Globeater - Grubbing around the Globe

Babes in Woodland, Brooklyn

We’d landed at Kennedy a mere 2 hours earlier, but that was already an hour & 59 minutes longer than I’d been prepared to wait for an East Coast oyster after so many months away. So as the Director & I wandered the streets near our borrowed apartment in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, I vowed to stop at the very 1st place we came across that advertised them.

Thus it was that we stumbled into Woodland, bustling, breezy & streamlined in light earthtones—like 50 other eateries within a 2-block radius. But no matter—so long as it served my babies on the half-shell, I didn’t care what sort of generic gastropubby grub it was hawking.

It was only after we grabbed stools & ordered drinks at the bar that I gave the rest of the menu more than a passing glance—& suddenly the oysters were the least of my cravings. There were pulled pig’s-head croquettes & steak fries with anchovy dip; there was a dandelion green–grilled apricot salad with rye bark & pickled-sunchoke vinaigrette & a stew of clams, crawfish & sausage with maple sap, cayenne & carrot frites. From lowbrow to high, it was all so admirably savvy. I had a good feeling about the place, sure to be confirmed by a quick Google on the old smartphone.

What I found, however, reminded me I was but a babe in these parts: the locals surrounding us, undoubtedly, knew the place had opened just weeks ago in the eye of a neighborhood battlestorm with all sorts of nasty racial overtones.

Had I known that much in advance, I might have kept walking (not that said ugliness was the restaurant’s doing, but still). However, now it was too late; I was hooked on my high hopes for the kitchen. And about that, at least, I was spot-on.

Forget the oysters. Oysters are oysters. So long as they’re properly shucked & on ice with lemon wedges, I’m happy. It was the smoked quail eggs we threw in on a whim that made my head swivel on its stalk: carefully cooked so the white was structured but the yolk still gooey, their delicacy only highlighted by the earthy tinge of wood fire. A slight hint of tartness too—maybe a drop of vinegar?

The clincher was the  board of green-olive semolina bread with what may be the best compound butter I’ve ever had. The server, we thought, said it was almond butter, but that didn’t seem quite right; the bartender insisted it was green-onion, which seemed flat-out wrong. It wasn’t exactly nutty, nor merely honeyed; its sweetness was subtle & complex, not least for the contrastive sprinkling of black sea salt on top…well, whatever it contained, it was addictive.

No less so on our return visit a few nights later, when the flavoring had changed—I want to say to saffron—along with the breads, this time golden-raisin semolina & dark-raisin rye, arriving alongside our “trapper’s snack”: a bit of excellent prosciutto & stinky cheese alongside housemade beef jerky that was perfectly tender-chewy, perfectly seasoned, perfectly jerky.

Fried whitebait: it’s the new, head-on, gobble-it-whole french fry, here served with radish remoulade that looked startlingly like strawberry yogurt but tasted like its zingy mayo-based self.

And late-spring sprightliness suffused an entrée of pulled rabbit braised in Riesling, tossed with fresh pasta, mirepoix & herbs, & finally flavored with a hint of licorice root.

Given Woodland’s farm-to-urban-table bent, it’s no surprise that the bar program hews to a certain earthy, carefully sourced sensibility: cocktails with loads of fresh fruit & herbs, funky boilermakers, draft cider, Long Island wine, etc. Just the stuff, in short, to take the edge off any remaining resident resentment.

Woodland on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Eggplant & Tofu Bánh Mì (& then some) at Strip-T’s, Boston

Technically, it’s in Watertown. Historically, Strip-T’s was your basic neighborhood hash house—long-standing, fiercely local—but its future is unfolding as a local-boy-makes-good game-changer involving the owner’s son, a David Chang protégé by the name of Tim Maslow. And truthfully, I was led there by culinary Pied Piper MC Slim JB last week—but there’s not a chance in a million I’ll encounter a dish as satisfying as this one in the next few days. Behold the eggplant bánh mì.

What a category-defying thing of beauty. Layered on a crusty-chewy, locally baked baguette were spears of Japanese eggplant roasted to a near-spreadable goo & squares of now-crisply golden, now-pillowy tofu; though garnished in classic Vietnamese fashion with pickled carrots & cilantro plus a smear of spicy mayo, the sandwich as a whole triggered a cascade of sensations that seemed to come out of nowhere. Its combinatory powers were its own.

And the duo that followed was very nearly its equal. Roasted cauliflower’s verging on cliché these days, but Maslow could single-handedly pull it back from the brink. Both his technique & his creative process were beyond me: How did he brown the cauliflower so deeply & evenly while upholding its essential cruciferocity? How did these unlikely ingredients come together so seamlessly? But they did: smooth & smoky chorizo puree, salty crumbled cotija, & sharp, bright pickled red onion somehow made thoroughly savory sense.

Likewise cut from whole cloth, a special of pickled, fried mussels topped with deceptively airy, cool dollops of coconut mousse & accompanied by lightly charred stalks of asparagus & green onion had buoyancy & zing to spare. One can imagine Maslow nodding ever so slightly to the New England classic of fried shellfish with tartar sauce on the one hand & Southeast Asian seafood curries on the other, but his imagination transcends his influences.

With one seeming exception: interestingly, the only slight disappointment was also the least original dish. It came almost as a relief to Neptune Oyster’s #1 fan (that would be me) that what appeared to be an homage to Michael Serpa’s buttermilk johnnycake with smoked trout tartare, honey butter & caviar didn’t quite achieve the same multilayered harmonies. The johnnycake, here made with blue corn & figs, was just too dense & sweet for its topping of sliced, delicately smoked rainbow trout with crème fraîche & trout roe; neither flavors nor textures were fully integrated.

Still, at this level of unabashed playfulness, the guy’s allowed an oops or two. I’d say run don’t walk, but you’ll have to drive or take a bus, then wait around a while for a table. Worth it. (There’s a liquor store on the corner, & the front seat of a car doubles as a perfectly acceptable barstool.)

Strip-T's on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Large Terrine Board, The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, NYC

For a complete description of not only this spread of 4 terrines—guinea with morels, rabbit with prunes, pork with pistachios, & head cheese, accompanied by piccalilli, cornichons, mustard & crusty bread—but also the savagely cool hotel bar whence it came, click here.

But you can pretty much get the full story just by feasting your eyes.

Breslinterrines

Dispatch from a suspicious oasis: Venue, Kearney, NE

Driving home through Nebraska from Cedar Rapids, we’d planned to return to the

Truck – Paradise-philippines

semi-paradise

we’d found on the way there in Grand Island—a name so topographically off it might as well have applied to the local landmark that was the stand-alone buffet at the Holiday Inn, oozing dressings, gravies, glazes & fillings over every dish like lava covering straw huts. But upon reaching city limits sooner than expected, we decided to press another 40 min. onward to the Holiday Inn in even smaller Kearney—picturing all the while an even downhomier buffet whereupon the average item would surely boast an average of 2 products made by Smucker’s, Durkee &/or Kraft, sometimes 3.

Checking in, though, I was intrigued by the relative luxury of the lobby: matching armchairs, a flickering fireplace, chessboards & coffee table books strewn among ornate

HIobjets

faux antiques.

I was even more intrigued when I got a load of the mod logo on the dining voucher the receptionist handed me—

Venuecard

good for 1 free drink or 10% off our meal. Was this some kind of show of class?

Short answer: yeah, ish!

KearneyBar

contemporary glass vases in fun colors & shapes

Venueart

contemporary art vaguely reminiscent of

Lightforms

Matta

Long answer: we started with wine from a real live list, with non-merlots & everything,

P1020302

served in logo-etched glasses

Venuewine

with focaccia that erred a little on the airy side, & came with butter rather than olive oil, but still, warm & fresh, it was a nice try.

Venuebread

Snobbishly uncomfortable with being mildly impressed so far, I ordered some crabcakes with remoulade & honey-jalapeno dipping sauces, envisioning breadcrumb-coated breadcrumb patties accompanied by ramekins filled with some ratio of Smucker’s to Kraft (what, no Durkee?) that I could ridicule with relieved abandon.

Venuecrabcakes

Instead I found myself chowing down on the real thing—not without a little filler, but not without sufficient crab flavor either; & as for the dips, both were quite distinctive, creamy with a subtle touch of sweetness & a stronger one of heat.

The Italian chopped salad I followed it up with was likewise the real thing—the exercise in balance that a main course salad should be, with generous amounts of salami, pepperoni, hard-cooked egg & tomato (along with lesser portions of cucumber & parmesan), but plenty of green as well; housemade croutons were a bit salty, but their cornbread-like texture was a pleasure.

Venuesalad

The Director’s medium-rare filet mignon, meanwhile, was almost special, with a fierce sear, a magenta interior & a side of remarkably fluffy piped garlic–white cheddar mashed potatoes. Meat & potatoes are meat & potatoes until they’re not.

Venuesteak

Practicing my recently espoused philosophy of sugar-snarfing, I asked to see the dessert list; our waitress returned with a sample tray. At a Holiday Inn on I-80 in Kearney, Nebraska, they’re bringing round the silver like it was the Savoy. Such an incongruous gesture of formality was touching, but not because it was delusional; my peanut butter mousse cake was lovely, really—the layers very chocolatey, not merely sweet, & the filling very peanutty, not merely creamy.

Venuecake

Much to my own sheepish amusement, I really have to recommend Venue. I don’t recommend I-80, but if you’ve got to take it, you might as well do it in style.