Nitehawk Cinema’s Film Feast Series: A Night Of Celebrity Chefs & Multitasking

After consuming five Absinthe cocktails, a five-course French meal by a Top Chef finalist, and a screening of Amelie, myself and the rest of the overstuffed audience at Nitehawk Cinema were as jolly as Christmas morning. And why not? In our classroom desk-style Nitehawk seats, we were waited on like Business Class patrons jetting off to Rome. The event: Film Feast, the theatre’s latest signature series, where celebrity chefs create tasting menus inspired by their favorite film, and serve it to epicurean folk during the movie.

Nitehawk’s Film Feast requires multitasking, since it’s hard to prioritize whether you want to look up at the actors’ expressions, tear apart your pillowy mussels like a caveman, or glare at the very loud munchers behind you. So, inevitably, a bit is lost cinema-wise, especially in the case of Amelie, which features subtitles, thus requiring extensive reading mid-cocktail swigging and duck crepe-cutting. It’s a lot to ask.

But nonetheless, this is Nitehawk’s novel concept: on any regular night, the theatre transforms the rote dinner-and-a-movie experience into a simultaneous, trendy experience. And with Nitehawk’s Film Feast series, the theatre pushes the concept even farther,  giving you a glimpse at the surprising interests – both food and film-wise – of NYC’s award-winning chefs. Plus, you eat and drink way more. 

Stay tuned for news on the next Film Feast series…

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For the Love of Latkes

Latkes are to Hanukkah, as pumpkin pie is to Thanksgiving—you have to have it. Nowadays chefs and home cooks have spruced up the classic potato pancake, and you can find versions of them with horseradish, caviar, and jalapenos. And for the ultimate latke showdown, head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday, December 10 for the Fourth Annual Latke Festival at 6:30pm.

There, over a dozen restaurants including A Voce, Balaboosta, Blue Ribbon, The Vanderbilt, and more, will compete for the title of latke master or mistress (yes, I made that title up). Naturally, the Sussman brothers will also be vying for the championship, which, based on the few times I have tried Eli Sussman’s version, I think they have a good chance. For $55 you can experience the fun, as well as nibble on the classic pancakes, mini bialys from Hot Bread Kitchen, sufganiyot, otherwise known as jelly doughnuts, from Dough, and drink He’Brew beer and coffee from Brooklyn Roasting company. The latke magic lasts until 9pm, and a part of the proceeds go to The Sylvia Center.

Also, on Thursday, December 13 at 7pm, the 92Y is celebrating their Fifth Annual Beer + Latkes Hanukkah Celebration. For $22, sample the festive pancakes, sip beer, and spin a dreidel or two. If you want to go judge latkes on your own, try Kutsher’s Tribeca, which tops theirs with caviar On their Hanukkah menu (December 8 though 16), Toloache offers a Mexican version with jalapeno and tomatillo-apple salsa, and the Jewish-Canadian deli Mile End makes them now, and all year round.

The Brothers Sussman: How Cooking With Family Works

Not long ago, no one in New York knew who Eli and Max Sussman were. The elder brother, Max, rolled up in 2010 from Michigan and about a year later, was followed by Eli. Max runs the kitchen at the popular pizza joint Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Eli works the meaty line at the prevalent Jewish deli, Mile End. Though they don’t work in the same space, they live together in Williamsburg and cook as a team at home. Max likes local, seasonal, and wholesome ingredients, and Eli is addicted to sandwiches (he loves Court Street Grocers, Graham Ave Meats & Deli, and Parm’s turkey Sammie). Together, they are the Sussman brothers, stars of summer camp kitchens, successful before turning 30, and now, authors of their second cookbook, This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, which comes out today.

Why should we buy your cookbook?
Eli Sussman: The goal of the cookbook was always for it to be a useful tool and never be a coffee table book. We wanted it to be user friendly and inviting, which is why the antidotes are in there, not just to fill space, but to know where we are coming from so you know you can trust us.

So, why should we trust you?
ES: Well, writing a cookbook isn’t about knowing how to cook well, which we both know how to do, but more about making the user comfortable with the recipes you select for a cookbook. We know our audience, and we are the people that would want to buy our book. Meaning, we love food, are adventurous, and we want to learn to make things at home. So, you can trust us not only because we work at awesome restaurants and cook at home, but also because we know how to craft an awesome recipe for our audience, and that’s a really difficult task, to write recipes that are user friendly.

Why did you decide to write the cookbook with your brother?
Max Sussman: Eli and I have complementary styles, and also, I cook better, but he is slightly funnier and writes faster. So, it only made sense to write it together.

It’s rare that two brothers, with no formal training would be as popular as you guys are. Why do you think that is?
ES: I honestly don’t know if we are popular, but it think it could be due to several factors. First, the culture is very obsessed with food right now, so people want to know more and more what the food is, and the people behind the food. Max is the executive chef of arguably the most popular restaurant in Brooklyn for sure, and in the top 10 for New York. I am a line cook at Mile End, which is also everywhere, and since people like knowing their food and who is making their food, we have been in the right place at the right time.

As far as no formal training, in this day and age doesn’t seem to matter much. I have worked at Mile End for a year now, and I look at it as my college culinary career. I learned how to butcher,  how to make stocks, how to make chopped liver—it’s as good as culinary school. Of course, there are a million things you would learn that you won’t learn in a restaurant. Like making master sauces and soufflés. But, more and more, I think people are forgoing that expense and interning, staging, and going the less expensive, more hands-on route.

What’s it like to work so closely with your brother? 
MS: Eli and I have a really great working dynamic and actually get along surprisingly well. We make sure to agree on the overall vision of what we’re working on and then any disagreements are just about details, so it’s never a big deal to try to figure out what to do.

Have you guys always done stuff like this together?
ES: The first cookbook was born out of us working at summer camp together. Max was the head chef and I was like his sous chef, though it wasn’t called that. The camp was based on kibbutz, which is a socialist style of living in Israel, so it’s communal, and everyone has to do something. So, we had a garden and really stepped it up. At the beginning of the summer, Max said we were making nothing frozen, which was hard, but it was fun because making everything from scratch. We started writing down the recipes and when we got back to college, people were always asking us random cooking questions so we wrote a book proposal and sent it around.

So Max, how did you transition to dumpster diving to one of the hottest restaurants in Brooklyn?
MS: Well it was about a ten-year process, but my interest in food, cooking, and constantly trying to improve [myself] led me here. I always loved cooking and a big turning point was when I took a job as a line cook at eve, a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the first time I was exposed to really good food in a restaurant setting, and I learned about all the little things and immense personal effort that goes into creating a great meal. I worked at a lot of different places between, but coming to Roberta’s was the next opportunity I have had to make great food without sacrificing quality for anything. 

And Eli, why Mile End?
ES: I made a list of the style of food I wanted to work in and Mile End satisfied every request on my list. My brother knew Noah [Bernamoff] and I got a trail, and now it’s the only place I have worked here.

Though both places are hip, they are very different…
ES: I think our choices mirror our personal style. I love delis and diners, and I think if one day I was to open up a restaurant, it would be very close to a diner-slash-deli.

Do you guys hope to open a restaurant?
MS: One day yes, but I’m actually super happy at Roberta’s since we do everything I can think of wanting to do, like have a garden, bake amazing bread, and make really great food.
ES: I definitely want to, but I think our visions for what we want to do is incredibly different.

Finally, Max, what’s your favorite recipe in the book?
MS: Linguine with anchovies, parsley, and walnuts. It’s so simple and so delicious and also really easy so how could you go wrong?

Get Ready for Meatopia 2012 on Saturday

It’s almost time for Meatopia, the annual New York festival dedicated to all things meat. I attended last year with my Nebraska-bred brother-in-law and loved every minute of it. We stopped by dozens of stands manned by meat-masters from across the country and around the world who were roasting everything from pork to lamb to an entire steer. We stuffed our faces with the finest cuts and washed it down with cold Amstel Light from the numerous beer tents. The sun was shining and we were living the good life. This year’s Meatopia is going to be held Saturday, September 8, 2012, on Randall’s Island, which isn’t quite as convenient for me as last year’s venue, Brooklyn Bridge Park, but dammit I’m going anyway, because the whole affair is so much fun. Let me school you on what you can expect. 

First of all, the somewhat awkward portmanteau of a name says it all. Meatopia is a utopia for lovers of meat. There’s simply nothing here for vegetarians, so don’t even get on the ferry, my morally superior friends. For everyone else, start your meat fast today, because you’ll be in heaven on Saturday as you chow down on steaks, sausages, chops, fillets, and every other form of meat prepared by chefs from everywhere from Hong Kong to the U.S. Special Forces. And, although the animals involved probably wouldn’t be thrilled to know their fate, Meatopia only serves natural and humane meat. All meat providers have to fare well against a five-step animal welfare rating, which requires “no cages, no crates, no crowding,” and “enhanced outdoor access.” I can appreciate that. 
This year’s theme is “City of Meat,” and they’re arranging their 40-odd chefs in meat neighborhoods with names like Carcass Hill, Offalwood, and the Meatopia County Game Reserve. (I’m looking forward to what’s on offer in the Deckle District.) Chefs will be on hand from such super restaurants as The Darby, Fatty Crab, and Mile End. There’s going to be live music from meat-appropriate bands Woods, The Living Kills, and The Slackers, and mural artist Laurel True will be creating an “interactive meat mural,” which I simply have to see. 
The main festival sponsor is Whole Foods, which pretty much guarantees that there won’t be anything of low-quality in this flesh bazaar, and the (truly essential) beer sponsor is Amstel Light, whose refreshing brew is the perfect accompaniment to the feast. But a few of the other sponsors are quite attractive, and I hope they have some stands set up to share their wares as well. I’ll be looking out for Crown Royal Black whisky, George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, Kahlua, and Zacapa rum from Guatemala. Zacapa XO might be my favorite rum. You should try it.
You can get tickets in advance by clicking here. Watch this space for my post-event wrap-up on Monday. Now I’d better go eat a salad.

A Hot Dog For Everyone!

Sure, you can indulge in hot dogs any time of year, but for some reason munching on these babies just feels right in the summer. From the beloved dirty-water dogs to gourmet frankfurters, hot dogs are everywhere, and tomorrow, they get showcased at the 7th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn. This instance, it’s not just amateur cooks competing; for the first time the competition features professional chefs from Gramercy Tavern, Mile End, Marlow and Daughters, and The Meat Hook. Of course, the pedestrian dogs are fun, too, and come with whimsical names like The Dogfather, You Had Me at Swine, and the 99 Percent Dog. There are 25 total entries, and guests can wash down the hot dogs with KelSo Beer Company’s Belgian Pale Ale and Pilsner while bopping to DJ Rabbi Darkside. Proceeds go to the Food Bank for New York City and the amateur chefs have procured their organic beef dogs courtesy of Applegate Farms.

Can’t make the cook-off? Well there are plenty of other ways to get your hot dog on. One of my favorite joints is Crif Dogs, which has locations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the East Village (famously the doorway to PDT), and serves a bacon-wrapped hot dog with avocado and sour cream that’s to die for. Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope, Brooklyn is another good option for you sausage lovers who can get down with a classic sweet-relish-topped hot dog. Also in the neighborhood is Dogmatic, which features “good for you” dogs with additive-free meat. Plus, they offer the vegetarian-friendly asparagus “hot dog” that you can get topped with truffle Gruyere cheese sauce. But, if you gourmet hot dogs aren’t your thing, I suggest passing up the hot dog cart and instead heading to one the many Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Kings, where the frankfurters there have a following. And, at under $3, you really can’t go wrong.

Tour de Brooklyn: A Borough Grub Crawl

Last weekend Bon Appetit magazine teamed up with Belvedere Vodka and Chase Sapphire to take a tour of the ever-expanding Brooklyn Food scene. Focusing on three key neighborhoods, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, and Red Hook, the tours worked to really highlight some of the areas’ best food options, while making it walker-friendly.

I was lucky enough to join Friday’s Cobble Hill grub crawl and started out at Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s Italian inspired restaurant Frankies 457 Spuntino. The joint was packed inside, but luckily we ducked out into the garden to sip a berry-ripe lambrusco and nibble on seasonal crostini. The way the tour worked was that they had four groups of people intermittently going to one of the four spots where we stayed for about 45 minutes. Frankies proved a good place to start, but our next stop felt a little awkward.

Dessert before dinner, anyone? Not that I am actually complaining. Given our tour took us to Kim Ima’s brick-and-mortar location of Treats Truck and to a pile of luscious peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookies, it was a win-win situation. We followed that up with Clover Club and had a lovely punch by cocktail goddess Julie Reiner, who was actually there explaining her drink, giving us a recipe, and then pouring up their house drink comprised of raspberries and Dorothy Parker gin. We ended the night at Seersucker and sampled chef Robert Newton’s sinful fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, pimento cheese, and the Thirsty Owl Riesling that they have on tap. All together, the tour did highlight some of the hottest spots in the neighborhood right now.

On Saturday they covered Williamsburg and smartly chose Rye for cocktails, Maison Premiere for oysters, and Brooklyn Winery for a tour and wine tasting. The other two places I was less impressed with and would have skipped, one of which was Allswell because, frankly, it’s not anything special. Same for the jaunt to the Meatball Shop; while it’s delicious, there’s nothing Brooklyn about it given its two other locations in Manhattan. Sunday’s food crawl took place in Red Hook and did the neighborhood well by hitting up Stumptown Coffee Roasters, trying St. John Frizell’s southern-style Fort Defiance, eating Korean breakfast at The Good Fork, filling up on smoked meat at Mile End, and dancing at the historical bar Sunny’s.

Overall, the folks behind the tour did well to give a broad sampling of the neighborhoods that you can easily walk around in. The only other location I would have included is Prospect Heights where you can easily indulge in seasonal nibbles from The Vanderbilt, cocktails at Weather Up, ramen at Chuko, and oysters at Cornelius—but I guess that’s a good excuse to do that one on my own. 

Taste of the Nation Charity Event Draws New York’s Best Local Chefs, Feeds Kids

Last night the charity Share Our Strength hosted Taste of the Nation, their annual culinary fundraiser as a means to help end childhood hunger. “We are here tonight because there are 16 million American kids who struggle with hunger,” said co-founder Debbie Shore. Since 1988 the foundation has hosted these yearly events in 30 plus cities and raised over $75 million, and frankly, given the number of top named chefs, bartenders, and restaurants that volunteer their time and ingredients, the organization makes donating money easy.

In New York this year, the two-story, four-room space at 82 Mercer was filled with delectable bites including: Old school Lobster Thermidor served by chef Aaron Bashy of The Water Club; the infamous fois gras and jelly doughnuts made by the boys at Do or Dine; a fluke cebiche from La Mar’s smiley chef Victoriano Lopez (plus his translator); and an amazing razor clam and fennel dish from Ai Fiori.

On the high-end-low-end spectrum guest were forced to ingest the comforting pickled beef tongue by the gang at Mile End, slices of a six-food wedge salad sandwich by chef Joe Dobias of JoeDough, and the most amazing savory cotton candy being whipped up by the adorable Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy. Oh the tragedy.

To wash all these treats down Eben Freeman shook up a delectable Melagrana Sour for Osteria Morini, Jeff Bell from the clandestine bar PDT poured a smoked cardamom-infused Mariner cocktail, and Employees Only whipped up a blackberry vodka drink. Hands down the most exciting drink being made came in the form of Booker and Dax’s Hendrick’s Rose, a sweet, fizzy cocktail that smoked.

Amid all the opulence, we can’t forget the real reason Taste of the Nation is held. After all, most people don’t think of American kids going hungry and in a place where many of us throw food away every day, it’s tragic that about one in five children in this country don’t get enough to eat. As the organization continues to fight this cause, they continue to give something to raise a glass of smoking pink bubbles to and I hope to see them again next year.

Village Voice’s Choice Eats Event Last Night, Guided Photo Tour Inside

When you stick hundreds of New Yorkers into a space the size of an amphitheatre, filled with over 80 of the five borough’s top restaurants, alcoholic beverages, and desserts, and tell them it’s “all-you-can-eat and drink,” what happens?

We turn into CAVE PEOPLE. Voracious, thirsty, hungry cavemen and women. Wildly primitive desires emerged at last night’s Choice Eats event, as men and women aggressively made their way to the front of the shoelace-long lines, grabbed for the largest meat-covered crostini, shrimp roll, and bowl of salted caramel ice cream, and ran around with toppled food platters and sauce-covered fingers.
So we were full after 15 minutes, or we have some frou-frou diet to attend to. Who cares! For one night, we went wild. And it was oh-so-necessary.
Here’s our guided photo tour of the evening’s best:
Doughtnut Plant
Doughnut Plant’s peanut butter glaze and blackberry jelly donut. I’m still full, but I’m still craving this. 
Scrumptious sausages at Kafana.
Bep’s mango salad makes healthy delicious. 
Ample Hills Creamery
Ample Hills Creamery’s Salted Crack Caramel ice cream. Made with salted butter caramel ice cream and bits of their "crack." Aptly named. 
Mile End
Mile End’s smoked meat bun. Sweet. Fluffy. Meaty. 
Fried brussel sprouts topped with yogurt, tahini, and pomegranate sauce. Tanoreen does it again. 
Good Batch
The Good Batch’s chocolate chip cookies. So soft, but chewy, yet doughy. An enigma, actually.
Fay Da Bakery
Fay Da Bakery’s pork bun. Always the best.
S'more Bakery
S’mores Bakery. Toasted right infront of you. 
Ditch Plains
Ditch Plains’ mac ‘n’ cheese-covered hot dog. It’s worth the heart attack. 

The Festival of Bites: New York Hanukkah Special Menus

Step aside, Christmas and New Year’s. There’s a big kid in town who’s ready to revel in his blue-colored spotlight. Starting today, and for the next eight days, it’s all about Hanukkah special menus. At restaurants across Manhattan and Brooklyn, gobble up free latkes, latkes in every variation never-before known to man, and lots and lots of donuts. Jelly and cream-filled donuts. So say your prayer, light your candle, and commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple over a heaping platter of pastrami potato pancakes, Mexican-inspired brisket tacos, and homemade apple sauce.

Lansky’s:  When you’re seeking authentic, “Grandma-made-it” cuisine, this Old World deli is just the place.  Sidle into the classic dining room, with its 1930s stained glass ceiling and black and white-tiled floor, and mentally prepare yourself for a four-course, $32.95 feast.  Choose a soup (matzo, cabbage, or barley), a starter (stuffed cabbage, sweet/potato kugel, chopped liver, or gefilte fish), and an entrée (brisket of beef, half-roast chicken, and fresh roasted turkey). All entrées are served with a side of green beans and potato latkes, and concluded with a batch of jelly donuts and sweet, sweet satisfaction. L’chaim!
Toloache and Yerba Buena: Mexican food on Hanukkah? I know, it’s not exactly kosher, but when holiday obligations conflict with your after-work drinks with friends, why not have it all! At these two YB & Co. spots, start with the Mexican chocolate and strawberry-infused Hanukkah margarita and smoked whitefish guacamole. Share (or don’t) a latkes trio (potato jalapeno, zucchini, and Mexican ricotta potato pancakes), and brisket tacos with tomatillo salsa. And when you’re done with the roasted chicken-dried figs and apricots entrée, take a bite of the dulce de leche-filled donuts, and watch the “drunk-on-Hanukkah” guilt – and donuts – quickly disappear.
Mile End: This Montreal-inspired Jewish deli set in Boerum Hill gives you a taste of several oceanic delights with their special Surf & Turf latkes: the salmon roe, lox, and whitefish potato pancake, as well as their liver schmear, lamb bacon, and quail egg iteration. For an assortment of tamer latkes, savor the latkes plate, featuring potato, sweet potato-butternut squash, and celery root-parsnip latkes with tart applesauce and lemon sour cream. Still not enough? Then order their signature smoked meat and Canadian poutine: fries doused with fresh cheese curds and gravy. And if you’re still not satisfied, then you really have something wrong with you.
Kutsher’s Tribeca: This upscale Jewish American bistro brings class, modernity, and a different latke to your plate everyday of Hanukkah. Settle into the plush booths and get ready for a surprise. Is today sour cream and pear butter day? Wild mushroom and herbed ricotta? What about smoked sturgeon and caviar? Just like Christmas, you don’t know what you’re going to get (unless you call the restaurant), so come hungry and revel in the simple surprise that lies in these fried little morsels.
Brooklyn Diner: Free latkes! They’re free! Even if you order an $11 Greek salad or a $10 cheesecake, you’re still a patron at this swanky diner, and thereby eligible for their surprisingly complimentary plate of potato pancakes. Choose between sour cream or applesauce, and be thankful that Hanukkah is a whole eight days.