For many years I thought of Kebeer, a small Russian restaurant, as one of my favorite places to eat in Brighton Beach. Imagine my surprise a couple of months ago when I walked by and saw it was no longer there — instead there was a restaurant called Cafe Max. It didn’t look particularly Russian inside, and there was no menu posted in the window, so I assumed everything had changed. Later I did some research and found out that in spite of the American-sounding name they pretty much kept the menu intact from the days of Kebeer. On my next trip to Brighton Beach I decided to stop by and find out the truth. I started my meal with a bowl of the borscht; without the sour cream it’s actually vegan. It’s a great vegetable soup, cut with the sweetness of beets. Strips of onion and cabbage, chunks of potato, and grated raw garlic all added flavor to the soup. For my entree I got the fried potatoes with mushrooms. The potatoes were sliced into thin rounds, and fried until crisp on the outside with a bit of creaminess on the inside. They were topped with sauteed mushrooms, mixed with caramelized onions and more grated raw garlic and some fresh dill. The mix of textures and flavors was a good one, and it was a huge plate of food. It wasn’t quite the same experience I’d had during my visits to Kebeer, but Cafe Max was still pretty good.
Cafe Max — 1003 Brighton Beach Ave
Here in NYC we’re in the middle of an incredible heat wave. It makes me want to do nothing other than sit inside in the air conditioning and eat ice cream. I’ve been making a fair amount of my own ice cream this summer, but lately I’ve been craving something a little lighter, something that can take advantage of all of the great summer fruit available at the farmer’s markets right now. Sorbet seemed like the obvious answer, but I’d never made sorbet before. I found this recipe over at the Kitchn and slightly adapted it to my own needs. Here’s how I did it.
I made a sugar syrup by bringing 3/4 cup of sugar with a cup of water to a boil, then turning down the heat super low and letting it sit like that for about eight minutes. Meanwhile I peeled 4 Jersey peaches — you use a knife to make an “x” int he pointy (bottom) end of each peach and then boiling them in water for about a minute. Then remove them from the water and rinse under cold water and the skins should peel right off. Then I roughly chopped the peeled peaches, and put them into a blender with the sugar syrup, a pinch of salt, and the juice of one lemon. Then I blended this mixture until completely smooth. Then I chilled the puree.
And that’s it. Once the puree is chilled you can put it into your ice cream maker and make the sorbet. Then put the sorbet into a plastic container and store it in your freezer. You can do this with just about any fruit. I served a scoop with some fresh blackberries and was quite happy with it, but you do what you need to with yours.
For years I’ve heard about Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, where they make fresh tortillas deep in the heart of Bushwick. In addition to the tortilla factory they have a small no-frills restaurant attached, where you can sample their fresh tortillas. I finally made it out there a few weeks ago, and for $2.50 I got this beautiful, overstuffed vegetarian taco. On top of the fresh corn tortilla is a smear of beans, some fresh veggies and herbs, crumbled queso blanco, crema, and large slices of avocado. They also give you a wedge of lime and access to bottled hot sauce, the addition of which elevated this taco from good to great. You get your hot, your cold The next time I’m in the neighborhood I may make a little detour over to Los Hermanos for a quick snack.
I never ate at Two Duck Goose, which closed last year and re-opened recently as Hey Hey Canteen. Two Duck Goose seemed to be a slightly upscale Chiense-American restaurant; Hey Hey Canteen reinvented itself as a more casual place with a noodle-heavy menu. My friend Hong-An suggested we check it out a few weeks ago, and I decided on the cold sesame noodles. I’m a fan of cold sesame noodles in general, and they sounded like a refreshing way to beat the heat. At Hey Hey Canteen they give youa huge bowl of noodles, and it’s a fresher version of what you’ll find at your neighborhood Chinese place; shreds of carrot and cucumber joined the familiar sesame peanut sauce, and the noodles were chewy and firm. All things being equal I actually prefer the cheaper version from my neighborhood joint, but Hey Hey Canteen does make some tasty noodles.
Hey Hey Canteen — 400 4th Ave
It started, as much of my cooking does, with a problem. I had been buying spring garlic at the farmer’s market, and unlike regular garlic spring garlic comes with long green tops, similar to leeks. I’d been using most of them, but I had trimmed a bunch of the tops off. They were a little tough but had a great garlic aroma, and it seemed a shame to just throw them away. I wondered though, what could I do with them? Thankfully I watch a lot of Jacques Pepin, and in one episode when Jacques was trimming leeks he casually mentioned saving the leek tops for stock. So I had part of the answer; I could make a flavorful stock or poaching liquid with the garlic tops. But what would I poach in that liquid? Luckily I had purchased a beautiful little head of cauliflower at the market as well, and the idea took full shape.
I fulled a large pot with water, and added a healthy amount of salt. A few black peppercorns, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and of course the garlic tops. I brought this to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer for about twenty minutes. While it simmered I trimmed the core off of the cauliflower. I added the whole head to the liquid, and brought it up to a boil and then again dropped the heat and let it simmer. It took about 15 minutes for the cauliflower to become tender all the way through; you can check it by poking it with a knife. I pulled the head out of the water and let it sit on a cutting board to cool off a bit, then sliced it into nice chunks for easier eating.
The cauliflower soaks in all of the garlic-y, seasoned water and keeps its buttery texture. For a little contrast I quickly sauteed some kale and zucchini and seasoned that with some red wine vinegar; the cauliflower needed some acidity to balance it out.
Now that I think about it, the garlic tops should really be included in my Vegetarian Offal project; it’s always good to remember that almost every part of every vegetable can be used for something,
After filming our episode of Lost Vegetarian at Bricolage we stayed for brunch. I knew they had a lot of vegetarian options on their regular menu, but I was curious to see what they would do for brunch. I had the vegetarian breakfast banh xeo — a thin, rice flour crepe, in this case topped with mushrooms, beansprouts, pickled onions, and fried eggs. I’ve had banh xeo a few times, and sometimes they can be greasy. Fortunately at Bricolage they do it right. They also offer a full cocktail program, which we tried as well. The best part was that at the end of the meal Chef Lien Lin bought us our meal. As I’ve mentioned before, many Vietnamese restaurants have token vegetarian options, if they have any at all. At Bricolage they have several options, and so far everything I’ve had was great.
Bricolage — 162 5th Ave
I first heard about Rangoon NoodleLab when the Vegan Shop-Up posted a photo on their Instagram account. I like Burmese food, but it’s hard to find here in NYC and it’s even harder to find vegetarian offerings when you can manage to find Burmese food. Rangoon NoodleLab, a pop-up Burmese food event currently happening weekly at The Bodega in Bushwick, solves both problems. They have a vegan dish on their menu: spicy glass noodles with Burmese yellow tofu, sometimes called shan tofu. Shan tofu is made with chickpeas or yellow split peas rather than soy beans, and it has a unique texture. It’s not quite grainy, but almost pudding-like. At Rangoon NoodleLab they toss the shan tofu with a bright and flavorful lime vinaigrette, making a nice counterpoint to the spicy glass noodles.
You can go to the Rangoon NoodleLab Facebook page to check their schedule and their most recent menu offerings.
Rangoon NoodleLab at The Bodega — 24 St Nicholas Ave