Out of State, Not Out of Mind: Chelsea Market, NYC

February 18 2010 - 9:20 AM

For the past several months I’ve been lucky enough to call New York home for the occasional weekend. So when I’m not feeding on Bon Chon chicken in the village or Indian food in Queens I’m taking advantage of one under-hyped aspect of food in New York, the food market.

The one in walking distance for me is the Chelsea Market, which at first glance resembles Navy Pier. It’s kind of got this overpriced, lame, touristy vibe. And while there may be cheaper places in certain areas, the selection and prices here put Chicago to shame. On a whim I can find beautiful short ribs, skate wing or monkfish for around $8 a pound. Veggies are even more affordable and available. Giant trumpet mushrooms, fresh bunches of thyme for $0.85 ($3 at Dominick’s), fingerling potatoes for less than the price of sweet garnets in Chicago… it goes on and on: Torpedo shallots, hydroponic carrots with lush parsleyesque tops, literally on and on. I went a bit overboard and my bill came to $7 and change.

Now a good produce spot is a necessity but when it’s next to a great Italian grocery it’s even better. Fresh pasta is one of those things that is worth buying. Considering the time it takes to make it and the potential to mess up the recipe, it’s a great buy for any price. It also bears to note they have everything else you’d care to get. A small truffle dessert treat $1.50 cut in half goes a long way. If you’re in the mood for non-dessert truffles, they have those too as well as all sorts of aged meats, cheeses, etc.

Nobody can beat a good Italian grocery but take into account an impressive butcher shop and a more-than-impressive fishmonger and dinner plans come together quickly. One week I made monkfish with a caper/tomato/olive ragout over pasta. Another week was skate in champagne browned butter sauce over asparagus and fingerlings. This Inflatable Water Slide past week was last minute short ribs over gnocchi in a red wine tomato sauce with soft bits of fennel that I mistakenly strained out. Without the bits you wouldn’t have noticed they were in there.  An overly salty sino romano actually came through in the end. I was going to return it as it was inedible on its own but grated on top of the gnocchi it provided additional welcome salt. Now the downside, if there is one, is that when you decide at 4 to buy short ribs for dinner, you’re committing to a 9:30 dinner or later. I’ve made the mistake of rushing short ribs and that dinner still is an embarrassment.

Maybe it’s the simplicity in cooking in a kitchen that’s smaller than my closet in Chicago or the lack of pans, gadgets or a dishwasher but dinner goes faster, I don’t seem to want for anything. Cooking short ribs individually in a ball of foil with garlic, rosemary, shallots, salt and pepper worked even better than any braising pan. A single cutting board demands an orderly chopping, dicing and slicing. With great ingredients and an appetite it’s hard to find anything missing.