I have a fairly eclectic pantry. In addition to the standards — olive oil, salt & pepper — I have bags and jars of spices and condiments from the wide world over. In my cabinet a container of sichuan peppercorns sits next to a bag of black mustard seeds. In my fridge a jar of Vietnamese chili & peanut paste keeps company with Indian ghee. Not to mention the myriad alternative pastas I have accrued. I enjoy using all of these, and more, and I’m happy to throw them all together in different combinations. And yet sometimes I crave the simpler things. And this time of year, especially considering the weather we’ve been having, I turn to my oven instead of my stovetop. Take, for instance, this small head of cauliflower. I trimmed the leaves and the bottom, and removed part of the core before drizzling it with olive oil and salt and pepper. Then I put it in the oven at 375 degrees until it was nicely browned. The outside was nicely crisp, the inside just beginning to get tender but not overcooked. I had originally intended to cut it into pieces to mix with something else, but as I tasted it I decided it didn’t need anything and just ate it as is. A week earlier I did the same with a large oyster mushroom — split in two, drizzled as above and roasted until it was nearly charred on the outside, it made an incredible main course. Sure, fancy international ingredients can add a lot to dishes, but you don’t need them to make great food. Sometimes, simpler is better.
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I have no problem with unusual toppings on pizza. It’s true that my ideal pizza is a simple Margherita, but I also think that pineapple chunks give a nice acidic sweetness to a slice. On a recent trip to Emily I saw a pizza called the Sophier. Sauce, cheese, herbs, got it. And… mustard? W-w-w-what? I had to try it. And when our server dropped off our order, she didn’t refer to it as the Sophier, she called it the “mustard pizza.” When I ordered it I wasn’t sure how it would work — added before or after cooking? Big yellow dollops? So the mustard is applied before cooking, and it sort of melds into the tomato sauce. Biting into it you get the fragrance of mustard, but not the sharp bite on the tongue. The heat builds into the familiar sinus-clearing sensation that mustard brings, but it’s never overpowering. It’s a surprising combination, but one that works well. Next time I go to Emily, I’m hoping to get one f their “green” pies, made with tomatillo sauce instead of the regular tomato.
Emily — 919 Fulton St
On a bitterly cold January afternoon I walked into Polonica, a Polish restaurant in Bay Ridge. The wind had been blowing, and when I entered the restaurant my glasses immediately fogged up. Sitting at a table I struggled to shake off the cold. It helped that the menu noted which dishes were vegetarian, a trend I’ve been seeing more ofter at Eastern European restaurants around the city and one that I hope continues. There were no less than three borscht options on the menu, but only one is vegetarian: the Ukranian borscht. It was exactly what I needed to beat the freezing temperatures: piping hot, both sweet and savory, and hearty with mixed veggies. Beets, of course, cut into rustic chunks, but also bits of potato, onion, a lone kidney bean at the bottom of the bowl. It’s one of the best borscht’s I’ve ever had. I also got an order of assorted pierogies; the oversized dumplings boiled and served with sour cream and sauteed onions. The potato and cheese filling was smooth and mild, the sauerkraut and mushroom slightly sweet and a little tart, but the best of them all was the mushroom and potato. Walking back out into the cold after I was done the warmth of my meal stayed with me, at least as long as my walk back to the subway.
Polonica — 7214 3rd Ave
Adam Kuban, the biggest pizza enthusiast I know, had been operating a pop-up pizza restaurant out of Emily for a few months. He’s serving a style of pizza he calls “bar pizza.” There’s a whole section on the Margot’s site dedicated to defining just what bar pizza is. In addition to the physical attributes of bar pizza — ultra-thin crust, crisp, toppings almost all the way to the edge — what Adam is after is a feeling. It’s nostalgia for a specific atmosphere, and the kind of pizza he remembers from his youth. I have no experience at all with bar pizza. The pizza from my youth was all chain delivery places, and they were pretty dreadful. In my more recent experience, I’ve become a big fan of the new Neapolitan-style pies that have become trendy here in NYC.
So how was the pizza? The crust, as promised, was razor-thin and crispy, but still had a pleasantly sour fermented dough flavor. I saw some of the dough before being rolled out, and it was puffed up like over-sized Parker House rolls. I’d imagine that the only way to get it so thin is by brute force, and that it crisps up within seconds of hitting the wood-fired oven. There’s a nice balance of sauce and cheese, and it didn’t become soggy over time. I got the standard Margot-rita, along with a delicious kale salad from Emily. It’s all part of the ticket price. Oh, I forgot to mention, but right now you need tickets to attend a Margot pop-up. You can sign up via the website, linked below, to be notified when tickets go on sale. You can also enter a ticket lottery, which is how I managed to get my own ticket. Adam is hoping to open his own place eventually, but it’s worth seeking out a ticket to Margot’s right now.
There’s not a lot of vegetarian food on the menu at The Elm, a bar and restaurant in the basement of the McCarren Hotel in Williamsburg. There are a few good apps and sides: the vegetable tempura was lightly fried and delicious, and blistered shisito peppers are elevated with a splash of orange. But I have a friend who works as a bartender there, and he told em that when the right chef is in the kitchen he’ll put together a huge seasonal vegetarian plate my friend referred to as “the Garden.” Another chef was working that night, and he created an incredible vegetarian pasta at my request. Strozzapreti, a thick, curled pasta was dressed with a dandelion and lemon pesto, topped with crispy bits of fried onions and crunchy almonds. I also got a side order of the smoked maitake mushrooms. This is something for mushroom lovers only — the cooking process intensifies the deep, mushroom flavors. I love mushrooms, but even I thought they needed a little bit of acidity to offset the intense earthy flavor. Giving the maitakes a quick dunk into the pesto from the pasta did the trick nicely. It’s not a cheap meal, by any means, but The Elm does quite well by vegetarians if you ask the right questions.
The Elm — 160 North 12th St
I first started going to 61 Local for the beer. They have a rotating selection of craft beers from around the country, and there’s always something interesting to drink. It’s a beautiful space too, with high ceilings and skylights. I’d also eaten there a few times, mostly snacks, but towards the end of 2014 I had a few lunches at 61 Local and they were great. They make a big deal about using local ingredients. Listen to the menu description of the Northeast Egg Sandwich, pictured above. “Hard-cooked farm egg
by Spring Brook Farm, collard greens, Raclette cheese by Spring Brook Farm, roasted garlic butter, sourdough by Hot Bread Kitchen, with maple bourbon pickles by Brooklyn Brine.” It’s a lot of detail, and it’s a sign that 61 Local cares about the food they serve. It was also a delicious sandwich. On another visit I had a few of the bar snacks, including Delhi Deviled Eggs made with my friend Chitra’s Brooklyn Delhi achaar, and a mezze platter that pays homage to the many Middle Eastern restaurants and shops that line Atlantic Ave. They even have free wi-fi, so it’s the perfect go to place if you want to do some work on a weekday with a good beer and a good plate of food.
61 Local — 61 Bergen St
It’s time once again for that annual traditional of year-end favorites. This will be my last post of the year, but I’ll return in 2015 with more Brooklyn Vegetarian. Click on the photos or the links to read the full stories.
Favorite New (To Me) Pizza Place: Emily
Favorite Dish I Cooked Myself: Great Vegetarian Ramen At Home
Favorite Ice Cream: Bonfire On The Beach From Hay Rosie
Favorite Meal At A Restaurant With A New Chef: Glasserie
Favorite Bread: Ferdinando’s Focacceria
Thanks, and see you in 2015!