March 15, 2011
It may have been on hiatus but I think it’s time for a revival – the Tour de Top Chef is back, NYC style!
Let me just start off by saying, I got lucky with this one. I knew Top Chef Dale Talde was doing a pop-up in NYC. I knew that the only information Eater and the other food sites had was that it was going to be called “Bodega” and that it was going to be on the Bowery. And I knew I wanted to get in. Desperately.
Enter the wonderful world of Twitter. I follow Dale on Twitter and happened to see this particular tweet on a fateful Sunday: “I’ve got a couple of spots that opened up got this Saturdays pop up of bodega who’s interested?”
…A couple twitter messages and an email later, I was IN.
I had read about how the locale for Bodega was going to be a converted warehouse; however, considering it was essentially a storage room, they dolled up the space quite nicely. Metal shelves were pushed to the side to form a relatively large dining room complete with five small communal tables covered in tablecloths and heavy flatware. The area was covered in a dull, comforting glow thanks to the Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling. (I assume these were in the space originally but they really contributed to the ambiance of it all.) On the far side of the room by the window was “the kitchen” – based my quick peek, it looked like a bunch of folding tables covered in cooking equipment.
Snacks were passed around upon arrival:
Bacon, Egg and Cheese – Deviled Egg, Benton’s Bacon, Aged Wisconsin Cheddar
Bacon, eggs and cheese – it’s a tried and true combination. Simple, but tasty.
Tuna Melt – Tuna, Melted Lardo, Saltines
I had a brief conversation about Dale’s tuna melt with another attendee and we both agreed – this is one of the best things we’ve ever eaten on a saltine cracker.
Milk Style Ramen – 6 Minute Egg, Pork Belly
First off, can I just say – presentation-wise, serving ramen in a Cup Noodles cup? Freaking awesome.
Comfortable and familiar in flavor, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The runny yolk from my 6-minute egg accidentally melted into the broth while I was taking the above picture (I know I should have just eaten it but then you wouldn’t have gotten a picture!) but, if anything, it made the broth even more rich and savory. I did wish there were more noodles with a bit more bite to them – the ones I fished out of my cup were short, limp pieces. (However, considering this was the first entree and given the portions of the subsequent dishes, it was probably better that I didn’t overload on carbs.)
Pork Tamale – Green Chile Braised Pork, Cheddar Grits, Chicharron
My other favorite of the night. Served in a corn husk, the usual masa was replaced with a pile of grits, which I thought was a clever swap. The combination of cheesy grits, tender pork, fried chicharron, creamy sauce (sour cream? creme fraiche? can’t remember) and crisp radish made for a satisfying bite.
Pastrami Style Beef Brisket – Rye Croutons, Braised Cabbage
The only course I questioned throughout the night, I couldn’t understand what made the brisket “pastrami style”. My understanding of pastrami is that meat is cured, dry rubbed and then smoked and steamed. However, from what I could tell, this brisket was sauced, with flavors more on the sweeter side. The meat also had a funny chewiness to it that I couldn’t put my finger on. (I was just thoroughly confused.)
Rack of Venison – Cervena Venison, Dried Blueberries, Buttermilk Crumble
Right before this course came out, I overheard that the “kitchen” was freezing cold and that the chefs were trying to keep the venison warm – if there were any problems though, I wasn’t able to detect it from tasting that piece of meat. Perfectly cooked, absolutely tender, without a hint of gaminess… this was one of the best prepared pieces of venison I’ve had. I also liked the buttermilk crumble, which tasted like little shortbread pieces with a slight hint of graham cracker.
Chinese Broccoli – Pickled Banana Peppers, Spiced Corn Crumbs
The menu states the little red things above were made of corn but our waiter said it was chicharron – not quite sure who’s right. (I personally think it was corn; they tasted exactly like Flaming Hot Cheetos!). Whatever it was, I liked it – the slight spiciness complimented the tangy banana peppers; the crunchiness contrasted against the vegetables.
Potato Chip and Pretzel Tart with Salted Chocolate Ganache, Avocado Milkshake
We ended the meal with an avocado milkshake and Dale’s $5,000 cookie from the recent cookie/Muppet episode of Top Chef.
Dale said himself that Bodega’s concept “is all about having the old Dominican guy who’s been in the neighborhood for 25 years walk in, not knowing it’s my joint“, and I definitely saw that that night. The food was solid; the tastes were familiar. I had a good time and can only thank Dale (and Twitter!) for the amazing opportunity!
(Thanks again to Chef Dale Talde for the invite!)
Bodega with Dale Talde