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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Café Cortadito y Muy Rico

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not a big fan of going out to brunch. It costs too much; the lines are too long; and most of the food available could be made at home without much effort. But when you have to go to brunch, you have to go to brunch. When those times arise, I like to find places that defy my list of brunch negatives. One such place is Café Cortadito, a Cuban restaurant on the Lower East Side. I did a search for good downtown brunches, and the name came up. At $11.95 per person the price was right, at least relative to the rest of the overpriced New York brunches. So Empanada Boy and I arranged to meet our friends Baconhater and Halo-Halo there before they left the city to return to Cambridge.

Baconhater and Halo-Halo arrived before we did, and just to be sneaky, they sent me a text saying the lines were out the door. When we arrived at the pleasant, airy little cafe, they were seated at one of two populated tables drinking cafe con leche. We ordered some coffee, sangria and tropical fruit juice mimosas and got down to the business of ordering. While we waited for our food, the server brought excellent buttered toast triangles, which would later serve as the perfect egg-yolk mops.

Café Cortadito has about ten items on its brunch menu, all of which looked appealing in some way. EB ended up ordering Holguin: poached eggs over seared ham atop a croissant, finished with Creole sauce. This was the Cuban take on the breakfast sandwich, and it was a tasty take indeed. When punctured, the eggs ran over the whole thing and made it necessary to eat with a fork and knife. Halo-Halo ordered a delicious Cuban omelet made with potatoes and embedded with smoky, salty bits of chorizo. A piece of seared ham and two sausages balanced out the meat to potatoes ratio.

Baconhater got an exquisite dish called Camaguey. Made with fresh mango and papaya (both a little too green), plantain chips and grilled shrimp, the dish was colorful and light as a breath of tropical spring air. The shrimp was nicely cooked, but the downsides were the under-ripe fruit and the lack of sauce or cohesive seasoning over the dish. If even one of the fruits had been riper and more succulent, this dish would have been more successful. Camaguey had all the pieces, but didn’t live up to its potential.

My dish was Mazorca de Maiz Dulce Estilo Cortadito. A mouthful, both in name and in essence, it consisted of two fried eggs alongside sweet corn on the cob and a small green salad. The dish was simple and tasty, with corn that was actually sweet and perfectly fried eggs, but I would have appreciated a stronger sauce or some spices to jazz it up. The ingredients in my dish may have been a little too simple to justify the $11.95, no matter how cheap the restaurant was relative to its brunch neighbors. All in all, though, Café Cortadito fit my criteria for a worthy brunch place: The food was mostly flavorful and different from anything I would typically make at home. Which is not to say I couldn’t replicate these dishes— I’ll be working on my potato-chorizo omelet the next time I want something new to make for brunch at home.

Café Cortadito
210 E. 3rd St.
New York, NY 10009
212.614.3080

Cafe Cortadito on Urbanspoon

La Boqueria de Barcelona

More than month after returning from Barcelona, I am still dreaming of some of the food we ate there. I am finally getting down to recounting it for you here. We took the bus overnight from Madrid and arrived in Barcelona at about 9 am. Our hotel, the Pension Noya was another simple affair, but the location— on the Rambla adjacent to the Plaza de Catalunya—was unbeatable. We had our own balcony that looked out over all the hustle and bustle. Most importantly, we were also within quick walking distance of the open-air Mercat de Sant Josep, also known as the Boqueria. This was undoubtedly the single culinary location that figured most prominently in our trip to Barcelona and Spain as a whole.

The Boqueria is the most sumptuous city market I have ever visited, while also being one of the most utilitarian. The market is ogled by tourists and relied on by actual citizens looking for the freshest meat and fish, the most flavorful produce and the best baked goods. Some of the most tasty tapas can also be found there, thanks in large part to the fact that many are simply made from the market’s ingredients. After checking in at our pension and changing our clothes we stopped by the market for some breakfast at Forn de Betlem Pa I Patisseria the excellent bakery inside. The displays there are piled high with crusty baguettes, chorizo-laden bocadillos and beautiful pastries. We had two out of three breakfasts here and between us tried a chocolate-coated croissant (called a Magdalena), a wonderfully delicate apple cake, an ensaimada and a chocolate filled croissant. (I’ll bet you can guess which two items Empanada Boy ordered.) Both times we got cafe con leche from one of the bars and then stood somewhere out of the fray to chow down.

We spent some time walking around the city and checking out the architecture and then decided to go back to the Boqueria’s Kiosko Universal for lunch; we had seen people eating some exquisite looking seafood and just couldn’t stay away. We ordered a plate of almejas, small clams from Galicia. These were simply prepared, cooked in olive oil with some minced parsley, but they were so incredibly fresh and tender that eating them was like eating candy. We popped them into our mouths and savored every bite. We also ordered a plate of calamares a la plancha, grilled squid cooked in their full tubular shape. They were pinkish, tender and delicious, served with crispy, salty fries. A glass of cava and a caña (Spanish name for a small glass of beer) made the perfect accompaniment.

EB was in the fresh seafood zone, so that night we decided to try one of the restaurants in La Barceloneta, the city’s beachside neighborhood. We read about Can Ros in the ancient version of Time Out Barcelona we brought along with us. It was described as fresh seafood at a good price. As it turned out, the price was fine, but nearly everything on the the mixed seafood platter we ordered (prawns, langostines, hake, squid and mussels) was overcooked and underseasoned. To top it off, the wine we ordered—a still blend made from the varietals used in cava— was corked. Our waiter brought us a new bottle, but we didn’t dare request a new seafood platter. In hindsight, this place was a little too beachside touristy and should have aroused suspicion.

We planned to go to Montjuic, the hilltop park area of the city that houses the Olympic grounds and multiple museums. We knew weren’t going to be near many great restaurants, so we stopped at the Boqueria that morning to buy some provisions for a picnic. That meant a visit to the bakery for a small baguette, a stop at a canned goods station to buy roasted red peppers, another stop at a produce stand for some pretty little tomatoes and a visit to the gummy booth, which boasted a huge array of brightly colored gummy chew candies in every shape and size. Most importantly, we went to cheese and ham booth where the proprietress helped us pick a worthy Catalonian goat cheese and some very high quality jamón serrano de bellota (acorn-fed).

EB and I ate our picnic in a small gated park near the Olympic stadium. The jamón was the best we had tried since our arrival in Spain. Nutty and rich, it melted in our mouths. We ate it alone, as the woman who sold it to us instructed, and made little sandwiches with our bread, cheese, tomato and red pepper. It was a fantastic meal. The flavors reminded me of the lunches I had while hiking in the Picos de Europa during my first visit to Spain in high school. It was those flavors that made me fall in love with the country.

For dinner that night, we tried to go to Bar Inopia, the highly touted tapas bar owned by Albert Adrià, the brother of molecular-gastronomy master Ferran Adrià. When we arrived at the typical Spanish hour of 10 pm, the line was already so long that the host knew he wouldn’t be able to seat us. He told us to come back early the next day. So we trekked over to Taverna El Glop, restaurant Auntie Pasti had recommended. The restaurant specializes in grilled meats. Not knowing which was the best, we opted for a meat sampler, which came with chicken, sausage, beef, pork loin and potatoes. We also ordered a plate of snails cooked a la llauna, in wine, garlic, olive oil and parsley. The meat was unremarkable and overly salty, but the beef and sausage exceeded the leaner chicken and pork, both of which were dry. The snails were very different from the French-style (removed from their shells and cooked in a rich mixture of parsley, butter, garlic and Pernod). These were also doused in fat, but we had to extract each of the little curlicues from their shells with tiny forks. Once we got over our initial squeamishness, we started to enjoy their slight chew and rich flavor. Also worth noting was the Gandesa wine we drank. It’s a strong, almost fortified-tasting wine typical of Catalunya. We paid only 2.50 euros for half a liter! (I don’t know how much more I could drink, but it definitely started to grow on me.)

We went to the beach the next day so EB could dip his feet in the Mediterranean. We had a tour of the Palau de la Musica Catalana scheduled for later in the day, so we didn’t have the time for a long drawn-out meal. Not being very impressed with the beachside offerings, we decided to try Pans&Company, a Barcelona sandwich chain. The restaurant looked like a typical American fast-food joint with the menu on the wall offering value meals with the option of fries or patatas a la brava (fried potatoes with a spicy paprika-infused dipping sauce) and the counter workers wearing visors. As it turned out, Pans was different from our fast food restaurants in two key ways. First, the food was much better. My sandwich, made with tuna, red pepper, olives and tomato, was flavorful and refreshing, served on a baguette. EB had pork loin, roasted red pepper and onions on an even tastier, crustier baguette of a quality that you’d be hard pressed to find in many American bakeries, let alone fast food places. We ordered patatas bravas on the side, which were crispy and surprisingly flavorful. The second reason Pans was definitely not a typical fast food joint is that the food preparation was not very fast. We waited at our table looking over the harbor for about 15 minutes for our food to be ready. As it turned out, it was worth the wait.

That night, we arrived at the aforementioned Inopia at 7:30 pm. We still had to wait for about half an hour, but we finally got a seat at the small, lively restaurant’s winding bar. From there, we could see the fish line cook making each dish, occasionally plucking fresh herbs from water-filled vases. We ordered a bottle of cava and got down to business. We had heard about the restaurant on the PBS series “Spain on the Road Again” when Mario Batali took Gwyneth Paltrow to dinner there. We knew we had to start with the olives, which were intensely flavored and very distinct from one another. One tasted like smoked meat, while another tasted fruity and another was pickled. Next came an order of Inopia’s famous anchovies. We got the ones from Cantábrico, which came fresh and vibrant in a bath of olive oil and herbs and were accompanied by crunchy, bubbly bread with tomato. Our next dish was a salad of tomato wedges, topped with fried, salted almonds and mullet roe. It had the perfect balance of salty, savory and sweet and was incredibly refreshing. We moved on to one of the best dishes of the night: fried eggplant with molasses. The eggplant was cut into cubes, dipped in molasses and fried into ethereal sweet-salty bites that burst in our mouths and disappeared in a poof. Who needs molecular gastronomy when you have this?

Our next course was patatas a la brava. A step up from Pans&Company, these were cut fairly thinly, making for extra crispiness, and the sauce made of pimentón de la vera (Spanish paprika) was bold and pretty spicy. Then came croquetas de jamón iberico, soft, crusty potato croquettes filled with delicious pieces of nutty Spanish ham. We were nearing our limit, but we weren’t done yet. EB wanted to try more fish, so we asked for a toast topped with the beautiful, thinly sliced tuna steaks we had been watching the guy in front of us prepare. This was fine fish, but the dish stood out less than the more original offerings we tasted. Last, but not least, came dessert: a round of grilled goat or sheep cheese drizzled with truffled honey and served warm. Need I say more?! This was a beautiful and delicious finish to a beautiful and delicious trip.

Mercat de Sant Josep “La Boqueria”
La Rambla, 91
08002 Barcelona, España
93 412 1315

Can Ros
Calle Almirall Aixada, 7
08003 Barcelona, España
93 221 4579

La Taverna El Glop
Calle Sant Lluís, 24
08012 Barcelona, España
93 213 7058

Pans&Company
Carrer de la Marina, 16-18
08005 Barcelona, España
93 221 1101
(and various other locations)

Bar Inopia
Calle Tamarit, 104
08015 Barcelona, España
93 424 5231

Gourmet, Unbound: June

Unlike in Cannon Beach, Oregon—where I spent the long weekend, and which is still under a rain cloud— signs of summer are starting to appear in New York City. The weather has been in the 80s, and we’ve even had a few sticky humid days. People are out in the park, and most of all, people are starting to barbecue. There’s no better accompaniment to meat grilled outdoors than a nice potato salad. In honor of being on the cusp of summer, I decided to dedicate my June tribute to Gourmet magazine to a recipe for Potato Salad With Olives and Peppers from the June 2007 issue. The flavor combination of the starchy potatoes, the salty olives, the fresh parsley and the slightly sweet smoky peppers was spot on.

My only complaint is that there seemed to be too little dressing. I halved the recipe based on the number of potatoes I used, but It seems like I could have used half again as much dressing to really bring out the flavors in those potatoes. It would be an easy problem to fix. Either way, there are numerous potential variations on this recipe, offering the opportunity to add a twist here and there. I think it would be good with anchovies, lemon juice or capers added to the mix. It’s food for thought, but happy almost summer, nonetheless.

Potato Salad with Olives and Peppers

yield: Makes 6 servings
active time: 30 min
total time: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients
3 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 pound hot cooked small (2-inch) boiling potatoes, quartered
2/3 cup bottled roasted red peppers (4 ounces), rinsed, patted dry, and chopped
2/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/3 cup pitted brine-cured black olives, halved

Preparation
Mince garlic and mash to a paste with a pinch of salt using side of a large heavy knife. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in vinegar, salt, and red-pepper flakes, then whisk in oil.

Add hot potatoes to vinaigrette and toss to coat. Let stand until potatoes cool to warm, about 30 minutes, then stir in peppers, parsley, and olives. Serve warm or at room temperature.

See my other Gourmet, Unbound posts:
May 2010, Moroccan-Style Mussels
April 2010, Shrimp Scampi Pasta
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