Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hey, What the F*%@, Mr. Mayor?

Allright, I've heard about all of the apologies. I've even listened to some of the apologies. Saw on the news about how the storm/blizzard was apocalyptic. Etc. Etc. And yeah, I understand it was bad. As a matter of fact, at one point I was standing in our kitchen looking out the window at the snow blowing sideways and I actually saw lightning and heard thunder. Out of the ordinary, for sure, in the middle of the winter. I even heard it referred to as a category 1 hurricane...with snow. Really.

But this is New York City. A city of what - 10,00,000 people? Financial center of the world (or maybe it used to be). A city which is in and of itself, proof that hundreds of different kinds of people can generally live together in peace and harmony. People from all over the world. The great experiment...that works (at least most of the time).

So, as I say in the title: "What the fuck?" Hey, Mr. Mayor - what is going on? You're a mayor who prides himself on "his" city being "ready for anything," and tells that to any and everyone who will listen, over and over again. During this snowpocalypse and its aftermath, you told New Yorkers not to drive and to use mass transit or walk to your destination. Then you even blamed New Yorkers for the problems with snow removal. But get real, dude.

So last night, a full two and a half days after the end of the storm, Significant Eater and I decided to walk up to a new restaurant on Essex St. just north of Delancey. It's a short walk from our apartment; less than 1/2 a mile, as the crow flies. And here's what we found:

First, the whole east side of Essex St. between Broom and the subway entrance had not been shoveled. So walking to that subway entrance was challenging, to say the least. Unless you had a pair of snowshoes for that walk. And then, this...

That's 3 feet of snow piled up at the corner of Essex and Delancey Streets. Essex and Delancey. Delancey is an 8-lane road leading to and from the Williamsburg Bridge, for those not familiar. So, it's A MAJOR INTERSECTION. And it had had so little snow removed that pedestrians had to walk in the middle of the streets. This is not an easy intersection to cross (people are killed at this crossing every year) in the best weather or conditions.

So, stop apologizing already, Mr. Mayor. On TV this morning, they said that promises that were made to get all NYC streets cleared by 7 AM today had not even been met. Perhaps, Mr. Bloomberg, you could take a few million dollars out of your piggy bank to help hire some day laborers to do some shoveling. After all, how much did you spend to overturn election laws in order to win a 3rd term as our mayor? This would be a mere pittance compared to that.

It's time to stop making excuses. It's time to stop making promises. It's time to do your friggin' job that you bought your way into. After all, this isn't DC, where they don't even bother removing the snow. This is the greatest city in the world - remember?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best. Pizza. Ever? Well, So Says Cook's Illustrated

Oh, that Cook's Illustrated. I've been subscribing to Cook's Illustrated for years. And years. I like the fact that there are no ads - other than for themselves. As far as the homey schtick goes, well, that's okay too, I guess. Kimball's opening editorial brings me right back to the old farm in Vermont...if I had ever set foot on an old farm in Vermont. Be that as it may, I generally read an entire issue (in one sitting), and come away having learned something and in the mood to try one or more of "their" recipes.

The coolest thing about Cook's Illustrated is that they've made testing recipe variations their raison d'être. I mean, they appear to test recipes 50 different ways, tweaking and twisting and cajoling till they find the one that they feel is the best. And that's the one they give's awesome.

Of course, I myself have tested various recipes over the years. With a pretty large cookbook collection, that's a given when trying something new. I'll take out 3 or 4 (or 12) different cookbooks, check out Significant Eater rolling her eyes; then read what each author has to say, do an amalgamation and cook. Usually, it works out pretty well...when cooking (not so much for baking, though).

But, there's a major difference between the way CI approaches the task vs. how I approach the task. They (CI) appear to keep very good records and write everything down whereas I...ummmm...don't. And therein lies the problem - I never remember what the hell I did when something comes out great. So, what to do? Well, my resolution for 2011 is to start writing stuff down and see where that leads. Stop laughing; after all, 2 years ago I decided to start blogging and I'm still here...most of the time, anyway.

Back to Cook's Illustrated: the current issue (Jan/Feb 2011) has a recipe for Thin-Crust Pizza. As the cover states: "Finally, A Foolproof Crust." Whew - finally! Let's not forget that over the years Cook's Illustrated has probably published over 50 recipes for pizza (maybe they forgot to write stuff down?) and they've finally figured it out; well, at least until the next "greatest pizza ever"... I kid, I kid...I'm sure this is the best.ever. Wink wink.

Since I've had pizza issues of my own over the years, I immediately decided to follow the recipe EXACTLY as it is written - well, for the crust anyway. Toppings - that's another story. So in picture form, here's what this experiment looked like:

Set up workspace...

Dough after mixing in food processor...

Dough after another minute of hand kneading...

Crust ready for toppings...

Okay, this is where I started veering from the recipe a bit. I love using parchment on the peel...CI apparently doesn't. But I've had too many accidents sliding the pie onto a 550 degree stone and parchment makes that part idiot-proof. And...I don't even have to write it down to remember. Next, the pizza with topping (forget the recipe at this point, folks)...

I had some good (for winter) Campari-brand tomatoes to go with mozzarella curds from one of my favorite cheese vendors (Saxelby's at the Essex St. Market), along with a bit of fresh thyme and olive oil brushed on top. Into the oven, which had been preheated for an hour with the stone on a top shelf (per the recipe!) and check out what emerged a mere 7 minutes 30 seconds later...

Not bad, huh? Exactly what I'm looking for in a thin-crust pie. Thin and tender. Foldable, even. Holes in the crust from the tip to the cornicione. In my obviously objective viewpoint, the best pizza that has ever emerged from my home oven. A big wow.

So what's the big change from my previous attempts at pizza vs. this greatest ever pizza dough? Well, I think the long rise (24 hours) in the fridge makes this dough so delicious...and so easy to work with. There is very little fermentation taking place at room temp, and the fridge time really develops the flavor as well as relaxing the gluten, making the dough quite easy to work with (i.e. stretch into a pizza). All quite scientific, I know - but that's what great bread (and pizza) is all about.

Lest anyone think that all is wonderful with Cook's Illustrated, and that my days of curmudgeonliness are behind me, hah! Here are two issues which bug the hell out of me:

1. I've been a subscriber since for-fucking-ever. Literally, issue number one, I think. Why the hell should I have to pay AGAIN for an on-line membership? Bite me. Even the New Yorker gives me online stuff for free.

2. Their measurement for flour is 1 cup = 5 1/2 ounces. Now, I've measured flour every which way (really, how many ways are there?) and no matter what I do, the flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Peter Reinhardt, author of the seminal The Bread Baker's Apprentice, says flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Freakin' King Arthur (A KING!) says that flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces per cup. So listen up, good people at Cook's Illustrated - take your fingers off the damn scale, willya?

Anyway, that's about all I'm gonna say on the matter. The pizza was indeed great. I'm not gonna publish the recipe - check out their web site and get it for free (well, at least for 14 days).

Besides, I don't need Kimball coming around my place in his Model-T with his 12-gauge ought 50 shotgun or whatever. He needs to stay in Vermont. NY is the place for me. In all it's pizze glory.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Back to Barcelona - Restaurant Gelonch

Yeah, yeah...I know. I have been one lazy bastard when it comes to blogging. Maybe it's the weather? Or being under the weather? Maybe it's politics? Maybe it's that I hate the fact that our vacation came and went "in the blink of a young girl's eye (with apologies to BS)...glory days?" Maybe it's a combo of everything? Anyway...back to Barcelona. At least this way I can relive our vacation vicariously through a blog post and photos.

First off, I gotta say, Barcelona is one helluva big, beautiful city. Stunning architecture, broad boulevards, huge placas, tiny placetas, right on the Mediterranean (of course I'm a big fan of the beach), etc. etc. I mean, even the lifeguard stands are works of art...

Passeig de Gracia is just one of the wide boulevards...

While Placeta de Manuel Ribé is just one of the tiny placetas...

For architecture, there's always Señor Gaudí, who spent a lifetime enriching Barcelona (until he was run over by a tram, that is)...

Great museums? Yep. And the food? Pretty friggin' outrageous. So let's put it this way - if you're thinking about taking a trip to Barcelona, just go. You'll be happy you did.

Looking back to our favorite meal in Barcelona...there were plenty of wonderful tapas (more about them soon) and some great traditional meals as well. But as far as Significant Eater and I were concerned, the most amazing meal we had was at Restaurant Gelonch. Here Chef Robert Gelonch blew us away with dish after dish of near-flawless food - something like 9 courses for the set price of 45 euros...that's not a typo...45 euros.

So, what did we eat? After starting with a pair of oysters topped with a passion fruit and gin and tonic gelee, there was "Wagyu beef carpaccio on a cracker with grilled artichoke and rucola," tasting as fantastic as it looked...

Followed by "Cuttlefish taglierini with deconstructed pesto," with the tenderest cuttlefish imaginable...

Then the "smoke bell..."

Hiding "8 vegetables mini cream with grilled vegetable and baked tomato broth..."

Next up: "octopus and Iberian pork shoulder “Mil Feulle” with baked garlic smoothie and sautéed Chinese garlic..."

After which came "Confited codfish with pistaccio sand, griottines (Morello cherries) and confited quail sauce..."

Of course, another pig course, namely "Iberian piglet 24H – 70º C without bone, served with croissant, tupinambour (Jerusalem artichoke) and cajou nuts..."

I love pig two ways. Significant Eater does too, but I don't know if she liked it more than this course: "Assorted cheese with bananas and honey cream, coffee crumble, sweet baked endives and eggplant ice cream..."

And then, "Catalan cream custard foam with apple sorbée, lemon soft jello, caramelized apple and confited lemon peel," which was really good, but I don't have a picture. I think chef might've known I forgot to take a picture, so he also sent this out as a gift of the house, in case we were still hungry...

Even though I took notes throughout the meal, why bother? It was all delicious, nothing that I wouldn't eat again (including the eggplant ice cream), some of which I'm dying to eat again (hello Iberian piglet, and as good as Great NY Noodltown's piglet is, it isn't Iberian piglet), cooked by a passionate chef with a small brigade and served by a wonderful waiter who knew each dish backwards and forwards and graciously answered all of our questions.

Still thinking about Barcelona? Go. I can't wait to return.

Restaurant Gelonch
Carrer de Bailén, 56
08009 Barcelona,
93 265 82 98

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some Paris Observations - Nombre Une

Okay, it's time. We've been back from our excellent European vacation for a few days now - the jet-lag has almost worn off, and before my memory totally deserts me, I gotta get a few things down. And here, in nombre une, I want to compare our experiences at two restaurants, both of which receive their fair share of hype.

First up, Le Chateaubriand. Now, Le C gets written up all over the it and see what I mean. On a trip to Paris a few years ago, we ate at chef Iñaki Aizpitarte's La Famille restaurant, and were duly impressed. Me with the food, and Significant Eater with the guys serving it. Chef moved on to open Le C in '06, in an old grocery store in the 11th, and the raves came even faster than before. I mean, THE RAVES. The restaurant is rated #11 in S. Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants thingie. Number 11? 50 Best? Hmmmm.

Le C has a 5 course tasting menu (at dinner) that everyone gets. That's all they serve, it's 50 euros, and that's that. Our meal started off with gougères and moved quickly into 4 amuse-bouche, this night consisting of a single frog's leg, ceviche liquid served with a cube of avocado in it, salmon eggs with tapioca pearls and beef bouillion served in the style of miso soup. Now, these were okay, but special? Not really. From there, we moved on to what was probably my favorite dish of the night, the salad of scallops with lots of thin slices of vegetables, dressed beautifully and looking like a painting one might see...perhaps a Soutine at the Musee de l'Orangerie.

The powder is tamarind powder, and its slightly sweet and sour flavor made this salad literally sing. Next up was a fish (Mediterranean sea bass), iirc, served with briny clams and broccoli raab....

Here's where things started to go a little haywire, as the dish took a long time to come out of the kitchen, and when it finally arrived, it was lukewarm and any evidence of crispy skin on that fillet was long gone.

Following that - a chicken course; this one a yellow chicken (they have all sorts of colors of chicken in France), cooked beautifully but again very slow to arrive from the kitchen...

Desserts were to follow, and after about 15 minutes I gently inquired if they were perhaps on the way...I don't think I got a really nice look, and then both desserts showed up at the same time, even though I saw them being served successively at other tables.

So...a top 50 restaurant? Sorry, but not in my book. However, the (sullen) boys are as cute as ever...even S. Pellegrino thinks so..."not to mention one of the best-looking brigades in the business." Enough of a reason to return. For you maybe, but not me.

The next night was Thanksgiving and our last night in Paris. I had reserved a week or so before at the rue Saint-Honoré outpost of the legendary La Régalade, the restaurant in the far out 14th that allegedly begat the whole bistronomic movement. Significant Eater and I ate at that one on our first (or maybe second) trip to Paris a dozen or so years ago, when it was in its heyday. Then a hard table to book, impossibly crowded and utterly delicious. So now, what?

Well, there's much hand wringing on various web sites slash forums populated by all sorts of food loving know-it-alls (including moi, btw). It has tumbled terrifically, they say. For instance, the terrine, which is a help-yourself beauty if ever there was one, is placed on every table at the start of the meal, along with a crock of cornichons and some wonderful bread - but, without plates! Sacré bleu - what's a diner to do? I dunno - but Sig Eater and I made a dent in it, plates be damned - and it went just fine with our coupes of Brut. Or they write that the service has slipped terribly - perhaps the house is looking for ways to save money, mon ami(e)? Friggin' nonsense. We were greeted warmly by the staff, asked if we would prefer to converse in English or French, and taken care of with grace and humor for the rest of the evening. And here's a catch - if you think the "brigade" is cute at Le Chateaubriand, the ladies serving at La Regalade put them to shame.

So, how was the meal? Here's how it started...

3 courses for 33 euros, with a blackboard of specials off to the side; the specials do add a supplement to the price, but at 33 euros, really - who's complaining? SE started with scallops, served in their shells, and with scallops served in practically every darn restaurant in Paris, these weren't particularly stand-out-ish, but were fine nonetheless. As an aside, I think the fresh scallops I get at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC are better than any that I've had in Paris, but...that's just me.

My entree was soupe de potimarron, a pumpkin-like squash which also appears on many menus around town this time of year. This one was spectacular, loaded with crispy lardon and topped with a pair of roasted shrimp. I shared, but didn't really want to...

For our plats, SE chose the braised beef cheek, a rich, hulking tender mass of boeuf if ever there was one...

Since it was Thanksgiving, I wanted something that had wings. So, from the supplemental menu I ordered red partridge, partridge being a bird which I think I may have had once in my life when it was cooked (and delicious) over a fireplace by my friend Judith, of Aroma Cucina fame.

Though the picture doesn't do it justice, the bird was cooked perfectly; the breast tender and juicy and the little legs crispy and just this side of gamey. A revelation for the second time, and Chinatown markets, here I come...

Dessert for me was the Grand Marnier soufflé chaud, while Sig opted (as she often does) for the cheese instead. The cheese was merely wonderful; my soufflé was merely (as I posted on one of those know-it-all food boards) textbook...

There you have it; though my comparison of these two restaurants will be merely a blip in cyberspace, the arguments and battles and postings and hand-wringing will wager on. For me, La Régalade Saint-Honoré was the better of the two. It's not on the world's 50 best, but it makes my top 10 meals of the year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Breakfast Before Barcelona

Tomorrow, breakfast in Barcelona at the Mercat de la Boqueria. Today, Significant Eater and I head off to our much anticipated Spanish/French vacation, where we'll be spending time in both Barcelona and Paris, eating and drinking too much, and taking in some culture as well.

Emotionally, this has been a trying week and the time away will do us good. A loss of an old friend, who had struggled mightily, made for much sadness and when I feel a little distance from it, I hope to write more.

Today, in preparation for our trip, I made us a final breakfast. Before we go away, I try to use up everything perishable in the fridge and the apartment because it sucks to come home to moldy things in the kitchen. There isn't much left, but I did go to the farmer's market earlier in the week and picked up some eggs (they'll last) along with some tiny potatoes - which I made tinier by cutting up. There was also some leftover roast piggie, from a favorite joint on Christie Street. That got diced up too and the whole lot was seasoned with pimenton and sautéed in some olive oil till the potatoes and pork were nice and crispy.

Then, I did a couple of beautiful farm fresh eggs, in a pat of butter and sunny side up.

A couple of slices of 7 grain toast, the egg gets plated atop the crispy potato/pig "hash," and Sig Eater is a happy gal....especially with her two cups of joe.

We'll be missing our view for a bit, and always look forward to coming back to it...but it looks like a nice day for flying.

Hopefully, some blog posts will be forthcoming from overseas. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Coma bé i adéu....Catalan for eat well and goodbye.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Worst Thing I've Eaten All Day

I try, really I do. To eat properly, that is. For instance, my breakfast today was "real" oatmeal, a banana, blueberries, raisins, maple syrup (farmer's market stuff and about $14 a pint) and plain low fat yogurt - the good stuff, FAGE. Along with 2 cups of freshly brewed coffee - this week, it's Stumptown.

Then, for lunch, Italian jarred tuna (ventresca) on a bed of greens with a few carrots, some celery sticks, green beans, etc. Lemon juice squeezed atop. A little leftover leek & wild mushroom soup to accompany and a few slices of fresh (well, taken out of the freezer) baguette from Eataly.

Why, then, do I find the need to run back to the freezer and have a Low-Fat Fudgsicle? I know, I know, why is it even in my freezer? That's a good question. What was I thinking when I was at the grocery store? And trust me on this one, I'm gonna hear it from Significant Eater...because she didn't get to have one. Or, as she likes to say, "I want one too..."

Anyway, containing ingredients such as tricalcium phosphate, mono & diglycerides, polysorbate 80 and polysorbate 65 (because it's not enough to contain just the polysorbate 80, it's gotta have the 65 too!), it is easily the worst thing I've eaten, and plan to eat, all day.

Well, at least they're low calorie - so I had two.

And you?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Vote...for The Gibson and the Old Pal

We finally got to try out The Gibson last night, and we weren't disappointed. I'd been wanting to go since we first started our excellent DC adventure, but you know, sometimes things just don't work out the way you plan. However, it was worth the wait.

Friendly and knowledgeable bartenders are always a plus, and the new fall menu had just been released. Wanting something a bit bitter (who, me?), I opened with a Rabbit Hole, comprised of Ramazotti, Campari, Creme de Cassis (Clear Creek, iirc), lemon juice and a flamed orange peel for garnish. Eminently likable, especially if you like your drinks a bit less "boozy."

Significant Eater began her evening with a Kentucky Racer (ahhh, those Albuquerque gals), a nice Manhattanish spin made with Old Overholt, Punt e Mes, Kubler Absinthe, Allspice Dram and Peychaud's to finish. Here's a picture, and remember, it's in a bar and it's a brand new camera...

After round one, we moved into heavier booziness, as I drank a well-made Old Pal, and Sig Eater went with a perfect Manhattan. The Old Pal, another Manhattan-style cocktail but much more bitter, is one of my favorite drinks. If I could recall the 5th drink, which we "shared," I'd tell you it was as good as the first 4.

They also have started serving some light food from a kitchen upstairs - in just the past week or so. We didn't eat, though the menu looked good, and after we ended up with lousy burgers at the Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan, I wish we had partaken. Oh well, we liked The Gibson enough that we're sure to return. Especially when the bartenders are as great as this one...

As for the Old Pal, there appear to be a few different ideas on how to make this cocktail. In The Savoy Cocktail Book, a classic if ever there was one, Harry Craddock called for equal parts of Canadian whisky, French vermouth and Campari. Harry, of course, is the man credited with saying, when asked what the best way to drink a cocktail was, "Quickly, while it's laughing at you." So he's got that going for him. Some other weird website had the vermouth as sweet; that's wrong and that's more likely a Boulevardier cocktail. Or call it a 1794 - a drink I first had at Rye in San Francisco. Confusing, isn't it? Well, no one said cocktails were an exact science, and as long as it tastes good to you, who's complaining?

The Gibson
2009 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 232-2156

Old Pal
1.5 oz. rye
3/4 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. dry vermouth

Stir with ice. Stir more. Stir again. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

If You Need Cooking Lessons - Just Phone

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine asked me if I'd teach him how to "make" spareribs. Seems he and his wife were having some people to their house for dinner, and he wanted to show off his barbecuing/grilling skills. Significant Eater and I were invited, but were unfortunately unable to attend.

As a side note, this lovely couple has a "country house" in a little town upstate, somewhere near New Paltz, NY. They had been inviting us up for a weekend all summer, but due to our travels to and from DC, it hasn't happened yet. Of course, they think it's because I hate the "country," but c'mon, really, who hates the "country?" I mean, I don't like mosquitoes or flies or bears or the sun or any of that stuff that you find in the country, but we have a few of those things in the city too, don't we?

Where was I? Oh yeah, cooking lessons. The spareribs. And there was a catch. You see, my buddy was going to be upstate cooking these ribs, and I was going to be down (state), right here in my sunny, bug and bear free NYC apartment. So these cooking lessons were being given - you guessed it - over the phone.

Now one of the cool things about this lesson was that my buddy was able to take pix during the event (who doesn't love an I-Phone) and send them to me virtually simultaneously. Excellent. So here's how it went.

We started with the dry rub - which we actually made here, in my bug-free NYC apartment. Any good dry rub will work - this one had salt, brown sugar, black pepper, paprika, chile powder, a bit of cayenne and maybe even a little garlic powder thrown in for good measure. (Don't use too much garlic powder - the stuff is vile - but in a dry rub a tiny bit can't hurt.) Once my bud was upstate, dry rub in hand, he purchased a couple of racks of spareribs - St. Louis style. I had him remove the fell, the membrane covering the underside of the ribs, as I think it makes for a better end product and allows the ribs to absorb more of the rub flavor. And then he massaged the dry rub in, and put the ribs in the fridge overnight to rest.

Of course there are as many ways to cook ribs as there are barbecuers who swear by their versions. Trust me, I love smoking ribs, low and slow, for hours on a Weber or other smoker device, but since the upstate grill was a gas one, these were going to be bastardized bbq - first cooked in the oven and then finished on the grill to get all crusty. The nice thing about this is that the ribs can be cooked ahead of time and then finished in like 15 minutes, giving the hosts plenty of time for other things - like hanging out with their guests, sweating and swatting flies.

As the oven preheated to around 275 F, the ribs were laid onto a couple of baking sheets, to which about a cup of white wine with a bit of melted honey and worcestershire were added, and covered tightly. And into the oven they went for about 2.5 hours. When uncovered, they looked like this…

Set those ribs aside. Wrap 'em up in foil and refrigerate them even. But save all the yummy liquid from the baking sheets - that gets reduced way down for the glaze, which you can do now.

About 45 minutes before dinner, crank the grill up - let it preheat good and hot, and anyone that tells you your oven or grill is done preheating in 10 minutes is kidding you - it's not. I like to give everything, oven and grill, at least 1/2 an hour - it gets the heat all evened out and you'll get better results that way. You can cut the ribs into smaller slabs to make them easier to handle on the grill.

Brush the ribs with the glaze and put 'em on the grill. Turn them every five minutes or so, and brush them some more. In about 15 minutes, your ribs will look like this. And your guests will be eating them up.

Now sit back, crack open a beer and admire your handiwork. Watch your guests as they can't stop eating. After all, you've just learned how to cook spareribs - on the phone.

Note: If you don't have a grill, if it's too hot or cold outside, if you live in an NYC apartment, the final step can be done under a hot broiler.

Phoned-In Spareribs
2 slabs spareribs, St. Louis style, membrane removed

Dry Rub

2 T kosher salt
2 T brown sugar
1 T chili powder
1 T paprika (sweet or medium, or even smoked)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
.5 tsp cayenne

Braising Liquid

1 cup white wine (almost anything works here)
1 T honey or brown sugar
2 T worcestershire (in a pinch - soy)

Technique above.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Osteria Morini - A First Visit

New York City may be experiencing a rebirth of things Italian, not that Italian restaurants ever really stopped, ummmmm, birthing...and for lovers of Italian food (me!) that's a good thing.

Of course I've blogged (there's that word again) about Eataly a number of times, and will probably annoy more in the future - I like the place, what can I say? It makes me happy. I love Lupa - always have since the day it opened. Mario and Joe and Lidia may have their 4 stars at Del Posto, but the realm of Italian restaurant dining changed when Lupa opened.

Jason Denton and his brother Joe have done NYC proud with their introduction of panini to NYC (don't tell me they didn't) at the tiny 'ino eons ago and serve us well to this day with 'inoteca "lower east," 'inoteca "murray hill" and Corsino. And new ones in the works as well, rumor has it.

So what's the latest? It's Osteria Morini, from Chef Michael White and his partner Chris Cannon, who have wowed some in the past with Alto, Convivio and Marea, for instance. Morini is arguably one of the more exciting fall openings, so an early tasting was a must, and the other night a friend and I were able to grab two bar seats at an early hour which we happily did.

The estimable Eben Freeman is running the cocktail program for the White/Cannon restaurant group, and that's a good thing. Eben's cocktails were always a highlight at the late, lamented Tailor. Here, there are a few "low-alcohol" apertivi on the menu at $11, but I went straight for the Negroni-ish cocktail, which was simply a Negroni in proportions of 1.5:1:1, served up. Tanqueray gin and Antica (on tap!) are the two variable elements (you do know Campari is the third, don't you?) and at $14 not necessarily a cheap cocktail, but nevertheless a well-made one.

Since my friend was expected to go home and prepare dinner for his wife, we didn't order tons of food; there were some menu items that I must immediately return for, as a matter of fact. But what we had overall was pretty tasty.

For starters, we had the crocchette (croquettes, folks), served naked...just the wonderful smoky flavor of speck infusing molten bechamel - please be careful when eating this gem, or risk interior mouth burn. Our other anitpasto was fegatini, a smooth, luscious liver mousse served with, as usual, too few toasts and is it such a hard concept to serve enough toasts for the amount of whatever is supposed to be spread on them? I guess so, because Morini is hardly the first to skimp on the toast thing. It didn't matter as we fought over every last morsel, reduced to using our fingers to scrape the luscious liver out of its dish.

For our "mains," I chose the strozzapreti (priest stranglers) with braised porcini, the pasta as good as any I've had in recent memory. The braise of mushrooms was almost meatlike, and the pasta is just what my grandma would have made if she was an Italian nonna from Emilia instead of a Jewish nana from Minsk. My buddy ordered another appetizer (remember, he was still having dinner) of fried rabbit, which were quite simply some delicious hunks of fried rabbit - sweet, juicy and all those things that rabbit isn't most of the time. There were a few bitter greens and reds on the plate, to help cut through the rabbit, but we weren't fighting over those.

Dessert and coffee service will be left for another day, sadly. There's a fancy, fully automatic espresso system set-up that may have cost $20K, or may have cost nothing if they're getting their beans from the coffee machine supplier - who knows? But I have a feeling the coffee won't be a highlight of your meal. We were comped an after dinner digestif - a nice ending to a fine meal.

It'll certainly be no problem to add Osteria Morini to the growing list of excellent places to get your Italian fix on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blogger's Block? Have A Doughnut

Wow. Here it is the end of September, and I'm realizing that I haven't "blogged" (god, that's a stupid word) in two weeks! Writer's block? Well, that would be true if I was a writer. Maybe just nothing really exciting to blog about? Who knows what the cause is?

I could tell you all that I've been back to Eataly yet again...but what fun would that be? By the way, dinner at Manzo was great - sweetbreads, pasta with all sorts of offal, beef braised in barolo, a giant pork chop with a side of testa...all delicious. And I gotta stop buying a certain jar of olives - or as I've been referring to them - olive crack.

I could say Significant Eater and I had a less-than-spectacular meal at Zaytinya a week or two ago....but what fun would that be? Lousy, rushed service, food lacking a certain zip that was there on my first few visits...say it ain't so, Jose.

I could tell you about all the great stuff I've been cooking again - and indeed I am cooking again, now that the temperatures have moderated and my kitchen is habitable. But then I'd have to take pictures of the food and we all know how annoying that is. Imagine dinner guests having to wait while I shoot - I can hear the hungry ones now. Okay, okay - just one - here's a batch of pickled tomatoes I put up last weekend...

No, no, no - the heck with all that. I'd much rather tell you about one of the coolest things Sig Eater and I have ever seen on the lower east side. You've all heard of this place, no doubt...

Yep, it's the world famous Doughnut Plant. World famous, you say? Well, yeah - I don't know if you've seen the lines that stretch endlessly out into the street on many weekends. Every lower east side tour and tour bus makes this an obligatory stop. And it's a good one - the doughnuts are truly works of art. I'm partial to the cake doughnuts; others like the yeasted each his own. And there are plenty of flavors to choose from every day - now that it's fall, expect to find some nice apple and pumpkin varieties, along with the classic jam filled and chocolate ones.

So here we are, walking back to our apartment, which is literally around the corner from the Plant. Our apartment is one of four big buildings, all part of the same co-op, and there's lots of grass and trees and open space - a rarity in Manhattan. Brings with it a good deal of "wildlife." By wildlife, I mean birds of all sorts (there's even a resident red-tailed hawk in Seward Park) and squirrels (which I suppose make good food for the red-tail). And what does all this have to do with Doughnut Plant?

Well, not much, until I looked over at an obviously happy squirrel and did a double take. Yep, there she/he was, sitting in the crook of a tree, looking contented as can be, munching away on a big, fat doughnut - practically as big as the squirrel itself.

Obviously, humans aren't the only ones who love Doughnut Plant. My only question - what flavor?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You Go, Grill

Yay - it's finally grilling season. Now, I know what you're thinking; dude, grilling season just passed - it's called "summer." You know, from Memorial Day to Labor Day in these parts. Bull, I say. In my opinion, there's actually no better time to grill than when the weather starts getting cooler; after all, do you really want to stand over a blazing grill when it's 100 degrees out? (If I did, I guess I'd still be in the restaurant biz). And all those years that I lived in California, football season was when I most enjoyed my barbecues - grilling and watching the 49ers beat everyone in existence...those were the days.

My biggest problem when it comes to grilling? I don't own one. Well that, and the fact that we live on the 15th floor of an apartment building, leads to very little grilling. Sure, I can get my cast-iron grill pan screaming hot and pretend grill in our 98 square foot kitchen, but it's just not the same. And no matter what I do, the 49ers suck.

But just this past weekend, Significant Eater and I were invited to a friend's house - yes, house - where there are two, count 'em, two grills in the backyard. And, I got to play on them. My buddy and I both shopped with the grill in mind; and then we both cooked on those grills.

First off, we had some beautiful fish and shellfish from the farmer's market. Assorted clams (cherrystones and littlenecks), cooked just till they pop open and dressed sparingly with nothing but lemon juice, were a gift from the Atlantic. If you've never had a clam like this, you don't know what you're missing...

Also procured at the same seafood vendor were a couple of beautiful black sea bass; when my pal bought 'em, they were still in rigor (that's a good thing). If you've never had black sea bass, you don't know what you're missing. David Pasternack serves it as part of a crudo platter at Eataly, and that's all you need to know. We decided to cook them, simply stuffing the cavity with fresh herbs and lemon slices, tying a bay leaf around the outside and tossing it right onto the grill - no special equipment needed if your grill is properly prepared, hot enough and you know what you're doing...

10 minutes to a side and we ended with some mighty tasty fish...there was even a slight fight over the facial parts and collar - as there should be...

Of course, man does not live by fish alone, and I had headed over to my butcher at the Essex Street Market to pick up some lamb. He had a few beautiful racks of lamb with my name on them, so I took home two and marinated them in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Nice and simple and simply delicious after a short stint on the Weber with some apple tree trimmings thrown on for good measure...

So you see, there's nothing to stop you from grilling after Labor Day. Or barbecuing. Well, as long as you've got some friends with a backyard and a Weber, that is. We're lucky - we do. Now, if only the 49ers would stop sucking...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Significant Eater Goes to Eataly...or Eataly Part 2

You know how it happens. You go somewhere without your favorite person and wish they could've been there with you. Then, you go back again...solo. Then, said favorite person starts to complain that they "never get to go to any of the good places." So, with all that in mind, I had to get back to Eataly quickly...and with Significant Eater. So we did just that, eating lunch at the seafood counter, where Chef David Pasternack was working the crudi station. No surprise - it was all quite good.

We started with a Pasternack classic - crudi...3 nice sized slices of pristine fish - I remember sockeye and (perhaps) bass or cod, barely dressed with citrus, olive oil, salt & pepper, alongside a tiny salad of sea beans. Crudi the way it should be.

A spiedino di mare from the appetizer portion of the menu was delicious - cooked "a la plancha" with juicy gulf shrimp, crisp bread cubes and tender squid. Actually, it was so good that Significant Eater complained loudly that I was eating more squid than she.

Finally, we shared a very good fritto misto (but would it hurt to throw a couple more pieces of scrap cod in there, please?) and a meager, yet delicious corn/cherry tomato saute.

Delicious? Undoubtedly. The best bargain in Eataly? Not really, but is great seafood ever a bargain? That lunch above, with 1 glass of rosé Bastianich, came to $85, including tip. Trust me, I could have eaten more - it goes without say that SE could've too.

If only the line for the pizza/pasta area wasn't 20 deep when we gave up our seats...