There is a dish you can eat in a cellar in Brooklyn that is a work of art, and also soulful. It costs $12, and will fill you up.
That dish is Mekelburg’s salt-baked potato with crème fraîche, black caviar, and smoked black cod.
You may think it’s not for you because caviar is a token of luxury, in a city where you finally understand you cannot afford luxury. You may assume the roe must be inferior and the dish somehow a sham, because the really good stuff wouldn’t cost $12, not even as a dollop on top of a potato. Ignore your thoughts, though, and just eat the thing: a huge potato completely covering a small plate, with unctuous, salty bits of smoked fish around it (and, you will discover, thoroughly veined in a little network inside it, like eggs or seeds).
That fish is smoked sable, what “black cod” is called when it’s at home. Ashkenazi Jews of a certain age know sable as the best thing to put on a bagel, so much better than lox it’s not funny. On top of the potato is a creamy mound of crème fraîche with a huge load of unusually buttery, unsalty, even fruity-tasting caviar on it. There is softened butter with dill (and more bits of sable) around the edges of the plate. Together, the potato and sable and only-slightly-sour cream and caviar make up a food that mixes Jewish and Gentile, the feeling of being cared for by one’s mother and the delights you can get when you go out on your own into the world. How that plate brought together salt, sweet, fat, sophisticated, homey almost made me cry.
It’s an odd time for eating out in New York. The places most likely to be reviewed by critics are restaurants where entrées cost $30 and tasting menus cost $100 and more. They are tiny food-temples and shiny mega-boîtes where most of us can’t go even if, by normal US standards, we are “upper income” — little palaces where, we, reader, certainly can’t eat if we are what the government calls either low income or middle-class. (Note that $55,575 is the median household income in the United States; median household income in the city is $67,201.) Reading the reviews has become an exercise in tantalized frustration: breathing in paragon writer Pete Wells’ description, in the New York Times, of the grated frozen foie gras appetizer at Momofuko Ko, you could be forgiven for feeling like the orphan cousin not invited to the party. “A cook behind the counter would rub a frozen cured brick of it across a Microplane held above a bowl with pine nut brittle, riesling jelly and lobes of lychee, showering them with falling pink flakes of airborne pleasure.” (The liver is part of the $195 tasting menu for lunch or dinner, the only way that you can eat at Ko.) The other spots in critics’ reviews – restaurants like Cosme and Blue Hill and even Contra and The Spotted Pig — are not for us, either, unless we’re in the top 5%, or interested in acquiring a load of debt that will cripple us. Continue reading “Caviar for the 99%”
When I hear a restaurant called “hot,” I usually want to turn and walk the other way. There are many terrible things about our happy-shiny new food culture, but the worst may be its lust for trendiness. So when I saw that the new Austrian restaurant near where I live in not-very-gentrified Kensington had made Eater’s list of “the hottest restaurants in Brooklyn,” I grimaced. For one thing, it was going to drive the price of housing up.
Hey, I’ll be teaching an 8-week memoir writing workshop in Brooklyn this fall! The class will meet on Wednesday nights starting January 27 in Windsor Terrace, from 7 to 9 PM.
This workshop focuses on craft – particularly on using emotion, sensory details, and storytelling in your long and short memoir projects. Students will get frequent feedback in a supportive atmosphere. The number of students is limited to eight. The cost is $325.
Let me know if you’re interested. You can contact me at growingupgolem AT Gmail. All best – Donna
Here’s some info on my background:
Donna Minkowitz has taught memoir writing for 18 years, at venues including the 92nd Street Y, The Kitchen, the JCC of the Upper West Side, and the New York Writers Workshop. Her recent memoir, Growing Up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates, was a finalist for both a Lambda Literary Award and the Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award. Her first memoir, Ferocious Romance, won a Lammie. A former feature writer at The Village Voice, she has also written for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, New York magazine, Ms. and The Nation.
More info: Location is near the F/G stop at Fort Hamilton Parkway. The last class date is March 16.
FAQ: Refund Policy: Withdrawal by January 22: full refund. Withdrawal by January 26: 50% refund. No refund available for withdrawal after January 29.
From my new review in in Gay City News: Hugo and Sons, Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The waitress welcomed us as though she had been waiting all her life just to ply us with glasses of nerello mascalese and plates of pasta à la chitarra with tuna, chilies, and mint.
That’s the kind of service I like. When you pay your hard-earned money to a restaurant, you should be treated as though you were making each staffer’s day just by sticking your foot in the door and exciting them for life just by placing your queenly butt in their chairs. Hugo and Sons, a convivial, three-month-old Italian restaurant in Park Slope, offers a much better experience than its delicious but snooty next-door neighbors, Talde and Applewood. The tiny portions and cool welcomes at those eminences should by rights direct diners to this happy, generous new kid on the block.
A lot of the food will make you smile as warmly as the waitstaff do. That chitarra pasta (square-edged, long, spaghetti-like strands made on a traditional, cut-by-hand device) was surprisingly voluptuous, a special one night with unctuous lumps of cooked tuna. Lovers of pearls and diving, come to Brooklyn: I haven’t had cooked tuna this lewd in decades. (American chefs have forgotten how to make anything in between a near-raw sear and dead-and-dry.)
My own pearl girl and I were eating in Hugo’s pizzeria annex, which serves everything on the regular menu except entrées, plus pizzas and specials. The pizza place’s outdoor seating on 11th Street turns out to be Hugo’s most romantic setting, amid abundant plants, Shabby Chic red metal chairs, leafy street trees, and the nearby outdoor diners from Applewood and their dinner plates to gawk at and compare. It was only a South Slope pizzeria, but we seemed to be dining in Paris.
I was in the mood for a girly drink: a prosecco cocktail with strawberry purée making glowy red shapes at the bottom like a lava lamp, which I had seen two women drinking at the bar inside ($12). (Yes, I do call myself a butch. So sue me. If we can’t subvert our identities whenever we want, why be queer?) The drink was indeed pretty and festive, but I couldn’t taste enough strawberry. My aggressive femme partner had a glass of the nerello ($17), an earthy, tannic, dark-colored Sicilian wine that we both adored with her pizza fiamma (sopressata, crushed red chilies, pesto, tomato, and fior di latte mozzarella, $16).
Karen loved her pizza, and I liked it (it would have benefited from a more generous hand with the chilies, but was perfectly satisfying anyhow, like a little Mack truck made of sausage, cheese and tomatoes). The same went for a kale salad enmeshed in a rich Parmesan dressing ($9), also enjoyable to the max but not anything that could make me fall in love. I was falling in love with the evening, though, especially by the time my pasta came. The lesbo-friendly hosts and waitress smiled and winked at our arm-grabbing and knee-knocking in the warm June sunlight, the wine was delicious, and I noticed that the table next to us had a nicoise salad dominated by meaty-looking, blood-red slices of seared tuna (I like those, too) that I wanted to grab and eat.
Then came the bill, with a surprise: they’d comped our drinks because we’d had to wait quite a while for our entrées. I’ve endured far longer waits in restaurants without anything resembling an apology, much less free prosecco.
On our next visit, we took a luxurious, red-banquetted table in the main section, which has a jolly, let’s-eat-and-drink-life-is-short vibe. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the “assorted crostini” – stick a bunch of stuff on little pieces of toast for $9? – but the chefs proved that sticking some stuff on crisped bread can actually be a matter of talent and even profundity. One had what looked like guacamole (actually, an odd, delicious spread made of sweet peas) underneath thin slices of funky, salami-like Tuscan pecorino cheese. My favorite was the crust with buttery balls of burrata set off with lemon, chili, and marjoram.
Karen’s strozapreti genovese ($16), literally “priest-chokers,” were fat, long, phallic, thickly-braided twists, perfectly shaped to stick on and into the braised-brisket ragú and sublime ball of ricotta that accompanied them. Yes, they were as sexy as fuck. (The glistening brisket sauce and breast-like ricotta helped in this.)
My entrée, however, was the worst thing I’ve been served in a restaurant since 2013. Chicken milanese ($18) came as deep-fried, unpounded, repellently thick ships of chicken breast (the word”cutlet” cannot properly be applied here), that had strangely not been touched by salt, spice, or even lemon. I don’t know if it was a good or bad thing that they served me enough to feed a large family.
An odd thing happened just before my entrée appeared. A handsome, swaggery man in a white silk shirt was walking the room, checking on the needs of the tables – obviously a manager (or perhaps it was the chef, Andrea Taormina, who owns the restaurant with his wife, caterer Rebecca Tory). I asked him for coffee – preferably iced, or if that was unavailable, decaf americano or plain old cappuccino. I basically wanted coffee of any kind. The preening man regrettably thought there was no coffee, especially not iced, but began to flirt heavily with Karen and me. He would, ah, try and see what he could do, but could make no guarantees.
I was surprised when a truly delicious glass of iced coffee turned up. The manager explained that while iced coffee would not have been offered to most diners, he had wanted to make some for me (I was lucky, he said, that the place was beginning brunch service the next day and so some coffee happened to be on hand). I began to wonder if he had recognized me as a reviewer. Or perhaps the dude was just into flirting as a hosting strategy? Still, the vibe at the end – that he was doing a real favor for me and I would owe him – was borderline unpleasant. He was overbearing, yet we also sort of enjoyed him.
Whether Handsome Man was Taormina or not, come and eat at his restaurant. The chef, who was born in Sicily, has also worked as a sommelier, and many of the the wines are little-known finds from southern Europe. All of them are minimally processed. And the place is fun.
Hugo and Sons, 367 Seventh Avenue at 11th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn. The restaurant is one step up from the sidewalk, but a side door provides level though perhaps slightly narrow access. The restroom is wheelchair accessible.
To view this post on Gay City News’ site and to see my other reviews there, go here.
Karen and I had Thanksgiving at Buttermilk Channel, a highly acclaimed yup restaurant in the strip of land between Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. We were quite sure that it would be delightful; it was more expensive than we could usually afford, but Buttermilk’s Thanksgiving menu was a little bit cheaper than those of other fancy schmancy restaurants in our city. So wearing our jewels, garbed in silk, we came on down.
I had on a gray silk blazer inherited from Karen’s sister, and a red Chinese vest inherited from Karen herself. Karen was wearing a gorgeous but not exorbitantly expensive brown flowered dress in which her figure soared, and Mexican gold-filled hoop earrings I had given her. I wore three rings, three more than I usually wear; it was Thanksgiving, after all. We ordered an entire bottle of wine, much more than I am usually able to drink at the age of 50 and on a medication that makes alcohol harder to digest.
The restaurant was dark with lovely candles throughout, and old swing music played from a speaker as small groups of people ate Thanksgiving meals. With a minerally white wine, we had popovers with sea salt and honey, which were extraordinary and made us feel rich. Then came the first course, which was the best course, for me at least: an autumn squash tart with ricotta cheese, covered strangely but toothsomely with shreds of raw red and green cabbage. Karen had a cream of cauliflower soup with pickled raisins that was only just okay.
Then we got hungry. We waited, and held hands, and drank, and drank, until the maître d’ had finally gotten the kitchen to deliver our main courses: turkey and stuffing mushed together on a plate, hard to tell apart in the dark and oddly hard to tell apart by taste. The stuffing tasted like nothing, and the turkey was dry; sadness. Cranberry sauce was only available as a miserly streak or two on top of some of the turkey slices. An “oyster bread pudding” was delivered and was good, but did not taste of oysters. A bowl of mashed potatoes was bland as porridge, some of the only mashed potatoes I have ever encountered that I did not want to eat. Brussels sprouts tasted good, but only because they came with a big mound of herbed butter.
Cornbread was moist but had no taste. A plate of sweet potatoes, I have to say, was nicely caramelized on top.
We held hands and drank the wine. Sweet potato-pumpkin pie was set down with a good dollop of whipped cream, which saved it, but only a little. We walked out into the night, singing, and came home and watched Star Trek.
I hope you’re having a great summer. I haven’t had time to share all my news of the past few months, so here it is!
First, I had a great review over at the radical, trans-positive feminist magazine Make/Shift by Allison McCarthy. You can find out a lot more about Make/Shift here, but they don’t put their articles online, so here’s a taste from the review: “Far from conventional and always insightful, Minkowitz sets herself apart from other memoirs through sharp language and a clear understanding of her family’s dynamics… I cheered for her triumphant reclamation of self.” Thanks, Allison McCarthy!
Second, here’s a guest post I did over at my publisher Riverdale Ave Books’ blog, on “Why Should Fantasy Writers Have All the Fun?” It’s about how you too can have enchanted dolls and child-eating witches in your memoir!
Third… want to take a free memoir writing workshop in September? I’m teaching one Saturday, September 13 at the Brooklyn Public Library, under the auspices of the New York Writers Workshop. 2 PM at the Windsor Terrace branch, 160 E. 5th Street near Fort Hamilton Parkway. We will explore ways to use emotion, the senses, critical thinking, and storytelling to write relatably about your life. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re really interested in taking a memoir course in NY, I am then teaching an eight-week workshop in Brooklyn, on Tuesday evenings starting September 16 (7 to 9 PM). The class will focus on craft: extensive feedback in a supportive atmosphere. Small class size. Fee is $300. You can use the same email for more info 🙂
Finally – live in the Bay Area? On October 30 I’m coming to SF to do a Growing Up Golem book event with Keshet (the organization for LGBT Jews), Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, and the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Public Library. What do golems have to do with growing up queer, Jewish, and physically abused? Get your Halloween groove on and find out! More later.