Culinary highlights from NYC, Spring 2010
Locande Verde http://locandaverdenyc.com/
What a beautiful restaurant in Tribecca; with a lively vibe, professional service and simple Italian--inspired market cuisine at the highest level. A perfect lunch: shrimp and white bean crostini, beet, gorgonzola and pistachio salad, fresh ricotta and foccaccia, homemade ravioli, cheese agnolotti with brown butter, peas and asparagus, white fish with a spring vegetable medley and Romesco sauce. Everything tasted so fresh, pure and expertly prepared. I would love to return for dinner.
The ultimate dining experience. Maybe the Blue Hill at Stone Barns experience could make me swoon more, but it’s hard to imagine. Especially for a celebratory girls’ night out, the Greenwich Village restaurant could not have been better. And from the elderflower sparklers on, the farm to table concept comes through loud and clear, in the city or not.. D’Avignon radishes and miniature carrots, greens and all, came nestled in a row, suspended from a cute presentation plank to start off the meal. House Charcuterie was passed around: coppa, saucisson, cured ham.. Spicy kale chips appeared spiking out of their own little presentation block. Freshly churned butter, whipped lardo with espelette and arugula salt with the cutest mini-baguettes (or giant breadsticks) followed. A spring salad mosaic with a few fiddleheads, asparagus spears, broccoli rabe. and green garlic shoots strewn about the plate, lightly dressed, was beautiful, so perfect. A fresh pullet egg with greens, brioche and speck - absolutely decadent. Pork shoulder and loin au naturel, melting lamb belly, as tasty as lamb fat can possibly be.. All these dishes were so flavourful, yet subtlety seasoned and made to shine with the background green accompaniments and odd flourish -nettles here or a hit of curry there, fresh herbs everywhere, nuts and grains..
Most notably, the wine pairing was absolutely exquisite. All the wines were unique and interesting (with more Chenin Blanc, Cab franc and esoteric grape blends for a given region, than most restaurants dare to do), showing the passion and thought put into the selection. The delivery really wowed too, offering the perfect mix of descriptive detail sans pretence. Spot on, smart and friendly (and female) - how refreshing.
I’m used to doing tasting menus and eating great food, but it is rare to see this kind of fine tuned service, original food and wine quality all coming together at the same time to make for something marking, spectacular. It’s not just about a talented chef or team cooking a good meal or a good room or farm fresh ingredients. It’s a whole philosophy, personality and authenticity that carries through from A to Z, thanks to staff and ingredients big time, but also management, organization, communication, passion, creativity, and surely much hard menial work. I know how difficult it is to make the stars align night after night. Blue Hill sets the bar high and you feel it, taste it, are inspired by it.
Gansevoort Hotel http://www.hotelgansevoort.com/
Room service breakfast at the Gansevoort hotel - Even if it was just your basic combo of scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon with toast and a fruit plate at a ridiculous price. For a change, everything was just right – the eggs buttery, the bacon crispy, the potatoes roasted and crusty but tender in the middle and seasoned. The fruit was freshly cut, if not from the ripest selection, but fine - so hitting the spot. Despite the hefty price tag of a room service breakfast, it is easy to be forgiving when you don’t have to get out of your pyjamas for a decent coffee and something tasty, and it’s such a shock when it’s actually good! Absolute luxury.
Torrisi 212-965-0955, 250 Mulberry St, Manhatten, NY 10012, http://piginahat.com/
A convivial, quality food nook in Little Italy run by two chefs, with charcuterie hanging in the window, lots of mouth watering offerings on display at the counter; dynamite sandwiches (pork shoulder and chicken parmesan), beautiful high-piled eggplant lasagne, silky ricotta and spicy rapini sides, terrific coffee cake. Flavour forward, fresh American Italian comfort food in a laid back, raucous, neighbourhood feel setting. This is my friend Barb’s favourite place, and what a gem. At dinner, they get slightly fancier and do a set menu with wine.
New York Magazine gives it a thumbs up too http://theapprovalmatrix.com/restaurants/reviews/underground/65478/index.html
Murray’s in Greenwich Village http://www.murrayscheese.com/
At Murray’s Cheese on Bleeker, I stumbled upon the kind of shop that makes me drool -blocks of cheese, logs of saucisson, olive oils and pickled everything! It’s not like I don’t have all the good cheese I need in Montreal, but I nabbed a few other nibbles here I was more than happy with: Hot sopressetta (Milanos) and pickled green beans (Brooklyn Brine Co.). I was mostly overjoyed to stumble upon foodie haven amidst the sea of fashion clothing and jewellery shops. And it is the oldest cheese shop in NYC, and so a landmark, no?
Part of the Batali empire, with Dave Pasternack as chef-owner, this is a fish emporium Italian style; bustling, cozy and beautiful like all the Batali restaurants. The menu is so loaded with enticing options to the point of mesmerizing. It’s hard not to over order, plus the portions are big.
There was excellent crudo (fluke, snapper, scallop, hamachi, oysters, sea urchin - each with their own perfect understated garnish.); a gaita olive aioli was addictive. Then: superb oysters (Maine and RI) with fresh horseradish -yum, a solid crab salad , a dandelion salad with dandelion honey seasoned just so, barnacles in broth, feather light ricotta gnocchi, Branzino cooked in a salt crust and drizzled with good olive oil.. These were the major highlights of the meal. A Sicilian fish stew with fennel, olives and tomato was also quite good, as was a hamachi carpaccio, and fried asparagus with egg dressing.
I loved this restaurant, but for my friends there were a few duds involving less than fresh mussels, under cooked clams, poorly cooked grouper - too bad. All the girls hated the sea urchin, although most of them were tasting it for the first time. So there could have been some of that foreign jarring effect at play, like when encountering some new, wierd ingredient that takes getting used to before you get to love (which I like to refer to it as the cilantro effect). As a chef, I’ve dealt with the spectrum of sea urchin from heavenly to dreadful and I only like it when it is supremely fresh, briny and sweet with no swampy or iodine taste. However, many chefs I know (especially French) in fact really enjoy this taste, as with with monkfish liver or lobster tamale. This particular sea urchin was still sweet but finished with a touch of bitterness and that distinctive ‘bottom of the sea’ flavour that lingered. Although still better than you will find in most restaurants, it wasn’t the epitome of sea urchin, which is I guess is what we were expecting here. A complimentary dish of stewed miniature calamari was a delight, especially texture wise, but there was swampy taste there too (squid ink?). I just loved the Portugese barnacles though. Sucking and crunching and slurping to get the meat out of the funny looking paw-like claw all for a snow crab like taste mingled in with the oniony chicken broth it must have been cooked in, was just so fun and delish. And new to me! Our barnacles don’t look like that.
I also tasted some fun, easy going wines – Arneis, a simple, fresh white from Piedmont, and a Pigato, a minerally Riesling-like white from Liguria. I would definitely go back, but with different expectations. This is not a temple of gastronomy where everything is perfect (quite elusive anyway), but where there is so much good seafood and wine to be had in a professional, yet festive atmosphere (just as elusive). And the sea bass REALLY was exquisite.
Street cart fare near Central park– I only had a dog, and it’s not like it was anything special (although Barb scored with a spicy sausage picked pepper number next door), but it’s just so fun to be able to grab a good, trashy nosh on the street, be it a pita or samosa or nuts or whatever). Why can’t Montreal relax the laws on that front?
New York City never ceases to excite, invigorate, and get the juices flowing.