Dough vs. Doughnut Plant

Ever since the Doughnut Plant opened in Chelsea, I have sent countless tourists to walk the High Line and end up at the Doughnut Plant as a reward, to be followed by a stop at La Maison de Macaron, and a civilized cup of joe at Stumptown or Cafe Grumpy.

But for the past month Dough has become my mistress.  While I still am loyal to the Doughnut Plant, Dough is that much better.  The texture is light, airy and ethereal.  Just the plain old glazed doughnut is a work of art, head held eye stacked up against great flavors such as salted caramel, hibiscus and dulce de leche.  On a previous visit I had lemon meringue, topped high in a white cumulus cloud.   Swoon.

The nearest police precinct should get a discount, but I hope the men in blue stick to the Plant instead.

Doughnut Plant                                          Dough

220 West 23rd St.                                    14 West 19th St.

 

While I am in the kitchen…

The summer has been very busy for me into fall, what with a complete staff overhaul.  Gone are all the familiar faces at Pata Negra.  They are on to greener pastures and I wish them the best.  Things have finally stabilized, and I have been able to sneak out once or twice a week.  Not enough intel for full reviews, but here’s a sneak peak of the work in progress.

Marta

What a gorgeous space inside the revamped hotel where the thin crust pizzas are heavenly topped and the people watching is fun too.  So many great choices for wine and excellent apps make for a blockbuster hard to get into Danny Meyer winner.

Batard

Montrachet 3.0 is a comfortable restaurant with all the trimmings, with food that is made with finesse and a wine list that is very reasonable.   Octopus terrine is inspirational.  Testa is the best I’ve had in a very long time.  Lamb for two brings it home. Tribeca is back on the map again.

Tuome

Alphabet City defies the real estate market once again with a small nondescript space on fifth street serving as a canvas some some good cooking, solid technique with Asian inflections.  Don’t miss the chicken liver mousse or deviled eggs.

Lovecraft

Jacques Costeau meets mixologist in this two layered den of infused vodkas, bourbons and absinthe concoctions.  Live bands do play downstairs and the joint is transporting.

Dear Irving

Absolutely stylish cocktail lounge on the second floor right smack in the middle of Irving.  Bar is attractive, but back room is time trasnporting, a stark contrast to the bling of the front room.  Drinks are not as exquisite as in some other all pro dens, but overall the experience is way positive.

Evelyn

If it were just for the punches alone, sorrel is so delicious, this rough and hewn bar belies its expertise in cocktails.  Sleeper on ave C.

Maysville

The wine list at now defunct Manzanilla has been added to an already smartly chosen list which can only marry well with the delicately smoked southern cuisine that is a star here.

Huertas

Yet another attempt at some authentic tapas falls a bit short in execution.  Tapas look pretty, but are not packed in flavor.

Rosemary

After waiting some time, Rosemary seems to be a resto tailor made for women of all ages with crowd pleasing vegetable dishes and ho hum pastas.  The reasonable wine from $40. and $60. columns offer good value.

Gansevoort Market

Not as cool as Essex Street, but a welcome addition to the waste land b & t meatpacking district.  More grocery stalls are needed ala Essex St., but all in all a good thing.

Bubby’s Meat Packing.

A brunch wasteland with not enough parking for all those baby carriages.

Russ and Daughter’s Cafe

Bagels and cured fish done at a very high level.  A good wine list to boot.

Untamed

Sandwich shop in Fashion district with good flavor combos.  Price tag may be a tad too high though.

Aldo Sohm Wine Bar

Aldo hits all the right notes in this grand project around the corner from Le Bernardin.  Smart Austrian style tapas and yak cheese serve as a vehicle for the real star, the well chosen wine list.

After a few more visits, full reviews to follow.  Next up, my short jaunt to the lovely food mecca that is Montreal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ludlow, VT 2.0

Every restaurant goes through staff changes. I try the golden rule of maintaining good relationships with my employees by giving them the tools for success, putting them in a position to earn the most money possible, and treating them as human beings with lives to live. The more I listen, the more I can be a flexible and understanding owner, keeping my employees as happy as possible by granting reasonable requests, paying better than the next owner out there, and not micro managing.

That’s why there isn’t much turnover at Pata Negra. Most of our regulars know the staff well, and often come back to spend time with them rather than me, who, as some of you know, is always trying to skip town, or work on my never ending cookbook, which I hope to publish one day.

In a flash of one calendar day, my dishwasher/busboy took off for Mexico, and my main cook got detained for an undetermined spell. That uncertainty propelled me back into the kitchen tout de suite, and it took a few days to get back up to working speed, and dig myself out of the weeds. Placed ads on Craig’s list yielded some 200 responses for the dishwasher job. Apparently there must be some degree that is being given out there for this task, but few for competent cooks who can handle real pressure. I picked the best two candidates and soldiered on.

The timing was definitely not right, both professionally and personally, but having scheduled a much-needed non-refundable trip to Vermont for a week, I put my business and myself in the unenviable position of a semi-trained brand new kitchen staff while I snuck away to the cozy environs of Eden. The alternative was to close, and thanks to former Mayor Bloomberg’s consecutive two years in a row 25% real estate tax increases, closing for a week is no longer an option.

Needless to say the gamble did not work according to plan, and I have some making up to do for some of my best clients. Old, rare wine cures much, and if you are of the affected, I am sure some bottles can be uncorked, and perhaps we can laugh about the ordeal together some time in the near future.

On the lighter side, I booked an ecopod (modulated eco-friendly home designed by freshpods) situated on Echo Lake in Plymouth, VT. Something about the lake water clears my head, calms me down and helps me to repair. Lying in the breeze overlooking the Plymouth State Park trees and mountains wields a blanket of security and serenity.

The change in latitude performs wonders. Add to that a few welcome food and wine changes in the town of Ludlow that are very exciting and worth the trip as well.

Angelina’s Market on Depot Street is serving Jack’s coffee from a vintage La Marzocco machine. Before that is was bring your own. Brooklyn transplanters Rachelle and her husband Jonathan are making real coffee, and the baking is even better. P&B fudge brownies and source cream coffee cakes from Sweet Tallullah (her baking co.) are delicious. Just don’t ask for decaf.

The Downtown Grocery (TDG) on Depot St. is humming as strong as the bee’s nests swarming over the discarded birch beer bottles at Curtis BBQ in Putney, Curtis is still serving up great ‘cue at that Mobil gas stop off Route 5. Pig was on holiday, but some new dogs were laying about.

TDG, Abby, owner and FOH extraordinaire and her team are still running a great show for local fare. Chef Rogan, her partner, is still crushing it with inspired technique and world flavors. Their Monday prix fixe is the best deal in the tri-state area, reminding me of a Paris bistro except that we are in Green Mountain territory, people, and I don’t miss the Rue de Tivoli as much when I am sipping wines from an eclectic wine list selected by Abby’s fine palate. Get there early or that blackened catfish you love will be crossed off the board before your heart settles on ordering it. Just don’t forget to buy the kitchen a round of ponies.

Across the street is the Wine and Cheese Depot (est. 1996), where you can save yourself all the trips to the cheese farms, because a great cross selection of cheeses can be found here. Just ask Leslie for a taste. Some good wine buying is the other half of the deal, and if that is not enough, than pass through the backdoor into the new wine bar Stem Winder. The menus and selection can be a bit overwhelming. Just grab a stool and ask for a taste. The wide selection of wines pair well with the tapas style food coming out of the ambitious kitchen. The wine bar is finding its groove, especially in the kitchen. Wendy or Elyse will find the right wine for your mood. Just beware of the infamous broken spoon parties.

Goodman’s Pizza has moved out of a space on Main St. held for fourteen years. And although I couldn’t get a straight answer as to why, the wood fired pizza is still just as good as advertised with bountiful fresh toppings and very reasonable prices. In its space is an admirable replacement, a Mex-Cajun-southern fusion joint called Mojo. Chef John and his wife Jodi spent a Halloween down in Nola and came back modifying their Tex-Mex food idea to include Cajun and all things southern style food. It’s an obvious marriage when you think about it, but they have the guts to try it out in Ludlow. Started with an appetizer of tempura battered poblanos, mild in heat but high in texture and flavor. These may be my new favorite tempura battered veggies. Of all the tacos sampled, the catfish reigned supreme, followed by well marinated steak. You can choose flour or corn tortillas (corn pls) and the mixes of house made salsas add layers of flavor for balance. The hand in the kitchen is light and deft, respect of the different cuisines observed. The white gumbo Jonah crab shrimp gumbo was delicate with layers of flavors, suberb on both a summer or wintry afternoon. There are burritos, enchiladas, and po boys too. No margaritas yet, but a proper coke in the bottle, and local beer on tap anchor the beverages. You will leave sated, and not break the piggy bank.

I just may have to bring some Pata Negra out here to see how Spanish tapas are received. The sky seems to be the limit out here in Ludlow.

Thank you Mister Mayor

There has been much ado about the eminent closing of a neighborhood pioneer and institution, Union Square Café, due to an exorbitant rent increase. In Danny Meyer’s response to the article, his position is noted and shared, but he fails to mention one very important piece to the real estate puzzle. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s reign, he authorized two consecutive 25 percent real estate tax increases for all commercial landlords. Since a portion, if not all, of these increases are passed onto the commercial tenants, this represents a significant hardship in terms of paying the rent.

The real estate tax increases are so high now, that having spoken to several real estate agents in the NYC area, a raise of over 2% per annum for the next decade is unlikely, due to the stress the former Mayor’s tax hikes have caused on the commercial rental community.

There is no published formula for how real estate taxes are assessed. Essentially, an inspector is dispatched to assess property value based on other similar properties within the same area. Even during the recession years of 2008, 2009, and 2010, there were significant increases. The reason is to collect additional revenue to balance city budgetary deficiencies.

The result is a city landscape devoid of any mom and pop shops, or small businesses who dare to offer something different. The homogenization is buoyed by large corporations and chains. New York is starting to look like a Midwestern metropolis.

The business community needs a mayor to set the ship right, not continue to sap the funds from already struggling businesses.   Landlords should be held accountable for empty storefronts, not given tax write-offs. An incentive to rent to locals should be top priority.

NYC neighborhoods may never return to their former glory days filled with charm and real characters, but a head start from our city government could set the course for a different future, one where smart businesses can operate at a reasonable cost, helping to maintain employment and the integrity of our communities.

Harlem Sunday Stroll

It was a bit of late Sunday whimsy, fueled by hunger and an empty pantry, that I decided to take a jaunt into Harlem, unsure of what I might discover, but up for a trip down memory lane, as I attended City College of New York to collect both of my rather perfunctory degrees (B.A. Eng. Lit. & M.S. Special Ed.).  I even lived in what is now budding SoHa for two years, on 117th And Frederick Douglass Boulevard, just before the gentrification started, a word I am not fond of.  I would rather chalk it up to moving forward or progress, or any other word that doesn’t denote breaking down racial barriers as the primary reason a neighborhood of color changes.  Don’t forget old Harlem, in its glory years, the cultural mecca of style, art, and music, before poverty and city economics and NYCHA were allowed to take root, wreak havoc and run amok.

Since I last resided on the cusp of Harlem environs in 2006 (I believe the borders are 110 St up to Hamilton Heights), there were significant changes.  First affordable, subsidized lottery housing.  Townhouses and six story buildings, with retail spaces for Duane Reades and banks serving as the base for expansion and mallification.  Then Starbuck’s and Citerella (since closed).  Follow along 125th street to find chain stores such as Old Navy and H & M.  Close your eyes and imagine being in some other urban sprawl, Cleveland or perhaps Indianapolis, save for the intense waft of incense smoke and oils, and of course all of those colorful street denizens.  Change the storefronts, but the people of Harlem still stand out, odd against the backdrop of corporate America.  Buying into Red Lobster and whatever else is served up, in a concerted effort to make every neighborhood in this great city look like a homogenized mirror of itself, a reflection that any tourist can stomach, especially while on those double-decker tour buses taking photos of the Apollo theater and the Lenox Lounge (now defunct).

And what of the food that binds the soul of Harlem?  What of M & G Diner? Rising rents and palate changes?  Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s have adapted (not for the better).  Old school bars like Showman’s and Londel’s are still representing as long as the owners are up to the challenge of keeping up.  As I look into the vast boulevards that make Harlem so embracing during the afternoon sun, Jamaican storefonts still prosper, and new world restaurants have come in to fill the void and join the wave of fresh housing, different clientele, demanding appetites, an ever changing Harlem.

You could say that the Red Rooster anchors the movement.  A comfortable setting with familiar food cooked by a star chef of color is just what the doctor ordered.  Even if the food isn’t necessarily soulful, the Red Rooster is a central place where all peoples can be together enjoying a new community in a multicultural setting.

After reading a restaurant piece in GQ magazine, I hopped the A train to 145 St.  The brownstones stood sturdy against the slope.  The reflection against the shiny windows provided warmth. The neighborhood seemed familiar and foreign to me all at once, an antistatic state of motion and progress.

Mountain Bird has received some good write ups and justly so.  A Japanese husband and wife tandem work diligently to provide a French fusion fare that is precise and tasty.  With a lean towards oft tossed chicken parts and armed with a master schnitzel breading technique, I was won over by the earnest service and one man cooking.  A French couple seated at the table in front of me were enjoying their duck cassoulet (I asked), and a trio of young Harlem lady professionals were excited about their chia seed garnishes to a selection of fresh fruit mimosas.  After devouring a selection of fresh baked scones and muffins, the chicken schnitzel arrived with simple garnishes.  It wasn’t just good.  It was ethereal.  I only wish the chicken horumon offered during dinner service would also be available for brunch too.  The service can be spotty at times.  If you arrive at an inopportune time, there can be quite a wait at this 19 seat charmer, but get to talking with the owner and your experience can elevate to the sublime, and you’ll want to become a regular.

After some earnest advice as to the most scenic route back towards the upper west side, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd painted a refreshing portrait.  Bathed in sunlight and fresh open air, this clearly is the best real estate in the city.  Sunday strollers and church hats of all designs.  Children on scooters, teenagers on skateboards, and lovers holding hands, a scene downright Parisian.

I ducked into the first Jamaican shop I encountered for a taste of my old college standby snack of a beef pattie in coco bread.  Alas, they were out of bread, and the only patties left were filled with ackee and saltfish.

A craving for coffee landed my partner Michelle and I at Yatenga, where we spotted Chef Marcus Samuelsson having a beer at the bar with a friend.  We cut over to Frederick Douglass Boulevard, eschewing the hustle of MLK Blvd, and found respite and solace at a crowded tea shop called Serengeti, whose house blends served as elixirs and energy boosters.  Who can resist a Levain cookie outpost on my old block (117th St.) ?  Not before I peeked into Mr. Lee’s bake shop for some rugelach.  He was in the process of making a fresh batch and so I settled for Levain.  Then a planned visit to Harlem Shambles, a butcher shop extraordinaire, where the expertise and character of the butchers is as much on display as the locally grass fed carcasses of the just butchered.  Just ask for the best cuts and your dollar will stretch a long way.  With stash in hand, and needing another break, there are plenty of options for an outdoor beer at Harlem Tavern or Bier International, as well as a decent cocktail at 67 Orange Street.

The further downtown we walked the more the landscape closed in on us like a trash compactor, squeezing every ounce of real estate into a confined space.  The loss of light was noticeable, a veritable chill set in, and the litter seemed like an ongoing epidemic.  The promising feeling I had at the apex of my journey on 145 St. had dwindled into a metropolitan nightmare, despite the emergence of viable businesses and new housing.  There was mischief and chicken bones the rest of the way home, a reminder that a fresh paint job doesn’t always reveal what’s really going on in the interior.  Having taught for thirteen years in neighborhoods just like this one (South Bronx, East Harlem), I have a good idea what lurks beneath all of the “progress”.

We arrived home hungry from the long walk and shopping.  The Denver cut of steak purchased from Harlem Shambles was as good as its billing; the whole chicken marinated, butterflied and thoroughly enjoyed a couple of days later.

As I think back on my Harlem Sunday, passing all of the churches and faces full of promise and despair, I hold onto my learning time at City College Campus in my distant memory, and wonder what type of Harlem I will be taking a Sunday stroll through just twenty years from today.

 

CHICKEN BONES

by R.A.Mateo

Saxophone simple and brass.

Neon bright Apollo, a shiny beacon at night.

Jazz June rhythm on the tip taps of tongues.

Brownstone choir gospel.  Glory be.

Chicken Bones.

 

I stroll the streets of Harlem,

Underpants and sideways caps.

Murder Muzik,  shaking booty.

Corner stoop cee-lo fortunes.

Watchtower crusaders and incense gas.

Deacons preaching, driving Mercedes S class,

While homeless lay about the trash.

Whitey on the moon,

Gentrification long at last.

Chicken Bones.

 

I stroll the streets of Harlem,

Down at my feet,

in every crack,

A hostile takeover,

A Harlem discarded.

A Harlem renewed.

Chicken Bones.

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