Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lost in History vol. 79: A Fowl Affair

Our neighbor, Shai Kessler, happens to be a highly accomplished chef, having worked for such NYC institutions like Bloomingdales as well as hotshot new restaurants like Dovetail on the Upper West Side. Regardless, we are all busy New Yorkers and hardly ever get to sit around and appreciate the man's talent for cookery. Its not like we want to give tours to our friends on our days off, and he sure as hell isn't interested in cooking for neighbors and hangers on.
But when his roommates, Thomas & Samantha, a wonderful married couple from Tennessee had their fancy digital SLR camera stolen from them, off Sam's neck, while they were asleep on the L train
on Christmas Eve! . . . Shai decided to do something about it. He did the thing he's best at - get friends and neighbors together for a homecooked meal / benefit to help the kids buy a replacement camera. That's how we found a quirky invitation with a plump bird slapped up top slipped under our door.
We put on our fancy dinner jacket and slippers, walked the 20 feet down the hall with a bottle of organic red and the requested $20 donation in hand, and joined a raucous party in progress. We also did our part in party production by donating our banquet table and most of our chairs. We nibbled on olives and introductions before the first course, a sumptuous Roasted Quail in a sherry reduction augmented by a tart lentil salad.
The benefit seemed on the successful side, as had any more than 20 arrived, there'd be no place to put their butts or wine glasses. Two couches, a flight of stairs, three tables, seven chairs and various flat surfaces were all quite accommodating, and plates of food were being balanced on bookshelves, countertops, hands, laps and the aforementioned banquet table. Sam and Thomas (pictured above left and right) made a speech that brought a few to wipe their moist eyes. More wine!
Second course was a delightful Coq Au Vin, surrounded in a pomme puree and augmented by wilted winter greens. As the various party people (and Josh, above,) can attest, the dishes were basically licked clean by slightly tipsy revelers.
With dessert - a scrumptious Cardamom Flan encircled by a Rose Petal sauce - came the post-prandial Ports and Sherrys, as well as a rousing game or three of Apples to Apples, the best party card game in the world. After hysterical comparisons and more wine, port and sherry (but no more food - we all had our fill) it was time to head home. We, in the most delicious food and wine induced coma, thanked our fortunes to know such good people who have such good taste.

Shai is already planning future dinner parties and benefits - if so inclined, shoot us a line and we'll gladly put you in touch with this DIY chef superstar.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lost in Philly vol 78: Twentyfour hours of Philidelphia, Beer, and Boys will be Boys

Josh the freelance journalist sent out the first email. "Yo. Goin' to Philly for their Beer Fest. Who wants to come along? Wheee!" Josh has a preternatural tendency to tap into excellent food and drink adventures, which makes him a natural when exploring the outer boroughs of our own city. The deal only got sweeter when Josh scored a free hotel room as well as a 2 free passes for the opening night's event. One for him and one for me! Wheee! Off to Philly for me! I invited Jonah for the beertivities.
Josh and Aaron Wilson (known as Wilson) had bused down earlier that Friday, so when Jonah and I arrived at 4pm sharp, Wilson and Josh had been wandering and drinking. We parked the Eggplant Xpress, made our way to the bar, and gulped down the first of many a beer. I started with a Marzen, a heavy, malty 6.8% whopper of a beer, auspiciously heralding my arrival in this beer-mad city.
Countless dorm rooms are plastered with the wonderful Benjy Franklin (mis)quote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." How trite, yet how true. Just like Brooklyn's Brewers Row in today's East Williamsburg / Bushwick, Philadelphia had its own hood, Brewerytown, in the northwestern part of the city. Throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, Philly boasted more than 90s breweries in the city itself, with another 100+ in the metropolitan region. However, the one-two punch of post WWI anti-German sentiment, followed by Prohibition shuttered most of these industries for good, in both Philly and BK.
But just like Brooklyn, Philly has seen a beer resurgence, with dozens of breweries and brewpubs reopening and jumpstarting the microbrew revolution with delicious results. The Philly Beer Week, now celebrating its 2nd year, is a 10-day festival spread out over over 50 bars with hundreds of events and thousands of pints poured into thirsty maws. None of us could spend more than 24 hours celebrating, so we got straight to liquid business.
After the first pub, after the hotel check-in, we set off on a bar bounce. But its not all booze and blues - many bars and breweries offer feel-good reasons to drink. Our next bar gimmick, called "Save a kitten, drink a fish!" was in donating all dollars spent on Flying Fish beer to an animal rescue fund. Following bar #2 was Bob & Barbara's Lounge, where every square inch was dedicated to PBR paraphernalia and ads from as far back as the 40s.
Then, it was a quick cab ride to the Comcast center and the Opening Tap event. Over 50 brewers offering 2 to 3 different samples of their luscious, liquidy wares. Each participant was handed a 6 ounce plastic tumbler in which to taste the beers, but with one entry ticket each, we could sample as many beers as we wanted. And lord, did we sample!
Following the opening tap, two more Brooklyn Boys - Aaron #2 and Ben Haas were waiting to meet. We found them, surprise surprise, in another bar. So we joined them for beers (hoppy, spicy) and charged onwards, to more bars for more beers. At some point a cheesesteak was devoured. At another point, a strip club was entered. Sadly, Philly shuts down for the night at 2am and our gang all passed out, a day well drunk.
The next morning was a little painful, so we decided, rather spectacularly, to head to Johnny Brenda's in the north end of Philly, for an authentic Port Brunch, in which we had over a dozen microbrewed ports to choose from.
Naturally, we tried them all. A wise decision.
Following our port brunch, we marauded our way across town in the brilliant Philly haze and sunshiney smog, enjoying the resurgent industrial neighborhoods.
Somehow, through blind, drunk historical luck, we stumbled upon a historical marker declaring the very first Lager brewed in America! To celebrate, we went to the bar.
And then another one. And then . . . it was time to leave this magical world of hefeweisens and hopbacks, of IPAs and Bells for Boobs (Bells Brewery which donated proceeds to breast cancer research) in which our drinking would certainly save the world. Maybe not our livers . . . but who needs them?!? Philly, we love you and we'll be back! As soon as our throbbing headache goes away . . . More than enough pictures of our adventures can be found here, here, and here!