Monday, April 21, 2014

The Best of Brooklyn Food & Culture Tour

It's been said that "A trip to Brooklyn is like a trip around the world." Having never been across to the East River to the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, we signed up for a 4 1/2-hour 'Best of Brooklyn Food & Culture Tour' to explore Brooklyn's diverse culinary communities, from Polish residents in Greenpoint, to the hipsters of Williamsburg and the Latino cubano's of Sunset Park. Brooklyn's history spans more than 350 years, when the settlement began in the 17th-century as the small Dutch-founded town of "Breuckelen" on the East River shore of Long Island. The Brooklyn Food and Culture walking tour included started on the Lower East side of Manhattan with a visit to Russ & Daughters. 

The indulgent bagel-meister at Russ & Daughters, posing for my camera

A New York institution, Russ & Daughters has been run by four generations of the Russ family since 1914, on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Famous for their Gaspé Nova and Smoked Sable Salmon, House-Cured Herring Fillets in cream sauce, Cream Cheese with scallion, hand-rolled New York Bagels, Rugelach and old-fashioned Marble Halvah, Joel Russ, an Eastern European immigrant who arrived in America in 1907, started the business from a pushcart to cater to throngs of Jewish immigrants settling in the Lower East Side of New York. He began by schlepping Polish mushrooms on his shoulders to support his family, and to save enough money to purchase a pushcart. In the true spirit that defines the early 20th-century immigrants, Russ soon was able to buy the pushcart, and expanded his operation. In 1914, Joel Russ opened J. Russ International Appetizers, a storefront around the corner from the current location and the beginning of what would become the landmark Russ & Daughters it is today.

Russ & Daughters Smoked Salmon

Gefilte Fish, house made Mushroom Barley soup, cheese blintzes, 
European cheeses and array of freshly grated horseradish

Russ & Daughters Herring bathed in cream or plain sauce

A mouthwatering story of an immigrant family’s journey from a pushcart in 1907 
to becoming New York’s most hallowed shrine to the miracle of caviar, smoked salmon, 
ethereal herring, and silken chopped liver

Our first tasting on 'The Best of Brooklyn Food & Culture Tour' was a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin, Russ & Daughters Chocolate Orange Rugelach, a fresh-baked wonder that's hard to beat made with bittersweet chocolate, walnuts, and orange marmalade made with all natural butter dough.

Our first food tasting, a traditional Jewish Rugelach from Russ & Daughters

Perhaps the most famous NYC Deli of them all, Katz's on the lower East Side of Manhattan

Krolewskie Jadlo Polish Restaurant in the Greenpoint's Polish neighbourhood of Brooklyn

Making out way from the Lower East Side over the Manhattan bridge to Brooklyn, we drove through Greenpoint, home of New York City's largest Polish immigrant population and of Królewskie Jadło — "The King’s Feast”, which has been awarded a Michelin recommendation. Two life-sized knights in shining armour guard the doors, greeting patrons of the Polish restaurant as they enter a narrow dining room filled with glowering portraits, tarnished swords, and wooden tables decorated with lace doilies, rather medieval meets crafty grandma. The menu of Polish staples, from Pierogis to grilled Kielbasa, are delicious and prepared by Chef Krzysztof Drzewiecki, the former chef of Robert De Niro and Drew Nieporent's Restaurant Nobu in NYC, and now makes the best Polish Food in Brooklyn.

Chef Krzysztof Drzewiecki of Królewskie Jadło in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Fried Cheese and Potato Pierogis

Grilled Smoked Kielbasa with mashed potato

Shredded Polish carrot salad and sauerkraut

Apple Fritters topped with whipped cream

Soft and fluffy, Drzewiecki's apple fritter was not too sweet and full of fruit

Old Williamsburg's Hasidic Jewish area where time seems to stand still

L'isola Wood-Fired Pizzeria and Ristorante in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

A glass of one of many Brooklyn brewed beers

The wood-fired pizzas are dotted with mozzarella cheese first then topped with tomato sauce

Blasted in the oven for less than 5 minutes, the Margherita Pizza was delicious 
and almost as good as my husband's homemade pizza

"Leave the car — keep the Cannoli"

The Manhattan Bridge

Built in 1909, The Manhattan Bridge crosses the East River, 
connecting Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn

DUMBO, the acronym for 'Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass,' was our next stop at the first Jacques Torres chocolate factory on Water Street, and a visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park for an excellent view of Manhattan's famous skyline and the amazing views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Fondly referred to as Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres is the authority on all things related to this confectionery delight. Born and raised in France, Torres moved to the U.S. and served as the Corporate Pastry Chef for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company before moving on to Le Cirque, where he worked for 11 years as Executive Pastry Chef. In 2000, Torres left Le Cirque to open a chocolate factory and retail shop in Brooklyn, NY. Currently there are seven Jacques Torres shops, including two chocolate factories and an ice cream shop and ships his chocolates all over the world.

Jacques Torres's DUMBO location on Water Street in Brooklyn

The small tell-tale sign outside of Jacques Torres Chocolates

Jacques Torres smiling chocolate Easter Bunnies

Marzipan Robins Eggs

An enormous Jacques Torres Easter Egg that was on TV earlier in the week, and goes up for auction with the proceeds going towards charities 

Our tasting tray of chocolate covered macadamia nuts, chocolate covered orange peel 
and chocolate covered corn flakes

The small cozy interior of Jacques Torres' DUMBO shop

The best chocolate cookie I've ever eaten!

Jacques Torres chocolates — a chocolate lovers paradise

A Jacques Torres chocolate called 'Wicked Fun,' a dark chocolate with Mexican spices, 
ancho and chipotle chiles

Mr. Chocolate — Jacques Torres

Jacques Torres cookbook

The final stop on our Brooklyn Tour was Sunset Park, featuring a plethora of Latin American food establishments including an authentic "Cubano" sandwich at the International Restaurant. A portion of the neighbourhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, known for its Romanesque and Renaissance Revival architecture and the view from the top of Sunset park offers extraordinary views over the Manhattan.

The International Restaurant in Sunset Park, the latin area of Brooklyn

A glimpse of the restaurant's local colour

The Cubano Sandwich with pork, pickles and cheese

A Chicken Empanada

The view from Sunset Park over to Manhattan, taken by my cousin Diane

Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 26 5-inch cookies
Recipe courtesy Jacques Torres

3 cups plus 2 tbsp cake flour
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 lb unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp Natural vanilla extract
2 lb bittersweet chocolate (at least 60 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
Sea salt for garnish

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours. 

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat and set aside. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough, roughly the size of generous golf balls, onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up as it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.