, the perpetually hungry Jim, decided he wanted to stop into the The Atlantic ChipShop. He had heard from a friend that it was very good. In fact his friends said they served the best fish and chips he had ever had.

The Atlantic ChipShop

Given that the ChipShop is within easy staggering distance of Waterfront Ale House, this seemed like a reasonable idea. And they do have a bar with a decent selection of beers.

Fish & Chips & Beer (hold the fish & chips)

I wasn't that hungry so I didn't order anything but I did taste the fish and chips. It was very good indeed. I would have to do a side-by-side taste comparison with Joe Jack's in Puerto Vallarta to tell you which I liked best, but it would be close. The fish was lightly battered and beautifully golden brown. The batter was crisp and not at all oily. The fish was moist and delicately flavored. The chips (French fries to the uninformed) were quite good as well, although I am not a huge French fry fan. Just something to scoop up the ketchup with. I kind of like the ones at Bar Tabac though, just because of the homemade mayonnaise they serve with them.

We were well served by Adam who had his hands full with a bit of crowd for a fairly small place. Actually, he probably had his hands full just with the three of us.

Adam The Patient

Atlantic Chipshop on Urbanspoon

From here we felt compelled to mosey on down Atlantic Avenue a bit and stop into another one of my favorite places, Montero.

A Real Waterfront Bar

Not much I can say about this place that you haven't read about before on my blogs. Oh, except that Pilar wasn't at her usual seat. The bartender said she was there earlier though.

Montero is pretty much a beer and shot place with Rolling Rock priced cheap. No sense going against the flow, such as it was.

Beers And Shots At The Bar

I don't exactly understand what was going on here. I may have been trying to do the "Live long and prosper" thing and I presume Jim was just flashing the "bullshit" sign. But maybe he is a Texas Longhorn fan, who knows.

Just Hanging On

And finally, as the sky began to darken, we called it a day and headed home.

Heading Home

I spent Memorial Day week-end at my sister-in-law's for a barbecue and to celebrate Jim's birthday. Jim showed up with something unusual for me to work with. He has been working on the Iron Chef show recently so I think he had this whole "surprise ingredient" thing on his mind.

Secret Ingredient

If you think you know what this is, send me an email or post a comment. I will give you credit in my next post when all shall be revealed.