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Posts Tagged ‘seafood’

A Montauk Beach

A quiet Montauk Beach.

It’s not often enough that I can get away for sun, sand and seafood. I ought to live near the ocean; being landlocked, albeit near the beautiful Hudson River, doesn’t always cut it for me. But thanks to a dear friend I got to go to a beautiful seaside spot last week, at the tip of Long Island’s South Fork, jutting out into the Atlantic.

There I had a feast for all the senses: sunsets so hot and stunning they dazed my eyes, soothing waves crashing and gulls screaming softly, briny breezes in my nostrils, soft sand between my toes, exquisite food and drink, and most of all, good company.

Watermelon margarita and blood orange margarita at FishBar, Montauk.

Fruity margaritas at FishBar, Montauk.

 

I’ve been there a few times before, in spring, fall, and then last year, finally, in the summer, but this was the longest, sunniest trip, and glorious all around.

A motel kitchenette for preparing oysters and littlenecks on the half shell and sauteed swordfish tidbits was the spot for the first feast, then another day it was off to FishBar for drinks, a watermelon margarita for me and a blood orange one for my companion.

We ordered a couple appies: soft shell crab with grilled watermelon, pea tendrils and yuzu yellow beet emulsion, and a flaxseed-crusted tuna tartare with avocado and spicy aïoli, topped with slivers of pickled watermelon radish. (The watermelon theme a welcome constant.)

Appies at FishBar. Photo by Nicholas Panayotou

Appies at FishBar. Photo by Nicholas Panayotou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With bellies not yet full, we went for a glorious platter of fresh local sea scallops, pan seared and drizzled with lemon butter and fresh herbs, over a hash of chorizo, watermelon radish, crispy rainbow potatoes, kalamata olives, fava beans, house-dried tomatoes and yellow beets.

Sea scallops at FishBar.

Sea scallops at FishBar.

 

On the last night we ate at Gosman’s Inlet Café, a perennial favorite for sushi and other good food and a beautiful view of the harbor, a constant stream of all manner of boats gliding to and fro. After a couple of good sushi rolls, we had a lush lobster roll studded with generous chunks of sweet lobster. Although under seasoned and not as good at the one we had at FishBar last year, it was satisfying and accompanied by quality coleslaw and fries.

Lobster roll from Gosman's Inlet Cafe.

Lobster roll from Gosman’s Inlet Cafe.

The grilled local yellowfin tuna topped with eggplant caponata on a bed of orzo was rich and flavorful.

Local yellowfin tuna topped with caponata.

Local yellowfin tuna topped with caponata.

A classic Montauk sunset capped things off,

Sunset at Montauk harbor.

Sunset at Montauk harbor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but for me the seafood feasting wasn’t over. Returning to Gosman’s Market the next morning before departing, I stashed some super-fresh local squid and a nice chunk of tilefish on ice in my cooler to bring home. I kept the sea bounty flowing the next few nights with fried calamari

Fried calamari with a variety of coatings: masa harina, flour, flour and grits.

Fried calamari with a variety of coatings: masa harina, flour, flour and grits.

and spaghetti neri

Spaghetti al nero delle seppie, a Sicilian dish.

Spaghetti al nero delle seppie, a Sicilian dish.

(testing recipes for my upcoming cephalopod cookery book). The squid was so impossibly fresh when I bought it four days ago that my leftover spaghetti neri for dinner tonight was still scrumptious. And I pan-roasted the tilefish with garlic and herbs. This fish, which I don’t believe I’d had before,  lives on crabs, making its flesh sweet and succulent.

Pan-roasted tilefish with garlic and herbs.

Pan-roasted tilefish with garlic and herbs.

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How strange it was to be in a food mecca like New Orleans, choking down watery egg product and undercooked chicken sausage in a conference room with no windows. That was really the only bad meal I had, though…well, except for the undercooked steamed chicken breasts…But I managed to eat well anyway. Anyone who knows me knows I always do.

The first night I hopped off the plane and hightailed it over to nearby Cochon, about which I had heard raves from many trusted folk of fine taste buds. Although the presentation was nouvelle, the flavors were old-fashioned basic Cajun/southern and a real pleasure to the palate. See this post for more details. And my tight budget wasn’t dented much by Cochon, either, like the Antoine’s or August that I wanted to try; my total bill was $36 for appetizer, entree and two beers.

The following morning a continental breakfast of breads, yogurt and fruit was served as part of the roundtable discussions I attended, then that night there was a delightful reception offering much of Louisiana’s best, set amid lively live music and brisk breezes off the river. I got lost and got there 45 minutes late, so I may have missed some of it–the Sazeracs and Hurricanes were long gone–but standouts were Leah Chase’s sumptuous gumbo z’herbes with nine greens and a light roux, Ms. Chase told me, plus another excellent gumbo, a fine jambalaya, a divine bacon-wrapped shrimp over grits, a garlicky heads-on “barbecue” shrimp with bread for dunking (barbecue shrimp never sees a grill, is doused in generous quantities of butter and broiled–with fresh local gulf shrimp it can be exquisite–more on that later) and a couple of freshly shucked oysters (briny nirvana). A man pounded file powder from fresh sassafras leaves in a huge mortar and pestle and other local food artisans demonstrated the frying of calas, the making of brown-sugar/pecan pralines, the pouring of excellent local beer, and roux-crafting (light, medium and dark in cast-iron skillets with bread for dunking and tasting the difference).

The next morning was the above-mentioned breakfast from hell, but the consolation prize followed soon afterwards at my first panel of the day, a tasting of Southeast Asian street food with a delightfully fresh and balanced green papaya salad from Mai Pham and a spicy chicken satay from Robert Danhi. That night I went on a tour of the yet-unopened Southern Food and Beverage Museum that was supposed to end with a po-boy from Mother’s. But perhaps the 50 of us would have been too much for Mother’s, so we were led instead to Creole Delicacies at Riverwalk (a two-story mall) where we listened to an warm, funny local cook tells us New Orleans stories while we ate crispy crawfish croquettes and rich gumbo and she cooked and served us the best Bananas Foster I have ever had, or made, ever.

Friday night was the IACP awards ceremony, which was preceded by a cocktail reception where I planned to pig out on hors d’oeuvres and make a meal of it. However, other than some shrimp in sauce and a lot of crudites, most of what was on offer was sweet (I saw someone munching a lovely-looking lamb chop but couldn’t find them anywhere). So after the awards I was still hungry and went downstairs to dine at Drago’s which is part of the hotel but was originally opened in Metairie in 1969 by a Croatian immigrant. Fortunately, I ran into a couple of fellow conference attendees that I knew, so I didn’t have to eat alone. I had Drago’s charbroiled oysters, which were a tad gritty but otherwise good (butter, parmesan cheese, garlic and lots of tall flames), then a pretty good redfish with creamy crawfish sauce.

The next day was the culinary expo and cookbook signing which I preceded with a wonderful meal at Dooky Chase’s with some colleagues. The restaurant isn’t truly officially open yet, still getting up on its knees after Katrina, but will serve you lunch if you call ahead, since they’re understaffed and still struggling. But the place oozed history, was gilded with absolutely gorgeous African-American art, and the food was perfection–I had a moist fried chicken breast that put to shame any I’ve ever made, with some delectable greens and macaroni and cheese (my favorite “vegetable”) on the side.

Stuffed as I was, I didn’t stop, and kept on tasting at the Expo. I tried John Besh’s Creole Shrimp Salad with Louisiana Pickled Quail Eggs at the Zatarain’s booth, Rachel’s yogurt, Tabasco’s spicy Bloody Mary with pickled okra, an array of unctuous nut oils like pistachio and pecan from La Tourangelle and much more.

The next day was the last and thanks to my crappy cell phone I missed a chance to go to Willie Mae’s Scotch House, but I did get to go to Cafe du Monde for perky chicory cafe au lait and fluffy, crispy, oh-so-sugary beignets, twice in the same day, wearing a black shirt like the rube that I am–it got covered in powdered sugar. That afternoon I wandered all over the French Quarter, got kicked out of Acme Oyster House for not waiting in line (Line? Line? I thought it was just people outside smoking) but went on to have a perfect meal at the French Market Cafe on Decatur Street: a half dozen oysters on the half shell, at once chewy as a clam and creamy as pudding, metallic, tangy, sweet and swimming in their own tears in pearly tubs–I could have eaten three dozen. But better still was my “barbecue” shrimp, a mountain of huge heads-on shrimp bathed in butter and spice with bread for dunking, their sweet flesh succulent and delicate as a fine-textured lobster, the head-fat nearly funky as a crawfish’s and full of character, sometimes enriched with a nugget of coral or tomalley. Oh heaven, these shrimp, putting all other shrimp to shame. I tried so hard to “exercise restraint,” as my father used to advise me, but to no avail. I left only a pond of golden butter, a crust of bread and a heap of picked-clean pink shells.

No muffelettas for me this trip, no po-boys, no Sazeracs, no pompano crabmeat meuniere, but that’s okay (my last trip I got to eat at Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s). I will be back. The Big Easy has burrowed forever under my skin. I’ve eaten very well in New York, L.A., Paris, Rome, Saigon and Bangkok, but never better than the city where they really know how to eat, in spite of paralyzing storms, that great wise voodoo queen New Orleans.

Did you go? Have you been? What did you eat?

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