Summer's Best Surf-and-Turf (Parts Sold Separately)
Two irreconcilable but equally powerful cravings have hijacked my brain this week:
1) The steamed lobster with uni mousse I had last night at Soto, former F&W Best New Chef Sotohiro Kosugi's first NYC restaurant. Lobster usually doesn't thrill me (except in lobster-roll form or in Maine), and I tend to avoid restaurants with Sixth Avenue frontage. But Soto doesn't feel like it's on Sixth, thanks to a genius entryway that blocks the avenue's numerous aesthetic violations. And more to the point, Kosugi's food is brilliant. The dish I can't get out of my head is made with juicy chunks of steamed Maine lobster layered with sweet sea-urchin mousse, surrounded with beautiful slivers of lotus root and topped with smoked uni and caviar. If it weren't for a massive attack of CFS-jones (see below), another dish that would haunt my dreams all week is Kosugi's ginger-marinated geoduck clam with smoked oyster, Japanese cucumber and radish sprouts. Drop-dead gorgeous presentation, and incredibly delicious too.
2) Chicken fried steak, the subject of a cover story in this week's Houston Press, the city's alterna-paper. The 3,500-word magnum opus—by James Beard Award-winning food writer Robb Walsh—breaks down chicken fried steak (hereinafter CFS) into its various types (Southern-Style, Cowboy-Style, Big-Honking-Style, et al) and uncovers the best places in Texas to try each kind. As Walsh points out—and I sadly agree—the dish is getting very little love outside Texas's loyal Chicken Fried Steak Belt at the moment. But I'm hoping it has a wienerschnitzel-like revival soon—particularly since, as Walsh points out, CFS historians think the dish was invented by schnitzel-savvy German immigrants.
I've been in permanent CFS withdrawal since leaving Texas after high school, but as a stopgap measure between visits there, I walk a half-block from the F&W office to Virgil's, one of the few NYC restaurants that serve the dish. Virgil's calls theirs a Georgia Chicken Fried Steak (sorry, Texas) and it's perfectly serviceable, with a thick, crunchy fried batter that clings nicely to the thin steak (which I'd say is the size of a kid's softball mitt, if I were qualified to make sports analogies). I'd quibble with the slightly too-oniony gravy (which is supposed to be a creamy, pepper-flecked white, not brown); but no matter what, CFS never tastes as good north of the Mason-Dixon. I think it's a terroir issue. Speaking of which, maybe Virgil's should consider importing their gravy from Palo Pinto County, Texas, whose main industries, according to Walsh's friend, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy, "are methamphetamines and cream gravy."