The Mercer Kitchen – New York City, NY

Ah, the rare office lunch. It isn’t often that the boss is in the mood to treat all of his employees to a meal. Fortunately, yesterday mine was in one of those moods, and fortunately The Mercer Kitchen is just 2 blocks from our office at 99 Prince Street.

This cozy little joint, nestled underground beneath the Mercer Hotel, is one of the many establishments of the world renowned, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. While the food was very tasty and the atmosphere sexy, I got the feeling that this may have been more of an afterthought for the great chef. Let’s start with the food, we had a 9 top so we started with a few flatbreads:

Raw tuna and wasabi creme with pickled daikon, carrot and ginger

Black truffle and crispy fontina

Last but not least, a traditional Margherita with fresh bufala mozzarella, basil, garlic and tomato sauce, which was gone so fast I couldn’t get a shot! All three were delicious, the Margherita was an excellent example, all the ingredients were super fresh, the tomato sauce was bright with a tangy zip. The truffle, surprisingly, was the letdown of the three. It didn’t have that strong, earthy, truffle aroma that any good truffle dish should have. It tasted like they just drizzled a little truffle infused olive oil…that’s a no-no in my book. I’d gladly pay extra to see a few slivers of shaved truffle on my flatbread. The tuna wasabi flatbread was the winner for me, fresh sashimi grade tuna, a little kick from the wasabi creme and an awesome tartness from the pickled veg, too bad I had to share! I ordered my own app as well, fresh salmon over crispy sushi rice with a chipotle mayo and ponzu, topped with a little watercress and mint.

This was pretty awesome, the fish was fresh, the sauces worked well together despite the cultural divide and the rice, which reminded me more of a nice moist risotto ball, had a warm succulence that tied it all together. For an entrée, I sprang for The Mercer Burger, with pepperjack cheese, avocado, crunchy red onion, Russian dressing with a side of frites.

It was wonderfully juicy and perfectly cooked medium rare. The Russian dressing added a nice tang, with the onions there for fantastic flavor and texture. Paired with a nice buttery toasted bun, it was a fine specimen of a burger. Of course, dessert followed, I chose the warm roasted apples in puff pastry with a caramel glaze, dried cherries and french toast ice cream, yum.

The meal was very tasty and everyone seemed to enjoy it, but I just felt like it lacked in creativity overall. The salmon app and tuna flatbread were bright spots in a somewhat uninspired menu. The flavors were all there, spot on, everything tasted great, but come on Jean, I know you can do better than this, don’t just give me a good burger, wow me! Knock my socks off, give me something I’d never expect, because what I DO expect out of you, Mr. Vongerichten, is to blow me away with your culinary artistry. While The Mercer Kitchen was a nice meal, and I would recommend it if you want to go have a nice lunch in SoHo, I feel like it should be running at a higher level than it is. Don’t get lazy Jean, I’ve got my eye on you.

Mercer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Burgers, Shakes and Dimethylpolysiloxane.

Which one of the above doesn’t belong?

Well, technically they all belong depending on where you choose to get your burger fix. I accidentally came in contact with an empty box that once contained Frozen french fries from a certain national Mcburger chain. The ingredient list was on the side so I couldn’t stop myself from looking. Like me, you’d assume there would be more to the list than simply potatoes, and you’d be right, see for yourself.

Don’t worry, I won’t be held Mclibel for exposing their big secret, this can easily be found online.

As a general rule, Doctors recommend not eating food with ingredients you can’t pronounce. As a footnote to that rule, I recommend not eating things that are vital components for making of Silly Putty and Cosmetics.

Why on earth do you need this much stuff in french fries? I looked on the back of the bag of organic fries I buy for my kid to eat on occasion. They are still good until the end of 2012. There are only 4 ingredients and none of them are used to preserve anything. Were I to make fresh hot fries at home, I would use 3 items. Potatoes, Oil and Salt.

Excuse while I channel Mr. Seinfeld. What’s the deal with beef flavor? I mean, in a majority of cases, people are consuming these fries WITH a hamburger, so is the extra helping of beef flavor really necessary? As far as I’m concerned, it’s the constitutional right of a burger, in a burger joint type scenario, to be the lone representative of beef flavor. Cows everywhere should be offended.

Chocolate Chocolate Brownies!!

I know you’ve all found yourselves in the following situation before…

It’s 8:30 pm on a Wednesday night, you’re sitting on the couch, not knowing who you are anymore, watching a repeat of Gilmore Girls season 4 episode 10. You know, the one where Lorelei and Jason decide to keep their love affair a secret, then Rory gets mad at Paris for dating her professor, yeah that one. You are without question, feelin’ snacky. Dinner has been over for some time, yet you can’t help but be drawn to the fridge. You open the doors wide, nothing. You walk away and go back to the couch. Five minutes of browsing Netflix instant watch, but that fridge keeps calling. Once again you return to the fridge, and weirdly enough it’s the same as it was the first time. Time to call in the cavalry and scavenge the pantry. After browsing through the 8 bags of rice and 4 different brands of macaroni you never will use, you see a dusty box of Brownie mix. Victory is yours. All you need is an egg, some oil and you’ve got your fix. Pre-heat the oven and mix. Forty-five minutes later and it’s business time. Skip ahead to Thursday. It must be Groundhog Day because you find yourself hunting for a sweet treat at 9:14 pm. Lorelei just dropped a bomb on Rory, she finds out Rory’s boyfriend is still married even though the relationship is getting very serious. She is conflicted and won’t break-up with him. You still have 1/2 a pan of brownies from Tuesday. You go to unwrap the Saran to cut yourself a slab and find out that the dang thing is dried out and brittle. Not the soft fudgey bars of black gold you had just 2 days prior.

Here is where I start to make a point…

You bought that box of brownies and you may, at the most, get 3 days worth of edibility out of them. Of course this all depends on how many civilians you’re feeding, as well as how much guilt your conscience can handle because you alone conquered a 9×9 pan of brownies.

Or…

You could make them from scratch, using high quality ingredients that won’t make you feel like garbage later. The only drawback is that this takes slightly more time and a few extra bucks. However, most of the things you need to make a brownie, I bet you already possess.

Instead of 3 minutes of prep time, mixing your dry and wet components, then melting your chocolate and butter will take about 15 minutes max.

Assuming you have the bare basics in your pantry, it might cost $5-$10, where a boxed mix will set you back $2-$4.

Herein lies the biggest difference, and I know this to be true as I’m speaking from recent experience. I assure you, if you make the brownies from scratch, using naturally awesome ingredients, those brownies will be as moist, chewy and/or gooey as the moment they came out of the oven. Although I seriously doubt they will still be piping hot 166 hours later.

Pro Tip! *moisten a paper towel, wrap brownie in said towel. Place in oven on 250 for a few minutes and it will be perfect*

I’ll never buy a red box filled with a sack brownish grey powder again. I will however continue to use this recipe I tweaked from one I found in a book.

Chocolate Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for melting in the pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 ounces Dark chocolate, chopped ( 60 %. The best you can afford)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. Pure Vanilla extract.
  • 2 Large cage-free eggs
  • 1/3 cup Organic Non Hydrogenated Vegetable based shortening.

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9″ square baking pan with butter. In a bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, set aside.
  2. Place butter and chocolate in a large heat proof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water. Heat, stirring, until smooth; remove bowl from pan. Add sugar; mix to combine. Add eggs and shortening, and mix to combine. Add flour mixture; mix just until moistened (do not over mix). Transfer batter to pan. Bang pan on counter to even batter.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 40-45 min. If you like them cakey, I lose a little respect for you, but you can leave them in an extra 5-10 minutes. Cool in pan for 30 minutes, or as long as you can take it.

Play with the recipe. Make it with whatever mix-ins you enjoy. Just don’t give anymore money to The Duncan or Hines families, or that spinster Betty Crocker.

Morimoto – New York City, NY

As we get older, we get jaded, we inevitably take things for granted. Driving a car for example, once a dream experience, is now a mundane endeavor. Unfortunately, this applies to food as well. Even avid food lovers like Logan and myself can become apathetic about delicious cuisine now and again. It truly is a rare occurrence when you find something so delicious, so extraordinary, that it’s like you’re seeing things through the eyes of a child, as if for the first time.

This happened to me recently on a visit to Morimoto (88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011). My father and I met a couple of friends for dinner before a late night jam session. I’ve been wanting to visit Morimoto for some time, so I had high expectations. We began with a bottle of daiginjo sake, a couple Sapporos and a fine conversation.

Apps were as follows:

Upper left: Wagyu Beef Carpaccio

Upper right: Oysters Foie Gras with Uni and Teriyaki Sauce

Center: Spicy Tuna Pizza with Watercress

Lower left: Crispy Rock Shrimp two ways: Creamy spicy sauce & Wasabi aioli

Lower right: Alaskan King Crab with Spicy Sauce

Morimoto apps

While all of these were absolutely, “eyes roll in the back of your head” delicious, the best was yet to come. We ordered nigiri omakase for four. We made sure there would be adequate toro of various kinds as well as uni (sea urchin) and hotate (scallop). However, our waitress informed us that there was a special item that night, not found on the menu. It turned out to be Keiji Salmon. Now I skipped the descriptions of all those tasty apps, for the sole purpose of talking about this fish. First a little background, Keiji Salmon is basically the veal or the lamb of the salmon world. This particular salmon is exceedingly rare, only one or two per 10,000 caught are Keiji, so the chances of finding it at your local sushi joint, or any sushi joint for that matter, are unfortunately very low. Salmon mature at sea and are caught as they make their way upriver to mate. In rare cases, young, underdeveloped salmon will follow the adults to the rivers. The Keiji meat is higher in fat content but lighter in texture and has a sweet taste and absolutely no trace of a “fishy” odor. While a normal salmon would have  anywhere between 2%-15% fat content, the Keiji regularly reach 20%-30%. The mouth feel was very similar to toro with its slick, buttery texture, but had the most pleasantly sweet flavor, and was just indescribably tender. The difference here is that you can usually find toro anytime, the unpredictable nature of Keiji really makes for a piece of sushi that almost trumps toro as the King of Nigiri for me. Almost…but not quite! In any event, it was far and away the finest piece of salmon I have ever tasted, it was outrageously delicious. The four of us just looked at each other in disbelief, all realizing that this was a rare occurrence. You can spot the Keiji at the top of this photo, nestled unassumingly between the Uni and the ginger. 

Morimoto sushi

It truly was an eye-opening experience. While it was like having salmon for the first time, I feel that it was enhanced because of my previous encounters with the fish. I always dread having the best “insert transcendent foodstuff here” on my first try, because, where do you go from there? I feel privileged to have had the chance to sample this amazing feat of nature, although I hope there is an even more mind-blowing specimen swimming out there in the deep blue as we speak. Until we meet again Keiji!

Morimoto on Urbanspoon

Yum-mi Sandwiches – Orlando, FL

The last few months have garnered the highest views in the existence of this small project to keep my mind from stalling out. As I’ve said before, this is an excercise for me, an oppurtunity to put ideas out there, to be part of our food landscape. Along the way, we are sharing the good times we spend at restaurants, as well as the special meals served to family and friends. That’s what has been going on here for over 2 years. I will say that for the most part, I’m extremely proud of just about everything that goes up. That’s probably why I’m not putting up a post eveyday. With all due respect of course, I’m not knocking anyone who has a daily blog. Not speaking for James, but for me, it will continue to be around 1-2 times a week or whenever the time is right to share.

Back to my original thought, I’d just like to say thank you for your continued support, it really gives us the motivation to keep plugging along. Let me say though, after going over some of the earlier entries from the Duck’s archives, some of the posts that I love the most, are the ones that have just a teaspoon of views. Maybe a pinch even. My top 5 (read 6) that you probably haven’t read are as follows:

1. Joel Robuchon – (a life altering meal)

2. The Paris Trilogy: all 3 parts.

3. New York Marathon

4. P.C.S Experience

5. Montreal Memories

6. The Last Meal – (I might need to get your feedback and maybe update my list)

These all can be found in the leftovers section at the bottom of the homepage.

The following is my search for Yum-mi Future:

Saturday Kristen and I were grocery shopping and were getting hungry. ‘Twas too late to drive the hour home and make a meal, so we decided to get something quick and portable so we could both eat on the road. Viet-town in Orlando was only a 15 minute drive, and Banh Mi was the consensus by all voting parties. The best Sandwicheria in town by far is Ba Le. It’s a done deal. No questions asked. On our way! Here we go!! I could already taste that freshly baked baguette embracing the wonderfully chargrilled pork and a schmear of pate, accompanied like the woodwind section of an orchestra by a medley of pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber and jalepeno. The conductor that brings everything into perfect harmony is the lemon mayo, so graciously spread like the wings of an angel, topped with sprigs of bright green cilantro that look like little hands waving at you as to say “Hello. Would you do me the honour of devastating me and my delicious friends?” All this for $3.25? This is real.

Or at least it was real at one time. Sadly, Ba Le is closed. How disappointing. Not nessesarily. There is a sandwich shop that took the space that Ba Le once held. Yum-mi Sandwiches has risen like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of its mighty predecessor. Same concept but I’m assuming different owners. Its hipper with better decor and a larger menu. More inviting to a noob. Right off the bat I was really excited and noticed that there were more people inside than I had ever seen at one time in Ba Le. The prices remained the same and the place smelled like baguettes (which should be a cologne at Bloomies).

I ordered 4 sandwiches that totaled $16. I don’t care who you are, that’s a steal.

– The Original with all the fixins

– Pork roll and Pate with all the fixins

– Grilled Beef with all the fixins

– Miss Piggy, again…with all the fixins. A play on the BLT that was made with roasted pork belly (see post: The Baconing)

We opened the sandwiches, trying to decipher which was which. Sometimes it’s hard when everything appears to look the same, and that look was amazing. Just like the original. Upon taking the first bite though, there was one inherant flaw that could not be overlooked. It could be the reason my wife might not go back. I’ll give any place at least 2 shots before I write them off my list. Why oh why did you have to fail me Yum-mi? The one thing that brings this sandwhich together like a conductor directing Vivaldis Four Seasons, was AWOL. You dropped the Baton. You denied me my Lemony Mayonnaise. The fresh bread, the crisp veg, the charred meats, all the good things that were spot on were easily overlooked due to this tactical error. I hope this was a mistake, and you actually DO serve your sandwiches the way they’re supposed to be made and you were just the victim of opening night jitters. Like I said, and I hope someone at Yum-mi Sandwiches is reading this, I’ll give you another shot, but I’m not so sure the bridge can be repaired with the spouse. The menu looks great and so did the sandwiches. I snapped a couple photos.

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All this venom spewed and the sandwiches were still gone by bedtime. Maybe I’m splitting hairs? Is that the right phrase? I would recommend Yum-mi to anyone that enjoys Banh mi, or is interested in exploring an easy entrance into Vietnamese food. It’s really good but it could have been great, like its predecessor. Even still, I would urge you to give Yum-mi sandwiches a go. If I didn’t think it was good I wouldn’t have written about the place at all. Since many things were done just right, it would be a shame to travel near the vicinity of Mills and Colonial drive in downtown Orlando, and not stop in for an original Banh mi and a boba tea.

Yum-Mì Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

It’s the most comforting time of the year

I am aware that it may be a little late to post but this, I’ve been super busy at work and haven’t had much time to sit and type out my thoughts on the following subject. I hope it’s still fresh in your mind and timely enough.

The one thing every meat-eater is being served or making themselves this season has got to be turkey. It gets shoved down our throats in November and December as if our livers were being fattened for harvesting. What I want to know is, other than the obvious holiday propaganda peddled by turkey farmers nationwide, why is it that this monstrous bird gets placed center stage?

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of whole turkey in its many forms. I do not care for it roasted, smoked or fried. I do however love to use the dark meat ground into a turkey burger or sausage. I’ve also used cutlets and pan roasted them (an older post has a recipe with chimichurri), but to give it to me whole, no thank you sir. I don’t really get much satisfaction in what we all have come to know as traditional holiday food. and turkey in particular is a pass for me. I always find it to be dry and lacking flavor. Sometimes it’s so bad it creates a sawdust and cardboard type consistency on my palate.

I don’t want to be that guy that says no one should have it. Take away the perceived negativity and take my hand, lead me in the right direction, because I want to make it right with all the Turkey loving cliques throughout the land.

Show me the way and gently guide me. I will provide the bird, 100% free range and organic of course, but I need assistance in the execution. No disrespect to anyone that’s ever cooked a ginormous gobbler for me in the past, but I want to try to do one better. Re-reading this for the second time I notice there’s alot of me saying “I don’t”. I don’t want you to think I’m close minded, I take full responsibilty for my errors and request assistance to overcome my struggles.

Where have I and other like minded ones gone astray? Do I brine? Do I baste? Do I entomb it in salt and slow roast? Do I smoke on a bed of hickory?Do I dare stuff? What does stuffing even mean? I’m pleading out of ignorance for your pro tips and tricks, not only for my benefit and that of my poor family, but also to start a nice discussion so that everyone doesn’t have to masked a dry carcass with gloopy gloppy gravy. Which is a whole other topic altogether. Gravy needs to be respected more in my opinion. The same goes with the vegetables cooked with this family centric meals. Taking things out of cans and throwing them in a microwave safe dish and nuking them should be at the very least a misdemeanor. Oh and I hate pumpkin pie. (probably the most offensive thing I’ve ever written to some).

Moving on…

Kristen and I made a rendition of a seasonal type of meal last week. It turned out great both in flavor and speed of preparation. Total cook time was no more than 30 minutes. You don’t have to take off work for 2 days to make this lovely ode to fall. Speaking of plopping things out of a can, my only personal exception is cranberry sauce. To me, a perfectly extruded cylinder of jellied cranberries onto an expensive piece of china is a work of art. We all have our quirks.

This picture is the meal we made. It’s not a huge spread but the flavors are 100% reminiscent of a meal you might have had with your family.

Grilled cranberry turkey sausage, mashed potatoes with scratch made mushroom gravy, buttered baby lima beans, and a hunk of cranberry sauce fresh out of the can.

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