Monday, December 13, 2010

Second Hand Fat

I have become a living legend of sorts. Tales of my epic journeys have been spread across campus, the country, and even the world (according to the stats page on my blog dashboard I have regular readers in Brazil, the UK, Ukraine, Russia, and Japan. Folks from all over have been contacting me... asking if they can be apart of my escapades. They want to experience hedonism at its most extreme. They want to see if they have what it takes. They want to sit in my aura and immerse themselves in the energy that radiates off of me. The energy I call Second Hand Fat.

In the way that those who take in second hand smoke from tobacco smokers are more likely to suffer the symptoms of a smoker, people who are in my presence are more likely to become morbidly obese. My constant weekend dining activities have been balanced by my nightly basketball games, and the fact that I usually sleep through lunch and only eat dinner on week days. But right now, as I sit in my bed, I am still amazed that I have survived this weekend. I may need a gastric bypass sometime soon. Or at least some insulin and a prescription for lipitor.

My victim for this week was Zach Schneiderman, a young man whose stomach rivals mine. He performed quite admirably... and has lived to see another day. But had it not been for his laziness I'm not sure either of us would have survived. We had planned on leaving by 9 and being in the city by noon. But because Zach had been up til 4 AM the previous morning, he decided to sleep through my seven wakeup calls. I'll have you know that I was in bed at 3 30 AM... but had no problem waking up at the agreed upon time of 8 30. So when I finally broke into Zach's dorm room and woke him up at 1... we were considerably behind schedule. Stops were cancelled, and whole meals were cut out of the fatinerary... (the eating agenda).

We made the 1 40 train, and were in the city by 3 30. And were forced to make a detour at a small park on E Houston Street while on our way to Kats' deli. We had stumbled upon a park... and at this park there were dozens of young people, predominately Asian college students, running with broomsticks between their legs around a basketball court turned Quidditch pitch. Their color coordinated outfits with matching capes were too much to pass up. Picture a bunch of awkward, uncoordinated kids running around trying to play a sport that is made ridiculously difficult by the fact that there are five foot poles sitting between their legs. And the "Golden Snitch" snitch was some weirdo running around in gold spandex. After our detour, we had made it to Katz' Deli by 4 30. Katz' deli is the site of the fake orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally", and a huge tourist destination. Despite coming at the between meals hour of 4 30, it was packed. A man hand carved our pastrami sandwiches on rye with mustard. And as he did, he slid trimmings from the still steaming cut of beef onto a small plate on top of the counter... inviting us to take a taste and see what we were in store for. It was so bomb. I washed my huge feat of sandwich architecture down with a "Dr.Brown's Root Beer," because Zach, who is Jewish, said that it was a jew soda, and the only acceptable accmpaniment for such a sandwich. It was ridiculously amazing.

The Sandwich

Our next stop was "Eataly". An Italian Market designed and owned by Mario Batali, Eatlay offers everything from fresh produce, to cheese and salumi, to wine and pizza. It was a beautiful building and the most stunning aspect of the market was the salumi and cheese counter. They had over a hundred cheeses, and over thirty varieties of Italian cured meats. The first ones that I laid my eyes on I had to have. I ordered a half pound of Mangalitsa Lardo (pork fat from a heritage breed of pork, cured in salt and herbs, and aged), a quarter pound of pancetta, a quarter pound of spicy coppa, and a quarter pound of speck (a smoked, spiced prosciutto). Then, the couple next to me had apparently asked for a taste of a certain cheese. The woman at the counter accidentally handed me a sample as well, thinking I was with them. I immediately knew the cheese. It was the cheese that I had been instructed to order on my first cheese plate on my first visit to L'Etoile. It was the cheese that I had eaten on countless croque madames at Graze. It was the cheese that I sold exponentially more of on Garde Manger, because I included it on every single "Chef's choice" order for cheese plates. It was my favorite cheese in the world, and the best cheese in America according to the American Cheese Society. It was Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Zach looked at my face and I smiled as I let it melt in my mouth. My face turned bright red and I got giddy. I immediately glanced down at the case and saw that white paper wrapped wheel of cheese with the golden label that I had grown to know so well and love so much. It honestly made my day. I didn't buy any, though, because I had already spent too much. But for sure, the next time I go to the city, I will be returning back to campus with a ten pound wheel of it. I turned to the couple and told them, "You have to buy this cheese, it's my favorite cheese in the world and it's the best cheese in America!" They did. You're welcome Uplands Cheese Company, I'll be expecting my commission check next week.

The magnificent Salumi Case at "Eataly"

But Zach and I were in a pickle. We had just bought forty bucks worth of extremely temperature sensitive meat, and were at least seven hours away from arriving back at school. We walked down the street, and I saw it like the North Star. The skyscrapers seemed to slide to the side, and I immediately was struck with joy. I would know that sign anywhere, along with the long strands of christmas lights. We had been lead by the gods to one of my personal Mecca's... Shake Shack. Zach, of course, had never been, so we stood in line in the cold (which was good for us because it temporarily solved our pork refrigeration issues). We ordered a burger each, and I got a root beer float while Zach got a shake. We sat in the cold, enjoying our Shake Shack goodies for a while, and eventually moved on to find a shop that Zach wanted to find.

Zach and I had previously decided that we were going to skip our other scheduled stops: the Spotted Pig, and Artichoke Pizza, due to time constraints and belly limitations. But as we were searching for Zach's store, I glanced at a street sign. 14th Street and 2nd Avenue... something clicked. My Pudgy senses began to tingle. I glanced to the right, and to the left, and I barked at Zach... "We're here." I took two steps forward and immediately Zach smiled and said, "Oh dear God." We had stumbled across Artichoke Pizza, the destination we had jointly decided against visiting. Zach looked dead set against it, but I was Jonesing. We compromised. We decided to split a slice. It was just as good as last time.

We decided to solve our meat temp problems, we would go to a walgreens and buy a bunch of cold packs from the pharmacy section. You know the kind where you shake them up, break the inner pouch and the thing turns ice cold for about two hours. The things that are extremely poisonous and instructed us to not ingest on the front of the box. But we wrapped two in plastic and stuck them in the Eataly Bag to last us through our final stop. We saved another two for the train ride home.

Then, the time had come. It was my chance to visit one of the places I want to work most. We had booked an 11 30 PM reservation at DBGB, a hip French Brasserie owned by Daniel Boulud. We arrived for our reservation an hour early, the restaurant was packed, but they gave us a table within fifteen minutes of our arrival. Zach ordered Head Cheese, and I ordered the Iceberg Wedge salad. Both items were incredible. But the Iceberg salad with bleu cheese, bacon, and tomatoes was just damn delicious. Then, for main courses, I ordered a crispy pig's foot and a side of Toulouse sausage ( a sausage stuffed with pork, duck, duck gizzards, and garlic.) Zach ordered crispy tripe and blood sausage. My pig's foot was perfect. It was a boneless pig's foot, rolled into a torpedo shape and slowly cooked until it was incredibly tender. Then it was breaded and deep fried. This is the kind of thing I just can't get enough of.

We left, and made the 12 40 train. A bunch of drunk college girls were screaming about birds shitting on them, and playing extremely crude (yet slightly hilarious) games of "would you rather" and keeping us awake due to their sheer volume. They were screaming and laughing and crying all at the same time... for an hour straight. Then when they finally got off the train, Zach moved to the row where they had been sitting and fell asleep... I, being the greedy sneaky fat man I am... silently cracked open the speck form the Salumi Bag, and began slowly enjoying slice after slice of salty, peppery, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth pork. As we arrived at the station around 3 15 AM, I walked over to Zach, and waved a piece of speck in front of his face until he woke up. We got back to campus by 3 45, and immediately went to bed.

This morning we woke up, around 9, and immediately went to Connecticut. Zach's dad owns an awesome little bakery in Ridgefield CT, a small town about an hour away from the CIA. We had one thing on our mind... free, fresh, awesome bread to take back to enjoy with our salumi. As soon as we got back, I met up with Taylor, my buddy from Texas who drove me to Adams, a gourmet market near school. We were going to cook a bunch of stuff just for shits and giggles. We bought chicken wings, duck legs, pork shoulder, and pork osso bucco along with your traditional ingredients for a tomato sauce, (crushed tomatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, carrots, chicken stock, and chile flakes.

We had two dishes on the agenda. First, we were going to make a dish we had seen on the internet. Michael Voltaggio, top chef winner, has a dish where he lops the ends of chicken wings and braises them in cream and chicken stock for a few hours, lets them cool, then slides the bones out of the tender wings. Then they are dredged in wondra flour and pan fried. They turned out great. They were so good, so tender, so crispy, and so freakin cool. Our main project however, was "sketty bonognaise". We took the duck legs, peeled the skin off them, rendered the skin, and boned out the legs. Then we also rendered out our pancetta from NYC, then used both fats to sear off the osso bucco, duck, and cubed pork shoulder. We deglazed the pans and in one big dutch oven, braised the meats with tomatoes, red wine, garlic, onion, carrot, and thyme.

While both pots simmered away on the stove, I got out the lardo, and the fresh ciabatta bread from Zach's dad's bakery. I shaved the lardo paper thin and melted it on top of the pieces of ciabatta. It was ridicuous. After I had done that, I literally sat by the bubbling bolognaise sauce and dipped hunks of baguette in it. I must have eaten half of that baguette on my own. After about four hours on the stove, the bolognese was ready. We served 8 people, and it was a hit. So rich, so meaty, so flavorful. Definitely one for me to hold onto.

My Lardo, and my Knife.

It was my last trip to the city until after christmas though, which makes me sad. But I know when I get back, I'll go apeshit.

And after this trip to the city, more so than any other, I actually felt really comfortable with the idea of living in the city, I understand the geography of the city now. I know the main streets. I know the subways. And I was able to single handedly navigate my way around the city usung only the subway map on the back cover of my Michelin guide.

It's looking brighter and brighter every day.

And in my restaurant/menu development project is in its finishing stages. The final menu is due Thursday. I'm already done though, so I should be able to have the final details of "Tongue and Cheek: A holistic Approach to Pork" up relatively soon.

This weekend I'll be clowning it up in Connecticut with my second favorite dog in the world, Torey. Also, I'll be attempting to recreate dishes my aunt and uncle had at Roy Yamaguchi's restaurant in Florida.



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