Have we discussed hipsters before? Do you know what one is? Are you one? According to our friend Wikipedia, a hipster is an urban, middle-class adult or older teenager associated with indie music, non-mainstream fashion, progressive political views, and alternative lifestyles. These subculture-loving peoples are not commonly found in Upstate NY, although a recent lunch in Binghamton had certainly been infiltrated by college kids who at least thought they were. You might recognize a hipster by their suede booties, ironically sported mustaches or thick, black-rimmed glasses, or snooty attitudes about Starbucks and Katy Perry. Come on, you guys, everybody likes Katy Perry! I’m not saying I dislike all hipsters – I haven’t met them all – but a certain distaste comes to my mind when I spy a dude in skinny jeans and burgundy suede booties with dumb glasses and a bored, droll expression on his face. I can’t help it.
Here’s the annoying thing about hipsters – they’re usually right about the good places to eat. It ties in with the whole “I’m so above brands (except Apple iProducts which I fervently worship),” mentality. While that can be preachy and annoying when you just want a Big Mac, it’s a pretty good philosophy about eating out, in general. And that fact makes it harder to label them all as uppity jerks. If you want to really do some good hipster watching, you’ve got to get yourself into The City, or any city, really. But in October, my boss-friend Liz and I, accompanied by her dashing accomplice J, hit up April Bloomfield’s The Breslin, in Manhattan, and were nearly assaulted by legions of the Hipster Apocalypse. Ordinarily, this would be irritating to the point I might have to eat somewhere else, but in the case of April, I take exception. Have you heard of her? She is a transplanted Brit, lone female darling of the snout-to-tail mafia of whole-hog chef elites, and responsible for the best oatmeal cookie recipe I’ve ever tried. Her cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, is filled with homey, uncomplicated, but achingly hipster-ish foods. Lots of cool cuts of meat, soulful sides, and comforting desserts lurk within its awesome pages. Basically, she’s a rock star, and I’ve been dying to eat her food, hipsters be damned.
I had spent the previous weekend with Big Hungry Jill in the magical land called New Jersey, and taken a harrowing bus ride and subsequent cab ride to the restaurant. I was late, and expecting us to settle into a chic table in a bustling joint. Instead, Manhattan was jam-packed on that Sunday evening, and we had to settle for a weird bar table stuck right in the center of the pub area, and order from the bar rather than enjoy normal service. This was a big letdown, so I’m thankful to report that the food was so good, it didn’t matter.
|If you look really hard, you can spot two hipster in the lower third of this pic|
J ordered boiled peanuts to kick things off, and unlike the pleasingly salty but pedestrian and soggy versions from my collegiate days in Carolina, these were flash-fried in pork fat (groan), tender and crispy, salty, but also rich and deep in flavor. They were the peanuttiest peanuts ever, essentially. Who knew it took pig to bring out the true greatness of peanuts?
Liz ordered the beef and stilton pie, which was literally the tiniest pie I have ever encountered. I’m really sad that I ate it before we took a picture of it, because it was so wee, it was kind of precious. Its innards we comprised of beef so rich and cooked down, it was almost like beef marmalade. Yeah, put that concept in your pipe and smoke it. The stilton added complexity and earthiness, but was pretty subtle for a cheese that can sometimes be overpowering, depending on variety. There was little crust, due to the bite size of this treat, but what I tasted was a flaky, if somewhat bland base for the robust beef flavor. Upon return to The Breslin, I would order three or four of these for the table. At $9 a pop, that would be a costly proposition, but worth it.
You know I had to get the chicken liver parfait. What can I say? I’m a pate junky. This was considerably darker and deeper than others I’ve tried, but still couldn’t match Parc’s iteration of this European classic. I appreciated the nice char on the airy bread served with it, and the thin layer of aspic on top, but the pate itself was pretty ordinary. It could have used some jazzing up via accoutrements.
We all toiled over our entrée selections. For one thing, it was getting late, and our appetizers had been so hearty, we were barely hungry, but also, who wanted to go to the bar and order them? J and I ended up with the lamb burger, and it was an excellent choice. Just funky enough to differentiate itself from a beef burger, the lamb was more than an inch thick and not at all gamey, oozing rich juices and decadent meatiness. The feta cheese and raw red onion were tangy matches to counterpoint the richness, and the substantial bun soaked up the juice and was given ample attention of its own, with nice grill marks on the outside. The “thrice-cooked chips” alongside were everything homemade fries should be – salty, perfectly crunchy on the outside, and cut thick enough to still be fluffy and creamy on the inside. I loved dipping them in the cumin mayo that came supposedly for the burger, but went really well with the fried chips.
The Breslin calls itself a gastropub, but to me, it’s a little slick to rely upon the associations you get from a British chef and pub fare. Yes, the food is essentially rustic-style comfort food, but the location, inside the ultra-hip Ace Hotel, and certainly the clientele, bely a more upscale eatery than the word gastropub entails. The food was absolutely a 9 on the BHS scale, but I would really like to go back and get the full experience, at a table in the dining room, with table service and not feeling quite so tired or rushed. And I would really love to hit Bloomfield’s first NYC destination, The Spotted Pig, in the West Village. The menu is small, seasonal, and precious. I want it.