Friday, April 29, 2005

Review: Smokin' Al's

There are at least two bad things about trying to find good BBQ on Long Island: 1) there are very few BBQ restaurants at all; and 2) Smokin' Al's is probably the best one.

Smokin' Al's, in Bay Shore, gets a fairly good food rating in Zagat. I can only attribute this to the voters never having had BBQ in the South (e.g. parts of North Carolina, Memphis, etc.) or in Texas or Kansas City, or never having been able to make decent BBQ at home.

Smokin' Al's offers a number of different rib types--baby back ribs, St. Louis-style, beef ribs, e.g.--as well as a variety of BBQ sauces. They also offer pulled-pork and beef brisket. Between my wife and me I tried all three rib styles. The baby-backs ribs were decent, but tougher than I'd expect from a BBQ-specialty place. The St. Louis-style and beef ribs were not only tough but bland. For side dishes we had collard greens (awful), baked beans (all right, I suppose), and garlic mashed potatoes (ehh [shoulder shrug]).

There were three of us, and the bill came to over $70.00, so this place ain't the cheapest eats around if you think you're going to find an inexpensive, southern-style BBQ joint.

1 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Monday, April 25, 2005

Spring Herbs

Finally cleaned up the herb garden over the weekend. The chives are already back in full force. I seem to have lost all my curly parsley, but the Italian/flat-leaf parsley is alive and kickin'. The thyme is a little slow coming back, and the sage leaves are a bit small at this point. However, the oregano is doing quite well. I also planted some cilantro (the seeds). Hopefully it's available in a couple of months.

America's Test Kitchen

America's Test Kitchen is one of my favorite cooking shows, and is better than probably 90% of the stuff on the Food Network. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, David Rosengarten's "Taste," which hasn't been on for a few years now. (That is the fate, I've found, of most of the good shows on the Food Network--good shows being replaced by such colossal wastes of time as The Secret Life Of and Party Starters.) In the beginning, just as Rosengarten did, they show poor examples of whatever dish they are making and explain why they are poor. Plus, as they go through the recipes, they give you a good deal of information about ingredients, variations, and methods of cooking. You really learn a lot about whatever they are making.

The host, while reminding one of Beaker from the Muppets, is great--smart and witty. The two women who do most of the cooking are a bit dull, but are just fine.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Le Soir

In the few years I've lived on Long Island I've had a number of bad restaurant meals. However, there are two (2) that stand out as the biggest disappoints--disappointments because the restaurants (at least at the time) were regarded as offering some of the better food on the island. The first disappointment was The Country House, in Stony Brook. The other second was Le Soir, in Bayport.

Now, I will say that Le Soir is in the top 20 for food rating in the latest Zagat's. So, either I went there on an off night, or it shows the dangers of having "regular" people rate restaurants.

For an appetizer I got foie gras (terrine) with figs and toast. When it came out, juice from the figs was running all over the plate, and the presentation was otherwise nothing special. (Not that this is a bad thing, but it was a sign that things there are not done with the utmost care--such as, e.g., at Louis XVI, which has by far the best food presentation that I've experienced on the island.) The foie gras and figs tasted fine (and the portion was fairly large), but then it's foie gras and figs, nothing requiring a lot of effort.

My wife got bay scallops in a beurre blanc. (No, not Coquille St. Jacques.) The beurre blanc was all right, I thought. Certainly nothing extraorindary. But my wife hated the whole thing and didn't finish it.

Between the first course and the main course they served salad and soup. The salad was not much better than what you'd find in a diner, and the soup (a puree of mostly root vegetables, from what I could tell) tasted like something out of a can of Campbell's.

For the main course I had rabit in a cider sauce with mushrooms and vegetables. This was dreadful. The rabit was fine, though quite bony. But the sauce had that starchy taste, as when you don't let a roux-thickened sauce cook long enough (e.g. 45 mins to an hour or so, no matter what anyone else tells you). The mushrooms and vegetables had no special or interesting flavor. In fact the potatoes were quite bland.

My wife had lobster with what was supposed to be a "lemon butter sauce" or something. Of course, in fact, it was the same dull beurre blanc that she had had with her first course. I think a stray leaf of tarragon managed to find its way on her plate, as well.

For dessert my wife had chocolate mousse, and I had a crème caramel. Both of them were terrible, and both had hard, tough bits of material in them. I'm guessing either the eggs were allowed to curdle in both dishes, or, in the mousse, inferior chocolate was used (and, thus, it didn't melt as smoothly as better chocolate).

One of the criteria, if not the main criterion, I use in judging restaurants is whether I could have made the same thing at home. This meal--not only could I have done everything much better, but I would have been embarrassed to have served it even to my wife (who has suffered through her share of my mistakes).

Two out of five stars.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Scallops in a Shrimp-Scampi Style Sauce

Made this over the weekend. I wanted to serve the scallops with pasta, so I wanted a thin sauce, as opposed to something thicker or creamier. I couldn't decide between a sauce with a shrimp-stock base or a scampi-style sauce but was told by the wife to do the scampi-style (and in this case it was shallots and garlic in olive oil, some white wine, reduced, and chopped parsley off the heat).

I managed to find some decent diver (jumbo) scallops at a local supermarket. They were relatively fresh and, thus, sweet. Because I was using scallops, I wanted a pasta that wouldn't challenge their delicate flavor. I ended up choosing linquini fini--finer than regular linguini, though regular linguini would probably have worked as well. Fettucini, e.g., would simply be too thick and overpowering.

I mixed the linquini with the sauce and carmelized the scallops in butter. I had originally planned on cooking the scallops medium-rare and letting them finish cooking in the sauce, but I decided I wanted the crisp carmelized texture. So, I just tossed the pasta in the sauce and put the scallops on top on the plate.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Just How Dull is Tyler Florence?

Watching How to Boil Water this morning. The show, while never one of my favorites, was much better with the frenchy guy. Tyler Florence has all the personality of a bag of rock salt. And the female co-host was much better with frenchy. She took more of a lead in hosting the show, but now it's not even clear what she's doing there. Rock salt has been given the reigns for hosting, apparently, and the blonde does nothing more than introduce the show and ask the occasional uninteresting question. Not that I blame her. I'm sure it's because she's probably not clear what her role on the show is, any more, either.

Of course, I remember the first version of the show, in the early days of the Food Network, when it was some clueless but funny guy doing the hosting and cooking. There was a female chef who basically told him what to do to cook the food.

And how does Tyler Florence get all these shows in the first place? He's not a terribly good cook, in my opinion, and, as I indicated, he has no personality that I can detect. I remember him from his days on one of Food Network's best shows (of course they got rid of it), Chef Du Jour. Florence made some ridiculous, sloppy omelet, with a bunch of crap sticking out, and he practically burned it. Then he tried to tell everyone it was perfect.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Restaurant Reviews

At the risk of possibly alienating my readership of zero, I've been quite the lax blogger over the last month. And my intent of posting a new restaurant review every week was apparently somewhat ambitious.

However, new posts and reviews will be coming soon.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Predictable move by the Food Network

The Food Network has tapped a new iron chef, Cat Cora. It doesn't bother me that she's a woman--although the move reeks of political correctness--but it does bother me that, predictably, the Food Network has picked another established Food Network personality. As with the male iron chefs, the network just picked people who had other shows on it. I guess I can't quibble with Mario, but are Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto really among the best chefs in the country? I'd rather see, for instance, Todd English, who was an iron chef in the earlier version of Iron Chef America that apparently never took off.

By the way, did you notice that in Cat Cora's "victory," the challenger won both "taste" and "plating," but, somehow, Cat Cora got just enough points for "originality" to win the contest by a single point? Hmmmm... Yes, she was so original that she came up with mousaka and a phyllo dumpling--yep, you never see those in Greek restaurants...

Mario has fallen!

The great Mario Batalli has lost an Iron Chef competition. As I've said before, he's a hell of a cook, and seemed to be the strongest of the iron chefs. Even though I said I wouldn't be displeased when he eventually lost, I was beginning to wonder if he ever would lose. But he did, and I think he only got a "24" vote on taste. I don't recall, but I think that might be his lowest vote to this point. And the woman he lost to seems pretty cool, so, again, I'm not displeased.

I didn't get to see the entire show. I'll have to catch it Wed. night, see just where fat boy went wrong.