eat. shop. love. nyc.

Le Bernardin-style crispy black bass recipe
January 18, 2011, 11:33 am
Filed under: Cook | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have the excellent fortune of being friends with a cook at Chef Eric Ripert‘s three Michelin star and New York Times four star seafood restaurant Le Bernardin, and after some prolonged begging, he finally acquiesced and cooked for me on his day off.

He told me he was going to make “something simple.” Happily, it turns out that we have very different ideas of what constitutes “simple.” He decided that a crispy black bass dish with a port wine, sherry vinegar, and butter sauce served over blanched chanterelle and black trumpet mushrooms with a side of thyme and garlic roasted potatoes was “simple.” At Le Bernardin, they used to serve a similar dish – the Crispy Chinese Spiced Black Bass with Porcini Mushrooms and Port Wine Reduction, which original recipe is listed on the Avec Eric website linked above (from episode 13). Side note: my friend says his favorite time to eat at Le Bernardin is during the winter when the locally-sourced fish have all fattened up to endure the colder weather, so you should get over there now. He walked me through his own version of the black bass recipe step by step, explaining why he was doing what he was doing at each step, so I could eventually cook it on my own. I hope I haven’t forgotten anything. It was super fun to watch him cook and even more fun to eat it afterwards. Thanks, friend!

Crispy black bass with mushrooms and port wine sauce (serves 2)


  • 2 skin-on black bass fillets
  • 1 cup chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 cup black trumpet mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons neutral cooking oil like grapeseed or canola – we used soybean oil because that’s what I had on hand
  • 2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour – this is a low-protein, pregelatinized wheat flour formulated to dissolve quickly and is especially fine and designed not to clump
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Boil a small pot of lightly salted water in which to blanch the mushrooms.

    As the water comes to a boil, wash the mushrooms to get rid of any dirt or pine needles or other undelicious little bits of nature that might have been left behind on the fungi. Blanch the mushrooms quickly until just cooked through – this removes dirt, kills germs, and brings out flavor. Remove mushrooms and pat dry, setting aside on a plate lined with paper towels to dry.
  2. Take the fish fillets out and remove about one inch off the narrow tail end and discard – this part usually has bones. Then wash the fillets and pat dry with a paper towel, and with a paring knife, scrape the skin side to get rid of any leftover scales and excess moisture.

    You can’t get a crispy skin on the fish if there’s too much moisture, so this is a nice little trick. You can wipe the paring knife on the paper towel after each scrape kinda like you’d wipe off the squeegee you used to clean your car’s windshield at a gas station before each new swipe.
  3. Salt both sides of the fillet lightly, and put some white pepper on the flesh side only. White pepper tends to burn if cooked too long, so you should only put it on the side that is barely going to be cooked. Set the fillets on a cutting board to come to room temperature.
  4. Take the sherry vinegar and boil it down until it is reduced by half, then add the port wine and boil it down until the sauce is syrupy, roughly yielding 1/4 of a cup. Careful that the sauce doesn’t burn as the liquid boils down – you’ll need to turn down the heat as the syrup reduces. The vinegar will add tartness and acidity and the port wine will add some sweetness and mellowness of flavor. Once fully reduced, add the butter and swirl vigorously until glossy and melted (don’t whisk or sauce will become could) and reduce heat to low. The fat in the butter balances out the acidity in the reduction.
  5. Heat a skillet over high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook dry over high heat – if you have some thyme on hand (which we did from the roasted potatoes we made on the side), you may add a couple leaves here. Turn off the heat and divide mushrooms onto two serving plates.
  6. To cook the fish, heat the neutral cooking oil over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking, about 2-3 minutes. Because my skillets aren’t very large, my friend used two skillets side by side so as not to crowd the fish in a single pan for two reasons: (1) since the heat is strongest at the center, it’s best to cook the fish as close to the center of the skillet as possible for even heat distribution, and (2) the fillets release steam as they cook, and the moisture from the steam prevents the fillets from getting truly crispy.
  7. As the oil heats, take the Wondra flour and sprinkle one side of a fillet over the sink, then blow off the excess flour into the sink so that only a very light dusting of the flour remains. Repeat on the other side of the fillet so both the skin and the flesh sides are floured lightly.
  8. Once the oil is hot, lay the fish fillets at the center of each skillet skin side down and turn the heat down to medium. Press the top of the fillets down with a spatula gently so they don’t curl up. You’ll cook most of the fish on this side, shaking the pan to prevent sticking and ensure even distribution of the oil, maybe 4-6 minutes. You can check the skin side from time to time to make sure the skin is getting a nice brown color, but not burning. To check, do not flip the fish over in the pan; flip the fish over into a towel in your hand, and return immediately to the pan skin side down until you achieve the desired golden brown crisp.
  9. Flip the fillets once and finish cooking, about 30 seconds or so. If you’re afraid the fish isn’t fully cooked, don’t worry as the heat will carry through and continue to cook the fish even after you have plated it.

    Check out that lovely brown crust – it’s not thick because the dusting of the Wondra flour was so light.
  10. On each of the serving plates with the mushrooms, lay a fillet down with the skin side up.

    Drizzle some of the port sauce around the plate. Serve immediately for maximum crispiness. Try not to moan with ecstasy too loudly.

Bon appetit!


NYC to Maine gastro road trip Part III
September 2, 2010, 7:10 am
Filed under: Eat, Go | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

[tweetmeme]CONTINUED from My Magical NYC to Maine Gastro Road Trip Part I and NYC to Maine Gastro Road Trip Part II. I should probably try to be a little more creative with these blog titles. My apologies in advance – this particular entry is lacking in food porn. For that, you may want to revisit prior entries or skip to the next in the series (Part IV).

SATURDAY NIGHT: Brunswick > Rockport (1 hour)

I fought desperately to stay awake after our third lobster roll of the day, but eyelids… so… heavy… I didn’t want to leave our courageous driver awake alone, so I tried my very best to stay awake (but failed). It was only about an hour or so from Brunswick to Rockport, where we had booked what seemed to be the only free room that was anywhere near Rockland and didn’t run $200 a night for a 2-night minimum stay. We rolled into our lodging for the evening around 9 pm, food coma-ed and bleary-eyed.

The 7 Mountains Motel had had a cancellation, and proprietor Joyce Braley had called me back to let me know I could have a room for four with two double beds for $100 (plus $5 for the guv’nor) on Saturday night.

I guess I was super-excited to be in an honest-to-goodness motel. A motor hotel! Continue reading

NYC to Maine gastro road trip (Part II)

CONTINUED from My Magical NYC to Maine Gastro Road Trip Part I.

SATURDAY LATE AFTERNOON: Georgetown > Brunswick (30-40 minutes)

We high-tailed it from Georgetown to Brunswick after whetting our appetites at Five Islands Lobster Co. Brunswick is home of the infamous Fat Boy Drive-In, which offers an absurdly low price of $6.25 for a lobster roll. Yeah. That’s right. I said drive-in.

You pull up in your shiny little rental car, park, and turn your lights on for service.

They bring you a menu, you order your food, and then they bring out your food on a little try that hangs off of the driver’s side window like so:

Continue reading

NYC to Maine gastro road trip (Part I)

[tweetmeme]I had what was easily the best in-country travel experience of my life this past weekend. I road tripped from New York City to the magical state of Maine, aka The Way Life Should Be, for the 63rd Annual Maine Lobster Festival with three food-loving friends, eating our faces off along the way.

Five Islands Lobster Co., Georgetown, ME

Word of advice to those considering a similar road trip: reserve your rental car way in advance. The price differential for week-of car rentals vs. month-before car rentals is substantial. We paid $380 for an economy car (3 weekend days) from the Avis at La Guardia airport after booking it two days before leaving, but checking rates a month out, it looks like 3 weekend days will run you about $150 or so. You can take the train to Brunswick and then Maine Eastern Railroad from Brunswick to Rockland for about $220 per person round trip, which is ridiculously expensive and doesn’t allow you the freedom to pull over whenever and wherever you want = sux.

Second word of advice: get a GPS. Borrow it from a friend or rent one from the car rental company. You might think your phone can handle it, but I’m not sure how dependable it will be when you don’t actually have any signal. You’ll be super glad you have GPS when you’ve had your third lobster roll of the day and you are ready for dessert and need to figure out how to get to that one diner you read about with the famous pie.

Final words of advice: don’t forget the bug spray, the sunscreen, the corkscrew/beer opener, a mini cooler, and cash. Many of these famous seafood shacks are outdoors, accept cash only, and some are BYOWhatever. If you are going for Lobsterfest in August, make sure you’ve booked a room several weeks in advance as the lodging in the area fills up quickly. If you are going any time other than summertime, make sure the places you want to go are open, as many shut down in cooler weather. Also, print out all of the addresses of the places you would like to go for easy input into the GPS, and be prepared to go with the flow.

FRIDAY: NYC > Boston (4-5 hours)

It’s roughly 7 hours from NYC to Rockland, ME, home of Lobsterfest. Rather than wake at the butt crack of dawn on Saturday morning, we thought it’d be smart to break up the trip a bit and stay in Boston overnight Friday as Boston is right around the halfway mark to Rockland. From NYC to Boston, it’s about 4 hours. On Friday nights around 8 pm, it’s more like 5 hours and that entire additional hour of traffic is located right outside the city. Once you clear out of the city traffic, it’s smooth sailing. We arrived in Boston around midnight, where we had arranged to stay with a friend who happens to be from Maine. As Adam tucked us into our respective couches, he told us bedtime stories about this glorious wonderland where lobsters were $3.99 a pound, where weekends were spent sailing or kayaking, and where it felt like the most magical summer camp experience you never had, all summer long. Maine… our senses tingled with anticipation. We drifted to sleep dreaming of barbecues, lighthouses, salty breezes, and lobsters growing on trees.

SATURDAY MORNING: Boston > Portland (2 hours)

We got up around 7:30 and started the day with a tasty grilled cheese sandwich on buttery multigrain bread with some kind of gooey white cheese – havarti or fontina, maybe? Thanks, Adam! Since Adam was heading to Portland for the weekend, he hopped into our car with us and we took off for Magical Maine. During the car ride, he kept telling us about how good the food is in Portland, pulling up this NYTimes article on the high level of cooking in this 65,000 person town’s compact urban center, where chefs regularly eat at and critique one another’s restaurants farms and make ample use of local ingredients from nearby fishing grounds, dairies, apiaries, mushroom beds and smokehouses.

And so we headed for brunch at Harding Lee Smith’s The Front Room in Portland.

While we waited for our table to open up, I took in the warm, wood paneled interior, the friendly hosts (is everyone from Maine this nice? – the answer is yes), and ordered myself a lime and raspberry rickey to start off my morning in style – housemade raspberry puree, fresh lime juice, seltzer, and vodka – while catching up with an old friend from LA (also a Maine native, now Portland resident). While all of the food was very good, the clear winner was my potato gnocchi with spinach, bacon, two poached eggs & hollandaise. The gnocchi was unthinkably pillowy and light, the thick chunks of bacon were savory and toothsome, and the hollandaise was rich and decadent. And for just $8!

The Front Room
73 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101-3661
(207) 773-3366

After an hour of unsuccessfully trying to convince the Maine natives to join us on the second leg of our road trip (they already had plans to kayak all day, throw some steak and $3.99/lb lobsters on the grill in the evening, and go sailing on Sunday), we moved on. Continue reading

NYC Oyster Happy Hour Roundup

[tweetmeme]Another reason to love living in NYC – oyster happy hours! Below is a list of restaurants in lower Manhattan (sorry, I rarely make it uptown) where you can find great oyster and/or drink specials during happy hour:

Oyster happy hours I have tried:

  • Jo’s (Nolita/SoHo. 264 Elizabeth St. at Houston. 212.966.9640) My fave oyster happy hour. Dimly lit restaurant with $1 oyster happy hour (and $4 beers on tap, $5 well drinks, $7 select wine) weeknights from 5-8pm, only available in the bar room which has seating at the bar and along the walls (can accommodate groups of 4-6 at the tables). Service is slow if you’re not seated at the bar, so you’ll have to go to the bar to order and to pay. Oysters change daily depending on what the fishmonger brings by – I’ve had Blue Points and Miyagis here. Jo’s isn’t crowded on weeknights, happy hour goes until 8 pm, and the people here are awesome.
  • Lure Fishbar (SoHo. 142 Mercer St. at Prince. 212.431.7676) Stellar happy hour from 5-7pm on weeknights, at bar area only. Arrive early to grab seats as it gets really busy, you may have to throw some elbows to place your order at the bar. $1 oysters and $1 littleneck clams are the best bet; top quality oysters. See happy hour menu here. Shrimp tempura with black sesame seeds is delish. Do not get the lobster croutons. You’ll be sad when you realize there are 4 extremely teeny (MAYbe 1cm squared) cubes. Select beer $5, select wine $6, and select cocktails $7.
  • Essex (LES. 120 Essex Street, entrance on Rivington. 212.533.9616) On Mondays and Thursdays, $1 oysters all night and half price drinks (except for pitchers) from 6-9pm. I think that makes the beers $3, the wine $4, and most cocktails $5-$6. The oysters are decent, but not as good as Lure’s or Jo’s. Still, it’s a great location for grabbing a drink and a snack before doing a Thursday night out in LES, and you really can’t complain when you get to drink an Ommegang brew for $3. Also, this is a huge space, and can accommodate large groups.
  • Bondi Road (LES. 153 Rivington St. between Suffolk and Clinton. 212.253.5311) If quantity is more important to you than quality, and you like shrimp cocktail, then this is the place you will want to be spending your Thursday night. On Thursdays, Bondi Road does all you can eat raw oysters, shrimp, and Oysters Rockefeller (though I have read that sometimes they have oyster shooters instead) for just $9.99. Of course, they will try to convince you to take the $20 all you can drink for 2 hours deal on the side, but you can politely decline and just order as many beverages as you need.
  • Ulysses Folk House (Financial District. 95 Pearl Street between Coenties Aly & Hanover Sq. 212.482.0400‎) This is not really for happy hour, but Ulysses does have an all you can eat Sunday brunch that includes all you can eat oysters on the half shell for $20, along with fruits, breads, cheese and crackers, bagels and lox, sausages, corned beef, roast beef, ham, turkey, potatoes, veggies, salads… and a dessert tray. It also includes a Guinness, a (not very tasty) bloody mary, or a mimosa. It’s best in warm weather when you can eat outside at the picnic tables on the cobblestone street, but don’t expect 5 star food.

Oyster happy hours I have yet to try: Continue reading

Blue Crabs, Crab Boils, and La Révolution Des Crabes
September 1, 2009, 12:01 am
Filed under: Drink, Eat, Watch | Tags: , , , , , ,

La Révolution des crabes
Uploaded by kingarthur22. – Independent web videos.

My favorite crab-related video ever (with the notable exception of Sebastian performing “Under the Sea” in The Little Mermaid). Viva la crabolution!

I was reminded of this video when pondering the subject of crabs after the Monday Night Crab Boil at the Mermaid Inn. I went in with high hopes, but in retrospect, perhaps my hopes were too high for a $22 crab dinner in New York City, even if it is the rather affordable East Village. Continue reading