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brussels sprouts

At Chuko, Vegetables Are The Unlikely Stars

I never thought I would say it, but the vegetarian option was the sleeper hit at Chuko, a new-ish ramen place in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Well, that’s not exactly an accurate statement; I ordered the vegetarian broth…and then added pork. Still, I can say with some certainty that the broth was the best element of that dish. Flavorful and complex, it was replete with Brussels sprouts, kale, sweet potatoes, roasted squash and other fresh, seasonal vegetables. I ordered it with a soft-cooked egg, which ran into the steaming broth when punctured with a chopstick. The pork was medium-thick slices of smoky duroc. It was tasty enough, but I found it too lean for soup. A fattier cut would have melted luxuriously into the broth. Instead, this became slightly overcooked and chewy in the broth. Pork notwithstanding, that vegetarian broth was emblematic of the way the chef at Chuko (opened by three Morimoto alums) handle their vegetables. I ate dinner there last weekend with Cousin Ketchup and my friends P.C. Biscuit and Granny Smith.

The first evidence of Chuko’s vegetable prowess emerged with the arrival of the appetizers. We ordered all four on the regular (non-special) menu. Among these was a fantastic kale salad, made with a combination of raw and tempura-fried kale, pickled golden raisins, dressed in a slightly sweet white-miso vinaigrette, and topped with cripsy curls of Japanese sweet potato. The Brussels sprouts were deftly sauteed until their cut edges were lightly blackened. Then they were doused in pungent fish sauce and topped with crunchy peanuts and pickled peppers, yielding a divine assemblage of texture and sweet-salty flavor.

The less successful appetizers were those that contained meat, including the overly bready fried chicken wings which came with a fairly tame dipping sauce that was supposed to be spicy. These weren’t even in the same food group as the mind-blowing ones I ate at Pok Pok Wing. Also underwhelming were the pork-stuffed gyoza with a soy-based dipping sauce. It’s not that they were bad; they just weren’t particularly distinctive in the way that the kale and Brussels sprouts had been. I should have just ordered the headcheese special, but I wanted to put the core menu items to the test.

Next came the ramen, which comes in four broth varieties: soy, miso, pork bone and that tasty vegetarian one. In addition to the pork, there is the option to add chicken, which is lightly cooked and cut into silky smooth pieces. We ordered as many different combinations and permutations as we could among the four of us. P.C. Biscuit selected the pork bone broth, mixing things up (with the eager encouragement of our server) by adding the chicken to the mix. The broth and thinner noodles that came with it were nice, although I didn’t come away with an overly porky impression. He also got the hard-cooked eggs, whose static nature made them seem superfluous. The white rectangles of chicken were surprisingly flavorful, but the texture was almost slimy and would have benefited from a slight char on the grill. Granny Smith’s miso broth was tasty, with an almost milky cloudiness, but Ketchup’s flavor-packed soy broth with pork was probably my second favorite soup on the table.

The ramen at Chuko was good by Brooklyn standards, and at $12 a bowl, it’s more affordable than Zuzu Ramen. But if I come back to Chuko, it will not be for the pork or chicken wings—it will be for the vegetables.

Chuko
552 Vanderbilt Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11238
718.576.6701

Chuko on Urbanspoon

Motorino Might Be Worth All The Hype

There are some restaurants that are fawned over so much by the food media and my fellow bloggers that they become impenetrable in my mind. I convince myself that I’ll never be able to go to them because I’ll never be able to get a reservation or the line will always be impossibly long. For some reason, Motorino, touted as New York’s best pizza by multiple outlets, was one of those places.

Finally one Saturday about a month ago, Empanada Boy and I decided to go out to dinner after spending most of the day cooped up inside. It was already pretty late, so on the spur of the moment, I thought, why not take a chance with Motorino? The restaurant has two locations, one in the East Village and the other in Williamsburg. We went to Williamsburg, and to my surprise, there was a mere 20-minute wait when we arrived. The restaurant is crowded, but cozy and well-lit, with a bar where you can wait for a table to open up. We ordered some beers, which helped pass the time nicely. We were seated at a somewhat cramped table in the middle of the dining space, but any thoughts of displeasure vanished when we saw the bubbly-crusted Neopolitan-style pizzas wafting out of the kitchen toward neighboring tables.

We started with a punchy, flavor-packed salad of arugula, bacon, figs and gorgonzola. I loved how the peppery zing of the arugula played off the creamy, smoky and sweet toppings. For one of our pizzas, we selected the seasonal Brussels sprout pie, topped with fior di latte mozzarella, garlic, pancetta and pecorino. This had a lovely autumnal depth from the roasted sprouts and garlic. The mozzarella added creamy richness, while the pecorino delivered a hint of funk. And the crust was fantastic: light, with marvelous chew and satisfying blackened pock marks along its bubbly, olive-oiled edge.

Our second pizza was more traditional, but also delicious. Unlike the Brussels sprout pizza, this one had a slightly sweet, slightly tangy tomato. It also had spicy soppressata, creamy fior di latte, chili flakes and garlic. This pizza was delicious and beats out most I’ve had, but I still think I liked the Brussels sprouts better for its unique combination of flavors and ability to capture the essence of the season. Surely I’ll be interested in eating something lighter come spring, but for the encroaching cold of December, that pizza hit the mark.

Most importantly, I now know that an off-the-cuff trip to Motorino is possible any time I feel like a great slice (or three) of pizza. Empanada Boy and I may well find ourselves waiting at the bar there again soon, as the craving moves us. Maybe we’ll even stop in tonight…

Motorino
319 Graham Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
718.599.8899

Also at

349 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
212.777.2644

Motorino on Urbanspoon

Gourmet, Unbound: January

Brussels SproutsEmpanada Boy and I are ringing in the new year in Evanston with his sister Sous Chef, our brother-in-law Slim McDinner, our niece the Reading Corndog and our nephew Lobster Bisque. Slim McDinner has been busy perfecting the art of curing his own pork products, including sausages, bacon and pancetta. He grinds meat with his Kitchen Aid mixer and ages his creations in the basement utility room. I wanted my January tribute to Gourmet to be a vegetable dish because we had already decided to make handmade pasta with Bolognese sauce (including the homemade pancetta) for our main course. As I scanned the vegetable sides on Epicurious, I noticed a simple, but delicious looking, Brussels sprouts recipe that called for pancetta. At first it seemed like too much pancetta for one meal, but then I reconsidered: How could there be too much pancetta? It is New Year’s Eve, after all.

The dish made an excellent counterpart to our opulent New Year’s feast. The Brussels sprouts became sweet and caramelized, and the pancetta brought everything to a higher plane. This is a dish for the decade! Happy 2010!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta

yield: Makes 4 servings
active time: 10 min
total time: 35 min

Ingredients
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (quartered if large)
2 oz pancetta, visible fat discarded and pancetta minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Toss together Brussels sprouts, pancetta, garlic, oil, and salt and pepper to taste in an 11- by 7-inch baking pan and spread in 1 layer.

Roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until sprouts are brown on edges and tender, about 25 minutes total. Stir in water, scraping up brown bits. Serve warm.

See my other Gourmet, Unbound posts:
April 2010, Shrimp Scampi Pasta
March 2010, Chicken with Black-Pepper Maple Sauce
February 2010, Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream
December 2009, Walnut Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze