Skip to content

Archive for

Clemente’s Maryland Crabhouse

1/2 Convincing thirteen people to endure a lengthy B/Q ride (maybe the B line is the shit—Grub Street was all over it today) then walk a mile in high heat and humidity would seem like a tough sell, but I was lucky enough to coerce a crew out to Clemente’s Crabhouse in Sheepshead Bay on Saturday. I don’t normally do destination birthday parties or group dinners because trauma invariably ensues. Maybe the frozen margaritas, sea air and ‘90s jukebox hits (I thought I’d permanently blocked out the Spin Doctors) messed with my ability to judge, but I did feel better about hitting “the wrong side of my thirties” as one friend ominously remarked in a card.

Sure, Clemente’s can be a pain in the ass to get to, but the fun is being in completely non-Brooklyn feeling Brooklyn. The urge to buy a houseboat is not an unusual reaction after sitting on the pier for a few hours. Sprouting tan muscles, a moustache and donning a tank top and denim shorts might occur if you stay too long, though.

All-you-can-eat crabs were definitely in order since on my previous visit last year I chickened out and lobster rolled it. Minus the poor vegetarians forced to witness mass crustacean carnage, most diners opted for the same $29.95 deal. Massive metal bowls filled with both Old Bay and garlic and oil drenched crabs took over the paper-covered table. I’ll admit that I’m lame with meat extraction and it takes a lot of effort with little pay off. The crabs aren’t huge by any means. I doubt I went through more than ten, though I didn’t keep count.

After everyone seemed sated and dusk approached, there were still claws and bodies aplenty. It seemed like a waste but I couldn’t take anymore. That’s when James stepped up and went nuts. I swear, an hour after everyone else threw in the lobster bib, he was still cracking and picking like a machine. I started getting nervous that he might start turning red, sprouting claws and walking sideways. There’s no doubt that he got his money’s worth.

James's overflowing refuse bucket captured by Nao.

We really couldn’t call it an evening until the candle adorned, deep-fried Twinkie doused in ice cream made an appearance. I’m not one to indulge in party pics, in fact I keep humans out of the picture as much as possible, but lest you think my only friends are my laptop and TV, here you are. No, I’m not in any of them because I looked like a sweaty blob and my incessant rambling is more than enough.

Read more


Aquavit never would’ve occurred to me as a special occasion restaurant to choose but it was a welcome diversion from genres I’ve mildly bemoaned in the past. For a spell, it seemed like all surprises entailed manly/meaty or Latin American, all styles I enjoy, but not for every celebration.

Originally, I was tempted to say that the food wasn’t overwhelmingly Scandinavian. But I take that back. I probably shouldn’t be fit to judge anyway, considering my Swedish repertoire barely extends beyond Ikea meatballs and lingonberry sauce. As I started looking over my (overly dim and yellow) photos and tagging them in Flickr, it became apparent that Northern European components were definitely being employed, though the overall effect on a dish was frequently mitigated by a more familiar (avocado) or foreign (tandoori spicing) flavor.

The room was easily 80% full when we arrived, though you wouldn't guess it from this photo at meal's end. We eat slowly.   

To generalize, the cuisine was very clean, sharp and in more than a few instances, bitter. That’s a profile I’m not naturally drawn to; it’s a cold shoulder. Bitter and sour are slow going while hot and sweet never fail to immediately win me over. It’s good to diversify.

Amuse of lettuce soup and something fishy.


I’d already downed a couple of gin and tonics at frozen-in-time Bill’s Gay Nineties, one block south, so not everyone would think a flight of three aquavits wise. I did, and chose saffron, cucumber and pear, vanilla and black pepper from a long list. I preferred the spice and fruit of the latter, cucumber was as you’d expect and saffron despite its golden color had little taste. These kept me occupied through the first few courses. At some point I switched over to a 2005 Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner. Just a glass, though.


Another amuse. Clockwise from top right, pickled herring, tandoori salmon with what I swear was a dab of bbq sauce, oyster and something topped with roe that I can’t recall. This is when we noticed that they really love micro greens. Or green. Single miniscule leaves turned up throughout the meal.

I’ve never encountered a tasting menu presented in this manner. There were 14 dishes listed, which in hindsight sounds voluminous, even if they were only a few bites each. As it turned out, each diner gets seven, one all from the left column, the other from the right with no say in the matter. We were initially baffled when James was presented with a lobster roll (spring, not Maine style) with bacon and trout roe and I received yellowtail tuna, sea urchin, lime sauce and duck tongue.


Mine was like pure ocean. I felt a little guilty eating bird tongues like that’s the kind of callous opulence (though it’s not as if people are slaughtering ducks just for their tongues) that would cause PETA to threaten ripping out my own tongue. I have no idea what those black, slightly sweet wafers were made from but they tasted like candied seaweed.


Hot-smoked trout, salsify, apple-horseradish broth. This wasn’t mine. But all those flavors are way Scandinavian. I’m eating my words now.


Octopus, smoked avocado, lemon vinaigrette. As implied in the name, this was a smoky dish and the charred around the edges cephalopod added to that. The charcoal tastes were smoothed by the creamy avocado and tangy lemon.


Foie gras ganache, cured quail, raisin vinaigrette. This was the only dish where I was like, “that should’ve been mine.” Sweet, rich and meaty is my M.O. Luckily, it was too much for James and I got a few bites.


Beef tartar, mushrooms, salmon roe. Mine was the dead opposite. Literally cool, atop ice, raw and punctuated with grated horseradish. I would’ve loved this completely if there wasn’t quail and foie gras a few inches from me.


Short ribs and rib eye, asparagus, hop sauce (the unpictured companion was venison, green asparagus, bacon, horseradish dumplings). See what I mean about bitter? The slight bite from the hops did work, especially with the tender but compact brick of shredded short ribs.


Sorrel granite, rhubarb, yogurt foam. This was a palate cleanser all right. Triply sour but definitely sugared, as well. The yogurt gelled the ice and crunch. Vegetal granitas are the type of thing I would never make for myself but that I envision concocting for a dinner party.

Fourme d'ambert, apple, date bread.


Humboldt fog, blackcurrant, olive bread. Behold the microgreen. I was pleased that I got one of my favorite chevres instead of the blue (and I love blue cheese) and that it was ripe and runny. Cheese at my house rarely gets to that stage because I eat it too fast.


Floating island. This was complimentary and I’m not sure what all the ingredients were. The ice cream contained either cream cheese or yogurt and the sorbet seemed like raspberry. All three desserts came at once so there was a frenzy trying to sample everything before the chilled bits melted into nothingness.


Mint-chocolate mousse, orange sauce. Junior Mints and Peppermint Patties have always been my enemies. Sweet mint doesn’t do much for me. But the mint in the few bites of mousse I tried was very herbaceous and much better than similar things made with extract.


Chocolate cake, licorice, plum, chocolate stout sorbet. After the sweetness of the floating island, this mix came as a bit of a shock. The licorice and stout were anything but fluffy. I’m still not sure that I liked the dark, yes bitter, flavors. I can remember them vividly three days later, though. In fact, I’m getting the same sensation from a cup of strong black coffee as I type.

The Trouble with Fennel Seeds & Couscous


I find it hard to believe that the nation’s still not ready for goat cheese (I knew there was no way Bonnie was going to win over high schoolers with breaded goat cheese on Monday’s Hell’s Kitchen). Which is why I find it strange that anyone would enjoy a handful of whole fennel seeds in their salad.
I never ever eat at Cosi and am not in the habit of spending eight bucks for a salad (though I’m currently coveting Starwich’s pricey citrus duck salad and debating whether or not to run out get it—heck, I’ve got a little birthday spending money burning a hole in my pocket) but it was Friday and I get loopy. I only chose it because it was the lowest fat of the three new low fat salads. And it’s certainly not a low fat meal if you eat the fluffy flat bread that comes on the side.

It tasted low fat, all right. It’s the kind of thing I’d make from Cooking Light and have trouble choking down the next night as leftovers. I liked the idea of tandoori chicken and pomegranate dressing. Those two components were fine. The lettuce was neutral. But toasted fennel seeds were foul. Maybe I was putting too much stock in the arugula-ification (MS Word doesn’t even recognize the word arugula) of America because I was hoping they meant fennel pollen. But they said seeds and that’s what they meant. It could be my own bias because I’m not licorice crazy but the anise flavor was completely overwhelming and the seeds kept getting stuck in my teeth. Sure, a little pinch of candy-coated seeds after an Indian meal is refreshing but you don’t necessarily want repeated mouthfuls. The toasted fennel seed and chicken salad nipped my Cosi experimentation right in the bud.


Ok, I gave in to the Starwich urge and they managed to mess up my plan. I had been looking forward to “tender braised duck, torn peppercress, frisee, shaved carrots, Israeli couscous with orange-cherry vinaigrette” and I almost got all that. I tempered my initial desire for a sandwich and went for a salad instead. At least the couscous would add a little heft (to my meal not my body, duh). But after paying my $9.95 and waiting, it turned out that they didn’t have any of the little starchy orbs. The cashier asked the little Mexican guy making the salad what he’d recommend as a substitution and he ended up adding cucumbers and oranges. Not bad really–I barely missed the couscous. There was some serious foliage tangled up in my plastic container, though.  That peppercress is a tough customer and my plastic knife got a work out. It was certainly worth the extra two bucks to avoid fennel seed overload.

Real Jeanius

Sally Brompton is useless. This “If Today is Your Birthday..” is as lamely generic as they come:

July 25, 2007 — Look back over the previous 12 months and accept everything that happened. Then turn your back on the past and start with a fresh account. Any day can be a new beginning but a birthday is special in that it is easier to draw a line, one that represents both an end and a start. Draw that line today.

I do like the part in the general leo horoscope about “Your blood pressure should improve as well.” No one needs a coronary on their birthday.

Obligatory annual birthday photo: this is 35. Don't worry, you won't have to see this mug again for another 365 days.

So, I wasn’t far off. I’ll be going to Aquavit tonight. Oddly, it was chosen in part because “I’d like the design.” Perhaps, but it strikes me as the type of place that’s intimidating in its stiffness (demeanor and pricing—there was hardly a bottle of wine under $100 on their website, which I find nerve-wracking). All I can recall about Aquavit was a woman I used to work with years ago at a culinary website saying, “the portions were aggressively small.” We’ll see what that Inner Chef is up to.

GapjeanNot related: I do love the bizarrely flattering brown and aqua Target dress I bought this weekend. Though when you spend $34 (it wasn’t on sale in-store) on clothing, it’s tough to justify tripling the figure for a couple glasses of wine.

I’ve been a faux bois freak for a few years now. And my favorite (only?) blog dedicated to the woodsy pattern tipped me off to Martha Stewart’s new home collection at Macy’s. I already have woodgrain sheets, but I see a duvet and bath towels in my future.

I’m so, so happy to see that pants/jeans have crept back near the natural waistline (though, the high-waisted trend is illogically as unkind to curves as the whole tired low-rise debacle). I’ve been buying trousers and jeans a size large for like the past four years to compensate for the snug, hip-hugging fit. So, when I bought an Old Navy version (why pay $69 for the Gap’s rendition, never mind the $300+ category, when the ON has similar styles for $29?) Saturday, I was shocked to realize I’m now a size smaller. Not that I actually am a size smaller, but it’s nice to wear my real size again, large as it may be.

Sunday Night Special: Red Snapper with Tomatoes and Cream

Yes, there should probably be a vegetable on the side rather than a hunk of French bread but that’s how I eat.

At least on the surface, it seems like the country has gone eco-crazy in 2007. And I’ve been feeling inadequate because I eat factory farmed meat and cheap produce. For me, the leap from grocery store to greenmarket is like getting manicures and paying to have your laundry done. Better taste and higher quality are appealing but I can’t get jazzed about local sourcing or even organic processes. Maybe in 2008.

Sunday night we stopped by Fairway and picked up red snapper, cream, tomatoes, red onions and chives of no provenance. I definitely would’ve preferred ripe heirloom tomatoes–it is the height of summer–but it’s not like there’s anyplace to impulsively purchase them at the end of the weekend in South Brooklyn.

We made do (don’t tell me it’s due) just fine and turned to last week’s Fast Food My Way episode for a very simple (it was genuinely fast where some of these recipes aren’t so swift, at least not in our kitchen) red snapper recipe. Jacques Pepin is James’s fetish (I just stumbled upon Jacques’s Playa del Carmen condo that he appears to be renting out and now James is all into that. It would be kind of crazy to go to the Yucatan and hang out at Jacques Pepin’s house when he’s not there, right?) and I think I ruined his fun by buying the companion book. He prefers starting and stopping recorded episodes while cooking. I actually like things spelled out; you can still improvise.

Red Snapper with Tomatoes and Cream
2 cups sliced red onions
2 teaspoons good olive oil
1/3 cup water
1 ½ cups diced (1-inch) tomato, from 1 large or 2 medium peeled and seeded tomatoes
4 red snapper fillets (each about 6 ounces)
¾ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon potato starch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Put the onions and olive oil in a large skillet with the water. Cook over high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the liquid is gone and the onions are lightly browned. Add the diced tomato, sauté for 1 minute, then set aside and keep warm.

Arrange the fish fillets in one layer in another large skillet and add the wine and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and boil very gently for about 2 minutes, or until the fish is tender but not overcooked. (The timing will depend on the thickness of the fillets.)

Transfer the fish to a platter and set aside in a warm place. Add the cream to the liquid remaining in the skillet used to cook the fish and boil over high heat for a few minutes to reduce it to 1 cup. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, and dissolved potato starch and mix well.

To serve, divide the warm red onion-tomato mixture among four plates and arrange a piece of fish on top. Coat with the cream sauce, sprinkle with the chives, and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Recipe from Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way Houghton Mifflin, 2004

Gift Horses

Gifthorse_2I like surprises. I never understood eager beaver kids who’d scout out their Christmas presents before they were wrapped. If I had a baby, which is highly unlikely, I wouldn’t want to know its sex until it was born. I hate it when people don’t take surprises seriously (what I think is a birthday present was left in its clearly marked shipping box on our dining room table all last week and drove me batty—and to add insult to injury, if I’m to believe the packaging, the color of the not-so-secret object isn’t really my first choice. Am I ungrateful or what?).

I do get antsy this time of year because I get wound up trying to deduce where my birthday dinner will be (my party is Saturday at Sheepshead Bay gem, Clemente’s, though it’s looking like rain will thwart my dockside dining plans). All I know as of last night is that it’s a restaurant above 14th Street, has a well-known chef, is upscale, has cuisine from the European continent but I can’t know the country because it would give it away (wha?) but that it’s not Italian, and there was uncertainty whether the restaurant was less than a year old.

Um, those are pretty useless clues. So, I’m racking my brain trying to come up with sparse European cuisines: Swedish, Portuguese, Greek (not really underrepresented but James might think it is)? Aquavit? Anthos? Can't think of a Portuguese other than Tintol and that doesn't seem right. I suspect Eastern Europe is out, at least I hope so because I don’t want to end up at the Russian Tea Room.

Second guessing James isn’t easy because his thought process is way different than mine and he’s not super up on dining trends and openings (me either, really, but I seem plugged in by comparison). I was all, “did you read about this restaurant or did someone tell you about it?” His coworkers are strangely foodie (mine not so much) so it wouldn’t necessarily by a bad thing if he got his idea from one of them. Last year he picked Cookshop, which I never would’ve guessed.

Despite saying that I enjoy surprises, I’m also a bit of a worrier and an obnoxious control freak so I always have pent up fear that I’ll end up someplace wretched. Is this what not looking a gift horse in the mouth is about?

Green Around the Gills

Apparently, I had a little (they chopped it in half) eco-friendly round-up, “10 Best Websites to Get You Started Going Green” in Friday’s New York Post. It’s online but I didn’t see it (or any of the other eleven “green” articles on their site) in the paper so it’s a mystery to me when and if it ran. I do feel the need to mention it, regardless.

The Madeline Myth

I’ve always felt a little sore because I don’t have a pivotal (good) food memory. A meal or single ingredient that shaped you into the human you are today. You know, the fodder for like 85% of all food related essays. “Going home” literally and figuratively. Discovering yourself through family or life changing travels, and all the better if your tale involves a rustic village on the European continent.

(In fact, I was a little weirded out yesterday when I opened the new Gourmet to discover an article from the woman who does (did?) the Bruni Digest—about an ancestral home in Finland and the cuisine that accompanies these summer sojourns. I absolutely do not know the path that takes one from blogging smart, satire of a New York Times food critic to writing intergenerational food pieces in highly coveted venue. But then, such leaps have always mystified me.)

But it turns out that I do have a foreign food memory (I’m still working on the family component), albeit minor, and didn’t even realize it. Last century, when I still spent lots of weekends in the East Village, I would frequent the East Village Cheese Shop. Sure, everything was on the verge of turning bad but it was cheap as hell. The dollar selections up front would charm me and I always fell victim to Castello Blue, a little half circle, wrapped in gold foil and boxed in cardboard. One buck for the creamiest, brie-blue hybrid ever.

It was so good that it had to be trashy. At least that’s my nonsensical logic. A purist would just eat full on piquant blue cheese or triple cream brie unadorned. Blue Castello is the anti-Cabrales. Someone that would enjoy tempering one with the other has no respect. I’ve never been respectful, though.

I never knew such a two-in-one treat existed, at least I didn’t think so until I remembered bleu de bresse. Eighteen years ago I spent a miserable July in a 17th century country home in Southwestern France. My attempt at being a summer exchange student was not a success. I didn’t appreciate my bucolic environs one bit, could barely communicate and was bored out of my mind. But I did like the bleu de bresse when the after dinner cheese plate came out.

Well, it was a Tupperware container of cheeses, some past their prime. My host mom (who I described in my diary at the time as looking like Peg Bundy with Rod Stewart’s face, and I would stick with that assessement today) considered herself to be “modern,” which meant we ate frozen food (even the baguettes) and watched TV during dinner. Two things I had been led to believe were absolute no-nos in France. Honestly, I could’ve cared less about either at sixteen (and got a kick out of Dana Hill being in like every TV movie. I currently get a kick out of the fact that there's a guy mysteriously named Dana Hill who works remotely at my company) but did notice the discrepancies.

The creamy bleu de bresse was the only edible that demanded an inquisitive qu'est-ce que c'est from me. I’ve never sought it out since and never see it anyway. I’m not sure that it’s even sold in the U.S. But I’ve been eating approximations for years without realizing where I got the taste for the style in the first place.

Whenever I’m presented with an opportunity to try a creamy blue, it’s impossible to pass up. I’ve been trying to limit my cheese intake (when I go on healthy eating binges, I don’t miss sweets so much as rich dairy products) but soft blues are my weakness. I’ve bought two wedges in the past two weeks. See, no self-control. And it fits into my fetish for blue food.


As long as I’m unable to resist my urges I may as well sample the variations I encounter. First up is an odd cheese to start with because it doesn’t completely fit into this category.

Last week I read about Mountain Top Blue on The Kitchen and felt inspired to track it down because the store mentioned in the post happens to be walkable from my apartment. I’m not one for going all that out of my way for comestibles so this was like a cheesey siren song I couldn’t tune out.

This pyramid shaped cheese doesn’t fit my M.O. because it’s an artisanal goat milk concoction and the blue aspect is minimal. Also, at $15 a pop, it's pricier than my usual snacky impulse purchases. It’s more like a very good mild and nutty goat cheese with a hint of tanginess from the blue. It’s also more substantial and less melting than the styles I normally relish. You can cut a slice without it buckling under its own melting texture. I suspect that with age, this cheese would soften up in the center, but it didn’t last long enough to get that gooey. Purchased on a Friday evening, it was history by Monday morning. I might buy it to share at a party, but it almost felt obscene to pick at the blob solo over a weekend.

More soft blues:

Eat Your Greens (and Blues)

Rainbow_chardIt’s not as if backwards phrases like freedom fries would ever cross my lips but I’m definitely not gaga over everything Gallic. I fail to understand the foodie obsession with French culture. Blind romantic notions about the European country seem about as clichéd as our gun toting, fatso, junk food gorging image. It’s all misguided—just ask the Japanese.

However, Sunday’s New York Times profile of Frédérick E. Grasser-Hermé had an appeal I normally don’t find in subjects of “The Way We Eat” column. Who else but an eccentrically stylish (I do admire the way older European women tend to resist surgerizing their faces into supposed youthfulness—of course, their age appropriate visages sit atop a frighteningly svelte figure) middle aged French woman could go crazy with unnatural colors and combos and make it chic instead of kitsch?

BluelobsterI’d like to see her set of books, Serial Colors, each devoted to recipes using a single color. As she describes in the Times “the rainbow of my dreams: a white polar-bear cocktail, a black truffle pizza, a blue lobster roll, violet mashed potatoes with cassis. . . .” Blue lobster? Naturally blue crustaceans are incredibly rare (about one in a million) so she must mean that the flesh has been rendered azure somehow. This is something I need to know more about.

Freakishly colored food has always brought joy into my life, and the more shades of blue employed the better. Of course, my dabbling leans more towards tasty monstrosities like blue velvet cake not “cobalt blue flying-fish roe mounded on top of a marrow bone and peas and grated carrots suspended in a square of agar-agar.” Preservative laden or certified organic, it doesn’t matter to me—I’ll take green Hostess Sno-Balls and rainbow chard.

Melts in Your Mouth, Not on Your Hand

I don’t make a habit out of watching I Propose. In fact, I’d never seen an episode until Friday while flipping through the channels. With a description like, “A man makes a memorable dinner,”  I knew there would be high likelihood of a food-ring combo. There was, but I have to say that frugal as I tend to be, this wannabe groom's $1,000 jewelry budget was a little dismaying.


Apparently, these chocolate boxes are commonplace so I’ll be desensitized when I inevitably encounter the next cocoa-based vessel.

While only indirectly using food as a ruse, at least #11 on this list of marriage proposal ideas doesn't involve chocolate (starch-lovers might also enjoy #26, involving a baked potato).