28 July 2010

The Crosby Show

We may still be trapped in the sticky, endless days of July, but that doesn't mean you can spend every single one on the beach.

Well, you can try. But the city inevitably calls me back. As much as I do love a thermos of mint iced tea (and my toes) wedged in the sand, sometimes it's nice to settle into a plush chair as pots of tea and a tower of sandwiches and cakes are brought out to you, silverware cool to the touch from the air conditioning.

A glass of champagne alongside doesn't hurt, either.

For an afternoon tea a bit less traditional, the new Crosby Street Hotel (79 Crosby St.) seemed a good choice. And overall, it was: the tea list is fairly extensive, and while the food is not very adventurous, it is well-prepared. I particularly appreciated the whole-wheat bread in the finger sandwiches; it's unusual to see anything but soft white bread at tea services, and it played nicely with the cool filling of creme fraiche and cucumber.

The scones were excellent: just sweet and firm enough to stand up to multiple slatherings of clotted cream and cherry jam. I can't recall ever eating them while listening to Chaz Jankel, either, which added another layer of delight.

But there were a few things off. While the service was very professional and attentive- when the waiter was around- long, long stretches passed without any sign of him. It's never pleasant to be hovered over, but an occasional check-in is appreciated. Less forgivable was the preparation of the tea. I truly cannot understand why a high-end establishment (and a British-owned one at that) would bring the tea to the table with the leaves still in the pot. I could time it so the first cup of Darjeeling was perfect; but the leaves had no place to go after that, so the next few cups were sadly overbrewed.

It's not difficult to brew tea, especially in a professional kitchen. There's got to be a timer and strainer in there somewhere. And this problem isn't limited to Crosby Street- unfortunately, I've ended up with the same bitter brew at almost every other hotel tea service.

Sigh. Will they ever learn?

The Crosby Street Hotel serves afternoon tea, $34; or champagne tea, $46, all day.

23 July 2010

Such a Beach

When you think New York City, you don't think of crashing waves, white-sand beaches littered with shimmering blue shells, or cool, salt-spray breezes tangling your hair.

And you certainly don't think of fish tacos and iced matcha.

Well, maybe it's time to.

Rockaway Beach is one of those gems of the city, so un-urban it's hard to believe a subway brought you there. And while I'm a firm believer in the beauty New York exudes every day, this spot is a particularly breathtaking example. (And this is coming from someone who grew up on the Atlantic Ocean.)

The beach may get a little crowded on the weekends, but if you can manage to trek out here during a sultry weekday afternoon, you will not be disappointed. Even if you don't go for a swim- which is tantamount to crime in this heat- it's worth the journey for the most authentic fish taco ($3) I've ever had on the East Coast, courtesy of Rockaway Taco (95-19 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Queens): crispy, hot fried fish; crunchy, sweet and spicy bites of shredded cabbage and radish; a bright squeeze of lime and inevitably, all over your hands and face as you devour it.

Chase it with an icy, vibrant green cold matcha ($4; supplied by Matcha Source) from Veggie Island right next door, and you may never want to leave. This adorable coffee shop/organic vegetable market also has an extensive selection of house-made herbal iced teas ($2.50), such as black mint, nettle and sorrel.

Unfortunately, I'd put away three tacos at this point, so I had to vow to try them on my next visit- I didn't want to have to wait another 45 minutes before jumping into the water.

Although, looking back at the pictures, this meal was quite possibly worth a life-threatening cramp while swimming. There are certainly worse ways to go.

13 July 2010

By Any Other Name

I used to find roses incredibly corny; boring, trite and unimaginative in a bouquet.

But over the past few years, those wild, uninhibited varieties that envelop a decaying fence or other quiet green corner have slowly crept into my heart and taken root. There those sweet little roses stay, even if I rarely see or smell them during their brief summer reign.

So perhaps it's a severe case of garden envy: I've been consumed with thoughts about how roses would taste in a rhubarb pie, or scattered over pastry cream and brioche. I've often enjoyed the petals mixed with black tea, so why not in an accompanying sweet?

Without any blooms to gather, these sesame-rose cookies are a good place to start. Imagine a classic peanut-butter cookie- interpreted in rich, evocative Middle Eastern flavors and crowned with the haunting essence of rose-petal jam- and you'll get the idea.

Better yet, make them yourself. The tahini and jam are available from Sahadi's, one of my absolute favorite food stores. And I'm happy to share that the cookies won the store's (and my, actually) first recipe contest. They're tasting all the sweeter now with my iced tea.

Sesame-Rose Cookies
Makes: about 2 dozen cookies.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup tahini
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup rose-petal jam

In small bowl, stir together flour and baking soda. Set aside. In medium bowl, mix tahini, butter, sugar, egg and salt together until well blended. Stir in flour. Cover dough, and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

Heat oven to 350°. Let dough sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, then roll into balls (about 2 teaspoons each). Roll balls in sesame seeds, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Using the end of a wooden spoon, gently indent each cookie, taking care to press only about halfway through the dough.

Bake cookies at 350° for 13-15 minutes. Let cool on sheet 2 minutes, then gently re-form the holes the end of the with wooden spoon before removing to rack to cool completely.

Once cool, fill each cookie with 1/2 teaspoon jam. Serve, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.