Wednesday, February 25, 2009
James just walked into my office offering a spatula full of goodness: "king cake cracklins," or icing, butter, and cinnamon that he scraped up from around the edges of the king cake he's making.
(Did you know I got to know this amazing man in a kitchen? Our first date was on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, 12 years back. We'd been working together 14 hour days for 2 weeks at a cafe right on the parade route near Louisiana Avenue. We decided to have a little fun before the season ended by closing up after the Saturday parades and heading down to the Marigny. When he walked me all the way home because the streetcars weren't running, I knew this might last past Lundi Gras.)
We're having some dear New Orleans friends over for dinner (all the way down from Park Slope :) There will be crawfish gumbo for dinner and great Mardi Gras mixes this year from Brent, and from years past from Kat and Alex (Oh ye Royal Duke and Duchess of Schweg, may I please have my copy of 2009?). I'm hoarding a big mason jar of doubloons I inherited that goes back to parades that rolled in 1969. They've got Abita at my local beerstore. So we're all set to laissez les bon temps rouler.
I feel like the Queen of Rex in exile.
Can't wait to go down for a long visit in March. We're gonna see Celeste shoot her own wedding, check out Cedric and Mia's contemporary art gallery AMMO, visit our peoples on Laurel street. Then I'll head to Monroe for a week with family. Call me then if you wanna hear me slide into my native accent.
Hope you all have a good gras, but if you're finding it hard to get your funky on, call us a little later on, and I'll see if I can't hook you up with a bowl of James's gumbo.
Posted by James at 4:15 AM
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
1) An affordable hotel in Manhattan. 2) An affordable hotel in the Meat Packing District. 3) An affordable hotel in Manhattan in the Meat Packing District that makes you feel like Don Draper. 4) The same as above that straddles the one-day-in-the-future brilliant High line path.
Almost makes me want to be a tourist in NYC again... For now, I'll stick with Brooklyn.
For more picture and information, check out the March issue of Travel + Leisure, on newsstands!
And if that isn't enough, try going literally next door to DeBragga and Spitler, where some of the premiere beef aging in the city is housed....It is, in fact, the Meat Packing District.
Posted by James at 1:11 AM
Once upon a time, the notion that the underpass around the South Street Seaport in Manhattan would smell less like seaport and more like South Street sounded as unlikely as...um..."fish for brains." But here we are, 2009, and the fins, bellies, and scales have all but completely vanished. And yet, 'round the island and up a bit, the Meat Packing District--fashionable, habitable, and tourable--is still the cities meat locker. Smells like it, looks like it, and acts like it. For now.
A while back, Food Arts sent us deep into the frozen corridors of DeBragga and Spitler to shoot an industry story on aged beef. Here's a bit of the journey and some of the story. (block text by Katy Keiffer) I'm still temped to find my way to one of the better steak restaurants in town and hunt for what's supposed to be a magical and palette-specific experience of eating some of the finest aged beef in the world. Although Jessie, a pesce-tarian for years, spent just as much time in the locker as me (see last image post), she won't be joining me.
With menus boasting steaks up to 75 days [aged] in some cases, this is not necessarily meat to everyone's taste. Nor does it fit every pocketbook. Highly aged beef is a very personal and individual choice. In the words of Craftsteak's [Tom] Colicchio, dry aged beef of over 45 days, can become, "finky, musty, very gamey." [....] The loss of volume through dry aging can be breathtaking. Marc Sarrazin of DeBragga and Spitler, a New York City supplier, says dry aged beef can lose as much as 15 percent of its weight, and up to 50 percent of its yield thanks to combined weight loss and the heavy trimming necessary to remove the most dessicated parts of the aged meat[....]
In the end, a steakhouse will survive on good meat and fail with bad. There is no hiding in this format, no matter how great the sauces and sides. According to Colicchio, the steakhouse trend will continue to thrive. "Why would it stop? Meat has always been, and always will be, a staple of the American diet." He ended the conversation with a tag line that the beef industry should pay him for: "When times are bad, people are going to splurge, and beef feels good."
Quite nearly the Gilbert and George of the Meat Packing District, Marc and George of DeBragga and Spitler are among the kings of the aging meat market in New York City. They supply among others Craftsteak and Soho House with meats aging anywhere from under a week to 42 days.
After hours in the cold and after photographing the engaging and likable meat-men under the tracks (the high line runs right above the entrance to DeBragga and Spitler), we got the final maceration-in-progress low down. Below, from left to right, are short loins aged 42 days, 14 days and 1 day.
Now, if only we could have packed a grill, smuggled in some charcoal, and turned off that huge drying fan swirling near-freezing temperatures at my partner.
Get thee to a steakhouse.
In the meantime, more from the Food Arts article can be found here: http://www.foodarts.com/Foodarts/FA_Feature/0,4041,385,00.html
Posted by James at 12:00 AM
Sunday, February 15, 2009
City of Nights: Singapore comes alive at night. The temperatures drop to mild upper 70s after days of 90...many days...everyday in fact. Singapore sits right on the equator just at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, so the days are warm and consistent all year round. The Harbor plays a huge role, when just around dusk locals and tourists both descend on the the downtown area, apparently with one thing on the mind---FOOD!
Two of my favorite experiences were had in each of Chinatown's two hawker centers. The hawker stands are like street food, but nationalized, celebrated, cheap, and made nearly perfect by government health regulations. In fact, there so good that going to a fancy restaurant really is just a luxury of ambiance. The first stop was at the Maxwell food center, a spur of the moment craving to sample the famed Chicken Rice of Singapore. Delicious. $2.50 for almost half a chicken and a mounded plate of perfect chicken-infused rice. It turns out that I happened to stumble upon the same Chicken Rice stand that Anthony Bourdain went to for his show on Singapore food (fun to watch and down-loadable on itunes.)
The second (above) was on the first night of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. It was like a Chinese, foodie Mardi Gras! The place was packed, and the Fried Oyster and Eggs we devoured alongside a couple giant Tiger beers set us straight. More below.
We spent a lot of our time near the Quay, which was once a rambling and rambunctious fishing and trade port part of town, and was founded by the British for that. Since the 1950s or so, the shipping and fishing has left the heart of town, and a very young, and quite westernized CBD has risen up in its stead. But even there, and even in the heart of the very young convention center near the harbor, there always seems to be a delicious hawker center right around the corner!
(From left: break-time near Clark Quay, a party scene, a little like Bourbon Street, only more welcome--though I am sad to say that there is a Hooters; middle, cool nook of a hawker center near the convention center; right: Boat Quay and the central business district. Below, local skaters.)
Posted by James at 2:05 AM
Friday, February 13, 2009
My priorities were pretty simple in Paris. Spend time with our favorite friends there, find a good traditional croque-monsieur for weekday lunch, see the Seine, and perhaps squeeze in a soccer game (watched Bourdeaux win over Paris in a great game).
Gray weather kept our camera packed away for the most part, that and good long dinners. The above is at the Bibliotheque Nationale. It reminds me a bit of Milan Kundera, and I haven't decided which I like best, the above version or the one below. (Perhaps a vote is in order on the comments page.) The library hosted a pretty good exhibit "70' La Photographie Americaine" in their gallery. A bit more can be found here about the show. The show had an interesting collection of some of the majors like Arbus, Evans, Frank, Friedlander--Did anyone see that the Madonna photograph sold for twice it's expected price? It's amazing she was hired for $25 dollars for the photo shoot in '79 when she was strapped for cash--Mary Ellen Mark, Meatyard...And the show even had a Larry Fink image that looks a bit like an image PDN published in the '08 Photo Annual from his "My sexual safari" series.
A couple days later (and 2 croque-monsiers later), we made a quick stop by the Seine before leaving town.
Above, Xabi and Raphaelle, at the Seine. Below at home. (Two of our favorite subjects)
Some may have heard that much of France is a couple weeks into a strike against measures taken by Nicolas Sarkozy in the economy and in public works, including education. Both our friends are teachers in the French university system. We wish them well in their struggles.
Posted by James at 6:12 AM
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
(Nothing like a few artists, an alleyway/parking lot, and a bucket of paint to make things look particularly Flem-hip)
Two hours in Brussels, -4 degrees Celsius, and a few rolls to burn. The Galleries in Brussels must be incredible in the summer, full of warm air and light. In this year's deep freeze, the open air mall-meets-ornate-train station was filled with swift moving pedestrians and stylish overcoats.
Above, a cool bar/cafe on Rue du Marché au Charbon; Sommer (below), at ArSene/50 sent us to the Charbon area to find the cool cafes. (Sorry we missed the dance party, Sommer!).
(Bellow: The grand golden plazas in the heart of Brussels, a gorgeous gallery/mall, and Bar Fontainas.)
Belgium was a stopping point on our journey to see Jessie's brother Andy, who is studying in Leuven and recently proposed to Quinn. Cheers to you both!
Posted by James at 11:30 PM
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
We arrived late in the small but super-dutch-chic Maastricht to find a frozen but happy town. (A good solid freeze can really wreak havoc on the train system in the area.) The hotel rooms were ablaze in red mood-light, a "big lip" sofa in the corner of the room, and out the window, a blend of industry, early 20th century hearths, and luminous rooftops. One could almost expect a shivering Ewan McGregor belting out some kind of musical while hanging from the moon.
Ah, the Netherlands.
Treaty of Maastricht, anyone?
Old-world Europe still reigns. I love shooting these old European towns in black and white. I can only assume the car was on loan for a film. Surely.
(The Meuse river bisects the town and feels a bit like crossing the Liffey each day. An old church in the center of town has been converted into one of the most inspiring bookstore/coffee shops ever.)
Too cold for trains, but the bicycles still work! I don't think the art of riding bicycles has been nationalized and perfected quite like this anywhere else in the world. Maybe, but the Dutch make it look so good.
(Clicking on the images will open a larger version of the pictures.)
Posted by James at 5:15 AM