ASK MR. ALPENGLOW

Q: What bottles are essential for a home bar, and what classic cocktails should I master for hosting?

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A: If you begin with three different base spirits –gin, whiskey, and brandy– you can develop a solid repertoire of cocktails. Here’s a triumvirate of winsome classics to start you off:

FITZGERALD
Plymouth English Gin, $29.99

WHISKEY SOUR
Rittenhouse 100-Proof Rye Whiskey, $25.99

FRENCH 75
Germain-Robin Craft-Method Brandy, $44.99

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ASK MR. ALPENGLOW

Q: What is your go-to “one pot” meal on a budget?

A: Mr. Alpenglow is a big fan of the “one skillet” meal. This easy, workhorse dish can be adapted in various ways and will be especially rewarding for those of you who own a heavy cast-iron skillet (eg. made by Lodge or Staub).

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MUSHROOM RAGOUT with BAKED EGGS & CRISPY KALE
(2 servings)

About 3 cups of rough-chopped mushrooms
About 3 cups of torn kale leaves or chard
4 whole eggs
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 anchovies
kosher salt, black pepper, chili flakes
olive oil
bread (eg. half a baguette)
gruyere or pecorino (optional)

Set oven to 450. On the stovetop, heat olive oil on high flame in a large oven-safe skillet. Add the garlic and anchovies. After a minute, add the mushrooms. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and chili. When the mushrooms begin to soften after 5-7 minutes, push them to the center of the skillet. Add kale, surrounding the mushrooms. Drizzle the kale with olive oil. Crack the eggs directly onto the kale. Place the skillet in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the eggs set. In the last 5 minutes, place bread in the oven. Grate cheese. Serve hot.

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ON THE SILK ROAD

This past weekend, Mr. Alpenglow’s kitchen was filled with the intoxicating smells of Szechuan peppercorn, lavender, cumin, coriander, star anise, and duck fat. You can find the recipe for Braised Duck Legs in Daniel Humm’s latest cookbook, I ♥ NY.

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ASK MR. ALPENGLOW

Q: Can you propose an appropriate cocktail to drink
while pondering this magnificent Bierstadt painting?

Reynolds Center Architecture

A: This breathtaking scene calls for a cocktail with three elements: First, a dark, brooding spirit at its foundation. Second, the hint of alpine flavors, woodsy and herbaceous. Third, a column of light piercing through it all. Behold, the:

SIERRA NEVADA 

3 ounces Rittenhouse rye whiskey
1 ounce Green Chartreuse
1 ounce Zirbenz Stone Pine liqueur
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce honey syrup
(equal parts honey + warm water)

Stir with ice. Using a funnel, transfer liquid into an 8-ounce flask.*
*Mr. Alpenglow does not condone bringing flasks into art museums.

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PERFECT PAIRINGS

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Pumpkin Molasses Cookies
Vanilla Pear Sorbet
Van Winkle 12 Year Bourbon

PUMPKIN MOLASSES COOKIES
(makes 24 cookies)

2 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
2/3 cup pumpkin pie puree
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and pepper in a bowl.
In another bowl, mix the butter, brown sugar, molasses,
pumpkin puree, and egg. Combine all ingredients and mix.
Divide the sticky dough in two and wrap with plastic. Chill
for an hour or freeze for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350.
Make 12 balls out of each dough parcel. Roll in sugar.
Use the bottom of a cup to press the dough balls down.
Transfer 12 cookies to a sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.
Let cookies cool and repeat with the second batch.

I ♥ NYC

In the midst of composing a stilted essay on the politics of comparing one city’s stalwart restaurant dishes to another’s, Mr. Alpenglow crumpled up his Microsoft Word document in a fit of impatience. All that remains are these fragments:

AKAMARU MODERN RAMEN
Ippudo

broth brewed out of bones
proves comfort has many forms
and infinite depths

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CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH WITH GRIBENES
Mile End Deli

some things never change
mayo covers many sins
gribenes unearth them

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CHARGRILLED LAMB BURGER
The Breslin

mary had a lamb
that was ensnared in april’s
whirring meat grinder

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CLAM PIZZA
Franny’s

poseidon’s nephew
clipped his fingernails one night
to bring her pleasure

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LOBSTER ROLL
Pearl Oyster Bar

out with less is more
for once just luxuriate
in my pink bosom

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What dishes in a distant city do you most regularly covet?

REVIEW: SERPICO, PHILADELPHIA

For mountaineers, false summits are the devil. You fixate on a towering peak in the distance that promises the payoff to miles of arduous ascent across rock and snow, but in the final stretch of climbing another more distant summit – the actual summit – comes into view.

Skilled kitchens, in contrast, use false summits to their advantage. Withholding pleasure from diners can become a way of intensifying it over the course of a meal.

False summits are in short supply at Serpico, Philadelphia’s most anticipated restaurant debut of the year. Don’t get me wrong. This kitchen has mighty ambitions and the talent to match, but its most breathtaking views came too soon.

I mean that literally. Stepping into the dining room – an austere palette of grays punctuated by a gleaming open kitchen – from South Street is something like stepping from a cluttered rental RV onto the rim of the Grand Canyon. The design of this restaurant conveys one thing: Confidence.

The armada of smaller dishes that launched our meal gave the same impression. I was silenced by a lettuce salad so unapologetically pure, with crunchy snow peas, pickled shallots, and tarragon folded into its crevices. An archipelago of raw fluke was deftly footnoted with tonburi seed (known as “land caviar”) for texture, the warmth of jalapeño, and a briny undercurrent from soy. Duck liver mousse, brushed across a ceramic plate with orbs of viscous pomegranate, was a sensuous tease. I nodded the way one is expected to nod in the presence of abstract expressionism, but I was secretly longing for the way you get liver mousse at other places around town: plentifully, in mason jars, next to a log cabin of grilled bread.

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Precise flavors disarmingly executed. It was as if Serpico deployed these small plates to announce, echoing a line in Melville’s The Confidence Man, “I am a man of the world. Know me for such.” 

Readers who can’t approach Serpico as anything other than the progeny of Momofuku, the East Village restaurant pantheon (Peter Serpico was David Chang’s chef de cuisine), will be pleased to know that the fried duck leg with hoisin and scallion tucked into a soft potato roll manages to kick its patriarch, the pork bun, in the balls. I squinted like a hungry lion – my friend had earlier balked at the idea of ordering a double portion of duck rolls – and consoled myself with an empathetic cocktail called the The Fall Guy, which promised whiskey, honey, and a hint of Laphroaig but ended up tasting like peaty iced tea (the bar inexplicably fills cocktails with the kind of ice you find at Burger King).

I was feeling good about this place. Tell you the truth, I was also feeling pretty good about myself.

Then a pair of pasta dishes arrived, seemingly from a different, more tentative kitchen. A dish of hand torn pasta that was winsome on paper – snail sausage, garlic, crispy chicken skin – was coherent only in its saltiness. Corn ravioli, meanwhile, evoked Autumn’s soggy love letter to its perky Summer fling.

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The evening’s only special, pig’s tail, came with polenta doused in sauce best described as ketchup-y. For as much as hipsters everywhere embrace the ritual of sucking gelatinous fat off of stubby tailbones, I struggled to find the experience edifying (deep-fried and piping hot, after a night of boozy merrymaking, maybe). Trapezoids of expertly cooked Wagyu beef came with charred broccoli and an aggressively sweet and salty sauce that instantly transported me to Panda Inn, everyman’s “Oriental” buffet. Maybe that was the point, a play on broccoli beef, but after the Heinz treatment of pig’s tail, it felt like a bad joke. By the time we got a $60 bowl of meaty lamb ribs (for two) with yogurt-embalmed eggplant on the side, I found myself looking over my shoulder to the $10 lettuce salad – modest and proud.

Later, as a bevy of tattooed waitstaff ushered us into the glass vestibule, handed us our boxed leftovers, and swung the door open onto the street, I felt a surge of hope. It may be that at Serpico the deepest pleasures are yet to come. 

SERPICO
604 South Street, Philadelphia
(215) 925-3001

ASK MR. ALPENGLOW

Q: If you could choose only one cookbook to keep, which would it be?

A: Dear reader, such a dire scenario is implausible, but Mr. Alpenglow is nevertheless willing to play your game. I would choose Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. It contains workhorse recipes for everything from aioli to fresh pasta, roast chicken to poached salmon, onion tart to peach cobbler. While the book’s overall effect is to calm the cook– it’s the kind of calm before a tornado of concentrated culinary passion. Yes, you will want to cook eggs in a seasoned ladle in a wood oven that you don’t have. You will want to serve perfectly ripe tomatoes from the garden, and you will want to drizzle salsa verde over them in ecstasy. Most of all, The Art of Simple Food reminds us with authority and grace:

“COOK SIMPLY, ENGAGING ALL YOUR SENSES.

COOK TOGETHER.

EAT TOGETHER.

REMEMBER FOOD IS PRECIOUS.”

alice  waters

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