04/11/13 1:09pm
Tyson Ho and friend.

Tyson Ho and friend.

It’s hard to believe that Josh Bowen, the owner of John Brown Smokehouse, once told me he wasn’t really into Kansas’ most famous abolitionist. These days his restaurant has a whole wall devoted to its namesake. And on Sunday Bowen hosted the first ever John Brown Day along with JOHN BROWN LIVES!

The celebration featured a talk by John Stauffer, a Harvard Professor, and Zoe Trodd, a professor at the University of Nottingham.  Bowen was also presented with a proclamation by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.  Later in the evening there was some swing from George Gee and some kick-ass blues from R.L. Boyce.  The most important part of the proceeding as far as I was concerned though was the Carolina style, whole hog barbecue prepared by Tyson Ho aka The Arrogant Swine.

Barbecuing a whole hog requires a whole lot of time and, of course, a barbecue itself with which to smoke the hog. This presented a bit of a setback for the Ho and his crew since some miscreant stole his hog cooker from in front of John Brown the night before he was to start cooking.  Thankfully Matt Fisher, the pitmaster of Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue came through and lent a hog cooker to the cause. As they say the sow must go on. (more…)

04/11/13 9:55am
A dish fit for a modern art museum.

A dish fit for a modern art museum.

I am a big fan of monkfish liver, or ankimo, as it’s called at the sushi bar. The season for this marine foie gras is coming to an end. I am especially saddened because recently I had a deliciously over-the-top rendition of monkfish liver, at M. Wells Dinette, a restaurant whose raison d’être is over-the-top deliciousness. If the ascetic Japanese presentation of monkfish liver—in a shallow lake  of ponzu sauce with a bit of green onion on top is a study in restraint then Hugue Dufour’s monkfish liver torchon ($14) is a study in hedonism. Thick rounds of creamy orange monkfish liver sit astride a pancake that’s been fried in duck fat, which sits in a lake of maple syrup. Crowning the whole affair is a tangle of mustard root tempura. It’s the type of dish that seems right at home in a post-modern museum cafeteria. If you get there and it’s not on the menu anymore don’t sweat it too much. There’s sure to be something equally delicious and over the top. I’m still holding out for the foie gras enriched shwarma Dufour once told me he was thinking about making.

M. Wells Dinette, MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Ave at 46th Ave., Long Island City, 718-786-1800

04/01/13 12:04pm
Yuk hoe, steak tartare Korean style.

Yuk hoe, steak tartare Korean style.

As a kid I always wanted to try steak tartare. Even though my father was an adventurous eater he drew the line at raw flesh. No sushi, no steak tartare. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I tried it. Actually it wasn’t steak tartare, it was yuk hoe, a similar Korean dish. San Soo Kap San in Flushing has an excellent version for $17.95. Mix up the ground tenderloin with the accompanying batons of Asian pear and raw egg and dig into this carnivore’s delight.

Steak tartare at M.Wells Dinette.

Steak tartare at M. Wells Dinette.

Only in the past few years have I begun to enjoy classic preparations of steak tartare, largely at the hands of Hugue Dufour. Over the summer I had the privilege of eating some now highly controversial horse meat tartare. It was lean and delicious. Sadly Dufour’s M. Wells Dinette does not serve horse meat. Nonetheless there is excellent steak tartare to be had. Shot through with mustard seeds, and some sort of chewy grain and topped with a poached egg, the latest incarnation is quite nice. I hope the restlessly creative Dufouir keeps it around for a while.

San Soo Kap San Korean Restaurant, 38-13 Union St, Flushing NY 11354 718-445-1165
M. Wells Dinette, MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, 718-786-1800

04/01/13 9:55am
Coffee and cocktails combine thanks to a partnership between Dutch Kills and Sweetleaf.

Coffee and cocktails combine at the new Sweetleaf.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of the third location of third wave coffee bar Sweetleaf for months. When I heard that it would be serving cocktails from Richie Boccatto of nearby Dutch Kills I became even more intrigued. So the other day I stopped by, partly to get a jolt to ward off an M.Wells-induced food coma and partly to check out the joint. Coffee maven and Sweetleaf co-owner Rich Nieto fixed me a macchiato while I soaked up the atmosphere. The wooden bar is equally suited to downing an espresso or sipping a fine libation. Ditto the comfy chairs in the front. There’s even a design element that pays homage to the gantries which are just down the road. (more…)

02/18/13 12:09pm


Canadian-Italian surf and turf by way of Long Island City.

“It came to me in a dream, this dish,” Hugue Dufour of  M. Wells Dinette said of his oysters Bolognese ($8). It consists of two oysters topped with a good tablespoon  or more of  Bolognese sauce that have been baked momentarily and then showered with Parmesan. The first time I tried it, I found it rather odd. Perhaps it was because I consumed it immediately after a rich, sweet bowl of oatmeal and foie gras. Or perhaps it was because I accidentally mistook the sea salt that anchored the oysters to the plate for more Parmesan and ate some of it. “Aidan and I were worried someone would do that,” Dufour said. “Figures it was you.”

A few weeks later I tried the dish again this time as a starter. The Bolognese was absolutely wonderful, meaty and rich, but it completely overpowered the oyster. When it comes to oysters I’m a purist. As for Dufour’s Bolognese,  I’d gladly eat two or more tablespoons of it any day of the week.

M. Wells Dinette, MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Ave at 46th Ave., Long Island City, 718-786-1800

01/30/13 12:05pm
A tasty sandwich for goold old boys and lata

A tasty sandwich for good old boys and fressers alike.

Pastrami, as deli denizens and Seinfeld fans alike know, “is the most sensual of all the salted cured meats.” At least once a month I find myself compelled to eat the luscious peppery cured beef , usually at Ben’s Best. The meat owes its sensuality to a three-fold process: curing, smoking, and steaming. Essentially the pastrami process is a Jewish form of low and slow barbecue.

So it’s not surprising that some of New York City’s pitmasters have at one time or another experimented with this most New York of smoked meats. Barbecue joint pastrami is a breed apart from its old-school deli forebears, though. It is of course smokier, but is also more rough hewn than the melting slices one finds at Bens or Katz’s. The only barbecue joint in Queens currently serving it is John Brown Smokehouse. An excellent sandwich of the home cured pastrami can be had for $12. The meat sports a crunchy blackened exterior that barbecue geeks like to call Mr. Brown (no relation to the abolitionist for whom the Long Island City BBQ joint is named). Sometimes I think I  like John Brown’s pastrami better than its much-lauded brisket burnt ends, aka meat candy. Please, don’t tell my fellow barbecue geeks of my wavering allegiance to the meat candy brigade.

John Brown Smokehouse, 10-43 44th Dr., Long Island City, 347-617-1120

01/14/13 8:19am
Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts  is great way to start the day.

Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts is great way to start the day.

I suspect coarse-cut oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts is a breakfast nutritionists would call ideal. I say suspect because I don’t talk to many nutritionists. When I do eat oatmeal I take it with a pat of butter and sugar allowing the two to melt together in the center of the bowl before stirring it up. In fact until this past weekend I had never had oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts. And I didn’t know I was ordering it either for what I ordered at M. Wells Dinette was  dish listed on the chalkboard menu as something like foie and oats with maple ($16). There was no mention of the crunchy granola component of this hautemeal on the menu at all.

Breakfast of champions.

Breakfast of champions.

Leave it to Hugue Dufour to cast such a decadent meat as the star of a dish that seems like it could have come from the Moosewood Cookbook. Dried cranberries, blueberries, apricots, and walnuts are right at home with maple and oatmeal, but seem out of place with foie. One spoonful of the rich sweet, fatty concoction dispelled any such concern. In a flash of gastronomic alchemy foie gras became virtuous and oatmeal rose to an unparalleled level of decadence. I forgive the kitchen for sneaking dried fruit in to my breakfast unannounced.

M. Wells Dinette, MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Ave at 46th Ave., Long Island City, 718-786-1800

01/07/13 1:30pm
Today’s lesson: coxcomb and balls.

Today’s lesson: coxcomb and balls.

“You don’t want to know what I ate for lunch,” I said to her with barely contained glee. “You really, really don’t.” “That’s right, I don’t,” she said. “So stop trying to tell me.”

I’d come from lunch at M. Wells Dinette, the quirky Long Island City eatery helmed by Canadian farm boy Hugue Dufour whom she is fond of calling my boyfriend. Truth be told I have a total crush on Dufour and his extreme nose-to-tail comfort food. And there was plenty of it on the menu that afternoon. “What’s coxcomb and balls,” my buddy asked about a $21 main. “It’s cock’s comb and duck balls,” the waiter said offering no further details. “Meatballs?,” I queried.” “Nope, testicles.,” he deadpanned. “I’ve never seen one come out yet,” the waiter said encouraging us to order it. I excused myself to wash my hands leaving my buddy the biologist to consider the menu.

“What’s up with the cock’s comb and balls?” I asked one of the line cooks who was leaving the WC. “Oh you should get it, it’s in a veal stock with mushrooms, and beans under a gigantic dome of puff pastry,” she enthused.

And so we did but first an appetizer of pork tongue. It was decided that the rather phallic sounding main would work best as a midcourse in our offal bonanza. The tongue was followed by veal brain grenoblaise ($13), creamy clouds of cerebellum graced with a lemony sauce, along with a hefty slice of Dufour’s kitchen sink meat pie ($15).