Archives for category: Dining Out

Back in 2009, while I was still at Phaidon, I worked on a cookbook called Coco, which I’ve probably mentioned here before. It was part of the 10×10 series Phaidon publishes, whereby ten heavy hitters in their field (be it architecture, graphic design, fashion, etc.) each select ten emerging talents in that field. Coco was the first food book in that series, and the curators selecting the underlings included Ferran Adrià, Mario Batali, Alice Walters, and René Redzepi.

For his selection of up-and-comers, Batali stuck to his coterie of former chefs and sous chefs, and among the emerging talent he chose was Mario Carbone. Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of Carbone before then, even though he had cooked at Del Posto, Babbo, WD-50, Café Boulud, and a personal favorite, Lupa, in the West Village. Quite the pedigree for someone not even thirty years old. (That’s his spread in Coco, below.)

The funny thing is, Carbone was somewhat between restaurants at the time. And to be featured in Coco, each chef needed to be currently head chef at a restaurant. Carbone was technically heading up Aeronuova, a new Italian restaurant in Terminal 5 at JFK. It was a little unusual, but my guess is he was brought on to put together their menu and do initial recipe consulting. When I was compiling the directory of restaurants I didn’t even know what address to publish: Terminal 5, JFK Airport, Queens, New York? But I knew something was up his sleeve, and Batali’s sleeve, because they seemed to suggest a new restaurant was in Carbone’s future, but it just wasn’t open yet.

And sure enough, as Coco hit the bookstores, a little red-sauce joint known as Torrisi Italian Specialities opened on Mulberry Street, near Prince Street, in December 2009, serving Italian-American staples like meatball subs and eggplant parm at the counter. Carbone and his co-chef and co-owner, and former Boulud colleague, Rich Torrisi, have created a kind of post-postmodern mecca of ziti and antipasti in Little Italy. Amidst all the fading tourist-trap pasta joints and clam bars on Mott and Mulberry Street. It’s a throwback to your Italian grandma’s Sunday suppers in Queens (or New Jersey, or Long Island), gravy and all. But the ingredients are good. Really good. Not imported from Italy, but all domestic and/or made in-house, like mozzarella made to order and house-cured olives. Olive oil from California that’s so good they should serve it in a demitasse cup for dessert, sprinkled with sea salt from Coney Island.

All this time I’ve been wanting to see what the buzz is about. In the meantime, Torrisi and Carbone opened Parm next door to Torrisi, a more casual restaurant serving some of the old favorites (like the subs), without the long waits and hard-to-get reservations of Torrisi, which now only serves a tasting menu or prix fixe but no more a al carte at dinner.

Good thing my friend Daniela came to town. Super foodie, blogger for Eater LA, trained pastry chef, food writer, this woman eats professionally. It was the perfect opportunity to try both Torrisi and Parm. So within a span of a few nights we dined at each place, allowing for a side-by-side comparison of the more upscale Torrisi, and low-brow Parm. (In the photo up top, Torrisi is on the left, Parm on the right.)

At Torrisi we were greeted with four antipasti for the table, including the famed mozzarella, hand-pulled to order, drizzled in that delicious, fruity olive oil and crunchy sea salt. When left to rest at the table, the mozzarella became more enjoyable, softer, and more buttery, then when it was first set down. It was served with four small perfect pieces of garlic bread: saltier, crunchier, cheesier, more garlicky than you’re expecting. When our busser cleared the empty plate we both nearly lept to keep the dish so we could lick the crumbs. We stopped ourselves. As part of our antipasti, a warmed parsnip cider was served in an espresso cup with a cool apple foam on top. Raw fluke Americain provided a clean, fresh bite between all the cheese and dough. Lastly, for the antipasti, was a rustic rabbit terrine served with pickled vegetables.

The pasta course, spicy sea shells di mare, was solid—the fish and shellfish were all cooked well, the pasta al dente, the sauce salty and spicy. It didn’t knock my socks off but it was darn tasty. For our main courses we were served skate giardinia and local duck with mulberry mustard. But by the time these mains came we were, well, stuffed like shells. I thought the main successes of the night were served at the bookends, our antipasti and the pastry: butternut squash custard, pizzelle cannoli, almond rainbow cookies, celery cake with green jelly and peanuts (a take on ants on a log), and a chocolate-mint truffle.

We arrived at Parm a few nights later (shot of the bar above), rain-soaked, hungry, and in need of some comfort food. We had come to the right place. We only waited twenty minutes at the bar for a table, then ordered up what seemed to be the must-haves: eggplant parmesan with a “Sunday salad”—iceberg lettuce, hot pickled peppers, cucumber, and red onions, served with a vinegary dressing—a veal-and-pork meatball platter served with ziti and meat gravy; Brussels sprouts; cauliflower; and the plate-licking garlic bread we’d had on Tuesday. (Brussels sprouts in the shot below.)

The favorites were the eggplant parmesan, which really did taste like my Italian (step) grandmother used to make when I was little, the Brussels sprouts, and the cauliflower. The sprouts were caramelized and served with thin crunchy slivers of red onion, parmesan, sea salt, and garlic. The cauliflower was nicely browned and seasoned and honestly tasted like candy in that way that only really good cauliflower can. Again, like my Italian grandma used to make. These guys are good.

The only sore spot in the evening at Parm came with the meatballs. First off, they were served flattened, and stacked, like a double hamburger. Maybe this is typical in some nonna’s kitchens but I know them to be rounded, and sized somewhere between a golf ball and baseball. The main issue, however, was that they were not properly cooked. The meat was verging on rare, cold in the center even. Our server argued with us, saying he was sure they were cooked through and that’s how they do it here. Minus two points.

Using the four-star system of the Times, I’d give Torrisi two stars and Parm one star. Two to Torrisi for the service, atmosphere, antipasti, and pastries. One to Parm for the tasty eggplant, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, garlic bread, and friendly hostess. Tell your nonna, Little Italy is back.

I had to cheat and use this photo below from the Torrisi website, so I could show you two of my favorite dishes, the mozzarella and the garlic bread, since my shots came out too dark. Buon appetito!

I try to get down here to Raleigh, North Carolina once a year to visit my mom, stepfather, and brother, as well as my sister in Durham. While typically that happens in October, this year I decided to come during the holidays. Today was a brisk but sunny December day. The photo above shows the tall pines near my mother’s house.

I arrived yesterday on a flight from LaGuardia and a few hours later was dining at Magnolia Grill on Ninth Street in Durham. Dream come true. I’ve long wanted to try Magnolia, ever since Gourmet magazine listed it #11 in its top fifty restaurants in America. Opened in 1986, it was one of the first market-driven restaurants in the country, focusing on seasonal, fresh ingredients with a slight Southern twist.

As luck would have it my sister started working there this fall so it was on the top of my to-do list for this weekend. We made an early reservation, arriving in the cold, pouring rain last night and tucking into some truly satisfying, warm comfort food. My sister’s fiance was with us, so among the three of us we were able to sample at least six dishes.

I had the farmer’s market salad: roasted butternut squash, peppers, Blue Lake beans, fennel, black kale, candycane red onions, arugula, hazelnuts, and ricotta salata. Blu had the red wine risotto with grilled chicken confit, roasted radicchio, pecorino romano, arugula, and sundried cranberry chutney in a walnut vinaigrette. We were joking that his dish would have definitely made a suitable entree rather than a first course. Emily, debating between the sorghum-glazed berkshire pork belly and the citrus-cured steelhead trout with cauliflower tabbouleh, went with the latter.

Our appetizers were so good we sat wide-eyed, mouths full, not saying anything, just poking our forks at each other’s plates and shaking our heads.

For the main course, I had the grilled New Bedford sea scallops in apple cider jus on butter-apple coulis with wild rice “risotto” with frisee, granny smith apples and roasted walnuts. I’m a big fan of wild rice and anything assembling risotto, not to mention the scallops of course, so this was the perfect dish for me. Blu had the grilled angus NY strip in balsamic jus with roasted fingerling potatoes and blue cheese. And Emily had what might have been all of our favorite dish of the night: grilled Eden Farm berkshire pork rib chop on creamed cabbage with apples, sage and bacon, and red wine lentils de puy. Right?

To top it all off we shared three desserts. We only ordered two but the kitchen sent one out on the house. Drum roll please… My favorite was the maple walnut date tart with maple bacon ice cream, everything, including the ice cream, made in house by Karen Barker, co-owner and head pastry chef. The ice cream was smoky and the tart sticky and gooey and with just a hint of the bacon’s richness. The eggnog creme brulee with pecan biscotti was enough to put me over the edge after an already full meal, but was still quite good. And the dessert on the house was gingerbread babycake with pumpkin caramel swirl ice cream. Divine inspiration.

To bed, to bed, and then morning and baking. As is Christmas tradition in my mom’s house, we made chocolate chip cookies this morning. We multiplied the recipe by three and made something like 150 cookies.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes 4 dozen)

2 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter or margarine, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
3/4 brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
11 1/2 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Stir flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar on low spead until creamy and lightened in color. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to beat on low speed. Add the vanilla and mix until combined. Gradually add the dry mixture into the creamed mixture, then stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Drop a tablespoon of batter onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown.

What do you do if you live in New York City and have out-of-town guests for the weekend? You eat!

So many options, so little time. My top ten varies all the time—and depends of course on the visitor, the season, the budget, the food allergy—but will likely include at least a few of the following:

Russ & Daughters (or Katz’s)
Diner (or Dressler)
Sun-in-Bloom (esp. if a friend is vegan or gluten free)
ABC Kitchen
Blue Ribbon (Sushi or Bakery)
Di Fara Pizza (or Roberta’s)
Momofuku (pick your fave – Noodle Bar, Ko, Milk Bar, et al.)
Tarallucci e Vino
Al di Là

Other pit-stops might include Gimme Coffee, the Union Square Greenmarket, the Park Slope Food Co-op, or Babycakes Bakery.

This weekend was a flurry of out-of-towners, hailing from Boston, Zurich, Madison, Phoenicia, and Vermont. The weekend began with a late breakfast on Friday at Sun in Bloom in Park Slope. Hey, it’s good to start the weekend off healthy; it was all downhill from there.

You’re looking at gluten-free pancakes and a raw kale wrap with “live” sesame dressing. Both were delicious and way better than either may sound to you.

Friday night I finally got to try Samurai Mama in Williamsburg, a new udon joint brought to you by the owners of Bozu, which is just down the street from Mama on Grand. I had the vegetarian udon with wild edible Japanese plants. It was simple, not too salty, and the udon had an al dente chewiness that I liked. We also had flying fish jerky that was salty and chewy and basically perfect tapas food.

Saturday was a movie and Katz’s. Hugo in 3D to be exact and a post-cinema pastrami on rye. (Not Parisian bistro fare as the movie may have otherwise inspired.) Katz’s, for those of you unfortunate not to know, is one of New York City’s longest-standing Jewish delis, located on the Lower East Side since 1888. I hadn’t had one of their towering sandwiches in ages and I have to say, it was better than Mile End’s, where, you may remember, I bought pastrami on rye for my grandmother’s birthday earlier this year. Well this was worth every penny of the $15 sandwich. Throw in some sour pickles, matzo ball soup, and you’re in heaven. Or I’m in heaven.

After Katz’s I got on the F at 2nd Avenue to find this old New York City subway car sitting in the station. Apparently it’s a refurbished train—from the 1930s I believe—and it will be running on the M line next weekend for the holidays.

Sunday was a whole new day for eating and I had brunch with a bunch of old Cornell friends at Moutarde in Park Slope, across the street from my first apartment in Brooklyn. Later in the afternoon I went to a “gemuetlicher Advent” party at the home of a German couple, friends of mine, also in Park Slope. We ate delicious Stollen—the Christmas cake of Germany—and moon-shaped buttery cookies that to me tasted like Italian wedding cookies but perhaps they’re also German wedding cookies. Or German Advent cookies! For more on Stollen check out my friend Valerie’s post here. I’d love to try this recipe.

Dinner Sunday night was Japanese comfort food at Supercore in Williamsburg, an old favorite. Here’s some dried squid (I call it squid jerky), served with Japanese mayo.

And finally, feasting with the out-of-towners wrapped up this afternoon with my dad and stepmom who took me to lunch at ABC Kitchen. We all shared the roasted kabocha squash with ricotta and apple cider vinegar on toast; beets with homemade yogurt; pizza with mushrooms and a runny egg on top; and veal meatballs with bowtie pasta.

Not bad eh?

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