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Wood-Fired Wizardry at Metta in Fort Greene

We need to talk about dessert at Metta. Specifically, one dessert: a sweet potato. Only it won’t much look like a sweet potato when it lands on your table, having just been plucked from the embers by chef and co-owner Norberto “Negro” Piattoni. Sliced but still holding its shape, the result is pitch black speckled with auburn, not unlike a lump of glowing coal. Bringing your spoon down upon the shell you expect the crackly thud of crème brûlée. Instead, the barely-there crust disintegrates, giving way to sunset-orange insides as creamily sweet as custard. In every sense, it’s a vegetable transformed.

Rather than gilding the specimen with elaborate garnishes, Piattoni lays it next to a fluffy dollop of whipped cream flavored with elecampane, a type of sunflower also known as elfdock. The plant’s roots have slightly bitter and intensely floral notes, which lends a taste similar to the Choward’s violet hard candies my grandfather often carried on him — as if an old-fashioned milk truck collided with a bouquet display case. Together, the dish evokes a bizarro version of the marshmallow-topped yams so popular around the holidays: a comforting, familiar flavor that also manages to startle your palate with tugs of herbal sweetness and earthen char. Vegetables in desserts is nothing new. This, however, feels anything but old hat.

With wood-fired cooking trending hard, it seems like every chef with access to kindling has taken to setting things ablaze with Promethean vigor, ecstatically blackening every ingredient they can get their hands on. Few do so with such sprightly finesse as Piattoni, who spent four years running Garzon, famed Argentine chef Francis Mallmann’s asado barbecue restaurant in Uruguay. There, the farmer’s son from Federación, Argentina, learned to harness fire after years of simply enjoying its mouthwatering effects. That much is plainly evident by the custom-built hearth he’s installed opposite Metta’s lovely, plant-festooned entranceway, beyond the snug dining room’s natural wood furniture, tapered ceramic hanging lamps, marble tabletops, and eight-seat chef’s counter. The oven’s most mesmerizing feature is a rugged metal basket, which holds burning wood as hanging cuts of meat slow-roast around it. This lets coals drop to the bottom (thanks, gravity!) of the fire pit, where their heat fuels both a griddle and a slotted grill.

The sensible setup often yields astonishing outcomes, whether it’s slices of slightly warmed lamb leg layered into lettuce cups with pickles and chiles or the carrots the 37-year-old Piattoni smokes and pairs with creamy farmer cheese and a thick, vibrant green sauce made from chard, dandelion greens, lemon zest, and roasted garlic. Prices are kept reasonable for the neighborhood, with snacks like ramp mignonette–splashed oysters starting at $6 and the heftiest entrée — bone-in slabs of short rib steak with sharp greens (collards, the night I tried them) and a righteous chimichurri — fetching $28. At this picturesque Brooklyn intersection, which Metta’s windowed façade frames just so, it’s all too easy to swoon over the nuances of a $13 plate of charred brine-soaked green cabbage set over piquant preserved butternut squash purée and crowned with curls of broccoli rabe flowers — the whole dish set off by the fireworks of fruity dried habanero. Meaty beets with crimson, earthy-sweet interiors are plunged skin-side-up into cooling crème fraîche and topped with chewy rye berries. More delicate but no less punchy is gingerly singed beef heart, still rare on the inside, which mingles with mellow cooked-down cubanelle peppers and leeks for a courageous carpaccio. There’s little of the gamy flavor you might fear, only a mild and grassy beefiness.

Piattoni’s time at San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, after Garzon and preceded by a brief stint in Kentucky, “changed my whole mind,” he says, and would become his “biggest influence and inspiration.” There he fell for sourdough bread, sustainability, and techniques like fermentation and dehydration. So Metta, which takes its name from the Buddhist concept of spreading benevolence, composts its food trash and aims to operate with a neutral carbon footprint. Even if you might roll your jaded New Yorker’s eyes at such honorable intentions, the chef’s penchant for preservation proves itself on the plate. Soured carrots provide a necessarily pungent backbone to crunchy strands of braised-then-roasted Elysian Fields lamb neck crisped in its own fat, which sits in a purée of the tangy root vegetables and glistens under a scattering of sunflower seeds. Pale-pink slivers of porgy crudo — which Piattoni also chars for a main course next to turnips and nettles — hog the plate in an abstract pattern that calls to mind a school of fish. The pristine cuts pop with red South American ají dulce peppers and bracing ramps that have been pickled then charred. Meanwhile, tender hunks of roasted-then-seared pork shoulder steak ($24) wear disks of celery root like wide-brimmed Kentucky Derby hats, all surrounded by a sauce made with cherry lees, a brewing byproduct from Brooklyn’s Enlightenment Wines.

Cheery servers navigate a cramped space that gets loud enough to drown out the restaurant’s high-energy soundtrack when tables fill up (a state it seems they’re in perpetually), though the natural European wines picked by co-owner Henry Rich, many of which cost under $60, do a fine job assuaging any waits you may endure. Same goes for Piattoni’s desserts ($8), which err on the savory side with vegetables like parsnip — roasted and turned into a cake and paired with ice cream infused with lovage, an herb that tastes like celery. He grills dehydrated apple slices to drape over unsweetened, citrusy sorrel frozen yogurt and cloaks dark chocolate custard in frozen buttermilk. Still, it’s that stunning sweet potato that best showcases the capabilities of this impressive kitchen and also represents one of its clearest triumphs: a simple, strong finish that smolders in the memory like the fire that created it.

Metta
197 Adelphi Street, Brooklyn
718-233-9134, mettabk.com

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Standing for Your Steak at Ikinari Doesn’t Quite Cut It

You don’t have to search far or wide to find an affordable steak in New York. Just ask the people chowing down on salsa-verde-smothered churrasco at any number of neighborhood spots around the five boroughs, or try the folks who frequent Manhattan’s last remaining Tad’s Steaks, a decades-old budget chophouse in midtown. The city’s also rife with bistros peddling bar steaks in the $20 range, and home to a branch of French chain Les Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte, which only serves one menu: seven or so ounces of sliced sirloin doused in a sharp mustardy sauce thickened with chicken livers, eaten alongside salad and fries for a cool $30. If you can’t or won’t throw down big bucks for dry-aged beef, this town graciously provides an abundance of options — which is why I can’t fathom the appeal of Ikinari Steak, a Tokyo-based quick-service import with an open disdain for chairs.

Yes, Ikinari (which translates to “suddenly” or “all of a sudden”) aims to flip the stodgy world of steakhouses on its head by removing seats from the equation, all in the name of cost and convenience. The chain requires customers to stand while eating, which encourages faster turnover and in turn means the restaurant can offer their cuts of USDA Choice beef at marginally reduced prices. It’s a sensation in Japan, with more than 100 outlets, a rewards program, and an app that tracks personal meat consumption. It’s also, save for the steak itself, lackluster.

Septuagenarian chef and inventor Kunio Ichinose launched the juggernaut brand in 2013 as part of an effort to further streamline the act of feeding people beef, something he’s been striving to achieve for more than forty years. The focus on efficiency makes sense from a business perspective, but the pared-down proceedings at this East Village newcomer can leave you feeling sympathetic to cattle. From the way you’re herded to your communal eating kiosk, to the lines for the butcher’s station where patrons choose their steaks by weight, to the unsettling mouth guards worn by staff for hygiene reasons, it’s all like something from a dystopian novel — a steakhouse devoid of nearly all but the most base of steakhouse pleasures: the actual act of consuming meat.

Waits have died down with the opening buzz, so it won’t take long for a host to lead you to your very own tiny expanse of countertop outfitted with a number and a cubby for your belongings. The brightly lit subterranean dining room, thick with the perfume of sizzling beef fat, looks like your average fast-casual outfit, with exposed-brick walls and an upscale-cafeteria-like atmosphere. Soon a waiter will stop by to take your drink order — Japanese Sapporo beers and Beringer wines from California are the only booze selections — and inquire whether you’d like to pair your steak with an innocuous soup/salad combo for $4, or splurge on Ichinose’s signature $6 garlic-pepper rice. The latter shows promise, arriving on a sizzling iron skillet and strewn with crunchy fried garlic, diced beef scraps, and a ton of corn kernels. When mixed together, the D.I.Y. fried rice is pleasant enough, but because Ikinari serves corn with every steak, it winds up being a monotonous addition. Granted, you can’t expect an international chain to deviate too much from its corporate-approved menu, but a little effort (and a few extra choices beyond desperately unseasoned vegetables) would go a long way toward helping people forget they’re eating steak — a meal made for reclining in surrender from overindulgence — while standing up.

On the other hand, if all you need is a rapid meat fix minus any comfort whatsoever, Ikinari’s steaks hit the spot in a perfectly fine, workaday sort of way. Once you’ve settled on beverages and sides, head over to the meat counter. There you’ll present a laminated card with your table number to the masked butchers before picking one of three cuts — filet, sirloin, or ribeye — by weight, at eleven, nine, and eight cents per gram, respectively. Then they’ll carve your choice to order from the hulking slabs they store in the display cooler behind them. On average, you’ll wind up paying anywhere from $20 to $40 for your haul.

Follow the restaurant’s recommendation and order yours rare — one thing Ichinose has thankfully mastered is acing cooking temps in a mass-market setting. Every steak I tried boasted a rosy interior to match its nicely charred exterior crust. After about ten minutes, the flash-seared, grill-marked meats arrive sizzling and juicy on blazing hot iron plates, crowned with florets of melting garlic butter and scattered with fried garlic. Pour some “J” sauce, a garlicky soy-based marinade melding sweet apples and miso, over the top to send plumes of steam rising, or gussy up your beef with dollops of mustard, raw garlic, and squirts of the house sauce, a sweeter, chunkier number that packs a more concentrated flavor. There’s no side dish or condiment that can fix the kitchen’s assorted platter, however, which turns out to be a hodgepodge of different cuts mixed into an unappealing jumble.

In all, Ikinari’s few virtues are probably best experienced at lunch, when a ten-and-a-half-ounce chuck steak with sides fetches a flat $20. But unless you’re in a rush, absolutely must control your portions down to the gram, or have a strange, eternal love for cob-free corn, you really don’t need to go through all that hoopla the next time you’re craving bargain beef.

Ikinari Steak
90 East 10th Street, 917-388-3546
ikinaristeakusa.com

 

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Beef Is When the Government Makes You Pay for Your Factory-Farm Competition’s Advertising

There was a significant development last week in a lawsuit that is seeking to eradicate a major source of funds used to prop up factory farming of meat.

The lawsuit is centered around the checkoff program, a system that requires ranchers and farmers to contribute money from every animal sold to promote industry advertisements such as “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” and “Pork. The Other White Meat.” Currently, there are eighteen commodity checkoff programs for items ranging from beef to blueberries. But as the Voice explained this summer, many smaller independent farmers and ranchers say their dues are going to fund initiatives that benefit huge industrial suppliers, not them. Last month, the government retreated half a step, acknowledging that farmers can’t be forced to participate. Critics say that’s not good enough.

This current case, which focuses on the system in Montana but would set a national precedent, was filed against the US Department of Agriculture by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), a group of smaller producers who object to being forced to pay one dollar per animal towards the communal checkoff pot. That may not sound like much, but in the industrial system an individual cow is typically sold at least three times during the course of its life. Each time is passes hands, a dollar goes into the coffer. That adds up to around $80 million a year.

For each dollar transaction, fifty cents goes to the USDA, which supervises all expenditures. This means those promotions qualify as “government speech,” so there’s some semblance of accountability. Freedom of Information Act  requests can be filed to find out how money is being spent. If a group doesn’t agree with the speech, industry groups or voters can lobby the Secretary of Agriculture for a change. The other fifty cents goes toward state associations that in many regions — including New York and New Jersey — are private agencies unrelated to the government, and therefore not subject to the same accountability.

Those messages often conflict with the interests of small-scale producers, who are nonetheless required to subsidize them. In Montana, which ranks eleventh in the US for cattle inventory, five of the twelve members on the Montana Beef Council board are connected to lobbying groups for multinational corporations. That’s a problem, says David Muraskin, the lawyer representing R-CALF in its lawsuit. In 2014, the agency paid for a Wendy’s Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger ad campaign, equivalent to a marketing slap in the face to the state’s independent ranchers and farmers. “Wendy’s uses North American beef, from anywhere on the the continent,” says Muraskin. “It’s not from Montana and it’s almost certainly not U.S. beef, because U.S. beef is more expensive.”

There’s big money at stake: Last year, the state sold 1.6 million heads of cattle, garnering $800 thousand for the Montana Beef Council. The number is projected to increase by 50 percent this year, bringing in an estimated $1.2 million in revenue for the organization. The New York State Beef Industry Council got $26,982 from the 650,000-plus cows sold in the state. In New Jersey, 9,000 cattle were sold.

“The cattle industry doesn’t receive any direct government price support like corn, wheat, or cotton,” says Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF. “U.S. producers are forced to pay for marketing and promotion of competitors’ beef.”

In a filing last month, the government tried a new tack in an effort to dismiss the Montana lawsuit, noting that the USDA was now acknowledging — deep in the fine print of the Federal Register on July 15 — that for two decades it has been wrongly informing ranchers that they were required to turn their money over to private state councils that control many of the meat advertisements. The agency said it will soon issue new rules which would allow ranchers and farmers to steer their money away from the private councils and into publicly controlled USDA hands.

But as the document goes on to explain, the program isn’t cancelled — ranchers will have to actively opt out, submitting a written request on an approved form, postmarked no more than fifteen days after the sale of the cattle in question, possibly multiple times per month.

R-CALF argues that this new process is too burdensome, that it continues to subsidize mulitnational corporations at the expense of independent farmers and ranchers, and that, moreover, it’s unconstitutional. The group cites a 2012 Supreme Court case, Knox v. Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which held that where the government is forcing individuals to turn over money to fund private speech, an opt-out option isn’t good enough. Affirmative consent is required before any funds are given to the private entity.

“When money is being used solely for speech, you can’t assume someone is going to waive their right and send to a private organization,” says Muraskin. “It would be like the government taking my money and turning it over to the Trump campaign.”

When contacted, the USDA’s press office told the Voice it would not comment on the case.

The Montana lawsuit is only the most recent instance of the checkoff program coming under scrutiny. Last year, a FOIA request revealed that the government was overseeing a campaign by the American Egg Board to get a vegan mayonnaise company’s product yanked from Whole Foods shelves. Following the scandal, Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced S. 3201, the Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act of 2016, with the goal of bringing transparency to the federal (USDA-overseen) checkoff program. While that bill might help with half the funds controlled by the USDA, it would do nothing for the half that goes to private state councils like the Montana Beef Council.

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At Kingsley, Whole Animals, Late-Night Eats, and Friendly Service Reign Supreme

As a young cook working her way up the ranks, chef Roxanne Spruance collected photos of bathroom tiles, color schemes, and lighting fixtures. She imagined a dining room that was clean, neutral, and inviting. “Some girls plan their wedding. I planned this restaurant,” Spruance tells the Voice. That restaurant? Kingsley.

Tucked away on Avenue B in the East Village, Kingsley is indeed an inviting restaurant. There are two small dining rooms seating around 25, a bar with a separate menu and serious signature cocktails, a private dining room, and a patio. The dining and bar menus are both whole animal- and market-driven, with seasonal changes. And the service is warm, but professionally on point.

“Everything has kind of formed itself from this initial vision of allowing guests to get amazing food and great service without having to get dressed up and go uptown,” Spruance explains. “There are so many mid-range to cheap eats in this city, but you go in and the servers kind of make you feel like you’re doing them a favor by being there. I hate that feeling.”

In a time when “market-driven” and “whole animal” can be viewed as more “on trend” than substantial, you only need to look at Spruance’s formal education to trust that she can put her plates where her ideals are. She received Bachelor of Science degrees in both Environmental Biology/Zoology and in Fisheries and Wildlife, and she worked at Paul Kahan’s Blackbird in Chicago, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns and WD-50 in New York.

At Kingsley, her education and experience come together in ingredient-driven dishes that equate to more than throwing “a poached egg in a bowl with some vegetables and calling it a day.”

“Where’s the crunch, where’s the acid? We look at all elements together,” she assures.

Roasted Octopus
Roasted Octopus

Her Celeriac Agnolotti, for example, is a pasta-less dish where roasted celery root is put through a deli slicer, then stuffed with sunflower puree and served over a dehydrated mesquite cake with seared foie gras, black pepper gastrique, and sunflower shoots. “It’s sweet, bright, fresh, and crunchy,” she explains.

While favorites like the charred octopus will probably never fully leave the menu, its composition changes with what’s available that season, and is currently served with eucalyptus, yogurt, plums, cucumber, sumac, rice wine, and shiso.

Cocktails flow with the seasons, too. In late summer, the Herbs de Provence Manhattan transformed into a Manhattan with pecan-washed bourbon and peach simple syrup. Such potent libations require snacks that can seriously absorb alcohol.

“The East Village is a great cocktail neighborhood where people are out late, but most places don’t really do good late food,” she says. “So to offer some snacks to people later in the evening that are still curated — and not just pizza — is important to us.” This is where the benefit of using whole animals comes in: Fresh lamb meat goes into tartare, pig skins into chicharones, and soon a few varieties of French paté will be available.

Breaking down whole animals is a technique that many chefs aspire to master, but it’s a process that is often difficult to make a reality — especially in a city where kitchens can be the size of closets and walk-in refrigerators aren’t big enough for people to walk into. But for Spruance, “the animals were non-negotiable, just like the farmer’s market is non-negotiable. We were going to make it work.”

Part of the necessity is purely pragmatic: When a whole animal comes in at three dollars a pound versus a rack or chop at thirty dollars, the difference between the two is gigantic.

“It’s a ton more labor…but it’s free, because it’s me!” she admits. “It’s about what you can get out of it, and where you can get the most value,” she summarizes. “For me, that’s doing whole animals. Say I had a super-tiny fridge: I’d bring something in and butcher it that day so that it fits in that fridge. There are no limitations — you just have to be a bit more creative about it.”

The dining room at Kingsley
The dining room at Kingsley

Creativity plays a part in her plating style, too, though she doesn’t plate with Instagram-obsessed diners in mind. “It’s a combination of what the dish is, how it speaks to me, and what plate it’s going on,” she explains. She’s a fan of negative space and round plates, often utilizing their curves. “It’s an organic process. It shouldn’t make your eye work. I think that’s part of how people identify with your dishes — they’re not having to figure out what the thing is.”

Spruance has always taken ownership in the restaurants that employed her and tries to instill the same in her staff. However, when she gives herself a moment to bathe in those bathroom tiles, the poured concrete bar, the color palette, and the ethos of her staff — she feels pride in a way she never has before. “Honestly, I try not to think about it all the time, but there is something to be said about sitting down at the end of the night in a space that is my name. It’s awesome.”

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Meet the Meatcutters of Williamsburg. No, Guys, You Can’t Impress Them.

Elle Wolfe and Sunny Sanchez often find raw meat in their hair. It’s not uncommon for Wolfe to spot a chunk of bright-pink beef in Sanchez’s long black-and-bleached ombré ponytail; when she does, she reaches over to pluck it out before casually flicking it to the floor.

Once, as Wolfe rode the subway home after a long day’s work, she let her hair down and “a clump of ground beef fell out,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘Oh, good, nobody saw!’ But there was this teeny skateboarder kid in the corner of the train, totally freaked out, just staring, like a chunk of my brain had just fallen out of my head.”

Neither Wolfe nor Sanchez, 24 and 28 respectively, is squeamish. As butchers at Williamsburg’s The Meat Hook, they frequently find smears of blood across their necks or shoulders. Like war-painted soldiers, they heave hunks of beef and pig larger than their own torsos across the bright corner butcher shop, casually deploying knives and band saws to carve through twelve inches of muscle, sinew, and bone.

But “lady butchers”— an unwelcome term foisted on them by some media and customers — these women are not. Wolfe and Sanchez have no tolerance for the attendant assumption that they are either tomboys or lesbians (they are neither). Nor do they take well to comments about the incongruity of lipstick and butchery, or when a customer — rare, but it happens — looks over their heads to address a male butcher in the room. The same goes for jokes about how “dangerous” they must be.

“When I’m hanging out with my boyfriend and someone finds out what I do, they’re like, ‘Ooh, don’t make her mad,’ ” Wolfe says. “How about you just not make me mad because it’s a shitty thing to do?” They can see the funny side, though — especially when men, wanting to appear knowledgeable, over-order at the counter. “There’s this idea that by eating a lot of meat or knowing a lot about meat you’re going to impress us, but that’s not what we’re here for,” says Wolfe. “Yeah,” Sanchez jokes, ” ‘Can you cut me a rib eye, three inches thick?’ ”

Mostly, the comments Wolfe and Sanchez inevitably receive while hoisting hunks of meat inspire backroom mockery. “The whole time I’m cutting chickens? I have a vagina,” laughs Sanchez. “And when I’m grinding beef in the meat grinder? Believe it or not, there’s a vagina down there the whole time.”

Gender aside, neither is a stereotypical butcher. Sanchez grew up mostly vegan in California, “eating rice cheese, amaranth flakes, and a lot of avocados,” she says. She wanted to work with food and, after starting in cheese, wound up at the counter of Lindy and Grundy in Los Angeles, where she fell in love with butchery and “the visceral experience of touching food, seeing what it looks like and where it comes from.” Wolfe, meanwhile, fell into butchery while earning a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in Colorado, where she’s from. Both had part-time jobs at meat shops before moving to New York to pursue full-time butchery.

At The Meat Hook, a whole-animal shop specializing in pasture-fed meat from family-owned New York farms, Wolfe and Sanchez found an appreciation for intense, hands-on work and the desire to be, as Wolfe puts it, “a healthy part of the food system.” They know where their meat comes from, how the animal was raised, how it was killed, and that the farmer is well and fairly paid, and they want their customers — and American consumers in general — to know these things about the meat they buy as well.

And, perhaps counterintuitively, these butchers actually encourage less meat consumption. “I eat less and better meat now,” Wolfe says. “Our meat is expensive. That’s what humanely pasture-raised meat should cost.” She eats red meat once or twice a week, while Sanchez calls herself a “pork shoulder girl.” She’ll cook a batch of carnitas and stretch it for a week.

A growing number of women are entering butchery with motives similar to Sanchez’s and Wolfe’s. Their ranks include The Meat Hook’s previous general manager, Sara Bigelow; the female owners of California’s sustainable Belcampo Farms; and Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura of Lindy and Grundy, which focuses on local, pastured, and organic meats. “We’ve come in at a time when a lot of women have led the way and forged a path that we are lucky to follow,” says Wolfe.

Sanchez and Wolfe love that butchery allows them to be “a healthy part of the food system.”
Sanchez and Wolfe love that butchery allows them to be “a healthy part of the food system.”

Theirs may be a historically male industry, but women, despite physical differences, are as suited to the job as men. Butchery requires equal parts brawn and finesse — with an added dose of attention to detail, explains Sanchez. “We have to make these cuts retail-ready. If something is misshapen, unless it’s supposed to be that way, we have to shave it down, make it pleasing to the eye.” A major point in favor of female butchers, according to Wolfe: “We’re a lot more comfortable asking questions than guys are. They’re all, ‘Oh, whatever, I have something to prove.’ We’re not. It’s not all hacking away.”

As Wolfe and Sanchez work, an occasional peal of laughter punctures the store’s background soundtrack of Hall and Oates, Michael McDonald, and Fleetwood Mac. The camaraderie in the shop is palpable, and trust and communication — while wearing six-pound chains with scabbards holding a dozen sharp knives — is paramount. This lets them concentrate on their number one priority: carving giant animals into human-size portions and helping customers pick out what they want to eat, in a conscious way.

“People are intimidated: There are so many cuts in the case. But that’s our job, to guide you to what you’re looking for,” says Sanchez. “We’re breaking these things down, cleaning steaks, we’re gonna be like, ‘The blade on this shoulder was so big and beautiful, this is truly something special, you need to give this guy a loving home.’ ”

That’s why, when they take off their scabbards to leave The Meat Hook, Wolfe and Sanchez aren’t thinking about their hair. “At the end of a long day, even if you fuck something up or you feel like you didn’t do a good enough job, you cannot wait to go back the next day and try again. No matter how tired you are, you feel vindicated, satisfied,” says Sanchez. “Tomorrow I’m going to do it better. Next time I’m going to do it faster. Next time I’m going to do it perfectly.”

 

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The Brooklyn Kitchen Beefs Up With a New Array of Curated Meat and Fish

Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Kitchen (100 Frost Street, Brooklyn; 718-389-2982) has taken on plenty of roles over the past ten years: kitchen store, grocery, educators, and foodie community stalwart. Now the multitasking culinary hotspot is celebrating a decade of business by opening brand new counters focusing on precisely curated meat and fish.

“We opened ten years ago, and we’d been living in the neighborhood for a while before that,” says Taylor Erkkinen, who founded Brooklyn Kitchen along with Harry Rosenblum. “I guess I was emerging out of my delayed adolescence and staring to think of myself as an adult. I was getting married. I was going to more dinner parties than party-parties. I was cooking more, and taking care of myself, and thinking about what I was eating. Brooklyn Kitchen grew out of that. We wanted to create a gathering space for people who love cooking too.”

It was vital for the duo behind Brooklyn Kitchen to be open to change — especially in a neighborhood that has evolved over the past decade with reclaimed factories, “Defend Brooklyn” protests, waterfront redevelopment, an influx of hipsters, and the stroller revolution.

“We started with books and, like, eight knives,” Erkkinen says of their first days in business. “Then we then expanded our kitchen tools, and started doing classes, and then produce. It feels like a natural evolution to finally be able to have a meat and fish counter.”

The newly formed meat counter
The newly formed meat counter

Meat has always been a signature part of the Brooklyn Kitchen experience, even though it previously wasn’t sold in the store.

“We used to have butchery classes — even in our first store on Lorimer Street, which was pretty small and really not set up for produce at all,” says Erkkinen. “When we had a delivery of a whole steer and two 220-pound pigs yesterday, it reminded me of those early classes because it felt like suddenly we had too much meat for the space. Back then, we couldn’t sell the meat. So once the class was over, we’d let people choose cuts, and put them in random plastic bags to take home. We were always left with the head — which nobody wanted — so Harry and I would take it home and make batches of headcheese. That was before we had kids, and had more time to get weird.”

Rex Workman of Brooklyn Kitchen
Rex Workman of Brooklyn Kitchen

The new meat and fish counters, carefully curated by Rex Workman (Fun fact: his initials are R.A.W.), is built on a network of producers who are connected through the Good Food Awards.

“We all meet together, and we have an identity of being outside the great food-selling cabal of businesses. We’re all looking to celebrate people who make great products, so largely through those connections we found some amazing producers,” says Erkkinen. Highlights include Meiller Farm’s pork and grass-fed beef as well as lamb from Sullivan Farms.

“We’re the only place in New York where you can buy Tender Belly Bacon, which comes from Denver, Colorado,” says Erkkinen. “And I’m really excited about the Swiss-style charcuterie from Olympia Provisions [which is based in Portland, Oregon]. That delivery just arrived today. The sausages are so good!”

Brooklyn Kitchen
Brooklyn Kitchen

The fish counter, made by Brooklyn Kitchen’s neighbors Advanced Steel Fabrications, is stocked with responsibly caught, seasonal fish and shellfish. Keep an eye out for Rhode Island Squid, Acme Fish’s locally smoked fish from Greenpoint, and plump portions of smoked salmon from Mount Kisco’s Red Salmon Smokehouse.

“Harry grew up in a big fish household, so this is such a passion project for him,” explains Erkkinen.

As always, tips on preparing meat and fish, as well as specially focused classes, will be de rigueur at Brooklyn Kitchen.

“That’s really what I love most,” says Erkkinen. “Talking about food and cooking, and sharing advice. That’s really the root of it. We want to help people cook in a style that they’re going to enjoy. Having amazing, fresh fish and cuts of meat is just part of that.”

 

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Cochon 555 Winner Angie Mar Leads Her Kitchen With an Eye on Perfection — and Lots of Meat

Sometimes there’s no fanfare when a chef takes over an established kitchen, especially not at a restaurant that caters more to celebrities in stilettos than a forward-thinking food crowd. But Angie Mar had big plans when she took over at The Beatrice Inn in 2013, and she’s been working slowly and steadily to make sure she sees them coming to fruition in New York.

Mar arrived with her sous chef during the busiest part of the year and tried to cook the menu she’d inherited. A week later, she dropped it. “We came in at 8 a.m. on a Sunday and flipped the entire menu by the start of service on Monday,” she tells the Voice. It was a bold move, but only the beginning.

“A kitchen is a team and a family. I acquired someone else’s family, and they were mostly very inexperienced cooks.” Mar says. After assessing everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, she gradually let that entire staff go. She had arrived with a Michelin-star mentality, gained from heading up the kitchen at April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig, so it made sense to rebuild her brigade until every single person came from a similar pedigree: “From the guy who works my grill, to my prep cook and my oyster shucker, we expect a lot from ourselves, each other, and the food that we cook here,” she says. Owner Graydon Carter gave Mar free rein over the menu, and she credits her growth as a chef to that freedom: “My palate has been refined, and I’ve found my voice,” she says.

That voice likes to sing about meat — Mar says the menu is now “anal rustic.” “Everything looks really beautiful, like we’ve walked into the woods and leaves have fallen in perfect places,” she says. Dishes lean toward nostalgia and comfort, but every leaf of parsley has been placed with agonizing precision. She doesn’t worry too much whether ingredients are local or sustainable — the meat, produce, and herbs just have to be the best. Mar’s cooking focuses on what she ate growing up (like her signature milk-braised pork shoulder), what she’s learned from her travels, and the flavors she’s pulled together from her Chinese-American upbringing.

One of her favorite menu items, the “butcher block,”  brings her back to childhood, where she found the most joy while interacting with friends and family over food. “For me, as a diner, I can’t think of anything better than to really get in there and share a beautiful meal with someone. It’s the act of coming in and ordering for three people the best cut of dry-aged meat you can get. It’s fun. There’s no pretension. There’s nothing precious about it. It’s honest, and that’s what I love about the dish.”

Mar's pork blood velvet cake at Cochon 555
Mar’s pork blood velvet cake at Cochon 555

While she’s generally kept her head down to build the reputation of “the Bea,” perfecting each of the 200 meals served there on a daily basis, her accolades are starting to come from outside the restaurant. Mar recently competed against four other NYC city chefs at New York Cochon 555, where she was crowned the Princess of Pork. She took a heritage Berkshire pig from Brown Boar Farm, which she and her team then transformed into six winning dishes. “The menu was cultivated by every person in my kitchen; that’s what’s special,” she says. The Brown Boar Farm people schooled the team on where the animal came from, what it ate, and how it was raised, and then they broke down and made use of every part of the animal together.

“These guys have to cook my food all day,” she says, “so events like this give them a lot of freedom. That’s what I want to foster: imagination and creativity.”

Pork tartare was common in her sous chef’s German heritage, and that led them to use the pig’s heart in a tartare with smoked egg yolk, burgundy truffle, Parmesan, and fried oregano. Because a number of her cooks are from Puebla, they used the rib meat in a mole negro with crispy tortilla, and washed other things with tequila. Mar’s mother grew up in the U.K., which inspired the larded, pastry-topped mincemeat pies. Mar herself, having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, inspired pork-fat challah bread with liver and onion pâté and smoked pork honey. Expecting the other teams to utilize the pork blood in sausage, she used hers in a dessert course, folding the blood into a velvet cake and finishing it with cream-cheese-and-lard icing, pork neck caramel, smoked and caramelized guanciale, and marrow-bourbon crème brûlée.

“That’s the learning process,” she says. “That’s being a team. We were all invested in it. And then we won! That’s really cool.”

Back at work, Mar continues to improve and refine her kitchen’s culture. She recognizes that most people who come through the restaurant’s doors don’t think too much about who’s making the food, or where she comes from. They just want something delicious on their plate. So she focuses on integrity, making sure that each dish that lands on a table is “perfect — if we don’t care about that, it means we don’t care about our diners. Every plate is our integrity. I’ve always known that this restaurant could be something fantastic, and right now I feel honored that the rest of New York is starting to take notice as well. We’re excited about that, and about the future.”

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For a Limited Time, Get Paul Kahan’s Brisket Sandwich at Genuine Superette

Paul Kahan is a top toque in Chicago’s culinary scene. The Food & Wine “Best New Chef 1999” and multiple James Beard award winner oversees the kitchens of some of the Windy City’s best bars and restaurants: The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Blackbird, Nico Osteria, avec, Big Star and Dove’s Luncheonette.

For the next couple months, New Yorkers won’t have to leave town to get a taste of the esteemed chef’s plates — his brisket sandwich ($13.78) is now on the menu at GENUINE Superette (191 Grand Street; 646-726-4633) as part of the eatery’s guest chef series.

Kahan, Publican chef de cuisine Cosmo Goss, and Publican Quality Meats chef de cuisine AJ Walker, developed the sammie together. Wagyu brisket, blanketed in a mix of brown sugar, smoked paprika and ancho chile powder, marinates for 24 hours. Then the meat is cooked sous vide for 12 to 14 hours, sliced and piled on a pumpernickel hoagie with soft, smoky onions, horseradish cream cheese, fried shallots, and Chinese mustard. It will be on the lunch and dinner menu for the next three months, maybe longer if it sells well.

The team didn’t have any guidelines before working on the sandwich and they didn’t know which protein they wanted to use, but in an email Kahan tells the Voice “I knew I didn’t want to do kangaroo.”

Brad Farmerie, executive chef of AvroKO Hospitality Group (the parent company of Genuine), has worked with Kahan in different kitchens and events over the past six years. He says he likes Kahan’s food, restaurants and “no bullshit” personality. “He’s the real deal, straight shooter – no schtick. With Paul it’s just about the food that is well thought out, creative and always delicious.”

Kahan echoes the sentiment: “Brad and I have worked together before and I think he’s a cool dude.”

Chi-town-based Kahan is the most recent guest at Genuine, in a roster of top chefs from around the country that have included NYC’s lauded Paul Liebrandt, who prepared a version of fish and chips. Austin’s Lee Krassner brought his famous spicy lobster rolls, and Jamie Bissonnette, who runs eateries in Boston and Toro in NYC, contributed a Thai pulled-pork sandwich.

For Farmerie, the series is an opportunity to work with chefs he respects and to share the spark of creativity. “I think it is especially interesting to ask high-caliber chefs to put their signature or spin on affordable, fast casual ideas. The flavors that they love and the techniques that they use can get distilled down to something more approachable than what they may cook in their own restaurants,” he says.

“Half the fun is getting together beforehand and bouncing ideas around to see what their creative process is like, and how we can shape something that’s fun, interesting, and tasty.”

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Enjoy Fast (and Cheap) German Food From a Legendary Meat Family

German butcher and charcutier Schaller and Weber stands as one of the last vestiges of Yorkville’s Teutonic heritage. The Upper East Side neighborhood was once called “Germantown” thanks to a thriving German and Eastern European population, and since 1937 the community has relied on this goldmine of snappy landjäger preserved-meat sticks (the original Slim Jims) and other porky Germanic treasures. Now in the hands of third-generation owner Jeremy Schaller, the historic shop has sprouted Schaller’s Stube (1652 Second Avenue, 646-726-4355), a compact and modern sausage bar.

Schaller and partner Jesse Denes opened this annex inside a former meat locker last July. Up front, they’ve installed a takeout window with a tiny kitchen. Sausages — many made by chef Alex Melnichenko, previously of John Brown Smokehouse and the Cannibal — are piled in the display case underneath. Order from the counterman and take your forcemeat to go, or step inside the stube (room in German) to take advantage of the limited counter seating. Music blares in this tiny inner sausage sanctum, while customers wait for and devour their spoils.

Stube serves kielbasas, wursts, and hot dogs on their own or stuffed into rich Balthazar Bakery brioche. You can choose to add condiments like sauerkraut, pickles, tomato, or cilantro or pick from Stube’s lineup of proprietary sandwiches. There’s also excellent, crisp fried chicken made in house ($2–$4), as well as soft pretzels ($1.50), which Schaller imports from Germany.

Currywurst
Currywurst

The “classic” bratwurst ($7) receives a mop of kraut and a hit of spicy, malty Düsseldorf mustard. Currywurst ($7), another classic German fast food, arrives here as fat coins of knackwurst doused in deftly seasoned curry ketchup that soaks into the bun. A sprinkling of curry powder adds extra zip. You’ll also want to snag a few pieces off the top with wooden prongs before attempting to eat it as a sandwich. If you really want an eater’s challenge, opt for the $14 Berlin Wall. The porcine assault lobs crunchy crumbles of bacon and chicharrones at kielbasa, which is enrobed in melted American cheese. Smoky and sweet bacon jam comes slicked underneath, and diced onions are strewn over the top to cut the porky richness.

Melnichenko gives marjoram-spiked bauernwurst the bánh mì treatment with jalapeño, daikon-carrot slaw, and sriracha mayonnaise. If you prefer your charcuterie in loaf form, consider the King Ludwig ($9), a sandwich that balances triangles of bologna-like leberkäse with slivers of radish and sweet Bavarian mustard. He also pay homage to Americana with a bacon-cheddar brat ($10) loaded with traditional hamburger condiments (no lettuce, but pickles, tomatoes, onions, and more bacon) and a Reuben riff ($6) that finds a swiss-cheese-wrapped hot dog hiding under sauerkraut and squirts of proprietary, Russian-dressing-like Stube sauce.

Austrian apple-herb soda
Austrian apple-herb soda

Sadly, there’s no beer available, and everything on the menu practically begs for the sudsy stuff, but we loved sipping an Almdudler, the dry and herbal Austrian apple soda, on a recent visit.

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On Sunday Nights, Bowery Meat Company Has a Damn Good Burger Deal

After a blase day, did you ever decide to treat yourself to an indulgent meal, like say, a $22 burger? When you bit in and the juice dripped down the side of your hands, did you feel, at the very least, as if a big fog had been lifted? Have you ever picked up a check only to discover the meal you planned to fork over $22 for was only $15?

That happened to us at Bowery Meat Company (9 East 1st Street; 212-460-5255) and it was one of those rare moments of absolute joy. Every Sunday the regularly priced $22 burger is featured for $15 on industry night.

We know, $15 for a ground meat patty sandwich isn’t exactly cheap. However, in this landscape of dry-aged, foie-gras topped creations, New Yorkers have become accustomed to laying out $25 to $30 — or more — for patties that used to top out at half those prices. We’re not saying a $15 burger is a steal — you can get one at Micky D’s for a couple bucks. We’re saying that this one, in particular, is worth rethinking your Sunday night plans. In addition to topping Zagat’s Manhattan Burger survey, Meat Company’s sandwich is frequently hailed as one of the best burgers in town.

Whether you order at the bar or in the lounge (but not the regular dining room), an industry burger order is treated just like any other menu item at this high-end steakhouse. Hors d’oeuvres are delivered first: a piece of house-baked bread, a slice of charcuterie, arancini. Then comes the pièce de résistance, chef Josh Capon’s dry-aged, blended beef patty is griddled to perfection, it has a nice crust, surrounding a juicy interior (be prepared to grease up that white napkin). It comes on a Royal Crown Bakery brioche bun with griddled onions, raclette cheese, and tomato aioli. A heaping bowl of fries and a selection of pickled vegetables from the Pickle Guys on Essex Street are served on the side.

And when you’re done, a sweet little petit four comes along with the discounted check.