Archives for category: French Fries

Few items conjure the pleasures of summer, roadside food, and the seashore the way a lobster roll can. At least not if you’re anywhere even close to New England. I don’t know if this applies to people in California or Colorado, to say nothing of our friends in Japan or France. (Is this purely a New England food fetish?)

The area of New England I spent parts of my childhood in was landlocked (well there’s a lake on one side), yet even I am nostalgic for cold and creamy lobster on a split bun.

Like pesto, corn on the cob, peaches, strawberries, watermelon, and tomatoes, lobster rolls are best when eaten in season, when it’s muggy if possible, and on the hood of your car, at a picnic table, or on a picnic blanket.

Tonight I ate my first of the season, and hopefully not my last. It wasn’t eaten on a car or a blanket, but my tongue didn’t seem to mind. It was New York City, the West Village to be precise, far from the fish shacks of Cape Cod, Maine, or Long Island.

Pearl Oyster Bar opened on Cornelia Street in 1997. Its proprietor, Rebecca Charles, named the place for her Grandma Pearle, with whom she’d summer in Maine throughout her childhood. Chef Charles maintains that before Pearl, there was no lobster roll on the island of Manhattan. I’m willing to believe that.

It’s 2011, however, and lobster rolls abound. You can buy them off food trucks on Varick Street, at a fish monger’s in Chelsea Market, or near a wharf in Red Hook. There’s Luke’s Lobster and Ed’s Lobster and Urban Lobster. Then of course there’s Smorgasburg in Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Flea and I’m sure Tom Colicchio is serving them up on the HighLine somewhere. The city has become lobsterfied. I’m waiting for David Chang to concoct a version of the dish – perhaps it would be made with Japanese mayo and served with pickles on Chinese steamed buns. Hmm, I shouldn’t give away that idea for free.

And why doesn’t Danny Meyer serve these suckers at Shake Shack? My guess is because the lines are already too long.

Yuji and I met for an after-work dinner and found ourselves in front of IFC on 6th Ave. in the Village. It was so bloody hot I proposed just hopping into the theater to see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But we were both so hungry it would’ve required a large tub of popcorn to take the edge off. I mentioned I was craving calamari and Yuji said he also wanted seafood. We remembered Pearl around the corner and poked our heads in to check the damage.

Pearl has a reputation for being not only the best place for lobster rolls in the city (and an excellent place for all sorts of other seafood), but also one of the busiest, even at 7 pm. It has an early evening crush due to the post-work clientele of men in collared shirts with loosened ties and women in heels wishing for flip flops, as well as dads at the bar teaching their kids how to clean steamers, and lone diners relishing in the luxury of well, dining alone at Pearl.

Our bucket of steamers arrived three minutes after we placed the order. There’s a ritual to steamers: pry open the shell, pull what can only be called foreskin from the foot of the clam, bathe in the little bowl of water provided to you, dip in butter, deposit into mouth. I forgot all about the lemon. Who needs lemon when you have buttery clams? Yuji and I devoured 12 in less than that many minutes.

Next came our Caesar salad, cold and crisp and drenched in anchovy dressing and garlic. The tiny croutons were just the crunch the salad needed. I know, who needs salad when you’ve got lobster coming? I happen to love a good Caesar and think the flavors complement a seafood course well. Besides, Caesar is not a feeble salad, it packs a punch, and I think it says a lot about a restaurant.

Then it came. The top-split buttery brioche hot dog roll with chunks of lobster meat dressed in creamy mayo, salt and pepper, and I’ll be damned if there was celery, lettuce, or a sprig of anything green in sight. Traditional. Why mess with a good thing? Therein lies the success of Pearl. I’m glad there’s room for both in this world—a Changian lobster bun as well as the classic. The fries are spaghetti-thin and come with vinegar and ketchup. And the gazpacho, adorned with (more) lobster meat and two cold, poached shrimp, was refreshing and crunchy and right on the money. I could’ve danced all night.

So yes, it was good. It was everything I’d hoped for since I walked in Pearl’s door at 7:03 and couldn’t believe the luck of the man at the bar with a lobster roll and fries in front of him. All to himself. Does it get better than that? I had to brace myself for the possibility we’d never get a table. I didn’t think I could be so lucky on this hottest day of the year, when the temperature hit 98 if not 100 and instead of dipping my toes off a dock somewhere I was dragging them on the pavement. I think I even stepped in melted chewing gum today.

Well New York: you did good. Thank you Pearl Oyster Bar. You make being in this city more bearable on nights like this. Pleasurable, even.

I’ve been wanting to try Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen ever since it opened a little over a year ago in ABC Carpet & Home in the Union Square/Flatiron neighborhood of New York.

A celebrated chef, known for his elegant, dare I use the word ‘fusion,’ of classic French techniques with the flavors of other lands—Japan, or in this case, upstate New York—Jean-Georges has opened restaurants all over this city, most of which are successful (Jean-Georges, Perry Street, Mercer Kitchen) and only one or two considered misses perhaps (Vong, Spice Market).

ABC Kitchen is his version of capturing the gastronomical zeitgeist – casual, local, seasonal, downtown, and affordable (relatively speaking), as some chefs of his ilk have done of late (Daniel Boulud’s DBGB comes to mind). I don’t normally wish for chefs to expand their restaurant empires or jump on food trends, but I do wonder what Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin or Dan Barber of Blue Hill would do with more casual offshoots of their formal flagship restaurants. Of course, I don’t want either of these upstanding chefs to dilute the strength of their focused efforts, I just fantasize about the possibility of a weekday lunch of, say, a Fin Dorset lamb sandwich with garlic scapes and micro arugula (at my imaginary Blue Hill); or yellowfin tuna, shaved chives, and olive oil layered on a toasted baguette (at make-believe Le Bernardin).

ABC Kitchen promises a changing menu based on the seasons and local produce surrounding New York. The produce is reared without exposure to synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (the culinary equivalent of television); the meat and fish are pasture-raised, or line-caught, or sustainably harvested; the dairy is free of antibiotics, from animals treated humanely and fed a free-roaming diet of grass and probably coconut water.

My first view into the restaurant was on the Sundance Channel’s Iconoclast program last year, on an episode with Jean-Georges and Hugh Jackman, where the two prepare a charity dinner at the newly opened ABC Kitchen. Furnished with wares that can be purchased at ABC Carpet & Home, including the tables, chairs, bowls, plates, stemware, flower vases, and lighting fixtures, the restaurant has a comfortable, urban farmhouse feel about it. Downtown meets Upstate. French fries meet foie gras. Fine dining meets…ABC Carpet.

My dining companion once again was my friend Sarah (of Sunday’s Roman’s adventure), in town briefly from Vancouver. I made the reservation one week prior to our lunch which, to my relief, was plenty of time to book a 1 pm table on a weekday. The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was the gracious efforts of the host and the light-hearted chattiness of the fellow who escorted us to our table (“isn’t this weather so fresh?”)

I often have difficulty deciding what to order, especially if I know I may not return to a restaurant before the menu changes. In this case indecision would be an understatement. The cocktail menu alone included an entire section on fresh-squeezed vegetable-herb juices, fresh-fruit smoothies, and homemade sodas infused with herbs and citrus. I’m surprised they weren’t serving kombucha on tap! I opted for the coconut water and Sarah chose a dry, acidic white wine.

I love a restaurant companion who enjoys sharing plates as much as I do. That way you get to try twice as many items on the menu than you would if eating separate dishes. Sarah was game, so for our first course, we ordered the sweet pea soup with carrots and mint and the roasted carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds. It was difficult neglecting the appetizer of raw diver scallops with sea beans and serrano chilies and the crab toast with lemon aioli. We’d stare at waiters passing by with dishes for other tables to assess whether we’d made good decisions. (The crab toast, I have to say, being devoured by a neighboring table, looked quite good.)

I half-expected the pea soup to arrive chilled, but bucking that trend it is served hot, a bright green purée with crunchy pesto croutons and what tasted like the zest of lime. The salad was an abundance of micro greens (that may have been grown on the restaurant’s rooftop garden) sitting atop two perfectly roasted whole carrots, with quarters of ripe avocado.

For our main courses, we chose the steamed hake with roasted maitake, asparagus and spring onions; and the asparagus and heirloom tomato sandwich on focaccia with mozzarella and what I remember as pickled onions or radishes, hot peppers, and a side of house-cut french fries dusted with fresh rosemary and salt.

We lingered over the flavors of our first course for so long that we were startled out of our oohs and ahhs by our server bringing the second course before we were done with the soup and salad. They asked to clear our first-course plates when Sarah and I simultaneously and defensively pulled them in close and asked to keep them. I couldn’t discard the three spoonfuls of soup left or the tiny nub of roasted carrot remaining on the plate!

The second course did not disappoint. The focaccia was a soft and salty foil to the heat of the peppers and pickles, the mozzarella a smooth and silky pillow for the ripe red tomatoes. Olive oil oozed over my hands as I took big bites, taking care to get each layer of the sandwich in each mouthful. The hake was flaky, moist, infused with a light vinaigrette and when eaten together with the maitake produced the perfect bite. The asparagus was diced into tiny round pieces laying underneath and on top of the hake filet.

We were entirely too full to tackle dessert but coveted our neighbor’s sundae of vanilla ice cream with caramel and popcorn. Next time. Because this is, after all, Jean-Georges downtown, so there can be a next time.

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