Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The year of the meatball

I'm adding The Meatball Shop in New York to my to do list and here's why: the build your own meatball dinner. I happen to love all meatballs regardless of size and ethnic origin, so a place that stars different flavors of meatballs partnered with my choice of sauce and carb is not just a restaurant, it's a place of worship.

I have no meatball heritage. Unlike my Italian friends, I didn't have a Nonna with a secret recipe; I had Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-O's and meatballs, the word "meat" here a loose interpretation of its usual meaning, that which comes from a farm animal. Despite this, I have an undeniable emotional attachment, Nonna or no.

The Meatball Shop is a cool little nook on the lower east side. And even though the menu is "build your own," the food looks to be a caliber above that. There are meat options (beef, spicy pork, chicken, and a weekly special, which on one occasion included chopped liver and matzoh meal - the Passover version), a variety of gravies, and a handful of interesting carborific sides. The thin slice of bubbly focaccia is a nice, nice touch.

Conventional wisdom might tell you to choose the beef meatballs with classic tomato sauce and rigatoni, but I would find it especially difficult to turn my back on chicken meatballs with parmesan cream and mashed potatoes, especially at 2 AM, after a night of carousing. The laundry list of green vegetables, from the daily roasted offering to the daily greens, might just assuage my guilt over the parmesan cream. Then again, it might not.

A few of the sides at The Meatball Shop.

If a big plate of meat and carbs doesn't do it for you, they also have sliders (a single meatball of your choice on a cute bun), a hero on a baguette (pork with mushroom sauce and provolone sounds good right about now), or a meatball smash, which is a gimmicky name for a two meatball sub on a brioche bun.

A meatball hero. Love the greens.

Everything from cupcakes to burgers to pizza have had their 15 minutes. Isn't it time we elevate the meatball? I'm thinking a week-long feature on Good Morning America, and a White House photo op where Obama has the prudent chicken meatballs with the sauce on the side and an arugula salad, while Joe Biden proves once again he'll take one for his country by ordering spicy pork meatballs with buttery mashed potatoes and an extra large ladle of spicy meat sauce. Oh, and the bromo? Make that to go.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Playing catch-up

I've been really lax about writing lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thoroughly immersed in the wonderful world of food. In the past several weeks,

I ate a bunch of conch in Florida. As it turns out, raw conch bears a very strong resemblance to boogers. I guess I'm not really surprised. I wonder what would happen if you cooked boogers. Would they turn opaque and chewy, like conch? Food for thought.

I also engaged in a cupcake taste-off with the cupcakes at More in Chicago. Sorry, I'm just not that into them. Art direction-wise, they're lovely. But the flavor is eh. My family and I sat down one night and through a highly scientific scoring system, elected a winner. Cupcakes could garner a score of 1 through 4. Individual comments ranged from "I heart chocolate!" to "This one blows." What can I say? We're simpletons. Only one, the Valrhona, a chocolate-glazed chocolate cupcake with chocolate mousse filling, scored marginally above a 3. We also tried the Cookies and Cream (conceptually interesting with crushed chocolate cookie on the bottom, but the frosting was overwrought and greasy), the Salted Caramel (caramel was good, cake was dry), and the Chocolate Chocolate (bland chocolate frosting - what a travesty). I'm sticking with Sweet Mandy B's.

And if you read this blog, you know I made desserts for 60 the other weekend. Here's what I learned:

I'm too old for this.

Caramel is really fucking hot.

And finally, when the cheesecake falls out of the pan and on to the counter the morning of the party, do not panic. Casually run to the store as soon as it opens, buy the ingredients all over again (you can panic a little when you think you can't find the mascarpone), and then break a Patrick Ewing-like sweat as you shift into hyper baking speed, hoping to God that the new, improved cheesecake sets by 4 PM so you can cut it into 60 neat pieces and then caramelize them with your rickety 20 year-old propane torch. It'll work out just fine.

I also set out to eat a Blimpy Burger at the eponymous restaurant in Ann Arbor this past weekend, but went for Mongolian barbecue instead. bd's Mongolian Grill was like a giant stir-fry frat party, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially after a football game. The griddlemen tended my Asian vegetables while they sang along to the restaurant's soundtrack like a group of drunken sailors/engineering majors. They all agreed that Sowing the Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears was completely lame, but sang it anyway. Next time, a few drinking games might be in order. It's just that kind of place.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Back in the saddle again, part 1

Those French, they have a different word for everything. - Steve Martin

In this case, the word is mignardise. Tiny tasty things served at the end of a meal. This week, I'm making Asian-inspired mignardise for an event at an art gallery. After exactly zero seconds of contemplation, I jumped at it. Why torture yourself with self-doubt? How hard can it be? The menu is as follows:

Roasted pineapple financier
Chocolate marquise
Ginger plum cheesecake
Green tea shortbreads

At the top of my grocery list is 5 Hour Energy Drink. I'm not young anymore, and these things have a way of making you curl up in a corner and cry because you've just gotten your ass kicked by a bunch of petit fours.

Besides, anyone who's worked an event knows that events are fraught with mishaps. The first event I ever did was a grand, multi-day gig at a fancy hotel in Maui. It involved making desserts for three different meals over the course of three days in an enormous, unfamiliar hotel kitchen. It also involved making ice cream for 150 as part of the first night's dessert. If anything can kick your ass and make you feel like a complete moron, it's ice cream. But making it isn't the issue. Serving it is.

When it came time for dessert, my chef asked me if the ice cream was broken down. I had no idea what he was talking about, and when he realized I had no idea what he was talking about, the look in his eyes was panic of an order I had never seen.

"You didn't break down the ice cream?" he shrieked.

Breaking down the ice cream is softening it and then dividing it up into three or four containers so that several people can scoop it at one time. If only one person scooped from a giant tub, it would take 2 hours to serve 150 people.

At the time, I didn't know this. Now, I do. It took two large polynesian cooks to whittle away at the huge block of super frozen ice cream. I think they used machetes.

I moved on, thinking how many moments of stupidity can one person have during a three-day event on Maui? But the next night, when it was time to unmold the pineapple financiers for 150 (yes, the same thing I'm making this weekend, only a mini version), those sadistic little almond cakes refused to come out of their molds in one piece. I tried paring knives, tiny offset spatulas, a scalpel. I was terrified. I imagined myself bringing the trays of shredded little financiers to the chef and pleading, Please don't throw a sheet pan at me, an act of pastry retribution by many pastry chefs, mostly French.

It took me over an hour to get them out, just in time for dessert service. A few of them looked like they had been in a dog fight. But the great thing about dessert is that it comes last, after many glasses of wine. No one noticed.

So here I am, anticipating any mishaps, hedging my bets, making my grocery list. Like Tiger Woods, I feel confident. I feel like I'm going to win this one. I'll keep you posted.