Monday, September 6, 2010

Brighton Beach Memoir (part 3)

We make two more trips to Brighton Beach, stopping each time at the Brighton Bazaar: This has probably the loveliest produce display in the neighborhood, but the big draw is the “salad bar,” and I use quotation marks here because it’s a whole lot more than salads: eight kinds of blintzes, for example, from sour cherry to mushroom; stuffed peppers; six kinds of soup; potato and vegetable latkes; cold sliced beef tongue with garlic horseradish; a salad Dave translates as herring with a fur coat, which means a thick dusting of chopped egg on top; eggplant nut salad; pollack in tomato sauce; smelts and gefilte fish; bacon-wrapped liver; stewed apples; stroganoff and chicken kiev. And the list goes on and on.

People load up containers for an instant dinner, and if this is fast food, I’m all for it.

There are also displays of fresh meats and poultry; pel’meni (dumplings) you buy by the scoop; and at least 20 kinds of smoked fish, from capitan and trout to mackerel and salmon. On one foray, I load up on something that looks like a chicken terrine but turns out to be a richly patchworked head cheese, Mother Goose “liverwurst,” a round of Camembert (okay, that’s not Russian, but it’s only $1.99), 10 ounces of goat cheese at $5.99, tiny Danish pastries, dark molasses bread, exotic-looking chocolate wafer cookies, and preserved smoked chicken legs. All of this comes to less than 25 bucks.

I have not done a complete sampling of my haul as yet, but the bread is just as good as the loaf we sampled at Cafe Glechik, described in a previous post. The head cheese is a little strange, and falls apart easily, but it has a lusty flavor and dense texture. I served the Camembert with cocktails to a friend, and though it was just shy of fully ripe, the cheese went down smoothly with water crackers.

And Gaiser’s Mother Goose liver spread? Well, here I must digress. Perhaps my palate is not as sophisticated as I would like, but this seemed to me every bit as irresistible as the foie gras I’ve eaten in high-end restaurants at, say, $12 for a tiny crock. Of course I feel horrible ordering this stuff. I know how the geese suffer and won't get into details in a PG-rated blog, but here’s a link if you want all the nasty facts:

My first serious introduction to this velvety nirvana came on a trip to Dordogne, where the local specialty is foie gras, on vacation with a vegetarian friend about a decade ago. I broke out in a guilty sweat buying a tiny slab of the stuff on market day, when I managed to sneak away from B, who, bless her, is a fervent champion of animal rights. So I stashed the liver in the back of the fridge, behind bottles of water and juice, and slipped downstairs on tiptoe in the middle of the night to smear foie gras on pieces of baguette. So this is the way alcoholics live, I thought. Needless say, I came back from the French countryside about five pounds heavier.

The good news about Gaiser’s product is that it’s made from finely ground pork, chicken liver, and veal (which may warm your heart, because the geese were spared, or rouse your ire, because three other beasts were involved). I swear, though, if you scoop this stuff from the tube and smooth it down in a nice serving dish, surrounded by cornichons, your guests will be none the wiser. Pick up some cheap caviar and smoked fish at the Brighton Bazaar and you can easily and cheaply underwrite one of the smartest cocktail parties in town.