Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mango! You're my knight in shining armor and I love you...

Friends it is almost that time.  And you don’t want to miss it.  So prepare thyself.  I personally missed the Magnolias blossoming at the botanical garden and I think I blinked the day the cherry blossoms occurred because my street already looks like a pink volcano erupted.  But I’ll be damned if I miss my favorite culinary part of spring (and god damnit it is not ramps).  So what’s a gal like me wait for so impatiently? 

Indian Mangoes! 

Good fruit is sexy.  It’s living flesh that you take a bite of and you get to savor it’s juices as you try unsuccessfully to keep them from running down your chin.  You become giddy with embarrassment as you lick your lips to keep all its juices and bits to yourself but your sticky hands betray you.  When I was little we would get a crate of the most delicious oranges sent to us from some relative living in Florida…oranges like none you’ve ever had before and our mother would make us eat them standing in the bathtub or outside that’s how juicy they were. 

I did not get a chance to experience this phenomenon again until the summer of the Indian Mango in NYC.  Do you remember this? A few years back when the ban on Indian Mangoes was lifted, NYC was overrun by the whisper of a sexier version of our standard mango…our seemingly ubiquitous summer fruit.  Suddenly people who would never normally dream of heading further north of 14th street in Manahattan actually braved the wild and wily subways or rented a zip car to get to the exotic borough of Queens for these previously banned candies of nature.  Yet they were in such demand, and as luck would have it supplies so low…the price would get jacked up.  And we thought it was expensive to have the black market Indian Mangoes smuggled in from some dude’s suitcase! 

A mango! Mangoes are not rare or exotic anymore.  Or at least they aren’t supposed to be!  You can find them year round in delis. You no longer need to travel to Mexico to take a long stroll hand in hand with a lover only to have the fruit fall from it’s tree and plonk you on the head (clearly a sign of a doomed relationship).  It’s a treat served on a stick at Coney Island.  It’s served chopped (now so easy thanks to Slap Chop) on top of ice cream, and it’s in margaritas and mojitos everywhere.  So, when my chef at the time says he has this super sexy new dessert, the last thing I think he’s going to tell me it is…is a mango.

I repeat: A mango.  From Queens.  Well…ok not really from Queens.  From India.  But found in Queens.  And it’s really really expensive (for fruit) which we all know means it’s good.  But really, it is the best, juiciest mango ever.  And when I ate one, I had to run over to the kitchen’s prep sink at work to keep the juices from running not just all over my hands and chin, but from the floor!  Seriously, after eating this mango…even the tip of my nose was sticky…that’s how juicy it was.

Chef would take these mangoes and slice them haphazardly, and toss them with honey, pickled chilis (pickling since the end of the previous summer) and lime and salt and a tiny bit of champagne vinegar.  And, that was that.  It was so freaking amazing.  Ever since, it is something I try to recreate myself on an even more humble simple level. Although this was already a pretty simple dessert my favorite thing he ever did with these mangoes was one night a Chef Friend of his was in our restaurant on a date.  They were so enamored with eachother that they didn’t want to stay for dessert.  So, Chef packed a bag for them containing: one mango, one lime, and a tiny ramekin of this honey-chili sex sauce.  He told them to go home and eat it. 

I always imagined they had it for breakfast the next morning.

Moral of this story?  Any minute now, the Indian Markets (Patel Brothers in Flushing!) in Queens will be selling these amazing mangoes…until supplies run out.  Yes, they’re expensive.  But you know, mangoes bruise easily so we need to pay for them to fly first class.  No, really.  Who cares?  Go to queens!  Find the Indian mangoes!  Buy a case! I know you don’t want to go to queens.  No one does!  That’s why the mangoes are so damn expensive.  Go there.  Get mangoes.  Eat them in your bathtub!  Be happy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Le Sigh

Ah Paris...And I don't mean Hilton.

  I went to a friends and family at a new restaurant.  It was Ma Peche.  Stop what your doing and go there now!  Drink their yummy cocktails named after Sonic Youth songs, drink my friend Abe's rose, and even if you think you're going to be too full get the steak.  For the record, I'm not telling you to get the steak because it's some magical cut from Creekstone Farms that they do just for David Chang (but it is) I'm telling you to get it because of the crack rocks they serve with the steak...these rice flour french fries.  Ah-May-Zing!  Seriously.  They taste like movie theater popcorn!

We also tried the Seafood Plateau, you know a Momofuku-ish take on the tower of shellfish that you get at every Brasserie in Paris.  And it was delicious.  And we all agreed that more restaurants should have towers of shellfish offerings.  We know they have it at Balthazzar.  Where else?  If you know please clue me in, so I can do a round up of these joints.

Alas, since this shellfish extravaganza, and also perhaps because the menu at Ma Peche is in French (sort of) and maybe even because we also had the snails and sausage...I have had Paris on the mind.

Deep in the mind.

Like a dream.

I long for cities like Paris, like you wouldn't believe.  It is actually one of my favorite places that for a brief time was tarnished because of my traveling companion.  See many moons ago, I took someone to Paris while we were breaking up.  Why?  Not sure at the time.  But, for the record...do not ever go to the most romantic, dreamy place on earth while in the midst of relationship trauma.  Remember this! Because it's not about you, it's about Paris.  Paris is bigger and stronger than you.  Paris will destroy you.  Actually, worse than destroy you...Paris will merely light a cigarette and shrug it's shoulders at you.

And you'll destroy yourself.

So...with that I post something I wrote when returning from this grim trip to Paris with Le Douchebag. (and just in case you're reading this and you're wondering if I am talking about you...I am).  So, a repost from something I wrote for Snooth many years ago...in a galaxy far far away.

PS: In the immortal words of Colin Alevras (and ironically the beverage director of Momofuku and Ma Peche...) "If you don't get sweaty in Paris, it's your own damn fault."

We went to Paris for a long weekend with hopes of eating and drinking our way through town in a gastronomic fantasy come true. Like Bonnie and Clyde with oysters and Chablis. Instead we were like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet, lost behind scenes on the set of a beautiful play. Armed with our business cards, restaurant guides, and dozens of emails from friends, bosses, and wine reps on where to eat and, more importantly, where to drink, at every point of the day… we were shocked to discover two things: nothing is open in Paris on the weekend and what is open is boring. It’s a cruel joke.
My boyfriend said he had envisioned fully cooked and perfectly seasoned quail flying directly into his mouth while foie gras dripped down from the heavens. I’d dreamed of back vintages of Raveneau and of Champagnes that are too difficult to find in the States. Instead it was like we were in a food and wine ghost town. We did have two wonderful meals: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is not a terrible way to spend a ridiculous amount of money. And Le Comptoir was delicious in all its pig’s feet splendor but also replete with a surly older waitress, bien sur. What was so frustrating for us, even at these places, was that the wine lists were so thoughtless.

Boring and uninspired wine lists are something I complain about in New York as well. I’ve said it before, if I don’t like the wine list, I will walk out of a restaurant. I don’t understand how my fellow wine directors could not take the time to find the hidden gems of wine to compliment the beautiful cuisine. It seems lazy to me to have Veuve instead of Goutorbe on your list. It makes me feel like you think I’m stupid when you just put a bunch of wines down on a piece of paper and expect me to drink them. And worse, I feel insulted because I genuinely worry about my list. Do I have enough Washington wines? How is the price range? Is it biodynamic? How is the new vintage? Is the list interesting and diverse? Are the wines good? But after our weekend in Paris, I will add a new question to worry over while planning my list: If I was the guest would I be happy with this selection? The ultimate test.
Now, I know there are plenty of wonderful wine lists and many talented wine directors in New York. I’ve had the pleasure of dining at their establishments. And maybe those lists have helped to cultivate that expectation of greatness, or at least uniqueness on other wine lists and in myself. And perhaps this is what made it so difficult for me in Paris. It wasn’t about an being Americans in Paris but rather a couple of New Yorkers in Paris. Or rather, a couple of New York restaurant professionals in Paris. And we brought all of our expectations of food, wine, and service with us. It definitely made me pay attention differently to the guests in my dining room the past two nights. Are they celebrating, are they visiting, what are their expectations? One could possibly have a similar experience to ours, even in New York City. Though, I would venture to guess, that most people would react differently to a waitress pushing her off the sidewalk and out of her way if she were in NYC instead of Paris, n’est ce pas?