AHH, THANKSGIVING!

THANKSGIVING IS NOT JUST MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY, IT’S THE ONLY HOLIDAY I LIKE.  WE’RE COMPLETELY NON-OBSERVANT JEWS, SO WE SKIP THE HIGH HOLIDAYS.  CHRISTMAS IS UNAVOIDABLE WITH A SIX-YEAR-OLD IN THE HOUSE, BUT NEW YEAR’S EVE?  ARE YOU KIDDING?

ON THANKSGIVING, HOWEVER, WE GATHER WITH OUR CLOSEST FRIENDS, WHO KVELL EFFUSIVELY OVER THE MEAL WE’VE DEVOTED THREE DAYS PREPARING. THIS YEAR WITH ONE AND ALL SUITABLY VAXXED WE CELEBRATE THE SURVIVAL OF EVERYONE AT OUR TABLE AS WELL.

EVERY THANKSGIVING I PONDER WHAT TO MAKE.  TURKEY, NATCH, BUT HOW TO COOK IT?  I’VE SOLVED THIS QUANDARY BY TRYING A DIFFERENT RECIPE EACH TIME.  FIRST THERE WAS WET BRINING, THEN DRY BRINING.  HIGH HEAT COOKING, SLOW ROASTING, OR A COMBINATION OF BOTH.  THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS I’VE HAD GOOD LUCK WITH MELISSA CLARK’S SPATCHCOCKED TURKEY ROASTED AT A HIGH TEMPERATURE ON THE FLOOR OF THE OVEN. I LOVE SAMIN NOSRAT’S ROAST CHICKEN WHICH IS PRE-BRINED IN SALTED BUTTERMILK AND YIELDS  TENDER FLESH AND BROWNEST SKIN YOU’VE EVER SEEN.  JUST IN TIME FOR THANKSGIVING MS. NOSRAT ADAPTED HER CHICKEN RECIPE TO TURKEY; THAT IS, A 12-POUNDER.  I GOT STUCK WITH A 19-POUNDER WHICH IS GOING TO ENTAIL SOME FANCY FOOTWORK.

TURKEY BEING THE MOST UNPOPULAR OF FOWL, THANKSGIVING IS ALL ABOUT THE SIDES.  CARRYING ON  AN ANNUAL FAMILY TRADITION, I ALWAYS MAKE CREAMED PEARL ONIONS.  ONLY FOR THANKSGIVING AM I WILLING TO PEEL 60 PEARL ONIONS.  MASHED POTATOES ARE A MUST AND THIS THANKSGIVING I’M GOING ALL IN WITH JOËL ROBUCHON’S FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS VERSION WHICH GIVEN THE PROPORTION OF BUTTER TO POTATOES IS REALLY A POTATO BUERRE BLANC.  THIS YEAR I’M SUBSTITUTING MIXED CABBAGES FOR BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND/OR STRING BEANS.   I’LL CORE AND ROUGHLY CUT UP MY CABBAGES (SAVOY, CONE AND NAPA) AND BRAISE THEM IN THE BOTTOM OF THE TURKEY ROASTING PAN AFTER I TAKE BIG BIRD OUT TO REST.  THE CABBAGE COLLAPSES ABSORBING THE DRIPPINGS, WHICH SERVE AS A BED FOR TURKEY.  I’M CONCOCTING A STUFFING THIS YEAR COMPOSED PRIMARILY OF TORN BREAD AND SLOW-BROWNED ONIONS WITH LITTLE PIECES OF GUANCIALE AND LOTS OF CUT-UP CELERY.  INSTEAD OF A THICK GRAVY, I’M OPTING FOR A DOUBLE STOCK — DARK-ROASTED TURKEY BACKS AND NECKS SIMMERED IN MY OWN CHICKEN STOCK, THEN CAREFULLY DE-FATTED AND REDUCED TO AN ESSENCE.

IF WE HAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT (AND WE ALWAYS DO) IT’S MISS LYNN’S PUMPKIN PIE, PECAN-DATE TART AND TART TATIN SERVED WITH STRAUSS FAMILY CREAMERY VANILLA ICE CREAM.

WE’LL WASH IT ALL DOWN WITH NAVARRO BRUT AND SEVERAL BOTTLES OF MORGON.

NEXT WEEK, A COMPLETE REPORT AND MAYBE A NEW RECIPE OR TWO.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

McCALL'S REDUX

IN JANUARY OF 2010 KAREN AND NATHAN McCALL OPENED THEIR NAMESAKE BESPOKE BUTCHER SHOP ON HILLHURST.  THE COUPLE HAD CHEFED AT SONA, DAVID MYER’S MICHELIN-STARRED RESTAURANT ON LaCIENEGA, WHICH CLOSED IN MAY THE SAME YEAR.

HAVING ESCHEWED FACTORY-FARM MEAT, I’D TURNED TO NIMAN RANCH, WHICH IS STILL EXCELLENT BUT PRICEY BECAUSE OF THE SHIPPING.  THE McCALLS’ LITTLE BUTCHER SHOP WAS/IS A JEWEL:  WHITE SUBWAY TILE, GLEAMING VITRINES REPLETE WITH PORK, LAMB, BEEF, AND CHICKEN FROM SMALL PRODUCERS.  KAREN HAD BEEN THE PASTRY CHEF AT SONA, SO ONE CASE WAS DEDICATED TO HER CROISSANTS, PASTRIES, COOKIES, AND BAGUETTES.  THE STUFF WAS EXPENSIVE, BUT SO IS GELSONS AND IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG FOR McCALL’S TO BE A HIT.  WHEN THE ADJACENT SPACE BECAME AVAILABLE, THEY EXPANDED THE SHOP AND ADDED FISH.  THE SELECTION WAS LIMITED BUT BECAUSE NATHAN SOURCED FROM THE SAME WHOLESALERS THAT SUPPLY THE SUSHI CHEFS, WHATEVER HE SELECTED WAS PERFECT.  BETTER THAN SANTA MONICA SEAFOOD OR FISH KING OR WHOLE FOODS.  SINCE McCALL’S CAME INTO MY LIFE, I NEVER BUY FISH ANYPLACE ELSE.

WHEN COVID HIT, NATHAN ADAPTED.  THERE WAS ONLINE ORDERING AND ONCE THE VACCINE ARRIVED,  A LIMITED NUMBER OF CUSTOMERS WERE ADMITTED SIX AT A TIME.  I NOTICED, HOWEVER, THAT NATHAN HIMSELF WAS NEVER IN THE STORE.  I ASSUMED THIS WAS BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC.  SO I MISSED THE HAND-OFF TO THE NEW OWNERS WHICH OCCURRED IN DECEMBER OF 2021.

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                                                             DAVID AND MICHELLE SARRAF

THE SARRAFS HAVE BEEN IN THE FOOD BUSINESS FOR 25 YEARS AND OWN TWO BUSINESSES, ONE OF WHICH SUPPLIES SNACK FOODS TO SUPERMARKETS; THE OTHER PACKAGES AND SHIPS FOR WHOLESALE COMPANIES.  THOSE ENTERPRISES MUST BE HUMMING ALONG QUITE NICELY ON THEIR OWN BECAUSE THE SARRAFS HAVE MADE McCALLS A FULL-TIME JOB AND INDEED I’VE NEVER BEEN IN THE STORE WHEN MICHELLE OR DAVID IS NOT FUSSING WITH DISPLAYS OR CONFERRING WITH OLIN SCHNEIDER, THE HEAD BUTCHER AND STORE MANAGER.

 OLIN SCHNEIDER

McCALL’S HAS CHANGED SINCE THE SARRAFS TOOK OVER.  NATHAN INSISTED ON QUALITY AND THE SARRAFS WERE SMART ENOUGH NOT TO CHANGE WHAT WASN’T BROKEN.  BUT “WE FELT THE STORE NEEDED TO BE MORE OF A ONE-STOP NEIGHBORHOOD GEM”, MICHELLE EXPLAINS.  ” AND THAT IS WHY WE EXPANDED THE PRODUCE, CHEESE, RETAIL, AND ADD TO-GO SANDWICHES  AND UPDATED THE STORE FRONT AND SHELVING TO INCREASE RETAIL SPACE.”  THEY SEEM TO KNOW THEIR STUFF SINCE THEIR CURATED COLLECTION OF OILS, VINEGARS, PASTA, SPICES, BEANS, AND SALUMI IS EXPENSIVE BUT IMPECCABLE.

mccalls-220

OILS, VINEGARS, JAMS, SPICES, PASTA, AND RICE

McCALL’S IS JOLLIER THESE DAYS.  NATHAN WAS AN EXCELLENT CAPTAIN BUT HE RAN A TIGHT SHIP.  THE STAFF TURNOVER WAS HEAD-SPINNING.  “AS FOR STAFF,” MICHELLE SAYS.  “IT WAS [OUR] PRIORITY TO KEEP OUR STAFF IN TACT AND CUSTOMER SERVICE AT A PREMIER LEVEL.”  CUSTOMER SERVICE, IN FACT, IS MARKEDLY IMPROVED.  IN THE PAST, IT WAS HARD TO TEAR ONE OF THE TEN STAFF MEMBERS AWAY FROM BREAKING DOWN MEAT OR FISH TO WAIT ON YOU.  NOW, THREE PEOPLE IN WHITE COATS, BLACK APRONS AND MASKS RUSH THE COUNTER ASKING “HOW CAN I HELP YOU?” TODAY, WHEN I WENT TO PICK UP MY TURKEY, THERE WAS A LINE TO THE CORNER.  AND SO WAS MICHELLE WITH A TRAY OF COFFEE AND CREAM FOR WAITING CUSTOMERS.  

PRICES HAVE RISEN, BUT THAT’S TRUE EVERYWHERE.  STILL, WHERE ELSE IN L.A. CAN YOU FIND SWEETBREADS OR PORK CHEEKS?  THE BREAD IS NOW FROM THE BREAD LOUNGE.   I LOVE THE DEMI-BAGUETTES WHICH YOU CAN PAIR WITH A DISCERNING SELECTION OF CHEESES OR CUSTOM-SLICED PROSCIUTTO AND SPECK.

IF YOU LIVE ON THE WEST SIDE, DON’T DESPAIR.  THERE’S A McCALL’S COMING TO SANTA MONICA IN 2022.

https://www.mccallsmeatandfish.com

CHEF JOHN SPEAKS

Version 2

back to new york

AFTER TWO MONTHS IN A HOUSE ON A LAKE IN WESTERN MAINE, WE DROVE DOWN TO NYC AFTER LABOR DAY TO CELEBRATE MY SISTER AND BROTHER-IN-LAW’S 50TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY ON SEPTEMBER 26TH.  THIS LEFT US WITH SIXTEEN DAYS TO KILL.

THE MUSEUMS AND RESTAURANTS HAD RE-OPENED.  THERE WERE CEZANNE DRAWINGS AT M.O.M.A, ALICE NEAL AND THE MEDICIS AT THE MET, PAINTINGS FROM THE OLD FRICK IN THE NEW FRICK (FORMERLY THE MET/BREUER), STOLEN ART AT THE JEWISH MUSEUM,   E. McKNIGHT KAUFER AT THE COOPER HEWITT, ROBERT LONGO AT PACE, AND JASPER JOHNS AT THE WHITNEY. WE STROLLED THROUGH CENTRAL PARK AND ALONG THE HUDSON IN RIVERSIDE PARK. WE SHOPPED HALF-ASSEDLY, LOOKING FOR THINGS WE DIDN’T NEED.  BUT A MAN’S GOTTA EAT, RIGHT?  SO WE REVISITED OLD FAVORITES (ESTELA, CASA MONO, RED FARM, BARNEY’S, L’ARTUSI) , THE NEW UNION SQUARE CAFÉ, REZDÔRA, AND CERVO’S).

 ESTELA ON EAST HOUSTON

ESTELA, WHERE WE ATE A DINNER AND TWO LUNCHES,  IS IGNACIO MATTA’S FLAGSHIP RESTAURANT.  LOCATED IN A FUNKY SHOTGUN-SHAPED SPACE ON EAST HOUSTON WITH A BAR UP FRONT.  BOOTHS AND TABLES LINE THE NARROW RESTAURANT.  MATTA, WHO’S FROM URUGUAY, CREATES DISHES WHICH ARE INVENTIVE, BUT MAXIMIZE THE ESSENCE OF THE MAIN INGREDIENT.  SO SKATE WING IS WRAPPED IN GRAPE LEAVES AND ROASTED WITH THE BONE IN AND NAPPED IN BUERRE NOIR.  DEEP-FRIED CRISPY SWEETBREADS ARE SET OFF BY UMEBOSHI (JAPANESE SOUR PLUMS) AND ROMAINE.  THERE IS CURED FLUKE WITH MELON, SQUASH BLOSSOMS STUFFED WITH RAW SCALLOPS, AN ENDIVE SALAD WITH WALNUTS AND UMBRIACO ROSSO, A HARD CHEESE SIMILAR TO PARMESAN.  MATTA MAKES THE BEST CHOCOLATE DESSERT I’VE EVER EATEN AND A SUBLIME PANNA COTTA WITH VINEGAR-LACED HONEY AND BEE POLLEN FOR CRUNCH.

 CHOCOLATE CAKE

SERVICE IS FRIENDLY AND EFFICIENT.  THE WINE LIST IS ECLECTIC AND REASONABLE.  THE NOISE LEVEL, AT LEAST AT DINNER, IS PUNISHING, SO IF YOU LIKE TO TALK, I’D HIGHLY RECOMMEND LUNCH.

UNION SQUARE CAFE, PRICED OUT OF THEIR ORIGINAL LOCATION IN UNION SQUARE, FOUND A NEW HOME ON 19TH STREET, WITH A BAR UP FRONT AND A SPACIOUS DINING AREA.  DANNY MEYER’S RESTAURANTS  ARE AMONG THE DWINDLING FEW WHICH DON’T PLAY MUSIC, SO YOU CAN HAVE A CIVILIZED CONVERSATION WHILE CONSUMING VERY CIVILIZED DISHES AND  ENJOYING COURTEOUS AND EFFICIENT SERVICE.

 UNION SQUARE CAFE

HAMACHI CRUDO COMES WITH ORANGE SLICES AND A KICK OF BIRD CHILIS.  BIBB LETTUCES ARE DRESSED WITH A SUBTLE MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE AND GARLIC CROUTONS.  PASTAS ARE EXCELLENT.  ONE OF US ORDERED A LEMON PASTA WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS. THE PERFECTLY-COOKED SCALLOPS IN THE LINGUINE ALLE CAPESANTE WERE ENHANCED WITH GARLIC, LEMON AND CHILIS.  UNION SQUARE IS NOT AS GOOD AS THE MODERN, BUT THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE IS COMFORTING.  NO BIG SURPRISES, BUT WELL-CONCEIVED, WELL-EXECUTED DISHES, AND A SERIOUS WINE LIST IN FORMAL BUT RELAXING ROOM.

STEFANO SECCHI HAILS FROM TEXAS BUT LEARNED ABOUT PASTA IN MODENA, THE HEART OF EMIGLIA-ROMAGNA, ARGUABLY THE MOST SERIOUS FOOD REGION IN ITALY, AT THE MICHELIN-STARRED OSTERIA FRANCESCANA UNDER MASSIMO BOTTURA AND ITS MORE TRADITIONAL NEIGHBOR HOSTERIA GIUISTI.  SECCHIO HIMSELF HAS EARNED ONE MICHELIN STAR AND THREE FROM THE NY TIMES AT REZDÔRA.  THE STAR OF THE SHOW IS THE PASTA AND DESERVEDLY SO .  TENDER LITTLE ANOLINI STUFFED WITH TRADITIONAL MEAT FILLING SWIM IN A PARMESAN-FLAVORED BROTH.  SPAGHETTONI IS RICH WITH CRAB, GARLIC AND PARSLEY. EGG RAVIOLI WITH CHANTERELLES AND BLACK TRUFFLES WAS WORTH A DETOUR.  BUT FIRST-COURSE SALADS WERE EQUALLY GOOD.  THE SPACE IS SMALL; ONE-STEP DOWN ON 20th STREET.  EXCELLENT WINE LIST.  ATTENTIVE SERVICE AND BEARABLY LOUD.

 TAGLIATELLE BOLOGNESE
 REZDORA

BABY ARTICHOKE SALAD

IT WAS A RELIEF TO RETURN TO CASA MONO,A TINY SPANISH RESTAURANT ON IRVING PLACE, WHERE, UNDER CHEF ANDY NUSSER, WHO GREW UP CADAQUÉS ON THE COSTA BRAVA, THE GRILLED RAZOR CLAMS  WITH GARLIC, MARROW BONE WITH SMOKED TROUT ROE, FOIE GRAS WITH ONIONS, BACALAO CROQUETAS WITH ORANGE AIOLI, AND SKIRT STEAK WITH ROMESCO ARE JUST AS GOOD AS THEY WERE THIRTY YEARS AGO.

 CASA MONO
 RAZOR CLAMS
 BABY ARTICHOKE SALAD

BUT THE BIG SURPRISE OF THE TRIP WAS RESTAURANT I’D NEVER HEARD OF CALLED CERVO’S ON CANAL STREET.  OUR FRIENDS JOHN AND JANET WARREN HAD PICKED THIS SPOT A) BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT WE’D LIKE IT AND B) BECAUSE THEIR DAUGHTER IS AN INVESTOR AND COULD GET US A RESERVATION.  WE ARRIVED BY CAB AND DISCOVERED THAT THIS END OF CANAL STREET, A STONE’S THROW FROM THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, WAS CLOSED TO VEHICULAR TRAFFIC.  THE WARRENS WERE ALREADY SEATED AT A TABLE ON THE STREET.

 CERVO’S ON CANAL

IT WAS A BALMY EVENING.  CERVO’S SPECIALIZES IN SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE SEAFOOD, SMALL PLATES AND AN INTRIGUING COLLECTION OF WINES BY THE GLASS.  MANILA CLAMS WITH GARLIC AND VINHO VERDE, WHITE PRAWNS A LA PLANCHA, FLUKE CRUDO, TUNA CONSERVA WITH CUCUMBER AND GREEN CHILI, FRIED SKATE WING WITH CILANTRO SALSA — EVERYTHING WAS DELICIOUS.

 WHITE LOUISIANA SHRIMP

GABRIEL, OUR COMELY AND WELL-INFORMED WAITRESS KEPT RECOMMENDING WINES AND WE KEPT DRINKING THEM.  WE SOPPED UP THE SALSAS AND OLIVE OIL WITH HOUSE-MADE BREAD.

THE RESTAURANTS, AT LEAST AT DINNER, WERE  FULL.  EVERYONE WAS GIDDY TO BE OUT WITH FRIENDS AMONG FRIENDLY STRANGERS.  EVEN MASKED, THE WAITERS WERE JOLLY AND WELCOMING.  VAXXED AND RELAXED EVERYONE WAS HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME.

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