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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Fornino Puts Pizza on the Grill

Last night, Empanada Boy and I joined our friends Bass Drum Crumb and Curly Fries at the new Park Slope location of Fornino, a restaurant and pizzeria that has already made a name for itself in Williamsburg. I had read about the fantastic Neapolitan-style pies at the first location and saw the mouthwatering pictures of them on the restaurant’s website. A great Williamsburg foodie attraction had made its way to the less hipster ‘hood of Park Slope! This was worth a celebratory cheer and a visit. What I didn’t know was that Chef Michael Ayoub had decided not to build the requisite wood-fired pizza oven at his Park Slope spot. Instead, he opted to grill his pies and serve a bunch of other Italian pastas and more elegant fare. I didn’t realize this shift until our pizza arrived at the table. (The menu for the Park Slope location is not on the website, but I eventually found it here.) I was disappointed not to be eating the chewy bubbly crust of the Neapolitan-style pizza I had been craving, but the company was great and the grilled pizza had its merits, which I will be discussing below.

We started with two tasty antipasti: eggplant caponata and a salad made with radicchio, peaches and goat cheese. The caponata had a nice balance of sweetness from the roasted eggplant and saltiness from black olives that were blended in. It came with a nice herbed focaccia that had just the right chew (a true rarity, in my experience). The salad was vibrant and beautiful in its color contrasts. My only complaint was that the dressing was a little too mild. A bolder, tangier dressing could have set off the sweetness of the peach wedges nicely. Next came our pizzas. We ordered the Funghi Misti with wild mushrooms taleggio and white truffle oil and another one called the Calabrese, made with tomato, fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) and a spicy pepperoni called caciatorini a diavolo. The crust on these was quite thin and almost cracker-like at the edges. It had good flavor with a hint of smokiness, but none of the blackened, bubbly pockets that come from an oven. The mushrooms on the first pizza had strong flavors of their own, but didn’t seem to have been seasoned enough while being cooked. One variety of darker color mushrooms dominated the others. But the flavors that won the fight for dominance in this dish was definitely the white truffle oil. I could have done with less of it.

Instead of the Calabrese, our server ended up bringing us the Pizza Vinny Scotto. This one had all the ingredients of the Calabrese, but added bel paese (a semi-soft Italian cheese), pecorino, ricotta and a bell pepper aioli. Crumb had been hesitant to order this one because he wasn’t into big clumps of ricotta, but the clumps turned out to be fairly small we decided to keep it when it came. Perhaps we made a mistake, though, because there seemed to be too many ingredients on this pizza. The sheer number of cheese alone was enough to create a conflicting flavor profile that didn’t successfully highlight the quality of any single one of them. The best part of this pizza was the caciatorini. It was hot and well-spiced and not as greasy as the generic pepperoni found on so many pies.

Speaking of ricotta, this cheese also featured prominently in the cheesecake topped with strawberries that we ordered as one of our desserts. I am not a fan of American-style dense cheesecakes, but this one had a pleasant lightness to it, and it was not too sweet. The fresh strawberries made for beautiful color contrast and added seasonal freshness.

Our second dessert was a torta di limone, a cake with a thin crust of brown around the exterior and and moist, but light, lemony interior. This was a great dessert and one I would like to try making at home. Curly Fries and I had enough to drink between the two bottles of Italian wine we ordered as a table and the glass of white she ordered for herself, but EB and Crumb wanted to keep the party flowing…I mean going. They each ordered a glass of grappa from the fairly lengthy list. EB’s ended up being smoother than Crumbs, which was more like a whiskey in its smokiness. Both were quite strong, but the Italians believe they aid the digestion, and I’m not inclined to argue with centuries of tradition.

In the end, the pizza was good but not great. The ingredients were nice and the restaurant itself was pleasant, but I had really been looking forward to that Neapolitan crust. Maybe it was just a question of managing expectations.

Fornino Park Slope
256 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Fornino Park Slope on Urbanspoon

All About the Burger at DuMont

Fourth of July weekend was a burger-filled few days for Empanada Boy and me. We didn’t know it when the weekend began, but we would be eating two great burgers before Tuesday rolled around. One of these came on Independence Day itself when EB’s uncle Iceberg—a burger connoisseur if there ever was one—grilled some tender, juicy patties on his back deck in Westchester. But before we even dreamed of these, we happened upon some of the finest burgers I’ve had this year. These came from DuMont, a Williamsburg spot with a great backyard seating area. We went there with Cousin Ketchup who was house-sitting at our aunt and uncle’s place in the neighborhood.

I knew DuMont was famous for its burger—the owners have even opened a second more casual location called DuMont Burger where the menu consists of a burger, a mini burger and a turkey burger, in addition to a few other sandwiches—but I had assumed at least one of us would opt for hanger steak or half chicken on the menu at the more upscale sibling. I was wrong. None of us could pass up the opportunity to try the lusciously described burgers. We made the right choice. The expertly charred exterior of the patties gave way to a perfect, rosy medium-rare. Buns were light, but chewy brioche, with egg-washed tops, and pickled onions made for a truly standout condiment amidst the usually satisfying additions of tomato, lettuce and pickle. Being burger purists, none of us ordered cheese, although cheddar, American, Danish blue and Gruyère are available, along with bacon. Ketchup and I opted for the green salad side, the only accompaniment I could contemplate eating after I saw the massive size of the burger. I also knew I would be able to snatch a few French fries from EB who has never been able to pass up a fried potato. The fries were excellent—just the right thickness to be crispy on the outside and soft at the core. They were evenly salted and garnished with a minced parsley, a nice and surprisingly flavorful touch.

In short, this was a near flawless burger experience. The next time I go to DuMont, I won’t even look at the menu. No matter what’s on it, I know I’ll come back to that burger every time.

DuMont Restaurant
432 Union Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11211

DuMont Burger
314 Bedford Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Dumont on Urbanspoon

DuMont Burger on Urbanspoon

Java Indonesian Feeds the Slope

I’ve written before about my strange tendency to avoid my own neighborhood when contemplating places to go out to eat. When I’m home, I just think: Why not make dinner at home? But a few weeks ago, Empanada Boy and I were getting stir crazy and decided to try a restaurant that was not only in our neighborhood, but catty-corner from our house. We had heard good things about Java Indonesian Rijsttafel, an Indonesian restaurant (obviously). Not having tried much Indonesian food, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But EB and I are always up for adventure, so we decided to put the speculation to rest and give it a try.

The restaurant is small and simple, apart from a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The kitchen door is behind a screen, and at least when we went, there was only one woman (presumably the owner) working the floor. Unsure of what to order, we opted for some of the dishes with “Java special” in parentheses next to their names. The first, from the appetizer section, was the pastel, basically Indonesian empanadas, stuffed with thin rice noodles and vegetables. They came with two dipping sauces, one that was quite spicy, probably made with chilies of some kinds, and another that was a savory-sweet combination of peanuts, soy sauce and sugar. These were tasty in the way that most pockets of filled dough are. The fillings were flavorful, but I particularly liked the sauces. They added vibrancy and verve to the dish, which wasn’t remarkably seasoned on its own. After that, we had a traditional salad called acar, made with sliced cucumber, carrots, string beans, and onions, marinated in a sauce of vinegar and turmeric. The salad was refreshing, and I liked the crispness of the cucumber and carrot, but the string beans seemed a little limp as though they had been allowed to cook for too long. Turmeric gave the onions and cucumber a yellow color, but it added only a subtle flavor to the dish because of the dominant vinegar dressing.

Our final dish was another Java special called semur, made with beef stewed slowly in soya sauce. The meat was a little tougher than what I had been imagining, and the sauce was more like a soup. The abundant liquid had muted flavor without very distinctive or assertive spicing and was generally too watery. Still, the lemon zest on top added a nice acidity, and we hungrily sopped up much of the sauce with the accompanying rice. The leftover sauces from the pastel added a welcome occasional kick.

After hearing so many great things about Java Indonesian, EB and I really wanted to love it. In the end, we enjoyed it, but didn’t think it stood up to the hype. We may consider giving it another try the next time we set aside the time to dine in the Slope, but there are so many restaurants to visit that we’ll likely end up moving at least a few doors down the street.

Java Indonesian Rijsttafel
455 7th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Java on Urbanspoon

Gourmet, Unbound: July

My grandma Trader Joanna moved out of her house and into an apartment this year. Like anyone who has lived in the same house for 60 years, she had filled it with artwork, papers, tschochkes and memorabilia. Even amongst the junk, there were some great pieces of history, as I found out when I was helping my mom clear things out a couple months ago. On a bookshelf in the study, I found three issues of Gourmet magazine from 1967 and 1968. My grandma was never a great chef, but she was a classy hostess and had some special dishes she knew how to make very well, which she would whip out for parties. She doesn’t remember whether she made any recipes from these issues, but she obviously knew Gourmet was the magazine to turn to when looking for entertainment quality recipes.

For my July Gourmet, Unbound entry, I selected a recipe for ratatouille from the July 1967 issue. Unlike today’s recipes, the recipes in old Gourmets tend to be elegant dishes made in the classic style— no twists or fusions necessary. They are also written in paragraph form with less detailed instructions and fewer steps. This basic, yet delicious, recipe follows in that tradition. It consists of slowly stewed vegetables and minimalist spicing—salt, pepper, basil and marjoram. The resulting flavors evoke the French countryside in their warm, robust, simplicity. Ratatouille makes a nice side dish and a great main course, served with crusty bread and topped with a poached egg. I have been making pisto manchego, the Spanish version of ratatouille, since I got back from studying abroad in Spain in 2003. I may now have to add this French version from Gourmet history to the regular rotation. And even if she never made it, I can always imagine my grandma whipping this up to show off her European flair to the guests at one of her parties.

In a large saucepan cook 2 large onions, thinly sliced, in 1/2 cup olive oil until they are transparent. Stir in 2 green peppers, seeded and diced, and 2 eggplants, peeled and cubed, and cook the vegetables for about 5 minutes. Add 4 small zucchini, cut in 1/2-inch slices, 2 cups sliced celery, and 5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes. Stir the mixture thoroughly, cover the pan, and cook the ratatouille over low heat for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season it with 1 garlic clove, mashed, a pinch each of basil and marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the ratatouille about 5 minutes longer and serve it hot or chilled.

See my other Gourmet, Unbound posts:
June 2010, Potato Salad with Olives and Peppers
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