All Conch’d Up

Wow, what a weekend!

I’ve recently returned from a last minute trip to the Bahamas for two nights and three days.  The truth is, I only had one thing on my mind, and it wasn’t fun in the sun. It was CONCH.

If you aren’t familiar with conch, it isn’t Bahamian slang for a part of the female anatomy, (munching conch), nor is it a word describing what happens when one’s wet bathing suit sticks to unsightly regions, (forming a “conch”), although it may read that way.  A conch, pronounced, “conk,” is a larger sized sea snail that is native to the Bahamas.  Its flesh is tough, rubbery, sometimes crunchy, and used in dishes like salads, soups, and fritters, just to name a few.  The flavor is briny, but lacks in taste.  You are definitely eating it for its texture, over its flavor.

Conch has been affectionately labeled the “viagara of the sea,” and is one of my top five favorite foods.  It’s a must-try when visiting the Bahamas.  Conch, that is – not viagara.   I’m talkin’ seafood, not sexual stimulants.

I arrived at the Cove Hotel shortly after one in the afternoon on Friday, and within the hour, I was a devouring a conch salad poolside.  Conch salad is my favorite of all the conch dishes.  It contains diced live conch, tomatoes, green pepper, onion, goat pepper (for heat), celery and cucumber and is finished with salt, fresh squeezed lime, and orange juice.  It is the epitome of freshness. The Cove conch salad was mediocre, but I still enjoyed it, as it had been a few years since I’ve had one.

I washed my conch salad down with the Cove’s outstanding Pina Colada.  It’s prepared with a dark rum and is as rich and creamy as it should be; It’s taste reminiscent of the aroma of Hawaiian Tropic lotion.  Warm, sweet and sinful.

That night, I decided to check out Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s restaurant in the Cove Hotel, even though I’m not his biggest fan.  My beliefs about Bobby were reaffirmed; all show, no go.  For a chef of his stature, I would have expected more.  The food just lacked, and was generally unimpressive, period.

Saturday was my day of reckoning.  Breakfast/Lunch at the Poop Deck consisted of Cracked Conch (Lightly dusted and deep fried), Conch Salad, Conch Fritters (diced conch in deep fried battered balls) and conch chowder.  It was a feasting of conch.  Heaven!   Exactly what I needed.

First came the conch chowder, which is like a Manhattan chowder with Caribbean seasoning with large pieces of conch.  Next came the cracked conch and conch salad.  The cracked conch is similar to deep fried calamari; lightly floured conch, deep-fried and served with a spicy mayo dipping sauce.  It was superb.  No complaints about the conch salad either – fresh as can be.

Finally, the fritters arrived.  The well-seasoned, flavorful dough, shaped into balls with little pieces of conch were served with the same spicy mayo as the cracked conch.  I must say, they were mind blowing: crispy on the outside with chewy morsels of conch inside.  Absolute perfection.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by my favorite spot for conch salad. (Yes, immediately following the meal at the Poop deck).  Under the bridge that connects Paradise Island to the main island, there are vendors who prepare all the local seafood specialties, including the conch salad.  There is no question that the best conch salad in the area can be found there.  I have eaten conch salads everywhere on the island, including the Fish Fry, (another local hot spot), and nothing even comes close to these vendors.  It’s where the locals go.  You’ll see very few tourists there, if any at all.  If you haven’t been, you must go.  It’s the real deal.

Once I arrived under the bridge, I proceeded to a vendor and ordered my conch salad.  He prepared the whole salad in front of me on a cutting board, and it truly was an incredible site.  First, he takes the conch, shell and all, and whacks it with a mallet, releasing the flesh from its shell.  The flesh is pulled out, washed, trimmed and cleaned.  It’s then scored and chopped.  Next, he dices the tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green

Picute courtesy of www.motuiti.com

peppers and goat pepper and adds the colorful mixture to the chopped conch.  He then sprinkles with salt.  After a quick toss, the ingredients are placed in a bowl and finished by squeezing fresh lime and orange juice over it.  Organic, simple, andoverwhelmingly refreshing.  There is something about having a delicacy prepared right in front of you, in the birthplace of its origins, that can’t be paralleled on any Floridian menu.  By this point, the abundance of conch I had already consumed was taking its toll on me. To say I was starting to feel all “lovey,” is an understatement.

Dinner Saturday was an obvious. Nobu.  It’s always a treat.  Yes, I had the standard: Toro Tartar, Rock shrimp and Miso Black Cod.  Every dish was delicious, as always.  But, the black cod was orgasmic.  I’m still not sure whether it was the fish itself, the preparation, or the fact that I was all conch’d up, hot and bothered, but the result can’t be disputed: Or-gas-mic.  The cod was delicate, sweet, and rich.  Even though that dish has become over-popularized over the past ten years, served in every Japanese-fusion-confusion restaurant in the western hemisphere, Nobu still does it better than anyone else.

The sushi and other dishes were solid as well.  I do have one question though, and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Nobu:

Is it really worth all that money?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Anyways, my trip was winding down, and on Sunday morning it was time to say goodbye to the Bahamas.  But before I did, I needed one last fix of conch.  So, on the way to the airport, I asked the driver to take me under the bridge for my final feast.  I ordered a conch salad and a scorched conch, which is the same as a conch salad minus the tomatoes, cucumber and green peppers.  The ride to the airport was bittersweet.

So there we have it kids: Three days and two conch-packed nights in the Bahamas.  I munched it poolside, devoured it on the Poop Deck, and even sampled a strange vendor’s conch, ‘cause that’s just how I roll.

Now get your buttocks down to the Bahamas for conch!!

The EpicureJunkie

Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder

I owe everyone an enormous apology, especially Tom Davis, the creator, proprietor and mastermind behind the Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder.  Why has it taken me this bloody long to write about them?  After all, I have been eating there at least twice a week since its inception in the spring of 2009.  It’s extremely unique and reverent in both ambiance and food.  Last night, “I could not take my rest”(GD) thinking of my colossal oversight.  So I started my morning today with a solo mission for a Stockyards brunch.

With every visit to Stocky’s (my pet name), I am greeted warmly by the staff,  in particular by Lisa with her warm smile and laughter. The atmosphere is certainly different, unlike anything I have ever seen before.  Small, with a long narrow floor plan, counter seating at an old wood bar, with half of the seats overlooking the kitchen, mismatched stools at the counter, and what looks like an old church pew at the front.  At first glance, newcomers may find the place a tad unusual, but within minutes, its true character shines through and you quickly realize you are somewhere special.

The food….. Oh my, where to begin.  Most everything is good.  Better than good really.  They don’t serve any diet drinks, and pay little or no attention to health conscious foods. Almost everything is made in-house, including  the curing and cooking of pastrami, bacon, iced teas, lemonade, etc.  Their foremost specialty is anything prepared via the smoker.  Tom is quite obviously the BBQ pit master, evidenced by the way he smokes the ribs, chicken, trout and brisket, just to name a few.  The ribs are extremely solid— side ribs with a dry rub and delicious sauce served on the side.  Ribs of course, can be a very subjective food item, so beware if the style is not to your exact liking. The burgers are…..INCREDIBLE.  Fresh ground beef slapped in a ball and pounded on the griddle, seasoned liberally, salt only.  I’ve always found the griddle to be the best way to make a burger.  Why?  Because when the fat drips from the patty while cooking, it caramelizes and sticks to the meat, creating an amazing crust and thus, a tremendous flavor.  Trust me on this one.  It is served on a lightly toasted bun, with all the trimmings.

Tom and the smoker

The Pastrami sandwich is easily one of the best in town when done right.  It has been a tad inconsistent, sometimes a bit tough, but quite possible that was when Tom was still working out the kinks.  However, when it’s on its game, there is nothing better.  The smoked meat hash is dynamite, served with two deep fried poached eggs, accompanied by sour cream and chives.  Yes you heard right, deep fried poached eggs.  The fresh biscuits and jam, made fresh daily by Rachel the cook, are heavenly.  Moist, salty, dense and a tad sweet.  There’s no better way to kick off a meal there.  I ask Rachel to toast them slightly on the griddle, and then I smear them with tons of butter and jam.  And the brisket sandwich?  Just ask Matty “the Chirper” about the brisket sangy, served on a French baguette avec  caramelized onions, BBQ sauce and lemon mayo.  The flavor is outstanding.

Ahhh, the brussell sprouts.  My new favorite Stocky’s find.  Sautéed al dente, with Tom’s homemade smoked bacon, and finished with parmesan cheese.  It is crazy how something so healthy can be so delicious (when combined with delicious, if slightly unhealthy ingredients).  The pulled pork sandwich topped with slaw is perfectly moist and served on a fresh soft bun.  Smoked trout wrapped in pancetta is considered one of lighter meals there, and is definitely one my favorites.  The fries and onion rings are hand cut and homemade, and simply irresistible, as they too are seasoned liberally with salt.

Those are just a few of my favorites.  I could go on and on but it’s got to end at some point.  If you haven’t been to the Stockyard’s yet, go NOW. And be fully prepared with antacids and cholesterol medication.  It is well worth it.  We only live once!!!!

Sorry again for not writing this sooner.

The EpicureJunkie

A Higher Power??

I have never been a religious man. In fact, I’m quite certain I’m an atheist.  I celebrate Judaism by observing the major holidays, for both the food and the gathering of friends and family.

That said, I suppose I do believe in a higher power.  There are some life events that are so monumental, so moving in fact, that there must be something greater looking down on us.  I have experienced such instances, most notably through music, in particular, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.

You are probably scratching your head asking, “Where is he going with this?”  And rightfully so.  Not even I know where this is headed, but let’s give it a shot.

Last week, I received an email from my buddy Noel Biderman announcing that he was about to receive an order for 50 lbs of stone crab.  The shipment was slated to be delivered by courier from Florida on Thursday.  These stone crabs were straight from the supplier of the noted Joe’s Stone Crab.  I didn’t get my hopes too high, as many people have crazy machinations, yet rarely pull through.

Thursday morning arrived, and I immediately fired out an email to Noel asking about the status of the stone crabs.  He quickly replied that they were hung up at customs and he wouldn’t receive them until Friday.  “Here come the stories”, I instantly thought.  It’s a good thing my expectations were non-existent.

Friday morning, about 11:00, I was the grocery store loading up for a weekend at the cottage, when I received the email I wasn’t expecting. It was from Noel, and the stone crabs had arrived.  Had the email appeared just ten minutes later, I would have been on the highway boogying north to the cottage.  Thank God, or the high power, that I hadn’t yet departed.  I was on Noel’s doorstep within seconds, grinning from ear to ear.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, hightailing it to open his presents, or a Dead Head who has received a miracle (free gifted ticket) to a Grateful Dead show.  The box of the stone crab claws were on the floor.  It was an amazing site.  Huge styrofoam package filled with my little friendly critters, newspaper and dry ice.  It was a surreal moment, like an hallucinogenic flashback.  My adrenaline was pumping.  I could literally feel each beat of my heart, the blood pumping through my veins.

The large-sized claws looked absolutely perfect.  They were delivered uncracked, so as to retain their freshness and prevent water log.  I grabbed a zip lock baggy, and took fifteen claws, packing them in ice. Noel filled a container of Joe’s famous mustard sauce which he had made prior to the big delivery.  I jumped back into the car and headed north to the cottage.

Within minutes of my arrival, I waived the bag in excitement, like I had just dragged home a carcass in the primitive days.  I broke out the claws along with the mustard sauce and proceeded to devour three in very short order.  They were absolutely incredible.  The flesh was firm, and they tasted as fresh as if I was at Joe’s in person.

Seriously, does it get any better?  Sitting at the cottage, beautiful day, overlooking the water, eating stone crab?  It was as if I was dreaming.  I didn’t want the moment to end.

Could this whole experience possibly be an act of God, or that higher power I mentioned earlier?  It is experiences such as these that make me think that indeed, there is something greater than all of humanity looking down on us.

Thank you Noel.

Confessions of the EpicureJunkie: The Birth of My Son

birth of my sonNow here is another one I’m not overly proud of.  Or….. maybe I am.  I suppose it just goes with the territory.  And yes, it is a true story!!

The Scene:  The birth of my first child Cole.  The Location:  Mt. Sinai Hospital (like a good Jew). The Date:  November 21, 2002.  It was a terrifying day.  I could barley take care of myself, let alone a newborn.

The” Wifey” and I arrived at the hospital early, for her labour induction.  The nurses set us up in a room, and began the process.  From this point on, she was only permitted to eat ice chips, so her stomach stayed empty, avoiding nausea.  Between the nurse’s inability to find a vein for the IV, and two botched epidural attempts, the “Wifey” was none too thrilled.  I sat quietly in the corner of the room, observing and minding my own business.

A few hours into the process, I started to feel a tad hungry.  The obvious choice was the hospital food court for some institutional food.  Or, I could call my in-laws, who were on their way down, and have them pick me up a little somethin’.  So that’s exactly what I did.  I left the room, called my mother in-law Linda, and asked her if she could grab me a double meat, medium fat Pastrami from Pancers Deli.  And as always, she obliged (Oh how I love her).  Shortly thereafter, my in-laws showed up to witness the birth of their first grandchild, brown paper bag in hand, containing the much anticipated Pastrami Sandwich.

During this entire time, “Wifey” was still experiencing her contractions and all kinds of other “feminine issues”, while complaining about how hungry she was.  I gently grabbed the brown paper bag from Linda’s hands and proceeded to my corner, where a chair and table awaited.  I unwrapped the sandwich with a vengeance and devoured it in record time.  As I was enjoying the smoked, savory flavors, “Wifey” yelled, “what the hell is that smell?”  I cleared my throat, erasing any hint of a pastrami-related clog, and sheepishly replied with something along the lines of, “I don’t know”.  But I knew it was going to be hard to make this one go away.  The smell of pastrami, its pickled spices and black pepper, had completely permeated the room.  In fact, the smell was so thick, so pungent, you could almost cut it with a knife.  I found myself buried knee-deep in quite a conundrum.  On the one hand, what on Earth could be better—  witnessing the birth of my first child, the sweet smell of Pastrami in the air, and the luscious taste of it lingering in my mouth?  I dare say, next to nothing.  On the flip side, “Wifey” was famished, while attempting to push a watermelon through her “birth canal” and being forced to inhale the fumes of pastrami.  Life could be worse, no?  (Please don’t answer that question).

Sure enough Cole was born healthy and strong, into a room of loving parents and family members, and the smell of pastrami ripe in the air. Look at the big picture….  Does it get any better?  It’s just part of being married to the EpicureJunkie.

I suppose if there’s one thing I learned from the entire experience, it’s that next time, I will have Abie’s smoked meat from Montreal, brought in special for the occasion.

Sorry Hun.

The EpicureJunkie

Field Trip to Nikolaou

Alright kiddies.  Drop your forks and wipe the food from your face.  On second thought, keep eating.

Last week, I made my annual pilgrimage down to my favorite restaurant supply store, Nikolaou Restaurant Equipment Ltd.  The outing always brings back feelings of excitement, comparable to that of a young girl meeting the Jonas Brothers for the first, second and third time.  I have been stocking my kitchen with Louis’ (the boss at Nikolaou) help for 15 years and he has yet to let me down.  He has worked with me to source special items and has always been extremely accommodating.

I walked through the doors of Nikolaou on a beautiful Saturday morning with a spring in my step.  I was immediately greeted by Louis and the smell of metal (most of the products sold are metal).  I took my initial stroll through the store and picked the obvious items that I required.  After placing them down at the cashier, Louis and I proceeded to chat.  We continued to talk for some time, regarding stoves and various other items.  It was rather coincidental that we were both sourcing the same stove (Blue Star), although his wife axed his dream.  Obviously, great minds think alike.

Louis then told me he had something for me.  He handed me the 2010 Vollrath Restaurant Supply catalogue which contains over 350 pages of commercial cooking products.  It is filled with everything from appliances to utensils to pots and pans, and everything in between.  I was floored.  It was like handing a Playboy magazine to a 14 -year old boy.  I felt flush in the face, explosive actually.

Just then, Louis turned to me and said I’d better get a move-on, as my meter was about to expire.  I told him not to worry,  I was having way too much fun and didn’t want this feeling to end.  I floated around the store several more times, picking out other odds and sods.  I began to think (which happens rather infrequently), how wonderful this store truly was and is.  I felt like a kid in a toy store.

Wow, what a visit.  Between my purchases, sourcing new products, the 2010 Vollrath Catalogue and gabbing with Louis, it wound up being a memorable occasion.  One I will always remember.

The EpicureJunkie

Nikolaou Restaurant Equipment Ltd.
629 Queen St. W.
Toronto, ON  M5V 2B7

NYC- The New Fulton Fish Market

My adventure started when I awoke at 1:00 a.m. to meet the boys from F. Rozzo and Sons.  I hopped in a cab and headed downtown to their shop.  I was greeted by Joe Rozzo, who was busy taking orders for the current day.  The daily requests were way down, given that NYC was awaiting “The Blizzard of the Year” (which never happened).  As I waited for the driver to take me to fish market, I observed Joe pulling orders off the answering machine and enter each of them on to a cue card.  Such an archaic way of taking orders, I thought.  Certainly there must be an easier solution. When I presented him with this question, he answered, “It just works.” Well, who am I to question the top fish purveyor in NYC?  After all, he sells to the most distinguished restaurants in the city, including the Four Seasons, Daniel and BLT, to name a few.

The driver finally arrived and we jumped into the truck and made a beeline for The New Fulton Fish Market which is located in the Bronx.  Previously, the Fulton Fish Market was located in downtown Manhattan, until the new facility was built in 2005.  The drive took approximately 30 minutes and we arrived shortly after 2:30am.  My body was rushing with adrenaline.  The Fulton Fish Market is the second largest fish market in the world, second to the Tokyo fish market.  What an incredible outing for the EpicureJunkie.

Once we arrived, I was greeted by Dan, the buyer for F. Rozzo and Sons.  He was a larger than life guy who said, “follow me, and let’s go buy some fish.”  We entered the Market.  It was incredible….400,000 sq. feet of seafood market servicing not just New York City, but the entire eastern seaboard.  It was organized chaos, with people everywhere and forklifts flying back and forth.  One would think the facility would smell fishy, but it wasn’t.  There was a smell of salt water and cucumber, which is  a sign of fresh fish.  We began to walk around and I noticed within minutes, that everyone working in the market were like family.  They have all known each other for decades.  In fact, all the individual seafood wholesalers have handed down their businesses to family members, from generation to generation.

Dan’s phone rang repeatedly with added orders from F. Rozzo and Sons.  My head was spinning from all the commotion.  We visited several wholesalers seeking out the finest catch to take back and process prior to the restaurant deliveries.  Most wholesalers in the market had their specialties and Dan knew everyone and everything that went on there.  I saw every type of fish under the sun, in varying qualities.  While visiting a few wholesalers in the market, I watched as their assembly line of men broke down the fish into steaks, fillets etc.  These guys moved with speed, precision and accuracy.  After visiting the first few vendors, I was completely lost.  This was too much detail to absorb at 3am.  I was hoping to see the finest sushi grade fish, but Dan told me that type of fish is handled by specialty suppliers which is flown in specifically for them.

Dan and I headed back to the truck around 4:30am where the driver was packing the final and last minute orders.  The refrigerated cube van was stuffed to the top with nearly $70,000 worth of fish.  I don’t understand how these guys do this day after day.

I jumped into Dan’s truck to head back to the city where he dropped me back at my hotel around 5am. I needed to sleep something awful.  What a night.  And everyone thinks it’s all fun and games being the EpicureJunkie.

Thank you to all those that made this trip possible including Brett, Joe, Dan, and Louis.

The EpicureJunkie

The Harbord Bakery Challah

You know, quite frankly, I just don’t get it.  We celebrate all these ridiculous civic and religious holidays, but we don’t celebrate or recognize the finer things in life, like The Harbord Bakery Challah.  How can this be??  We celebrate Victoria day, which marks Queen Victoria’s birthday and we’ve never had a queen, and yet, we don’t recognize the Harbord Bakery Challah in any manner.  Something is terribly wrong with this picture.  That beautiful egg bread, lightly sprinkled with seeds should, at the very least, be commemorated on one of the Canadian coins.  If it was up to me, I would create a new $3 bill with its picture on it.  And, I say we get rid of the Maple Leaf on the Canadian flag and go with the Challah, or at least mention it in our national anthem.

It was only recently that I realized how important this challah is to me.  I have always known how good they are as I’ve been eating them for the past 25 years.  I did a little digging on the internet to find some information and reviews on this sacred loaf, but I came up empty-handed.  It’s mind boggling that something so incredible is not held in a higher regard.  Just looking at one of those braided beauties conjures up feelings of my first born, swaddled tight, resting in the bassinet.

Anyway, enough of my antics.

This challah is just so wonderful, better than any I’ve ever had.  It’s not just better, it literally blows the competition out of the water.  The texture is soft, moist and chewy, the flavor rich and sweet.  It can be purchased with sesame or poppy seeds.  It’s funny that most of the time we use bread as a vehicle to eat and savor other ingredients, like meats, jams and cheeses.  With the Harbord Bakery Challah, it is quite the opposite.  I look to the other ingredients as the vehicle to enhance and compliment the Challah.  It makes everything better, from chopped liver to butter to salami.

I religiously keep at least 6 in my freezer at all times.  2 1/2 minutes in the nuker (microwave) and it’s as if she was pulled fresh from the oven.  I am generally not one to freeze anything, but breads, especially the Harbord bakery Challah, hold up well when frozen.

If you think you know or have been acquainted with great French toast, think again.  This Challah will supplant any other and help create the finest French toast known to mankind.  Substitute regular bread for the Challah, and there you have it.  And when it comes to grilled cheese, when sautéed in delicious butter, it is unmatched.

I dare someone to find me a better tasting challah anywhere.

We need to give this bread the respect is so richly deserves.

Oh Canada, our Harbord Bakery Challah, True Patriot Love, in all thy son’s command………..

The EpicureJunkie

Harbord Bakery
115 Harbord Street
Toronto, ON M5S 1G7
(416) 922-5767

NYC- The Peter Luger Experience

Peter Luger’s has long been hailed as the best steak in the U.S.  This was easily the most anticipated attraction of my trip. I mean, the Holy Grail of steakhouses for cryin’ out loud. I was slated to go one evening with friends, but unfortunately my guests were unable to make the early reservation, so we went elsewhere instead.  I decided I would make it a solo mission the following day for lunch.   The next morning  around 11am I called Lugers to reserve a table but securing a reservation was proving to be extremely difficult.  I tried calling several times and did some serious sweet-talking, to no avail.  That’s when I called in the Wifey to perform her Magic.  Within minutes, she called me back to inform me that I could go any time and I would be looked after.  Only a woman can accomplish such near-impossible feats.

At the same time, I was finishing up my breakfast consisting of a fresh canoli from the Ferrara Bakery.  I immediately hopped in a cab and headed for Brooklyn.  Although it was only a 15 minute ride, it felt like hours.  I was like a drug addict, finally getting the fix I so badly longed-for.  The anxiety and anticipation were overwhelming.   My entire life, all I’d heard was, “Luger’s” Luger’s” “Luger’s”.  Well, the time had come and I had finally arrived.  I walked in feeling somewhat intimidated, being in an establishment of such legendary stature.  I felt as nervous as I would be meeting Jerry Garcia.

I sauntered up to the maitre d’, shaking slightly, where I announced my arrival.  They had been expecting me, and seated me immediately.  The ambience and feel of the restaurant was quiet and subdued.  As excited as a kid in a candy store, I started to peruse the menu.  The thick cut “Sizzling” bacon was an obvious appetizer choice and I decided to order the bone-in New York, sliced and served medium rare with a side of Luger’s German Potatoes.

The thick cut bacon arrived rather quickly.  Essentially, it was a piece of bacon cut about 1/4 inch thick and grilled. I quickly poured some famous Luger’s steak sauce on the plate to dip the bacon.  It was heaven.  But how could it not be?  Luger’s sauce is best described as steak sauce meets seafood cocktail sauce.  Douse a slab of bacon in that, and I need not say more.

Soon thereafter, the moment of truth finally arrived.  The famed, revered, almost sacred steak was served.  The steak was sliced, more on the rare side (which was fine) and drenched in butter.  My hand was quivering when I reached my fork the much-anticipated first bite.  This was, I assumed,  going to be,  quite possibly, the single-most enlightening culinary experience of my life.  I proceeded to taste the steak and closed my eyes, as not to allow any of my other senses to interfere.  I was not prepared to pass judgment after the first taste, so I quickly scoffed down more.  The flavor…………….was average at best.  The steak not as marbled as I had hoped, and was light years from the best I’d ever had.  It was simply lacking anything great.  In fact, a few nights prior, I had eaten  at a Steak House called Quailty Meats which was far superior (far from “the best” steak in its own right but still solid).

The strangest part of the meal was this:  The steak was only charred on one side.  While there was a marvelous crust on the one side, the other was slightly boiled and grey in colour. I had contemplated bringing it to the waiter’s attention, but then I thought…….. if indeed it was a mistake,  such an error should never occur at “the” best steak house in the country.  And if it was intentional, then it should NOT be considered “the” best steak house in the country.

That said, Lugers was an extremely disappointing experience and I’m uncertain as to why it is often praised as one of the best steaks around.  Period.

NYC- Breakfasts of Champions

I guess it only seems logical to start my account of the NYC trip on the topic of breakfast, the first meal of the day.  Before I dive headfirst into the details, I think it is very important to differentiate between the two main types of American breakfast.  First, you have a traditional style breakfast which consists of regular breakfast items:  eggs, pancakes, French toast, breakfast meats, etc.  This can be prepared in a “greasy spoon” style or in a more refined manner.  The other style of breakfast involves greater creativity, utilizing untraditional textures, ingredients, techniques and flavors.  I tend to favor the latter.

While in NYC, I visited three popular breakfast restaurants that included, Pastis, Bubby’s and Norma’s.  Pastis was my first breaky-stop and I was lucky enough to be accompanied by the Chirper who flew down to meet me for a couple of days.  The menu was on the traditional side, with a French flare.  We ordered Eggs Benedict, Pancakes, Parisian Ham, Sausage and Bacon.  The eggs Beni were delicious, served in a very solid hollandaise sauce along with a side of potato-onion-cheese home fry.  I think the home fry was the highlight of that plate, even though the Chirper devoured most of them.  The pancakes were nice and fluffy, but pancakes rarely excite me.  They are just a vehicle for eating butter and maple syrup, which is fine, but then why not French toast, which I think offers far more flavor and texture?  The breakfast meats were incredible.  The bacon was solid as can be and the sausage and Parisian Ham were outstanding.  But then again, I have a weakness for pork products, especially Sausage and Ham.  Overall it was a great breakfast, but nothing mind blowing.

The next morning, after sharing a Baker’s dozen from the Doughnut Plant (to be discussed later), eating smoked Salmon from Russ and Daughters, and paying a visit to Katz’s Deli to sample the Pastrami, we headed over to Bubby’s for our second breaky, or maybe our 4th.  The menu offered traditional items with a unique twist.  We were feeling a tad under the weather after our three previous stops, so we decided to take it easy.  We ordered Huevos Rancheros and coconut cream pie on the waitresses’ recommendation.  She also brought us an order of crusty cheese grits to try.  We had them bring everything at once, as there was no point drawing out this tasting.  I started with the coconut cream pie that was delicious, but then again, I carry a serious coconut bias.  Simultaneously, the Chirper was dousing the Huevos Rancheros in Tabasco sauce.  Huevos Rancheros is a Mexican dish served with fried eggs, tortilla, avocado, salsa, refried beans and potato.  Just what I needed.  The combination of all the flavors and textures was awesome.  My only regret was that I wasn’t in a better condition to enjoy the dish.  As for the Crusty cheese grits, need I say more??  Bubby’s was great, and I look forward to trying it again, whilst in a better state, on my next excursion to NYC.

Yes folks, I’ve saved the best for last.  Norma’s.  No question about it, THE best breakfast I have ever eaten, hands down.  The restaurant is set in the lobby of Le Parker Meridian Hotel and offers a menu that is chic, opulent and creative.  Every aspect of the restaurant, menu, and service is executed with exceptional detail.  The coffee is delivered in a French press, and is remarkably bold and rich.  The orange juice is like a nectar from the heavens.  I ate there twice over the course of my trip and on my first visit, I order the Cheesy French Toast.  It was like an episode of French toast meets French Onion soup.  A baguette was dipped in an egg batter, fried, then topped with fried onions and cheese before being placed under the broiler and loaded up with bacon.  It was absolutely mind blowing in both taste and creativity.

On my second visit to Norma’s, I order a traditional Eggs Benedict to compare with Pastis, as well as a side of Bacon, orange juice and French pressed coffee.  The Eggs Beni was served with new potatoes, which were fine, but not exceptional.  The Eggs Beni on the other hand was unbelievable.  Eggs poached to perfection, yolk running, and the Hollandaise, OMFG!!!  Rich, sultry, buttery and smooth.  The Hollandaise was well above average, which I am here to tell you is hard to accomplish.  These Eggs Beni were far superior to those at Pastis.

Both meals at Norma’s were a mind-altering experience.  I felt like I was in a dream, or maybe at a dead show in a foggy, yet peaceful haze.

Each one of my breakfast experiences was quite enjoyable and educational, but there is no question that I preferred Norma’s to the rest.  Regarding the two styles, Norma’s definitely falls into the creative style of Breakfast with exceptional execution, but then again, others may prefer the “greasy spoon” style.

The EpicureJunkie

NYC- The Chirper Chirps: Part 1

The following is a first-hand account of February 8, 2010.

9:15 a.m. – I’m sitting on the tarmac aboard Flight AC712 bound for New York’s famed La Guardia airport.  My flight is an hour late, and I’ve just been treated with all the respect of a used condom by Air Canada’s predictably vile staff, but even they are no match for my giddiness.  I find myself beside a man of at least 85 years, and directly in front of what must be a screaming 2-year old.  And yet every few minutes or so, I find myself laughing aloud, and I know it’s not the same episode of Two and a Half Men I see on every trip.  It’s the thought of New York City.  It’s the thought of New York City with the Epicure Junkie.  I hope I’ve packed my diapers.

10:45 a.m. – I meet the Junkie at the hotel to find there is only one bed in the room we are co-habitating.  While I am somewhat disturbed, this isn’t about to ruin my day.  We are off to the first of many meals.

11:13 a.m. – We arrive in the heart of the meat-packing district at Pastis.  I have been here before and remember how good it is.  We sit down and the Junkie does what he does best…orders in abundance.  Eggs benedict, pancakes, Parisian ham, sausage, bacon and orange juice.  They are all delicious as can be.  The pancakes are fluffy as clouds and the eggs benny ooze in just the right amount of hollandaise.  The “breakfast meats” do not disappoint.  We are off to a wonderful start.  I am completely full.  But there is work yet to be done, and dammit, we’re gonna do it.
Pastis: 8.5 out of 10

12:11 p.m. – We hoof it to the City Bakery at 18th and Somewhere-or-Other.  The recommendation comes from the Chirper’s parents who have frequented this place on prior occasions.  The Junkie runs off to the prepared food station while I am in charge of baked goods.  The Junkie meets me back at the table with a cheese pizza made on a pounded croissant and a heap of mac n’ cheese.  I make it back with two piping hot, right-out-of-the-oven cookies, each bigger than Dolly Parton’s left breast (anatomically speaking, no two breasts or cookies are the same size). We dive head first into all of the above.  It’s as if we hadn’t eaten a full blown meal a half-hour ago.  I do the yeoman’s work.  Each item is better than the next.  I alternate bites between the macaroni, cookie and pizza.  It sounds all over the place, a little bit like Hank Moodie’s sex life, but it turns out to be just right.
City Bakery: 8.75 out of 10

1:10 p.m. – We arrive back at the hotel and move to a suite.  This is nothing short of great news.  The thought of sleeping next to the human sulfur pit known as the Junkie was beginning to wear on my mind.  We were two meals deep and I knew a storm was-a-brewin’.

2:07 p.m. – What are two guys, stuffed to the gills, to do with their free time? Ain’t it obvious? Answer: Lunch.  And there’s nothing better for an impending eruption like a little Cuban food, a world-renowned tonic for violent stomach pains.  Enter Café Habana, located at the northern end of Soho (I refuse to call it Noho cause it sounds so…ya know).  Anyhoo, we sit down in the unassuming diner, where we’re seated directly next to the restrooms.  It’s as if they’ve been following the Junkie’s tweet and know it, or someone, is about to go down (in the bad way).  We order the corn on the cob, lubed in butter and rolled in parmesan cheese.  It is finished off with a chili lime powder.  Quite simply, it’s shockingly good. Within 15 seconds the cobs are returned to the plate, as if eaten by raccoons. There isn’t a niblet to spare. We can’t spare a square. And yet, we are not finished. An order of chicken quesadillas as well as shredded pork, accompanied by refried beans and rice, are just want the proctologist ordered. The food is fantastic.
Cafe Habana: 9 out of 10

2:46 p.m. – The cab drops us off in a part of town that seems eerily familiar to a number of other cities I’ve visited over the years. The bustling, the pushing, the stank, the boxes. My God the boxes. Yeah, that’s right. We’re in Chinatown. And we’re looking for……doughnuts? We walk what seems like 5 miles before we check the address of our destination only to find the Junkie has omitted a number. It’s no matter as the walk done us good (or well if you’re doing a grammar check). We hale down another cab and arrive at the Doughnut Plant minutes thereafter. We meander over to the entrance and prepare to enter but are informed by a passerby that the shop is closed every Monday. I shoot her a look, as if I might snatch her marble rye if she’s lying to us. She is not. It’s probably just as well. A huge night awaits us and it would be a shame to spoil it. We decide that the Doughnut Plant will be our first stop the following morning.

3:22 p.m. – Just when you thought it was time for the four S’s (sh*t, shower, shave, sleep), the junkie pulls a fast one and tells the cabbie to drive directly to 74th and Amsterdam. He does not pass go, but he does collect almost $200. This place is that far. However, it is also THAT good. This place is none other than the Levain Bakery. So unassuming is it, that you need to walk down seven steep stairs just to enter. The choices are limited but it’s no matter. We have a chocolate chip walnut cookie and a double chocolate cookie for good measure. They are both heavenly. A sly grin makes it’s way to the Junkie’s increasingly oversized face. He is proud of this find and of the day itself. And he knows, he’s got one more trick up his sleeve before he goes night night.
Levain Bakery: 9 out of 10

4:10 p.m. – We lie together on the master bedroom’s bed. It’s a king-size, so don’t get any ideas. We’re laid out, like herring at a Bris, wondering how we’re gonna tackle dinner. As I drift off, I pray to Allah I will one day eat again. I’m hoping that day is four short hours from now.

7:00 p.m. – I wake up to foulness that is the Epicure Junkie. He has crossed the Chirpper’s line, a line many people insist doesn’t even exist. Once I regain my sense of smell, I can barely contain my jubilation. I feel like a young man, who’s been chasing that one special girl for some time, until he finally hears those magic words: “Do you wanna rent a movie?” Touchdown! Jackpot! Tally Ho! We are hitting Mario Batali’s well established Babbo for a bang-out, no-holds-barred feast. Time to make myself beautiful.

8:02 p.m. – We arrive at Babbo for our 8:00 p.m. reservation. Despite our tardiness, the host holds our table. Our company has already arrived (Amy and Jamie). We are seated in this cool, yet comfortable place, with a nice, easy atmosphere about it. The Junkie gets to work. He declares a “no red meat night” and begins ordering pastas with little or no input from anyone. He is beginning to remind me of Yev Kasem, the Soup Nazi’s given name. But how mad can anyone at the table really be? He has order every pasta on the menu. Goose liver ravioli, pappardelle bolognese, beef-cheek ravioli, black spaghetti, chianti stained pappardelle and several more. It is glutenous and spectacular to say the least. The food is cooked to perfection, and the flavours are unspeakably good. Dessert is a maple and mascarpone cheesecake which is to die for in all aspects. First, its incredibly tasty. Second, the way I feel, I wish I were dead. Maybe. Ok not, but tomorrow can’t arrive soon enough.

11:05 p.m. – They roll us out of the restaurant and we drop the ladies off at their stop. We hit a Duane Reade pharmacy. I don’t know who this Reade guy is but he’s everywhere.  The Junkie grabs a 6-pack of Fiji water and a bottle of cherry-flavoured laxative. It’s gonna be a long night.

12:00 a.m. – I begin to realize I’m about done. I’m uncomfortably full and don’t know how easily I’m going to sleep. I can’t get settled, and from the sounds of it, the Junkie’s going to be up for some time. But then my mind wanders. It wanders back to all the cookies, the pizza, the pancakes, the cookies, the sausages, the bacon, the cookies, the pastas, the corn, the beans and of course the cookies. It’s been a day full of great food, wonderful laughs, and boatloads of carbs. But it couldn’t really get much better. Hell, I’m in NYC with the Epicure Junkie. It’s a shame we’re straight.