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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Tabaré Gives Uruguay Its Due

My parents were visiting last weekend, and in true Lassie style, much of that time was spent eating. Our meals included visits to Mile End and Zabb Elee, near-perfect bagels from Park Slope’s Bagel Hole, Blue Smoke fried chicken and ribs at the Jazz Standard, lunch at the Upper East Side’s Paola’s with other Oregon relatives who happened to be visiting and a homemade feast with Daddy Salmon’s relatives out in Long Island. On Sunday, we drove with Second Breakfast, Okonomiyaki and my cousins Rice Ball and Leftover Girl to Doylesville, Pennsylvania where we toured the unbelievably ornate Fonthill Castle and then walked along the path that runs between the Delaware river and a former shipping canal. The drive home took longer than we had hoped, so we all decided to go out for dinner. Rice Ball, who is nine, had school the next day. Luckily, there is a restaurant right next door to his house in Williamsburg: an Uruguayan spot called Tabaré.

The restaurant is a cozy little space, dimly lit, with windows looking out to the street and a small patio out back. A table for eight was easily arranged after 8 pm on a Sunday night, something that might not be possible at some of the happening places on Bedford Street. (Hipsters, science has revealed, don’t need sleep. Or is it just that they don’t have jobs?) I’ve tried Argentinian food, Brazilian food, Peruvian food and Colombian food, but I can’t say I had ever knowingly tasted Uruguayan food before visiting Tabaré. A quick glance at the menu revealed that the country’s cuisine is heavily influenced by those of its European settlers from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. Empanadas graced the menu, alongside lasagna (spelled “lasaña,” the Spanish way) and fish cooked “en papillote” (or “pescado en papel”). We started by ordering beer and wine, a necessity after enduring the sluggish tunnel traffic back to the city. Trying to be as authentic as possible, Mango Mama ordered the Uruguayan Pilsen, while I went slightly further afield and ordered the Argentinian Quilmes. It seems the Argentinians best their Uruguayan neighbors at beer as well as wine; the Quilmes had more flavor and depth than the Pilsen.

We started with an order of delicious Provençal-style mussels, cooked in a buttery broth of garlic, shallots and white wine. This came with a buttered slice of grilled baguette and could have made a lovely meal by itself. In fact, Okonomiyaki had ordered another bowl of mussels for her main course. Dining with EB himself, we could not, of course, pass up the opportunity to order empanadas. These come in three flavors, and one order includes two. I selected caramelized onions, gruyere and fontina and Spanish tuna and black olives. These were both tasty, although I preferred the tuna. They came with two dipping sauces: one a chili-spiked oil and the other a slightly spicy blend of parsley, cilantro, garlic and oil olive, similar to the Yemeni condiment skhug. Then came the main courses. Okonomiyaki got her mussels, and Leftover Girl got the fish (which that evening was pollock) cooked in parchment paper. The fish was tender and flaky beneath a crisp shell of herbed grated potato. It came with a simple, but exquisite, salad of multi-colored cherry tomatoes.

Almost everyone else got the dish that is clearly the restaurant’s speciality: the chivito completo. This is a traditional Uruguayan sandwich, made with filet mignon, bacon, mozzarella, onions, green olives, lettuce, tomato and a fried egg. (Rice Ball ordered his with nothing but steak.) Served on a burger bun with a side of crispy fries and house-made mayonnaise, this sandwich was a heavenly blend of salt, fat and protein and would no doubt prove deadly if eaten with any kind of regularity. I ate some of other peoples’ sandwiches, but in an effort to try more menu items, I had opted for the potato gnocchi of the day. These were rich with a pleasant chewiness, but they came with a heavy, creamy, tomato-based sauce that was infused with so much sage that the herbal flavor became a little off-putting. The sauce, otherwise well made, was also too weighty for its already opulent base. This is not to say I didn’t finish my meal, but I felt uncomfortably full after doing so and had a soapy sage taste lingering on my palatte.

We were all pretty full, and Rice Ball had to go home for bed, but our server brought over some flan, courtesy of the restaurant. She had seen me taking pictures of my food, and Leftover Girl had accidentally mentioned something about my blog, so I was initially concerned that this gift was a way of guaranteeing a better review. But our server assured us that the gift was planned all along and Okonomiyaki said she had gotten a free dessert almost every time she had eaten there. Besides, the Mango Lassie’s good opinion cannot be bought! I have to admit, though, that flan, creamy and perfectly caramelized, was pretty darn good.

Tabaré
221 S. 1st St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
347.335.0187

Tabare on Urbanspoon

Brennan & Carr: The Irish Italian Beef

It’s been more than three years since I left Chicago for New York, and I have few regrets about the move. But sometimes I’m hit with a wave of culinary nostalgia, whether it’s for the phenomenal sausages at Hot Doug’s, the tacos al pastor at Erick’s Taco’s or the top-notch beer list and mussels at the Hopleaf. Apart from Vienna beef Chicago dogs, one of the things I miss the most is Italian beef. Ostensibly invented in Chicago around the 1930s, Italian beef is thinly sliced roast beef, doused in meat juice, and served on a long roll. It traditionally comes topped with giardiniera (spicy pickled vegetables) or sweet Italian peppers. Empanada Boy and I used to live just down the street from Budacki’s Drive-In, a stand of the kind typical in Chicago, serving hot dogs, gyros, fries, meatball subs and, of course, Italian beef. At one point, EB developed something of an addiction to Budacki’s Italian beef. I would come home after going out to dinner with friends and ask him what he ate. He grin sheepishly, and I would know exactly where he had been. While I was in Yom Kippur services during the first year we lived together, EB decided to fast in solidarity. He held out until the afternoon, at which point he broke the fast—at Budacki’s. It was only appropriate that this year we designated the day after Yom Kippur for a trip out to Brennan & Carr in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, an Irish place, specializing in dipped roast beef.

My friends Tater Tot and Margarita had seen Brennan & Carr on an old episode of “Man vs. Food”. Being Midwesterners, they were intrigued at the apparent similarity of the restaurant’s specialty with Italian beef. I should say that Tater Tot was intrigued; Margarita is a very patient vegetarian. EB and I took two subways and two buses to meet them and their six-month-old baby, Half Pint, at Brennan & Carr. The restaurant is just off Avenue U, a street of vast ethnic diversity. In one telling example, a kosher deli stands directly across the street from G&S Pork Store. Brennan & Carr was established in 1938 when the area was entirely marsh land and almost entirely inhabited by Irish immigrants. I’m not sure if it’s original, but the restaurant’s exterior decor is reminiscent of a faux alpine ski chalet, complete with signs written in that old-fashioned Scandinavian-looking font. The door to the restaurant is next to a take out window, from which everything on the menu can be ordered to go. When we walked inside, the entranceway was dim. A old cash register stood by the door and cooks behind the counter assembled food beneath heat lamps. One of the servers, clad in a white butcher’s coat that looked like a lab coat, led us to a table in the better-lit wood-paneled main dining room. “I’d like a beer,” I said when our server asked us what we would have to drink. “Bud or Bud Light?” he asked. Brennan & Carr is that kind of old-school place.

Apart from its roast beef sandwich, Brennan & Carr is known for the Gargiulo burger, a roast beef sandwich with a burger patty and some cheese thrown in. While that sounded like something of a novelty, we decided to focus on the roast beef. Tater Tot, EB and I each ordered a dipped roast beef sandwich, and Margarita settled for some mozzarella sticks. Fries and onion rings rounded out a very healthy meal. The roast beef came on a round roll, already sodden with meat drippings, but still somehow spongy enough to be lifted to the mouth without disintegrating. The meat was achingly tender, and the jus brought another layer of moisture and flavor. The sandwich had no toppings. It really didn’t need them. I tried a bite with Guilden’s mustard and found the rich, silken meat was still bold enough to overshadow the condiment. The fries were decent and perhaps best used as tools to sop up the jus. Onion rings were fine, but nothing special.

Having finished our sandwiches, Tater Tot grinned and admitted to still being a bit hungry. Would someone would be willing to split another? EB uncharacteristically balked at the idea, but I was game. (Perhaps I was still making up from the previous day’s fast.) Before we ordered, I glanced over at the menu and noticed the roast beef platter. Our server informed us that this was a plate of beef, accompanied by one roll and two sides of our choosing. The three of us could surely stomach the meat, and Margarita pledged to do her part with the fries and onion rings. A pitcher of Bud was ordered to wash it all down. Roast-beef course number two proved to be a winner. The platter of meat arrived slightly pink on the edges and swimming in jus. As we ate our meat, we discussed the differences between Irish roast beef and Italian beef. Obviously, there was the matter of the roll shape and size. Italian beef is cooked to well-done and has more of a chew to it than the melt-in-your mouth Irish beef. In my opinion, the giardiniera goes a long way toward making the Italian beef as fantastic as it is, but Irish beef may be better able to stand alone. I’m not going to renounce my allegiance and devotion to the Chicago classic, but its New York cousin gives it a real run for its money.

Brennan & Carr
3432 Nostrand Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11229
718.769.1254

Brennan & Carr on Urbanspoon

Ladies Who Lunch…On a Budget

Last spring, my cousin Leftover Girl relaunched her fashion blog, Neon Mamacita after a post-college hiatus. The blog always had well-curated photos of cutting-edge fashion, but now it has a whole new dimension: original photographs of Leftover Girl and friends modeling vintage fashion that she is selling on her own Etsy site. A vintage clothing addict myself, I have become a huge fan of Neon Mamacita Vintage and look forward to Leftover Girl’s weekly posts. Part of the reason I love it so much is that most of the original photos are shot by Leftover Girl’s brother, Cousin Ketchup, who is a professional photographer and a great artist. Now you may be wondering what all of this has to do with food. Well, despite being the only two bloggers in our family Leftover Girl and I never thought of collaborating until last week. Over dinner at a restaurant, we hatched the idea of doing a combination vintage fashion shoot and food review. Neon Mamacita Vintage currently has an abundance of great midcentury dresses, so we decided to dress up as ladies who lunch. Of course, if we were really doing ladies who lunch, we would go to tea at the Plaza or go to the Palm and pick at our cobb salads, but this is The Mango Lassie, so cheap gets the final word. We also wanted proximity to my house to avoid having to walk too far in public in our period finery.

I knew the perfect place. We would head up Fifth Avenue in Park Slope to Trois Pommes Patisserie, a quaint little spot with tiled floors and small marble cafe tables, that serves fantastic pastries, along with Stumptown coffee and fine teas. Chef and owner Emily Isaac was once the pastry chef at the stellar Union Square Cafe. Her pedigree shows in the delicacy of her crusts and the complexity and creativity of her offerings. The last time Mango Mama visited, I hosted a brunch at my house and didn’t have time to make my traditional coffee cake. Mango Mama walked into Trois Pommes and bought a dried cherry cornmeal cake that was to die for, as the ladies who lunch would say. Mango Mama told me today that she still thinks about it months later.

Leftover Girl and I strolled toward the bakery in our dresses, coats, hats and kid gloves. We pretended to gossip about whose son was getting into Dalton and who was buying a new summer home in the Hamptons. Ketchup followed, camera in hand, snapping shots of us as we walked. I wore a pink and white dress with a bow at the waist that looked like something Betty Draper might have worn in her more innocent, more demure days. (It’s for sale on Neon Mamacita!) On my head, I had a wide brimmed pink hat, which doubled as Gael Greene-esque way to preserve my anonymity on this blog. My coat (also for sale) was a sort of brocade with a blue willow-like pattern and a velvet collar. White pearls and my grandma’s white leather gloves and rhinestone brooch rounded out the ensemble. Leftover Girl wore a white dress under an animal printed hooded coat with red velour pumps and a feathered hat hand-beaded by our aunt, Okonomiyaki, an exceptional artist.

This being our lunch, we walked up to the counter in the patisserie (not minding the sideways glances were got from a few people inside) and ordered a mini bacon quiche. For dessert, we snagged a lemon meringue tartlet. We sat down at the bench in the window and dug in– while still maintaining our ladylike sense of propriety, of course. That quiche, which we ate slightly warmed from the oven, was by far the best one I’ve ever had. The buttery crust was flaky, rich and melted in my mouth. But it was the filling that set this quiche over the top. The eggs were mixed with cream to form a luscious custard. This was embedded with squares of smoky bacon. Ketchup took a couple bites and decided to get a quiche of his own. He tried the spinach variety, which was equally creamy but not quite as decadent as its meaty friend. We washed these down with a raspberry iced tea (Leftover Girl) and an almond rose hot tea (me). Trois Pommes only serves in cardboard takeout cups and on plastic plates. Utensils were all plastic too. While these made for slightly inconvenient eating and less attractive fashion photography, we thought it fit our “on a budget” caveat pretty well.

Dessert was the lemon meringue tartlet whose crust was as butter-kissed as those of the quiche. The filling could have been a bit tarter for my taste, and the slightly chewy texture of the meringue was a bit unsatisfying. In truth, I probably would have been ecstatic to be served this tartlet at any patisserie in the city, but even this delicious dessert couldn’t outshine those quiches. Perhaps the red velvet “Twinkies” in the case could have done it, but I doubt it. Filled with butteriness, we saved a quarter of the lemon tart for Empanada Boy who had opted not to join us. After all, ladies who lunch should not be seen cleaning their plates.

Ketchup took more photos of our clothing against the backdrop of the cushioned window seat. The patisserie really did make a lovely, colorful, sensuous backdrop for Neon Mamacita’s fashions. We put our coats back on to head back out to the street to pose in front of a stately brownstone or two. But before we left Trois Pommes, we clinked our paper and plastic teacups together in a toast to our food and fashion collaboration. Based on the success of our first joint effort, it’s safe to say that the Mango Lassie and Neon Mamacita will meet again soon.

For more views of the clothing we wore, see NeonMamacita.com.

Trois Pommes Patisserie
260 Fifth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.230.3119

Trois Pommes Patisserie on Urbanspoon