Thursday, February 28, 2013

Russ & Daughters Celebrates 99 Years of the House that Herring Built

Bagels and lox lovers, take note: next Tuesday you can finally get your hands on Mark Russ Federmans book Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House that Herring Built (Shocken). In advance of the release, photographer Matthew Hranek a devoted Russ & Daughters fan for 20 years interviewed Mark at the iconic establishment on New Yorks Lower East Side to talk lox, the history of the business, and the lengths customers will go to to get their fix. Matthew, who met Mark when they became neighbors in Park Slope, Brooklyn, says, It has been a pleasure getting to know him, his family and all that smoked salmon.

Watch this video to see how Russ & Daughtersmakes their famous lox and cream cheese bagel sandwich. (Video directed by Matthew Hranek and shot by Bryan Goulart)

Tell me how herring built this institution of Russ and Daughters (literally). Why was herring so popular at the time Russ and Daughters opened?

It was poverty, pestilence, and pogroms that drove Grandpa Russ out of Eastern Europe. It was herring that brought him to America. His sister, Chana, had preceded him here and had established a herring business on The Lower East Side. That business consisted of a few barrels of schmaltz herring located in a stall between two tenement buildings. Chana paid the $25 sponsorship fee for her brother. That was a lot of money in 1907 since herring was sold for 5 cents each, or 3 for 10. After a while, Chana had Joel set up with a pushcart filled with herring on Hester Street. The rest is history. Herring was a cheap source of protein. An entire family could have a meal of herring, potatoes, onions, and bread. Lots of starch and a little protein.

How many original daughters were there? Who is still alive and how old are they?

There were three Russ daughters: Hattie, Ida, and Anne [my mother]. Ida, the middle daughter, died 12 years ago at age 86. Hattie will be 100 in 2 months. Anne will be 92 in 4 months. They live in the same shtetl in Florida.

What is your go-to item to nosh on at Russ and Daughters?

Sturgeon. It is the Queen of all smoked fish.

For the novice what should not be missed?


Where does the term lox come from?

Lox is from the German word lachs, meaning salmon. The original lox was salt cured, un-smoked salmon; and the best part of the lox was the portion cut from the belly of the fish. We still sell real belly lox in our store, plus eight to 10 varieties of smoked salmon.

The lines at Russ are infamous around holidays. How long was the biggest line and what do you think the wait was if you where at the end of that line?

The line is not physically so long now that we have instituted a number system. Customers take a number and then maybe go down the block for a pastrami sandwich at Katzs. But most hang in and around the store enjoying the scene and making new friends; sometimes new relationships. Its fun a real New York experience.

Was there ever an exception when someone was allowed to cut that line? (celebrity, pregnancy, etc.)

No exceptions for celebrities not even for pregnancy. Last year a pregnant woman began to have contractions while waiting her turn. She refused to go to the hospital until her number was called.

What is your personal favorite variety of smoked salmon?

I love them all. Thats why theyre in the store. Sometimes my genes call out for old fashioned belly lox.

When it comes to bagels are you a plain or seeded man?

Plain for me.

Photos by Matthew Hranek, who blogs at The William Brown Project

Mensday Wednesday: Kafana

When contemplating European food, the cuisine of Serbia is hardly the first thing that springs to mind. Serbia? You mean the former Yugoslav republic? They were, like, communist, werent they? I thought only boring things came out of communist countries like drab apartment blocs, efficient-to-the-point-of-mechanized sports teams, and censorship? The imaginary me asking those questions couldnt be more ignorant. Serbia, along with the other countries that comprise the former Yugoslavia, is home to some of the most vibrant and distinctive culture, geography, and cuisine in the world, let alone Europe. And if youve yet to try to Serbian food and are within a hundred kilometers (Im gonna let this euro theme flow) of the New York City metropolitan area, get up off your butt and go eat a meal at Kafana, immediately.

One of my best friends, Marko, dragged us there this Wednesday on the recommendation of his mother. I was initially skeptical for no reason other than weve eaten delicious Balkan food in Queens on numerous occasions and this place was located in the East Village (home to seemingly every flavor-of-the-month restaurant in NYC). But Markos word carried a little more weight than usual this evening. The reason? He is nominally Croatian, but describing his background with the wordlast commonly used three decades agoYugoslavian would be more appropriate. He is truly pan-Balkan with a birthplace on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, a Montenegrin father, a Bosnian grandmother, and a Serbian grandfather. This mixed heritage proved difficult during the troubles that beset that part of the world for the greater part of the nineties, but he nevertheless represents his heritage with pride. Furthermore, his mother is the best mom-cook I know, besides my own, so I knew she could discern good food from dreck.

Kafanas kitchen produces food that is about as far from the dreck-end of the spectrum as possible. After the liberal hand behind the bar poured us a generous round of slivovitz (Balkan plum brandy) and Marko let out a rapid flow of serbo-croatian to our server, the food began to arrive.

What came out was like a whats what of treats that exemplify Serbias location as a crossroads of culture between the former Ottoman Empire to the east, the Mediterranean influence from the south, and an Austro-Hungarian influence to the north and west. Plates came to the table carrying warm spinach and cheese pie, the filling barely held in place by its thin, chewy, and crackling crust. Or simple and savory braised broad beanssoft and yielding to the bite with that wholesome flavor unique to perfectly prepared legumes. Or Balkan quesadillas: lepinja (simliar to pita) opened up and spread with the ubiquitous soft white cheese of this area, kajmak (pronounced like the j is an i), toasted and served warm. Or, perhaps one of the national dishes of Serbia, cevapilittle skinless sausages charcoal grilled and served simply with more lepinja, chopped white onions, more kajmak, and ajvar (a roasted red pepper relish).

Ive had experience with kajmak and ajvar before solely as a result of my experience eating at Markos house, but I need to stress how delicious these two things are and how particularly good the ajvar is at Kafana. Ajvar looks almost like salsa or tomato sauce, but its ingredients are usually just red peppers and a little garlic and oil. It is sweet and savory at the same time; when you try some that is as good as the stuff at Kafana you suddenly realize exactly what piquant means. Kajmak can be described as clotted cream: a rich, buttery cheese that when consumed for the first time almost immediately negates the need for butter or cheese. Kajmak and ajvar, the second and third partners to a cevapi mnage a trois, are emblematic of the cuisine of the region: food that is simply prepared with the very best ingredients possible. It sounds like a tagline for a locavore supper club, but its how theyve been doing things in the Balkans for hundreds of years.

Dinner continued with pljeskavicathe other national dish of Serbiaa grilled, chopped beef burger discerningly stuffed with cheese and pancetta. For all you fried food lovers out there, the fries that came with this plate were exceptional. Next was ljutabig, spicy pork sausages sizzling and hot, fresh off the fire served with the biggest surprise of the eveningdelicious cole slawwho knew? Red and white cabbage thinly sliced and dressed with what tasted like nothing more than a little vinegar and oil. It was a resounding success that had the crew looking around the table with incredulous expressions: Cabbage can taste not only good, but great?!?!

The evening was a low key Wednesday by our standards (i.e. I can remember with absolute lucidity everything I ate and drink that evening, which is unfortunately a first for me). After a delicious dessertbaklava and chestnut puree topped with whipped creamwe headed over to Gin Palace for a nightcap. Despite the relatively chaste manner we went about the evening, I cant stop thinking about when I will be able to return to Kafana. Writing this post the day after we ate, I am trying to justify to my wallet (even though the spot is very reasonably priced for the area) returning again this eveningthe mark of a truly great meal, you cant stop craving it until you get it again.

116 Avenue C, New York, NY (212) 353-8000

Calder Quinn is afearlessgastronome exploring New York City one restaurant at a timehes alsothe eldest son of Lucinda Scala Quinn, Livings Executive Editorial Director of Food. Heres what he has to say about the origins of Mensday Wednesday: Being located in New York City gives us the opportunity to sample a wide array of food. After all, there are over 20,000 restaurants here and in a huge city, built on the contributions of immigrants, which continues to draw people from every corner of the world, it is statistically probable that there exists a commercial enterprise operating to meet everyones taste, as disparate as those tastes may be. There are no set requirements as to where we dine, but a sort of tacit set of rules have emerged: price is importantthe final bill should never cause us to wince, international cuisine is preferred, and in the event of a debate, byob is the trump card.

Follow Mensday Wednesdays on Twitter@mensdae.

Monday, February 25, 2013

American Made Series: Andies Specialty Sweets

Chocolate-Filled Candy Seashells

Andie and Jason Moore, the husband and wife duo behind the Dallas-basedEtsy confectionery Andies Specialty Sweets, create works of art from candy and chocolate. Not only are their sweets beautiful interpretations of natural and man-made objects, but they believe passionately in using the highest quality culinary ingredients. We just had to know how they design and make such fantastical, yet realistic candy creations.

How did you get your start in making chocolates and candies?
It all started long ago, with the desire to make family gatherings and entertaining guests a special and unique time. But the drive to pursue it was born from too many experiences with overly sweet, cheap ingredient-confections and outdated cake apparel.

Everything we have learned has been from being presented a challenge with a blank slate. We are completely self-taught, and similar to giving a youngster a box of crayons and paper for the first time, we have delved into a world of exciting possibilities presenting its potential with every incidental scribble.

Vintage-Inspired Bird Lollipops

How do you determine what candy medium to use for a project?
We work with primarily three candy mediums: hard candy, chocolate, and our own proprietary candy recipe (which we are hoping to offer to the D.I.Y. public soon). Each of these mediums have a mind of their own. Some stay fluid long enough to coat tiny crevices, some support the weight of large objects without collapsing, and some are great for sculpting and manipulating. And, each has its own aesthetic that yields to the particular piece. We think about the object and ponder whether we want it to resemble glass, or a soft texture, or if it will need a multiple finish of shiny in some spots, but matte in others.

Chocolate Skeleton Key Necklace

Whats special about casting chocolate?
Chocolate is great for picking up detail and working its way into tiny details like the tip of a pointed ear, and it holds its shape without collapsing. It does need to be handled with bamboo gloves in order to not leave fingerprints. And, it is soft enough (unfortunately), unlike hard candy, to break, say at the pointed ear, and cause long, aching Noooo!s to arise from ones toes. We love chocolate though, and are tapping into exciting ways to incorporate it further in our craft.

Edible Scrabble Tiles and Trays

How you decide what to design next?
We are most inspired by our customers, who never leave us lacking for amusement and amazing ideas. Most of our best sellers have been a direct consequence of customer genius, and really the rest is just coming to know our customers and guessing what they would like next. Sometimes were right sometimes we arent. And, to our demise, we have been forced to eat many of the arents.

Sculpted Sugar Mushrooms

Many of your confections are inspired by nature. Is it difficult to replicate those colors and textures?
Yes, it is always a challenge to make something sugary resemble something brittle or knotty, or anything close to what we see in creation, and not have it look like a cartoon. We are always critical of this aspect in our work, and always on the pursuit to heighten the realness.

Chocolate Candy Oyster Shells

What is it like running a business together?
There are plenty of challenges; each day has its demands, wins and losses, many decisions -some critical and urgent. We suspect every small business has its share of all the things they say are hard on a marriage. Besides our business, we also have four young children that we are active in parenting. Despite all these things that require our thought and attention, we do find peace in spending time together, we laugh a lot and really are two peas in a pod, but far, far from being perfect. Sometimes our sweetest days are those where we are quick to confess our mea culpas and own them. Oh, and kissingthere is a lot of kissing to help run our business.

(Images Courtesy of Andies Specialty Sweets)

American Made Series: Rose Story Farm

On this monthsAmerican Made Series page in Living,we featured Danielle and Bill Hahn ofRose Story Farm. The couple hasspecializedin heritage American roses since 1998.

Have you always had a passion for gardening?

I have always had a passion for what comes out of a garden, but had triedto stay away from the dirt and the work. Slowly, I have learned to appreciateall facets of gardening and now I find the results are that much morethrilling if I have literally had a hand in it (the dirt!).

What do you love about roses in particular?

Roses are complex. From their historical significance to the form andshape of the blooms themselves, I find enjoyment in so many features ofthis incredible flower. Fragrance, the sense of romance, and thevariety of colors are three of my favorite aspects of the genus rosa.These are certainly the predominant reasons I chose to grow them.

Do you farm any other flowers or plants? What led you to make rosesyour main pursuit?

Yes, I grow many companion plants that I use in my rose arrangements. Iam always trying something new! I grow bulb flowers (all colors of iris),geraniums to use for greenery, hydrangeas (all kinds), dahlias, zinnias,succulents, aloes, alliums, lavenders, and herbs. In addition, we growavocados, lemons, pit fruits and have a huge vegetable garden eachsummer. I chose roses as a business pursuit primarily because at thetime, no one else was growing the old American varieties, nor any of theromantic European roses for commercial purposes or cut roses.

I know you specialize in rare and unique varieties of roses; how vast isthe rose family? Do you have any personal favorites?

The rose family is vast indeed. There are more than 3000 varieties incommerce at any one time. Many are difficult to find, but there are somany beauties to choose from. To make the cut, so to speak, in our farm, therose must be fragrant, unusual in color or shape, disease resistant, andmost importantly, hold up in the cutting and shipping process. Shippingis the most difficult aspect of the business. While there have been manyimprovements in vase life and techniques to improve such, a rose cut fromthe garden typically cannot be expected to last longer than 5 to 7 days inthe vase. I have tried to educate those who buy our flowers toacknowledge that roses can and should be enjoyed in the moment. If wethought of roses like a wonderful meal or a fine wine, we might not be as frustrated with their relatively short vase life. Some of the most beautiful roses remain beautiful, albeit different, even after dropping all their petals. My favorites are the Guillot family of roses. Many have such beautiful shapes and colors. The petals tend to be more relaxed than those of other European heritage roses. Currently, these are not easy to find, buthopefullyin the next few years this will change. Varieties to look out for: Martine Guillot, Madame Paul Massad, Paul Bocuse, Florence de Lattre, and a new variety named after meDany Hahn.

On your website, you mention that your roses are cultivated naturally;could you give us a brief rundown on the various techniques?

Cultivating roses naturally here at the farm means that we try to do everything in a green-minded fashion. We use a slow drip system to irrigate, all organic fertilizers (run through the drip system to feed our plants and promote bloom), and we spray the plants with wonderful fragrant oils for disease prevention and to deter bugs. If one accepts that occasionally there will be an imperfection in a bloom, its much easier to garden in a green fashion.

I imagine your home is always filled with flowers! What is the biggestbenefit of devoting your career to raising roses?

Yes, our home is always filled with roses. During the dormant season, Igrow bulbs and use greenery and bulb flowers to replace the much missedroses. When the fruit trees begin to bloom, we cut branches (sparingly) to bring in, knowing that the roses are not far behind. Whenthe first bloom appears in the spring, it is always exciting and exhilarating; the fragrance in the garden is overwhelming. However, I would have to say that while having a house full of roses is terrific, the most rewarding aspect of rose growing on the scale that we do is being able to share with others share the blooms, share stories about roses, exchange tips with other rose growers and enthusiasts. It has been a great opportunity to meet people and encourage others to garden and, of course, to grow roses.

Any flower farming tips for our rose enthusiast readers?
Yes, we have lots of tips to share. The most important is not to bediscouraged when things dont go as expected. If a rose plant is notdoing well, you can try a different growing technique (perhaps a new ormore frequent feeding program), try a new variety, or move the existing variety to a different spot. Roses are extremely resilient and they arepatient with us if we are patient with them. Experiment and enjoy theexperience. Some of our best results on the farm have come about after ahuge disaster in the garden! Remember, you are your own worst critic, noone sees what you see in your garden! Roses are a great reminder to usto slow down and enjoy the outdoors and what we grow in our garden. Ourweekly tours are filled with tips and advice and no question goes unanswered. It is a hands on experience, not only do we share ideas about rose growing, but we encourage our visitors to touch and smell the bloomssurrounding them, experiencing the garden first hand! Were hoping to have youall visit sometime soon. Look for our rose growing by the month manual,due out this spring!

Maeve Nicholson is a contributing editor atMartha Stewart Living. Follow her on

(photos: copyright Victoria Pearson)

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

How to Decorate Cakes Like a Pro

Homemade cakes are baked with love and decorated withgood intentions?

My favorite part of birthday parties and weddings is cake time, and not just because Im a frosting fanatic. Im fascinated by beautifully-decorated cakes, but I always assumed that learning how to pipe roses or create artfully swoopy finishes would require spending hours in an expensive pastry class. Thats why I was so eager to check out The Best of Martha Stewart Living Cakes & Cupcakes special issue, on newsstands and iPad now. The issues charming Cake Decorating How-To videos demystify frosting and piping techniques with straightforward instructions and helpful details, like what size pastry tip to use for each step.

Discover how to create a garden full of frosting flowers, like chrysanthemums (above), pansies, daises, roses, poppies, sweet peas, and anemones.

Get the lowdown on assembling and frosting a professional-looking layer cake, from applying crumb coats to covering a cake in fondant to tinting buttercream. By the way, did you know that gel color is a better choice because liquid food coloring can dilute the thickness of the frosting? (I didnt.)

Cheers and happy decorating!

For more technique tutorials plus a collection of our most delicious recipes, inspired decorating ideas and test kitchen tips, look for Cakes & Cupcakes on newsstands now and as in-app purchase within the free-to-download Martha Stewart Living iPad app.

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Cakes & Cupcakes ContestWe Have a Winner!

To celebrate our latest special issue, TheBest of Martha Stewart Living: Cakes & Cupcakes, which hit newsstands this month, we held a cakes and cupcakes decorating contest on Instagram (follow us @ms_living).

There were so many mouthwatering submissions that it was hard to pick a favorite. But, as it was a competition, we did have to pick a winner, and @danosauroustook the cake. His piped roses on chocolate cupcakes, above, were top-notch. Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who participated.

Dan will receive a baking prize package including aMartha Stewart Collection Cupcake Treefrom Macysand copies of the Cakes & Cupcakes special issue, the February issue of Living, and theMartha Stewarts Cupcakescookbook.

Here are a few more of our favorite entries

From left to right: @mandyred, @kellydull, @kellydull,@wee_eats, @_thuhang, @_thuthang, @ulmavi, @parangole, @hoopyruby

From left to right: @karenlouisemathis, @kuanamsaeng, @iloveyoubooo, @ulmavi, @wee_eats, @pinkrapture, @ulmavi, @kimtagg,@lostinthekitchen

For a collection of our most delicious recipes, inspired decorating ideas and test kitchen tips, look for Cakes & Cupcakes on newsstands now and as an in-app purchase within the Martha Stewart Living iPad app.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fuss-Free Oscar Party

The 85th annual Academy Awards are on Sunday and what better way to watch than with friends and some easy, but fancy, food and cocktails?

Here are some of our favorite finger foods, dips, and drinks straight from the Martha archives, so you can enjoy Oscar-worthy food without the black dress attire.

Drinks to toast to:

Pomegranate Honey Coolers

The Capricorn

Nibbles to bite:

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Goat Cheese

Rosemary Walnuts

Mini Croque Monsieurs

Shrimp Cocktail with 3 Sauces

Desserts to end the night sweetly:

Chocolate-Caramel Cookie Bars

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Mini Cheesecakes with Apricot Jam

(photo: Martha Stewart Living; January 2010)

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What to Eat, Where to Sleep, and What to Buy in Round Top, Texas

Were not sure if everything is bigger in Texas, but Living crafts editor and product designer Hannah Milman can certainly vouch for the antiques fairs. In our March issue, Hannah takes us on a tour through the magic and mayhem that is Round Top, Texas the site of a massive series of antiques fairs spread out over two weeks and 15 miles. Its easy to get overwhelmed, so read on to discover Hannahs insider tips on what not to miss at Round Top. (The spring shows start soon, so begin planning now!)

Where to Feast: Royers Round Top Cafe

Make reservations well in advance (Royers starts taking reservations for the spring antique show on March 14), and eat light for a few days before your visit to prepare for what Hannah calls some of the best food Ive had in my life. She recommends the Grilled Shrimp BLT (1/4 pound of grilled shrimp with bacon, lettuce & tomato served with a smoky mesquite mustard on a jalapeno sourdough bun) and a slice of Pecan Pie topped with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream. As much as she loves the food, Hannah says she adores the hospitality at the family-run restaurant, which is led by Bud Sr. and his wife Karen and includes their daughter Tara, the Pie Queen who runs Royers Pie Haven, plus sons JB and Todd, and Taras husband Rick Steele. After Hurricane Sandy, Bud Sr. and a friend drove to New York and New Jersey to deliver 650 pies to storm victims for Thanksgiving. Craving Royers now? Pick up the Royers Recipe Card Box, which includes all the caf and pie recipes.

Hannah with Bud Sr. at Royers.

Royers is very much a family business, which includes (counterclockwise from left) Bud Sr. and Karens daughter Tara Royer Steele and her husband Rick Steele, and sons JB and Todd. Server Angie joined in for the photo.

This is advice were happy to take.

At Royers Pie Haven, you can indulge in both sweet and savory pies, plus breakfast fare, pastries, and smoothies.

Recreate your favorite dishes at home with the Royers Recipe Card Box.

Where to Get Your Caffeine Fix: The Coffee Bug

Dont miss Brad Frank and his retrofitted VW bug in Warrenton for what Hannah has declared among her favorite in her hunt for the best iced cappuccinos.

What to Collect: Vintage holiday decorations, jewelry, and more.

No matter what you collect, youre sure to find some new treasures at Round Top. Hannah loves the antique Christmas decorations, and she picked up a vintage ornament from Betty Bell Antiques at Big Red Barn.

Vintage ornaments from Betty Bell.

Betty Bells vintage holiday collection also includes these patriotic pins, which give a sparkly boost to the Stars and Stripes.

Great idea: Show off your collection of cups and saucers by stacking them under a bell jar.

Three generations of Round Top: Margaret Mebus (right), owner of the Marburger Farm Antique Show;Ashley Ferguson, show manager and Margarets daughter-in-law; and EllenFerguson, Ashleys daughter and Margarets granddaughter (Ellen rings the bell to officially open the show!)

Hannah hitches a ride around the Marburger Farm Antique Show with dealer Stephen Dori Shin, who owns Antediluvian Antiques & Curiosities in Lake Placid, New York, with his partner, Christopher English.

Where to Find Lodging: The Country Butler

After a long day of of scouring the fairs, a comfy place to stay is key. Contact Jordan Fischman of Country Butler to rent a room at the Longhorn Inn, or a cottage or house in the area.

Photos by Hannah Milman

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Studio Visit: Rae Dunn

We visited with Berkeley-based ceramist Rae Dunn for the February issue ofLiving. We had so much fun talking with Rae (and had more great photos of her work than we had room for in the magazine), that we thought wed share a little more with you here:

How did you get involved in ceramics?

I never touched clay before my mid-30s. I was in Golden Gate Park and spotted a beautiful cobblestone building that was offering community art classes. I randomly signed up for ceramics.

What got you hooked?

Im all about working with my hands. So as the graphic design industry, which I used to work in, slowly turned to computers, I lost interest. The moment I touched clay it took over my life.

How did you make a business out of it?

In the olden days, I had no website. I would just put plates in an old suitcase and pound the pavement selling to individual stores. Im supershy, so it wasnt easy!

Whats a typical day in the studio?

I dont use an electric wheel. Im elbow deep in clay, handbuilding and glazing. I usually fire each piece in the kiln 3 or 4 times. So it takes weeks to make one thing. I usually make 2 to 3 pieces for each order to make sure that one works out. There are so many variables in ceramics productionthats the beauty and the beast of it.

Youre a one-woman show, right?

Since I have a line thats manufactured elsewhere, I thought that for my handmade line, no one should touch the pieces but me. So I have no assistants, no shipping, no handling.

And now youre a shop owner too.

Ive always wanted to have own store. I sell products I love. My sister makes amazing jewelry; Im also selling a womens bike clothes line, some flea market itemsanything I love and believe in.

What are your other passions?

Ive played piano since age 4. I think we all need to do something that makes time stand still and nothing else matter. Piano does that for me. Also, my dog WilmaI cant imagine my life without her. And I love taking pictures of her, so she has her own blog.

What inspires you creatively?

I believe in wabi sabiseeing beauty in imperfection. And a lot of ideas come from daily livingthings I see in flea markets, old rusty tools. Im just so in my own world, I dont look at what is that thing? Pinterest?

To learn more about Raes work, go to:http://www.raedunn.comand visit her at 927 Parker Street, Berkeley CA.

(photos: Laura Flippen)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mensday Wednesday: Congee Village

There is something about the dark recesses of deep February that inspires people to get together and party. Every locale in the world with any significant Christian population enjoys the benefits of some sort of Shrove Tuesday or Carnival celebrationthe million strong blocos in Rio, bead throwing and beer drinking in The Big Easy, masked balls in Venice. Falling sometime between February 3rd and March 9th, and also known as Fat Tuesday, it is a day to party and get piggyto eat up all those rich foods in the larder before you begin the forty day fast for Lent.

Like Carnival in the Christian world, Chinese New Year is also a mid-winter moveable feastlanding on varying dates between late January and February. This year, we are celebrating the year of the snake. At first blush, perhaps not the animal youd want your birth year associated with, but, upon closer examination, a creature exemplifying a host of worthy attributes: intelligent, thoughtful, scrupulous, rational, logical, insightful, and intuitive.The mensday crew, to celebrate the year of the snake, hit up probably our all time favorite Wednesday dinner spot: Congee Village in the Lower East Side/Chinatown (we always go to the Allen Street location). Specializing in Cantonese cuisine, Congee Village has become our automatic fallback for a variety of reasonscentrality, a generously minimal corkage fee, and a fun festive atmospherebut, the most important reason, the consistent deliciousness of the food on offer. And this night was no exception.

While Congee Village does a great job with American-Chinese food favorites like beef and broccoli and general tsos chicken, that is not what attracts us to this place. It is the less familiar dishes that keep us coming back. Like the eponymous congee, a thin rice gruel that is a million times more complex than the underwhelming thin rice gruel description suggests: a steaming, soul-satisfying bowl of rice porridge that, like french crepes, serves as the ultimate flavor canvass whether you are heading down the sweet or savory path. Upon sitting down, we immediately ordered, as we always do here, the three meat congeestudded with shredded pieces of roast pork, chicken, and duck, lightly seasoned with soya and sprinkled with minced ginger and sliced scallionover which we say our toasts and discuss the rest of the order. A word to the wise: if you want fried dumplings order them right awaythey are as good as they get, but take twenty minutes to arrive.

We normally have a very strict five or six dish rotation that we stick to, but seeing that it was a special occasion (the new year), we decided to celebrate by venturing ever so slightly out of our comfort zone. One dish, however, that would be impossible to go without is the house special chickena heaping platter of cleaver-chopped roast chicken with impossibly dry, crackling skin and succulent meat. Its flavor profile portended by the incredibly generous amount of roast garlic cloves adorning the plate.

The menu is vast and, despite the fact that we have dined there on numerous occasions, there are whole portions that we havent even delved into. Using that as a jumping off point, we decided to elucidate ourselves on the mysteries of the sizzling hot plate section. The representatives chosen were sauteed beef short ribs with black pepper sauce and Chinese broccoli with ground pork. Both came on stand alone cast iron platters that, to our immense delight, were, in fact, sizzling. The beef was unctuous and tender and the Chinese broccoli achieved that rare vegetable feat of being ordered a second time at the same meal.

Our meal was rounded out with tai peng style chow mei funa thin egg noodle stir fried with a plethora of seafood and vegetables; pan fried minced pork pattiesa dish reminiscent of diner-style pork sausage patties subtly flavored with salted fish and scallions, probably the standout dish of the eveningand, lastly, a not-for-animal-rights-activists titled live shrimp with shell. We learned the provenance of this preparation from a member of the mensday crew who has spent a lot of time in China. The shrimp are placed in a sauce pot and steamed with a little bit of liquor (e.g. baiju), as the shrimp cook, they inhale the booze, a reason this dish is also called drunken shrimp. Perhaps not for the squeamish, but sweet, succulent and devoured with gusto nonetheless.

The night ended at Lolita, right around the corner from the restaurant, where I hazily recollect chatting with some Brits and where I much more clearly remember leaving my brand new scarf. We enjoyed a night cap before dispersing to sleep off another Wednesday evening of decadent excess. As a final note, in reading up on the Chinese zodiac, I learned that the snakes lucky day is Monday. This year our lucky day is Wednesday.

100 Allen Street, New York, NY (212) 941-1818

(About Mensday Wednesday: Being located in New York City gives us the opportunity to sample a wide array of food. After all, there are over 20,000 restaurants here and in a huge city, built on the contributions of immigrants, which continues to draw people from every corner of the world, it is statistically probable that there exists a commercial enterprise operating to meet everyones taste, as disparate as those tastes may be. There are no set requirements as to where we dine, but a sort of tacit set of rules have emerged: price is importantthe final bill should never cause us to wince, international cuisine is preferred, and in the event of a debate, byob is the trump card.)

Calder Quinn is afearlessgastronome exploring New York City one restaurant at a time andthe eldest son of Lucinda Scala Quinn, Livings Executive Editorial Director of Food.

Follow Mensday Wednesdays on Twitter@mensdae.