Elk Me

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Today I ate elk.

Yes I know, I should build up to it, write tales about majestic deer and redskin hunters, but basically that's what it was. I ate elk.

It wasn't my intention to go elk-hunting. I was quite content at aiming for tasty slices of the domesticated bull and San Diego magazine gave me recommendations about steakhouses in downtown. At the top of the list was Greystone the Steakhouse so I landed up and sat at the bar in front of a fairly bustling dining room filled with suits and little black dresses. Rod the bartender gave me a choice between ribeye and elk, and of course my adventurous instincts took over. Elk sounded like a definite beenthere donethat - evoking eskimo hunts and igloo campfires and extreme survival in bitter conditions - so I jumped. It promised a crust of s and all kinds of other nice stuff.

The elk steak turned out to be a mildly flavored meat; tender and juicy but more exotic that gourmet. Seems I was wrong about the eskimos too - this deer is supposedly wandering all over the continental US, and, like many of us, avoids Alaska when it can. There's also a good reason why Texans are so much nicer to cows than elk - beef is definitely tastier.

As for Greystone, it was competent enough as a steakhouse but not quite befitting the top dollar it charges. Many steakhouses have been better at that price (a 3-course came to all of $82), and though I didn't taste the beef itself I wasn't too ecstatic about either the elk (which they advertise prominently) or the trimmings. Not that it was bad, but definitely not anything to drool over. A more competent steak came out of Rainwaters on Kettner where the ribeye was wonderfully fatty, nicely charred on the outside, dripping with juices and definitely droolworthy. The only drawback was that on a Thursday evening, I was the only one in the whole restaurant. Steakhouses serve an atmosphere as much as they serve slabs of meat, so that was a little disappointing.

Paneer Pioneer

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One of the favorite foods of my childhood was chhanar dalna - a uniquely Bengali way of making paneer (a kind of Indian ricotta, if you must know) with nt tastes of ginger and cinnamon. Making paneer at home (yes, there was a time in the far past when you had no choice) was fairly laborious and longwinded, so this wasn't made all that often - which, of course, made it all the more desireable. When I grew up, gained control of my own kitchen and discovered that paneer now came vacuum sealed at the local grocery - requiring only a credit card and some basic unwrapping technique - I decided to indulge.

It was easier said than done, though. I cooked paneer often and made some nice (even great) stuff, but for some strange reason the real chhanar dalna thing continued to elude me. Paneer korma, no problem. Saag paneer, no problem. Paneer bhurji, no problem. Chhanar dalna...somehow it never tasted correct. Edible wasn't the issue here- once you learn the basics almost everything comes out edible - the problem was making it taste like my mother's. It was too cumin, too gingery, not enough cinnamon, or sometimes simply, frustratingly boring. She would come and use the very same kitchen to perfect result, but I at the helm somehow failed to yield the classical chhanar dalna (even with her peering over my shoulder). The thing could not be complicated - it's a ginger-cumin with cinnamon and clove - but there was obviously some delicate al balance involved that eluded me.

That is, till yesterday. It's still a ginger-cumin gravy, but I am now the zen master of the chhana cosmos. The paneer was seven days old, potatoes were canned and the peas underdone but the gravy - ah, for once, it tasted exactly the way it should. That mediumyellow colour, that perfect balance of sweet-sharp-hot, the clinging-grainy-soupy sauce, the wafting aromas of ginger-cinnamon-clove ...

Yes, I overate it all.


about New York, NY, USA No comments:

There's plenty of tea in New York too, and you dont even have to climb over hills to get at it.

Lets start with the cutest - Alice Tea Cup; the name smells of baby showers and women sitting around knitting. That, in fact, is exactly what happens. This is the female equivalent of a steakhouse, the food equivalent of a chickflick, the last hideout for women in the age of sexual equality.

Well, nearly. It's true that the place is full of cutesy stuff and upper westside women who knit, but it's also a serious tea place with plenty of excellent tea choices. And by tea, I mean the whole tea service thing - perfectly brewed tea in teapots, double filtered water, food, tea scones and some serious clotted cream. Sit down, let out a slow breath and relax while menus of tea choices and sandwiches appear on the rough, solid-looking bench before you. Real tea pots and cups too. Its subterranean location at 73rd Street is nearly impossible to find the place so peace and quiet are assured while you spend your time trying to decide on how to pronounce "New Vithakananda". I strongly recommend the deal they have of unlimited sandwiches and tea for $30 - especially if you just happen to have a bunch of books to read.

My next destination is straight across town from upper west to lower east. To Teany at 90 Rivington. It is very LES; impossibly small and appropriately hip-cool down to torn jeans, tattooed clients and bald popstar owner. The place doesn't look much like tea room, but dig deeper and out wafts the aromas of New York's largest selection of teas. It's enough to fill the nice fat book the waitress will bring you, with names and descriptions of (they say) the ninety three kinds of tea on offer, from white to black, hot to cold, real to herbal, korean to sri lankan, completely plebian to simply outrageously obscure. And all this backed by appropriately healthy vegetarian tea sandwiches and small bites. The problem in Teany, if anything, is choice; I've tried about thirty of the ninety three teas and I still feel inadequate.

Moving back to midtown; at 34th and Park Avenue is the sleek zen Franchia teahouse. This one's quite firmly Asian; focused on Korean tea though there is a sprinkling of other regions. The place itself is a temple of calm, with beautiful tea service and ceramic strainers that I'm told are traditional Korean. The food is entirely vegetarian and average but the teas, though limited in range, are occassionally spectacular - specially the Korean Wild Green First Pick.

Still in Midtown, a little further north on 56th Street is the Swissotel Drake. I generally avoid hotel tea services because they represent a very different experience, but Fauchon is an exception. Its actually the New York branch of the famous Parisian gourmet store and confectioner. While the left of the store overflows with chocolates and pastries, the other side is dedicated to a complete English (or more to the mood - French) tea service. More traditional than most of the other places I've talked about, Fauchon focuses more on individual orchards, individual growings and a very stiff-upper-lip tea service with by far the best nibbles tray of the lot. The menu itself provides a handful of choices with detailed descriptions, but if you want to be snooty go ahead and ask for teas from their extensive retail collection and see where that gets you. To accompany it all, there's the full tea service with a large select of Fauchon's outstanding confectionaries. The mini macaroons alone are to die for, but please do not give your life up before sipping some second flush clonal tips. And for company, you will have multicultural Frenchwomen and Saville Row bankers along with very upscale prices.


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