Saturday, March 18, 2017

WHERE HAVE ALL THE DELIS GONE?


I have had a craving for a kosher overstuffed tongue sandwich on rye bread.  The kind that you can only get at a kosher deli.  These days they are few and far between.  According to Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best, at 96-40 Queens Blvd., there were once up to eight kosher deli’s just in the surrounding area of Rego Park.  Now, Ben’s Best is only one of two located in all of Queens County.

Jay isn’t the first owner as it was being passed down through his grandparents who immigrated from Poland and Russia during the 1930’s.  This was the all too common story of people who would never take a hand out and sacrificing their life to better the future of their children’s.  They did not want their offspring to work in a deli but rather go to school and grow into a more lucrative business. 

At that time the grandparents worked and lived atop a canned goods store.  Jewish immigrants, particularly the Ashkenazi, yearned for their own “comfort food” of the meats, soups and what were considered inexpensive “delicacies”.   Jay told me that back in the 1930s and once the slicing machine was invented, there were 1500 kosher delis in New York City  and that now there are only about a dozen.  

Jay’s father, Benjamin, was the first to own this boutique delicatessen in 1945. Jay took over in 1984 after his father died, trading Wall Street for pastrami and quite happy and proud that he did.  “You just can’t get this stuff anywhere else”.  

Of the space, half is taken up by the counter and kitchen.  There is no party room.  Jay says he likes it this way as keeping up the quality and taste is easier to serve and satisfy a smaller amount of diners at a time. 

Finished with the history. Let’s get to the food.  I really wanted to sample everything on the menu.  I settled on what I felt were the important ones starting with Jewish penicillin. In other words, Chicken Soup with a huge Knaidel (matzo ball), thin noodles, a couple of carrot slices and pieces of chicken.  It’s all about the broth using whole chickens, chicken bones and soup greens.  I found that there was just enough salt to taste the savored flavor.  Hey, you can always add salt, but you can’t take it out.


Chopped liver, for those that have never had it, is made from chicken livers.  Schmaltz (chicken fat), hard boiled eggs and onions are added.  All is ground up to what would be considered a chunkier pate.  I recall years ago when my mother made this and she had to use a chopper rather than a food processor.  The chicken fat was taken directly from a fresh kosher chicken.  When fried up, there were small pieces of the crisp fat, called greeven.  Great on rye bread.  Chopped liver at Ben’s Best is served with slices of red onions, red peppers, black olives and some lettuce.  Oy, what a great sandwich it made, not to mention the good taste.  Jay has the bread specially made with caraway seeds that are totally ground. No more having someone point at your teeth.


Stuffed cabbage is another favorite of mine.  Cabbage leaves are basically stuffed with ground beef and cooked rice, along with a few other ingredients, then simmered in tomato soup.  I found both the taste and consistency a bit different from ones I’ve had before, even making it myself.  Ah! The beef was ground a bit more than usual and tomato SOUP is better than tomato SAUCE.   The cabbage roll is served with peas and carrots atop.


Since I have mentioned cabbage, I’ll mention the cole slaw and pickles that are served with meals.  Thank goodness, there wasn’t vinegar in the cole slaw.  Pickles are coming from a barrel and not a jar. One sour, one half sour.  Perfect! 


Potato pancakes (latkes) may be typical of Chanukah.  You don’t have to wait for the holiday.  Made from grated potato (less the water), onion, matzo meal, flour, eggs and oil, they are thick.  Jay has them served with apple sauce that is freshly made on the premises.   Option at home is to serve with sour cream.  There isn’t any dairy served here. 


Kasha Varnishkes are actually a Sephardic recipe that combines these buckwheat groats with farfalle bow-tie pasta.  There are no meat products in this version.  If the waitperson asks if you want beef gravy served on the side, ask “Which side?”


A delicious knish is a standard.  What make a difference is the knishwich, a sandwich of meat served inside a knish.  It’s like having your meat and potatoes in a better form.  All of the meats are made on the premises.  Ben’s Best is well known for the pastrami.  I had sampled the pastrami, corned beef, brisket of beef and turkey.  I could see what the pastrami rave was all about. 



No, I did not forget the tongue.  It is quite difficult to buy at a meat market or supermarket as I have heard from many that the Chinese discovered what they find as a “delicacy”.   That’s right, they are shipped off to China and will pay highly for it.  It’s not unusual to find the price of cooked tongue here at about $40 per pound.  Jay’s overstuffed sandwich has about a half pound of meat.  In other words, eat it sparingly!  Nurse it!  Savor it!  Love every bite of it!  My craving has been satisfied for a while. Oy, a mechayeh! 


Stressed is desserts spelled backwards.  Jay said that they make their own baklava.  Perfect timing as the baklava was just coming out of the oven.  Twist my arm.  OMG it was awesome!  Aside from eating it hot, I notice that the walnuts were chopped fine.  As much as I like baklava, I don’t particularly want to chomp on nuts.  






Saturday, February 11, 2017

ALLORA ALLURES YOUR ITALIAN TASTE BUDS



I heard of a new restaurant that opened at the Bay Terrace Shopping Center called Allora Italian Kitchen and Bar and could not imagine it would be different from any other local Italian eatery.   Why would you expect a Corporate Chef named Steve Koutsoumbaris to run the kitchen of what turned out to warrant a label of “finer dining” of Italian cuisine that you might expect in any city’s Little Italy?


I went there with a few friends.  Luchia Lee is Taiwanese American, her husband Ken Howell is a vegetarian.  Allora looks enormous when you enter.  On the left is a large bar area complete with tables and chairs.  A few lounging chairs and tables sit in front of a fireplace located in the middle.  The main part of the restaurant has a few dining areas, one of which sits near two brick pizza ovens and a room dedicated to wines.  Beyond that is a terrace which I’m told will open for the Spring season.  




We decided to have a drink in front of the fireplace, not just to warm up from the outside weather (It was just an excuse since we parked directly in front of the door).  Here came the first test.  Limoncello.  Would it be imported from Italy where the special sweet lemons are grown?   My friends each had a glass of red Italian wine.  Then the Director of Mixology Daniel Rothberg came over to tell me about some of his latest concoctions.  Galera Sappore has a base of Absolut Elyx Vodka and Violet Liqueur, fresh lemon sour, and a splash of beet juice for color, finished with an aromatic torched rosemary sprig.  That is the one I chose.  Next time it’s Bocce Bell – Stoli, Amaretto Luxardo, fresh orange juice, Peach Bitters, a dash of club soda, and garnished with Brandied Amarena Cherries. 

First up were some appetizers starting with a Burrata, a ball of mozzarella with a creamy ricotta in the middle.  Mozzarella is made on the premises as is their ricotta cheese, which has many uses as Italians love to dollop their dish.  It was served with roasted tomato, pomegranate seeds, and smoked almonds.  There is usually a balsamic glaze which is a no-no for me. 




Ken was treated to a Crostini Trio Crostini Trio:  Eggplant Caponata; Whipped Ricotta, Hazelnut & Honey; Wild Mushroom and Taleggio Cheese.  Veggie heaven then came down in the form of “grilled and roasted”.  We all loved it as we did the Beet Salad with shaved fennel, pistachios and a Pesto Ricotta. 






Now, it’s time to “non-veggie” beginning with Nonna’s  Meatballs made with beef and pork, “Sunday Gravy” (Gravy is somewhat defined as “sauce”)  and whipped Ricotta.  Luchia was quite impressed on how soft and flavorful they were.  




For whatever reason I decided to order the Octopus.  I did expect the “chewiness” that came along with it and was totally shocked at the soft texture!  Steve later came over to explain his cooking preparation (which he bragged about passing on to some top chefs who were as surprised as well).  Hey, he is Greek! 






Pasta and pizza are among the top sellers here and I can certainly understand why.  All of the pastas are made on the premises.  What’s better than having fresh pasta?  I’ll tell you.  There was an item called Gnudi.  What?  Think about having gnocci, those pillowy pastas made from potatoes and flour.  Instead of using potatoes, they use ricotta cheese.  OMG! It is served with Taleggio Cream, Prosciutto, and Shiitake mushrooms (prosciutto served on the side so that Ken could indulge as well). Another pasta:  Pappardelle topped with a Short Rib Ragu and Whipped Ricotta.  Smiles from both myself and Luchia.





One small pizza for all of us to be gratified.  What is a Detroit Style Pizza?   A cross between a Sicilian and Chicago deep dish.  We went for a Grandma with mozzarella, roasted tomato and bread crumbs.  My pizza habit tends to be scrumptious on the first slice and then I want to simply remove the toppings from the second and toss out the crust.  Not this one!  The thick crust is crunchy on the outsides and soft in the middle.  Steve shared how the dough was prepared in order to make it “airy” and adding a bit of cheddar cheese for extra flavor.   
  



I have another test.  Osso Buco made from a veal shank.  The meat was perfectly cooked coming out soft and “falling off the bone”.  Sauce (gravy) was wonderfully savory.   Cooked with roasted root vegetables and Trofie Pasta (thin, short and twisted).  What is the most important part but this dish…the marrow.   I used a knife at first and did not find it necessary to spread on anything.  I then simply took the now bare bone and sucked it out.  All of the savory-ness from the cooking seemed to melt into the marrow. 



  

I realize that we have “pigged out” at this point.  Thanks to being able to take home leftovers, it was not an issue.  We just had to experience some desserts which except for the gelato are another “made on the premises” treat for the eyes and mouth.  


Cannoli Nachos: deconstructed cannoli using Cannoli Crisps, pastry cream made with ricotta cheese, chocolate flakes and chocolate chips.  Apple Napoleon:  using a crispy Phyllo dough, cinnamon apples, a mascarpone cream, (Did you expect ricotta?) and topped with pistachio gelato.  Having a fondness for hazelnut gelato, I requested a dish of that.  Wherever they get the gelato from…it’s totally authentic and doesn’t taste like there is “flavoring” vs the real thing. 






What can you expect in the way of service?  Keep in mind that we were here on a Tuesday evening.  Plates and silverware was cleared and replaced after each course.  We all had gotten up to view the pizza ovens and chef at work.  When we got back to the table, the napkins were refolded with silverware placed atop.  Ken had never seen this and I had to explain that it is not typically done and depends upon what the Corporate or Executive Chef wants to wait staff to do.  I think that it gives a more caring touch to dining out giving a more caring and VIP feeling.   


I was going to order coffee but I told the waiter that I was “on a diet”.  In the meantime, I will go back to speak with both Steve and Daniel to obtain the lunch and bar bite menu along with an interview.  

I went back to check out some of the great cocktails that the Mixologist, Daniel has been concocting as well as the Bar Bites menu.

















Since Steve came up with the Bar Bites menu, I took a few photos of him
He is standing in front one of two pizza ovens.

This is where they keep the wines.

This is a hand cranked slicer to make meats such as proscuitti come out very thin. Heat of an electric machine keeps it fresher and cooler.



 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

THE JOY OF SOY MILK



There have been many attempts to come up with the perfect soymilk maker and it looks like a company called Sanlinx perfected so much that you can make fresh soymilk in 20 minutes and a quicker clean up.  Soyajoy G4 is the product. 

Previously Soyajoy G3 was great.  However, this one has a larger capacity (to make 7 cups), an all stainless steel cooking and grinding chamber and filter-less bottom heating.  As the website says, “Each has a microprocessor, temperature sensor, water level sensor, boil-over sensor and advanced solid-state control technology to continuously monitor control heating power and blending sequence for maximum heating without burning the milk at bottom. The G4's Perfect Grind technology combines the blade design and grinding chamber geometry to constantly stir up and draw the largest pieces to the blades for better grinding, overcoming the weakness of most other filter-less makers.” In other words, a one-piece construction with the blade attached.

Although the machine has the capacity to grind beans that are not soaked, soaking provides you with less time to process.  There are five pre-programed buttons (soaked beans, dry beans, raw juice, grains, porridge ) on top as the Soyajoy can also be used to make milk from other grains and seeds as well as porridge.  Perhaps you love the taste of almond milk or up for making a delicious pea soup.  A sixth button is a “keep warm”.   

How to you make the soy milk? You will find two packages of what are called Laura beans, a soy bean product that they say are the best for both taste and “whiteness” of the milk.  A video on their website shows someone using one and half cups (plastic cup provided) of which is first washes and soaked for “6 to 16 hours” or “overnight”.  Fill the chamber of the Soyajoy with water to lines that show min./max and then add the soaked beans.  Add beans into chamber and place the head atop.  Plug in the machine and press the button for “soaked beans”.  You will hear a “beep” and 20 minutes later hear another signally its completion.  Remove the head and rinse it off immediately to make it easier to clean.  You don’t necessarily have to watch a video as instructions are provided.
There is a pitcher and wire mesh calendar provided with the kit.  This way you can strain the milk using a spatula to press down and catching what is called “okara” or pulp.  3/4 of a tps of sea salt and about 4 tablespoons of sugar are added and stirred.  That’s it.  Place in a container…preferably one made of glass and let it cool before refrigerating.  Check out recipes to see how to flavor the milk in case you want chocolate or vanilla.

Soyajoy’s website allows you to purchase products needed to make tofu.  Nigari, for instance, is a coagulator that breaks the soymilk into curds and whey as the curds, after being pressed, turn into a cake of tofu. 

Cost wise?  Probably cheaper than what you might think and a lot less than the price of buying store bought soymilk or other non-dairy milk products.  As a dairy milk person, for me there is no substitute.  However, my palate was quite satisfied and did not seem as “watery” as some store bought that I have tasted.  I was, as they said, quite easy to make.  I will be experimenting for tofu and the attempt to make bean curd skin.  Check it out on www.soymilkmaker.com