Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kaddish for O'Casey's

Photo from The Daily News

O'Casey's Irish Bar and Restaurant, which closed a few weeks ago, was never in the running for a James Beard Award. It's not listed in Zagats, nor will you find it mentioned on Midtown Lunch liked its food and atmosphere but bemoaned the lack of happy hour, and New York Magazine made note of the banker/lawyer contingent among its patrons.

O'Casey's was never an in spot, but that's precisely why it was such a favorite watering hole among many midtown-based librarians. It was a short walk from the Schwarzman Building on the 42nd Street, the Mid-Manhattan Library on 40th Street, and library offices on 39th Street. The bar served good beers on tap and the waitstaff allowed you to sit at a table without ordering food. But when you did order food—and you always did—it was better than your average pub fare: the mozzerella sticks were well-seasoned and flavorful, the burger was tasty, and the fish and chips were more than commendable.

The restaurant's interior, with its cozy feel and flattering lighting, provided a warmth that the outside world didn't. The silent TV screens meant you could watch the Knicks lose while talking about more important issues. Extra seating both upstairs and downstairs meant never having to wait for a table, and if you were really lucky you might hear the Gin Blossoms over the stereo. If there were a sitcom called Library Life, O'Casey's would be our Monks, or Riff's, or Regal Beagle.

No, it wasn't the best bar in the city, but O'Casey's was a solid, beloved spot for going away parties, work celebrations and travails, holiday mayhem, appreciation lunches, group discussions, one-on-ones, and solo dining. And it will be missed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Clearing the Lunch Table

Eight months after its opening, Lunch Hour NYC is closing this Sunday. It will be a bittersweet day for me, but it had a healthy run and I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to work with Laura Shapiro to help put this exhibition together.

But as of today, Friday, there are only three more days to see Lunch Hour! Get thee to the Library! To whet your appetite, here are some of my favorite items from the show -- and one that didn't make it in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Child is Born

Happy Birthday, Julia.

Thanks for giving me a childhood of delicious food, cooked with love by my parents from their splattered cookbook bible. 


Chicken Breasts

Spinach or Salmon Souffle

Mustard Chicken

Monday, August 6, 2012

What Vassar Girls Eat

Vassar/Yale Bike Race, 1952. Courtesy of Life Magazine

For those of you who received an incomplete, unedited version of this in your RSS reader -- my apologies. I published (by accident), then perished. Here is the correct version. 

Vassar girls like to eat. I should know - I am one.

But what I eat today is far different from what I ate as an undergrad at Vassar's AC/DC (All Campus Dining Center). For example, Lucky Charms aren't part of my dinner diet anymore. I consume a far greater variety of vegetables now than I did as a co-ed. I don't subsist on starch in 2012 the way I did...quite a few years ago.

Sorry, is this boring you?

It apparently wasn't boring to 19th century readers. Because over a century ago, What Vassar Girls Eat was an article that appeared in at least three different publications over the course of several years. Caramel consumption evidently proved newsworthy.

Here's a rundown of the articles I've uncovered thus far:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Lunch Time

Lunch Hour NYC, the exhibition I wrote about last November on this very blog, is now up and free and open to the public.

My co-curator, Laura Shapiro, and I are incredibly thankful to everyone who made Lunch happen, especially the exhibitions staff at the library and the incredibly talented designers at Pure+Applied. They were tireless in making sure everything looked perfect, but full of humor all the while.

It's been a hectic several weeks, but we're really pleased with the results and the response. Now I'm back to my regularly scheduled duties which include culinary acquisitions, electronic resources, What's on the Menu? (a million dishes strong!), and coming soon: culinary research classes.

But first I wanted to share what is perhaps my favorite image from the show. It also happens to be of one of my favorite foods: doughnuts. I generally don't veer toward chocolate-covered anything, but I will make an exception for this photograph.

It's especially meaningful to me because when Laura and I were going through the Horn & Hardart papers in the library's manuscript division, we found fantastic images of automats throughout the city: street views, interiors, workers, but we never found a single food image. Then, in the very last box, in the very last folder, we uncovered photographs of soups, sandwiches, cakes, ham, and doughnuts. Despite our naturally  reserved nature (not to mention the fact that we were in a quiet reading room), we -- how shall I put this? -- freaked out.

I might've gasped or jumped. Laura definitely put her hands in the air in some sort of celebratory gesture, and  we then proceeded to show the photograph above to every single person in the room, without exception.
They didn't necessarily share our enthusiasm.

So there you have the thrilling story behind a black and white photograph of doughnuts.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Primeburger

It's been a hard few months for a couple of classic midtown institutions. First Bill's Gay Nineties closed. Now Primeburger is shutting its doors after 74 years in business.

Stepping into Primeburger is like stepping back in time: waiters wear white coats, the menu has half a grapefruit and individual tins of sardines on offer, and Prime's single-diner seating alone is probably enough to grant the restaurant landmark status.

I stopped in on Tuesday for a lunch of grilled swiss on rye with tomato. According to the gentleman I spoke with, Prime's last day in business is Saturday which means there is still just enough time to head to 51st Street to order a burger, orange sherbert, rice pudding, or cinnamon toast.

To keep the memories alive, has compiled reminiscences from Primeburger servers, This Must Be the Place has a wonderful short film on Prime, and, last but not least, the menu collection at the New York Public Library now has a Primeburger bill of fare in its archive.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bobby Short's Chicken Carlyle

Bobby Short Digital ID: TH-50946. New York Public Library
 (Courtesy of NYPL)

Forget cleanses. Forget atoning for gastronomical sins.

That's what I try to remind myself every January when it seems as though everyone and their sister (and by sister, I'm looking at you Bon Appetit) is forgoing something -- alcohol, meat, whipped cream -- for the betterment of their health and well-being.

Not that it's not a noble cause. And I wholeheartedly support my loved ones who choose to detox even if I, myself, choose not to participate. I prefer to drink water to cleanse my body -- in between glasses of wine and forkfuls of pasta alla Bolognese. It's January, for Pete's sake! The coldest, most miserable month of the year and a ginger broth is not going to make me feel better, even if it certainly will make me feel better.

As a gift to myself for standing firm, while progressively getting soft, I made a lovely dish that is bound to make me softer still: Bobby Short's Carlyle Chicken Hash. The recipe, named for the Mr. Short, the great singer and piano player who graced the Carlyle Hotel lounge for over three decades, includes cleanse-verboten ingredients such as cream, white bread, and foie gras.  The recipe was featured in an article by Sam Sifton in the New York Times in 2009 and was introduced to me by my friend Diana, whose love for this dish knows no season.

The recipe is super simple. Chicken stock, cream, and truffle oil is added to reduced sherry. That combination gets reduced again, and is mixed with cooked chicken and foie gras. If foie gras isn't handy (plebeian!), and in my case it certainly isn't (librarian!),  just leave it out. I also used, and immensely enjoyed, sauteed mushrooms. The best part comes at the end: toasted white bread points. And no, Ezekiel 4:9 doesn't cut it.

I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't rich. And decadent. And not terribly pleasing to the eye (which is why I didn't photograph it). But this is your chance to practice moderation for the new year. And if that doesn't work, you have twelve months to diet it off.

Bobby Short's Chicken Carlyle Hash
(courtesy of the New York Times and adapted from James Sakatos of the Carlyle)

One three to four pound kosher chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup medium-dry sherry
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil (optional, but don't be a hater -- the truffle oil is really good here)
4 ounces foie gras (optional)
Toasted white bread

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and roast until its juices run clear, 60 to 70 minutes. Let cool. Remove the skin and meat from the bones. Cut the breast meat into cubes. Shred the thigh and leg meat.

In a large saucepan, reduce the sherry by half over high heat. Add the cream, chicken broth and truffle oil, if using, and boil over high heat, stirring constantly, to reduce by half again, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken meat and blobs of the foie gras, if using, to the reduction and bring to a light simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot with toast points.