After their Lower East Side location closed, the folks behind Mission Chinese decided to start running a pop-up restaurant out of Carroll Gardens’ Italian juggernaut Frankies 457. The pop-ups became so popular they became a semi-regular occurrence, and it was recently announced that they would continue on for the foreseeable future. I had a good meal at the LES location, and was curious about the pop-up. Luckily my friend Siobhan has a friend on the inside, and a few weeks ago she made reservations for six of us to dine there. She let them know ahead of time that there would be a vegetarian in the party, and they made sure to take care of me. I got a few plates all to myself, and for $40 I ate a ton of food. Some things made the journey from their old location intact: the large dragon hanging from the ceiling; the rice cakes (pictured above), wonderfully chewy and incredibly spicy. Other dishes were new to me; of particular note was the Kung Pao Beets (a vegetarian version of their popular Kung Pao Pastrami). Small nuggets of beets were hidden among chunks of potato, all tossed with an incendiary sweet chili sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. It was so spicy that I could only eat about half of it at dinner, and I ended up with heartburn later that night. It was delicious though, I have to give them that. And it was just as good two days later, straight out of the fridge — though that lead to heartburn as well.
Mission Chinese Pop-Up — 457 Court St
Panzanella is traditionally a salad made of tomatoes and chunks of stale bread. If you broaden your mind, however, you can make it out of anything. I had half a loaf of whole-wheat sourdough sitting on my counter, and wondered what to do with it. Then I remembered I had a bunch of Chioggia beets (the ones with candy cane striping inside) and some zucchini, and an idea began to form.
I trimmed the tops off of the beets and rinsed them, then boiled them in salted water. As they were cooking I cut the bread into one inch cubes and quickly toasted them in olive oil in a saute pan with a little garlic, salt, and pepper. When they were nicely browned on all sides I put them into a bowl and then did the same with cubes of green and yellow zucchini. Well I didn’t actually brown the zucchini pieces, I just cooked them quickly to warm them up and season them. Then I put them into the bowl with the bread. When the beets were cooked through I drained them, and the skin rubbed right off. Then I cut them into pieces roughly the same size as the bread and the zucchini, and added them to the bowl as well. I made a quick dressing of sherry wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, then poured it over the veggies and bread and tossed it all together. The next step is the most important: let it sit for a while. This lets the flavors all meld together — the acidity of the vinegar, the sweetness of the beets, the salt from the zucchini. And the bread soaks up all of the liquids and gets nice and chewy. It’s even better after spending the night in the fridge, and makes for a cool, refreshing meal.
Posted in cooking
Tagged cooking, vegan
My favorite kind of brunch is the one where there are no crowds, and you can choose a drink beyond a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa. Enter the Commodore in Williamsburg, which just recently started serving brunch, and which was almost empty when I stopped by the other day on the way to the Kara Walker show. The egg & cheese biscuit was very good: a tender biscuit filled with a pile fluffy eggs and salty cheese, though slightly over-priced at $7. A much better value was a side of grits, only $4, which arrived in a giant soup bowl topped with a slightly spicy salsa roja and some scallions. Also delicious were the refreshing Pimm’s Cups that accompanied my meal; the cucumber-mint combination made everything go down that much easier.
The Commodore — 366 Metropolitan Ave
In my quest for vegetarian ramen here in Brooklyn I’ve only come across one that I can truly call great: Chuko’s Market Veggie Ramen. I’ve had it a few times now and it’s always stunning. Other vegetarian ramens have weak broths, or broths with funky flavors, or there’s some flaw that makes it off-putting. I even went so far as to make my own vegetarian ramen at home, which is pretty great (if I do say so myself). Ganso, in Downtown Brooklyn, is the only vegetarian ramen I’ve had here in Brooklyn that comes close to touching Chuko. Made with a shiitake and soy milk base, the Yasai Ramen’s broth is thick and flavorful. It’s a little too salty, which is unfortunate because the fried tofu in the broth is also too salty. On my visit there were kernels of sweet corn, which helped balance it a little bit, and the greens and scallions were able to cut through the saltiness some. If they just dialed back the salt a little bit, I think Ganso could enter the realm of great vegetarian ramen that eludes so many.
Ganso — 25 Bond St
Early last year I was told that I should eat more whole grains. I thought it was a good idea, but there was a problem: I eat a ton of pasta. And I mean literally a ton of pasta; I haven’t actually weighed it, but I’m sure that if you added it all up it would be at least a ton. So I set out to find some alternatives. I cooked with grains like spelt, brown rice, and wheat berries. And they were good. Yet I still missed pasta, so I started looking for a whole grain pasta that I liked. I started, naturally, with whole wheat pasta. I tried multiple brands, and multiple cooking methods, but I couldn’t find one that I liked. The main issue is the texture, but in a few cases the flavor was off too. One day at my local bodega I saw a package of brown rice pad thai noodles, and something clicked. They looked an awful lot like fettuccine, I thought. I brought them home and cooked them and was amazed. They have great, silky texture, and they cook very quickly (occasionally the cooking time on the package directions are way too long — one said to cook for 12 minutes but was ready in a mere 7). Plus the pasta cooking water has a great starchy quality that is perfect for adding to the sauce. I began to hunt for more brown rice pasta. I found more brown rice Asian noodles, like mai fun, but I wasn’t prepared for the day I found brown rice ziti, farfalle, and shells. Since then brown rice pasta has been my go-to pasta. I have tried other kinds of pasta, which I will write about in future installments of Beyond Whole Wheat, but so far brown rice is my favorite. Does anybody else have a good pasta replacement?
Click for a quick recipe…
Krupa Grocery opened a few weeks ago in a former bodega space — the bodega was called Krupa Grocery, hence the name of the restaurant. It’s still figuring a few things out; on a recent visit I saw a customer frantically waving their arm to get a server’s attention (it didn’t work); our host asked us if we wanted to sit outside, but when she led us out there it turned out there were no available tables; and there was an awfully long wait between when we ordered our drinks and when we received them. The good news is, however, that the food is often very good. A salad of roasted beets was perfectly seasoned, and garnished with candied kumquats for sweetness and tartness. Burrata (a mix of cream and mozzarella) with couscous was likewise perfectly seasoned, with briny olives punctuating the creamy milkiness of the cheese. Not everything is perfect: green beans are tossed with a tasty black truffle vinaigrette but baffled me by being paired with strawberries. Gnudi (ricotta dumplings) were perfectly made, but lacked seasoning and acidity in their pepper sauce. Krupa Grocery is charging serious prices for their food, and it’s often packed with customers. The neighborhood is clearly ready for this type of restaurant, and once Krupa Grocery works out the kinks it’s going to be something really special.
Krupa Grocery — 231 Prospect Park West
In a world where it seems everyone is making barbecue, [random-Asian-country]-ese street food, and trying to come up with the NEXT BIG THING (cough-Bruffin-cough) comes Woezo. Woezo is a stand at Smorgasburg that’s actually bringing something new and exciting to an over-saturated marketplace: West African food. It’s true that in certain neighborhoods around the five boroughs there are authentic African restaurants, and it may seem a bit presumptuous for a white kid who was in the Peace Corps to bring these flavors to a hipster paradise in Williamsburg, but why argue when the food is so good? They have plenty of vegan and gluten-free options on the menu — you can mix and match what you want in your bowl to suit your appetite. I got a base of rich polenta, topped with mushrooms and fried tofu with a peanut sauce and some spicy chili sauce as well. Mixed all together it managed to be both comforting and unfamiliar, and somehow was evocative of a place to which I’ve never been. I hope more potential Smorgasburg vendors follow this example, and search for something truly new to bring to the event — the world only needs so many Korean-barbecue burritos on a stick.
Woezo at Smorgasburg — Kent Avenue and North 7 St