When I was lucky enough to attend the Paulie Gee Christmas party and have dinner with the man himself, I was able to use the skills I learned in my interviewing class to find out how he made his delicious red pasta sauce. (note: this is not the sauce he uses on his pizza.)
“Oh man! This is so good. How do you make this?”
“Are these San Marzano tomatoes?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Paulie, Come on. I need to know what kind of tomatoes these are.”
“It’s a secret.”
“You have to tell me!”
(My interview method is called: The Whiny Interrogation.)
As I rolled my eyes and grumbled and complained, he explained the simple recipe. It was the easiest sauce I’ve ever made, and maybe one of the most delicious in its simplicity.
The key here is vidalia onions, the ones that look squashed. They are so sweet and mild you can eat them raw. (Paulie can’t.)
Sautee one chopped vidalia onion with a few cloves of garlic (Paulie doesn’t use garlic, I did.) in olive oil. (I added red chili flakes, too.) Transfer to a bowl. Over that add a generous amount of fresh basil leaves, which steam from the heat and release a lot of flavor. Then add your tomatoes – I used 2 cans of San Marzano whole tomatoes, which I find to be superior to other canned tomatoes found in the grocery store. I used a food mill to crush them and remove the seeds.
Leave the bowl covered on the counter overnight, and depending on whether you want the onion and basil in there, you can put it all through the food mill again before you make your pasta.
What I love about making this sauce is all the other dishes besides pasta I can make with it.
One of the most simple dishes I make is cauliflower stewed in tomato sauce. In a pot, saute garlic and olive oil and red pepper flakes. Add enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pot, then add pieces of cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Add some tomato sauce over the cauliflower and some water to the bottom of the pot. Cover and let it steam for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. At the end, add some grated Parmesan cheese. This can be eaten on its own or, if cooked down a lot, can be used atop pasta.
Another great way to use the sauce is to stew greens with beans. I love white beans with escarole and chick peas with spinach. I like to make this even more oniony, so I saute more onions with garlic and, of course, red pepper flakes. Then I add a can of beans. Once those cook down for a few minutes add your green. Season with salt and pepper. This is one of my accidentally vegan dishes. After I cook it, I say, “and it’s vegan, too!” I’m not vegan, but I have friends who are.
The next day I love to poach an egg in tomato sauce. This is so easy. In a small pot, pour in some sauce and let it heat up a bit. Crack an egg in, season the yolk with salt and pepper and cover. Lower the heat and after 5 minutes you have a warm delicious saucy egg that is great topped with cheese and served with Italian bread. You can poke it to see how runny or firm it is.
And if you do happen to use the food mill to remove the tomato seeds and the onions bits, you can use that to top pizza or bruschetta! There are five ways to use the sauce right there!
Calyer, one of Greenpoint’s newest and most exciting restaurants, invited Greenpointers over for dinner. It was a cold and rainy evening, which meant taxi service, which meant I could wear my impracticably high heeled “date night” boots. (The only hobbling I can do in them is from a car to a chair.) Boots on, date on!
When we arrived I immediately began confusing the wait staff, “We have reservations. A table for 8, please.” (I meant 8pm.) The place was pretty full and the hostess looked worried but was a doll.
After sorting that out, Virginia, the lovely manager gave us a corner table from which we could see the whole restaurant and sit beside each other, which I call “french style.”
The interiors are done in that Brooklyn, this-place-has-been-here-forever but not contrived style. The low ceilings give the place a cozy, sailboat cabin feel. Cocktails please!
We ordered a Siren Song (Pisco, St. Germain, Cava, Bergamot) & La Bebida De Los Dioses(Herradura Antiguo Tequila, Lime, Maple, Syrup, Chili & Xocolatl Mole Bitters). Both were mixed and balanced beautifully.
If the cocktails sound inventive, with a spicy spanish twist, wait for the plates, which are served tapas style, perfect for my over-ordering tendencies.
It’s fun to dine at a place like Calyer with a taste hound like Jon, because there is always a hint of a surprising flavor that is hard to put your tongue on. Was it tarragon in the amuse bouche of Squash Jelly with Sunflower Seeds? It’s even better when the wait staff is patient and knowledgeable and eager to run back into the kitchen to find out from the chef: allepo pepper, cinnamon and star anise. Ah!
Aside from delicious plates, it was great chatting with our waitress Cara, who is part-Sicilian (which means she is admittedly half crazy like me) and has an awesome blog called Write By Hand dedicated to hand fonts. What makes Calyer a Greenpoint restaurant is that it embodies what Greenpoint is, a great place filled with great and creative people.
Calyer has the kind of menu from which you want to order every plate, and since they are meant for sharing, you can. What follows is a description of some of those delightful, unexpected and exceptional dishes.
Scallop Ceviche (Corn Nuts, Aji Amarillo, Crispy Corn)
Yeah we said corn nuts! Don’t even get us started on these salty-brain massages. The scallops were fresh and sweet and the dish was well-balanced with heat from the aji pepper, and tang from the red onions and lime. This dish went perfectly with our cocktails.
Duck Confit Terrine (Quail Egg, Yellow Plantains, Dandelion Greens)
“Why is this duck square?” Layers of juicy duck leg between layers of plantains was topped with a perfectly runny quail egg that made up for the dryness of the plantain. Jon talked about this dish all weekend. I think he might be falling in love with duck. Home run duck!
Chicharones (White Bean Puree, Brussels Sprouts Leaves, Anchovy Vinaigrette)
When this dish arrived I wanted to ask for a side of antacid. Giant pieces of deep fried pork skin in what reminded me of a citrusy rock shrimp batter. I didn’t get any of the anchovy flavor. Deep fried anything is my motto, but maybe better for a late night bar snack and not smack in the middle of dinner.
Grilled Mackerel (Sunchoke Puree, Sunchokes, Citrus Salad)
Perfectly cooked fish with subtle char flavor. Sunchokes plus sunchokes equals earthy crunchy awesomeness. The citrus salad gave the dish a fresh kick. We killed it.
Brussels Sprouts (Chicken Sausage, Garlic, Culantro)
My favorite dish of the night, hands down. I have a thing for cruciferous veggies but it was the chicken sausage that stole my heart. Chicken sausage is an idea I don’t normally like, but this sweet and spicy, softly caramelized chorizo flavored chicken with pimentón, or Spanish Paprika, made me rabid (in a good way). It reminded me of the chicken and rice my Puerto Rican Godmother makes, and what do you know? The chef, Gabriel Moya, is Puerto Rican. The culantro here is not the same as cilantro and it was an unexpectedly fragrant garnish for this dish.
During the meal we enjoyed deliciously recommended white wine, the Javier Sanz Rueda and a red, the Primitivo Quines “Cono 4.” Then desserts cocktails (of course!)
‘Little Fox’ Toddy (Old Overholt Rye, Snap Liquer, Cinnamon, Whisky Barrel Ages Bitters & Butter – ding, ding, ding! – A winning cocktail. It’s warm, it’s buttery, it’s spicy and it’s whiskey-ey. Did I mention the pat of butter that melts into the glass?
Northside (Whipper Snapper Whisky, Aperol, Antica Formula, Old Time Aromatic Biiters) – We don’t remember this being memorable, probably because the toddy stole the show. I had to swat Jon hands from grabbing my butter cocktail. Mine!
We had two choices for dessert, so we went with both obviously.
Deconstructed Apple Pie
Self-explanatory: apples, pie crust, spiced walnuts. This would make a perfect apple pie but I wasn’t thrilled about eating the doughy pie chunks on their own. There wasn’t a crumb left.
Lemon Curd (Almond Crust, Pickled Kiwi & Kumquats, Kefir)
Lemon desserts are not what I normally order but this has become a new addition to my crave list. The sweet smooth of the lemon curd was well matched with the sour fruits and creamy kefir, all on a chunky almond crust. Outstanding.
We loved Calyer and talked about all the fun flavors we discovered well after our meal. The food, aside from delicious and inventive, was gorgeously plated and fun to photograph. The atmosphere was friendly and cozy. A perfect date place with great cocktails. I hope to return for brunch when that dreamy chicken sausage takes sandwich form!
Originally posted for Greenpointers.com: Greenpoint’s favorite beer store had a barley wine tasting. What a perfectly snowy weekend to drink strong beer by a wood burning stove. Learning and drinking are two activities I enjoy and combining them is even more fun, although retention can be a challenge. To be honest, I don’t know shit about beer.
Good thing Erik and Frances, the beer geniuses who work at Brouwerij Lane, and my man Jon, who is a home brewer, were there to school me. I was so sorry when I asked, “Do you think there are more wine makers or beer makers?” After an in-depth discussion (I wasn’t even listening) the final answer was, “Who cares, beer is better anyway!” I was bound to learn something from this bunch of beer nerds.
We were served a flight of 5 barley wines (totaling 40 oz!) on a laminated guide detailing each brew. If you don’t know what Barley Wines are, I can tell you one thing: they are knock you on your butt strong. It is a type of beer that is “brewed to match the strength of wine,” about 12% or more alcohol, according to our handy placemat. They are nice and sweet and very easy to drink. It was wise that we shared the 40 oz. flight.
We tasted the following:
Pretty Things Finest Regards, The Bruery Cuir, Firestone Walker XV, Avery Hog Heaven, and BFM & Terrapin Spike & Jeromes.
Between each flight we drank a lot of water, because the barley wine leaves such a lasting flavor in your mouth. The flavors and colors between each varied very much. This is my first session of really trying to understand the flavors happening in my mouth, instead of just mindlessly chugging.
“Coconuts!” I kept getting the taste of coconuts and I liked it. Frances didn’t believe until he sipped and agreed. Erik explained that Barley wines are aged in oak barrels, which accounts for what is more likely vanilla rather than a pina colada flavor, like the Cuir which is aged in bourbon barrels. Or the XV, which is blended with Stout so it was chocolatey, too.
Ever drink with a beer snob and they are like, “this is really hoppy” or “this is really malty” and you are like “what is this guy talking about”? I better learn if I want to hang with this crowd.
According to Jon, hops are a flower, which contribute bitterness to balance the sweetness in beer. They give flavor and aroma to a beer which can range from fresh cut grass to pine needles to citrus to herbal earthiness. How lovely! A good example from the barley wines we tasted was the Hog Heaven, in which you could smell the pungent hops before even tasting it, which were piney and citrusy.
Jon explains that malt is the sugar that ferments in beer to make alcohol and carbonation, but some sugar remains and that residual sugar is what gives beer it’s sweet flavor and “mouth feel,” which is how thick or watery the beer is in your mouth. Malt flavors can be a basic sweetness or can taste roasted, or like coffee or chocolate or caramel. Our Finest Regards was very malty and the best example of a traditional English Barley Wine and our favorite of the flight.
I thought I’d dropped the ball. For a while Good Yoga was serving vegetarian dinners, but when I inquired, chef Moti was gone. Moti! Where are you?
Then I got an invitation to “Moti’s Last Supper” and I was so on it.
Going to Good Yoga is like going to a cozy (and more calm) extension of your own home and Flannery and Ray welcome you in like family. But like all supper clubs, the strangers sitting at the table aren’t family and at first there is some social fumbling. That is what red wine is for. Moti, with his man bun on his head, was busy working the kitchen. I tried my best to get some answers. Moti, who are you? Where are you from? Why are you leaving us? But, Moti was very focused on his preparation and canceling out the background noise that was my voice.
It was presumptive for me to assume he was Indian, even though he looks Indian (in a yoga way.) Rather he is Kurdish, from Israel, but has an Indian spiritual grandmother, with whom he spent time with in India and where he learned some of his cooking. Moti is going back to India and everyone is sad to see him go. How long will he stay? However long he needs to, he explained. I could have pushed and prodded (I am really good at that) but I left Moti to do his thing, for the last time, and remain a mystery to me. You can learn a lot about a person from what they do rather than what they say. In this case his actions resulted in delicious carefully prepared and wholesome food in my mouth.
Moti makes an art out of preparing vegetables, which is true vegetarian cooking at it’s finest. I don’t want fake meat and deep fried starch. I love vegetable and they don’t need to be masked with heavy sauces or cooked down until oblivion. Moti lets vegetables be vegetables, the best that they can be.
First Course: Cauliflower Couscous, Fennel Pesto, Olive Oil Drenched Scallions, Roasted Red Peppers and Eggplants.
I’ll just say one thing: CAULIFLOWER COUSCOUS! It was the texture of couscous and had that delicious raw cauliflower flavor. Bringing out the delicate flavor of couscous is difficult, especially when it’s on the same plate with pesto and roasted peppers, but it was all there and that plate was happy together.
Second Course: Spinach Salad, Raw Green Peas, Beets, Kohlrabi with Pistachio Ginger Dressing
A fresh and perfectly dressed salad with chunky raw vegetable crunch. See body, sometimes I do give you nutritional delicious food. (Just don’t get used to it!)
Third Course: Beet Steaks, Fried Onion, Fried Egg, Spicy Feta, Yaprach (stuffed onion with scallion and celery)
Don’t tell me you can’t fill up on vegetables. The stuffed onion is a traditional Kurdish dish, Moti learned from his other grandmother. It was such a grandma food that makes you full and warm. I could have eaten ten. The beet steaks cooked enough to not be raw but still have a fresh crunch and they had a good sour bite to them.
Dessert: Pear Drunk with Red Wine and Pomegranate Sauce and Whipped Cream
There is nothing better than fruit for dessert with a generous amount of whipped cream. To me the fruit is an aside, in this case, a delicious warm, sweet and sour aside.