Archive for charcuterie

Love is a Plate of Kielbasa and Kraut

Posted in New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2008 by restaurantouring

I know I talk a lot about foie gras and tasting menus and fancy dinners sometimes.  Maybe I haven’t gotten around to it too much yet in this blog, but it’s true that I talk about those things a lot in my day-to-day life.  But I’m not all about haute cuisine all of the time.  Rather, I consider myself bipolar.

I say I’ll eat anything.  I guess that’s not really true.  I’ll eat anything that has been carefully prepared.  I’ll eat anything that is new to me (or at least I’ll try really hard to do so, in case I can’t get my mind wrapped around eating something really strange and initially off-putting).  What’s more, (and I know this will sound cheesy, even before I say it.  Bear with me anyway) I’ll eat anything that’s been made with love.

The food of love.  My co-worker, Ben, introduced me to a little dive in Jersey City a little while ago, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for the longest time.  It’s called Sava Polish Deli, and they quite possibly serve the best damn food in all of New Jersey.  It’s run by an adorable old woman named Jadwiga, and she makes the food fresh every day.  Hell, she even ferments the sauerkraut herself!  The commercially available (often canned) sauerkraut it too sour-tasting, she says.  Beyond acidity, the flavor is flat, so Jadwiga will slice and salt cabbage and leave it to ferment in huge barrels in-house.  Fantastic.

Jadwiga (pronounced YAD-zia), the cook!

Jadwiga (pronounced YAD-zia), the cook!

The restaurant itself is small.  It has several small tables and chairs, and a huge fish tank obscuring the view into the place in one of its windows.  To be frank, it does not inspire confidence by most conventional standards.  But that’s all fine, because this woman really knows how to cook.  The menu seems to change slightly, but there’s plenty on the menu that’s there all the time: pierogies, sauerkraut and kielbasa, stuffed cabbages, and a couple other items.  I went back there with Ben to have lunch on Friday, and this is what he got for 11 bucks:

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, pierogies four ways – potato and cheese, farmer’s cheese, sauerkraut, and a veal and beef pierogi.  The potato and cheese pierogies are the best.  The farmer’s cheese pierogies are excellent, too — sweet and slightly tangy.  Good flavor.  The stuffed cabbage keeps getting better and better every time we go there, and Sava’s kielbasa and kraut can’t be beat.

I had almost all of that last time I went, plus I’m a huge glutton so my plate was more diversified:

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: pork rib, beef short rib with BBQ sauce, braised pork chop with dill and mushroom gravy, pork goulash on a bed of kasha (buckwheat groats), and a beet and kielbasa stew.  I started with the pork rib, which sadly did not have a lot of flavor.  The beef short rib (my favorite) more than made up for it, because it was ridiculously tender and juicy.  The pork chop with dill and mushroom gravy was probably my favorite, because it tasted the best, and was nice and tender.  The pork goulash was a little dry, but the kasha with the beet and kielbasa stew was fantastic together.

In this case, we overpaid for the variety of items that we got (me especially — I paid 19 bucks!).  Don’t let that dissuade you, though; most normal plates run no more than 8 bucks and change:

This place is so good, it’s even won an award!

Affordable home-cooked Polish food

Affordable home-cooked Polish food

Once you’ve gorged yourself on Polish goodness, Jadwiga’s a blast to talk to.  Last time, I remember cracking up at some of the things she said about Italian food (she is not a fan).  This time, we talked about business, catering, the rising costs of gas, food, and the cost of doing business, a little bit about politics, Polish food, and more.  Ben joked about how if things got more expensive at Sava’s, he’d go eat somewhere else.  Here, Jadwiga sweetly (don’t let the smile fool you!), jokingly threatens us by saying that if we ate someplace else, she would go buy a gun:

A disarmingly sweet smile

A veiled threat

Threats aside, I personally always like going there because Jadwiga gives us treats:

A smaller version of kielbasa, stuffed in sheep's casing

A smaller version of kielbasa, stuffed in sheep's casing

If you don’t go there for the plate specials, Sava also sells deli over the counter.  They carry several kinds of kielbasa, a variety of the usual cold cuts, and even specially made veal hot dogs:

Veal hotdogs (right) and Kielbasa links (left)

Veal hotdogs (right) and Kielbasa links (left)

I bought one of the hot dogs.  Cost me somewhere around 70 cents.  I think I’m gonna take Mike Ruhlman’s suggestion, from his book on Charcuterie, and just saute it and serve it with a steamed bun with some minced onion and good mustard.  I can’t wait.  I can’t wait to go back to Sava’s either.  All this talk about food has got me hungry.

Sava Polish Deli is located on 346 Grove Street, in Jersey City, New Jersey.  When you’re there, get the potato and cheese pierogies.  They are delicious.  If they haven’t sold out yet, get a stuffed cabbage before they disappear.  And of course, don’t forget the kielbasa and kraut.  It’s gooooood.  If you have time to chat afterwards, ask her for her honest opinion of the Italian joint across the street and prepare yourself for some hilariously scathing criticism about the “grrrass” that they put on top of their food (I think she’s talking about parsley).

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Opia

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2008 by restaurantouring

Hello, peoples of the interwebs!  It’s been quite a while since my last (and my first and only) post.  How have all zero of my loyal readers been?  Anyway, I’m pretty wordy at times, so I’ll include a summary at the bottom of this post, kind of like an abstract for a journal article.  Maybe I should stop making references to work-related activities?  Abstracts?  Wtf am I thinking?

So, this past Monday marked the first day of Restaurant Week NYC, summer 2008.  I love restaurant week.  I love seeing what different restaurants offer on their menus for budget-diners, how one place’s selections differ from another, similar restaurant’s selections, and how it compares to their normal menus.  More than that, people are usually more willing to go out to eat if they think they’re getting a good deal, even if that isn’t always the case.

Today (or technically yesterday, since it’s past midnight), I met up with a couple of my friends to go to Opia restaurant, on 57th and Lexington.  One of my friends, Jon, wanted to go to a French restaurant (edit:  I should note that Opia is not strictly French — they serve pizza — but there’s plenty of French influence on the menu to justify it), and my other friend, Catie, had no preference.  Since we waited too long to book reservations at, say, david burke & donatella, we settled for Opia.  In particular, I was intrigued by the charcuterie entree, and considering that I just finished reading Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie, as well as the fact that I did not encounter any other entree at any of the 50 other restaurant week menus I perused, I was sold.

Immediately, upon walking into the restaurant, I liked what I saw — tastefully dimmed lights, lounge-style seating, an eye-catching bar, and big windows.  Unfortunately, it was fairly busy that night, so the three of us were led to the back area, where they presumably seat their larger parties (it was someone’s birthday that night, too, so there was a table of, like, 50 billion 14).  They were loud.

Since there were three of us, and there were three options each, for appetizer, entree, and dessert, we all ordered different things.  We would pass our plates clockwise, so that we could taste everything.  Catie had the vichyssoise, Jon had the crispy frog legs with parsley and garlic puree, and I had the chicken liver mousse bruschetta with red currant relish.

First Course

I’m not a big fan of liver, usually.  I’ve not grown quite accustomed to the taste yet.  I suppose my palate is still young and inexperienced.  Or maybe it’s because, when I think of liver, I still think of the grey, boiled-to-death, mealy-textured mess my mom used to force me to eat as a kid.  Now, however, I do enjoy the occassional pâté, although I still have to get over the thoroughly liver-y liver taste.  As far as my bruschetta went, it was good.  I liked it.  My only criticism would be that I wish they had soaked their livers in milk for a while, if they hadn’t done so already — and if they had done so, I wish they used younger chickens’ livers or soaked the livers they already had in even more milk for even longer, to remove some of the harshness of the liver that too often occurs in older chickens’ livers.  I had a very similar appetizer at La Provence, in Lacombe, Louisiana (another one of Chef John Besh’s restaurants), and that particular appetizer was done perfectly.

I have some chicken livers in my freezer.  Maybe I’ll try to make my own chicken liver mousse bruschetta this weekend?

Catie’s vichyssoise was all right.  It wasn’t great, and I wasn’t crazy about it, but hey . . . cold soup on a hot, humid, rainy day.  What more could you ask for?

The real star appetizer, in my opinion, was the frogs’ legs that Jon ordered.  Although it wasn’t quite as “crispy” as the name implied, it was a good value and there was plenty of food on the plate — three pairs of meaty frogs’ legs, tasty croutons, and very fresh-tasting, clean, garlic and parsley purees.  Excellent.  The only criticism I had was that the garlic had too much of that raw garlic harshness that I don’t like and that I could have personally used a touch more salt on my frog legs — but, I eat a lot of salt and so I have a higher tolerance for it than some.

Second Course

I’ll start off by saying that I was very, very disappointed in my entree.  Again, since I just read Charcuterie, my head was filled with romantic notions and ideas about pork, fat, and sausages.  While I was expecting something a little more adventurous or perhaps foreign to the average American palatte, what I got instead was basically boiled fingerling potatoes, sauerkraut, and kielbasa.  Catie commented/complained that it smelled like her family.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love me a good kielbasa and kraut, but I expect more when I’m paying good money for a plate.  If I wanted kielbasa with sauerkraut (and maybe a pierogi or four), I’d have gone to Sava Polish Deli in downtown Jersey City (I’ll blog about this one, too.  Eventually).  I’d also save about 30 bucks and a trip into Manhattan.  What a fucking waste.  It was good kielbasa, though Sava can do it better.  Ditto on the kraut.

In a word or two, Catie’s saffron risotto, with asparagus, pearl onions, artichokes, and tomatoes was fucking terrible.  Sure, it’s nice to see a vegetarian option on the menu, but if you’re gonna offer something to the vegetarians — sorry, to the paying vegetarians, at least make it taste good!  Vegetables aren’t that expensive, and for God’s sake, you people were trained to cook food.  Make it taste good!  Or else we’ll [gladly] go to some place like Gobo.  I felt really bad for Catie — she barely touched her plate and she still had to pay for her meal at the end of the night.  Instead, I had to eat a large portion of her entree, in all its acid, large-hunks-of-not-quite-cooked-garlic misery.  In short, I did not taste any saffron, the asparagus was pretty much raw, and the acid from the [canned?] artichokes and tomatoes just overpowered the dish.  And did I mention the huge chunks of nearly raw garlic?  The flavors were just muddled and it just didn’t taste very good.  Saffron risotto?  Hell, my sister could have made a better risotto.  And my sister burns soup.

Dear God, I hope my sister doesn’t read this blog.

Luckily, Jon (once again) pulls through with the undisputed star entree of the night.  He got the herb-crusted monkfish steak with orzo pasta, mushrooms, lemon confit (hooray, charcuterie!), and broccoli puree.  The orzo was delicious — al dente, buttery, flavorful.  Tasty.  The horseradish-tinted monkfish was also excellent, although it was a little overcooked and firm.  I could have done without the broccoli puree, which is a shame, because I adore broccoli.  At least it brought some creaminess and color to the plate.

Dessert

Despite his previous successes in ordering the better dishes for the previous two courses, Jon didn’t enjoy his white chocolate & lime soup with bittersweet chocolate mousse.  I, on the other hand, preferred his dessert, and not being totally happy with my cointreau parfait, we happily traded, both of us believing that we got the better deal in the transaction.

The lime was easily overpowered by the sweetness of the white chocolate.  I didn’t care because I wasn’t exactly aware that there was supposed to be lime in it.  The bittersweet chocolate mousse, on the other hand, was fantastic.  Light, airy, ethereal to eat, it was a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness, and chocolatastic-ness.  Then, there was this crispy cracker-cookie on top.  I could have done without that.  I appreciated the thought, and I appreciated the texture it brought to the table, but it kept sticking to my teeth.  Made me wish I brought my toothbrush.

The cointreau parfait w/ honey sauce, served with “candy gingered & citrus madeleine” was decent, although I got neither cointreau, ginger, candy, candied ginger, nor “candy gingered.”  Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.  Ah well.  Jon liked it.  It was sweet.  Oh, yeah.  “Honey sauce”?  It was just drizzled honey.  Don’t let the menu fool you.

Catie’s peach tatin with vanilla ice cream, a slightly fancier version of peach cobbler a la mode, was unfortunately the superior dessert of the night.  The roasted peach was excellent (hey, it’s the summer.  One expects excellent peaches in the summer), although the juices from it soaked through the flaky tatin pastry, making it soggy and stale-tasting, even though it was probably freshly made.  Also, vanilla ice cream is always good.  Aromatic, tasty, sweet, complex vanilla.

Yes, vanilla is complex.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Overall, I still think it was worth the $45 dollars I ultimately paid, after tax and tip.  Nine dishes for $45 dollars works out to $5 dollars a tasting.  Sweet deal.  I’ll probably never eat there again, not because the food was bad (not all of it, anyway), but because there are too many other places to eat.  The restaurant-tour must go on (har har, I’m so freaking lame).

Actually, I take that back.  The hostess was freaking cute.

Summary

Opia Restaurant. 130 East 57th St at Lexington.

From the restaurant week, summer 2008 menu, the frog legs appetizer, monkfish steak entree, and peach tatin dessert were particularly good.  Alternatively, order the chicken liver mousse appetizer or either of the two other desserts.  As for entrees, you can either get the charcuterie offering (severely overpriced kielbasa and sauerkraut) or this acid rice concotion they call a saffron risotto (don’t order the risotto).