Tag Archives: Travel

Wrong about ribs

5 Apr

I still remember my first dinner in an American restaurant. That was 2 years ago in Washington D.C. The place was called The Diner. My friend and I, both international students, had landed in D.C. for the weekend just one week after we arrived in the U.S. We knew nothing about the city nor about places to go out. I had a city guide from France saying that Adams Morgan area was great. So we headed to Adams Morgan!

The place was crowded and noisy. People were drinking large beers at the bar and biting into huge burgers, while the waiters were zigzagging through the wood tables bringing orders and water. Some will think nothing exceptional. But for me everything was new. In France, I did not need to show my I.D. to enter a restaurant, waiters would not welcome you with a large smile nor spontaneously bring tap water and above all that I was used to small and gourmet menu restaurants and not to some woody, smoky and smelly American bars and pubs.

I ordered ribs. The Chipotle Baby Back Ribs, drenched with a chipotle barbeque sauce and served with French fries and cole slaw. These were the best I had ever had, at that time. The sauce amazed me and the combination of cole slaw and French fries completely filled my huge appetite. Another time that year I had ribs in NYC. They were the same: a large rack of ribs covered with BBQ sauce and served with cole slaw, corn cake and French fries. I was hooked. Back to France I could never be satisfied with ribs. They were ever too short, too grilled, too dry. Or it was the sauce, too artificial, too red, or too orange. Back to the U.S. this year, I had great expectations about ribs. Going out for ribs was like the ultimate dining experience I was looking for.

The ribs at Hill Country, NYC.

The truth is that it happened randomly and I realized I had been wrong about ribs since that time in D.C.

I was born on St Patrick’s Day. The night of my birthday, we headed to Williamsburg and crawled along some bars. We ended up in the Two Door Tavern serving Irish food. Since the menu did not inspire me, I ordered ribs. I was expecting the same ribs and barbecue sauce, Fries and maybe cole slaw. Sweet memories. But the waiter brought boneless spare ribs, of a grey color, in a red wine demi glace, served with horseradish mashed potatoes. Where was my mouth watering BBQ sauce? The rich brown copper meat? I looked desperately glanced at Tummy Boy, biting my lips. If these ribs were not good, my birthday night would be ruined.

What I discovered enchanted me. The meat was tender, so tender I could slice it without any effort. It was soft and melting in my mouth. The mashed potatoes were light and the sauce reminded me of Boeuf Bourguignon. In fact, it was perfect.

The Mac&Cheese side at Hill Country, NYC.

The ribs experience repeated last week. My parents visiting from France, I wanted to take them out for the best ribs of their life. If they would love the ribs, they would also love NYC, the U.S. and their whole trip. After some research online, I had the list of the best ribs in town. My criteria were not easy: live music, typical American but no cliché setting, good price. And of course, the best ribs. We went to Hill Country smokehouse. It is a market, cafeteria style with live music. First I had a hard time figuring out how much I wanted. I was hungry for sure. I opted for 3 big pork ribs with macaroni and cheese. Simply served on a tray, with no sauce, they were delicious. The meat was juicy, flavorful and tasted like smoke. Only the price kept me from ordering more. The corn pudding was also delightful.

For sure I still have a lot of ribs cooking styles to taste. But now, I’m not wrong anymore.

Will Manolo knock?

11 Jan

While in Spain, I had the great pleasure of being a tenant in the house of Manolo.  An aging porteños (citizen of El Puerto de Santa Maria and Buenos Aires), Manolo still lives with his mother which is a common characteristic in Spain for men.  As we (North Americans) see this as an infringement on our freedom, for Manolo, it is not only normal but an advantage as he is able to learn all of his Franco era hardened mother’s culinary recipes and secrets.  And for me, well this was a great stroke of luck, one well worth putting up with her many strong Andalusian accented spouts about god knows what directed at me, another tenant, or of course Manolo.

So, how was this lucky for me?  Well after coming home for lunch in the afternoons, many times I received a waited expecting knock on the door from Manolo to come help him cook lunch, the biggest meal of the day in Spain.  Stopping my own lunch prep, I gladly always followed him across the courtyard into his house.  For me and many other Americans, lunch tends to be a quick meal, either eating on the run or in front of the computer at work ;p  But not in the House of Manolo, or in Spain for that matter.  No, lunch was a carefully prepared, aesthetically detailed, Sherry drinking, culinary experience.

Pouring Sherry from jugs, communicating in broken Spanish and hand gestures, with the windows open to the courtyard in a beautiful Spanish afternoon, Manolo would teach me some of his passed down trade and give me the authentic taste of Andalusia.  Caracoles (snails) in a tomato sauce, conch, grilled octopus, sauted Durado, sword fish, salmon, boquerones (anchovies), squid, Choco, crawfish, oxtail!!!!  Fresh figs with goat cheese, oranges, thinly sliced Iberian ham (pata negra) with fresh olive oil and bread, fried eggplant with salmorejo and gazpacho!  What a tummy terrific time!

And did I mention this all came from the farmers market down the street…