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With all due respect to the many cooking skills my mother taught me, I owe much of the joy I take from food to my dad. He and my mom divorced, and after he remarried, he blossomed as a home cook. Of course he made great pancakes. He also simmered up homemade Bolognese sauce while most Americans were still using Ragu from a jar, and roasted succulent chickens instead of Shaking ‘n’ Baking. But like lots of kids, I formed my earliest impressions of my dad standing over a grill. Nothing fancy, mostly hot dogs and burgers — certainly no grilled chicken or fish back then.
When I eventually moved to New York City, rented my first apartment, and started cooking for myself, it always felt so good to go home to my dad’s place across town for dinner. Birthday visits to restaurants were even more thrilling. Over the years we hit some classics, including a place called The 21 Club, where he’d taken me for (of course) my 21st birthday. It’s a seriously masculine place, in some respects a dressed-up steakhouse, with a bartender who could mix a perfect martini in his sleep.
Famously, New York is a city of great steakhouses. I had one of my last meals as a single woman at Peter Luger, an ancient establishment under the Williamsburg Bridge that serves porterhouses the size of tennis racquets. And for many years, I heard tell of a legendary dive on the Lower East Side called Sammy’s Roumanian. Word had it that all you could get there was beef and vodka, and the meat far outshone the drink. (They actually serve a wide range of Eastern European/New York Jewish specialties, including chopped liver and egg creams.) Among the condiments on the table is a syrup pitcher of chicken fat.
I never made it to Sammy’s before I left town several years ago. But since Father’s Day makes me think of steaks and grilling and New York, and a certain kind of old-fashioned, Don Draper, masculine glamor, I dug up this steak recipe and tried it out. It’s intense, garlicky, a welcome change from routine, but easy to prepare. Keep the sides simple. Get the kids to marinate the steak. Hand it over to Dad to grill. Vodka is optional. And for dessert? All my fellas love Klondike Bars.
Fleica (Romanian-style grilled steak with garlic)
adapted from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman Serves 4 normal people, but you know your dad.
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled juice of 2 lemons 1/2 t salt fresh black pepper 2-3 lb flank (classic) or 4 sirloin/NY strip/ribeyes, or equal amount of skirt 3 T butter, melted 1/4 c chopped parsley
Press or mince garlic and stir together in a small bowl with lemon juice and salt. Smash garlic as much as possible with the back of a wooden spoon. Press the black pepper into the steak, then spread garlic mix all over both sides. Marinate at room temperature for an hour.
Start fire, setting the rack 4” from coals. When the fire is moderately hot, you’re ready to cook. Brush steak with melted butter and place on grill. Baste with remaining butter as it cooks, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
Garnish with parsley and serve.
A slab of meat like this cries out for sliced ripe tomatoes and some kind of potato. Baked is classic, though Sammy’s gilds the lily and serves latkes, fried potato pancakes. But June in Memphis is too hot for all that, so how about potato salad? Start with 1/2 cup or more of vinaigrette, made as follows: mix (whisk in a bowl or shake in a jar) 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grindings of black pepper, 3 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar, and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Then mix in a half cup of olive oil.
Boil 2 lb. new potatoes in their skins, then cool them enough to be peeled and sliced. Gently toss the potatoes with the vinaigrette, adding chopped parsley and chives to taste. Let it rest in the fridge till the steak is ready.