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The Underground Gourmet

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Enviro-Friendly Eateries Take It to the Next Level

By now, it’s become commonplace for restaurants of a certain environmentally correct ilk to cite their purveyors on their menus, especially when said purveyors are boutique organic farmers or tiny artisanal producers. But two restaurants, Franny’s (Brooklyn’s Chez Panissean pizzeria), and Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, might be the first establishments to name-check their energy suppliers. Franny’s credits the progressive ConEdison Solutions, while Shake Shack simply gives a shout-out to the wind, as in “The Shack’s electricity is now 100% powered by wind power!” In a similar vein, Maury Rubin’s East Village “green bakery,” Birdbath — in what might be an attempt to discourage anyone thinking of going on a cookie run in a stretch Hummer — has posted a sign advertising a 50 percent discount to customers arriving on a bicycle or skateboard. Pedestrians, presumably, pay full price. — Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld Related: Danny Meyer on Shake Shack 2.0

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The World’s First Polish Bánh Mì Is Our Sandwich of the Week

Consider the “Greenpoint” sandwich at the new Williamsburg Vietnamese restaurant, Silent H, the world’s first Polish bánh mì. At long last, these two seemingly unfusable cuisines have fused, and no one could be happier about this blessed union than the Underground Gourmet, who yields to no one in his devotion to both Polish sausages and Vietnamese sandwiches. The “Greenpoint” is by all outward appearances a regular bánh mì (itself, of course, one of the greatest fusion dishes of all time) meticulously primped with pickled carrot, cucumber, daikon, fresh jalapeño, and cilantro. One side of the bread is slicked with pork-liver pâté, which serves nicely as a condiment rather than a filling; the other with a judicious swipe of aïoli.

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Haute Barnyard Take on a Classic SoCal Sandwich

Almost as much as he loves discovering and devouring worthy sandwiches, the Underground Gourmet also loves to brush up on his sandwich lore and then regale Ms. UG with his fascinating findings — which is precisely what he did after a recent excursion to Park Slope’s Flatbush Farm, where he tucked into a delicious French-dip sandwich. As you may or may not know (Ms. UG did not), the illustrious French dip, like so much of America’s storied sandwicherie, has a slightly murky history. Two restaurants, both founded in 1908 and both located in downtown Los Angeles, lay claim to it. The owners of Philippe the Original say that the French dip was born when founder Philippe Mathieu, while making a sandwich for a policeman one day in 1918, accidentally dropped a long French-style roll into some meaty pan juices. The copper — whose name may or may not have been Officer French — liked it so much he came back the next day for an encore performance. Had Philippe possessed better reflexes or the cop fussier standards, the world might be, to this day, bereft of French dips.

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Sandwiches of the Week: In Celebration of National Peanut Month

National Peanut Month — like National Baked Bean Month (July) and National Accordion Awareness Month (June) — comes but once a year, and that means celebrating, Peter Pan salmonella outbreak notwithstanding. Our top five nut-butter sandwiches, below. 1. The Elvis at Peanut Butter & Co. Excellent peanut butter, honey, sliced banana, and optional (but recommended) bacon on white toast. Historical culinary note: In what might be the most famous case of the munchies, Elvis flew from Memphis to Denver on his private jet just to sample the progenitor of this fine sandwich, which was a loaf of Italian bread sliced lengthwise, a jar of Jif, a jar of jelly, and a pound of bacon. It was meant for sharing, but Elvis wolfed one down all by himself. 240 Sullivan St., nr. W. 3rd St.; 212-677-3995.

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Psilakis, Pretty Much a Greek God, Has Another Opening

Michael Psilakis’s ambitious new restaurant, Anthos, opens Monday in the old Acqua Pazza space. It’s been a busy, up-and-down year for the chef: His critically praised Dona closed, unexpectedly, one week into 2007. Just a couple of weeks later, he converted his high Greek eatery Onera into the more casual Kefi, which went on, in this week’s issue, to win four stars from the Underground Gourmet. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning, as they say. Looks like it’s lifting Psilakis back up. We went inside Anthos and got all the evidence.

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The Fatty Slider: A Home Run

The Underground Gourmet isn’t saying that his mother was a disaster in the kitchen, but her idea of sprucing up the young UG’s burgers before she cooked them to a fine crisp was to fling a packetful of Lipton onion-soup mix into the ground beef. The UG was reminded of this culinary catastrophe as he bit into a Fatty Slider the other day, at the inaugural brunch at Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty Crab. Before you get the wrong idea, you should know that a Fatty Slider is not a Lipton onion burger — far from it. But it does fall into the same general category of spiced-up ground-beef patties, however great the temporal and culinary divide between seventies suburbia and 2007 meatpacking district.

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It’s Alive! The Tasting Room’s Kimchee-and-Cheese Sandwich

When Slow Food practitioner Colin Alevras, the chef-owner of the Tasting Room and as familiar a Greenmarket presence as corn in August, sets out to make a cheese sandwich for his new Tasting Room Wine Bar & Café, you don’t expect him to slap together some Kraft singles between two slices of Pepperidge Farm whole wheat and call it a day. No, what you expect is great, local ingredients, cleverly combined. What you expect is what our colleague, Adam Platt, would undoubtedly call a sandwich conceived and crafted in the Haute Barnyard style.

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Keith McNally on Why Morandi Will Be His Last Restaurant Ever

This Sunday, if all goes according to plan, Keith McNally will fling open the doors of Morandi, his new West Village trattoria. (See our opening announcement; here’s the menu.) Until then, there is pine to be varnished, Italian bread to be baked at Balthazar Bakery, and pasta to be rolled and stuffed by chef Jody Williams, with the fortuitous help of a McNally deputy’s visiting 80-year-old Bolognese mother. In the midst of the pre-opening chaos, Mr. McNally took some time to explain why the Brit who invented the New York breed of French brasserie is opening an Italian place in his own backyard.

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Sneaking Past Security for the Sandwich of the Week

Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based purveyor of chicken-breast sandwiches, is the second largest chicken-centric fast-food operation in the country, and yet there is only one branch in New York — and it doesn’t even really count. Opened three years ago to little foodie fanfare, the local outpost is ensconced between Quizno’s and JW’s Grille in the food court of NYU’s Joe Weinstein Center (5-11 University Pl., nr. 8th St.), and as such it’s been a well-kept undergrad secret.

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Batali Helps Devise Insane Feast for Spotted Pig Staff

When one thinks of the great feast-givers throughout history, one thinks of the medieval dukes, earls, and kings of England. One thinks of Chinese and Roman emperors, the Persians, the Turks, maybe a Fijian cannibal chief or two. Add to this illustrious list of revelers Sir Ken D. Friedman, the owner of West Village gastropub the Spotted Pig. This past Sunday, Friedman threw a belated holiday–Super Bowl party at Del Posto for his 80-person staff, and it was of such Rabelaisian excess that, like an old Woodstock hippie, the restaurateur is having trouble remembering it all.

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Where Should I Eat on Valentine’s Day — Alone?

Grub Street, So how about suggesting places to go on Valentine’s Day when you’re alone and don’t have a valentine? Signed, R Dear R, It just so happens that the Underground Gourmet recommended a “breakup burger” yesterday. But if you’re not simply looking to drown your sorrows in a “ripe slab of Limburger cheese and a pile of chopped raw onion,” may we suggest the following candidates, each perfect, in different ways, for solo dining.

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Sandwich of the Week: The Twisted Burger's Breakup Burger

breakup burger
Every day is Valentine’s Day at the love nest known as UG headquarters, but that doesn’t mean the Underground Gourmet has forgotten those leaden-hearted singles who, come this February 14, find themselves dateless, forlorn, and generally feeling unfit for human consumption. And neither has Chris Ballerini, the happily married owner of the East Village sandwich shop the Twisted Burger. In an effort to pump up the self-esteem of these poor souls on what many consider the worst restaurant day of the year, Ballerini is bringing back his infamous Breakup Burger for a limited engagement, much in the way that McDonald’s dusts off its Shamrock Shake machine every March 17.

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Sandwich of the Week: City Bakery’s Barbecued Tofu — Yes, Tofu

Ever since man discovered tofu, he’s been trying to trick himself into thinking it’s meat. Traditionally, this is attempted by playing with texture, form, and flavor, and the results, needless to say, aren’t always successful. There is good fake-meat tofu (Chinese mock duck, the Unchicken Buffalo Wings at Kate’s Joint in the East Village), and bad fake-meat tofu (the Tofurkey). Now, however, comes what some might consider a major breakthrough in the history of tofu chicanery — the City Bakery’s new barbecued-tofu sandwich.

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The Underground Gourmet, Now With a Side of News

Rob and Robin’s new column, "Sides," debuts in this week’s issue. In addition to scouring the city for great food, they’ll now be picking up bits and pieces of food and restaurant news. This week the Underground Gourmet discovers a new food magazine actually worth reading; follows an itinerant, sweatpants-clad chef to his new home; and tells a story of some little pigs and how they’re spending their Chinese New Year celebration (hint: it’s not setting off fireworks). The Underground Gourmet: Sides [NYM]

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Centovini’s Porchetta Sandwich Makes Us Think of Hall & Oates

Ever since Philadelphia-based Tony Luke’s set up a Hell’s Kitchen outpost, the Underground Gourmet, in spite of Ms. UG’s protests, has looked for any excuse to find himself in the dismal vicinity of Ninth Avenue and 41st Street. The reason? Tony Luke’s syntactically challenged signature sandwich, the Roast Pork Italian. What distinguishes this substantial specimen from other hoagies is the ingenious addition of bitter broccoli rabe to the combination of juicy pork and sharp provolone.

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Momofuku Ssäm Bar Serving More Food More of the Time

Official Hours-of-Operation Keeper at Dave Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar must be the hardest job in the restaurant business. The sleek spot, which began its life as a cafeteria-style restaurant serving Asian burritos every day from 12 noon to 10 p.m. and then, several weeks later, entered its phase-two transformation into a full-service “latenight” restaurant on Wednesdays through Sundays, continues to tweak its hours and menu. Not unintelligent East Villagers are perplexed, if not downright baffled.

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Josh DeChellis on How to Cook With Your Christmas Tree

Everyone knows a good cook is a frugal cook, and no one takes this culinary code more seriously than Josh DeChellis, the skateboard-riding boy-wonder chef behind Sumile (recently tweaked and rechristened Sumile Sushi). In the spirit of the post-holiday season, DeChellis has come up with an idea that is not only environmentally responsible but also would make Euell Gibbons’s eyes goggle and his mouth water. “I was helping my parents take down the Christmas tree and the perfume was amazing,” DeChellis says. “So I took a few branches off and roasted a piece of grilled beef over the needles in an aluminum-foil pouch and I loved it!” DeChellis was kind enough to pass along a similar pine-scented recipe, below, so that Grub Street readers can recycle any trees or wreaths they have lying around the house instead of just dragging them outside to the curb. DeChellis also has a suggestion for stale gingerbread cookies: “Grind them up and crust scallops with it. Serve with a sauce of brown butter, gingerbread powder, and milk blended in a blender with Brussels sprout leaves on the side.” Delish! — Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld

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Charlie Rose, Chicken Thief

There are those who think the life of the Underground Gourmet is one endless, lavish feast, all swanky press dinners and unbidden “gifts from the chef.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We get the bad tables, the slipshod service, and the gristly cuts as often as our fellow diners. This past Monday night was a good example.

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Teach a Man to Make a Sandwich of the Week ...

Last week, the Underground Gourmet recommended Zingerman's Reuben sandwich kit as the perfect holiday gift for the sandwich nut on your list. This week — in acknowledgement of the fact that even Kate's Paperie cannot wrap a Reuben sandwich well enough so that placing it beneath a Christmas tree for several days would not run the risk of Taco-Belling the giftee — the UG has come up with a superb alternative gift idea. It's the new book, called Simple Italian Sandwiches (HarperCollins; $21.95), by Jennifer and Jason Denton, and it requires no refrigeration. As anyone who knows anything about Italian sandwiches is aware, Jason Denton is to panini, bruschetta, and tramezzini what Masa Takayama is to sushi, sashimi, and Kobe sukiyaki. The Dentons opened the West Village panini parlor 'ino back in 1998, and it's fair to say that they started the whole local craze for delicately balanced, deceptively simple Italian sandwiches, and that no one outside of the Boot does a better job of it.

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Sandwich of the Week: Special Holiday Reuben!

The Underground Gourmet has nothing against sending a mail-order fruitcake to the gastronome on your holiday gift list (provided, of course, that the fruitcake is made by Berkeley preserves specialist June Taylor). But who in their right mind wouldn't rather receive a nice Reuben sandwich in the mail? Zingerman's, the excellent Ann Arbor–based purveyor of everything from Hungarian Liptauer cheese to sour-cream coffee cake, has practically made Reuben-giving a sacred holiday tradition — at least that's how it is chez UG. And although you will find no reference to corned beef, sauerkraut, or Swiss cheese in any of the works of Charles Dickens, according to Brad in the Zingerman's mail-order department, the company ships approximately 3,000 Reuben kits every year, 1,000 of which are ordered in the month of December. That may not approach national fruitcake numbers, but you have to consider the fruitcake regifting factor — no one, as far as the UG knows, has ever regifted a Zingerman's Reuben. s

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