Mon.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sat: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
334 East Bay St.
I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. Normally, I’m against “celebrity cookbooks,” as they tend to have more fluff and glossy photos than useful cooking information. Not so, here — Bourdain’s book is a revelatory look at hard-core French country cookin’, written with the knowledge and swagger that can only come from years cooking on the line and the willingness to eat pretty much anything. In particular, recipes that seem the most inviting tend to call for difficult-to-find ingredients — duck fat, veal neck, poussin, kidney fat. Fine, I thought while reading — all I have to do is move to Manhattan, and I can cook like this.
Ahh, but not so fast… Ted’s Butcherblock, which now occupies the East Bay Street address once housing NY Butcher Shop, has all this and more. The store is beautiful, the staff is eager and knowledgeable, and the products are rare, fresh, and tempting. I made two visits under the guise of writing this article over the past three weeks, and I also went back once just because I like the place. It’s great.
I chatted with Ted Dombroski (owner, duh) at length about the store, and his enthusiasm for great food (and wine) is immediately apparent. He’s in the business for all the right reasons, namely getting the hard-to-find and premium products that, well, make one wish he lived in Manhattan. The meat cases gleam and are filled with very high-quality all-natural beef from Painted Hills in Oregon. There’s Wagyu beef (at more than $30 a pound), lamb tenderloin, strips and ribeyes and filet, a bunch of different bacons, and on and on. Fast, friendly counter staff will cut what you need on the spot, and if they don’t have it, they’ll go the extra mile to get it for you. Elusive and under-appreciated cuts like flatiron and hanger steaks ($7.99 a pound) are there, as are an impressive array of sausages and the like.
In the refrigerated cases across the store lies a food freak’s dream. At least 15 kinds of ravioli, fresh-frozen pastas intelligently packaged in one-person portions ($1.50 each), pheasant and other pâtés, cocktail-party biscuits. I moved from case to case, mentally chalking off the ingredients I’d deemed unavailable to me — poussin, rabbit, veal sweetbreads ($9 a pound), duck fat, quail ($17 a pound), tasso ham.
The cheese cases are likewise fantastic. Perfect Stilton from Nottinghamshire ($20 a pound), “Oregonzola” from the Rogue Valley ($20 a pound), Israeli Goat Cheese ($8 for 11 oz.), Mozzarella of goat and cow, made in-store, and Parmegiano Reggiano at a Whole-Foods-beating $15 a pound. There’s all the usual suspects — Talleggio, Explorateur, St. Nectaire, as well as a variety of “boutique cheese” from Oregon, Maine, and Virginia, all fresh-looking and packaged perfectly. A big hats off to Kristin, cheese-buyer extraordinaire, on finding these cheeses and keeping good-looking product on the shelf. That’s not as easy as it looks.
It’s at about this point that I realize I will be spending a good bit of money in this place, with some regularity.
There’s a bunch of wine, too, ably selected by Sue Mohle. In fact, there’s a busy schedule of tasting events at Ted’s, with a weekly Friday event from 5-7 p.m. as well as monthly regional events, featuring wines and foods from a particular corner of the world. The last one was Croatian-based, and found Ted whipping up a batch of pierogi in the back for the occasion. The wine selection is broad enough for the space they’ve got, and prices seem reasonable overall. I had a bottle of Babcock Pinot Noir ($20) that was spot-on with my flatiron steak.
And after all, that’s what it’s all about — the meat. I am here to say that the Painted Hills brand is excellent, truly fine beef. Even some “lesser cuts” like the flatiron ($7.99 a pound) are tender, flavorful, and delicious. In fact, I bought a hanger steak while talking with Ted a few days ago, and I spent all day thinking about how great it was going to taste after a hard day’s work. I fired up the all-natural lump charcoal in the Weber, tossed the steak into a marinade of olive oil and smashed garlic, and made myself a cocktail. Five minutes per side, then off to a platter to rest (you do rest your meat, don’t you?). Returning to the kitchen 10 minutes later, I found a bare bloody platter and two very guilty-looking, yet very satisfied-looking, dogs. After beating them mercilessly, as I was opening a can of soup, I couldn’t help but smile a little — I guess that means I need to go back to Ted’s again.
On my next visit, I may take the opportunity to sample some of their gourmet deli sandwiches and panini. Their menu features about 10 different concoctions that all sound pretty good — especially the bacon of the month BLT with a side of three-year gouda mac and cheese. And if I do get a sandwich to go, I’ll make sure not to leave it on the table for the dogs to get. Damn mutts.
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