"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2014

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Beat of the Day


 My Momma Done Tol’ Me…

[Illustration Via: No Fun]

Afternoon Art


Illustration by Adrian Tomine.

Bronx Banter Interview: Erin Shambura

This ran over at Foodspin yesterday. Thought I’d share it with you guys.

A few years ago The Wife and I were introduced to L’Artusi, an Italian place down on West 10th street in the Village. We rarely have the chance to dine out, but we’ve been back to L’Artusi a dozen times since that introduction. We feel welcome there–it’s a place that makes us happy.  The environment is elegant but not stuffy, the staff well-informed and attentive, and, oh yeah, best of all: The food is wonderful.

Owned by Executive Chef Gabe Thompson, his wife Katherine, and partners Joe Campanale and August Cardona (all of Epicurean Management and nearby favorite dell’Anima), L’Artusi executes seemingly simple dishes with delicate nuance; both the food and the hospitality are remarkably consistent. Many of its best dishes are the ones that seem simple, even plain at first: We’d made several visits before I tried the spaghetti with garlic and chilies but it quickly became my favorite pasta on the menu. Not many restaurants can make my wife weak in the knees with a side of crispy potatoes. And the olive oil cake, which is easy to pass over at first, is a revelation.

In mid-2012, Thompson stepped back from the L’Artusi Kitchen to concentrate on the development and opening of the group’s new restaurant in the East Village, L’Apicio. Chef de Cuisine Erin Shambura, has run the kitchen ever since. L’Artusi features an open kitchen and Shambura is a pleasure to watch in action; her work is efficient, orderly, and punctuated with obvious joy. She exudes a sense of pleasure in her work, and that transmits to those who work under her direction.

I recently had the chance to sit down with her for a chat and a demonstration of her Braised Boneless Short Ribs over Polenta. Here’s the recipe, followed by our conversation.

Braised Boneless Short Ribs over Polenta

Serves 4

Ideally, this will be prepared a day ahead, as it tastes best after sitting, but it will be wonderfully delicious if cooked and eaten on the same day.

Braised short rib ingredients:
1¼ lbs. of boneless short ribs*
3–4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup of carrots, diced
1 cup of celery, diced
1 cup red wine**
2 35-oz. cans of puréed San Marzanno tomatoes
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper***

And a few optional choices:
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Three sprigs of thyme and oregano can be added along with a couple of bay leaves. These should be added with the tomato. They can be tied into a sachet with cheese cloth for easier removal.

1 box instant polenta (follow directions on the box)

*I found it difficult to get a 1¼-lb. piece of short rib from my local butcher, so I used 3 boneless short ribs weighing about 1¼ lbs.; this worked just fine.
**Any medium-bodied red wine will do. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just something that the cook would enjoy drinking.
***1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper for the meat; 2 teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper for the vegetables

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Place a Dutch oven on the stove and turn the burner to medium-high for 1 minute. Add the olive oil and heat for another 2 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the meat with kosher salt and pepper. Add the meat to the Dutch oven and sear on all four sides. This should take about 5–8 minutes.

4. When caramelized on all 4 sides remove the meat to a plate.

5. Add the vegetables to the Dutch oven and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, on medium to high heat, until they begin to soften. If you are using garlic and/or hot pepper, add them during the final minute of this cooking time.

6. Return the meat to the pot and add the red wine. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the wine to reduce by half, about 3 or 4 minutes.

7. Add the tomatoes and, if using, the herbs, Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered.

8. Cover and put in the oven for 2½ hours.

8. If the meat begins to tear when you lift it carefully from the braising liquid, it is done. This means the meat has been braised long enough. At this point, remove the entire pot from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the meat and hold separately until cool enough to remove any excess fat. This is when the meat can be portioned into individual pieces. The meat can then go back into the cooking liquid until ready to serve. You can cover the meat with foil, but just to tent it.

9. Skim the fat off the sauce. There is no need to strain the sauce, though you can put it through a fine mesh strainer if you want a touch more elegance. It’s likely more work than it’s worth but up to you. Be sure to remove the sachet of herbs.

10. Serve on top of polenta—any instant polenta will do—and garnish with some extra sauce and freshly chopped parsley.

Q: I’ve been thinking a lot about Italian cooking since Marcella Hazan passed away last year. Did her books have any kind of influence on you?

ES: Marcella’s books have been on my bookshelves for years, right beside Julia Child’s. The simplicity and clarity in her cooking has always appealed to me. She showed us sophisticated food doesn’t have to come from complicated cooking.

Q: She believed in simplicity but never let you forget that simplicity doesn’t mean easy.

ES: Executing simplicity takes discipline.

Q: In so many things, especially the arts and cooking, I’m fascinated by restraint.

ES: Sometimes less is a better. Focusing on a few flavors and making them come alive. I like the directness of Italian cooking. People understand it. They don’t know the process, but they get the flavors. As I said it takes skill to execute simplicity.

Q: When did you get into cooking?

ES: Midway through college. I cooked for my friends and it made them happy. Making them happy with something I cooked was really appealing and made me feel good, too.

Q: And did you know already that you wanted to go to culinary school?

ES: No. I intended to get a graduate degree and follow my parents into education. After a couple personal tragedies during my senior year, I did a major reevaluation of what was important and what I wanted to do with myself. Culinary school went from an idea I had toyed with to a serious option supported by friends and family. Everyone told me to go, so I went.

Q: And when did you get into Italian cooking?

ES: I entered the New York Restaurant School without a specific cuisine in mind. The curriculum was based on developing a foundation in French technique and when I graduated I naturally found myself in a French kitchen: Jean George’s The Mercer Kitchen. I stayed at Mercer for more than three years, and was promoted to Sous Chef before I left to take an entremetier position at Del Posto.

Q: And suddenly you’re at a four-star restaurant.

ES: Yes! It is an amazing kitchen to be a part of. My eyes were opened to proper Italian cooking. Up until that point my understanding of Italian food was limited. I learned so much about fine dining, and how to polish the rustic nature of Italian cuisine to its highest level.

Q: And after Del Posto?

ES: Lupa, where I fell in love with traditional Roman cooking. Lupa taught me the vital importance of quality ingredients in great Italian cooking—exceptional product is more fundamentally important than elaborate preparation. Del Posto and Lupa helped define my style and vision as a chef.

Q: Here at L’Artusi, you have success with a series of staple dishes on the menu. Where do you find your own voice in being able to introduce things that allow you to experiment?

ES: Every restaurant has staple menu items that provide a backbone, and L’Artusi is no exception. That being said, I rely heavily on seasonally available ingredients to craft the menu, and we innovate on a day-to-day basis. Specials or new menu items are never improvised, but tested and crafted in conjunction with my team of sous chefs and line cooks. A dish may start as a random thought while I’m out running, but pulling it together in the kitchen is a much bigger process and I value my team’s input.

Q: So you ask for their input?

ES: Absolutely. Sometimes you need a different perspective. Someone can taste a dish and say, “Oh, it needs a little acidity” and then we talk about what that should be—lemon or vinegar. I think it’s crucial to have a team dynamic. I want to create an atmosphere where the staff’s input is valued.

Q: That’s one thing I enjoy about your place, especially sitting near the kitchen and watching you work. But I’m always impressed by how efficient it all looks, and mostly, how there is no screaming or anyone bugging out.

ES: There isn’t screaming or yelling because that doesn’t get the end goal accomplished. Maintaining a balanced atmosphere is essential to a productive kitchen. We’re able to accomplish this because many of our cooks have been trained in multiple stations. This is a huge help during the busiest times because there is a second pair of hands to step in when needed. We have a really tight team right now and it makes my job easier.

Q: Do you ever run into attitude problems with younger cooks who are fresh out of culinary school who have a hard time with going through the ranks?

ES: I’ve seen some of that in the past, but not here. A lot of people go to culinary school and just expect to advance quickly from entry-level positions. Advancement isn’t just handed over, it has to be earned. In our industry you don’t have to go to culinary school to be a success story. I’m fortunate to work with several talented line cooks that started as dishwashers. Success in the restaurant business is based on the effort and time that you put into it. I believe that stems from promoting within. I like running a kitchen where the cooks know they can advance.

Q: Without knowing that, a positive energy does come across when we’re eating there. You know, I love the flexibility of Italian dishes. Especially because everyone is convinced that their version is the correct one. Take Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Marcella makes use of a neutral oil and butter; most recipes call for olive oil. If you use garlic, that’s fighting words in some quarters. Other people use it. Some recipes call for a little white wine for acidity.

ES: I don’t think that there are any real limitations to what can be done with Italian food. There are so many traditional dishes, but most chefs take liberties. We certainly do at L’Artusi. I never feel restricted by focusing on clarity and simplicity, it’s just how I prefer to cook. My focus is creating the best dining experience for our guests. Being adventurous with our selections hasn’t always worked in the past, but I continue to try new dishes. I want our food to be approachable and getting to know the tastes of our diners has led me to create dishes they want to eat. That’s why our patrons keep coming back. Their loyalty inspires me.

Tom’s Wild Years


Found this over at Longform–a 1988 Interview magazine conversation with Tom Waits.

What $189 Million Costs

In the winter of 2011, a plan was hatched. That plan, to get the payroll under $189 million for the 2014 season, formed the guiding principle of player acquisition for the Yankees until last week, when the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka. I love the Tanaka signing, but we have to acknowledge that it signifies two years of wasted effort. 

Fans excused certain decisions because this plan loomed like a dark cloud. They can’t even think about going outside to talk to Zack Greinke because it’s going to rain! Kevin Youkilis for a one-year-deal adequately addresses 2013 without impacting 2014!  


The Yankee rosters for 2012 (AL East Champions, ALCS losers) and 2013 (tied for 3rd in AL East) were forged with these constraints in place. How might things have played out had the Yankees been operating as usual?

The new CBA that inspired the 189 plan followed the 2011 season. In the off-seasons of 2011-12 and 2012-13, the following free agents signed contracts that extended into 2014 – the danger zone for the Yankees:

Albert Pujols 1B Angels 2012 10 $246.842MM
Prince Fielder 1B Tigers 2012 9 $214.000MM
Jose Reyes SS Marlins 2012 6 $106.000MM
Zack Greinke SP Dodgers 2013 6 $147.000MM
C.J. Wilson SP Angels 2012 5 $77.500MM
Anibal Sanchez SP Tigers 2013 5 $80.000MM
B.J. Upton CF Braves 2013 5 $75.000MM
Josh Hamilton OF Angels 2013 5 $125.000MM
CC Sabathia SP Yankees 2012 5 $122.000MM
Jonathan Papelbon RP Phillies 2012 4 $50.000MM
Mark Buehrle SP Marlins 2012 4 $58.000MM
Yoenis Cespedes OF Athletics 2012 4 $36.000MM
Michael Bourn CF Indians 2013 4 $48.000MM
Nick Swisher OF Indians 2013 4 $56.000MM
Angel Pagan CF Giants 2013 4 $40.000MM
Edwin Jackson SP Cubs 2013 4 $52.000MM
Josh Willingham OF Twins 2012 3 $21.000MM
Michael Cuddyer OF Rockies 2012 3 $31.500MM
Jimmy Rollins SS Phillies 2012 3 $38.000MM
Wei-Yin Chen SP Orioles 2012 3 $11.388MM
Heath Bell RP Marlins 2012 3 $27.000MM
Aramis Ramirez 3B Brewers 2012 3 $36.000MM
Jeremy Guthrie SP Royals 2013 3 $25.000MM
Jonathan Broxton RP Reds 2013 3 $21.000MM
Shane Victorino OF Red Sox 2013 3 $39.000MM
Kosuke Fukudome OF Japan 2013 3 $5.500MM
Jeremy Affeldt RP Giants 2013 3 $18.000MM
Marco Scutaro SS Giants 2013 3 $20.000MM
Brandon League RP Dodgers 2013 3 $22.500MM
Cody Ross OF Dbacks 2013 3 $26.000MM
Jeff Keppinger 2B White Sox 2013 3 $12.000MM
Randy Choate RP Cardinals 2013 3 $7.500MM
Kyle Lohse SP Brewers 2013 3 $33.000MM
Maicer Izturis SS Blue Jays 2013 3 $10.000MM
Kevin Correia SP Twins 2013 2 $10.000MM
Torii Hunter RF Tigers 2013 2 $26.000MM
Jack Hannahan 3B Reds 2013 2 $4.000MM
Ryan Ludwick LF Reds 2013 2 $15.000MM
Ryan Dempster SP Red Sox 2013 2 $26.500MM
Jake Peavy SP White Sox 2013 2 $29.000MM
Jonny Gomes LF Red Sox 2013 2 $10.000MM
David Ortiz DH Red Sox 2013 2 $26.000MM
David Ross C Red Sox 2013 2 $6.200MM
Joel Peralta RP Rays 2013 2 $6.000MM
Joakim Soria RP Rangers 2013 2 $8.000MM
Jason Grilli RP Pirates 2013 2 $6.750MM
Francisco Liriano SP Pirates 2013 2 $1.000MM
Russell Martin C Pirates 2013 2 $17.000MM
Mike Adams RP Phillies 2013 2 $12.000MM
Adam LaRoche 1B Nationals 2013 2 $24.000MM
Rafael Soriano RP Nationals 2013 2 $28.000MM
Hisashi Iwakuma SP Mariners 2013 2 $14.000MM
Brandon McCarthy SP Dbacks 2013 2 $15.500MM
Kyuji Fujikawa RP Cubs 2013 2 $9.200MM
Scott Hairston OF Cubs 2013 2 $5.000MM
Carlos Villanueva SP Cubs 2013 2 $10.000MM
Ty Wigginton 3B Cardinals 2013 2 $5.000MM
Tom Gorzelanny RP Brewers 2013 2 $5.700MM
Gerald Laird C Braves 2013 2 $3.300MM
Melky Cabrera LF Blue Jays 2013 2 $16.000MM
Hiroyuki Nakajima SS Athletics 2013 2 $6.500MM
Joe Blanton SP Angels 2013 2 $15.000MM
Sean Burnett RP Angels 2013 2 $8.000MM
Ichiro Suzuki RF Yankees 2013 2 $13.000MM

I have no idea what free agents the Yanks would have pursued, but we can predict, with some degree of certainty, that they would have signed more than just CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki.

Some of the good players are rendered moot before we start. Derek Jeter erases Jose Reyes. Mark Teixeira eliminates Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Mariano Rivera bumps off Papelbon. We can’t consider David Ortiz an actual option for DH, can we? Robinson Cano blocks second base and though Alex Rodriguez was mucking things up as usual, you’ll notice a distinct lack of free agent third basemen above. So if the Yankees were going to spend in 2011-2013, it was going to be on pitching, catching and the outfield.

Because there are five rotation spots and very rarely five starters who are both good and healthy at the same time, the starting rotation can always stand some sprucing up. Anibal Sanchez was available, affordable and miles better than anyone else the Yankees had at the back of the 2013 rotation. (Zack Greinke was also miles better than anyone the Yankees had, but he was neither as affordable nor as available, depending on what you believe about his interest in pitching half of his games in New York.) Other guys might have interesting names, but even with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t pick out obvious targets for the Yanks other than Sanchez and Greinke, two guys they didn’t even sniff around.

The bullpen, eh, I can’t find fault there. The Yankees employed Rivera, Robertson and Soriano during this time period and all of their bullpens were pretty good. It would be great if they landed a guy like Grilli or whatever, but throwing a lot of money at the bullpen is just not the best way to spend dough regardless of the overall agenda.

Catching was obviously a self-inflicted wound. The only good catcher on this list is Russell Martin and he was already a Yankee. The Yankees went with budget catching in 2013 and it contributed to them missing the Postseason.

The outfield is a pretty tough puzzle to solve because, like the rotation, there is almost always room for a new face. But the 2011 Yankees had a sweet outfield.  The 2012 outfield was also going to be very good, but Gardner could not stay healthy enough to play with Granderson and Swisher and Ibanez could not replace him. Enter Ichiro, who gave them some life in 2012 but drained all that and then some in a vampiric 2013 performance. And then, of course, Vernon Wells.

The decision to re-sign Ichiro after his 2012 stint was extremely damaging as he got a 2014 contract – the only other 2014 contract the Yankees handed out was to CC Sabathia. Obviously, the outfield needed help in 2013. But who was there that the Yankees would have employed?

Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton were busts of epic proportions. Imagine a scenario where Vernon Wells was preferable! That actually happened. But I guess the Yankees would have been in play for Hamilton. Maybe his addictions would have steered them clear, but I can’t be certain. For other proven Major Leaguers, it boils down to retaining Swisher or correctly predicting Victorino’s resurgence. Either upgrade would have been huge.

But proven Major Leaguers weren’t the only available players. As we have already discussed, international free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes as well as Yu Darvish and Yaisel Puig, remain the biggest misses for the Yankees during this time period. And the Yankees didn’t even swing. I didn’t even really notice the Iwakuma signing in Seattle, but I’d love to have him on the team. It’s possible that the Yankees didn’t think these players were any good, but it’s also possible that, with the failure of Kei Igawa fresh in their minds, they did not want to allocate any of their precious 2014 budget on relative unknowns – even if the upside was that they turned out to be bargains and enabled them to contend while pinching pennies.

On top of all this are the unexplored trades. Since the Yankees needed salary cleared for 2014, they had to be very careful about trade partners. Typical salary dumps became much more complicated or non-existant. We have no idea what kinds of trades might have been possible, but look at how they handled the Soriano trade. They gave up a prospect they liked in order to get the Cubs to pay more money.

The Yankees cut off several avenues of talent acquistion: they did not sign Major League free agents to 2014 contracts; they did not sign international free agents to 2014 contracts; and they did not trade for players with large 2014 contracts. When you turn the talent spigot off with such force, it’s requires a lot effort to turn it back on. Hence the rampant spending this year doesn’t even cover all the holes.

Without the 189 plan, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees being worse in 2013 than they actually were, but it’s also no sure thing they would have had a contender. The above list shows there were many pitfalls strewn about the jewels of free agency. They could just as easily be stuck with Josh Hamilton now as they could be enanmored with Anibal Sanchez.

When you think about the depth the 2013 Red Sox acquired via free agnecy, though, you can see that talent was available for those free to spend. In fact, the absence of Yankee dollars from the market probably played a role in driving that talent to Boston. Kind of like a black hole sucking Victorino, Napoli, Drew and Uehara through the Bronx and into a frightening dimension on the other side where they would become World Champions for the Red Sox.

So yeah, add Swisher and Martin back to the 2013 team because the Yankees failed to replace them and maybe they win the Wild Card. But then subtract Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran from the 2014 Yankees. I don’t see a clear choice there.

But a Yankee team in 2013 with Darvish, Cespedes or Puig in addition to Swisher and Martin? And maybe they found the needle in the haystack with Sanchez and blocked Uehara or Victorino from signing with the Sox? Oh well, they probably would have all wound up on the DL together anyway.

New York Minute


Scouting New York tackles The Godfather. Tasty.

(Thanks to Kottke for the link.)

Beat of the Day



Take a bite…

[Photo Via: Arpeggia]

Afternoon Art


Photograph via Awake My Soul.

Let’s Go to the Videotape


Or, you know, You Tube:

[Photo Credit: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images]

Run to Daylight!


A couple of days ago I posted an excerpt of W.C. Heinz’s Vince Lombardi book, Run to Daylight!, over at The Daily Beast.

It also includes a preface by David Maraniss that can also be found in a new 50th anniversary edition of the book.

Check it outski.

Sundazed Soul


Yeah: Still cold out there.

“I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)”–T. Monk

Taster’s Cherce


How to store your herbs (Food 52).

Beat of the Day


Fly bass line.

[Photo Via: Vavavoomrevisited]

Morning Art

jac davis

Happy New Year 1956 by Jack Davis. 

Where & When: Game 33

Welcome back to another go-round with Where & When. Last time we went out of town to discover the truth, today we come back home (so to speak) to find some more truth. So let’s get our keyboards ready and surf:
Where & When Game 33

I like this picture; I can tell you that not much in this view has changed (really).  I’ll tell you what those changes are though if you tell me where this is (the station and the name of the main street the photo depicts), plus an approximate year. This is another easy one; not to tax you as we continue to discuss the recent additions to the club, the outlook going forward and how freezing cold it is outside for most of us.  How about a large mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream for the first person with both location and approximate date, and a hot cup of Oolong tea for the rest of us who follow up. I am feeling a little better as I recover from a bad cold, so I’ll try to check in once in a while. As I always say, I’m open to suggestions for future challenges and don’t peek at the photo credit for the answer (that’s more for the new readers who might be following us today).  Feel free to discuss and leave your answers in the thread.   And now I take my leave of you good folks, have a good day!

[Photo credit: Subchat.com]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver