Posted by Rob Eshman
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife Rachel stopped by our house last week bearing two perfect pre-Passover gifts.
The first was a bottle of Shirah Wines 2009 Power to the People, a Syrah blend from Santa Barbara county grapes that The New York Jewish Week picked, out of 200 wines, as the Best Kosher Wine at its tasting this year.
It was exceptional. It made me not want to stop drinking it, ever.
The second bottle was even more special.
The Booksteins spent several years in Poland helping revitalize the Jewish community there. We started talking about how Israel feels like a “homeland,” but Poland just feels like home. The food, the people—it all feels so familiar to us Ashkenazi Jews who are, at the end of the day, only a couple generations removed. Of course I was going on about the vodka and slivovitz, and that’s when Rabbi Yonah reached into his magic bag and pulled out Mosby—an artisinal kosher slivovitz produced for the first time this year under his rabbinical supervision.
We toasted with it and oh….my….God.
Forget the tongue-searing stuff they put out in shul after services. Forget the swill your relatives let you sip that made you want to vomit. Mosby is made from wild plums collected in Medoc County, CA. It is distilled by people with drinking in mind. It is smooth, deeply flavorful ( I mean, strong and alcoholic—this isn’t plum wine, it’s plum grappa). I’ve poured some glasses for people who won’t touch grappa or slivovitz—they made all gone.
It’s expensive—around 50 bucks a bottle (like the Shirah Wine). It’s hard to get. (See below). But after a long good dinner, it’s nice to have around.
Below is a press release I just received from Rabbi Bookstein about Mosby. The smiling rabbi in the hat on the label? That’s Yonah Bookstein. Probably after a glass or two.
CALIFORNIA HAND-CRAFTED PLUM BRANDY KOSHER FOR PASSOVER 2012
Enhance Your Passover With Award Winning Slivovitz
Plum Brandy aka Slivovitz is making a comeback and was recently discussed in a major article in The Forward.
California is blessed with some of the best plums in the country, which have gone into making Mosby Slivovitz. Harvested from a small orchard in San Benito County, California. These perfectly ripened plums were artfully fermented and distilled by Bill Mosby under the careful Rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.
This exceptional brandy was awarded a Silver medal at the 2010 International Review of Spirits, and a Bronze medal at the San Francisco Chronicle spirits competition.
Damson Plum:$55, Wild Plum $75
For more information and to order contact Rabbi Yonah Bookstein firstname.lastname@example.org
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March 26, 2012 | 4:36 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Something is happening in the food world when Frank Bruni is a hijiki frond away from going full vegan. In his Friday New York Times column, the paper’s former restaurant critic declared that due to a recent diagnosis of gout, he has completely reformed his diet. Gone are the beef filets larded with foie gras, the multiple bottles of red wine and the cold-and-colder running martinis. Now Bruni drinks seltzer and eats mostly vegetables. He still allows himself eggs and cheese and the occasional glass of wine— but clearly the days of 40 ounce porterhouses are behind him.
It’s happening everywhere. At our Shabbat table over the past month, our friend Helene announced she had gone vegan. This, from the daughter from a Boro Park butcher for whom heaven was brisket and roast chicken. She lost 30 pounds and just completed a 100 mile bike ride. My brother, an investment banker whose celebratory meals in Manhattan usually meant steaks, announced he was no longer eating meat or chicken. He’s doing Cross Fit and at 53 looks like he’s on a high school track team. Mind you these are the people we know. Celebrities like Zooey Deschanel are high profile public vegans, as out as Ellen.
The same is happening in restaurants. In Santa Monica, there’s a 40 minute wait AT LUNCH, for True Food, the restaurant partly owned by the health guru Dr. Andrew Weil. You can order meat at True Food (sustainable, local, mostly lean, and a lot of fish), but the menu is focused on vegetables. The same with Mendocino Farms, whose location in Marina Del Rey always has a line out the door. There you can get Vegan Tortas with seitan in BBQ chipotle sauce. Yes there’s pulled organic pork and grass fed beef banh mi, but most of the menu is about pushing vegetables. Mendocino Farms is expanding, Tender Greens is growing.
If anything, Bruni is a bit late to the party-pooping.
Of course, he didn’t choose his new diet as much as beg for it. Gout is painful. The build up of uric acid inflames the joints to the point where simply standing up feels like childbirth. “All I know is that when gout pays a visit to one of my feet,” he writes, “I can’t stand on it or put a sock on it or even place a thin sheet over it; pretty much all I can do is stare at it, swear at it and bang my fist on the nearest hard surface while waiting for the industrial-strength anti-inflammatories my doctor has prescribed to kick in.” Bruni would have started eating nothing but lawn clippings and sawdust to stop it.
What happened to him is a neat summary of what happened to the generation of Boomers and yuppies departing middle age. The food pendulum has swung. They have indulged enough. They let Emeril convince them that the more bacon they ate, the better. They followed the trends to upscale steakhouses. They explored cigars and cocktails and lardo and foie gras. Bruni did it better and to greater excess and with a fatter expense account and far greater eloquence than the rest. When they dared not stuff themselves with one more marrow bone, they could read his accounts of Mario’s salumi. When they couldn’t possibly take another bite, he did it for them.
So now, the kale-colored writing on the wall. First for Bruni, but really for all of us. It’s time to pull back, to try to eek out a few more years of disease-free living by tossing the meat and booze overboard.
I wonder why we always, as a culture, seemed condemned to swing between the extremes. We overdo it, then we overreact. Instead of knowing from the start what seems obvious—enjoy a little of the rich foods, a little of the alcohol, but balance it with lots of the green stuff, and plenty of exercise. Instead, we go all out, then pull all the way back.
It’s not unlike the debate over atheism: the first wave of modern atheists, the Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins/ Christopher Hitchens z”l volley, tried to completely dispose of God and religion. But that didn’t appear to move the needle on faith and belief. Now come people like Alain de Botton, with his new book, Religion for Atheists, presenting a kind of Athiesim 2.0, that acknowledges the important things that faith and religion bring into one’s life, while still leaving room to question it.
That’s not a bad rule of thumb for looking at our food choices. You don’t need to go full carnivore to enjoy meat, or full vegan to live healthfully.
Meanwhile, I hope Frank Bruni feels better. I’m one of those people who has avoided indulging (well, maybe except for the red wine part) partly because I could live vicariously through his descriptions. Writers like him and Jonathan Gold do such a good, Liebling-esque job relaying the far excesses of consumption, I’m full by the time I’ve turned the page.
That way I can go about eating, well, sensibly.
For example, this Gnocchi with Italian dandelion and parmesan I made last night for my daughter and myself. You can go semi-vegan and serve without the parmesan—sprinkle on porcini mushroom powder instead. Or you can live what now seems positivey dangerously and have a bit of cheese.
Mr. Bruni, this one’s for you: thanks for the memories.
[RECIPE] Gnocchi alla Bruni
1 ½ pound Russet potatoes
1 large egg
1 cup all purpose flour, approximately
salt and pepper
Parmesan or Porcini Mushroom powder
2 bunches Italian dandelion (6-8 cups chopped raw)
3 cloves Garlic
¼ t. red Chili flakes
½ cup Olive oil
Place a large pot of salted water on high heat and bring to boil.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour.
Boil the potatoes until very soft. Drain water then cook potatoes in hot pan until they appear dry, just a minute or two. As soon as you possibly can, peel the potatoes.
Mash potatoes in food mill or with a hand masher, or in mixer with whisk attachment. Add egg, salt and pepper. Blend well then add flour, about a cup to start. When dough comes together into a rollable but still soft mass, roll into ropes about 3/4 inch thick. Cut ropes into ¾ inch pieces.
Transfer to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper an dusted with flour.
When the water boils, add dandelion. Boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and chop fine.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet. Add olive oil and, when hot, add garlic. Fry a couple minutes until fragrant, then add red pepper and greens. Saute for several minutes, then reduce heat to low.
When the dandelion water returns to a boil, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon into skillet with greens. Gently stir until the gnocchi are coated with the greens. Add parmesan or mushroom powder.
Spoon into shallow bowls and serve with additional parmesan or porcini mushroom powder.
March 21, 2012 | 4:09 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
STREET restaurant is offering a second night seder menu for April 7 that looks… delicious. Not exactly sure what seder and street food have in common, except, well, the Israelites probably just had time to grab a bite before they made their hasty exodus.
So in that spirit, chefs/owners Susan Feniger and Sasha Alger are offering a traditional and a vegetarian menu, served family style, at $55 per person. Menu and my commentary below. There will be a seder plate on each table. It is NOT BYOR (Bring Your Own Rabbi). Chef Alger’s very own rabbi (check back for the name) will lead a STREET-friendly seder.
No it’s not kosher.
Doors open at 5 pm, the food service starts at 6 pm. Which answers the ancient Jewish question: When do we eat?
Here’s the menu:
WHEN: Saturday, April 7th
[RECIPE] Fava Bean Bessara
2 cups fava beans, soaked overnight
4 garlic cloves
1 c. packed parsley leaves
1 c. packed fresh cilantro
1 c. fresh fresh dill
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Salt and pepper, to taste
Roast cumin seeds in a hot dry skillet until fragrant, then crush. (or use good quality cumin powder).
Put all the above ingredients into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to boil. Boil gently until beans are soft, about 40 minutes, careful to add more water if dry.
Let cool slightly, then puree in food processor or good blender until creamy.
You can top with caramelized onions, and serve warm or chilled with pita.
March 21, 2012 | 2:32 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Forty four years and two days ago, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech at the University of Kansas that outlined his vision for America. He had just declared his candidacy for President. Here’s what RFK said:
If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction—purpose and dignity—that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product—if we judge the United States of America by that—that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
It’s inspiring—even if a bit depressing to compare these words to those of the current crop of candidates.
But it also reaffirms what we keep having to remind ourselves of: that the measure of our success, of our happiness, is ultimately spiritual.
March 15, 2012 | 6:44 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
[NOTE: THE RESTAURANT REVIEWED BELOW IS NOT KOSHER. If this offends you, please don’t keep reading. However, two points: The vast majority of Jews don’t eat at exclusively kosher restaurants, even if they follow some kosher precepts. Second, if you are strictly kosher, reading about how non-kosher restaurants prepare and serve food may inspire you, and lead to better food and service in kosher restaurants. Which couldn’t hurt…. ]
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is a pop up restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Capri.
After you read this review, just get in the car and go eat there. If you wait much longer, you’ll likely wait forever.
For as long as we’ve lived near Abbot Kinney Blvd.—15 years—Capri was the place we went when no place else would have us. It was dependably empty. Valentines Day, Mothers Day—it was our oops-we-forgot-to-plan-ahead restaurant.
Aside from the fact that the food wasn’t that good, or original, or fussed-over, it was always good enough. They made a decent pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. They could grill a piece of fish and toss some lemon and capers on it. It was walking distance from our house. They had wine. And best of all, it was quiet.
As Abbot Kinney filled up with the city’s hippest new restaurants, where you had to hack into Open Table just to get a 10 pm reservation in three months (Gjelina), and then, once seated, you had to scream over the sound of 4000 people all gushing at once over their hand-squeezed cocktail (Tasting Kitchen), at Capri what you gave up in terms of food, you gained in solitude. The place was never exactly packed. We’ve eaten there practically alone some nights.
Even so, it never had that happy-to-see-you atmosphere. And for me, a restaurant has to feel welcoming. Fancy or fast food, it has to feel at least a bit like home. Capri, with its stark white walls and stiff mesh metal chairs, was tantalizing close to home, but nothing like it.
Then this new pop up restaurant moves in and: bam.
Last night we arrived at 6. By 7 you couldn’t get in the door. By 8 people were standing on the sidewalk waiting for a table. For good reason.
The chef/owners, who are renting space from Capri’s owners, are from Joe’s and Axe, and cook a gastro-bistro take on Southern food. But they aren’t orthodox about it. There’s pickled shrimp with fried green tomatoes—four large crisp shrimp spiraled around perfectly fried, ungreasy slices of tomato. But there is also raclette with potatoes and cornichons. The chef broils the potato slices in the melted cheese, so it’s a very good goo.
Housemade pickles are big here. You can order that day’s selection as an appetizer (6 bucks, do it) and they come with the potted smoked trout with avocado toast, and the raclette.
The South rises again in the quail with corn cake, which features a crisp and juicy little bird atop a pudding that has sponged up the juices. The vegetarian standouts are a polenta cake with mushrooms and parmesan, and a kale salad (who doesn’t have a kale salad these days?), in which the kale is chiffonaded and tossed with dates and sheep milk cheese.
For dessert we had the apple pie with artisan cheddar, a hybrid crumbly, tart, cakey pie , all good.
The servers are excited by the food, and they care, as does the chef with the tattoos up to his neck and the dagger-like knife in his belt. It all costs about the same as Capri, around 25-40 bucks per person with wine or one of their curated beers, but you get to eat food cooked by owners who really, really care.
Yes it’s crowded and popular and it’s only going to get busier. But it feels like home.
March 13, 2012 | 1:50 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
How do you know it’s Spring? The gefilte fish are running. The news is full of stories, references and recipes to the iconic Passover food.
This morning on the Howard Stern Show, supermodel Elle MacPherson weighed in by recounting how she hand-fed her first boyfriend gefilte fish, he threw up, and she’s a had a thing for “Jewish boys” ever since. (Her first husband Gilles Bensimon is one of them and her last husband Arpad Busson may well be, but who can untwist his uber-complicated Hungarian bloodlines and, really, who cares?).
In today’s Haaretz.com, there’s a report on a new food cart in Brooklyn called, Gefilteria, which offers gourmet, homemade takes on classic Ashkenazic food like kvass and of course gefilte fish.
As to what inspired them to choose these specific hard-core Ashkenazi staples, Liz said: “The pushcart was one of our earliest inspirations. We loved the image of Jewish street food and the community interactions that surround it. That said, we also feel connected to foods with a purpose- foods that are served at the holidays, foods that are labor intensive and symbolic. The Gefilteria is a combination of both of those sources of inspiration - and it isn’t so different than the deli revival that is going on now.”
“We want people to feel empowered to reclaim their holiday table and to serve things that they can be proud of,” she said.
The three plan to sell their boutique gefilte fish loaves around New York City for Passover, together with two horseradish relishes, beets and carrots. They will also sell DIY kits for making gefilte fish in your own kitchen “urging all of us to bring back the home preparation of these critical foods.” Later in the spring they plan to sell their foods in festivals around NYC.
The Gefilteria’s gefilte fish loaves are made with whitefish, pike and salmon. And, in keeping with current food ideals of their prospect clientele and their own, all fish are sustainably sourced.
I’ve made gefilte fish a couple times using Joan Nathan’s classic gefilte fish recipe, but I’ve long ago moved on to more crowd-friendly Passover fish dishes, like ceviche and crudo. If Elle MacPherson had spoon fed her boyfriend my ceviche, I promise he wouldn’t have done a Rick Santorum on her.
Elle: here’s my Ceviche-Stuffed “Gefilte” Lettuce recipe. Enjoy.