[Pigging by Wilfrid: July 23, 2012]
I admit, I've taken my lumps in the past for publishing photographs which don't do full justice to the creations of our great New York City chefs. Restaurants are sensitive about that kind of thing.
Sure, sometimes I'm just being clumsy; but sometimes I'm trying to be surreptitious, often the light is bad, and occasionally my photo just reflects the reality of the dish. See, for example, this New York picture of the Lake Trout "cheese fish sandwich." Above is what it really looks like.
Now, I'm not trying to be smart, and I am saying nothing to the detriment of the sandwich. All I'm doing is showing you the difference between a sandwich groomed for the professional studio photographer -- the New York shot was taken before Lake Trout even opened -- and what you'll get slung on a tray during late night service.
Lake Trout, an extension to Joe Carroll's local empire (Fette Sau, St Anselm, etc) is a self-described "crappy" fried-whiting shop, which kind of disarms the critic. It seeks its crappiness diligently. The tables -- which were filthy -- are furnished with revolving, orange plastic chairs. The restroom door is marked, in big letters, "SHITTER." Inside the restroom is a toilet with a squishy, orange plastic seat.
The walls are festooned with pictures celebrating the Baltimore Orioles who, with the exception of a '97 division title, have been quite crappy for thirty years. As luck would have it, my copy of the New Yorker fell open at a page detailing this week's appearance by some Baltimore band or other. The Baltimore magic here is powerful.
The menu, conceived by former Fette Sau cook and Baltimore native Matt Lang, is very short and simple. Picked out in toy letters above the counter, it features fried whiting, crab cakes, shrimp, Western fries, slaw, and not much else. Except for the city's great delicacy, the cheese fish sandwich.
Once you battle through the lettuce foliage, the sandwich is a simple and not unappealing affair. Two precise, breadcrumbed squares of pollock -- designed to look prepackaged and frozen, although I doubt they are -- are tucked inside a potato roll and loaded with pickles, tomato, lots of lettuce, and some kind of tartar sauce. You can add sauce from a sticky bottle on the table.
I wondered if they'd omitted the cheese, but as it had melted it had sort of slunk to the far side of the sandwich. Fish and cheese is a British, as well as a Baltimore, thing. Haddock with cheese sauce, for example. So I was okay with it, and the fish itself was notably good -- fresh and flaky. It's very much a snack, but a decent one for $6.50. No beer or wine yet, so I was offered a rather expensive artisanal soda.
After burgers, dogs, and meatballs, the tweaked-up fried fish sandwich has come to town.
July and August are grazing months. There are reasons to be out and about other than just going to restaurants, and one eats what one finds along the way. Nervous about the reincarnation of Isa across the street, I recently dropped into Williamsburger for late-night re-fuelling.
"Brooklyn's best burgers"? No, of course not. After all, there's Peter Luger. But they have specialty burgers like The Californian ("green leaf lettuce, vine-ripened tomato, cage-free fried egg" -- really). They have all-beef hot dogs. And thankfully they have a basic burger, $8 including fries, garnish, and your choice of cheese (I am tired of burger joints charging for cheese à la carte).
That's what I got, with cheddar and a random sprinkling of chopped jalapeños, which did set me back a buck. Nothing to go out of your way for, but the burger patty was thick enough to be cooked to order, medium rare, the bun was nicely toasted, and it was a pleasant bite. The fries were overcooked and tired.
San Matteo Panuozzo
Not the world's biggest pizza fan, I am steeling myself to try the city's new craze, fried pizza. To warm up, I sampled a less threatening variation on the pie, a panuozzo from a simple, functional storefront at the Avenue A end of St Mark's Place. San Matteo P. is a temple to this dish from the Salerno region of Campania.
According to the website for the original, UES restaurant, it "starts as would a pizza..." And indeed, you will get it in a pizza box if you take it away.
But, it "results in a type of panino." Well, kind of. It looks like a sandwich, I agree.
It's a sandwich, however, made from fresh pizza dough -- and you know what? If you do what New Yorkers do, and fold your slice of pizza before eating it, you get very much the same thing. They sell pizze and calzoni as well as panuozzi in the store. Fillings are meaty for the most part -- roast pork, pancetta, prosciutto -- and some are cheesy and tomatoey too.
My Salsiccia e Friarelli eschewed tomato sauce, but I still felt like I was eating a pizza. Thick-sliced, chunky, sweet sausage, broccoli rabe, home-made mozzarella. It costs eight dollars, and it fills you up.