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What Have I been up to?

I’ve been lazy over the past few weeks.

Well, to be honest, I’ve not been lazy, but have been a combination of busy and exhausted.  I have simply not found the time to serve you, the readers of my blog.

And for that, I am truly sorry.

So let me give you all a quick update on what I’ve been up to.  I’ve been traveling a bit, and of course, I’ve been eating.  One of my recent trips was down to Charlottesville, VA, for a weekend with burgergal down South (ok, and an actual reason, a trip to the Darden School of Business).  Charlottesville is a great town for local food, given the fact that it’s surrounded on pretty much all sides by farmland.  Leave the “city” and drive about 20 minutes in any direction, and you pretty much see this:

As you can see, it gets pretty rural, pretty quick.  However, tucked away within all of that open land is a place that is heralded as the perfect example of a sustainable farm: Polyface Farm.  It was featured in Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Joel Salatin, the farm’s owner, speaks around the country of the importance of the local food movement and supporting local economies.  Since we were going to be within an hour of it, BG and I had to check it out.  I wish I had been staying in the Courtyard again so I could have done some cooking with their products, but a simple visit was going to need to suffice this time.

Of course, just as we fueled the car up before the trip, we needed to fill our bellies a little bit.  A friend and former UVA student had recommended that we check out Wayside Chicken for some fried chicken.  As you all know from the eUWS project, we have been jonesing for some fried chicken for a while, and Harriet’s hadn’t quite cut the mustard.  Needless to say, we were excited.

There it is.  A modest cafe and restaurant, tucked away on a pretty average street in Charlottesville.  “This chicken clucks for you.”  It actually does.  It makes a clucking sound when you walk by.

We ordered up some fried chicken: a breast for BG, thigh and a drumstick for me.  Some mac and cheese and cole slaw on the side.  Keepin’ it real.

So how was it?  It was awesome.  Take a look at that rippling layering of the batter and the crispy nooks and crannies.  The chicken was cooked perfectly, and it was well seasoned throughout.  My guess is that the chicken is allowed to soak in a brine before battering and frying.  And the temp of the oil was just right– there was definitely a little grease going on, but the crunchy exterior formed a crust that prevented sogginess.  If you are down in C-Ville any time soon, do yourself a favor and grab some lunch there.  Just remember, they are closed on Sundays.

After loading up on some fat, it was time to head out to Polyface.  Since the big February storm had just passed over the area, there was quite a bit of snow and ice on the roads, but it was all no challenge for the Kia Sportage and my Andretti-like driving abilities.  We made it out there in about an hour, and despite the confusion over the un-marked and at times un-plowed roads, we finally made it.

Just as it was in Film, Inc.  Polyface Farm.

Now, it being the middle of the winter and us being two of the only fools out on the roads in these parts, we had no idea what to expect.  The place is a working farm, but in the Winter there’s not a whole of action going on.  And it’s also the Salatin FAMILY farm, so that means that there is a house on the property, where people actually live.  So it’s kind of like pulling into someone’s driveway and saying, “let me see your chickens.”  But no worries.

We pulled in and were immediately greeted by Joel’s son, Dan Salatin.  Right off the bat he was a really nice guy, and told us to make ourselves at home and wander around, even though we weren’t buying anything.  True to his word, he pointed us in the direction of the pigs and sent us off on our way.  Everything was pretty muddy and slushy, but we got a pretty good look around in spite of the sub-par conditions.

Right off the bat, you see the chicken coops with the laying hens in them.  They’ve got two different colored birds, grey ones and brown ones, which are color coded really just to help with the processing, which happens every three years.  The first thing I was struck by was how smooth and shiny the chickens’ feathers were– the feathers looked like fur, they were so smooth.  The hens had plenty of room to roam around, and the coops smelled like a barn should smell: like hay.

Look how spacious that is!  Those hens have more room to roam around than I do in my apartment.

A quick walk around the corner and you are in the middle of the pig pens.  The pigs were pretty much doing what pigs do: hanging out in the mud, eating, getting into trouble.  Again, their living quarters did not smell at all, another testament to the cleanliness of this place and the lack of need for antibiotics.  Great stuff.

These guys are going to make some sweet bacon someday.  Until then, they’re just chillin.

There are cows, too.  Not much to say about that.

All in all, this place is great.  I wish the weather were a little more cooperative so that I could have run in the fields, but alas, that was not in the cards for me.  I’m really glad I got the opportunity to head down there, and I look forward to doing so again.

In other (more local) news, BG and I went to Northern Spy with her dad last week, prompted by Sam Sifton’s review in the NYT a few weeks’ back.  The place is all about locally-sourced food and food products (they have a small “general store”), and bobo chicken makes an appearance on the menu.  The food was simply prepared but flavorful, and definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in the East Village.  Be prepared to wait, though, as the space is small and reservations are not taken.

avec Chicago, aka, "how much more fat can I eat?"

I found myself in Chicago this past weekend, you know, just for a change in scenery.  And an interview that could change my ENTIRE FUTURE.  Not that there was any pressure or anything.

Anyway, I like Chicago a lot, and from what I’ve heard, it’s becoming quite the culinary center of the midwest.  Maybe I’m biased since I was born there, but I always have felt some sort of strange connection with the place, even though I have never lived there as an adult, and I have only visited it a couple times while cognizant of my surroundings (although I was a very astute toddler).

I arrived on Friday evening, after nearly having a panic attack that my flight would be delayed hours and hours because of the storm, and I wanted to be on my A-game before the BIG INTERVIEW.  Fortunately, everything went as planned, and I found myself at the Hotel Allegro (it’s a KIMPTON property, fools!), located on West Randolph and North La Salle.

Now, for a little bit of a background– Thursday night, I had gone to Lupa for a work dinner, and chatted with my new buddy Mike, who happens to be a manager at Lupa, and also happens to be a native Chicagoan.  I asked him for some solid recommendations, being that I would be rollin’ solo in Chi-town.  He dropped me an email with a litany of places, and I knew that I would be lucky to get to even one of them.

(For those of you who are curious: “Chicago restaurants: Blackbird and avec. Schwa. Doug’s Dogs. If you wanna go very fancy then you must try one of the best restaurants in the world: Alinea. I also have a good blues club: rosa’s. I have more ideas but that’s the top of my head.
Brunch at Anne Sather. If you get up North go to Sarki’s in Wilmette or wings at Buffalo Joes in Evanston. Deep dish pizza at Giordanos. Walker bros pancake house on greenbay rd in Wilmette.”)

Looking on Google maps on my phone, I saw that Avec was a mere stone’s throw away from my hotel.  With a grumbling stomach, I headed west on a mission.  Upon arrival, I was slightly scared by the fact that there was a mass of people waiting both outside and in.  It was already 730 and I needed at least a good night’s sleep before the BIG INTERVIEW.

However, Avec looks like this:

See the big bar?  This is where I was hoping I could make my move.  Being a solo diner, I nonchalantly walked up to the host and said, “hey man, how are you doing?  I’m all by my lonesome tonight.”  Now, at the time, and actually up until I just wrote that down, I didn’t realize how much like a pick-up line that probably sounded.  In retrospect, it would have sounded maybe a little bit cooler had I said it to the hostess (featured picture left) instead of the large awkward man (also featured left, sorta).  Either way, my point was that I was eating alone on a Friday night, and I had to make it sound cool.

I was surprisingly seated within about 5-10 minutes, after which the hostess APOLOGIZED that I had to wait.  I knew I wasn’t in NYC anymore when that happened.  I’m so used to feeling like I need to apologize when I make restaurant hosts do their jobs.  “Sorry I decided to eat here and ruin your staring contest with the Opentable screen– should I come back?  I hear there is an open reservation for two at 10:45?”

Anyway, I sat down and perused the menu, which was composed of mostly small plates.  Now, small plates are truly only “small plates” when you are eating with someone else.  When you are by yourself, it’s more like eating four meals.  But I was hungry, so it was all good.

The menu was great, and I can only imagine what it would be like if I could have tried more than only a handful of things– they had great looking and smelling flatbreads, and a laundry list of pork and offal products.  I knew that I had to go with the braised berkshire cheeks with blood sausage and cabbage, and also the stuffed dates with chorizo, wrapped in bacon.  At this point, I felt that I had already too much on my plate, so I decided to ask my man behind the bar how much more I would need:

“How hungry are you?”

– I mean, I can eat (that’s my code for saying, are you calling me a wimp?  I can eat more than anyone you know.)

“Well, what are you thinking?”

– Definitely the pork cheeks, and the dates

“Aight, we’ll do a half order of the dates and the cheeks.  Maybe one more thing.  The squash is good, the fish is good, the salad is actually pretty good”

– (I knew this guy was speaking my language when he said, “the salad is actually good”) What about the veal liver?

[Looking extremely pleased, like I had just passed the “lonely loser at the bar on a Friday night surrounded by couples” test and unlocked our everlasting friendship] “You like the gamey stuff, huh? Excellent.  Let’s get it started.”


I then entered the world of arterial pain.  First, the dates arrived.

Now, it might be hard to tell from the photo, but “date” is really a misnomer here.  I would call it “bacon wrapped chorizo ball with a touch of date.”  It was served with a freshly heated mini spanish bread loaf, and came in a spicy-sweet tomato-based sauce.  It was tremendous.  This paired with a nice carafe of rioja was going to be put in a good spirit for the rest of the evening.

After devouring a half-order of the dates, which was probably enough to be my meal, the seared veal liver arrived.  I didn’t get a chance to take a picture because I immediately started to stuff my face with it.  It was a simple veal liver accompanied by parsnips, rapini, and bacon.  The liver itself had a little bit of gristle, which is to be expected, but the flavor was excellent and the bacon was a perfect complement without overpowering the dish.  I was innard heaven.

Now, between the two dishes, I probably had consumed far more than I needed to.  Bear in mind, people around me were getting TWO dishes, sharing them, and leaving.  I was by myself and was outlasting people by a good hour.  The time was about 9 o’clock, and I still hadn’t done my preparations.  But in the moment, I didn’t care.  I was eating great food and was in a good place.  Much better than staring at a TV while stressing out.

I finished my carafe of rioja and decided to live a little and get a beer.  I got a Belgian La Binchoise Amber Reserve Speciale, which paired nicely with my (second to) last course: the braised pork cheeks, served with blood sausage and cabbage, barley and artichokes.

Just a little side note at this point.  You see how all of the dishes arrive in a vessel from which you are supposed to serve yourself?  Well, they continued to give me a clean plate with every course, and despite the fact that I was eating by myself, I continued to serve myself small portions, as though I would leave the rest for someone else.  It made me feel like a dignified gentleman, and not some sort of ruffian eating from the serving bowl.

Now, back to the cheeks.  They were amazing.  I don’t know if it was the euphoria from eating my favorite part of my favorite animal, or some sort of other drug-like quality of the dish, but I was in heaven.  I can still remember the feeling from eating it, not just the taste.  I am a bit partial since I love blood sausage, as announced in my DBGB post, but the dish was perfectly balanced, with salty but creamy sausage pieces and chewy barley bits and sweet artichoke bits and big pork cheek bits.  It was chock full of bits.  I could only muster a satisfied thumbs-up when my buddy the bartender would walk by to see what was going on.  When I finally was able to get a couple of words out, I could just say, “this is awesome, man.  You guys are rockin’ it.”

I finished everything in that bowl (in four smaller servings) and poured out every last bit of the sauce (the bowl had a nice pouring spout).  When the guy took away the plate, I finally plead guilty to having over-eaten.

“You good?”

– Man, I’m cashed.  Everything was awesome.

“Alright man, I was gonna say, if you had room in your stomach, you should get the pasta, it’s phenomenal.”

I had seen the pasta.  It looked phenomenal.  But the time was 9.40 and I still had that little meeting (yeah, I had downplayed it by this point) in the morning.  But the pasta looked so good.  I saw man orders of it go out from my bar/kitchen vantage point.  So creamy, so delicious-looking.

– I’m gonna have to come back for that.  For sure…  But let me do some cheese.”

So I got some cheese.  Some Tomme de Savoie and some Torta del Casar, to be exact.  It came with more of that delicious bread and a small parsley and marcona almond salad.  And my buddy threw another beer at me just for kicks.  Maybe he saw how sad I was when I looked at the pasta on the menu: “Housemade pasta with veal and offal bolognese, cream and fresh herbs.”  It was like a dish created just for me.  It didn’t even say what offal were included, and it didn’t matter to me.  A quick google search yielded this twitter update from some dude that I don’t know: “Avec was en fuego last eve..lots of offal…pumpkin/ginger soup w/ crispy veal heart, awesome and the offal Bolognese, terrific.”

I wish I could have twittered about eating offal bolognese.

In retrospect, the fact that I ordered some cheese is completely understandable.  He employed a little of asking if I wanted another big thing (“that’s way too much food”) made me feel obligated to get another small thing (“I suppose it’s just some cheese”).  It’s simple psychology, as explained by Richard Cialdini in his book Influence, and I fell for it like a sucker.

But I didn’t care.  The meal was great, and I couldn’t have been happier and in better spirits, for that, umm, I think I had something in the morning I had to go to…

Anyway, just go to Avec if you’re in Chicago.  But take a friend.  My buddy at the bar also recommended a place called Belly Shack, which is on North Michigan near Armitage (surprised I didn’t see it, I was walking around up there).  I didn’t get a chance to check it out, but I’d like to.

The Return: Minetta Tavern Redux.

A lazy tune plays over speakers, the tinny brass melodies permeate the air. The soft golden lighting casts a nostalgic hue over the scene at the bar.  Sipping a scotch on the rocks at the bar, I can’t help but think of countless others who have been in the same situation as I, and just as content.

A lonely madame sits at the bar, gazing into what should be smoke-filled air.  She listens to conversations of those around her, yet she herself is without companionship, at least for the moment…

A suave blond gentleman enters the scene, he appears to know everyone, and everyone appears to know him. Or perhaps they are just pretending.  He. looks around before wandering to the bar for an aperitif.  Receiving it, he retreats to a corner of the bar.  Perhaps it was all an act.

A cold whiskey warms to soul while it numbs the senses.  A good night to come.

Ok, maybe the scene at Minetta Tavern this past friday wasn’t so reminiscent of James Joyce, but it was still pretty good.  BG’s dad hooked up the friday night reservation, and out of the kindness of his heart, also paid the bill.

We first sat down to what I was sure would be another great meal at Minetta Tavern.  The black label was a must, but the steaks were to be the main event for the evening.  Kicking it off, I ordered an appetizer special of day boat scallops and mushrooms, which ended up being a delicious mixture of mushrooms, scallops, and butter.  I mean, how could you go wrong?  Some other apps at the table included fresh heirloom salad (I suppose the “healthy choice”), a puréed soup of some sort with oysters, roasted beet salad, and salt-cod stuffed calamari.

All that out of the way, it was time to relive a magical memory that I had experienced six months prior.  The black. label. burger.

Yes, the black label burger was an intermezzo. It came out, divided in thirds (for me, BG, and the BGD).  I didn’t waste any time, going straight in without adding anything to it, which is exactly how I had done it the time before.  It was as tremendous as ever.  Thinking about it now makes my mouth water.  No, seriously, it does.  It’s that good.  One third wasn’t enough.  I wanted more.  But I knew that a whole lot of red meat was on its way.

And it arrived.  The côte de boeuf, shared among three of us, even though the menu indicates that it’s for two.  I don’t think that I know two people who could polish that bad boy off.  It came with three giant bones split open for the roasted marrow action (a BB favorite), and a plethora of delicious meat.  And we rocked it.  We rocked it till the cows came home.  It was just a blur of carnage that my arteries have yet to forget.  I fully recommend it, but maybe, just maybe, start with something light and do the black label if (ok, when) you have room for it.

For dessert, we had the chocolate soufflé, which was light and fluffy like a soufflé should be, with a subtle egginess that made it like rich velvet on the tongue.  Chocolatey velvet, that is.  The perfect end to another fantastic meal at Minetta.

It already feels like it’s time to go back.

Hopefully my heart will go on…


 It’s Monday night, and I have just been on a fatty food bender.  I can’t even remember the last time I ate something either green or something that didn’t involve animal fat or deep frying.  I guess it has all been worth it.  I’ve got a lot to say.

Since b4b isn’t really all about food reviews, let me just briefly touch upon the meals that have added a special layer of padding around my precious mid-section.  Fall is coming, and my instincts are kicking in full gear.  It’s time to get ready for a long drought.

On Friday night, I headed out to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, to hang out for a bit with Uberchef and his gal.  After their most generous hospitality and a bottle of wine, BG and I headed to No. 7 for dinner with a couple of friends, whose nicknames I have yet to come up with.  I had known about No. 7 for a long time, since the owner’s wife is a friend of mine from our glorious days in the media business.  I guess in the spirit of friendship, I would have to say this meal was great.

The meal was great!

But really, the meal was pretty solid, although there were a couple of misses, in my honest opinion.  We started off with the fried broccoli (which I guess was green, so I take back my earlier statement), which was much better than I expected.  It wasn’t tempura style, but it was not as heavily battered as a good piece of fried chicken (I must admit, I just got back from Locanda Verde and I still have fried chicken batter on the brain).  We also got a scallop ceviche, which was pleasant enough, if not a little bit uninspired.  There was also a frisée salad with some fig stuff and a grilled octopus salad.  There were ok.  That’s about all I have to say about that.

Then we moved on the main courses– two orders of fried quail (see, fried food dominates my life right now), a Wagyu ribeye, and some chicken thing wrapped in cabbage.  I don’t really feel like commenting on these items, so I wont.  They were good.  The wagyu is probably worth going back for, but the quail and chicken are not.  I will comment on the buttermilk pudding, which was great.

But really, all of this just ended up being killing time before the main event of the night.  Unbeknownst to me, next door to No. 7 and down the block from uberchef’s lair is the Cake Man.  The Cake Man, which you may recall, was featured on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown, for his red velvet cake.  Needless to say, when you walk into the place, there are a lot of slices of red velvet cake in the display case.  A LOT of slices of red velvet cake.  In fact, there are so many, it just seems like there is no way that it can be good.  But this assumption is totally wrong.  This stuff was DA BOMB.  I don’t really like Red Velvet cake, and I couldn’t get enough of this stuff.  The cake was moist, the frosting was creamy but not overly sweet, it was just perfect.  I can still taste it if I close my eyes.  Maybe uberchef will find it in the kindness of his heart to give his buddy the BB some…

So that was Friday.  Saturday was time to party like it’s 5769 going on 5770.  For all of my jewish readers, “l’shanah tova!”  BG’s mom had me over for “the Rosh”, so I knew it was time to party and get my brisket on.  

I got my brisket on.  I got it on good.  I got it on again today for lunch with uberchef (man, uberchef has been getting a lot of shout-outs in this post).

What I really got on and what I’m going to be getting on for the rest of the week is some chopped chicken liver.  Everyone that knows me (so, basically everyone that reads this blog) knows that I love offal, and BG’s mom made a batch just for me.  In fact, I was the only one that got it at dinner.  And then I was the only one who took it home.  So it really was just for me.  And it is awesome.  Maybe I’ll post a pic on Wednesday, when I am reunited with this inner-organ deliciousness.

Now for the main event.  As heavily touted on my twitterfeed and FB page, I went to Locanda Verde’s fried chicken dinner.  For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a 4-time occasion at Locanda Verde, down in Tribeca.  There are two seatings a night, and for $41 bucks per person, you get half of a fried chicken, a fatty slab of bacon, a bunch of sides, biscuits, and a slice of pie.  It’s a lot of food.  Serious eats has pretty solid pics, so it’s probably not really even looking at mine.  But I am going to make you look at them anyway.

I arrived at LV, and BG was already there.  Apparently there was a reservation mix-up, and my reservation wasn’t actually there.  After a moment of rage at Eva (WTF, Eva, you said we were cool!), BG confirmed that we were ok, they were going to “squeeze us in.”  At that moment, I felt like I needed to overcompensate that we actually belonged there and we weren’t just some losers who wandered in off the street and tried to pull the “but I called ahead… I talked to some woman… she said she would seat us right away…” trick.  I felt like I had to name-drop, but resisted the urge.  Whose name would I use, anyway?

So we sat down in the back dining room.  It reminded me of the lodge at which I stayed while fly fishing in Alaska.  It was all deep, made-to-be-expensive-looking wood, and there was a fireplace.  In the corner, the Woes were warming up, getting ready to play “some music to stuff yer face to” (I am saying that, they did not ever utter the words, but I would have enjoyed them more if they had).  Behind me, one of the floor manager-types got a ragin’ fire burning, reminding me that if I wasn’t sweating my ass off from all of the fried products I was about to devour, I was going to sweat my ass off from the fire that was burning about four feet behind me.

Roaring fire

Roaring fire.


The Woes

The Woes

After a few minutes of hanging out and taking in the scene, the night’s plan of attack on my arteries was placed before me.  I knew that it was going to be a tough battle, but I was determined to get through it.  As I hoped, I only had two choices to make: what was I going to drink and what kind of pie was I going to have for dessert.  Fortunately, I was only forced to choose what I wanted to drink.



The rest of the evening was a blur from this point on.  There was bacon slabs with lima beans, disorientating flashes from all of the amateur food bloggers like myself (but I, unlike those oafs, prefer to have blurry dark pictures instead of looking like a tool in a restaurant), buttery corn on the cob, buttery doughy biscuits, buttery fried chicken, buttery butter, buttery water, butter beer, buttery collard greens, and butter on my shirt.  

And a small heirloom tomato salad and some cole slaw, neither of which was buttery.


Bacon and Lima Beans

Bacon and Lima Beans


Cornucopia of heart ailments

Then there was pie.  I actually felt pretty good going into the pie round.  My stomach had not yet reached full capacity, and since I am reading Mindless Eating, I had set aside some chicken in an extraordinary show of self restraint (by the way, BG and I had three pieces of fried chicken left over.  I know that we had three because in my head I had already planned out a leftover dinner around these pieces of chicken in which I would make a small salad on the side.  I secretly gave myself two pieces of the chicken in this dream while she only got one.  Anyway, when we got back to BG’s apartment, there were only TWO pieces of chicken.  WTF???  If you’re reading this, Andrew Carmellini, have that extra piece sent to my office.).  But the pie really did me in.  And, to be honest, I didn’t really love either of them– one was a blueberry crumble and the other was a peach pie.  They were both just ok.  I know that there was a lot of hype around them, but I wasn’t feeling it.

If you get a chance to go to the fried chicken dinner, do it.  Tell them burgerboy sent you.  Since that will probably work about as well as my reservation did, give them a ring (you can only make reservations starting the Tuesday prior, and you can only reserve one week in advance, ask for Eva).


Locanda Verde
Corner of Greenwich and N. Moore Streets