When The Customers Do the Dishes
A great vintage menu. My favorite fall recipe. An early clue to a new direction for restaurants. And a movie premiere.
This is a true story. Even now, reading it 45 years later, I find it hard to believe that this really happened. But I promise you that it did.
It’s one of my favorite old restaurant reviews. And since I’ve just come back from Marseille, I suddenly remembered it. Looking back, I think it also says a lot about how much we - and our restaurants - have changed. Can you even imagine something like this happening today?
David Chang is closing restaurants and concentrating on retail. And he’s not the only chef moving in that direction. Restaurants are facing intense economic pressure: rising rents, increased labor costs, the inflationary arc of foodstuffs. Many are looking for ways to make their businesses more sustainable.
Hooni Kim - whose Danji was one of my favorite places to eat in New York (he also has a great cookbook, My Korea), opened Little Banchan Shop in Long Island City last year, specializing in all manner of Korean dishes packaged for home consumption. You simply open the package and sometimes reheat, making dinner a breeze. We’ve been ordering enough to have dinner all week.
If you’re not lucky enough to live nearby, the shop now delivers across New York City on Mondays. It is SO much better than ordering food from a conventional restaurant. And so much less expensive.
My family has loved virtually everything we’ve ordered from the shop: stews, soups, noodles, banchan. The quality is superb and the selection is wide and constantly changing.
I’ve recently discovered another great source for Korean products. San Francisco’s Queens began life as a “Korean superette,” turned into a restaurant - and has now moved on to manufacturing exquisite handmade versions of Korean jangs (sauces), spices, jams - even a pajeon pancake mix. Their products are available in a growing number of stores; owners Clara Lee and Eddo Kim want nothing less than to become “the leading Korean-American food brand,” and they are very focused on sustainability. (Their wefunder page is fascinating - and the products are superb.)
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It’s been the strangest fall here in the Hudson Valley; during the last few days of October the air suddenly remembered summer and we all walked around in shorts, basking in sunshine.
Then winter arrived with stunning fierceness and the other day we woke to snow. The markets are filled with turnips, onions and squashes, but the tomatillos linger, as if yearning for fall. In that spirit I offer you what may be my best-loved recipe.
Pork and Tomatillo Stew
What I love about this recipe - aside from its sheer deliciousness - is the way this method of cooking garlic transforms its normally gruff character. You will not believe how mellow garlic becomes when cooked in this fashion.
2 pounds pork shoulder, butt or loin, cut into 2” cubes
1 pound tomatillos, quartered
1 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1½ cups of fresh orange juice (approx. 6–8 oranges)
1 bottle dark beer
2 large onions, diced
2 jalapeños, minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 head of garlic
1 cup cooked or canned (drained) black beans
Grapeseed or canola oil
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Begin by cutting the pork into 2” cubes. Sprinkle them with salt.
Remove the husks from the tomatillos, wash the sticky surface off and quarter them. Place them in a pot with the tomatoes, dark beer and 1½ cups of fresh orange juice. Let everything stew for half an hour or so, until it has all slumped into tenderness.
Brown the pork in a casserole, along with at least 10 whole cloves of peeled garlic, in a few tablespoons of grapeseed or canola oil. You’ll probably need to do this in batches, removing the pork as it browns. When the casserole is empty add the onions, along with the cilantro and jalapeños. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be sure to scrape the bottom, stirring in the delicious brown bits.
When the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, transfer the tomatillo mixture along with the pork and garlic back into the casserole. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover and cook slowly for about 2 hours.
Now comes the fun part: fish around for the garlic cloves and squish them into the stew with the back of a spoon. Add a cup or so of cooked black beans (or a can of drained beans) and cook for 10 more minutes.
Make the garnish by stirring the juice of a lime into a cup of sour cream.
Serve over white rice topped with a dollop of the sour cream and a few leaves of cilantro.
Given what I just wrote about this strange fall, this menu strikes me as extremely appropriate. And delicious; I’m thinking of recreating it.
It’s a menu Colman Andrews served at his house in Venice almost forty years ago. I don’t think I was at the meal, so I’m not sure why I have it, but it’s a pretty impressive offering from a one-man kitchen.
When I asked Colman about it, this was his reply.
“Pretty impressive lineup of wines, if I do say so. And an interesting menu, though I wonder why there were no tomatoes in the meal if there were still some on the vine....
“Trafins” is actually a typo – should be “Trefins” – which are a baba-like pastry shaped like massive corks (they’re also called taps [corks] de Cadaquès. I had probably just come back from Catalonia.”
If you’re planning on being in Washington DC next week, please come to the local premiere of our film.
the Washington, DC premiere of
Food and Country
“In introducing us to people who care deeply about the work they do, the animals they ranch, the people they employ and the food they bring to market or offer at their tables, the documentary stirs a sense of possibility. Not in some unearned pie-eyed way but by checking in on people who are plotting ways to wrest themselves (and us) from a disaster that continues to march on. “Food and Country” is a balm but also a map.”
— LISA KENNEDY, VARIETY MAGAZINE
Wednesday, November 8
7:00 PM screening followed by Q&A featuring:
Producer Ruth Reichl
Director Laura Gabbert
and participants from the film
Naval Heritage Center
701 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Post-screening reception at Dirty Habit (555 8th St NW).
Space is limited. To reserve tickets visit: https://forms.gle/JUWBtbttKxmh6zgt7
Learn more about the film (including the trailer) at www.foodandcountryfilm.com.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org