Counter Intelligence


Posted in New York City, Niche by melissamccart on September 28, 2006

rickspicks.jpgEver since our friend Adam mentioned that he canned 20 pounds of heirloom tomatoes last month, I’ve been wanting to can and pickle– a couple weeks late, I realize.   Rather than thinking like a cook or a foodie– what ingredients can I use?–I’ve been mulling over this article from the Times from awhile back, “A Man in a Pickle Jumps into the Brine.”

It chronicles the beginnings of Rick’s Picks, a gourmet pickle company that Rick Field started out of his Prospect Heights apartment in Brooklyn.  Eventually, he rented a place to pickle on the Lower East Side:

Mr. Field grew up in Cambridge, Mass., in a family of academics; his father and both of his grandfathers taught at Harvard, a lineage that makes his effort seem a bit like a Texan opening a pizza parlor in Rome. Yet despite the choice of location for his business it was never Mr. Field’s intent to compete in the universe of sours and half-sours, barrels and traditional brines.

For years he had made a hobby of immersing cucumbers, cauliflower, string beans and other vegetables in experimental brines infused with ingredients like rosemary, wasabi or curry. One of the inventions now in his line is a sliced bread-and-butter pickle called Bee ‘n’ Beez that derives its sweetness not from sugar but from coconut, dried cherries and ginger.

Field hot-brines his pickles by heating the liquid to 190 degrees, combining the brine and the pickles in a jar, dunking the jar in hot water for seven minutes, then sealing it for a couple weeks until its ready.  His bread and butter pickles are delicious from what I remember.



Sardine Cuisine

Posted in District of Columbia, New York City by melissamccart on September 27, 2006

sardines1.jpgOn a trip to New York this past weekend,  I was reminded how much I like sardines.  Though anchovies and sardines are often associated with skate, cod, and other marginalized fish, they can taste as bright, fresh, and briny as kumomoto oysters if they’re dressed well. 

Thank Mario and friends for shoring up sardines’ reputation in the States, anyway.  At his tiny Spanish enclave Bar Jamon, the sardines en escabeche were marinated with a white wine vinegar and paired with spicy red onions–  nice complements to pungent sardines.  The plating was more rustic than the presentation at Babbo, which showcased clean, paper-thin fillets marinated in carmelized fennel and lobster oil.  For some reason, I remember them as more citrus-y than fennel flavored, but regardless.  They were so good, I wanted to jump up and down. 

At other New York restaurants I’d also had great sardine first courses.  As I recall, The Mermaid Inn changed pairings according to season: mandarin oranges in January, tomatoes and avocado in summer, for example.   Rather than sample the sardines on our Friday stopover, we passed, since we already had one order at Bar Jamon and had moved on to our oyster mission.  Now that I’m craving them, I regret it.

Where can we can sample sardines in D.C.?  I’ve had them at Sushi Taro, but they tasted unbalanced– or rather, naked.  Any ideas?

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 27, 2006

1)  Strong Drink is not for Men Alone.  New York Times.  What’s wrong with women ordering a strong drink?  When she ordefoodporn21.jpgrs one,  Alex Witchel observes that since she’s not a man, she gets hers watered down or not at all. 

2) On the Culinary Climb.  Washington Post.  Gary Lee interviews area chefs who have worked as number 2’s in well known New York and Chicago restaurants or number 1’s in smaller city eateries to show that Washington has become an express stop for celebrity chefdom.  From the article:

“The buzz is on Boston, Scottsdale, the Bay area and Washington,” Conte said during a conversation in the restaurant. “A top job in either one of those places would be a good steppingstone for a chef to build a reputation.”

3)  Dessert Doesn’t Have to be Simply Sweet.  Boston Globe.  More discussion from food pages on the marriage of savory and sweet.  Here, it’s billed as a surefire way to transform a dessert from dull to dynamic.

4)  Smile, You’re on Culinary Candid Camera!  San Francisco Chronicle.  An exploration of the tension between diners who want to photograph their meals and the establishments that frown on it.  Also includes rules of etiquette for taking tableside pictures from Bay Area bloggers.  Too bad Jason wasn’t interviewed for this one.

5) New Flavor to Retro Hangouts.  Los Angeles Times.  Everything old is new again, with a twist.  Yet despite restauranteurs’ attention to details of yore, the menus present familiar dishes with a new ingredient, prepare standbys in a novel way, and find ways to charm and surprise diners’ palates.

photo from stilllifewith, a blog dedicated to food styling and photography.

Food, Illustrated

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 20, 2006

Here are a couple of charming illustrations from Lobstersquad; the posts are as much fun as her drawings.  I hope that does a food page and uses her for illustrations someday.  Check out her site for dozens more.

Big Cook


Fishing Onion



Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 20, 2006

lunchcounter.jpg1)  In Search of a Childhood Memory:  Lydia Shire is on a mission to recreate Bailey’s butterscotch sauce.  The Boston Globe.  I love the nostalgia of this piece and its teaser on food memory.  In an effort to recreate the butterscotch of the old Boston ice cream shops, the chef of Locke-Ober asks the Globe to help her find the recipe.  “Would anyone have the recipe for the original?”  she writes.  “Even with just the ingredients, I may just be able to replicate it.”  That she can remember flavors, days let alone years later, is impressive.

2) Hiding in Not So Plain Sight.  The New York Times.  Commentary from The Master:

Like the folks who market Pabst Blue Ribbon and Converse sneakers, the impresarios behind Freemans understood that the nexus of retro and downscale is a lucrative spot, so long as it’s packaged in the right, knowing way. And these men, William Tigertt and Taavo Somer, understood that a nook at the terminus of a tucked-away alley would be an equally lucrative location, given the way New Yorkers like to feel that they’re in on a secret.

3) Butterfield 9 Has Your Number.  The Washington Post. According to Eve Zibart, Michael Harr may be the best chef we’ve never heard of.

4) The Tipping Point.  The Chicago Tribune.  The Trib catches up with  More important, it’s a piece on service, the alleged next big thing, according to Danny Meyer in Setting the Table:The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.

5) Counter Dining, Etc.  Michael Bauer’s Between Meals Blog.  San Francisco Chronicle.  It’s entertaining to read Bauer’s header that “counter dining spreads to New York,” considering it “spread” to New York, like, 30 years ago.  San Franciscans are the ones with space, remember?  Bauer also dishes on the trend’s spinoff, the downscaling of haute cuisine.

Finally, Hitachino Hits Home

Posted in District of Columbia, Niche by melissamccart on September 20, 2006

white_ale2.jpgAt the suggestion of the bartender at The Mermaid Inn in the East Village, I drank Hitachino on tap  with a pair of oysters while waiting for a friend at the bar a while back.  Though I’m half convinced that it’s because of the cute owl on the label, I fell in love with its light, citrus-y flavor. 

Google shows that others like it, too.  Amanda Hesser, Eric Asimov and Company at the New York Times rated it among the best in an informal wheat beer taste-test:

Of the 16 wheat beers we sampled, four were American, nine German, one Dutch, one Belgian and one Japanese. Tied for top honors, both with three stars out of a possible four, were the Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier Bavarian style, from Freising, Germany, and the Japanese contender, a weizen called Hitachino Nest Beer, from the Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki.

The Hitachino was, for Mr. Delissio, simply ”the best,” with ”lingering flavors and a long, pleasant finish.” I found an attractive smoky quality and good fruit. To Mr. Asimov, the Weihenstephaner was ”disciplined, harmonious and beautifully balanced.” Ms. Hesser found it very fragrant, with a nice citrus flavor.

Two years and a different city later, Birreria Paradisio becomes the first place in the D.C. area to serve it on tap, as far as I know. Back in August, the stand-in bartender for Thor said he wasn’t drinking any other beer while Hitachino White was on tap.  With a selection as broad as the one at BP, that’s saying something.

Lucky for us– since the supply is dwindling at Birreria and the owner claims it’s tough to get kegs–Hitachino White Ale is finally making the rounds to other places, including the P Street Whole Foods. It’s a steep $15.99 for two standard sized 1.5 pints, but it’s worth it.  Run don’t walk!  And just this week, they’ve added the sake-esque Red Rice Ale to their repertoire.  I have yet to try it, but it’s chilling in the fridge right now.

Q and Not U

Posted in Everywhere Else, General Interest, Niche by melissamccart on September 17, 2006

bubbletea.jpgGastronomica has an interesting article in the Spring issue that I keep going back to:  Q  by Zoe Tribur.  A Tiawanese colloquialism, Q, or apparently QQ in regular conversation, is described as:

When you put something in your mouth– cold or warm, salty or sweet, dry or wet, it doesn’t matter– the substance first pushes back at you as you seize it in your teeth, then firms up just for a moment. .  it is light but not insubstantial, flexible, supple, resistant, yet ultimately compliant.

There isn’t much of the slimy-turgidity of Q in American cuisine, since most of us don’t particularly like it or seek it out. Something that’s runny or mucousy with a little resistance is more like the funk you’d expect to find on a subway platform, not on your plate. Yet for some foods, the characteristics that Q embodies are a part of the experience.

Zoe cites sea cucumber as a great example of a food with the Q factor (We missed that one in the sushi gauntlet, in which we were dared to eat the more unusual items on a Japanese menu).  Throw some umami into the Q mix and now you’re talking.  Oysters, fish eggs, eel, and shark fin– seafood that has a high umami factor— is also Q-y. 

Yet food with Q doesn’t have to be from the sea, as anyone who has developed a craving for bubble tea can vouch.  The tapioca pearls are the most accessible reference, like tiny balloons filled with creamy,gelatinous starch. 

What else can you think of that gives good Q?


Savory San Francisco (And a D.C. Request)

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest, New York City, Other Places by melissamccart on September 15, 2006

Chris and Jennifer McBride, the team behind Savory New York, launched the preview of Savory San Francisco this week, a wiki-based restaurant guide that features video clips of restaurant chefs and owners at work. Check it out! It’s what the Food Network should feature more of– local restaurants and the inspiration behind them, as opposed to Rachael Ray dropping $40’s in Houston.  Though Savory is not as extensive as a traditional restaurant guide, each listing is more interesting and informative because of the videos, the menus, specialty listings, and links to reviews.  In addition, the site catalogs restaurants by neighborhood and cuisine. 

For New York, the top videos of the week include Daniel, Extra Virgin, and WD-50.  And I’m looking forward to watching Savory San Francisco’s features on Delfina, Zuni Cafe, and Quince.  For updates and interesting observations on the research behind Savory– such as Jennifer’s entry on the two types of California restaurant kitchens, check out the blog, Savory Tidbits.

Though I’m guessing a Savory D.C. launch would fall well behind a site for L.A., Chicago, Miami, and other cities, it shouldn’t.  Doesn’t everyone have to come through D.C. at some time or another?  And Savory would join the efforts of Metrocurean and Don Rockwell in doing people a favor by pointing out places beyond Clydes and Old Ebbitt.  Aside from that,  I’d love to watch clips from Gillian Clark and Michael Landrum online.  Commentary from these folks would erase out-of-towner assumptions once and for all that  D.C.’s restaurant world is gutless or uninspired. 

I Heart William Grimes

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 14, 2006

pepper.jpgWhen I seek inspiration for cooking mid-week, as of late I’ve been perusing the rerelease of Edna Lewis’ Country Cooking, The Silver Spoon,  Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, or Ruth Reichl’s Gourmet– a solid but vanilla go-to list that reminds me I should invest in a wider range of serious cookbooks and try to stay home more often.

And then there are nights like tonight, when it’s raining, I haven’t shopped, and I know that despite that it would be fun to cook, it’s just not gonna happen.  Time to go out. 

For out-to-dinner inspiration, rather than turn to local critics Tom Sietsema or Todd Kliman, I’ll turn to wordsmith and author of Eating Your Words, William Grimes:


Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 13, 2006

g405.jpg1)  Tea’s Got a Brand New Bag.  The New York Times.  As a result of the fact that more people are drinking tea in the U.S., the quantity and quality is more varied and appealing.  In addition, longer leaf- and Asian teas are gaining in popularity, a contrast to past preferences for short leaf tea and blends from Europe.

2) A Currently Swinging Combo.  The Washington Post.  A piece on the sweet-and-salty supermarket trend.  Though it’s interesting as this angle, I’d like to read about sweet-and-salty discussion among popular chefs in Washington.  Is it a given that many dishes have both sweetness and salt in them?  

On a separate note, It also makes me miss the Ben and Jerry’s pretzel cone days.  Apparently, it was done away with back in ’93 or so because customers thought it was too weird and they didn’t sell.

3) This Vermont Vacation Revolves Around Cooking.  The Boston Globe.  Cookbook author and Putney resident Deborah Krasner has recently transformed her 18th century farmhouse into a vacation spot for home cooks.  Sounds fun.

4) Sure, Blame the Jalepenos.  The Los Angeles Times.  An engaging, first person narrative about a family’s infamous chicken recipe and its origins.  That the writer refers to it as the chicken that killed grandpa is pretty ballsy, though I can’t decide whether it’s entertaining or if it just makes me squeamish. 

5) The Great Taqueria Search.  San Francisco Chronicle.  Here’s a great roundup of taquerias in San Francisco. The piece makes me wish that D.C. had more of ’em and also inspires me to want try all of the ones we do have.  It also reminds me of the Joe Yonan food cart round up from this summer’s Boston Globe.  I love these types of articles because they not only reflect a food trend– San Franciscians can’t get enough burritos– but a cultural/immigration trend, too– of the Latino cultures that head north, a good number of Mexicans make it to San Francisco.  Few end up in D.C., though plenty of Salvadoreans do.