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Monday, November 21, 2016

Indian Sensibilities, Chinese Formalities: The Chinese Club Restaurant Review and Hakka Chinese Cuisine

It's said that one can get just about any cuisine in the world in New York City whether its made from the hands of those who originate from that particular region or not.  I mean who hasn't, on a tipsy weekend night, stumbled into a Chinese take-out place and ordered a taco platter or popped into a Greek diner at 4am for a Tex-Mex burger with all the trimmings?  Cultures can celebrate and interpret other cultures which is ideally what happens in a melting pot.  Otherwise the city wouldn't be called as such, but more like a city with hundreds of different burners going for hundreds of different pots to create only singular flavors.  

This is precisely why I was very drawn to the idea of Hakka Chinese Cuisine.  While the idea of the American cultural melting pot is a great premise, it's not only American.  This is what intrigued me about this cuisine in that how, unless you visit a global locale, you are sometimes unaware of the influences border-sharing, trade and migration have had from countries in closer proximity.  These characteristics can and have shaped cultures and created distinct styles, flavors and techniques that have made for inventive and distinctive culinary offerings.  
Chef Salil Mehta and Stacey Lo

Such is the case with Hakka Chinese Cuisine.  Without going into a grand history lesson, just consider the very close proximities of China and India and the fact that people of ideas just don't stay put.  Hakka Cuisine in a nut shell is taking Indian flavors, spices and ingredients and preparing them with Chinese techniques.  The food is vibrant and fresh and to those like myself who had the pleasure of first experiencing it last week Wednesday at The Chinese Club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, parts familiar and parts astounding.



What's interesting about Hakka Cuisine is that I found myself playing detective to figure out if a dish was more Indian flavor or Chinese technique.  As explained by the head chef and owner Salil Mehta, the restaurant offers up completely fresh modern interpretations of both cultures which he feels are dying culinary art-forms in the age of 'fast-everything'.  He is absolutely correct since what was offered up at The Chinese Club had no nods to pre-packaged, processed fast foods.  Myself and the other guests were treated to a wonderful culinary sampling served family style and we were bombarded with freshness and flavors as each dish was ready to be served to ensure never an empty plate or palette.  

The cleansing white wine along with eye-opening starters Left To Right:  1)Lightly crisp and satisfying Organic Salt & Pepper Mushrooms that had a perfect light freshness of a tender whitefish, 2) spicy Aloo Chaat with Fried Noodles, a dish with potatoes, crispy noodles, fried lotus flower, pomegranates and tamarind that was verdant and tart, 3) crunchy chili-blasted Lollipop Chicken with a Spicy Mayo for a cool heat


The satisfying walks through flavor and texture Left To Right: 1) The delightful remixed Indian street snack of Chinese Bhel Salad with puffed rice, avocado, pomegranates, cilantro, chiles & fried noodles served with a chutney sauce made of chilis, garlic, lime juice and honey, 2) smoky, spicy and fragrant Hakka Chili Chicken that had a delicate citrus flavor to balance off the comforting earthiness of the chicken, 3) a texturally lovely Vegetable Manchurian Paneer that was both crispy from the breading and creamy from the middle with an almost hoisin-like depth


Wonderful entree sides that could stand strong on their own Clockwise from Left To Right:  1-3) Brown,  Jasmine and Cumin Rices of which the cumin was my favorite with a sweet depth created by the presence of fresh cloves, 4) garden fresh and deliciously spicy Chili Garlic Noodles that could most definitely be a vegetarian's dream dish, 5) spicy Hakka Noodles that had an almost iron-rich sharp depth, 6) The Fillet of Fish in Hot Garlic Sauce was an excellent way to serve the always delicate flounder as it had a soft flaky crust and a zesty bright earthy garlicky sauce



There had to be room for this kind of dessert Left To Right:  1) this deceptive -looking Fried Ice-Cream With Noodles took softly sweet coconut ice-cream and expertly replaced the fried tempura batter coating with fried coiled noodles; the slivers of green onion look questionable but offer a pop of peppery balance to the earthiness and sweetness of the dish 2) breakfast for dessert came in the form of the Fortune Cookie Waffle Cake with its tooth fruity toppings atop a soft comforting chewy waffle pastry served with a delicately lovely sweet ice-cream, 3) this appropriately-named fresh, crisp and fruity cocktail was truly a Big Boss as it featured three sakis, mango pulp and mango pop bubbles nestled in the base of the glass


Chef Mehta, who operates The Chinese Club along with his wife Stacey Lo, believes that modernity done with a fast food mentality make people forget that good food is worth sitting down and enjoying instead of just being inhaled.  Your senses, not just your appetite, feel satisfied after a well-prepared meal made with everything fresh when you order it.  This is a labor of love for this cuisine and a respect for treasured foods from Mehta and Lo.  This idea in a world of 'I needed it yesterday' needs the sensual-appeal of food to endure.  Food should be a celebration and when it's done too fast, well, who wants to rush a celebration?  

The Chinese Club is located at 208 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718)487-4756 and is open daily for lunch and dinner and includes meat, seafood, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.  An innovative wine, sake and beer menu accompanies the restaurant's cuisine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Crawling Onto My Plate: Entomophagy Intro And The Launch of The Buggin' Out Web-Series


As a general rule, as many of my friends will tell you, I don't really like anything other than myself and the iris in my living room and bedroom living in my house.  My neighborhood is creeping with raccoons, skunks and opossums that I have no intention of putting out the welcome mat for....ever!  Of course, I make an exception for when I dog sit but those spuds can be trained and truth be known, I'd rather train a dog than a hungry giant species from the rodent family that's been living in a hollowed out log all day.  So you can imagine how much lesser tolerance I have for the creepy crawly or buzz buzzing creatures that can invade a home as well.  That is until now.

Now while I don't want to see one sitting up on my coffee table, I was introduced to a newfound way of looking at insects last week Tuesday......as food!  Entomophagy is the human use of insects as food.  It's quite a foreign and bizarre idea when approached to predominantly carnivorous societies but it's always been just as responsible and green as any modern sustainable food initiative.  So I channeled the inner Andrew Zimmern in me and was wonderfully surprised at how edible insects can be once you let go of the stigma that it should only be scraped off of your shoes or whacked with a rolled up issue of GQ.  

Last Tuesday, ONErpm Studios hosted a kick-off for the launch of their nine episode web-series 'Bugging' Out' that features the charismatic full-spectrum chef Don Peavy (Chef PV).  The Booklyn-based Peavy states "Food is political.  It's a lifestyle, it's medicine, and it feeds the soul.  My work is not just about preparing that perfect filet mignon, it's about exposing people to new ideas.  For me, opening people's minds to their diet and what's possible is a window into opening up their viewpoints in other parts of their life."  The event featured notables in the entomophagy community like naturalist David Gracer and "The Bug Chef" author David George Gordon.  Judging by the screening of the first two episodes that the guests were treated to, this looks to be a promising, well-edited and visually fun web-series that informs as it entertains.  


But enough about the people, let's get to the food!  The guests were treated to a few tasty bites that had nods to familiar food, just with insect as the main ingredient.  There were tender cricket sliders, fresh cricket sushi with a saffron and ginger rice, an earthy cricket bolognese with a textural termite ragu, crunchy cricket chips served with a cherry tomato and garlic aioli and crunchy pan-fried scorpions.  While white and red was on tap, the star cocktail of the evening was Buffalo Trace Bourbon martini made with Cricket Bitters.  After all why should food have all the fun?  Even dessert got in on the action with warm crispy honey-worm cookies.  



What's important to note is that this experience is all about perspective and it makes one very aware of the comfort zones that we put ourselves in especially when it comes to diet, sustainability and the definition of food.  I chose to walk a new line that evening and enjoyed the walk thoroughly.  It reminded me of the infamous catchphrase of my aforementioned weird food hero that "If it looks good, eat it!"

The Buggin' Out Web-Series is now online and you can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cocktails And Corpses: Day Of The Dead Cocktails with Sauza® Tequilas


It was a dark and stormy night and the wind was howling like the banshees.  It was four years to the day that they found the twisted bodies of the party guests that were too crocked to go home all asleep in the living room, the staircase and the peculiar guest cradled in the kitchen sink.  Your Halloween may come with your fair share of stories, but what's essential to making any party a memorable one is a glass, a carafe, a pitcher or a bottle of tequila.  People turning into cosmopolitan examples of inebriated zombies in last minute costumes that channel their inner desire to be a garden hoe, bloodsucking vampire or a giant chocolate chip cookie could make for interesting stories, however the inner foodie in me much more prefers the menu over the masquerade.

The seasoned gent in me would rather listen to the stories of others at this time of year not so much in the spirit of Halloween but rather in the spirit of the Day of The Dead.  The lesser known but way more maturely macabre Dia de Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the loved ones that are gone.  The holiday consists of dinners, gatherings, memorials and a newly formed parade in Mexico City.  Marigolds, ornate skulls, costumes, food and drink and music all characterize  components of this day in Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

So when I say that I'd rather listen to the stories of others this day, I invited my fellow horror movie aficionado over to binge watch scary cult horror flicks and pay homage to the real Day of The Dead with a Weekend of the Dead.  With such an undertaking on tap, what soiree would be a soiree without the presence of tequila this or tequila that?  Luckily my dear friends at Sauza® Tequila, experts at   deliciously smooth 100% blue agave tequilas, offered up some free inspiration in the form of drink and wonderful decorations from Mikasa and Modern Alchemy to get the ball rolling.  So check out these three smooth Sauza® Tequila cocktail recipes and arrangements that I tried out for my Day of The Dead Binge Fest:

Red, Red Rita Remix
Tart and sweet with a citrus kick and the wonderfully smooth taste of Sauza® Silver 

1       part Sauza® Signature Blue Silver Tequila
1       part blood orange juice
1/2    part lime juice
1/2    part simple syrup
1       orange wedge

Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker.  Shake and strain over ice (sugar-rimming the glass optional). Use a blood orange wedge during blood orange season but you can also let a regular orange wedge soak in blood red orange juice for a couple of hours and use that as a garnish.



Bewitching Berry
Refreshing with a balance of citrus, sweet and a nod to a peach tart 
  
2       parts Sauza® Signature Blue Silver Tequila
1/2    parts peach juice
1/2    parts blackberry puree (pint of blackberries into a food processor, strain and let set 24-48 hrs)
1/2    lemon juice
1       part simple syrup
1       peach slice
1       blackberry

Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker.  Shake and strain over ice into a glass.  Garnish by skewering a fresh blackberry and a slice of peach.  



Bloody Dusk
Slightly smoky seasoned with Sauza® Reposado and equal touches tart & sweet with the pop of heat

2        parts Sauza® Signature Blue Reposado Tequila
1        part blood orange juice
1        part simple syrup
blended pepper rim
ice cubes
orange peel

Add the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker.  Dip the rim of the glass into the pepper mixture of choice.    (I used cayenne, black pepper, chili powder and crushed red pepper flake).  Shake ingredients and pour into glass.  Garnish with thin slices of orange peel.

These are cool recipes that work well for a quiet frightening evening or that can be tweaked for a larger group of rabble rousers.  Just don't drink till you start becoming the walking dead because I want you to be safe and stay enligtened this Day of The Dead and as always please remember to drink responsibly.

Sauza® 100% Blue Agave Tequilas are available at your finer wine and spirit retailers.