All posts by Johnny Prime

Trowbridge Farms

It’s 1:00 am. It’s bitter cold outside, early December. Phil Trowbridge is making his first of three rounds throughout the night to check on his animals. He’ll do the same at 3:00 am, and then at 5:00 am, before even starting the day. It’s harsh, but it always has to be done, every day, even on Christmas.

He hears and sees one of the cows struggling. She’s panicked. When he gets close he knows his long work day is going to be even longer. Her entire reproductive system has prolapsed, and if he doesn’t act quickly, she’ll die.

Phil’s son PJ is with him helping, as he’s done all his life. They live just a stones throw away now that a neighbor sold his house to PJ. They run the farm together.

They get the cow into the chute and place her prolapsed uterus onto a makeshift table that Phil created on the fly, using a stretched feed bag. They raise a bar up under her to keep her from shifting, moving, and making an already dire situation even worse.

The climate in the Hudson Valley can be wet and icy. Her front legs slip forward while her back legs remain propped up from the bar. She tips forward. Now things could get really bad.

But it’s a happy accident. She can’t move, and her body is angled in such a way that it’s perfect for getting her insides back in place. Phil ties her front legs and pulls them forward, keeping her at that angle, while PJ – hands and arms numb with cold in the frigid, dark December air – puts their cow back together again.

RELATED: JOHNNY PRIME’S ONLINE BUTCHER SHOP

After spending a day with Phil and breaking bread with his family over dinner, I asked him and his son to tell me the most challenging and rewarding aspects of their profession. Phil told me that story, and it exemplifies both challenge and reward together in one grueling morning.

Phil has had to deal with maybe three prolapses in his decades of experience working with cattle, but he knows how to address the problem. In fact, he knows how to fix so much of what can go wrong on the farm, that if his veterinarians get a call, they’re truly worried.

I asked Phil and his son what the hardest part of their job is. Both he and PJ were modest: They told me it wasn’t a hard job, but I know I wouldn’t last a week doing what they do, day in and day out. Given the daily farm work on top of everything else they do, no one is ever idle.

While many things may come easy to Phil and PJ with their collective wealth of experience, there are still some things with which they have trouble.

Phil told me that losing an animal is hard. When that happens, it stays with him. His heart breaks. The roughly 400 animals in his care are like children to him. He checks on them all day, grows and mixes their food, feeds them, cleans them, monitors their health and keeps them healthy, delivers their babies… That’s respect. That’s love.

And from what I’ve seen it’s not just Phil; it’s all cattlemen who are worth a damn in this business. You don’t step into this lifestyle without respect and love for the animals. That’s something the average person doesn’t understand about our cattlemen.

Phil in front of his lab, which is part of an old dairy barn that he uses for housing donor cows and where mature cows are calved.

Phil runs Trowbridge Farms – a patchwork of pastures, farms and barns that spans 1700 acres in Ghent, NY, about two hours North of Manhattan by train/car on the east side of the Hudson River.

Phil’s home can be seen on the right in this panoramic view of his property, shot from inside the first barn he purchased here in Ghent.

Phil is originally from Buffalo, so this area may as well be Florida to him. When he first arrived here decades ago, he was surprised that cattle could even feed on pasture.

You may be thinking something like, “How the hell can someone run cattle in New York, where taxes and land costs are so high?” And that’s an excellent question.

The majority of land Phil works and uses is not his own. Rather, he rents and leases land from homeowners who are weekenders and summer vacationers from New York City. They own second homes, but allow Phil to raise feed crops and grasses there, and to graze his animals on the land, in exchange for rent or barter.

When Phil drives his truck from one barn or pasture to another, he never uses the land owners’ driveways even though they offer access and faster ingress and egress. He endeavors to be invisible to them, non-intrusive on their property, and respectful of their privacy.

Because of this system, Phil can probably raise cattle cheaper than most places in the country. The relationships are mutually beneficial: Phil maintains the land, and the homeowners can sit back and earn additional income.

Cows graze on each pasture for about three weeks, with about 30-40 cows through each field.

The soil here is everything. Across the Hudson, the earth is like clay, and therefore it’s harder to raise crops. Here, it’s more gravely and easier to work with. Phil couldn’t have this kind of productive operation if he didn’t understand the soil and how it affects plant makeup. In fact, there is pressure from dairy farms to get this better land for the alfalfa.

“Why?” For their feed.

Alfalfa is a high production, high nutrient legume plant that Phil uses in his cattle feed.

Alfalfa field.

He takes three or four cuttings, and when I visited on July 2nd, he had already taken the first cutting. With his bromegrass and Timothy-grass farms, he only gets two cuttings. He also grows oats and corn as well, and makes his own hay and baleage.

Phil uses GPS when planting his corn so that he can utilize the most land possible. The systems even tell him how much fertilizer and spray he needs. But here in the northeast, deer are a big problem because they can decimate acres of corn crops.

Baleage, or silage, is a fermented feed that helps cattle in their digestion process. It also keeps longer without spoiling. That combination makes for an economically viable and nutritionally beneficial feed solution.

Dry hay in rolled bales positioned close to the Winter pastures and barns for easy access. Phil’s animals can eat 40-60 lbs of hay per day in Winter, with the range varying on how cold it is. The colder it is, the more calories the animals burn staying warm. As such, they need to eat more to keep growing. But something as simple as providing bedding piles in the pastures can help the animals retain warmth, saving Phil 10 lbs of feed a day for each animal. They eat half as much in the Summer months.
Feeding the animals in covered barns or blacktop corrals also helps Phil conserve feed and keep the animals warm in Winter months. In Summer, the corrals are outfitted with fans and provide shade from the sun. Fly management is also important in the warm months. Excessive head shaking or tail switch swatting burn lots of cattle calories, requiring more feed for growth.

To make baleage Phil uses a vertical grinder and mixer first, to break up the feed crops. Then he covers it with tarp and weighs it down with specially cut tires that won’t collect water and draw mosquitoes. This allows the fermentation to occur and turn the crops into cattle feed.

Phil’s vertical grinder and baleage tarp. Equipment is Phil’s biggest cost at the farm. But this expensive vertical grinder was worth it, as it acts like a blender to mix up precise amounts of grasses with exacting percentages of nutrients that are evenly distributed throughout the feed.
Phil has to project how much feed he will need for the Winter so that his animals don’t go hungry, and he must pay close attention to weather patterns to avoid having his baleage spoil.

While Phil grows and makes most of his own feed, he does buy some corn because it’s cheap. He also works with local distillers to get fermented corn mash byproduct, which is similar to baleage in its digestive benefits. It’s also a great way to reduce commercial waste and make good use of stuff that is otherwise discarded.

This is dinner at the barn where show animals are being cleaned up and readied for county fairs and other competitions. It’s a mix of cotton seed hulls, beet pulp shreds, soybeans and steam flake corn.
Phil’s granddaughter cleans one of the animals that will be shown at a fair.

Cows love grain and alfalfa because they’re sweet. Alfalfa can be so rich, nutrient-wise, that at times Phil has to cut his feed with more fiber so that the cows don’t get too heavy.

Alfalfa feed. The leaves contain the majority of the proteins and energy.

“Why? Don’t we want big, heavy animals in the beef industry for price-per-weight values?”

It depends. In his sector of the business, Phil is primarily concerned with producing bulls and calves of good breeding stock and genetics, not to get them up to a high market weight for later eating, like what you often see at feed yards in the Midwest.

Like people, some animals grow differently than others. Phil adjusts the feed for each animal depending on the traits they exhibit.

Phil ultimately wants comfortable females for breeding, and energetic, virile bulls for seeding. So, nutrient-wise, Phil takes different things into account because his end product is a much different animal, produced with a different purpose, than those produced in other sectors of the business: Phil’s animals are for breeding, while the others are for eating.

Speaking of Phil’s business, let me segue into more of what he does.

A dirt road through the pastures.

Trowbridge Farms is a seed stock operation, which means that Phil produces bulls that are eventually purchased by cow-calf farms. Since I know that you readers are at a remedial level when it comes to farm terminology, I’ll explain what this all means:

Bulls are intact males that can reproduce (steers are castrated, and can not reproduce). A cow-calf farm is a place where a permanent herd of cows gets pregnant and gives birth to calves, which are later sold.

Phil lets the calves out of the barn so they can go graze in the pasture with the other cows.

Grazing Herefords.

Just prior to my visit, Phil had completed his annual bull sale. He averaged about $3,975 per head. That’s pretty fantastic, considering that his closest competition was bringing in half of that amount.

Phil hosts a yearly heifer sale (female cattle that have never been pregnant) and a calf sale as well. In addition he engages in many sales outside of his annual events.

Something that caught my eye in an antique shop in nearby Hudson. Perhaps from Phil’s farm?

Phil also sells frozen bull semen and embryos with the use of vapor shippers. Cows can give birth about 10-12 times, on average, in their lifetime, before pregnancy becomes stressful on their body. But with embryonic science in play at Phil’s lab, he can get hundreds of fertilized eggs from his cows, freeze them, and use or sell them later. Given this aspect of the business, some of his cows have produced 500-600 offspring.

Almost all of Phil’s cows are surrogate mothers that were transplanted with embryos.

All information needed to identify the parents is printed on the frozen embryo tube. Meticulous records are kept, both before and after pregnancy.

Timing is important when it comes to the cows. He schedules things around their super ovulation. First, CIDR (controlled internal drug release) devices are vaginally implanted  – they’re like giant IUDs. This makes the cows think they’re ovulating, which allows him to synchronize all of their reproductive systems.

They get a follicle stimulation hormone, which produces lots of eggs. He then artificially inseminates them to fertilize the eggs with his bull semen, thereby creating embryos. The embryos are then flushed out and used or sold.

A chute in the calving barn behind the lab, which Temple Grandin helped Phil to correct in order to obtain better results with his animals. She knew it needed an angle change within 10 seconds of looking at Phil’s drawing.

The process is just as intensive as human in vitro science. Phil’s daughter is an in vitro nurse and actually knows more than most doctors she works with, because she’s been doing this with cows for about 30 years.

In Phil’s operation, the bulls never touch a cow’s cervix. He usually puts embryos into cows fresh, as opposed to thawed from frozen, to increase the conception rate (15%-20% higher).

He sells a lot of frozen product to Argentina; about 40,000 units. But he makes more money from his US sales. This one bull, named Powder River, is like a legend around the farm. He’s spoiled and lazy, but he generates tons of product even at an old age – almost quadruple what other bulls can produce.

Powder River kicking up some dirt.

The frozen semen and embryos are stored in tubes or straws, and placed into liquid nitrogen holding tanks. In the event that Phil identifies a genetic abnormality, he will separate and retain the samples because many universities have expressed interest in studying them.

A frozen semen tube smokes as it makes contact with the humid Summer air. It has to be thawed at the correct temperature with a special device before it can be inserted into a cow.

Phil’s customers are buying bulls, bull semen and embryos because they want specific genes to be expressed in their herds, and they know that Phil’s bulls produce some of the most desirable characteristics and embody superior genetics.

Customers look at these purchases as investments, like buying stocks. When they come to Phil, they usually don’t leave without buying.

Most of Phil’s animals are Angus. He has a few Hereford and cross breeds in the mix, but people know him for his superior quality Angus. Hereford cattle are notorious for suffering from pink eye in the summer months, so Phil has endeavored to breed his Hereford to have different eye traits so that his are less prone to pink eye.

One of Phil’s Hereford bulls.
A white face and black body is generally the expressed phenotype for a cross breed.

He has blood tests performed on every animal at a cost of about $50 a pop. Two drops of blood are taken and sent out to a lab.

Phil’s 126th college intern, Natalie, draws blood for DNA and genomic marker testing. Phil generally takes on three interns each year, and has been doing so since the 1980’s. They get hands-on experience that classrooms and books can’t provide, and these desirable internships often get filled by our nations best and brightest animal science and agriculture students from top schools all over the country. Phil recognizes passion and is a great judge of potential. He’s motivated many hardworking students and aided them in finding their direction. He even helped some obtain scholarships.

These tests assess 50,000 different genomic markers that express traits related to things like parentage, marbling, tenderness, udder structure, temperament, body build and residual feed intake, among others. In addition to testing for these traits, the DNA samples are also used for parent verification.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, only 2,500 markers were tested. Now the tests assess up to 50,000.

“So what does the average day look like for Phil?”

Well, like most farms, Trowbridge is a family affair. Phil’s wife Annie does the books in the morning before heading to the hospital, where she’s a nurse on the surgical floor.

Phil’s son PJ is vital at the farm. He holds a degree in animal science from SUNY Cobleskill, and is the farm mechanic for all of the equipment.

Phil is usually up by 6:00 am, feeding and checking on the animals, and, thereafter, making hay in the Spring and Summer.

In Winter, he gets up an hour earlier to check on the cows. He recently installed video equipment in the barns so that he doesn’t always need to check on the cows several times overnight to see if they’re calving.

A barn with a blacktop corral where heifers are calved. A circular pen is nearby, where Phil photographs his bulls for bull sale pamphlets and for posting to his website.

Calving is done twice a year: In early winter (January, February and March), and in the Fall. Calving in January means he can cut nine months of the process in working with bulls. Phil is focused on both human and animal safety, and bulls can fight each other and tear stuff up. He likes to sell them off before they turn two years old, because the older they get, the harder they are to manage.

The inside of a calving barn that also houses donor cows, adjacent to Phil’s lab. Phil uses red mulch here that he gets from local farmers. Red mulch is more absorbent and comfortable for his calves. Phil barters for it in exchange for manure that he scrapes off his blacktop corrals.

Right now Phil is playing host to 4H kids for the Summer. They’re learning about cattle, hogs and lambs. The kids pick the animals themselves; they’re purchased on loan and then sold in September.

The kids learn how to take care of the animals, they keep track of feed and vaccinations with spreadsheets, and they show the animals at the county fair.

Many cattlemen work second jobs and perform odd tasks like this in their community. In addition to hosting 4H kids, Phil was the president of the NY Beef Council (which sponsored my tour here), he helped develop the new Veterinary Feed Directive laws that just went into effect, he runs a college internship program, and he goes on speaking tours for the industry. His son PJ has a tow truck gig at night, and he does some construction work for a friend in Albany when needed.

As if all of that isn’t enough, the Trowbridges also have to be vigilant of trespassing. A few months back, someone broke into the donor cow and calf barn behind the lab, took a bunch of video, and posted it online. Fortunately the guerrilla “coverage” was very positive in nature, but someone could have gotten hurt. And now sheriffs have been coming around, warning Phil that kids are stealing some of the ice packs used in shipping to make meth. Crazy.

Needless to say, no one is ever bored at Trowbridge Farms. But no one is resting on their laurels either. Phil wants to pass the farm on to his children, and beyond to his grandchildren.

He purchased his first barn there 25 years ago when it was a brush pile. He built it up and installed all the fencing little by little at night after spending his day working at a nearby farm. Since then his operation has become scientifically cutting edge and well respected in the community. Articles have been written in trade magazines attesting to Trowbridge’s advances in the field.

Not only is Phil’s farm economically productive and a benefit to both the industry and the community, but Phil is ecologically responsible and an excellent steward of the land.

Phil builds lasting relationships with everyone he encounters on a regular basis. I had the pleasure of hearing a message that someone left on Phil’s voicemail, thanking him for all he does in the area. The people of Ghent respect what he does, and he respects the people of Ghent. He even throws a hot dog and hamburger cookout for the locals each year that draws hundreds.

When Phil was driving me around the community, he pointed out some of the other business that came and went. Old chicken farms, welding shops, mechanic shops, well drillers, orchards, artist warehouse studios, craft breweries… And even some newcomers like grass finished, no antibiotics beef producers.

Some of these folks will allow their animals to die because they refuse to treat their cattle with antibiotics. Phil understands and respects the “no antibiotics” niche markets that have developed, but he’s also a big believer in medicine and cares for the animals too much to let one die when an illness is perfectly treatable.

His words: “If that doesn’t bother you, then there’s something not right.” In my opinion, this kind of attitude is absolutely necessary in order to work with animals to any measure of lasting success. Phil is by no means one of a kind within the beef industry when it comes to this outlook on animals, but that’s no slight to him. His work is demonstrative of how great the practitioners of this business are at its core. He’s exemplary, and exemplary is common in this business. That’s a good thing.

But Phil’s love for the animals he works with is instantly revealed to all the moment he encounters them. They’re calm in his presence, and very trusting of him and other people – even strangers like me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The Trowbridge family name is celebrating 60 years in the cattle business this year. I’m very happy to have met Phil and his family, and I’m honored to put a spotlight on them for my readers.

Saveur 2017 Blog Awards

Meat Maniacs: VOTE FOR ME!

I want your vote in Saveur’s 2017 Blog Awards. YOU KNOW YOU LOVE THIS BLOG!

Go here: http://www.saveur.com/blog-awards-2017-nominate

Enter www.johnnyprimesteaks.com into the entry field, and select the OBSESSIVE category, because, well, I obsess over steak. Then add something witty into the reason field.

_________________________

After that, I’ll be in your debt! THANK YOU!

Nice Matin

My wife and I were recently invited into Nice Matin to help promote their Provencal menu in their celebration of Bastille Day.

I’ll say this: Nice Matin is the best French joint in the restaurant group’s ownership among other French joints (L,Express, Cafe D’Alsace, and Le Monde).

We tried a few small bites and drinks from that menu, and, of course, the strip steak frites from the regular menu.

First, we started with some Ricard, which was sponsoring the evening’s French kick-off night. Some diners win goodie bags, and you can enter for a chance to win a trip to France.

Tapenade:

Mussels:

Squash Blossom Beignets:

Onion Tart:

All of those were on the special menu, and all were really good. I think the favorites, for me, were the onion tart and the tapenade, but the squash blossoms were really light and tasty and the mussels were really nice.

The steak was a solid 8/10. The meat was super tender, and I really only took points off because the cook was a little bit over what I asked (medium rare).

The fries were perfectly cooked, but the addition of the Provencal herbs (like lavender) was a little bit aggressive.

For dessert we tried a sesame panna cotta and an olive oil cake. Both were really great, both flavor-wise and texture-wise.

Also, really nice bread here. Warm and tasty.

I definitely recommend this joint for anyone looking for some good classic French fare in the neighborhood.

NICE MATIN
201 W 79th St
New York, NY 10024

The American Dream

The American Dream is a package I put together for the 4th of July weekend, but since it was so popular, I decided to keep it available for a bit.

What You Get

1) Two dry aged Duroc pork chops, weighing in at 20-24 oz each;

2) A pound of thick cut bacon;

3) A pound of dry aged tenderloin tails;

4) And a 16oz Wagyu New York strip (my favorite steak of all time).

The Price Tag

Just $125 for about 88-96 ounces of delicious, high quality meat. I’ve marked this package down from $165, so get on it while I’m still feeling patriotic!

ORDER HERE

NOW OPEN: My Butcher Shop

WWW.JOHNNYPRIMEMEATS.COM

The time has finally come for me to start slinging meat as opposed to just crushing it.

Over the last six years I’ve really fine-tuned my taste for high quality beef. I can almost pick out flavor notes like those freaks who test milk and wine, only I do it with beef. Blue cheese “funk” here, aroma of hazel nuts there, earthy mushrooms over yonder. You get the idea.

Writing restaurant reviews lead to writing recipes, and striving to replicate the steakhouse experience in my kitchen – even to the point of dry-aging beef at home.

My concern and respect for this amazing protein also fostered a desire to learn about the entire beef life cycle: from cow/calf operations to stockers and backgrounders; from corn farms to grazing ranches; from forage to feed; from fabrication floor to front of the case, and all the way back to the restaurant again. Start to finish. No stone left unturned. I’ve even addressed various nutritional and environmental concerns.

I’ve become an expert on steak. But photographing, eating and writing about beef was no longer satisfying me. It seemed that I hit a wall and was spinning my wheels. I wasn’t fulfilling the goals I had for this website. Or maybe my goals changed, because now I feel the need to offer these meaty experiences to you, rather than just tell you about them. I’m still going to review restaurants, highlight products and write informative articles about beef. But now there’s got to be more than just those things.

That’s why I’ve decided to open an online butcher shop. I’ve been working with an extremely high end “middle meats” company that has the resources and connections to buy out massive stocks of incredible prime, American Wagyu and even Japanese Kobe beef. They’ve got a multi-million dollar state of the art facility in the Bronx’s famous Hunt’s Point Cooperative Market with a crazy dry-aging room, a huge blast freezer and all the support they need from an incredibly skilled team of butchers.

All my steaks are cut to order, and can be fully customized. They’re individually vacuum sealed, wrapped in butcher paper and signed by a butcher before being shipped to you. Shipping, by the way, will be free and arrive at your door just 2-days after the order is cut.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve hand selected every cut that I’m offering, and I’ve even cooked up and tasted everything to verify that it’s something I’d want on my own plate. If you tend to agree with me on my steak review opinions, then you’re in good hands with anything you order from my butcher shop. You won’t be disappointed. Johnny Prime Meats will impress you.

My plan is to stock a few items that will always be available. For example, the best steak I’ve ever eaten is the American Wagyu strip.

I’ll be offering that all the time, along with a few prime dry-aged rib eye options and a prime dry-aged porterhouse.

But the bonus is that I’ll also be showcasing some rare and unique proteins that have limited supply and quantity. For example, I’ve got my hands on some really sweet dry-aged Duroc pork rib chops right now, as well as some dry-aged tenderloin tails for the grill. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll try to locate some dry-aged veal, American Wagyu hanger steaks, or lamb bacon.

And speaking of bacon, you’ll be able to add a pound of thick cut bacon to any order for just $10 at checkout. Because what steak meal at home is complete without that steakhouse style slab of thick cut bacon?

I hope you guys are interested. Check out the shop. Browse the offerings. And keep your eyes on my meat!

BUTCHER SHOP SALE: PIEDMONTESE STRIPS!

Dear Beloved Meat Freaks:

I’m really excited about these steaks!

Piedmontese is a breed of cattle that is originally from northwest Italy. Their short, double muscle fiber structure makes for incredibly tender steaks even without tons of marbled fat.

I recommend that you don’t go past medium rare on these: leaner meats have less fat, which means they can dry out if you cook them too much.

They’re currently very affordable, as they’re still sort of a hidden gem in the meat business.

I’ve got them priced at 20% off: 10 lbs is just $159.99 (regularly $199.99)!!!  That’s 10 glorious one pound steaks to fill your grill this weekend. Get on it!

ORDER YOURS HERE!

I cooked one up at home yesterday and these babies are incredibly tender and delicious. They’re lean, juicy, and packed with a really nice but mild flavor. For the one pounders, you just need some salt, pepper and garlic powder for the seasoning. Then sear in a hot pan with butter for about three and a half minutes per side. Let rest, and then slice.

New in the Shop: Lamb Ribs!

I’m really excited to be working with Mosner Family Brands to bring you all this rare and delicious protein.

These are LAMB RIBS, you meat maniacs!!!

 

You don’t see them too often, but they’re really special.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em, as they say… and, well, I got ’em… And now you can get some too. You don’t want to miss out on these – especially you game meat and BBQ fanatics out there. These are pure heaven.

ORDER HERE!

The Crimson Sparrow

I first became acquainted with The Crimson Sparrow when I hung out with chef-owner John McCarthy at a mutual friend’s party.

We traded social media info and kept up with each others’ food exploits online. I always thought his dishes looked so beautiful and sounded so delicious, but I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get to try them – John being up in Hudson, NY and me being NYC-based.

Well, it turns out that I was scheduled to go on a farm tour in Ghent, NY the weekend before the 4th of July. Upon checking out the map of where Ghent was, and planning how I was going to get there, I realized I would be passing through Hudson. I decided to make a small weekend trip out of this farm tour, and to bring my wife along.

It was a no-brainer, at that point, that I’d be visiting John at The Crimson Sparrow. We first went in for the tasting menu, late in the evening after we finished up that farm tour in Ghent.

I have to say… Chef John is doing some really amazing things here. He’s clearly inspired by Japanese cuisine; its preparation, its focus, its simplicity, its artistry. And while he does highlight a lot of Japanese ingredients, he’s also drawing inspiration from his local environs in the Hudson valley as well, and even dropping some overt hints of French technique and Korean flavors as well.

John has been all over the globe honing his cuisine. He used to be an attorney, but then ditched that for the culinary arts. He’s French trained, but he spent a significant amount of time in Japan absorbing all he could. He even did a 5-year stint with Wiley DuFresne at WD-50 in NYC before deciding it was time to press out on his own.

The Crimson Sparrow offers an a la carte menu, but the big draw for me was this multi-course tasting menu, priced at just $95.

I was eager to dig in when we arrived, just like how I’m eager to write about the meal now. I hope your mouth doesn’t water too much, because after I finish describing the tasting menu, you’ll have to stay tuned and read on for the incredible restaurant tour and daytime snack bites that I experienced the following day.

Course 1: Maitake Mushroom

This was crispy yet meaty, and had great flavors from the black truffle and lemon. The only thing I was hoping for here was maybe a flake of sea salt as a finishing item – maybe some nori smoke on that salt too.

Course 2: Yukon Potato

This Yukon Gold potato was shredded and fried to a crisp, topped with smoked egg yolk, cheddar and sea salt. This was essentially a creamy, smokey nest of potato chips. Awesome!

Course 3: Cucumber Crab

This dish reminded me of a really fucking delicious version of something like tuna salad, or crab salad, if you will. Really light and refreshing. I found myself wishing this was offered as a lunch sandwich on some nice, lightly toasted white bread with shiso leaf. I could eat that every day.

Course 4: Dashi with Purple Potato

The photo doesn’t do this dish justice. It was gorgeous. Purple potato, dashi broth, bonito flakes, and a nori aoli mix together to form a really refreshing cold soup. There were hints of miso and mustard flavors coming through as well. Nicely executed.

Course 5: Enoki Mushrooms

I love enoki mushrooms. These were treated simply and allowed to shine for what they are; cooked with binchotan (a kind of Japanese charcoal). They were dressed with soy and topped with shredded nori and sesame seeds. Perfect, really juicy, snappy like noodles, but textured and satiating like a meat protein.

Course 6: Soft Shell Crab

I had a bad experience with soft shell crab when I was younger. The crab I had was too far along after molting, and some parts of the shell were no longer soft. They were like shrimp shells, and it grossed me out. But lately I’ve been dabbling more into soft shell crabs, because I know they can be really good. Here at The Crimson Sparrow they are excellent. It’s lightly batter-fried and served with a mizuna corn kimchi sauce. There was a nice citrus and pepper-spice pop to this dish. Extremely soft shell, great fry batter.

Course 7: Abalone with Pine Nuts

This dish isn’t on the regular tasting menu. Chef John brought it out special for us. I’m so grateful that he did, because this fucking thing was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life. I don’t say that lightly either.

Chef John first sous vides the abalone with pork belly and dashi. The pine nuts are pressure cooked with liquid from the bacon and abalone sous vide broth. Are you fucking kidding me? Then an abalone liver and squid ink emulsion is put on the bottom of the plate before serving (the black bits in the photo below).

This dish had such a nice buttery, savory, meaty flavor, and the pine nuts were like farro or barley in texture – like an “ancient grain” kind of starch, or beans. Truly amazing.

Course 8: Shrimp Dumplings

The broth/sauce here was killer: lemongrass, ginger and scallop. Really smooth and rich, and the dumplings were perfectly cooked, like excellent seafood ravioli.

Course 9: Hamachi

These slices of Hamachi exhibit simplicity and Chef John’s respect for the protein, while the cabbage, shiso, shiso oil, nori oil and yuzu broth demonstrates complexity of flavor and John’s extremely impressive skills as a chef. This dish represents exactly what he is doing here at The Crimson Sparrow: simplicity and complexity in the right balance.

Course 10: A5 Wagyu Picanha

Picanha is a Brazilian cut of beef, but it’s the same as “top sirloin cap” here in the states, only with the layer of fat left on that we Americans usually trim off.

This dish was not on the regular tasting menu either. The flavor was wild. It’s beef, but it tastes more like foie gras. It’s very rich in flavorful, oily fats. That large layer of fat can still be chewy, even on A5 Wagyu, but at times you can take it down because it gets so soft.

This beef hailed from the Miyazaki prefecture, which is known as one of the best in Japan for producing highly marbled beef. That little pile of magic dust on the side? Kalamata olive salt. So nice.

Course 11: Pork Belly Congee

This was really tasty. Congee is rice porridge. This one was made with porcini mushrooms and chili oil in the mix, aside from the delicious and tender pork belly. This is perfect “pick-me-up” comfort food right here.

Course 12: Aged Strip Loin

Obviously I loved this dish. It was served with ssamjang (Korean black bean sauce), dressed fresh soy beans and endive.

Here’s what the full plate looked like:

Palate Cleanser: Amazake

This amazake is a young sake made with fermented black and white rice and sweetened with ginger. It was creamy, sweet, slightly bubbly, and really delicious.

Dessert: “American Psycho” on a Plate (that’s my name for it)

This beautiful Jackson Pollock / Patrick Bateman mash-up of plating artistry is a sponge cake with blue- rasp- and mul- berries. There were notes of citrus or yuzu, and even avocado cream in the anglaise. Those beautiful red splatters were done with beet sauce.

Okay so that covers the tasting menu. The next day we came back when John was a little less busy to hang out with him a bit. He gave us a cool tour of the restaurant and kitchen.

Here’s the outside:

The bar is outfitted with some cool things that John salvaged from the property when he first purchased it. Part of the property used to be an old Packard auto shop, and another part was a bakery.

The main dining room is gorgeous. It’s outfitted with some antiques that John either found on the property (like the lamps), or items for which he bartered with local antique shop owners to obtain (like the wine cart).

This part of the property was actually a bakery at one point, and this room was the inside of the massive oven. The table was custom made to accommodate the 9 inch floor slope from one end of the room to the other.

A more private room for larger parties is also available to customers.

The kitchen is housed in the space where Packard used to wash and detail their cars. Those windows you see on the right are massive, and there’s a strip of cool bar stool seats where diners can sit and watch all the kitchen action.

John also showed me the Wagyu strip loin that he’s aging in the walk-in. I think this hunk of deliciousness has been going for over 100 days.

John has a rooftop herb garden as well.

That day we also tried some light snacks in the outdoor garden seating area – a gorgeous space.

This is a pork bun. Really nice flavors, and that pork was stewed to perfection.

These soy beans are similar to the beans on the tasting menu that came with the aged beef dish, but served on a giant shrimp chip.

Also, they serve crisp Orion beer for just $5. Great to sip while enjoying a sunny day on the patio.

 

I think that about does it. You guys need to check this place out if you’re ever in the area. I’m dead serious when I tell you that this was the best tasting menu omakase style meal I’ve ever had, and that abalone dish… Holy shit man. Ask for it when you go.

THE CRIMSON SPARROW
746 Warren St
Hudson, NY 12534

Helsinki

Helsinki is a BBQ joint and live music performance venue in Hudson, NY. My wife and I stopped in on our last night in town to try the food.

The space is beautiful; a reclaimed warehouse of some kind, totally refitted in a modern but old fashioned kind of way.

 

The upstairs is an event space for things like weddings.

There’s even a beautiful outdoor space that’s reminiscent of a walking garden path.

Anyway, the menu was really enticing.

Even the sides looked nice.

I had a couple of cocktails, one being a smokey and spicy mescal drink, and the other being a refreshing bourbon smash.

For a starter, we had the baked oysters with pimento cheese. Really fucking good. Highly recommended.

For our entree, we split a BBQ trio platter, which came with lean sliced brisket, Texas links, and ribs.

I really liked the links the best. The ribs were excellent though, and had a nice natural spice to them. The brisket was dry, unfortunately. I get that they are lean cuts, but they should still be juicy.

On the side we had cornbread, spaghetti squash and cherries.

Here’s a shot of my wife explaining the different sauces to me, since I missed what the waitress said while I was outside shooting pictures of the food.

Here she is again, patiently waiting for me to stop taking pictures of the sauces.

The white one, an Alabama style sauce, was my favorite. You definitely need to hit this joint when you’re in town. It’s one of three places I highly recommend here in Hudson.

HELSINKI
405 Columbia St
Hudson, NY 12534

The Norm at the Brooklyn Museum

The Norm is the restaurant inside the Brooklyn Museum. I was recently invited in to try their burgers and to help promote them on social media.

The space is gorgeous here, and it truly fits with the nice artwork and artifacts on display in the museum.

I browsed the menu while drinking a bloody Mary. This was nice and savory, and had just the right amount of spice to it.

The burgers were delicious. The first one I tried was “The Norman.” Topped with cheddar and bacon, and some house made pickles, lettuce, tomato and onion.

The second one was an interesting Japanese fusion type burger. The patty contained mushrooms as well as beef, and it was glazed with a teriyaki sauce, and topped with caramelized onion,  pickled daikon and carrots.

I also tried the pho flavored ramen. This was an interesting fusion of Vietnamese and Japanese soups. The Sun noodles were perfectly cooked, but the addition of too much fish sauce muddied the flavors that were cooked into the broth with the various cuts of beef.

It definitely smelled like pho though, because of the herbs. The soft boiled egg and flank steak on top were also perfectly cooked, like the noodles.

This ramen was indeed tricky. My wife and I both liked it enough to finish it – even after crushing two burgers with fries – but we were perplexed by the competing flavors within. Not bad by any means, just different.

I think the mushroom burger embodied the same feeling, only we loved that one and the ramen we just liked. I’d definitely go back to try more stuff here. They do a great job, and are definitely thinking outside the box.

THE NORM
at The Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Pkwy
Ground Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11238