Posts Tagged ‘Potato Salad’


Saturday, July 31st, 2010
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In the space that used to be Bar Crudo is a restaurant called Swell. Quite frankly, it is so close to what Bar Crudo was in its realization as to be spooky. Well, similar in style, presentation and quality of seafood without the wait, crowd, or hype. There is also a more accessible menu insofar as small bites are concerned.

I learned all this late one afternoon when BFF Lisa and I were wandering around Union Square, trying yet again to decide where to eat that might be different and off-radar. I had completely forgotten about the restaurant’s existence after Bar Crudo departed and considering it was a Tuesday, we weren’t even sure it was going to be open. Walking in around 7:00 in the evening, we were really pleased to get a table. Once we finished our meal, we were more surprised they weren’t packed.

While we pondered the menu, we decided to start with a dozen oysters and I ordered a glass of Riesling from Chile to accompany — mostly because I have never tasted a Chilean Riesling. Our waitress instead suggested something I had never tried, Picpoul de Pinet, by Felines Jourdan from Languedoc. She was really fabulous; not only in the wine recommendation but also in bringing me a taste of the Chilean Riesling and a Domaine Auchere Sancerre, which I would have normally ordered with oysters. Her suggestion was spot on and a great complement to the oysters.

In wanting to try as many dishes as possible, we started with the larger portion of a Chef Tasting Platter; four selections for $22. For $15, you can start with three. And getting one taste of each kind was perfect for the two of us as $11 for four intense and interesting samplings was very intriguing. Lisa and I indicated that we would be very happy if one of the selections would include sea urchin, a particular favorite of ours. Our first four tastes:

Sashimi Grade Yellow Fin Tuna – Ample perfectly squared cuts of yellow fin tuna sits atop slices of Haas avocado with a bit of shiro dashi and sesame seeds. Very rich and quite good.

Dayboat Scallops – Fileted scallops wrapped around matchstick slices of crisp, green Granny Smith apples all topped with wasabi caviar and yuzu aïoli. This was a stunner of a combination. The rich scallop with creamy aïoli provided a rich juxtaposition with the clean, juicy apples.

Smoked Ocean Trout – Prepared with red beet gelée, wasabi-crème fraîche, and quail egg. Here the red beet gelée was prepared and used the way seaweed nori would be in a classic nigiri offering, clutching the delicately smoked trout. The fish and beet preparation sat beneath the ever-so-slightly-spicy wasabi crème fraîche and perfectly hard-boiled quail egg.

Santa Barbara Sea Urchin – With Asian pear wrap, nori, apple aïoli, and jalapeño. Served on a slice of cucumber, the waitress advised us to consume the fish combination separate from the cucumber as the vegetable component would overwhelm the rest. What was the most anticipated of all the crudo offerings proved to be the most disappointing. Perhaps because we were dining on a Tuesday and very often fresh fish is not brought in but used from the weekend, we found the uni lacking in freshness and the preparation to be the least enticing.

Of all the previous four, it was the scallops which were the most exciting with the smoked trout a close second. The tuna was very good, but with so many avocado and sashimi-grade fish offerings in the city, it was not as memorable as the other selections. Still a little hungry and very intrigued with the rest of the menu, we decided on another Chef Tasting of Four, this time getting a few cooked items on the platter.

Rhode Island Fluke – With pickled ginger, citrus salad and rice crispies. An another interesting crunch component with the light rice crispy added a very textural element but the citrus and ginger were too similar in tangy flavors to balance out the clean fluke. It was only the addition of the little sea bean which made the dish more interesting.

Coconut Ceviche of Kampachi – Served with sea bean, red onion, and rice chips.  The texture of raw fish, pickled vegetable, and crunch with a hint of coconut was intriguing, but there was a little too much of the rice chip although I can understand why it needed to be that size, to hold the dressed kampachi.

Miso Black Cod Brûlée – Served with purple potato salad, this was a universally loved concoction. The black cod with its miso marinade and slightly browned exterior had a skillfully prepared amount of sweetness which paired well with the rich, creamy potatoes.

Tuna Tartare – Prepared very similarly to a tartare recipe I grew to love when I worked for Joachim Splichal’s Patina group in Los Angeles, almost a decade ago. Freshly cut tuna, dressed with with black sesame and a hint of sesame oil plated atop finely slivered and pickled seaweed. I could eat a large plate of this.

Lisa was not interested in dessert but the waitress described the flavors of a Crème Brûlée sampler and I couldn’t resist; ginger, miso, and coffee. Our waitress insisted it was not too much and that just a few spoonfuls of each flavor would not be too overwhelming. Lisa was determined to not eat more than a bite or two but within just one taste of each flavor and we knew there was no way to not consume each one – and scrape out a little at the end with our fingers… The ginger was spicy enough with a strong, piquant taste that I adore. The coffee was rich and pungent, the way I like it – almost bitter with coffee taste. But it was the miso which was the surprise. Almost the way a salted caramel gives just enough salt taste to counter-balance the sweetness of a caramel, the umami and saltiness of the miso worked enticingly well with the sweet candied top of the crème brûlée.

There were a handful of larger dishes I would like to go back and try; a lobster bisque, a beef tartare, and bouillabaisse. Glad to have rediscovered the spot and looking forward to repeat visits.

Swell on Urbanspoon

Salt Lick Barbecue

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
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When I decided to head to Austin for a little vacation, my hostess, Jane, asked what I wanted to eat. “Barbecue?” I responded back, questioningly. Isn’t that what one eats when one comes to Texas? And although the bulk of my trip has been experiencing the joys of the Trailer Food culture, I was granted my day of ‘cue. Salt Lick to be exact. Now you can’t throw a dead cat in this town and NOT hit a barbecue joint, but the Salt Lick is something special. For starters, it is quite a drive outside town. Practically in the middle of no where. Driving as far as we did, I was beginning to wonder where the heck we were going.

Then we pulled into this dusty dirt lot. Cars were driving through and kicking up more dust. There were hundreds of cars. To the right of the parking lot was outdoor seating with a live musician and to the right of the lot was the restaurant. We had arrived. We were there mid-afternoon so it didn’t take long to get a table and walking past the grill, I could see HUNDREDS of pounds of meat being cooked. The smoke wafting through the air predicted an epic meal. A stack of 1950s green Melamine plates were placed in front of us while we perused the menu. I let my hosts order — apparently the only thing to order — that which is known as Family Style; endless helpings of beef brisket, sausage , and pork ribs, served with potato salad, cole slaw, beans, bread, and pickles and onions.

My hosts brought their own wine, two fabulous bottles of rosé, a South African Mulderbosch and a truly spectacular Charles and Charles Columbia Valley Rosé. It seems that all of the alcohol in the Salt Lick is BYOB. The rosé was a great choice. Everything was served family style. Of the side dishes, the cole slaw was my favorite, undoubtedly because of the heat of the day and the coolness of the cut slaw and the fact that it was a bit more vinegar-based than the mayonnaise-based slaws. The potato salad was adequate and I at least appreciate that it was German-style and, again, not mayonnaise-based. The baked beans were almost lack-luster (but having access to the Rancho Gordo beans, it is not a surprise that any other bean would not impress). There was a hint of smoke to the beans, but I felt they lacked a strong sweet-and-sour component which usually complements good barbecue. And I did not bother tasting the bread, but I could see that it was ample and soft which I know is appreciated by many who put together self-made brisket sandwiches. I did appreciate the fact that there was an endless supply of pickles – again, in the heat of the day, having some bright astringency to juxtapose against the heaviness of the food was welcome.

But this was all about the meat. Our first platter of meat included eight or ten 1″ chunks of sausage, six pork ribs, and another dozen or so slices of brisket. The brisket was surprisingly lean and dry. My hosts knew better and as our first platter of meat emptied, they asked our waiter for “fatty brisket” next time. Moist and tender, a fork was barely needed to cut this into bites; it was very easy to shred before eating. There are much-enjoyed burnt bits alongside the tender centers and the sauce that is served is the same in which the meat is grilled has a rich tanginess and is the perfect complement to the caramelized meat bits. But for me, this was all about the ribs. I could not get enough of the flawless morsels that actually did fall off the bone. That ubiquitous phrase, “fall off the bone” tender was probably scribed after experiencing these ribs. Finishing a second — or was it third? — plate of ribs, there was still a bit of fatty brisket left and I couldn’t stop myself. One of the hunks left on the communal plate still had the crunchy, burnt exterior with tender, frayed bits of interior protein.

We finished up with a cobbler sampler; peach on one side and blueberry on the other, all topped with an ample scoop of vanilla ice cream. Very good, but not nearly as memorable as the meat. I found the fruit compote on the cobbler to be a bit too sickly goopy and sweet as though the freshness of the peaches was hidden by fake cornstarch. I also appreciate a bit more firm crust and I found the cake to be too soft with not enough crispy bits. But overall, those things which make the Salt Lick famous are what thrilled me; the smoke in the air, the packed benches of families all crammed together for want of giant platters of meat, the “experience.” This is not a fancy-schmancy, sit-down restaurant. It is loud and busy and a place that must serve upwards of thousands of pounds of meat a day. You have to appreciate that fact. There is some outdoor seating with live music where another hundred or two-hundred people gather for familial experiences with great food and company.

So greatly appreciative to my hosts – the Kings and their son, Andrew, for letting me share their Father’s Day at such a quintessentially American experience. It felt like going to church where one worships the almighty roast animal; performing mass with the smoke in the air akin to the incense of church and the high priest, the chefs who administer the host to the brethren. I am saved and reborn in the brotherhood of barbecue. Amen.
The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon