Roller Derby Khubz

In food, restaurant on 04/26/2009 at 10:21 am

We have discovered the new wasteland of NYC in the Upper East Side. It’s a section between Lexington and 1st Ave, bounded by 86th and 68th street. The Old World authenticity has disappeared, replaced by trust fund kid stores like Big Drop and restaurants that Hamptons preppie types frequent when they’re pretending to go ethnic.

Last night, we went to a highly recommended ‘Turkish’ place called Beyoglu (BAY-oh-loo) before a Gotham Girls Roller Derby jam. Online reviewers rave about this meze house, serving tapas with Middle-Eastern influence. I thought we’d be able to get böreks like our friend from Constantinople brought from a bakery in Kensington, or the stuff of dreams at Djerdan on 31st Ave in Astoria. What a mistake! We should have left immediately as soon as we saw ‘Mediterranean’ emblazoned on the blue awnings overhanging the sidewalk cafe seating.

paint colors are authentic at least

This is what it looked like, seemingly promising. The mosaic tables were bright and cheerful. Our wait was 25 minutes according to the hostess, but it was humid and muggy last night, and the people crowded outside in line smoking rendered me more irritable. My rumbling stomach wasn’t helping. We managed to snag two seats 5 minutes later at the bar on the far end. The wall behind us had some really annoying lighting fixtures:

epileptic fits

And the place is loud, for no reason. There wasn’t even music playing in the background that I can remember. Bad acoustics planning maybe, and a poor layout. The bartender who served us was wearing the kind of perfume that bites your nostrils. The crowd seemed to be yuppies or families who frequent the place because they don’t know how to cook; no one seemed to be having a good time.

The menu was a tiny one page affair; the Turkish white wine we ordered tasted like watered down chardonnay. We ordered the only börek on the menu which turned out to be little cigars rolled up in phyllo dough filled with feta that tasted like bland mozzarella. There was a plate of thick discs of dry grill-marked and dense beef sausage, speckled with cumin and garlic, heavily doused with red coloring (Hillshire Farm quality mayhaps) on top of triangles of roasted potatoes.

Another dish was grilled octopus chunks tossed with a tangy lemon dressing with tomato slices, red onion and liberally smeared chopped parsley. It tasted muddy and very fleshy, not exactly QQ. The other half thought it was the best dish of the night – not high praise in the least. Yet another mediocre meze was the eggplant dip, which was bathed in liquid smoke. Real smoky flavor is not as heavy-handed as that. I was practically choking on the fake charcoal.

The only bright spot in the whole meal was the khubz served with the meze. It was round bread with large dimples, thick and hearty, with lovely QQ and mismatached holes that meant some hard-working yeast had been there. It was flatbread in the realm of pita but thicker and more flavorful. I would have been happy if there was some high quality olive oil drizzled on top and chunks of real olives, not the lone black pitted canned variety perched on our nasty dip. The recipe is basically the same as steamed bread but baked instead. My teeth are itching for it right now.

blimey goodness

1 pkg active dry yeast (2¼ tsp)
2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
2 teaspoons sugar
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
3 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
Optional: caraway seeds, cardamom powder

Combine yeast, 1 cup of the warm water and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside until mixture is foamy and doubled in size, about 10 minutes.

Sift flour and salt together in a standing mixer. Add remaining 1 cup warm water, starting with 3/4 cup and adding more as needed, yeast mixture and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add in seeds or other optional ingredients. Mix ingredients until dough pulls away form sides of the bowl, forming a ball.

Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Sprinkling as little flour on the dough and your hands as possible, knead the dough — push, fold and turn — about five minutes, until dough is smooth, elastic and doesn’t stick to your fingers.

Coat a large bowl with remaining olive oil and place dough inside, turning to coat with the oil. Cover bowl with a damp kitchen towel, and set in a warm draft-free place until dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, lightly dust a baking sheet and a kitchen towel with flour. Punch dough and transfer to a floured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Divide dough into 7 equal pieces, roll each one into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet.

Working with 1 ball of dough at a time, flatten gently, using  your hands until about 5-6 inches in diameter, ¼-inch thick. Lay loaves on floured towel, sprinkle flour on top, cover with a second towel, and let rest about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Preheat baking sheet or pizza stone 10 minutes with the oven. Poke dough with fingers to form dimples. Transfer to oven. Bake until they puff up, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer loaves to a wire rack to cool.

Freeze in plastic bag and thaw in refrigerator. Reheat at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

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