Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Delicious 'Lunch Hour NYC' Exhibition Opens

Automat, 977 Eighth Ave, Manhattan. Berenice Abbott, 1936
Courtesy NYPL The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art

I love the New York Public Library even more now after catching a preview of its newest exhibition Lunch Hour NYC. This free exhibition opens Friday and celebrates the modern history of the mid day meal that NY virtually invented. 

Power lunches, the rise of the Automat, cafeterias, the soda fountain, school lunches, the 10 cent meal, the first cooking school--it's all in here. Brought to life with dozens of fascinating displays and memorabilia. And it all reflects the evolving yet enduring relationship that work obsessed and time strapped New Yorkers have always had with food. The modern lunch had to be quick, filling and inexpensive.
Video preview of exhibition

A highlight is the Golden Age of the Automat, created by Horn & Hardart, and considered a wonder of the city. Its fancy flagship location opened in Times Square in 1912 and became an instant marvel. A nickel in a slot would get you a hot, fresh, delicious meal from a machine. H&H dishes included lobster Newberg and beef Burgundy from a Cordon Bleu chef. It was the most successful restaurant operation in the country. And the exhibition includes a restored wall of Automat machines, including the back end where all the magic happened.

Other items not to miss:
  • The personal, annotated copy of Noah Webster's dictionary, noting the entry for "lunch."
  • A 1932 menu listing sushi (debunking the thought that sushi first appeared in NYC restaurants in the 1960s.)
  • Pages from the Horn & Hardart restaurant manager's book, instructing managers on preparing menu items and managing the shop
  • Menus from Delmonico's, where the power lunch was born in 1837
  • A "10 cent meal" display showing how tenement mothers fed their families on pennies a day
  • A mid 1900s business map of Midtown Manhattan, noting all of the eateries around Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street

The exhibition continues through February 17, 2013. If you've ever eaten lunch in the city, don't miss it. Check here for related programs.

Free public tours Monday-Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 pm and on Sundays at 3:30 pm.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mission Chinese

Kung Pao pastrami (front) and pork jowl with radishes

Eating at Mission Chinese, the hottest new restaurant in the hood, is like going to a hipster house party. With really good food. Upon arrival for dinner, you're asked to help yourself to the beer keg while you wait. And there will be a wait, spilling onto Orchard St. That gesture in itself sets the tone for the place. They care.

Sichuan pickled vegetables
It's a good time to take a peek into the open kitchen, where you may catch a glimpse of chef Danny Bowein, creating his magical thrice cooked bacon ($11.50). Chunky belly is steamed, smoked and then stir fried with chewy rice cakes, tofu skin and a little bitter melon. The spicy dish is a must for bacon lovers.

When your table is ready, you'll follow a long hallway into a ramshackle dining room, buzzing with diners. Plates are generous, made for sharing. Start with pickles. Both the turnips and long bean pickles with cumin ($4), and Sichuan pickled veggies ($4) are zesty and refreshing - and spicy.

Many of the dishes are fired up with Sichuan peppercorn. Be forewarned. If you haven't tasted this spice before, be ready for a heat that sneaks up on you, numbs your tongue and doesn't let go. The signature Kung Pao pastrami ($11), with meat smoked for 12 hours, sets your mouth ablaze. That didn't stop me from taking home the leftovers and whipping up an omelet the next day.

Thrice cooked bacon
Other standouts include the non-spicy stir fried pork jowl and radishes, topped with fresh mint ($11), and the broccoli beef cheek ($13), whose tender meat sits in a pool of smoked oyster sauce.

Charity also plays a role for the New York outpost of this San Francisco cult favorite. A portion of sales goes to the Food Bank for New York City.

While Mission Chinese is eyeing Brooklyn for a second location, enjoy it now.

154 Orchard Street (at Rivington)
212 529 8800
Lunch 12pm -3pm
Dinner 5:30pm - 12am
Closed Wednesdays

Mission Chinese Food on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 8, 2012

Smorgasburg Saturdays

Buttermilk Channel fried chicken

Smorgasburg 2012 is the summer's Must Eat event. It's the best of NY's feverish food scene, the motherlode for good grub lovers.

Each Saturday, up to 100 artisanal food vendors - serving everything from crispy fried chicken to spicy bulgogi on a bun - descend on Williamsburg's East River waterfront, transforming it to an all day, family-friendly food orgy.

Besides the quality and variety of food, there's a palpable level of passion from the vendors. It's as much fun to get to know their stories as it is to sample their fare. Meet Steve Blanco, who will tell you how his Moroccan mother's recipe for cookies inspired his creation of Black and Blanco Sandcastles, an addictive selection of crumbly, organic sandies. Or Neill and Renae Holland, a husband and wife team whose mutual love of anchovies and heavy metal spawned Bon Chovie, and a cult following (including me).

Here's the complete vendor directory. Saturdays 11am - 6pm.

Bon Chovie delectable fried anchovies

Fried whiting from Handsome Hank's Fish Hut

We Rub You beef bulgogi
Right Tasty ramp vinaigrette

Take me home

A fest with a view

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nifty Food Items at IKEA

Instant tuna salad with Ikea horseradish sauce
With my recent apartment move came the eventual trips to Ikea in Red Hook. I've never eaten the famous meatballs or been to the cafeteria, but am now a big fan of the Swedish food section. And the prices are so good, it's worth being adventurous. Here's a recap of my new favorites:

Cukes with crab spread
Sås Pepparrot/horseradish sauce (190g $2.99) - Skip the mayo and mix in a tablespoon of this seasoned cream to a can of tuna for a zingy salad. Add a squirt of lemon juice, a handful of chopped celery and onion, celery salt (optional), and salt and pepper to taste. Couldn't be simpler.

Pastej Krabba/crab spread (150g $2.49) - This is an instant party canape in a tube. Amaze your friends with a few squirts of spread on fresh cuke slices. Or even crackers. Garnish with some chopped parsley or chives and voila. It also comes in other flavors like salmon and fish roe.

Sill/jarred herring (250g $2.99) - If you're a fan of pickled herring or curious to try it, do it here. There are five varieties for under $3. I canvassed several Swedes while shopping and the consensus was that it was good stuff. I polished off a jar of herring with onion and carrots, served on some toasted pumpernickel. Delicious.

Mashed potatoes get a flavor upgrade with fried onions
Lök Rostad/fried onions (100g $1.49) - Crispy onions in a tub are another kitchen time saver and perfect to top baked potatoes, blend into creamy mashed potatoes (left), omelets, or in salad dressings.

I didn't get to try everything. So would love feedback on your Ikea edible favorites.