Back when I first started cooking I watched a lot of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen--yes, the awful American version, complete with all the yelling and the melodrama. I worshiped at the altar of Gordon Ramsay and the Church of his mentor Marco Pierre White, the latter of whom I referred to jokingly as Douchebag mainly for his finger-waving and way of emphasizing his philosophy of "inten-see-fying" the flavor. Between the two of them I managed to learn how to cook my first steaks without butchering them (har har) and a million variations since, and this is one of my favorites that I go back to time and time again. The combination of sweet/spicy and rich cream that goes into the sauce produces a flavor that I personally find amazing, and the cooking techniques make the dish turn out acceptably even if you screw the pooch and make your steak well-done. I'm not saying you should--I'll still arch one eyebrow condescendingly and go grab the shotgun--but at least the piece of leather on your plate will have some semblance of flavor, if you know what I mean.
- Boneless steak, preferably a good strip steak or ribeye. Filet mignon if you're feeling especially rich, but I prefer the rustic feel of ripping a NY strip apart with my teeth.
- Worcestershire sauce
- Heavy Cream
- Shallots--onions are also an acceptable substitute
- Baby Portabello or White Mushrooms
- (Optional) Cognac
- Take the steak out and let it rest for a few minutes. Wrap it in some plastic or baking paper, and roll or press it thin, as thin as you can. While you're prepping, also thinly slice the mushrooms and shallots
- Season the steak with the good ol' S&P, and heat up your pan until it's extremely hot. Use a small amount of oil, and sear it very quickly on each side, one minute tops.
- In the same pan (!!) add a bit more oil and saute the mushrooms and shallots. Don't let things get too hot here, burnt onions are only slightly less gross than burnt garlic in the overall scale of ruin.
- Add the Worcestershire sauce, and delight in the sizzle that results. Also note the effect it has in lifting the great bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan.
- Finish with the cream, and add the steak, letting it cook in there for a few minutes to get the flavors in.
- Optionally, if you have some cognac lying around (cause you know, who doesn't?), you can pour it on top and light it on fire. Just watch the eyebrows.
And the obligatory...
- You notice how I don't comment on how much worcestershire sauce and cream to use. The answer is... I really don't measure. I add enough of the former so that it looks like it'd be a decent amount of sauce, and then I pour in the latter until I like how the color looks. No, seriously.
- When it comes to steak, or any other meat, resting is important. When you cook anything big, you do a lot of waiting. Why? Resting before the cooking lets it rise to room temperature, and resting afterwards lets it finish cooking evenly. That's why if you ever get a steak at a restaurant that's too hot to eat, they're probably full of shit.
- The (!!) note means that using the same pan is important. Everybody knows the burnt crunchy bits at the bottom of the pan are always the best parts; by not using them, you're just needlessly wasting flavor.
I went to Harvest as a part of Restaurant Week, a local promotion in which restaurants offer a 3-course tasting menu for a fixed price of $33.11. While this is an excellent price especially at some of these restaurants, Harvest included, this does result in a proportionate influx of bargain-hunters. This, of course, leads to slower service and a decline in food quality.
Luckily enough, the latter did not apply to Harvest; or at least, I don't think it did. The service was indeed a bit slow, but I didn't really mind, since there were enough people at the table (and two camera geeks) to keep us plenty occupied during the long wait times between courses. There was also what appeared to be some sort of corporate function going on in a separate area in the restaurant, which may have also attributed to the speed of the service. Regardless, whoever that company was they obviously have a very healthy catering budget. Where do I apply?
In overall terms, I would rate Harvest around the same range as Henrietta's Table. It's good American fare, and delicious, but fairly pricey. The yelp tag $$$ is completely justified here, and then some. On the bright side, we had 4 people at the table so I got to taste a wider range without paying a significantly higher price for it.
The apps were foie gras, curried corn soup, and a braised rabbit with gnocchi. While I can't really speak for the rabbit, the foie gras was quite nice. The pancake (I think they called it a blini) was sweet, which was a bit surprising, but paired well. The rhubarb seemed shoehorned in there, though. The curried corn soup was pleasant--definitely on the sweet side, and I couldn't taste the curry at all. Maybe it's cause I had just eaten the foie gras before tasting it, but other people seemed to agree with me.
We moved on to the entrees, which were several orders of duck (the main photo of this article, above) and pork. Now, I don't know if we just have a sudden influx of rhubarb, or if it's just the latest fashion, but everyone seems to pair duck with a rhubarb compote/reduction of some sort. Personally I think it makes a decent pairing, but with the rate it's appearing everywhere it's like the duck a l'orange of the 2010's. What WAS interesting about the duck was the black grain that came with it. There was a bit of debate as to what it was; I initially thought it was lentils of some sort, but on tasting it seemed like a chewy short-grained rice. The Europeans of the table contended that it was wheat grains, but the menu listed it as "forbidden black rice." I don't know what the hell that name is supposed to mean, but it makes me feel like I just ate a pack of fetuses or something.
The meal ended with desserts, lavender-thyme creme brulee and the restaurant week dish, a mocha semi-freddo, which as far as I can tell was a combination of some sort of chocolate glacee with ice cream on the side. The creme brulee was nice, but I didn't really taste the lavender-thyme in it. The ice cream was refreshing; it was a flavor that the two asians of the table knew well--a fruit that is commonly eaten, something like an apricot crossed with a plum--but didn't know the name in English for. It turned out to be "mirabelle plum." Either way, it was a good way to finish, nothing too heavy.
I would post a picture of the creme brulee, but I was even stupider than usual--the AF on the camera focused on the brim of the dish rather than on the actual food itself, and I didn't notice in time to take another shot--or perhaps I did, but I didn't care at that point. Either way, I'm exercising my right to silence. That said, here are some more miscellaneous photos for the curious.
Recently I was very upset to learn that LaDurée has just opened its very first American store in New York City at the end of August. Had I known earlier, I would have camped its doors like a soon-to-open Apple store.
864 Madison Ave
(between 71st St & 70th St)
New York, NY 10021
Stay tuned for our post on LaDurée NYC as soon as we visit it!
The cheese of the week is Casu Marzu, specialty of Sardinia. I chose it not because you might find it at Shaws and have it at your next week-end party, but because this is probably the most peculiar cheese I have knowledge of. It is basically a derivative of the Italian pecorino cheese. Pecorino is a hard cheese made from sheep milk. The huge difference is that this variation involves having cheese flies lay eggs in the cheese and actually waiting for those eggs to hatch.
Let me walk you through the fabrication process:
- Boil fresh sheep milk
- Pour into round molds to obtain pecorino cheese
- Wait until it hardens then cut open the top, exposing the soft core
- Leave it in open air for 2 to 3 months to let flies lay eggs
The larvae then start consuming the cheese, breaking down the cheese's fats and resulting on a very soft cheese. It is considered safe to eat as long as the maggots are alive. So it's exactly what it sounds like, it is indeed meant to be eaten with the maggots.
I recommend you watch this YouTube video that takes you through the fabrication of the cheese:
Anthony Bourdain is one of those guys with whom I know I'd be great friends, if we ever were to meet. He shares my sentiments for the super delicious peasant foods made of all the cheapest cuts, and Real Food--and not, as he puts it, the "TGIMcFunster" experience. The liberal use of profanity and penchant for foods dripping in fat and grease and salt and butter sauce also helps a lot.
In any case, Les Halles is Bourdain's flagship restaurant, specializing in old-style French cuisine. And it definitely looks old-fashioned, even starting with the entrance and the dining room. From the dark wood to the fancy glasses, the decor definitely comes off as a bit stuffy at first. This was literally true as well on my visit, as the day was extremely muggy and there was no air conditioning--but maybe that was because we were seated close to the entrance. We did get a window view of cloudy New York streets and slightly improved lighting for photography, but in exchange we were all sweating our proverbial nuts off.
The menu seemed a bit pretentious at first, with all the main titles for the dishes being completely in french. Beneath that though, the food was very simple and very good. It was definitely old-fashioned with none of the newfangled rhubarb-tea-smoking-with-a-side-of-figs that you can find in more "hip" restaurants, but to be honest it was a welcome change. It was commented that the food brought up "strange memories of childhood", and not just the type with "Uncle's Basement Movies."
We started with simple appetizers, escargots and mushroom ravioli. The escargots were nearly not as gross as more squeamish diners would make it out to be; it's not like they come out on a plate still alive, writhing in agony from rock salt seasoning, though this would certainly be interesting. Hell, we get bowls of it at Chinese dimsum, and pick them out of their shells with toothpicks. The french style had them all de-shelled on a platter, with olive oil, herbs, and garlic. I have to say I prefer the Asian way, but this wasn't bad at all. I do wonder whether they season them in-shell or out.
The mushroom ravioli were good as well, though I was slightly surprised at the texture. I've been getting the impression that Europeans (Italians and southern French in general) need to have their pasta "al dente", or "just on the other side of raw." The texture of the pasta in these ravioli were tender--I'm surprised nobody complained about it being overcooked. The mushrooms were nothing exotic (no morels here), but the goat cheese did give the whole thing a nice tang.
The highlight of the meal was my entree: "Planche de Grillades"--literally, Plate of Meat. For $30, I had two types of steak, lamb chops, bacon, sausages, and a pile of french fries to boot. All of the meat was expertly done; the steaks were well made and tender, the lamb chop was flavorful. I wasn't a big fan of the sausages, but I tend to not like sausage in general. I can still see why someone would like them; they just weren't for me. A great finishing touch was that the entire thing came on an old-style wooden board, complete with little canals to catch the blood and fat dripping out of the meat. Suffice to say that this was the most ridiculous thing I've eaten in a long time.
Bourdain contends in multiple places that the french fries in Les Halles are the best in the world. I'm not so sure about the world, but the fries I got with my plate of meat definitely ranks at the top of what I've tried. The waitress also offered me a choice of ketchup, mayo, and mustard to dip them in--I chose mayo, but switched midway as I discovered that fries actually go extremely well with the herbed olive oil that came with my plate of meat. Fat, meat, fat, salt, more fat. What more could you want?