All Decked Out For Sunday’s Xtravaganza Ball

It is time to get serious as FATHER JOSE XTRAVAGANZA & THE ICONIC HOUSE OF XTRAVAGANZA celebrate their 30th anniversary with the XTRAVAGANZA “WRATH OF THE GODS & GODDESSES” BALL. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you have two choices: 1) go on with your mundane, unenlightened life and leave this post immediately, or 2) clear your calendar, dress up, and prepare to witness. This monumental event will be at XL NIGHTCLUB, 512 WEST 42ND STREET, this SUNDAY, JULY 22ND 2012. DOORS OPEN AT 8PM and the BALL BEGINS AT 11PM. There are ADVANCE TICKETS AVAILABLE ONLINE AT http://www.showclix.com/event/XBALL for $20, or at the door for $30. 

I can’t spend this morning explaining to you what Ball Culture is, but you can go on line and learn about a universe that has its beginnings over a century ago. The modern "Houses" often named after fashion icons became popularized by the movie Paris is Burning, a Jennie Livingston documentary which featured legends such as Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Anji Xtravaganza, and Willi Ninja. Madonna woke up the planet with the video "Vogue," featuring Jose and Luis Xtravaganza of the “House of Extravaganza.” I can go on and on but it’s best you come and see the real, the wonderful, the exciting, the style, the drama that this Ball will bring. An Xtravaganza Ball doesn’t happen all too often and I advise in the strongest possible way that you attend this event.

I have been asked by Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza and Father Jose Xtravaganza to be a judge at the Ball. For me, this is one of the greatest honors of my life. I am gushing. What to wear? I judged a ‘Ganza Ball once before and wore head-to-toe Yves Saint Laurent. This year I wanted to go the bespoke clothing route that all the bon vivants around town are embracing. My dear friend Caitlin Kinirons contacted me randomly about SEW Bespoke Clothing, 229A Mott Street, and we were off to the tailors.

From their release:
"SEW opened November of 2007, a boutique for high-end custom-made menswear in the Nolita neighborhood. A unique line of bespoke jackets, funky blazers, dress shirts, ties and pocket squares, SEW brings the distinctive look of Downtown New York City infused with Old World custom tailoring" to lower Manhattan. All meticulously hand sewn by local artisans in NYC, reflective of where our customers are going and where we see men’s fashion evolving to."

Omg,OMG,OMG! They have nice clothes. I became best friends immediately with SEW founder and designer Scott Evan Wasserberger (SEW). We talked of gin and beer and clubs and folks of lore while he and Caitlin made me look like a gentleman. Scott is a third generation tailor. Him and his family know how to dress people for success, and he decked me out. I’m not going to tell you what I’m wearing; I’ll let you see the ensemble Monday when I put up pictures from the Ball. SEW has these unreal fabrics from such companies as Loro Piana and Dormeuil and says boldly, "If you can dream it, SEW can make it.” Everything is made in NYC and, come Sunday, I am going to flaunt it. 

A Clambake from Butcher Bay

A rustic room, a tatted-up chef, and a crazy neighbor ranting on the sidewalk give some reassurance that there’s still a little East Village left in the East Village. At least that was my experience at Butcher Bay, where I sat down with chef Eric Simpson. From the stage-like open kitchen in back, Simpson shows off the experience he gleaned working at high-profile spots like Ortanique on The Mile, Perry Street, and Tailor. His menu at Butcher Bay is simultaneously ambitious and unpretentious, kind of like the East Village of old. “Working at Tailor, it was this amazing million-dollar kitchen with guys covered in tattoos and blasting metal,” Simpson says. “It had a huge effect on the way I like to run this place, just that whole idea of a comfortable vibe, it’s an approachable East Village restaurant, but then trying to capitalize on surprising people. Because it’s fun when you realize you’re getting more than you expected.” Simpson was good enough to walk us through a hearty remix of a New England clambake.

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How well does this dish translate to New York? We have such tiny kitchens … This is a New York City kitchen-friendly dish because it’s one pot and that’s the whole idea. That’s how I cook at home. If I need more than one pan to cook my meal, that’s too much work. I don’t want to do dishes on my day off.

How hard is it to source? If you were cooking this for yourself, where would you get your clams? It’s one of the beautiful little aspects of New York City that you can usually walk and find all of the things you need. I live on Avenue D and I would actually go to the Associated Supermarket on C and be pretty comfortable with just a little inspection. It’s just like fruit — if you pick up a shellfish and it feels light and doesn’t have that “heavier than it looks feel to it,” that’s definitely a red flag. But littleneck clams are absolutely cheap and ubiquitous and every market should have them.

What comes next, after you’ve tracked down clams? The rest of it is kind of marrying it all together and just getting that combination of the flavors and trying to stay really, really traditional with it. Basically just clams, shrimp, mussels, potato, corn, and usually wilted greens. Lately I’ve been using Swiss chard because it adds something nice to the flavor of the whole dish. For the sausage, I’ve got stuck on a homemade andouille sausage that comes from La Frieda. It’s exactly what I want, for not being able to get what I see in my head. Growing up in New England, the Portuguese influence is huge in that dish, so if I had my way I’d use linguiça, basically just the sweeter Portuguese version of chorizo. I wound up with this andouille. It has a lot of black pepper to it so you get a slightly more savory and definitely peppery influence in the broth. People can’t figure out why the dish is a little more hearty than they’re expecting and has a little spice to it. The other thing I’ve been using in it that’s not traditional but it just works so well is salt cod. That’s one of the last things that goes in and it adds another layer of seasoning and it winds up being almost an East Coast version of a cioppino — brothy, with lots of shellfish. I wanted that whole New England, this is a wet paper plate on the beach, where you’re trying to eat all this awesome food but your plate’s falling apart and dripping the broth from a clambake.

How long does it take to put together? As long as it takes to open the clams. I start it off with olive oil and the clams. Then lightly roasting the andouille sausage, just developing that flavor a little bit. As soon as I’ve got a little heat out of those, adding the shallots and garlic, and a good amount too. Once they’re toasted it takes away the bite and winds up being a sweet vegetable influence in the dish. Everything else on some level has a little bit of building to it. These are potatoes that are pickled with paprika and sherry vinegar. Obviously not really traditional, other than the fact that there are usually steamed potatoes in a clambake. This just adds an acidic brightness to the dish. Then white wine and then a little bit of salt. These are proper Wellfleet, Massachusetts littleneck clams and they’re pretty salty, so you have to be careful with it. There’s maybe ¼ gram of salt. That’s a two-finger pinch, if you’re going by fancy-cook standards.

What would you drink with it? It’s definitely a dish that goes with beer. Of the beers we’ve got, I really like the DreamWeaver with it. It’s an American microbrew, but it’s a Hefeweizen, with kind of a brassy and almost yeasty flavor that is really good with it. If you’re not a beer drinker, then a spicier, light red wine. I do love the combination of a minerally and spicy, but approachable, red wine with this dish, and shellfish in general. Something like a Grenache. As far as whites go, I’m not all that much of a white drinker, but a dry sparkling wine would be good with it.

Do you follow a set recipe for it, or do you improvise? Consistency is really important. I had it beaten into me, six years in three different restaurants, with a foot in my ass every day of my life basically having chefs go “I don’t care if you don’t like anything about this dish, you’d better dislike the same things every day.” Working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten in particular, every recipe is written down in a book, with things weighed out in a gram scale, and basically the food prep is done like someone with a marionette. There’s no room for interpretation in the dishes, it’s the same every time. And his food is very simple, it’s beautifully balanced, and it’s consistent.

How many people could you cook this for? It depends on how big your pot is. If you got a big stock pot, you could do it for 20 or 30 people in one shot. It’s a simple dish, really no manipulation. It’s all taking advantage of the natural flavors. The other places I’ve worked, this dish would be overkill and twice the price.

Clambake (ingredients for one portion) ● 8 littleneck clams ● 3 PEI mussels ● 3 shrimp ● 3 oz salt cod ● 2 oz vinegar-boiled potato ● 2 oz sliced andouille sausage or chorizo ● 1 oz Swiss chard ● 1 tablespoon shallot ● 1 tablespoon garlic ● 2 pieces roasted corn–2” on-cob chunks ● 2 oz evoo ● 4 oz white wine ● 4 oz water ● Salt to taste 1. Put clams in a hot sauté pan with andouille, shallot, garlic, and olive oil. Start to toast shallot and garlic and render sausage a little. 2. Add wine and water — pull pan away from flame to avoid igniting oil vapor. 3. Add potato, corn, and mussels. 4. After all shellfish are steamed open, add salt cod, shrimp, and Swiss chard. 5. When shrimp are fully cooked and chard is wilted, adjust seasoning in broth, and serve immediately.

New York: Top 10 Summer Cocktails

Cold cocktails and summer go together. Whether you’re sitting by the beach or running from your office at the stroke of five to cool down at the nearest bar, the only question is: what is the most rockin,’ balls-to-the-wall, delicious, sunshine-inspired beverages out there? This list will get you started on a summer journey through NYC’s nooks and crannies, keeping your taste buds tantalized through at least October 1.

● Wailer’s Island Punch @ The Bourgeois Pig (East Village) – You don’t need to fly to Jamaica to feel like you are on an island listening to Bob Marley and his Wailers. All you need do is head to the East Village, order the Wailer’s Island Punch, and you will assuredly hear steel drums by your second glass. The muddled raspberries, Pedro Ximenez sherry, pineapple juice, lime, and Pol Roger champagne mixtures will have you jammin.’

● Beet Sangria @ Tailor (Soho) – Any chance to infuse vegetables into your liquor is healthy! I tend to even harbor the notion that I am doing some good to that bikini body by sipping on the Beet Sangria made from red wine, brandy, Triple Sec, orange juice, beet juice, and orange salt. The red of the beets brings out the red of the wine — or vice versa — and makes for a bold-colored, tasty treat. Another veggietail perfect for summer is the Bell Pepper Margarita; it’s fiery and makes you feel like you’ve traveled south of the border, or is that just the blazing sun on the Manhattan concrete? Either way, these drinks will simultaneously heat you up and cool you off.

● The Myra Breckinridge @ Death & Co (East Village) – The cocktails are crafted with such care, detail, and finesse at this cool speakeasy that you ultimately cannot choose wrong. For the piping-hot months of July, August, and I’ll throw in September for good measure, try one of the concoctions from the “Indian Summer” menu. The “Myra Breckinridge” features Laphroaig single-malt scotch, absinthe, fresh lime juice, and sugarcane syrup. And to add a little rum to your punch, try the “Gantt’s Tomb,” consisting of Goslings rum, Rittenhouse rye, El Dorado 151-proof rum, fresh pineapple, orange and lemon juice, and Allspice Dram. So many ingredients, so little time to try them all.

● Caipirinha @ Paladar (Lower East Side) – Nothing says summer like a day of sipping on caipirinhas. The mint and lime are muddled to perfection at this Latino digs on Ludlow. Drinks are half price from 4-7pm, so might I suggest starting while the sun is still shining high? Those pestering sweat beads on your brow will dissipate in no time.

● Basil 8 @ Table 8 (East Village) – The Cooper Square Hotel restaurant is aesthetically pleasing, uber-trendy and so hot right now. The “Basil 8” is made with Ketel One vodka, white grapes, basil, lime juice, and ginger ale. White grapes are a staple fruit of summer, and putting them into a cocktail will keep you stapled to the bar.

● Frozen Mojito @ Cabanas at the Maritime Hotel (Chelsea) – It’s a slushy with alcohol … need I say more? This drink embodies summer, as does the fact that you will be enjoying it on a tremendous rooftop. Stargazing is also a plus, and ya’ll know I am not talking about the stars in the sky.

● Bittersweet Mimosa @ The Stanton Social (Lower East Side) – Brings bravado to your everyday mimosa. Yes, I like to have one every day. It is composed of Moscato d’Asti, Campari, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Flavorful, refreshing, and oh-so yummy. Be careful of the midafternoon hangover. Go sleep it off on the beach; just don’t drive there.

● The Sun and Moon @ Haven (Midtown East) – Made with U’luvka vodka, fresh pineapple juice, lime juice, and muddled sage. A simple, amiable way to start drinking by day and keep right on until the moonlight. There are also $13 pitchers of a featured mixed drinks served daily during happy hour, plus burlesque parties every Thursday starting at 9pm with an open bar from 9-10pm. Summertime cocktails and nipple tassels, anyone?

● Dirty Martini @ Angel’s Share (East Village) – Tucked away above a Japanese restaurant, this “no standing allowed” lounge demands courtesy and etiquette; you’ll never find yourself cramped with a bunch of sweaty folks just off the hot streets, as you must be in a chair to drink at this establishment. No more chairs means you have to wait, but yummy cocktails come to those who do. The vodka or gin (depending on which tickles your fancy) come with the olive juice on the side, so you can dirty it up to taste. Combined with the vibe, the conversation gets better with each beverage, and so does your date’s appearance.

● Gold Cup Mint Julep @ Hotel Griffou (Greenwich Village) – OK, it’s just a mint julep served in a gold cup. But this place is so brand spanking new and trendy, and who doesn’t love a classic mint julep in the summertime? The gold cup is just a bonus.

New York: Top 10 Oddball Dishes That Work

imageIt all started in the Lower East Side back in 2003 — before the skinny-jeaned hipster invasion — when now-celeb chef Wylie Dufresne opened wd-50. Melding science and food, the molecular gastronomer has since inspired many to experiment. Of course, not everyone’s into mad food science, but most chefs like to get a little edgy somewhere on the menu. ● Cookies @ Momofuku Bakery Milk Bar (East Village) – David Chang could get a vegetarian hooked on pork belly, so imagine what the man’s dessert spot can do with a cookie. Among the most drool-worthy: cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip, corn, blueberry cream, and compost cookie (so fabulously odd that the chocolate chip, pretzel, potato chip, coffee ground, and graham-cracker crumb-concoction is trademarked). ● Onion soup dumplings @ Stanton Social (Lower East Side – You’ll just have to focus on its deliciousness and put aside the fact that there’s enough cheese in this dish to give you a cholesterol problem.

● “Ragu with Odd Things” @ Commerce (West Village) – The name says it all. The “odd things” in this hearty, tomato-based dish refer to oxtail, trotters, and tripe. ● Fried apple pie @ Smith’s (Greenwich Village) – We’ve got fried pickles, fried olives, fried asparagus … we’ve even got fried mayonnaise thanks to Wylie Dufresne. So why not apply pie? Plus, it comes with cinnamon whipped cream. ● Solids (edible cocktails) @ Tailor (Soho) – Who wouldn’t want to get a buzz from gin fizz marshmallows, white Russian breakfast cereal, and absinthe gummy bears? ● Foie gras & hibiscus beet borscht gelée with blood orange @ Corton (Tribeca) – The smooth foie gras torchon — encased in a thin layer of hibiscus and beet gelée and served, moon-shaped, with a salad of beet gelée and blood orange — is just one of the many lusciously innovative options at this prix-fixe-only spot. ● Spicy cayenne hot chocolate @ SalonTea (Upper East Side) – In addition to supposedly speeding up your metabolism and improving blood circulation, it aids in digestion; this sure beats the garlic, celery, and beet concoction from the local health store juice bar. ● Frozen desserts @ Fabio Piccolo Fiore (Midtown East) – Anyone who watches Iron Chef on a semi-regular basis knows that nothings gets the judges more excited than ice cream and sorbet experimentations. Taste for yourself what they’re ooing and ahhing about at Fabio where the rotating flavors include fig and honey, cucumber, rosemary, cactus berry, pineapple mint, tomato vanilla, and goat cheese. ● Hamburger spring rolls @ Delicatessen (Soho) – Burger + flaky dough + condiments…could there be a more ingenious combination? ● Eggs benedict @ wd-50 (Lower East Side) – Dufresne has long touted eggs benedict as one of his favorite dishes, so it’s little surprise that his innovative take on the classic stands out: two cubes of deep-fried hollandaise sauce with toasted English muffin crumbs and two columns of egg yolk, each covered with a crispy bacon chip.

Rioja Restaurant Week: Spanish Sauce on the Cheap

imageFrom April 26 to May 2, New York’s getting an obscure holiday — Rioja Restaurant Week. It’s like Normal Restaurant Week, but instead of being inspired merely by New Yorkers’ inherent desire to eat fine foods on the cheap, it throws oenophilia into the mix. La Rioja, an autonomous region in northern Spain, produces a full range of wines … rosés, reds, whites. Riojans claim their wine pairs better than any other in the world, and to prove it, they’ve set up a bunch of deals with a few participating restaurants all over Manhattan to get the word out.

For example:

● A 25% discounted bottle of Rioja at Stanton Social, Veritas, and The Mermaid Inn.

● A $50 prix-fixe at Chinatown Brasserie, Tailor, and Flex Mussels.

● Call for changing Rioja specials at Lure (where you can also use your BlackBook iPhone app to get a sweet happy hour deal), Smith’s, Las Ramblas.

New York: Top 10 Free Bar Snacks

imageIn a time when even airlines have scrapped free peanut service, a few righteous New York institutions are keeping their patrons in gratis bar snacks that are a far cry from stale Chex Mix. Almost makes the rising martini costs worth it.

10. Buffalo wings and nachos @ Rodeo Bar (Kips Bay) – Any place where the bar’s made out of a repurposed horse trailer knows the value of free. The kitschy hangout offers wings and nachos during happy hour, Monday through Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. 9. Truffled popcorn @ Desnuda (East Village) – The tiny ceviche bar has no kitchen, so the chef prepares seafood dishes right behind the bar. The view would be positively torturous without the bottomless paper cone of popcorn to nosh from, seasoned with just enough truffle salt. 8. Tater tots @ Trash (Williamsburg) – The Brooklyn dive is the sort of place that wouldn’t card you as a teenager — so it’s only fitting that they offer the cafeteria classic. Who knew tots complimented two-dollar PBR so well?

7. Antipasti @ Il Mulino (Greenwich Village) – Leaves no customer unstuffed, starting with free helpings of antipasti circulated through the restaurant and bar areas. 6. Soft pretzels and roasted almonds @ Blaue Gans (Tribeca) – The cozy German restaurant boasts one of New York’s most perfect pretzels, served to bar patrons upon request along with buttery almonds that’ll make it tough to ever go back to beer nuts. 5. Pizza @ Alligator Lounge (Williamsburg) and Crocodile Lounge (East Village) – The bi-borough bars have made their respective presences known by offering a free personal pizza with every drink, making each a great place to start or end a casual night out. 4. Panini @ Vero Midtown (Midtown East) – Every Monday night, the wine bar serves its crispy, cheesy panini with every drink order. 3. Cheese spread @ Blind Tiger Ale House (West Village) – The after-work appeal of Blind Tiger skyrockets during Wednesday’s happy hour (starting at 5 p.m.), when free cheese from neighborhood institution Murray’s is offered to patrons. 2. Free appetizers @ dell’anima (West Village) – From 4 to 6 p.m. on weekends, the acclaimed trattoria serves a variety of small Italian plates. 1. Curried popcorn @ Tailor (Soho): Serious drinkers swear by Tailor’s curry-dusted popcorn, which holds its own next to the mixologist-approved cocktail menu.

New York: Top 10 Absinthe Dens

imageOver a year ago, the first legal absinthe since before Prohibition made its way to New York. Now, its omnipresence — whether of the variety that’s true to the original or not — has inspired plenty of noteworthy concoctions. As to the supposed hallucinogenic properties of the liquor, those remain a hotly debated topic, but head to any of these spots and, at the very least, you can try and blame any unruly behavior on your legal drug use.

10. Bookmarks in the Library Hotel (Midtown East) – An absinthe cocktail named after famed author and absinthe-lover Oscar Wilde is great. Blitzes of Midtowners looking for their after-work alcohol fix? Not so much. With that in mind, head to Bookmarks on the later side for some cozy digs and a fireside Oscar Wilde. 9. Employees Only (West Village) – Party like it’s 1920 as you sip on your Martinez — made with gin, maraschino liqueur, bianco vermouth, and dashes of absinthe bitters — at the perpetually packed Prohibition era-inspired spot. 8. The Eldridge (Lower East Side) – Who needs Rose Armand de Brignac Champagne when you can have tableside absinthe service? All you need now is a way in and someone to foot the exorbitant bill.

7. Death & Co (East Village) – Not for nothing will you face a pain-in-the-ass wait to get into this diminutive no-reservation spot. Intricately prepared, Death & Co’s absinthe-based cocktails even have perfectly sized ice cubes. 6. Vintage Irving (Union Square) – For a laid-back spot with a neighborhood feel, the absinthe bar at Vintage Irving delivers. Plus, what could be better than Death in the Afternoon (Lucid, sugar cube, and champagne), on a lazy Sunday? 5. Sweetiepie (West Village) – Best for the uber-girly or those looking to punish a misbehaving boyfriend, you can pair your absinthe with milk & cookies at this Alice in Wonderland-esque spot. 4. Tailor (Soho) – Because while traditional Gummy Bears are good, absinthe ones are better. 3. PDT (East Village) – Sure, the gimmicky twist of going through Crif Dogs’ phone booth gets old, but there’s no denying that the folks at this faux-speakeasy take their absinthe — served in small pours or in absinthe-based cocktails — very seriously. 2. White Star (Lower East Side) – Until recently, this popular LES spot was devoid of fancy cocktails. But they definitely concentrate fully on absinthe. Watch as mixologist extraordinaire Sasha Petraske prepares it the old fashion way — from experience. And when speaking with the master, it’s best not to bring up preparing absinthe using fire. 1. Apothéke (Chinatown) – You’ll feel like you landed on some sketchy movie set when you approach the oddball stretch Apothéke is located on, but make your way past the crank façade and marvel at the 19th-century-inspired spot where apothéker Albert Trummer serves up his own homemade absinthe.