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How to Survive Midsummer in New York

In the summer in New York, everything is covered in airborne grit; it’s not anything so clean and fine as dust, and not quite ash, just ambient black specks pirouetting through the air in a kind of Brownian motion toward any uncovered surface. Every arm and thigh in the city is slick with sweat: When the air isn’t still and glassed-in like a hot bell jar, it’s buffeted by moist, swollen zephyrs. It takes a thunderstorm to wring all that humidity out of the air, let the crust of grime wash from buildings down to the street, where by noon it will dry out enough to flake to bits, and be cast forth on the wet hot wind.

Everyone with enough money deserts the city for weeks at a time. Select portions of Upper Manhattan look not dissimilar to an evangelical church after the Rapture: Behind the high windows is an enormous absence. Those left behind are free to envision orthodontically perfect grins and bronzed limbs sprawled out by the sea, while we gasp for air.

By August, it’s the proles and tourists that control the sidewalks. The entire psychiatric profession hits pause. The air gets thick as caramel; the sun a disc of violent light; the thunder starts long before the rain arrives, if it ever does. The bodega line grows to conga length, and everybody’s buying ice. It gets hard to eat.

There are days when it’s so hot outside — or the A/C is on the fritz or just dripping feebly — that the whole damp fabric of the heat hovers like a chloroformed rag around my face. On days like this, my throat feels pinched and arid. It begrudgingly accepts cold water and cold coffee and little else.

Running on cigarettes and stimulants, I get shaky. My brain feeds on itself and excretes neuroses. Bad memories waft up in brackish gusts — loves lost and friendships ended, searing fumes of shame and regret. It’s too hot to become a madwoman in an attic — heat rises — but it’s also too hot to control my nerves and my anger, my fear of the future and rumination on the past.

All this is my betrayal of an essentially American doctrine of resilience. In this country, we are supposed to turn suffering into motivation; the will to work ought to stay intact no matter the time of year. The flow of capital never ceases, and neither should you. In New York, city of wealth and capitol of capital, the doctrine of work reigns in the congested streets from the north Bronx down to Brooklyn, condenses in the air and runs down our clenched jaws in salty drops. The pursuit of success — in work, in love, in investments — should never stop or sleep; neither should you, even if, in the heat, all you want to do is halt your bloom.

On days like this, I have precisely one solution to get out of this crucible of inner bile. It’s not medicine or moderate exercise or even HVAC repair. It’s not Superman’s icy Fortress of Solitude, or a ticket to the tropics. In fact it will cost less than ten dollars and only a few blocks’ worth of fortitude. It will require a blender, a few tomatoes, a piece of old bread, a little oil and vinegar and salt. It will require someone to feed, even if that someone is only hungry, baking, trembling little you.

There’s a quiet alchemy to cooking — a stillness of the mind brought on by rhythmic actions of the hands. There’s a congruity of mental and physical effort that’s rare in my life, so driven by a restless and self-cannibalizing mind, that I come to crave it. I enjoy cooking more than I enjoy eating; when drunk or anxious or sad, I cook too much, more than I can eat, and scramble to find hungry friends. Peeling garlic — slipping the pale cloves out one by one, prying the skins loose with my thumbnail – is a small act; peeling a head of garlic, mincing it, letting it foam aromatically in sizzling butter, is a little reclamation.

I got divorced a few years ago and fell apart spectacularly. I cried in public so often I learned the etiquette of crying in public — minimize noise, carry tissues, mutely shake your head if ever offered help. (New York City is a wonderful city in which to cry in public, as no one wants to offer any help.) A month ago I left a very good job in less-than-ideal circumstances, and I found out the muscle memory of grief was intact in me. Each circumstance represented my life diverting from a path that was easy to explain, appealing on paper; if not authentically ennobling, or enough to make me happy, being married and working at an institution with an excellent reputation were circumstances I could point to as external evidence of my worth.

In the aftermath of each I had to learn — slower than I’d hoped — how to rebuild myself piecemeal. Absent a husband, I had to muster friends who didn’t mind my ghostly presence on their couches, as I struggled not to disappear into my own grief. Absent the good job, I found out who cared about me only because of the job, or who would let the taint of scandal drive them away.

Each time, I learned to let fragments of me die and turned to nourish other parts. When the clamor in my head overcame me, I let my hands work at the cutting board, in the slow, sawing rhythm of return.

In the full and ghastly heat of summer, or in the grip of powerful emotion, it can be too much to ask of yourself to stand in front of a stove. Enter the cold soup — friend of the weary and the scorched. I have built a repertoire over the years — gazpacho foremost, but also other exemplars of the genre: Russian yogurt-and-radish soup, Hungarian sour-cherry soup, French vichyssoise topped with a fan of chives. Each asks so little of you and gives so much. There are few things on this Earth that can quench your thirst and fill your belly and soothe your restless heart at once.

In each crisis of mine in recent years, there was one friend who distinguished herself — who visited me in my mouse-infested first post-divorce apartment; who gathered my things and helped me move away from it; who slept in my bed when I couldn’t stop shaking, and watched marathons of sleazy true-crime shows with me. In Russian, one term for a perennial companion is a sobutilnik — “a friend who will share a bottle with you.” My own spin on this excellent word would be someone willing to make soup with you; to chop and blend and pour into the bowl. My best friend’s avid delight at the punch of garlic in the mix is better than rubies. There is little better than someone who understands that what you offer, when you offer a perfect soup, is all your love.

I first tasted Andalusian gazpacho in Spain with my mother; I made it for the first time with the man who would become my husband. It differs from most gazpachos I have encountered in America in that it is thick and smooth, a soup, not a salsa in a glass. The key is a heel of stale bread, which, when combined with olive oil, binds the broth, thick and cool and pale. When my husband left me I waited a year and made it again. Now I have made it for my mother, for friends, and even for myself, the first to receive my ire, the last to receive my gifts.

In the dog days of summer, when the grass dries pasta-pale, wildfires fill the news, and the skies portend collapse, find yourself a soup companion, and make gazpacho. Make too much — ideally, enough to fill the biggest container you have. Like resilience, you have to make it yourself; like healing, it will look a little different each time. Like forgiving yourself, it will brace you, make you stand upright again, cease the tremor in your hands. With each cold sour spoonful I restore myself, dilute the bile in my mind and my heart, return. Vinegar and oil and bread, bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, whirred and poured into a jar and sealed for tomorrow, and eaten at midnight anyway. One trip to the grocery store is all it takes me to remember that — even wending my way circuitously in a world of straight lines — I am moving forward, that there is cool and comfort to be had in this ashen city I love.

Andalusian-Style Gazpacho
Serves 2 to 4

1 pound vine tomatoes (don’t use beefsteak tomatoes, please)
2 medium-size cucumbers
1 fresh green bell pepper
1 small red onion
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 chunk stale bread, ideally French or Italian
A few generous glugs of olive oil (about a cup)
Two generous pours (about 2 tablespoons) of red wine or sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the bread in water for five or ten minutes, then squeeze it out with your fist till it’s a soggy solid.

2. Chop up all the vegetables and the garlic. De-seed the cucumbers and tomatoes unless you like tomato seeds getting stuck in your teeth.

3. Put all of the above in your blender or food processor.

4. Add the liquid ingredients and spices.

5. Pulse until it turns a pale red, reminiscent of vodka sauce.

6. Chill till it feels cold to your finger.

7. Eat when it’s too hot to eat anything else.

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This Week in Food: Cookbook Launch Parties, Fall Deals, Kosher Food Talk

At the Night Market featuring Incensed by Ed Lin
The Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre Street)
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

Feast on Taiwanese street food and get a book signed by Incensed author Ed Lin. Guests will also get to check out the Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food in America exhibition. Tickets ($36 for non-museum members) are all inclusive. Get yours here.

Book Launch: El Quinto Pino Cooks Cúrate

El Quinto Pino (401 West 24th Street)
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Chef Katie Button of Asheville’s Cúrate is celebrating the launch of her cookbook (which shares the name of her restaurant) with a tapas party at El Quinto Pino. Button will also sign copies of her book, which is included with admission (along with all food and drink throughout the evening).

Cooking Class at La Gamelle
La Gamelle (241 Bowery)
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m

Fall has arrived! Chef Michael Burbella will teach a class on how to prepare two very autumnal dishes: roasted butternut squash soup and roasted chicken with vegetables. Afterwards, sip a glass of wine with your fellow students. Tickets ($65) also includes a half-priced meal for two at a later date.

Orange October Thursdays at Nanoosh
Thursdays
All Nanoosh Locations

Need to warm up in this chilly weather? Wear orange to any Nanoosh location on a Thursday and you’ll get a free fall soup. This month’s lineup includes tomato, Moroccan lentil, and a seasonal soup of the day. No purchase necessary.

Roger Horowitz, From Treyf to Safe: Kosher Certification in the U.S.

JCC Manhattan (334 Amsterdam Avenue)
Thursday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Led by the Culinary Historians of New York, this panel discussion examines the rise of kosher foods and the history of kosher certification in the U.S. Find out how kosher designation set an example for food safety regulations and labeling in the food industry. Before the discussion, snack on classic kosher foods.

 

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Best Weekend Food Events: Ansel-Dufresne Egg Melt, East Ville des Folies, and a Soup Showdown


wd
~Ansel Egg Melt, Dominique Ansel Kitchen, 137 Seventh Avenue South, Saturday through Monday, 9 a.m. until they run out

Dominique Ansel and Wylie Dufresne are offering a breakfast sandwich for a limited time this weekend. The wd~Ansel Egg Melt, scrambled eggs with a confit egg yolk with homemade cheese, black truffle, bacon, and maple flakes on a smoked English muffin, is available for $20 and is served with hash browns.

JestGreen Pop-Up Brunch, The Hop Shop, 121 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, Saturday and Sunday, 12 to 2 p.m.

Need a healthy or gluten-free option for brunch? JestGreen is hosting a family-style brunch that includes maple-glazed bacon, eggs and greens, and a special boozy brunch cocktail. Tickets are $35 for adults; reserve them here.

East Ville des Folies, Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, Saturday, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Webster Hall is paying tribute to its gangster roots with a throwback party that’s all about craft beer and whiskey. The venue (which legend has it was owned by Al Capone) is offering three hours of drinks from over 150 distilleries and brewers. Themed entertainment includes burlesque, Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, and circus acts. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased here.

Brooklyn Soup Takedown, Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, 514 Union Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 12 p.m.

The second edition of the takedown series calls for all soup enthusiasts to bring their best recipes out for an afternoon tasting. Guests can sample as much chowder, chicken noodle, and other varieties as their cold bodies can handle, and they will also have a say in picking the best of the bunch. Prizes will be awarded to the home chefs with the most popular recipes. Those interested in participating can register by emailing Matt@TheTakedowns.com. Guests can reserve a $20 ticket here.

Piano Brunch, élan, 43 East 20th Street, Sunday, 11:30 a.m.

Break the weekend routine of dinner and a movie with an afternoon of classical piano and brunch. Pianist Craig Rutenberg will perform the work of composer Virgil Thomson, while chef David Waltuck dishes up a two-course brunch menu with unlimited cocktails for $38 per person. Entrées include pancakes with spiced bourbon maple syrup and smoked-salmon croque-monsieur. Reservations are suggested.

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This Weekend’s Five Best Food and Drink Events – 1/30/2015

Super Bowl Sunday is here, which means it’s time to get your fill of nachos and wings. If that’s not your bag, though, you should still eat: There are plenty of non-sporting-themed food and drink events happening this weekend, too.

New Bottomless Brunch, Florian, 225 Park Avenue South, Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.

Cure your hangover (or get started on a new one) at this new brunch, where you’ll find endless champagne cocktails for $19.50. The restaurant offers three varieties of prosecco with fruit purées as well as a healthy bloody mary made with carrot and apple juice. Pair your drinks to dishes like pistachio cannoli waffles, crabmeat and shrimp hash, a vegetable frittata, and spaghetti carbonara.

5B Pizza Pop Up, Old Bowery Station, 10 Kenmare Street, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

The warmth of oven-fresh pizza is a beacon of hope around this frigid time of year, so cozy up with a pie at this pizza pop-up party. For $30, guests receive five unique slices of pizza as part of a tasting menu, with topping combos like sweet Italian sausage and broccoli rabe, arugula and prosciutto de parma, and homemade meatballs. A cash bar will serve beer, wine, and sodas. Limited tickets will be sold at the door and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Brooklyn Soup Takedown, Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 2 p.m.

Soup is a winter staple, and come Sunday, you can get in on judging a boiling-hot competition among several varieties. Home chefs from across the city will compete to see who has the most soothing broth and accompaniments. Tickets are $20.

Third Annual Whisk(e)y Fest starring Pappy Van Winkle, Bottlerocket, 5 West 19th Street, Sunday, 3 p.m.

America’s most reclusive whiskey is sneaking out from underneath the covers, and you might be able to purchase it. Bottlerocket’s month-long whiskey festival kicks off on February 1, and in addition to free nightly tastings, the store is holding a raffle for the chance to purchase a bottle of Pappy at a discounted price. You’ll just need to make a purchase to enter. Check out the full tasting calendar on the shop’s website.

The Super Bowl, Multiple Locations, Sunday

Even if you’re not really into football, you might consider stepping out for these two Super Bowl events, which are offering particularly good deals. Two Door Tavern in Williamsburg is hosting a $40 (before tax and tip) all-you-can-drink draft special from kickoff to final whistle. The deal includes a halftime buffet of buffalo wings and loaded nachos, and reservations are strongly recommended. Over at The Meatball Shop in Chelsea, the game will be screened downstairs, with free mini Chicken Buffalo Balls during the first quarter and $4 PBRs throughout the event. All locations will offer a “Bucket O’ Balls” takeout special for $45, which includes 25 meatballs of any type — including the pizza ball special — paired with any sauce.

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This Weekend’s Events: Afropunk Fest, Chelsea Bazaar, Soup Competition

Another of the dwindling weekends of summer is upon us. Here’s a look at what’s in store:

Afropunk Fest, Commodore Barry Park, Nassau & Navy Streets, Brooklyn, Saturday and Sunday, 12 p.m.

A celebration of multicultural musical talents and diversity wouldn’t be complete without an array of global cuisine. Food trucks from around the city, including Korilla BBQ and Waffles & Dinges, will roll out their specialties to concert-goers during the annual celebration, which features performances by Chuck D and Living Colour. A pop-up restaurant row featuring South African specialties from Madiba among other Brooklyn kitchens will also be resurrected. And check out this year’s “Afropunk After Dark,” which continues the musical celebration at various venues throughout Fort Greene offering a variety of drink specials for attendees. While the event is free, a suggested donation of $25 provides a fast pass to skip the line. And if you’re an early riser, there’s also a fast pass brunch package on sale for $50, which gets you entrance to a midday meal catered by Dinosaur BBQ.

Chelsea Bazaar, The Altman Building, 135 West 18th Street, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

With a three hour open bar and unlimited eats from around the city, sometimes it makes sense to spend a beautiful summer evening indoors. Guests will snack on small plates from the likes of Swine and Betel and sip an array of cocktails and brews to match. The event also features exclusive sales on a variety of clothing and local services. Tickets are $36.

Third Annual Some Like it Cold: A Summer Soup Competition, Huckleberry Bar, 588 Grand Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 5 p.m.

A $10 ticket–or $15 on the day of the event–gives you the chance to help determine which gazpacho wizard takes home the title of best cold soup in NYC. Voters receive a complimentary rum cocktail courtesy of Huckleberry Bar along with the chance to sample each entrant’s handiwork. Last year’s winning concoction was an avocado-mango soup with crab; there’s no telling what contestants have in store this summer.

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New York Legislature Unanimously Agrees: No Shark Fin Soup For You

Two weeks ago, we reported that the New York State Senate had taken a major step towards banning shark fin soup–an elite delicacy in Chinatown and total horror show on the ocean floor. On Monday, the state Assembly unanimously agreed, cementing the decision to halt the sale, trade, and possession of fins. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

Shark fishery managers have argued that state bans like New York’s could undermine federal regulations that aim to halt “finning,” the practice of slicing off sharks’ fins and leaving the animals to sink, alive but defenseless, to the bottom of the sea. Opponents have also emphasized the role of shark fin in traditional Chinese banquet culture. Still, New York lawmakers, their conservation allies, along with partners in the Asian-American community argue that federal regulations have not gone far enough–not when New York City remains one of the largest markets for fins outside of Asia and the largest port of entry on the East Coast.

 

“I am proud that New York is joining seven other states to ban the sale of shark fins and stand united against the cruel and inhumane practice of shark finning,” New York City Council Member Margaret Chin said in a statement. “I hope that New York will serve as an example not only nationally, but internationally, and that one day soon we will be celebrating the end of this industry all together.”

Patrick Kwan, director of grassroots organizing for The Humane Society of the United States, also highlighted the fact that every Asian-American lawmaker in the legislature and on City Council stood in full support of the ban. “They are not only supporting, but they are also leading the effort,” Kwan told the Voice.

“Restaurants and banquets may frequently peddle shark fin soup as the cultural centerpiece of Chinese culture,” Kwan said. “But personally, as a Chinese-American, I find it rather offensive to associate China’s culture with such extreme cruelty.”

Shark fin soup is nothing more than a status symbol, a “keeping up with the Joneses kind of dish,” Kwan added. “This was something that was eaten by the elites thousands of years ago. It was only served during the imperial banquets.”

Last year, China voted to get rid of shark fin soup at state banquets. Last week, Maryland’s governor signed a shark fin ban into law as well–though not for the spiny dogfish, a shark that shows up in fish and chips.

 

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A Sole Cup of Birria at Tacos El Bronco

Those who have tasted a good bowl of birria, the Mexican soup from Jalisco made from toasted chiles and roasted goat, know it’s a soup that inspires a rapture more consuming than what tweens feel for Justin Bieber.

In Los Angeles there are entire restaurants dedicated to birria — the soft simmering of the broth, the cleavers to hack the goat into bowl-size portions on ancient wooden cutting boards, and handmade tortillas to form makeshift tacos to dunk into the ruddy, amplified broth.

Both Jalisciense and their soup are rare in New York City. Birria de chivo occasionally pops up on Mexican menus, like a quick blip on a radar before it vanishes again until it’s spotted on a handwritten special taped to the window in another borough taqueria three weeks later. But at Tacos El Bronco, an evening taco truck that haunts the northwest edge of Sunset Park, birria is a regular weekend treasure.

The same company has a brick-and-mortar shop on 4th Avenue, but it is only the truck that serves the soup, a distilled version ladled into blue-and-white Greek coffee cups for $4. Diced white onion and blitzed cilantro float on top of the steaming broth, aromatic with clove and bay, with roasted shreds of goat meat waiting at the bottom. It’s an infusion of warmth and spice meant for freezing weeks like these.

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Year of the Takeout Day 115: Fu Zhou Cuisine

Beef Noodle Soup from Fu Zhou Cuisine (118 Eldridge Street, 212-625-2532)

For $3, you can get this giant, beefy beaut.

The broth balances meatiness with nuance–plentiful green onion and cabbage keep the portion from becoming too salty.

Meanwhile, there’s just enough tender, rich meat to accompany the mass of mild rice noodles.

This dish easily rivals the city’s ramen shops and pho.

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Year of the Takeout Day 59: Tasty King

Seaweed Bean Curd Soup from Tasty King (534 East 14th Street, 212-979-8333)

So unexpectedly delightful is the seaweed bean curd soup at Tasty King that we are very tempted to make any number of possible royalty/quality-themed puns, but we still have some self-respect — and this is not one of those taxicab movie minute things — so we’ll just be blunt.

The $3 pint boasts a hearty, bold broth — that’s somehow neither too bullion-heavy nor waterlogged, and not at all your run-of-the-mill miso (or even anything close!)

Meanwhile, endless-seeming strands of black-green seaweed swirl through the hot portion, swaddling chunks of steamed tofu.

Year of the Takeout hasn’t seen this on another Chinese-American menu. For soups, this might even beat China Star‘s hot and sour.

Damn.

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Make Marco Canora’s Ribollita

Marco Canora of Hearth makes some of the best winter comfort food in the city. So we were especially pleased to find out how he prepares one of his seasonal specialties, ribollita, a Tuscan staple that Canora has vowed to keep on the restaurant’s menu every year from the beginning of fall until the last days of winter. Undemanding to make, this dish is a good choice for busy home cooks: It’s not only satisfying served fresh, but even more delicious when reheated the next day.

Yield: 8

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
3 cups diced onions
3 cups diced carrots
3 cups diced celery
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chopped savoy cabbage
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 cups finely chopped black cabbage
10 cups broth or water
5 cups cooked cannellini beans
Thin toasted crostini
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Fresh thyme leaves

Directions

Heat a skim of oil, about 2 tablespoons, in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Season with salt and stir to coat the vegetables with oil. Cover and sweat the vegetables (cook without coloring), stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add the savoy cabbage. Mix well and cook, covered, until it begins to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste, taking care to distribute it evenly. Turn the heat to low and add the black cabbage. Mix well, cover the pot, and stew the vegetables until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the broth or water, raise the heat, and bring the soup to a boil.

While the soup is cooking, puree 3 cups of the beans in a blender or food processor, adding a little water if necessary. Whisk the puree into the soup. Add the remaining 2 cups of beans and bring the soup back to a boil. Reduce the heat again and gently simmer, uncovered, until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

Season the soup with salt and lots of pepper. At this point, the soup can be cooled and refrigerated or frozen. To serve, ladle hot soup into bowls. Top each serving with crostini, Parmigiano, pepper, thyme leaves, and a drizzle of oil.