Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Brooklyn Cuisine at The General Greene

No Marching Orders for this General

Pic courtesy New York Magazine

The General Greene was an opportunity for me to kill two birds with one stone.
The birds being two NYC food trends that I'd been hearing a lot about:
New Brooklyn Cuisine ( NBC) which is now part of the zeitgeist across the
Brooklyn Bridge, and the concept of diners sharing " small plates" which
has been confirmed as a definitive trend by Frank Bruni of the
New York Times, no less.

Is there anything new about New Brooklyn Cuisine ?
Here's what New York magazine says:

"NBC has as its common denominator a very New York culinary
sophistication melded with a wistfully agrarian passion for the
artisanal, the sustainably grown, and the homespun…
Practitioners tend to be mom-and-pop shops, in fact or feeling,
and they cater to a clientele of idealistic gastronomes who
quote Michael Pollan and split shares in the local CSA.
There is often a whiff of the barnyard about these places ..."

Whoa ! Armed with this suitably cerebral and impressive-sounding definition,
and motivated by reviews calling it a " stellar example of NBC", we marched
into The General Greene with our battery of hungry stomachs,
visions of small artisanal plates of food dancing in our heads.

The decor was I guess, genre-defining. Sawn-off wooden tables and
long benches, bar stools made out of vintage tractor seats, flickering
votives and dimmed lights casting long shadows,
all part of the 'sensitive chic' ambience.

Having had a few beers earlier in the evening, I started with a glass of
Prosecco, ignoring the distinguished list of craft beers which are apparently
are served in jam jars ! And for the rest of the evening our group shared a
bottle of Tempranillo.

The small plates kept coming:
~ Devilled Egg, which was really a kind of mustard-y egg mousse.
~ Bacon-wrapped dates, with sticky maple syrup.
Hmm. A bit of bacon and candy.
~ Radishes and Anchovies.
Now wait a minute. Whoever thought of that one ?
~ Dirty Rice with Andouille Sausages.
This I liked. What's not to like ?
Rice - good. Sausages - goood. Bits of chicken liver - very good.
~ Lamb and Lentils.
Can't remember this one well which probably means it might
have been a little dull .
~ 6oz Angus Burger with English Cheddar.
Didn't get to taste this as someone else polished it off.
~ Chocolate Pudding.
Gave it a miss.

The food was generally good but nothing was excellent.
The small plates were, as expected, small, and slightly pricey.
The food was a little too precious, the restaurant seemed to
be trying slightly too hard to justify its Star of NBC moniker,
and the rave reviews seemed to have been overhyped
just a tad in my opinion.

Yet you could not help but appreciate that there is something
going on here. The use of local artisanal produce without
tom-tomming it too much on the menu, the very Brooklyn
sensibility of combining a neighbourhoody feel with star
restaurant vibes, the comforting sense of knowing that
'warm chocolate chip cookies' is a house specialty, and a
general feeling that there is substance behind the form.

BUT: I hate intellectualising about restaurants so I'll stop here.
I guess I just need to go back again , spend a little more time,
taste some of the other dishes, to truly feel the General's powers.

The General Greene
229 DeKalb Avenue (Clermont Avenue),
Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (718) 222-1510.

"Eating in New York City" series

SALVADORAN PUPUSAS in Brooklyn, New York City

My First Pupusa. Certainly not my last

There we were, strolling through an antique flea market under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, when K said " let's have some Pupusas" .

Pupusa ? What on earth is a PUPUSA ? And why have I never heard of it, me the self-proclaimed Foodie Geek, Gourmand and GastroExplorer me ?? It turns out that I still have a lot to learn. El Salvador, and for that matter Central America, had till that moment remained uncharted in my culinary map. I am happy to report that it is no longer so.

Finding the Pupusas was easy. We just went to the most crowded spot in the market where a family from The Dominican Republic ( or so it said on a little sign) was doling out the good Salvadoran stuff from a rickety wooden stand heaving with food. We packed a box of the goodies, sat ourselves on the steps surrounded by hip Brooklynites with babies in designer strollers, and polished off the contents in no time.

Photo courtesy
Nice juicy Tamales, fried plantains - sticky and sweet, and a dollop of rice and beans. And the Pupusas: thick hand-made flatbreads stuffed with pork and cheese and lightly fried , and served hot with a topping of salsa and spicy cabbage. Earthy, comforting and delicious. Impossible to stop with one.

These little fried discs are so popular in Central and South America that there's even a " NATIONAL PUPUSA DAY" ( November 13) in El Salvador ! Made of a Latin American maize flour called Masa Harina, Pupusas come with different stuffings like pork rind, bacon, refried beans, quesilo cheese, zucchini and have different variants in Honduras, Venezuela, Costa Rica. I am not sure which version I had in Brooklyn that day but it sure was yummy and it sure has got me hooked.

Photo courtesy
The closest comparison I can think of - not that I really need to think of comparisons here - is the Indian Keema Paratha. Pupusas are rounder, smaller, thicker and less greasy and less heavy . And of course the stuffings are completely different,, so the comparison is a bit redundant. But the texture and the comfort food factor is perhaps why I was reminded of the Keema Paratha. But I digress.

Happy Bottomline: Great introduction to Salvadoran Pupusas, served by Dominicans, eaten with Americans, under the Manhattan Bridge, on a gorgeous sunny day in Brooklyn.

What else is good at the Brooklyn Flea market ? Frank Bruni's Journal in the NYT

Where else to get great Pupusas in the United States ? Chowhounds reveal their favourite Pupuserias

"Eating in New York City" series