Archive for June, 2011

Cheesecake heaven

June 30th, 2011

Nadine Kam photos

Spied the Junior’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake & Desserts truck on my way into New York, sparking a quest to devour that slice of heaven.

We see  thousands if not millions of things a day—from insects to leaves on trees—but we’re so accustomed to the daily visuals and inconsequentials like our regular tube of toothpaste or the alarm clock that gets us up—that few of the daily objects that surround us actually register in our brains.

Upon my bleary eyed 11 a.m. arrival (5 a.m. Hawaii time) in New York June 21, of course I took stock of the yellow cabs and buildings en route from La Guardia to The Plaza, but the one thing that registered most strongly was the cool retro Junior’s truck over in the next lane.

It was pure 1950 visuals, appearing to date to the year Junior’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake & Desserts was founded by Harry Rosen at Flatbush and Dekalb aves. in Brooklyn.

I wasn’t hungry  when I spotted the truck, but of course that put the idea of cheesecake in my head, and when it comes to food, I tend to get obsessed by the chase. It was just a matter of time before I would be sitting at a table with a piece of Junior’s cheesecake in front of me.

Plain, chocolate swirl and raspberry swirl cheesecakes at Grand Central Terminal.

Heading for Connecticut via train, I had a chance to get a bite of the cheesecake at Grand Central Terminal, where I was also hoping to pick up a pastrami sandwich. I remember the layers of pastrami being three to four inches thick last time I was there. It’s something I always dream of because the typical Hawaii pastrami sandwich is very slim. Alas, there was no pastrami to be had on a Saturday!  So I settled for a delicious corn chowder from Hale and Hearty Soups, which left plenty of room for dessert!

Junior’s has two locations within the Terminal, on the lower Dining Concourse, and in the Grand Central Market, where you can pick up anything you could want for a trip into or out of the city, whether for snacking en route, omiyage, or bringing home to your fridge, including beautiful produce, chocolates, jams, breads, pastries, cold cuts and cheese.

I took a chance ordering the single-portion cupcake size Little Fella, wondering if it would be as good as a full-size cake, or somehow dry around the edges. It was fabulous, moist and fluffy, the amount of raspberry swirl just right. I plan to try the chocolate when I return to the city.

You can order a cheesecake online: It’s an expensive proposition because the cheesecakes will cost you about $33 to $37 without even adding postage! But if it’s just a slice you want, I believe Wolfgang’s Steakhouse serves Junior’s cheesecake for dessert! You can pick up a slice of Cheesecake Factory creations while you’re at it and do a side-by-side comparison.

A little cheesecake goes a long way, so if you’re not sharing, a cupcake-size Little Fella portion, about $4.95, is just the right size.

In the Kitchen: Johan Svensson

June 15th, 2011

Nadine Kam photos

Johan Svensson in the dining room of BLT Steak.

When photographer Rae Huo told me BLT Steak would be the subject of her next Pop Iroiro online magazine, I invited myself along to shoot some photos and video of the restaurant’s chef de cuisine Johan Svensson at work.

It was enlightening to hear him talk about his travels and see how his journeys from his childhood on the Swedish island of Tjörn, to London, New York, and finally, Hawaii, has shaped his cooking. Growing up in a small place gave him wanderlust, and being surrounded by water gave him a love of the ocean and its abundance of seafood.

He was thrilled to go fishing with his grandfather, and remembered crabbing excursions to the west coast of Sweden during which he would dangle mussels tied on strings to bait king crab. At times he caught so many fish that he sold them to local markets, and there were some small, sardine-like fish he didn’t like. “If the cat was in, I’d probably feed it to my cat,” he said.

He says he started cooking because his mom didn’t cook, and what went onto the plate usually came from the family garden.

“Looking back, I had a good youth,” he said, though at the time, he said he considered it boring. Lucky for us, he landed on our shores after having served as executive chef at Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit, and prior to that worked at Nobu of London and Riingo in New York’s Alex Hotel.

Our first trip to the restaurant to photograph was on April 24. Rather than cooking up something off the menu, Johan was free to play, cooking up dishes he would like to eat, including lobster and urchin with uni sauce, pastrami-spiced ono with mussels, and ribeye with chimichurri sauce.

Link for iPhone

I have a few photos here, but my mouth really started watering when I opened up Pop Iroiro and saw the photos by Rae and Zakkamono! Check it out and enter to win a $50 dining certificate to BLT.

Johan regularly offers cooking classes, each followed by a three-course lunch with wine pairings. Classes begin at noon and the lunch concludes about 2:30 p.m. Here are the dates, topics and cost for the next set of classes:

June 18: Summer desserts, including homemade ice cream ($65)
July 16: Grilling shellfish and shucking oysters; champagne and wine pairings ($95)
Aug. 20: How to make tartar: steak, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, tomato ($65)
Sept. 17: Quick lunches with island ingredients; the art of making popovers ($65)
Oct. 15: Cooking bone-in cuts of meat (cost TBA)

Seared scallop crudo with sea asparagus, topped with light, airy and crunchy ume plum meringues, an unusual and pleasant way of adding the usual touch of acidity to a seafood dish. I think a lot of people here would eat those meringues by the handful if they were made available in batches.

Pastrami-spiced ono with mussels and Kamuela tomatoes against a backdrop of BLT’s raw bar.

Lobster two ways with uni and grilled Tokyo negi.

Sauteed Makapu’u shrimp with fingerling potatoes and smoked paprika.