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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Meat Me at Mile End

This weekend Empanada Boy and I took my cousin Bagel with Lox out to lunch for his birthday at Mile End, the new Brooklyn hot spot. It’s a Montreal-Jewish-style deli. For those confused by this description, Montreal has a thriving Jewish community, which has a deli tradition similar to that of New York Jews— similar, mind you, but different in a few key ways. One of these is the bagels, which ares smaller, denser and sweeter (boiled in honey water) than New York-style ones. We didn’t try them, but Mile End has them flown in St. Viateur in Montreal. Another is the meat. Instead of pastrami, the Jews of Montreal have a traditional of smoked, fatty brisket. Needless to say, this is what we focused on. Mile End was featured alongside my beloved Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland in a New York Times article on the new wave of delis that are reviving traditional fare with a gourmet’s attention to quality, provenance and flavor. Like Kenny & Zuke’s it’s not kosher, but it sources, cures and smokes its meat as only a true artisan would.

Considering the Times article and the fact that it’s the hottest thing in town right now, it’s no surprise that we were told the wait for three would be a hour when we arrived at 12:30 pm on a Saturday. Luckily, they let EB leave his cell number, so we took the bus to Target and got some shopping in, making our way back just in time for our table to be ready and for Bagel WL to arrive from Long Island. We sat at one of the three booths with a simple wooden table that we shared with a couple who had taken the train from Manhattan. There is also a counter with stools and a takeout window that opens onto the street.

Bagel WL and I ordered the smoked meat platter, which comes with enough brisket and rye bread for two and leftovers, a steal at $13. (We did see two strapping fellows order a platter each.) We slathered the bread with spicy brown mustard laid on slices of meat and bit into some of the juiciest, most flavorful meat you’ll find. Thick layers of fat rimmed each piece, and a smoky crust exuded the oak over which it was smoked. EB ordered the poutine with smoked meat, pictured here. You may recall from my post on Corner Burger, poutine is a Quebecois tradition, involving French fries, cheese curds, gravy and whatever else the chef chooses to add. (See this New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin for more.) It was worlds better than what we had tried: fries were crispy; homemade mushroom gravy had real flavor; cheese curds from Silver Moon Creamery were snappy and smooth and that brisket added smoke, salt and fat. The meat here seemed drier and crustier than on the platter, but it was a component here, not the main act.

As we chowed down and sipped coffee (from Stumptown), cream soda and orange juice, we felt the richness of the fat begin to overwhelm us. We needed a vegetable to work into the rotation. Then it came to me: pickles! We ordered three excellent, crisp half-sours. Perhaps I should have ordered some coleslaw instead, though, as I found my mouth parched with salt for hours after this meal.

In short, Mile End was a force to be reckoned with and lived up to all expectations. I can’t say it replaces Kenny & Zuke’s, which offers pastrami, corned beef, tongue and chopped liver at this level, but I’d rather come back here than the famed Katz’s. It’s better and less expensive. Our whole meal at Mile End cost $31, while Katz’s charges $15 for a pastrami sandwich. This is artisanal food with the full weight of tradition behind it, and you just don’t get tired of eating that.

Mile End
97A Hoyt St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Mile End on Urbanspoon

Ping’s The Thing, But It’s No Pok Pok

Empanada Boy and I were in Portland for Passover the week before last. We had an amazing seder at my parents’ house, attended by a record 32 people, and complete with such delicacies as homemade gefilte fish (Auntie Pasti and Mushroom Maven’s handiwork), herbs from the garden for dipping in saltwater and just-laid hardboiled eggs. I made the main course—chicken with apricots and currants—and a side of roasted rosemary potatoes. The seder was fantastic, but even after putting on such a huge affair, Mango Mama still had all of us hanging around to feed. We ate at home a few other nights, but we also resorted to our Passover restaurant standby of Asian food. This only works if you are a Sephardic Jew (of Spanish or North African descent) and eat rice during Passover. Although we are technically Ashkenazic Jews (of Eastern European descent), I use the argument that I am distantly related to the great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides, who was a Sephardic Jew if there ever was one. Having allowed ourselves that liberty, Mango Mama, Daddy Salmon, Cerealla, EB, Flava Flav, her boyfriend Mr. Market and I all decided to pay a visit the one-year-old multi-Asian restaurant Ping. By multi-Asian, I don’t mean Asian fusion, but rather a menu composed of individual dishes originating from countries like Thailand, Indonesia, China, and Malaysia.

The restaurant is inside the building that for many years housed the unfortunately titled Chinese restaurant Hung Far Low. Mango Mama remembers going there as a kid. The owners of Ping, who also own the awesome Asian street food destination Pok Pok, bought the building, giving it a beautiful, modern, but historically referential, makeover. The restaurant has been lauded by local and national media, from The Oregonian to Alan Richman in GQ. In general, I liked the food here, but perhaps because we couldn’t try any of the noodle dishes or buns, I found it significantly less exciting than Pok Pok. There were simply fewer bursts of flavor nirvana. The Yam Yai Salad of lettuce boiled egg, prawns, chicken, bean sprouts, pickled garlic and peanut dressing was disappointingly generic for all of its super-powerful ingredients. That said, there were definitely dishes worthy of mention. The fish-ball skewers, pictured above, were nicely browned so as to taste savory and not at all fishy. But even better were the chicken liver skewers— tremblingly tender pieces of perfectly cooked chicken liver, rubbed with cilantro root, pepper, garlic and sweet soy and accompanied by a spicy Isaan dipping sauce. We ate these with servings of sticky rice and Jasmine rice. Thinly sliced duck breast was well cooked but not memorable.

Mr. Market is a vegetarian, so we ordered a couple meatless options for his benefit. As it turned out, the two vegetarian dishes were the best things we tasted that night. One was a simple skewer of roasted, grilled and halved red potatoes drizzled with a spicy mayonnaise. These were like French fries with a couple extra dimensions of intense flavor. The other vegetarian dish was one I never would have tried without Mr. Market’s inspiration because it was unappetizingly called a “carrot cake” on the menu. The quotes around the carrot cake were necessary because the dish was actually made with pieces of daikon radish cake, stir fried with eggs, bean sprouts and Kecap Manis, the Indonesian sweet soy sauce. As it turned out, this dish had it all— sweetness, earthiness, saltiness and umami. Here was a flash of those flavor epiphanies I’d had at Pok Pok.

We finished off the meal with an excellent ice cream sundae of sorts: three green scoops of pandanus (tropical plant with pineapple-shaped fruit) ice cream, coated in peanuts and chocolate and set atop a plate of sweet sticky rice. The cartoonish color, satisfying taste and utter lack of pretension in this dish helped me end my meal at Ping in excellent spirits. The food may not have blown me away this time, but it was good enough to prompt a return visit when the culinary restrictions of Passover aren’t in effect.

102 NW 4th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209

Ping on Urbanspoon

Gourmet, Unbound: April

Happy end of Passover, everyone! I’ve waited until now to post my Gourmet, Unbound update for this month in order to share a delicious, but decidedly non-pesadic (and highly unkosher) recipe with all of you. As the weather gets warmer, I’m already in the mood for lighter foods. That and a yearning for some starchy pasta prompted me to make Shrimp Scampi Pasta from the April 2006 issue for my monthly tribute to Gourmet magazine. This recipe has plenty of butter, but the simple sauce gets lightness from the acidity of white wine, garlic and a touch of red pepper flakes. Tender shrimp and fresh parsley complete the Spring touch. Best of all, this recipe takes only 20 minutes to make and tastes positively luxurious. Gone are the tomato-based meat sauces of winter! Here to stay are the lighter, fresher flavors of Spring!

Shrimp Scampi Pasta
Gourmet, April, 2006

1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp (raw; 20 to 25 per lb)
4 large garlic cloves, left unpeeled and forced through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 lb capellini (angel-hair pasta)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté shrimp, turning over once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes, and transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Add garlic to oil remaining in skillet along with red pepper flakes, wine, salt, and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add butter to skillet, stirring until melted, and stir in shrimp. Remove skillet from heat.

Cook pasta in boiling water until just tender, about 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander. Toss pasta well with shrimp mixture and parsley in large bowl, adding some of reserved cooking water if necessary to keep moist.

See my other Gourmet, Unbound posts:
March 2010, Chicken with Black Pepper Maple Sauce
February 2010, Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream
January 2010, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta
December 2009, Walnut Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze