Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Road Trip 2010- Day Two

Father’s Day Brunch in Chinatown, San Francisco

Dim Sum

The question of the morning: Should we go to the place with the best food or should we go for the most genuine 'Dim Sum' experience?

Only time would tell. We read reviews and blogs online about various places- most of which were not in Chinatown- but we wanted to be in the magic of Chinatown.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in America and has many nostalgic remnants. Along with its Maltese Falcon, Dirty Harry, Fire of ’06 and Barbary Coast romanticism, San Francisco has a love affair with its old Chinatown.

I love it, and wanted my sons to experience it through my old Charlie Chan experienced eyes.

After pondering the validity of the internet reviews we decided upon a place call Hang Ah Dim Sum and Tea Room. It opened in 1920 and, according to the many spirited readers in Chow Hound, was the most was “authentic” of the Chinatown Dim Sum houses.
Okay- Hang Ah Dim Sum here we come!

Oh-no-- we were still on East Coast time and we arrived early-- 9 in the morning! I know Dim Sum is a brunch of sorts, but nobody opened until 10 and, as we discovered later, nobody really started rocking until noon. We left the Hilton with our bags and trekked the 10 steep blocks or so from O’Farrel up to to California Street.

Hang Ah is on Pagoda Place, up a steep hill and down and alley next to Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Park- what looks like a great place for babysitting kids during the day and fending off junkies at night.. When we arrived the door was wide open but the joint was dark, like a church an hour or so before mass.

There were a few middle aged Chinese men unloading a truck with bags of mungsprouts, some frozen dumplings in clear bags and other brown bags sprouting greens and other vegetation. Here come the provisions. We looked around and decided to walk around for an hour or so until they opened.

We went back down the steep, steep hill and explored the tea and ginseng shops- heady with aromas alien to my sons, but somehow familiar to my 1970s brain.

Terry led us into a real over the top, tacky gift store where I bought my wife a $12 silk kimono---she always looks killer in a kimono-- and my daughter Sidni an 'Alcatraz, Home Sweet Home' magnet.

As I was paying the vendor asked me in almost cliché broken English if Willis and Terry were my sons. He darted his eyes left and right and then secretly showed me a hand ful of fireworks and asked, “M-80 and cherry bomb for boys? They are real thing!” Really! Just for laughs
I bought a couple of packs of salutes and he discreetly wrapped them in Chinese newspaper- Awesome!

Later, we found a 'seafood house' that had bins of American and Imported Shark FIn.
When I tried to take a photo, the middle-aged Chinese woman abruptly chirped “No Picture”. What did she think that I was with PETA or something? I just wanted a little souvenir picture...

Around 9:50 we found ourselves back in the alley. The door was still open, the lights were still off.

Hang Ah is a place that is so square it is hip- so old it is new. The entrance hall has dirty black and white, almost faded sepia photos of Chinatown days past.. They are not there to be retro, they just haven't been changed. There was a collection of 'Miss Chinatown USA' candidates from 1958 along with a 1963 Chinatown Chamber of Commerce poster. Wow!

The weird feeling of the place, the silence. It was like being alone in the home of someone you barely know, and it made us wary. We decided we'd forgo the best food and go for the most genuine Dim Sum experience after all.

We left with a commitment to return later.

On Washington there was a place that looked busier...

That felt better. It was called 'New King Tin.' It was pretty dingy inside and made us wonder about the Old King Tin... It had a glossy Hong Kong BBQ window complete with a whole hanging shiny, seductive and sexy suckling pig, ducks, geese, and cuttle fish.

We were seated at a four top in the middle of the small dining room. There were maybe 12 tables, tops. There was not enough room to roll around carts, which was a slight and collective let down. But since we were starving by this time we ordered a few items from he waitress who had a single, stationary cart right next to our table.

It was only a semi-Dim Sum place -- but onward we ventured.

We ordered-

1. Shrimp Shumai - Shumai were big and puffy, obviously from frozen. They felt sort of fake and not great. They would have been a bit offensive if we were not so hungry!

2. Pork Buns - These were sweet on the outside, almost like a dessert pastry filled with red yeast rice glazed pork. It was so sweet that Terry took one bite and passed- This from the boy who, at the age of two, at my mother’s on Christmas was found hiding under the dining room table with the candy bowl full of mini krackle, Three Musketeers and Mr. Goodbars. By the time we found him the bowl was mostly crinkled, empty wrappers and he was gorged, greasy and glassy eyed. He likes sweets to a fault--and he rejected the pork buns.

3. Tofu Skin Bundles - Filled with shrimp and veggies, these had a nice, soft texture, nice aroma- but they needed the hot chile sambal to get them on their feet. I like the texture of tofu skin when it is suspended in steam for a few hours. Sort of like soft, white, boiled chicken skin, which I love unreasonably and try to resist pulling from the backs when we strain the chicken stock pots at New World.

4. Chicken Feet - These rocked! Maybe even the best I’ve had--perfectly glazed, redolent of barnyard and bean paste -sweet and musky. They were cooked perfectly and garnished with a slice of fresh jalapeno. Willie was enthralled by the succulent pad of the foot. They came four to an order and we had to order a second serving.

Next we skirted the Dim Sum offerings and went for the big stuff. I ordered a plate of suckling pig and one of BBQ octopus, which was actually cuttlefish.

The pork was as perfect as it looked in the window. The skin made such a beautiful crackling sound when crushed between my molars that I deliberately chewed with my mouth open to savor the sound. The flesh was chopped into perfectly moist and savory cubes. I’ll take a good Hong Kong BBQ sucking pig over Peking Duck any day, as long as it’s done right. This was done right!

The cuttlefish was only ok--it was nicely lacquered with the soybean paste-sugar glaze but the texture needed work.

The white body slices were pretty chewy. I like chewy cuttlefish but this missed the mark. The face cavity and the tentacles were much better and sort of popped when chewed.

With a table full of empty plates, we opted to move on and search for greener pastures. We would find the Dim Sum motherload.

Next Stop, Dim Sum Action.

We went down two doors to another monstrosity of a place called 'The Hong Kong.' When we entered the foyer there was a waiter with a Dim Sum cart waiting for an elevator. I asked him if they served Dim Sum and he pointed to a sign that said 'Dim Sum, 3rd Floor.' He got into the small service elevator and the doors closed behind him.

With anticipation we climbed the smelly carpeted stairs. As we passed the 2nd floor we looked into a doorway and saw that there was a self defense class taking place. Scary.

We got to the top floor and it was a big, out of date banquet room with 72-inch round tables with pink polyester tablecloths and absolutely nobody there. A woman shouted, "Table for 3?!" and we almost sprinted down the stairs.

We wanted the experience! This was just not happening!

But, eventually, we found the experience we were hoping for the old fashioned way.

We wandered around for another twenty minutes or so, slowly tiring and getting ready to try the Hang Ah again.

Thankfully, Terry has no self control.

He just couldn’t resist the Ninja stores and entered a big one with conviction. While he was admiring, and buying some cheesy tin Ninja stars, I asked the shopkeeper where I could find some real Dim Sum action. She directed us well.

The place was right around the corner actually- on Jackson.

The place was called 'Great Eastern' and it was almost exactly we'd been looking for. The place had two floors, had fish tanks set in the wall with dancing prawns, crabs and beautifully fresh looking catfish and best of all, tons of Chinese people, smiling, chatting and eating! The first thing I fell in love with was two little sisters dining with Dad - digging chicken feet!

The only tricky thing about 'Great Eastern' was that there was no cart service. You actually ordered your Dim Sum off of a checklist menu with an accompanying picture menu. I'd never experienced Dim Sum without carts. How did this work? Would it suck? C’mon--just hook me up already!

Okay, it was kind of weird, but guess what - It worked out great!

Here's what we ate:

1. Steamed Fish Ball with Veggies - These were the best I've had. They had a distinct flavor of leeks and cabbage. An order consisted of three bals- each about the size of a golf ball

2. Steamed Tripe in Broth - This was awesome! It wasn't honeycomb tripe but the much milder smooth tripe from the first stomach. It was tender and not the least bit gamey. We loved it.

3. Deep Fried Crab Claw in Shrimp Paste - These were also golfball sized shrimp fritters coated with panko. To set them apart, each had a dungeness crab claw sticking out. It was served with kewpie mayonnaise to which we added some chile sambal. Nice, simple fried seafood cake experience.

At this point we noticed that something interesting was being served to the table text to us. I called over the waiter and asked him to bring us an order of whatever they were. He shrugged and returned in what felt like 15 seconds with a small plate loaded with chilled, glistening beauties - Soy Sauce Duck Tongue!

They were ice cold and the size of golf tees, with a small bone extending about a quarter of the way into the root. They were FABULOUS cold! They reminded me of the tongue served in a Jewish Deli- except they were little, and they were served on a bed of boiled, soy sauce soaked peanuts. Wow!


Pork Feet with Jellyfish - This is the kind of dish that I mess around with in my kitchen but nobody ever buys. The pig feet were deboned, rolled and braised, sliced like a roulade and served cold. They were topped with a nice hairdo of shredded and marinated jellyfish- served cold. The jellyfish was almost like rubbery noodles. The flavor of jellyfish reminds me of pork anyway and in this dish, it paired perfectly with the briny foot roll.

One disappointment?

Deep Fried Pumpkin with Egg Yolk Ball - This was "a wee bit not happening," as my son said. The ball was panko crusted but hollow and chewy, as if made from taro to resemble a breaded hand ball. The yolk in he center was over-cooked, not hard cooked, but pasty, too cooked to be delicious. Dud, we all agreed.

For Dessert? Turtle Shell Jello, of course!

Huh? Yes- this is a classic Gui Lin Gao--where turtle shell is boiled for hours to release its intense gelatins. It is then cooked with rock sugar. This is very weird, but worth a try once if you think you’d like RC COLA jello...

At this point we were stuffed---Dim Sum was a success!


Wine Country Cheap Eats...

Road Trip 2010- Day One

Off We Go!!

Saturday, June 19th Afternoon...

Up at 4:30 for a 7 am flight from JFK. No breakfast.

Virgin Atlantic had a few in flight offerings that sounded like they might not suck.
I ate cheese and fruit on the plane. One slice of dried pear, one half black mission fig, three small cheese pieces, Gouda, Swiss, Cheddar?

We arrived in San Francisco at 10:30 Pacific time--1:30 eastern time. It was time for lunch. We were sort of starving- After checking into the Union Square HIlton we stopped at the first Mexican place we found. Though it was only fair to decent food, the Mexican in California is way better then anything in NY. I ordered a Wet Burrito with green chile pork carnitas, smothered in red chile sauce. The boys both ordered Dry Burritos with green chiles and pork. Though 3000 miles away, the Mexican food made me feel at home! OK!

We took a trolley toward the waterfront. I wanted to do a tourist day at Fisherman's wharf with the boys, so we hopped off at Ferry Building Market. The local farmer's market was just ending but the food was still represented well inside.

A dozen oysters and a couple of beers, and we were ready to rock.

Next we perused the market stalls. We weren't sure what to expect but soon we were giddy! It was a fantasy of local Sonoma and Northern Cal food geniuses giving out samples.

We did some tastings. First was the salty pork stand!

How about a Locally made, organic, grassfed, pristine, Alice Waters approved a Salume Cone?

The most gorgeous collection of real mushrooms I have ever seen in one place!

Check out the boys nibbling a bag of black and white truffle popcorn?

To come--Dim Sum Sunday, Wine Country Mexican, Sonoma's worst meal and more...

Road Trip 2010- The Leadup

Road Trip 2010

This trip has been in the works for years.

I promised to myself that I would take my sons on a foodie trip before they were too old to do it and, at long last, here it is!

Let me fill you in on how the hell this madness came to be.

When I was a kid, I did a little road tripping with a couple of bands from New England. Our travels were all East of the Mississippi. Being an innate experimenter, I was always the one in the group who had to try the scrapple and grits and eggs, though I wasn’t a even considering becoming a chef yet. I cooked for a day job, but I wasn’t “in the life” as I am and have been since say about 1988, when I got my first chef job in earnest at Yates Street in Albany. I always did love to travel and eat the food of the people. That, afterall, is where the idea of New World Home Cooking came about. Eating people’s food, American immigrants food turns me on. It connects me. If you really want to make a bond with a culture, eat with them and eat it all. Don’t skimp on the guts, hot peppers or other smelly things. You will never be trusted by anyone until you eat and enjoy the foods they love.

In 2006, New World Home Cooking won a Sante restaurant award. I was very proud and excited. The awards ceremony and celebration was in Napa, California. I had never been there so I decided to attend. It was a great way to discover wine country with 50 of my peers.

When it was done, I made a cool decision:

Instead of flying back from San Francisco or Sacramento like everyone else, I chose to drive, alone, via Monterey, Central Valley and Paso Robles to LA. I had to pick up my daughter Sidni. She was finishing make up school in LA and needed to get her self, her Ford Focus and all of her stuff (boxes of makeup, craft supplies, finished and unfinished art, records, CDs, tapes, books, magazines, kitchen gear, clothes, material for clothes, patterns for clothe and whatever other memorabilia she was collecting) back home to NY. So I timed it right. We drove cross country back together, crammed in her little car with all of her shit.

It was a great ride and a sweet bonding time for both of us though the ride was delayed and extended. Our drive was riddled by the winds of Santa Ana and historic high desert ice storms that closed the interstates from New Mexico to Kansas periodically for a week. We drove right into it. Ice storms from hell. When highway 40 and 45 closed without notice, we were stuck in nowhere towns where all we had to eat was either fast food or Walmart bran muffins. It was an ironic turn of events. Me, Mr. New World, people’s food foodie eating Wendy’s baked potatoes in New Mexico. Talk about the Irony of Ironies. We did have a few memorable foodie experiences on that trip, like same amazingly porky tamales in Los Cruces and a way cool squash blossom pizza in Santa Fe, but not enough for me. Sidni is highly allergic to nuts AND is vegan so there were, shall we say, limitations to our road food experimentations. I needed more.
Another trip like this was in order. I had to do it again.

Now to Fall 2008. My life to that point had been a challenge. Owning a seasonal restaurant could be hellish in Winter, but it was relatively straight forward. We were wildly busy in Summer, tapered off in Fall and dwindled to a trickle in Winter only to build back up in Spring, and to be back rocking every Summer. It was hard and tricky, but predictable. Almost automatic. I was rich by September and broke by March, but Summer always got us back to a good place.

But by 2008, things began to change.

Woodstock began to change.

Other small towns with decaying industrial architecture were rebuilding and attracting artsy NY visitors- the ones that Woodstock has had by the balls since the late 80s. Our market was thinning. By 2006 our business had plateaued and my projections for 2007 were a small decrease. I am a realist and the writing was on the wall. The yuppies were aging, the bubble was stretching to the busting point, and the Hudson Valley was getting overbuilt in relation to the number of visitors it was attracting.

In Winter 2007 I made a bold move. I was confident enough in New World’s ability to run like a machine and I needed extra income, so I took a consulting gig with HITS, an equestrian horse show company based in Saugerties. I was to design the VIP dining program for their Desert Circuit Site in Thermal, California. I planned organic and green breakfast and lunch menus for the stable owners, sponsors and riders. I had to be in the California desert for almost three months.

The pay was enough for me to take it on, as any cash flow was needed more than ever.
From January through March 2008, I was living and working in Indio, in the California desert. My job was hard, but routine. I worked from 5:30 in the morning til about 4 in the afternon, Wednesday through Sunday with a few morning hours of ordering and menu planning on Monday and Tuesday. I had Monday and Tuesday afternoons and every night of the week free. I began to drive around and explore the desert alone.

From 29 Palms to the Salton Sea, I cruised in my rented Ford Focus, and I fell in love with the desert. The beautiful date palms jutting out of the sandy gray, dead landscape. The cantinas and taquerias, the perpetual flowers, the jutting fresh, young, amber mountains. All of these things touched my Sicilian genes. I couldn’t get enough of the the Summer smell of the air, the streaky “chem trail” clouds, the Mexican everything. It was way cool and mystical to me-but all the while I sorely missed my family and my wife Liz especially.

So when my one week break came up in mid February, instead of coming home, I lured Liz to spend a week with me in California. We did “the ride” - the same one I did the year before, but backwards. We drove from LA all the way to wine country. We hung out in Frisco, stayed at Les Petit Maisons in Sonoma, visited with Benziger, explored Napa, cruised to Monterey. We took Highway 1 down the coast through Carmel and Big Sur, across the 46 through the wineries in Paso Robles and down the 5 through Bakersfield and back to LA. We both fell in love with the California landscape. It was a hard Winter that year but the consulting fee and and the week with Liz in Cali made it feel better.

Then things changed. By September 2008 the party was over. The Hudson Valley economy went into a free fall. From 300% real estate value increase (inflation) after 9/11 to Fall 2008 when it was dead, nada, bust. The Hudson Valley economy, and especially the Woodstock economy, tanked so hard that the yuppies were selling their 2nd homes and day trippers were staying home or going elsewhere less expensive. Hudson, Beacon, Catskill- most places were better deals than Woodstock. .

Woodstock was in the shit. New World Home Cooking, (though in Saugerties we are a Woodstock institution) was in the shit. Instead of working to make money, we were working just to survive.

It came to this---Liz and I were looking for “side jobs” to keep afloat.

Then all turned to a new direction. New World Bistro Bar in Albany was in its conception stage. Scott Meyer, co-owner of the Spectrum had approached me a couple of years earlier about partnering up on the space he was developing but I was too busy and too focused on Saugerties New World, HITS and working on a new book. I didn’t want to stretch it too hard. Howeverm after the economic free fall of 08, I had to make a change. The time seemed right. Saugteries (woodstock) was slow as molasses in January and the small market, small business audience that I developed over 15 years was flummoxed, angry, depressed and frankly depressing. When your base is clutching their collective guts, worrying about day to day existence, culinary fireworks are no longer mportant.
I needed a change. I needed not just a second income but a reason to be. Cheffing for me is a performance art and without new fans, the show gets old. Change was in the wind.
I took the plunge in October 2008 and my relationship with Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes went from a nice social relationship to a business marriage. The up and coming New Word Bistro Bar was in the works. I committed to a deal that had me working 24-7 on the Bistro Bar from November 2008 in development through March 2009 opening (while still doing three nights at NWHC) and through the first three operating months. It then shifted to 10-12 days a month or essentially 3 days a week, where it is now.
By April 2009, New World Bistro bar was up and running to rave reviews and brisk, profitable business. My soul was saved, revived and energized.
For the last year, I have been working 6-7 days a week--every morning from 9-11 and three nights a week nurturing New World Saugerties back to health and three afternoons and nights a week pushing the Bistro Bar as hard as i could.
Though I was working as hard as I ever had, by winter of 2010 I was back at the top of my game . Liz got a great lawyer job and is bringing in an income and the Bistro Bar is giving me an income. This allowed us to save Saugerties. The Saugteries business numbers certainly aren’t were they were in the glory days of 2001-2007, but they’re stabilized and that’s enough to create optimism. Without having to live off the business, I’m able to work the expenses and the menu and the payroll and get us back on the track to black.
I also did some neat stuff for Food TV, making a little chunk of much needed cash.
It was that TV cash combined with the success of New World Bistro Bar and the recovery, almost renaissance of New World Home Cooking that led me to this decision that this is the time to take my boys on “The ride”. They LOVE me and my food and love sharing it. Willis has been to Africa twice and like me, loves to travel and falls in love with new experiences like a fool. Terry is still living home and hasn’t experienced much travel. This is a opportunity for the three of us to create a common memory that rocks. As the kids age, they create their own life. Our common experiences are less frequent and usually revolve around shit like holiday visits and family deaths.
This will make a good one I hope. Maybe the best.
I am out of my mind happy about this! We deserve it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Meals Day 1- Saturday June 19th
Virgin Airlines from JFK to SF - Cheese and fruit on the plane --
Arrive in SF Union Square Hilton by 2 PM Starving- Mexicanos Lunch- BIG Wet Burrito for me, Dry Burritos for boys ( i like to eat with a fork!) all with with green chile pork carnitas. It;s nice to e in the west coast--any Mexican is way better then anything in NY.
Trolley car to the Waterfront
Then Ferry Market!
Lil Locavore tastings time!
Hog Island Oyster Co.
Little Skookies and Komomutos with Anchor Steam
Tastings of flavored Sonoma Flvored Olive oils
Awesome truffle popcorn, cured pork “cone” from Incanto- homemade Mortadella, sopprasata and salami-- way good salume!

Had to do the tourist Cioppinoi Dinner at Nick’s on Fishermans wharf.
Terry picked it out--he liked the "original" vibe and decor. It was totally time warp seafront continental dive style.
Crab steamers out front,
Horrible chowder--see pictures
Cioppino and sand dabs actually, surprisingly good--or at leat well cooked. Old school but fresh. Thanks!

Hudson Valley Garlic Festival Recipes for 2019

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