Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hidden Harbors Tour of Newark Bay

I could spend every weekend walking a new neighborhood of New York and still not know the city inside and out. Knowing that there is always another block or hundred to explore is what I love most about living here.

Recently I've taken advantage of some walking tours offered by the Municipal Art Society. Led by knowledgeable guides, many of them architectural historians, the tours have taught me a lot about boreum hill, Cobble Hill and Bushwick.

But last week I enjoyed a tour of a different kind -- a boat tour of Newark Harbor. Hidden Harbors, working with Circle Line, offers boat tours of unconventional places that highlight the past and current working waterfront. Newtown Creek, Newark Bay, the Brooklyn waterfront, even a circumnavigation of Staten Island are among the tours offered every summer.

And last week's tour was unconventional. Yes, we did a quick loop under the Brooklyn Bridge at the start of the tour, and on our way back to South Street Seaport, we were given a closeup view of Lady Liberty -- but we were also treated to views of Red Hook, a tugboat repair shop on the North Shore of Staten Island, barges in the Kill Van Kull, the container port in Newark Bay and a "teardrop" Sept. 11 memorial hidden off the coast of Bayonne.

The entire tour was narrated by two guides who shared a wealth of information about the past, present and future of New York's port. And the boat, Circle Line's Zephyr, offered indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a full snack and drink bar.

Hidden Harbor's tours wrap up next month for the year. I look forward to taking another tour with them next year. Below are some pictures from last week's Newark Bay excursion.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sad Farewell to Piattini Ristorante in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

I was sad to see the other day that Piattini Ristorante at 99th Street and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn appears to have closed.

More than two years ago, my mom saw the restaurant's gelato-in-a-brioche-roll featured on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate. She bugged me often to give the restaurant a try, and it took me forever to make it over there.

I remember the date that I finally did, Nov. 4, 2010, the Thursday before the New York City Marathon. I had picked up my race package in the city after work, and on the drive home, I decided I would finally try Piattini. In a corner table with a view of the Verrazano Bridge, I enjoyed pappardelle with a wild boar ragu with a mini carafe of Italian red.  

That was the first of many visits over the last two years, most recently with my mom and cousin when they visited in March of this year. My favorites were always the Sicilian-influenced pastas on the menu: spaghetti with a mint and pistachio pesto (something I now make at home often, with the addition of oranges and olives); Linguine with tuna roe, olive oil, mint and garlic; and linguine with cuttle fish and spicy ink sauce.

If the owners have a new restaurant planned, I would love to know about it. In the meantime, their cooking will be missed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Old Mr. Flood, and the Elixir of Fish

The reading for my summer "City Life in Fact and Fiction" class included a short story and short novel by Joseph Mitchell. Both "Up in the Old Hotel" and "Old Mr. Flood" are set in the Fulton Fish Market, which closed shortly after I moved to New York City. I am sorry I never made it to the market in 2005, just to see what it looked like, even though he market had seen its height long before my parents were even born.

The Hartford Hotel setting reminds me of an evening I never experienced at the end of my first ride on the Coast Starlight, Amtrak's Los Angeles-to-Seattle route. I was travelling alone on a North American Rail Pass in December of 2000. Vancouver, Jasper, Winnipeg, Toronto and Chicago were on my itinerary, after a short stay in Seattle. My plan was to stay at a hostel in downtown Seattle, but a heavy, middle-aged Montana man I met on the train almost convinced me to go with him to Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle on the Puget Sound's Shilshole Bay. He invited me to hang out at a bar that would likely be filled with old fishermen.

Looking back, I imagine the bar probably looked like Montero's in Brooklyn Heights must have looked 40 years ago. I was almost sold, but decided against going to this strange neighborhood with a strange person. I stuck to my downtown Seattle plan.

But back to "Old Mr. Flood." To Mr. Flood, fish is an elixir that will enable him to live to 115. His description of food reads like something that could have been written in the 21st Century. My favorite passage:
"Fish," he says, "is the only grub left that the scientists haven't been able to get their hands on and improve. The flounder you eat today hasn't got any more damned vitamins in it than the flounder your great-great-grandaddy ate, and it tastes the same. Everything else has been improved and improved and improved to such an extent that it ain't fit to eat. Consider the egg. When I was a boy on Staten Island, hens ate grit and grasshoppers and scraps from the table and whatever they could scratch out of the ground, and a platter of scrambled eggs was a delight. Then the scientists developed a special egg-laying mash made of old corncobs and sterilized buttermilk, and nowadays you order scrambled eggs and you get a platter of yellow glue. 
Now ever since starting these stories, I have been eating fish nonstop. In one evening at the Jersey Shore, I ate 9 oysters, 6 clams, 6 shrimp and a 1.25-pound lobster. Today, my lunch was a fried haddock sandwich from Marino's Fine Foods in Springfield, N.J. Yesterday's lunch was canned cayenne-spiked sardines on a roll (healthy and sustainable!). Two Saturdays ago, I bought sea trout from the fishmonger at the farmers' market in Staten Island (I told him about Joseph Mitchell and paraphrased the passage quoted above).

If only New York City still had fish restaurants like those Joseph Mitchell writes about. Sloppy Louie's, Sweet's and Libby's, Gage & Tollners and Lundy's are all, sadly, closed. Thankfully, we have plenty of fish markets around, as well as some great seafood spots in Astoria.

If you're looking for a recipe here, I'll tell you that the sea trout was from the farmer's market was excellent, broiled simply with olive oil, sea salt and some diced olives and tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New York Nights

Besides food, one of my other interests these days is cities, specifically New York City, where I have now lived for more than seven years. I have indulged this interest by taking some classes at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Stay tuned for more posts on this topic.

As I begin this post, I am sitting in French Roast at Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, killing time before my evening class, City Life in Fact and Fiction. I want to share here a short passage from one of my readings for class. The English -born travel writer Stephen Graham wrote a book about traveling around Manhattan at nighttime. From the chapter of New York Nights titled Exterior Street:

It is five a.m. Something of the burden of the city has been lifted. The air is light. The heart seems freed. I am happy to be walking. I love the space and the quietness. I have got rid of the idea of going to bed, got rid of the routine of daily life. New York and its millions, its wealth, its mysteries are mine. There is a sense of conquest. The bustle has died down and I am still walking. The majority of people are asleep--but I am not the least sleepy. ... Whoever would know the poetry of New York must walk in it after-midnight hours, see the red light come out on the Metropolitan tower preliminary to the striking of the hour ... enter the Central station at four a.m. and see it anew, deserted, silent, beautiful as on the morning of Opening Day; see the City Hall at dawn hanging down from on high like the sky's apron. 
Though the city has changed drastically in the 85 years since that passage was written, it SO makes me want to walk all night through Manhattan. I have witnessed sunrises here, but only when rising early for a winter race in Central Park -- never after staying up all night. A few times a year, a good friend and former coworker and I will plan ourselves a bar crawl through Brooklyn. Usually the aim is to start in the afternoon and wrap up before midnight, so that the next day is not totally wasted. But I'm thinking next time, we should meet around 10 pm, with the goal of closing down a bar at 4 am and then grabbing some food -- followed for me by a sunrise ride on the Staten Island Ferry. One of these days ...

Phillip Lopate-edited anthology "Writing New York," sitting on my table at French Roast

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sliders on the Grill

Tonight's dinner: Sliders from Pastosa, grilled with a slice of shallot, tomato, cheddar cheese and Peter Lugar steak sauce -- with a side of mediocre caponata, also from Pastosa.

Maybe not the healthiest dinner, especially considering I skipped my planned arugula salad afterward, but it was an enjoyable one.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Surf and Turf at Home, with a Raw Bar

My plans to go to the shore yesterday fizzled early in the morning heat. As much as I love lobster at Red's Lobster Pot in Point Pleasant Beach, I had little desire to drive an hour. But I didn't let it stop me from enjoying some surf and turf at home.

Thanks to Island Fish on Richmond Road in Dongan Hills, I was able to assemble a raw bar in no time. They shucked the oysters with a couple hours notice. And I picked up some extra large raw shrimp, to be cooked quickly at home. Add a lemon and some cocktail sauce, and voila, a raw bar at home that rivals that at any shore restaurant.

Next, I grilled some shell steaks from Hillside Market to medium rare and enjoyed with corn on the cob and a small red potato, also grilled. I'd include a picture of the whole plate, but it was too dark outside for a good shot. So instead, here are the steaks, fresh off the grill, topped with some extra virgin olive oil and salt. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Back to Blogging, Back to Healthy Eating

After a year of my not posting here, Google reminded me last month that this URL still exists. I paid my renewal fee, and vowed to get back to it soon. Today is the day -- thanks to another reminder this morning!

I've put on a few pounds in the last year, and so today I start by posting (with the help of my iPhone) a photo from my lunchtime trip to Trader Joe's.

I love the salad bar at King's in Short Hills, but my last salad there cost me more than $8. Tonight, I will make my own salads at home for tomorrow and Wednesday. And starting tomorrow morning, I'd like to get back to my habit of a morning smoothie.

No, I'm not turning into a health nut. I ate a two-pound lobster at Red's Lobster Pot in Point Pleasant Beach on Saturday. And I intend to eat many more before summer was over. But in between splurging, I need to reintroduce some healthy habits.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jersey Shore Daytrip: 3 Reasons to Love the Parker House in Sea Girt

Ropes line the sidewalks outside starting in the midafternoon, a sign that 20-somethings will soon invade the multiple bars inside the Parker House. But by day, this old Victorian home on the border of two upscale towns -- Sea Girt and Spring Lake -- offers peaceful patio dining as well as inexpensive specials down in the tavern. Here are three of my favorite reasons to go to the Parker House.

1. Twenty-five cent clams. Between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, the raw bar in the tavern serves clams on the halfshell for 25 cents apiece. Yes, that's $3 per dozen, and each clam is freshly shucked. Peel-and-eat shrimp is also offered at the raw bar for $7.50 per dozen, and Miller Lights are usually $2 per bottle. For me, it's a the ideal way to kick off an afternoon of biking at the shore. If the raw bar doesn't fill you, order a few sliders ($1.75 each) from the waiters in the green polos.

2. Sliced steak sandwich on the patio. Lunch under the covered porch is ideal on a summer day. Whether you're there for a crabcake sandwich ($9.75), black and blue burger ($8.50) or, my favorite, the sliced steak sandwich with garlic butter ($9.95), you'll enjoy your meal, as well as the view of the homes and gardens down Beacon Boulevard or First Avenue in Sea Girt. Get there soon. As we progress into the later summer months, the wait for a table lengthens.

3. Steamed lobster for dinner. We're partial to eating New Jersey  lobster dockside at Red's Lobster Pot in Point Pleasant Beach, but you can also enjoy Maine lobster at the Parker House. Dining at a table, you'll pay $25.95 for a 1.25-pound lobster, but at the raw bar, a 1-pound lobster is just $8.95.

The Parker House is also open for breakfast. The beach is just a block away, but at $9 per adult per days, beach badges are some of the most expensive in the area. Still, it's one of the more beautiful -- and quiet -- beaches in the area.

What's your favorite thing to eat or drink at the Parker House?

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jersey Shore Daytrip: The Avon Pavilion

Few restaurants at the Jersey Shore bring you as close to the water as the Avon Pavilion. Open during the summer months only, this boardwalk restaurant in tiny Avon-by-the-Sea is open 7 days a week for the 2011 season as of May 12.

While browsing Chowhound message boards for restaurant suggestions in other towns, I came across a comment that suggested an inverse correlation between quality seafood and distance from the ocean: That is, the farther away you are from the ocean, the better the seafood is. The Avon Pavilion is a sure exception. At the helm in the kitchen since 1991 is Ken Samuels, a native of Asbury Park and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

I have been eating at the Avon Pavilion every summer for at least four years. While the standard menu has not changed much over that time, the Pavilion always offers daily specials. One of my favorite entrees from the regular menu is the San Tropez Shrimp -- bow tie pasta tossed with sautéed jumbo pink shrimp, Italian spinach, diced tomatoes, Spanish black olives and toasted pignoli nuts in a citrus veloute sauce (20.95).

This past weekend I made a dinnertime visit to the Avon Pavilion, ahead of the Memorial Day rush. Generally I would advise being in line at 5:30 p.m. when the restaurant opens, to ensure a good seat. Two weekends ahead of Memorial Day, the restaurant had a good crowd, but no waits for a table.

While part of the regular entree menu, crab cakes are often offered as an appetizer as well, and this is how I started my meal Saturday evening. These jumbo lump crab cakes are pure crab meat -- no filler -- and served with a side of roasted pepper creole mayonnaise ($10.95 for one). My friend started with a bowl of the "New Joisey" clam chowder. The menu's description of a "Jersey Shore zip" was right on, as this tomato-based seafood chowder was spicy.

For my entree, I veered from my usual seafood selections and instead tried a grilled strip steak from the specials menu. Plates here are always artfully prepared, and this was no exception. The tender steak was grilled medium, exactly as I ordered, and topped with lightly breaded, sauteed onions, and a light sprinkling of Maytag bleu cheese. All of Samuel's dishes seem to be garnished with a sliced strawberry, his signature I presume. And if this large plate was not enough, I was also served a side of roasted potatoes, string beans, broccoli and bell peppers.

The potions are generous and filling, but the desserts are also tempting. I finished the evening with my favorite: Toll House pie a la mode, a warm chocolate chip cookie tart topped with ice cream, Hershey's chocolate sauce and whipped cream ($8.95).

Service here is always friendly, with a good dose of Jersey personality -- and I mean that in a good way.

Avon Pavilion is BYOB. The nearest liquor store is Casagrande on Main Street, though selection is limited. Best to travel a few blocks north to Shore Wine and Liquor in Bradley Beach.

Avon's beach and boardwalk is quiet and laid-back. No games or vendors on the boardwalk, and no 20-somethings partying (for that scene, head one town north to Belmar.) Occasionally during the summer, a group of seniors plays old time music and dancing just a few steps south of the Pavilion. Parking is free in Avon, but beach badges are required after Memorial Day.

After dinner, a stroll on the boardwalk is a good way to unwind. But alas, on Saturday night, my car was in Sea Girt, so a bike ride awaited me.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pizza Rustica time on Staten Island

It's Holy Week, and on Staten Island, that means its pizza rustica time. For more about this Italian American Easter favorite--made with eggs, cheese, cured pork and parsley--and for a Pugliese recipe, check out my article in the March 16 issue of the Staten Island Advance.
My grandparents and great grandparents — from Abruzzo, Calabria and Tuscany — sailed through the Narrows nearly a century ago and boarded trains for Chicago. If they made pizza rustica in the old world, the tradition died sometime before I was born.

But in the New York area, the tradition is alive, well and enjoyed at this time of year.

“For us, if you don’t have pizza rustica, it’s not Easter,” said Bruno Pica, owner of A&S Fine Foods on Forest Avenue in Port Richmond Center. Continue reading