8/7/2019 NYC Foodies at Home
On a recent visit to NYC, I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend whom I've known
since childhood. I can say with a smile that he is definitely a foodie geek, spending hours online
discussing the latest 'iteration' of sourdough starter, and other burning issues that seem to strike at
the heart of the New York City food scene, including where to secure a fifty-pound sack of
Damerera Sugar, or twenty pounds of Benton's bacon. He is plugged-in, and knows not just where
to get the best five-for-a-dollar dumplings in Chinatown, but how to secure a reservation at Waldy
Malouf's or David Chang's latest clusterfucks (Kitchen Table at Beacon, and Ko, respectively).Occasionally, he is asked to have his picture taken at a well-known restaurant, or makes
reservations at hot restaurants for friends who don't have the connections to get in (even if they're
famous and he's not). And he regularly accompanies a very well-known dining critic to dinner, one
who trusts his opinion about all things 'hip'.
So when I mentioned I would be passing through from Miami on a Saturday night, with the
possibility of having just one meal in New York, I was tantalized by which James Beard Award-
winning chef he was going to suggest, which Chef's Table, which open kitchen, which STAR would
I be writing home about? We're having a Farmer's Market meal at John's House, he told me over
the phone. Let me see if I can get you in.
I hadn't heard of the place, so I muttered, Huh? Where's that?
In Brooklyn, he said. Cobble Hill, actually.I hadn't really heard of anything in Cobble Hill lately, but then I AM in Miami, where people come
to get tan, not fed. I keep up with the food scenes in most major cities, though, but my last trip to
Brooklyn, maybe five years ago, was to a little restaurant called Sample. Is it near Sample? I
The tone of derision on the other end of the line was gratuitous, palpable, and yet, a necessary
welcome to New York. It's my friend John's house, he patiently explained. We all go to the
farmers markets, get the best stuff, and then cook it all in his big-ass kitchen. Then he added,
You moron. I guess being out of NYC for a couple of years can really slow down the reflexes.
Welcome home. I'm a moron.
The charming house in Brooklyn does indeed have a great kitchen. Chef-envy equipment, yes, but
most importantly in New York, plenty of room to move (once the dog settles down, anyway). And
that's key when you have four guys whirring about, all of whom need you to get the fuck out of the
way while they cook; even as Don's girlfriend Kathy takes pictures; Mitch's wife Alison slumps at
the counter like a contented cat, pouncing on some spicy sopressata and other salumi/sausages from
Faicco's Pork Store on Bleecker St; Jeannie, who shares the house with John and dog (and shakes
her head lovingly when he brings out his 50-pound sack of sugar), wonders aloud about the very
important wine pairings (I hear Dr. Loosen's name bandied about); and Sam's GF Kay, from
Kansas, is troubled by her 8:30 AM church service, where she will be performing as a professional
singer. (And there's me, of course, just generally in the way.) This is after the first cocktail, which
in true, Modern Mixology New York cocktail bar fashion, is a strong, but very smooth Jack Rose,
made with barrel-proof Applejack (John and Don are the Monday night bartenders at the wickedlypopular, (but somehow smoothly sane) 'underground' PDT (Please Don't Tell) cocktail bar that you
enter through a nondescript, unmarked phone booth).
And that's when the rest of us (non-cooks) settle in for a long night of pleasure. I don't know how
else to say it. There are few things that measure up to the joy of watching friends cook together,
and meeting some new friends, while embarking on a great meal. The talk is not always of food, or
wine, but the focus is always on the food (and drink, of course). Like John's first course of
Scallops, which are ceviche-style, but are really more like crudo, as they have bathed in the chili oil,
blood orange zest, and green and red jalapeo and serrona peppers for just a short period of time.
The presentation is beautiful, if you can imagine all the bright colors of this dish, and the scallops
taste sweet, with the crunch of the peppers highlighting their smooth texture. They are served
alongside John's Negroni-infused cucumber slices; and if you can get your head around that one,and you realize that this was just an amouse-bouche, albeit a big one, you know that this had to be
an incredible eating experience.
8/7/2019 NYC Foodies at Home
While I was lounging around, getting into some heated Miami versus New York rhetoric (I let NY
win), and crunching on some marinated favas and olives, I watched as Sam, one of three opera
singers in the room, prepared his crab and salmon roe ravioli, all the while booming out banter.
John and Mitch, with arms duly outstretched to hold the long homemade dough, looked like they
were kids holding up yarn for Grandma. But they were unbowed. In fact, there was an incredible
energy throughout the evening. As one small course after another seemed to fill our bellies, the
wine, and, particularly, for some reason, Don's 'Benton's Bacon'-fleckedgougres,actually seemedto expand our hunger. Or maybe hunger isn't the right word. More like desire. Desire for Sam'sravioli served with pea shoots in a miso butter. And a dry Chablis...a wine picked out and fretted
over by Jeannie, John's wife, who mastered the pairings over five courses, right up until the final
Caramel-Crisped Apple, and the four cheeses (yes, dessert AND cheeses).
But I was quickly awakened from my reverie by the dog barking-perhaps he was as startled as I was
by the flames in the kitchen, as John suavely (man, that guy was relaxed) ignited the mushrooms
cooking on the stove with some George T. Stagg 140 proof Bourbon, and then cooked the Long
Island Sea Bass, which was destined to top some creamed leeks and the flambeed, Bourbon-ized
yellow oyster mushrooms. These were crispy-skinned fillets, and John had spent some serious and
unexpected prep time tweeezer-ing out tons of pin-bones, to the delight and comfort of everyone
else, who gave the cook a roar of approval (in fact, if I remember correctly, there was much roaringthat evening). The non-stop butter-basting (really more like bathing) didn't hurt, either.
Next up were a trio of gnocchi's, hand-rolled by Don; and all that after he had squeezed out dozens
of thegougres from a pastry bag. The man is all about the dough. With girlfriend Kathy taking
pictures of his speed-work, Don rolled out Beet, Butternut Squash, and Ricotta dumplings, with
bright purple and yellow colors blazing. There was Sage Butter for the beet, Sausage Rag for the
melting ricotta, and the butternut squash gnocchi's were served withfoie gras bits and sauteed in
foie gras butter. Charlie Trotter be damned, sometimes there is nothing quite as fine asfoie gras,
unless it is fuckin'foie gras butter, which, oddly, did not taste 'buttery' at all, but almost gamey.
Wine was drunk, a Sauternes, perhaps? A 1995 Cabernet? A Chablis, another white Burgundy? It
all starts to go hazy here.
And that's not good when the final savory course is the Four-Hour-Braised Boneless Short Ribs,
which I watched Mitch peel from the bone that same afternoon. Parenthetically, I hereby nominate
Mitch as Honorary Jewish Mother of the Year, 2008. So, you want to get your hands dirty picking
up a bone? Of course not. Let me do it for you. Enjoy your friends. But seriously, served in a
reduced Red Wine Sauce, made from the thick pan juices and finished with Fresh Horseradish, over
Celeriac and Yukon Gold Potato Pure, this dish could satisfy the hunger of millions (and probably
has). Its old-fashioned-style flavor, from slow cooking at low temperature, starts from the tender
meat closest to the bone, and emanates out to the meat's crust. It is also toothy enough to satisfy
texturally. Chews good, if you know what I mean. And the humble glazed carrots are surprisingly
sugary. The simple, quality carrot. That's all it is, says Mitch, who has begun to look somewhat
glazed himself.Everyone's humming, it seems, as the food and drink and good company have buzzed us all into an
unseasonably warm winter evening. And although I ended up making it back to NYC for a few
more meals after this one at John & Jeannie's home, this was the one that I remember most fondly.
And as we waited for the taxi back to Manhattan, a curious quiet overwhelmed the group. Except
for John, of course. He was doing the dishes.