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!
For some reason I expected Ferdinando’s Focacceria, an old school Sicilian joint hidden away near the Columbia Street Waterfront, to be empty when I went for a weekday lunch. It was packed, however, both with regulars and first-timers like me. Ferdinando’s is the kind of place where both groups are greeted warmly at the door, and served with a friendly smile. The food I had was pretty good — an artichoke stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs, and the panelle special (panelle are thin patties made of chickpea flour, here served on a roll with a heap of ricotta and a sprinkle of pecorino cheese — but oh my goodness, can we talk about the bread? Despite the name of the restaurant I didn’t have any focaccia (and actually didn’t see any on the menu) but I did have two other types of bread. Along with the artichoke came a small, crusty knob of warm bread, and it was AMAZING. Almost like the best baguette you ever had, only it wasn’t more than four inches long. And the roll the panelle was served on was soft, slightly crusty, very yeasty and delicious. I had to ask my server, do they make their own bread at Ferdinando’s? Of course they do. I’ve heard good things about their eggplant parm, I may have to go back for that — but to be honest, i’d go back just to buy a dozen rolls if they’d let me.
Ferdinando’s Focacceria — 151 Union St
Back in 1999, I spent five weeks in Israel. The food was incredible. I had the best falafel of my life in Tel Aviv, and I’ve yet to find any falafel here in NYC that rivals it. In Jerusalem I remember eating borekas, deep greasy deep-fried pockets of dough filled with intensely salty cheese. And I also remember a hard boiled egg and pickle sandwich I ate at a bus stop somewhere in the middle of the country. That’s right, I ate an egg sandwich at a bus stop in a foreign country. What can I say, it was the ’90s, we thought we would live forever. Anyway, it was a simple sandwich: slices of sour pickles and hard boiled egg on sliced bread. No dressing, mayo, nothing. And yet it was a fantastic sandwich, one I still remember fondly almost 15 years later.
Here’s how I make hard boiled eggs: I put eggs into a pot, cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover it. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for exactly 13 minutes. Then drain them and rinse them in cold water. I got this method from the internet, from a site which claims it is how Julia Child made hard boiled eggs. I have come across other sites claiming different methods for Mrs. Child, but this one works for me. Then it’s a simple matter of peeling the eggs, and slicing them. Slice some good, sour pickles into thin strips, and build your sandwich (I used rye this time, I don’t remember what bread I had in Israel). Obviously it’s an easy thing to make, and it’s not going to win you any blue ribbons at a cook-off, but it’s a great snack at any time of day.
It’s been over three years since I last visited Karloff, an Eastern European restaurant on Court St. I’ve always meant to go back, but somehow time kept on slipping… Anyway, back in September they tweeted at me about trying their kasha. Having grown up a descendent of Eastern European Jews I’m very familiar with kasha, but in case you don’t know kasha is buckwheat groats. What’s a groat? I had to look that up myself. According to Wikipedia, groats “are the hulled kernels of various cereal grains such as oat, wheat, and rye. Groats are whole grains that include the cereal germ and fiber-rich bran portion of the grain as well as the endosperm.” So there you go.
On a recent chilly November day I found myself craving Eastern European food but I didn’t want to go out to Brighton Beach. Karloff seemed like the natural alternative. I order the Farm Bowl, a combination of two things I was in the mood for: the above mentioned kasha (gluten free, if you care about such things) and their (vegan) kale and collard greens soup. The soup, a deep dark green color, was surprisingly light and fresh tasting. The kasha was flavored with herbs, and the chewy texture made a nice textural counterpoint to the soup. It was the ideal dish for the weather, both hearty and vibrant.
Karloff — 254 Court St
Until last week, the last time I ate at Glasserie was almost a year ago. My friend Molly was in town, and another friend got a whole group of us reservations at the chef’s table in the kitchen. It was a very good meal, though I never ended up blogging about it. About six months later it was announced that chef Sarah Kramer, whose cooking I’d enjoyed so much on my two visits to Glasserie, was parting ways with the restaurant. I don’t know that I was deliberately avoiding the restaurant after that, but it did feel almost like re-visiting the place would somehow be… disloyal. But I heard that the food was still really good there, so when my parents wanted to meet up for brunch last week I decided to give the new Glasserie a shot. I’m glad I did, because the meal was fantastic.
Glasserie serves a sort of modernized Middle Eastern/Israeli inspired cuisine, but I’m not sure where the inspiration for my dish came from — scrambled eggs with celery root, pine nuts, and mushrooms. The egs were perfectly cooked, soft and fluffy, and the celery root puree underneath lent an unexpected but wonderful sour sharpness to the dish. There was also a ring of fried dough, some crunchy mushrooms, a few pine nuts, and it was topped with an herb salad. It sounds like a crazy mix of flavors and textures, and I guess it was, but somehow they all worked together beautifully. The only element that felt out of place was a piece of raw carrot, for some reason mixed in with everything else, and which lent nothing to the dish. I also tried some of my mom’s meal — mushrooms, roasted until almost charred, on a puff pastry crust and topped with a fried egg. The intensity of the mushroom flavor was great. Even my dad, who is pretty hard to please, really enjoyed his lamb flatbread sandwich. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the era of Sarah Kramer, but it’s good to know that Glasserie is still putting out great food.
Glasserie — 95 Commercial St
I’m no stranger to Xi’an Famous Foods, the mini-empire of restaurants that helped usher in the idea of provincial Chinese cooking to NYC. I’ve visited their outposts in Queens, in Midtown, in the East Village… but until recently I had never been to the one here in Brooklyn. Part of the reason is that it’s way out in the middle of nowhere, on an industrial block of what real estate agents call “East Williamsburg.” I went for lunch a few weeks ago, and was surprised to find it was relatively crowded. There are only two or three tables inside the tiny space, which is apparently attached to the central kitchen that supplies all of their restaurants. They also had a few tables out on the sidewalk in front, which were all occupied. I ordered my two favorite dishes on their menu: liang pi cold skin noodles, and the tiger vegetable salad. The noodles were good, but on this visit it was the salad that really captured my attention. If yo don’t know what tiger vegetable salad is, it sounds awfully simple. It’s a salad composed mostly of cilantro leaves and stems, along with celery and scallions (and maybe a chili pepper or two). It’s the dressing that puts it over the top, though. It’s all about the bracingly sharp rice vinegar, rounded out by a little sesame oil. Somehow the combination of these simple ingredients becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Xi’an Famous Foods — 86 Beadel St
I love artichokes, and I’m a big fan of Allswell, in Williamsburg. So it should come as no surprise that I loved the marinated artcihoke sandwich that they serve at lunch at Allswell. It’s not just the artichokes; this is a seriously well-constructed, delicious sandwich. The bread has grill marks on it, but it’s not crusty and not served warm. The grill marks simply give a subtle smoky and caramelized flavor to the soft bread. The artichokes themselves are perfectly cooked, soft but with a little tart bite to the them. They are offset by a sweet tomato jam, sharp provolone cheese, and fresh arugula. As much as I loved the artichokes on their own as they fell out of the sandwich, I actually preferred eating all of the ingredients together. It’s a testament to how perfectly balanced all of those ingredients are, and how important that balance is when conceiving a dish. Even one as simple as a sandwich.
Allswell — 124 Bedford Ave