East Village Erupts

By now you probably know about the huge explosion that rocked the East Village on March 26th, claiming the lives of two people and injuring several others, not to mention the destruction of three buildings.

Preliminary reports point to plumbing without a proper permit resulting in reckless safety measures and a gas explosion.

Could this tragedy have been avoided?  Sure.  But that would take a series of policy changes this city has yet to address even under the esteemed former Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure.

Many NYC buildings are over fifty or sixty years old or more, and are patched together every day by less than professional or approved workers, just to keep the building functioning.  Landlords charge exorbitant rents to their tenants, both residential and commercial, but refuse to update outdated infrastructure with the profits.  The city in turn collects enormous taxes from these landlords and commercial tenants via real estate taxes and spends those funds elsewhere.  The monies could be used to enforce stricter measures against these landlords to ensure that all buildings are up to date and following all safety codes.

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Mi Buenos Aires Querida

Mi Buenos Aires Querida

What do you do when waves of snow are coming your way? Make like a bird and head south. So in celebration of my 45th birthday, I packed my swim trunks and headed to Punta del Este, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Forecast, sunny and 85 degrees. NYC outlook, below zero and tons of snow.

First stop, Punta del Este, the Latin American version of the French Riviera. After a lengthy plane ride (over 12 hours), a hunger the size of a sumo wrestler developed. So before the bus transfer to Montevideo, we visited the Mercado de la Puerta. Just think Chelsea Market in size or La Boqueria and then replace the stalls with parrillas, grill restaurants, everywhere, with the wonderful aromas of smoking meats and woods and charcoal, a veritable smokehouse open marketplace. Hypnotized and mesmerized by the sights and smells of all that beef, it is difficult to make a decision where to begin. Families sitting in front of enormous selections of grilled meats, organ and otherwise, washing it down with bottles of medio y medio (sparkling wine mixed with white wine, a bit sweet), or enjoying whisky and tannat.

We chose to sit outside, where I tasted the mollejas (sweetbreads) and some rib steaks and lamb ribs, modest fare to start, but all so wonderfully cooked and smoky and tear provoking. We had started this trip on the right foot. Meatapalooza had begun.

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Dough vs. Doughnut Plant

Ever since the Doughnut Plant opened in Chelsea, I have sent countless tourists to walk the High Line and end up at the Doughnut Plant as a reward, to be followed by a stop at La Maison de Macaron, and a civilized cup of joe at Stumptown or Cafe Grumpy.

But for the past month Dough has become my mistress.  While I still am loyal to the Doughnut Plant, Dough is that much better.  The texture is light, airy and ethereal.  Just the plain old glazed doughnut is a work of art, head held eye stacked up against great flavors such as salted caramel, hibiscus and dulce de leche.  On a previous visit I had lemon meringue, topped high in a white cumulus cloud.   Swoon.

The nearest police precinct should get a discount, but I hope the men in blue stick to the Plant instead.

Doughnut Plant                                          Dough

220 West 23rd St.                                    14 West 19th St.

 

While I am in the kitchen…

The summer has been very busy for me into fall, what with a complete staff overhaul.  Gone are all the familiar faces at Pata Negra.  They are on to greener pastures and I wish them the best.  Things have finally stabilized, and I have been able to sneak out once or twice a week.  Not enough intel for full reviews, but here’s a sneak peak of the work in progress.

Marta

What a gorgeous space inside the revamped hotel where the thin crust pizzas are heavenly topped and the people watching is fun too.  So many great choices for wine and excellent apps make for a blockbuster hard to get into Danny Meyer winner.

Batard

Montrachet 3.0 is a comfortable restaurant with all the trimmings, with food that is made with finesse and a wine list that is very reasonable.   Octopus terrine is inspirational.  Testa is the best I’ve had in a very long time.  Lamb for two brings it home. Tribeca is back on the map again.

Tuome

Alphabet City defies the real estate market once again with a small nondescript space on fifth street serving as a canvas some some good cooking, solid technique with Asian inflections.  Don’t miss the chicken liver mousse or deviled eggs.

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Ludlow, VT 2.0

Every restaurant goes through staff changes. I try the golden rule of maintaining good relationships with my employees by giving them the tools for success, putting them in a position to earn the most money possible, and treating them as human beings with lives to live. The more I listen, the more I can be a flexible and understanding owner, keeping my employees as happy as possible by granting reasonable requests, paying better than the next owner out there, and not micro managing.

That’s why there isn’t much turnover at Pata Negra. Most of our regulars know the staff well, and often come back to spend time with them rather than me, who, as some of you know, is always trying to skip town, or work on my never ending cookbook, which I hope to publish one day.

In a flash of one calendar day, my dishwasher/busboy took off for Mexico, and my main cook got detained for an undetermined spell. That uncertainty propelled me back into the kitchen tout de suite, and it took a few days to get back up to working speed, and dig myself out of the weeds. Placed ads on Craig’s list yielded some 200 responses for the dishwasher job. Apparently there must be some degree that is being given out there for this task, but few for competent cooks who can handle real pressure. I picked the best two candidates and soldiered on.

The timing was definitely not right, both professionally and personally, but having scheduled a much-needed non-refundable trip to Vermont for a week, I put my business and myself in the unenviable position of a semi-trained brand new kitchen staff while I snuck away to the cozy environs of Eden. The alternative was to close, and thanks to former Mayor Bloomberg’s consecutive two years in a row 25% real estate tax increases, closing for a week is no longer an option.

Needless to say the gamble did not work according to plan, and I have some making up to do for some of my best clients. Old, rare wine cures much, and if you are of the affected, I am sure some bottles can be uncorked, and perhaps we can laugh about the ordeal together some time in the near future.

On the lighter side, I booked an ecopod (modulated eco-friendly home designed by freshpods) situated on Echo Lake in Plymouth, VT. Something about the lake water clears my head, calms me down and helps me to repair. Lying in the breeze overlooking the Plymouth State Park trees and mountains wields a blanket of security and serenity.

The change in latitude performs wonders. Add to that a few welcome food and wine changes in the town of Ludlow that are very exciting and worth the trip as well.

Angelina’s Market on Depot Street is serving Jack’s coffee from a vintage La Marzocco machine. Before that is was bring your own. Brooklyn transplanters Rachelle and her husband Jonathan are making real coffee, and the baking is even better. P&B fudge brownies and source cream coffee cakes from Sweet Tallullah (her baking co.) are delicious. Just don’t ask for decaf.

The Downtown Grocery (TDG) on Depot St. is humming as strong as the bee’s nests swarming over the discarded birch beer bottles at Curtis BBQ in Putney, Curtis is still serving up great ‘cue at that Mobil gas stop off Route 5. Pig was on holiday, but some new dogs were laying about.

TDG, Abby, owner and FOH extraordinaire and her team are still running a great show for local fare. Chef Rogan, her partner, is still crushing it with inspired technique and world flavors. Their Monday prix fixe is the best deal in the tri-state area, reminding me of a Paris bistro except that we are in Green Mountain territory, people, and I don’t miss the Rue de Tivoli as much when I am sipping wines from an eclectic wine list selected by Abby’s fine palate. Get there early or that blackened catfish you love will be crossed off the board before your heart settles on ordering it. Just don’t forget to buy the kitchen a round of ponies.

Across the street is the Wine and Cheese Depot (est. 1996), where you can save yourself all the trips to the cheese farms, because a great cross selection of cheeses can be found here. Just ask Leslie for a taste. Some good wine buying is the other half of the deal, and if that is not enough, than pass through the backdoor into the new wine bar Stem Winder. The menus and selection can be a bit overwhelming. Just grab a stool and ask for a taste. The wide selection of wines pair well with the tapas style food coming out of the ambitious kitchen. The wine bar is finding its groove, especially in the kitchen. Wendy or Elyse will find the right wine for your mood. Just beware of the infamous broken spoon parties.

Goodman’s Pizza has moved out of a space on Main St. held for fourteen years. And although I couldn’t get a straight answer as to why, the wood fired pizza is still just as good as advertised with bountiful fresh toppings and very reasonable prices. In its space is an admirable replacement, a Mex-Cajun-southern fusion joint called Mojo. Chef John and his wife Jodi spent a Halloween down in Nola and came back modifying their Tex-Mex food idea to include Cajun and all things southern style food. It’s an obvious marriage when you think about it, but they have the guts to try it out in Ludlow. Started with an appetizer of tempura battered poblanos, mild in heat but high in texture and flavor. These may be my new favorite tempura battered veggies. Of all the tacos sampled, the catfish reigned supreme, followed by well marinated steak. You can choose flour or corn tortillas (corn pls) and the mixes of house made salsas add layers of flavor for balance. The hand in the kitchen is light and deft, respect of the different cuisines observed. The white gumbo Jonah crab shrimp gumbo was delicate with layers of flavors, suberb on both a summer or wintry afternoon. There are burritos, enchiladas, and po boys too. No margaritas yet, but a proper coke in the bottle, and local beer on tap anchor the beverages. You will leave sated, and not break the piggy bank.

I just may have to bring some Pata Negra out here to see how Spanish tapas are received. The sky seems to be the limit out here in Ludlow.