05 November 2010

Ode to the Strand

While visiting New York City last Christmas I spent much of my time at the Strand Bookstore. I had a tendency to do this every time I was in the city, come to think of it. The kind of visits where you enter at some point in the afternoon, only to exit to a pitch black sky and bright city lights. To say one could get lost inside the Strand is an exaggeration, but it is no stretch to say it's an easy place to lose track of time.

During this particular December visit, it occurred to me to fish around for a book that had been mentioned to me by several pastry chefs: Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. This book is out of print; a new copy from Amazon.com is currently priced at $250.00, a used copy priced around $125.00. When I (expectedly) didn't find the book, I inquired about it at the information desk. The employee told me she'd be happy to take my information and get in touch in the event the store received a copy.

I then proceeded to forget all about it. Stepping into daylight from the subway platform yesterday, I noticed the voicemail icon on my phone appear. "Hi, this is Sarah at the Strand Bookstore. I'm calling to let you know we've received a copy of The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming. It is a first edition copy with a hardcover and sleeve, and is in 'like new' condition. We will hold it for you until Saturday, November 6th at the Strand list price of $20.00. If you have any questions, feel free to call us at...." Nearly eleven months later, I am at last in possession of this wonderful book.

Now that I live in the city, I probably - no, definitely - spend way too much money at the Strand. It is one of my favorite places in New York, and the approaching winter months make me excited to spend even more time within its cozy confines, surrounding myself with "18 miles of books."

14 October 2010

Luke's Lobster

A summer treat continuing its welcome well into autumn, Luke's Lobster is one of my favorite NYC food discoveries. Luke Holden (only 26-years-old) just recently quit his "day job" as a banker to focus solely on his wildly successful pair of restaurants. His father, Jeff, owns a seafood-processing plant in Maine (where Luke was born and raised), and is the source of all of the delicious shellfish at Luke's Lobster. In fact, everything in the restaurant comes from Maine: the bread, the chowders and bisques, the ice cream, even the sodas. The shellfish travels from the ocean to your plate within a mere 48 hours, and always from the same source, reaffirming the company's commitment to sustainability.

The idea behind a Luke's Lobster roll is both quality and quantity at a reasonable price. Rolls in the city typically go for anywhere between $20-30, and what you end up with is usually a little bit of lobster mixed with a ton of mayonnaise and celery. No bueno. At Luke's, a lobster roll starts with fresh, toasted and buttered bread which is ever-so-slightly smeared with mayonnaise. It is then stuffed with a quarter pound of delicious chunks of lobster meat and topped off with a celery salt-based spice blend and a little bit of lemon-infused butter. And at $14, it doesn't leave my wallet wondering what happened.

You can also order the same roll at Luke's made with shrimp or crab, both as crave-worthy as the lobster. On my second visit to Luke's, my friend Royal and I went in for the Noah's Ark: two servings apiece of each of the three rolls, with empress claws, chips, and sodas thrown in for good measure. (My favorite soda, by the way, is a fabulous, almost throat-burning ginger brew. Hey, I love ginger.) We still talk about it.

Now that the chilly weather is arriving, I have a feeling my go-to meal will be half a roll paired with a cup of thick, creamy clam chowder or lobster bisque. East coast autumns have never tasted so good.

23 June 2010

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria

I spent Monday with one of my roommates, Steven, walking the entire perimeter of Central Park, only stopping to visit the Zoo. After some downtime at home (and by downtime, I mean naptime), we were both ready for dinner. Italian? Absolutely.

Otto is one of my favorite places in the city for Italian food, not least because the prices are reasonable, but also because with Mario Batali behind the operation you know you're getting a quality product. Steven and I decided to take the family-style approach, ordering multiple items to share:

caprese salad
pizza bianca

spaghetti alla carbonara
pasta alla norma

The caprese salad was delicious, though as far as I can tell, untraditional. It's not quite tomato time yet, which might be the reason for this. At any rate, this caprese consisted of chilled, stewed tomatoes and a good-sized chunk of fresh mozzarella. The salad was topped with basil pesto and sprinkled with pine nuts. Lately I've been obsessed with what I refer to as the "crunch factor" in a dish. I loved the pine nuts for their crunch factor.

Pizza Bianca is as simple as can be - pizza dough brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Delicious, and perfect for sopping up bits of remaining pesto.

I'm no fan of spaghetti (the need for a spoon... the slurping... etc...), but carbonara gets me every time. I mean, it's essentially bacon and eggs with pasta, and how can that be bad? Batali's version is classic, with perfectly-cooked pasta and enough black pepper to be noticed, but not steal from the pancetta, egg, and scallions.

Pasta alla Norma (thankfully) is a penne dish, topped with thick, stewed tomatoes, lots of basil, tender eggplant, and creamy, creamy bufala ricotta. The tomatoes and ricotta blend together beautifully to create a rich sauce, marrying the remaining flavor components in an understated, classic way.

Dessert gets its own paragraph because Meredith Kurtzman's gelato is by far, without a doubt, the best in New York City. In fact, the main reason Otto was conceived in the first place was to present an outlet for Meredith's creations. Her plated desserts are in the style of the coppetta: Italian for cup.  For instance, the olive oil coppetta currently consists of passion fruit granita, basil syrup, strawberries, candied kumquats, and olive oil gelato, served in what resembles a coupe-style champagne glass. It is a thing of beauty.

Olive oil gelato is one of the reasons I wanted Steven to eat at Otto. I had mentioned it to him before in conversation, and he couldn't quite grasp the concept of tasting something he naturally recognized in one form in the form of something completely different. So, we ordered:

olive oil gelato with salted brioche
a tasting of three gelatos: milk chocolate chip, salty peanut, caramel

The brioche basically turns a scoop of gelato into a gelato sandwich. Surprised and pleased, Steven learned to adapt familiar flavors into new textures. What's so fantastic about all of Meredith's gelati is that the flavors are really intense. It's as though a peanut's original purpose was to be spun into gelato base, and olive oil's natural form was frozen.

This was a meal that made me really miss having my own kitchen space. Everything we ate can so easily be made at home (I love cracking that egg over the carbonara to finish the dish!) - even the gelato, with the help of an ice cream machine. Not to shamelessly pitch (for I have absolutely no reason to do so), but if you're looking for simple Italian recipes, Batali's most recent book would be a great addition to your cookbook collection. Molto Gusto is co-written by chef Mark Ladner of Del Posto, and is based on the dishes prepared and served at Otto. There are even gelato recipes...

20 June 2010

At Long Last... Prune!

After multiple botched attempts to visit chef Gabrielle Hamilton's tenured restaurant in the East Village, success was finally achieved. The reason: my friend Brian's visit to NYC. The goal: a casual and unpretentious meal where he would get to try a few new things, hopefully all of which would be enjoyed immensely, without dropping an insane amount of cash. And so, Sunday evening, between a rainy afternoon and game five of the NBA Finals, we ventured to Prune for an early dinner...

fried chickpeas

roasted marrow bones with parsley salad, sea salt, and toast
fried sweetbreads with bacon and capers

seared duck breast with dandelion greens, raisin-caper dressing
steamed mussels in lobster broth

ricotta ice cream with salted caramel croutons
strawberry-almond paris brest

Everything about this meal was great. Does it make sense to say the marrow bones were "meaty"? It might not, but that's the best way I can describe them. There was so much marrow, we almost couldn't finish the dish, which is saying a lot. The sweetbreads were tender and flavorful. The duck was cooked perfectly, and the raisin-caper sauce was a combination I had never had - delicious. The mussels were the largest I have ever seen, and the broth was neither too salty nor too thick. Dessert presented a tough decision; we passed on a black forest cake to try the paris brest, and it was fantastic - pate a choux sliced in half, filled with strawberries and almond pastry cream. The flavor of the ricotta ice cream was quite delicate, and therefore a perfect match for the punch packed by the croutons.

Prune can now officially find itself at home on my list of favorite restaurants. For those of you in Kansas City, I would describe it as my personal Room 39 in New York, except it's not even remotely in my neighborhood, and therefore I will visit far less often than I did Ted Habiger's near-perfect establishment. Regardless, I can't wait to go back to try more of the menu...

16 June 2010

ABC Kitchen


Most of you know this by now, but for those who don't, I am working for a different restaurant than where I was first hired. After a month or so of learning how the kitchen operated at Colicchio & Sons, I became increasingly disconnected from the other girls on my team. It was an odd situation for me, in that they had all gone to school together and were essentially already friends. Feeling as though they weren't accepting new members to their club, I e-mailed the pastry chef at the newly-opened ABC Kitchen, where I had trailed upon my arrival to NYC, to inquire about any available positions. She quickly welcomed me on-board, and my transition into a new kitchen took place. 

I can happily say I am much more comfortable in the environment that is ABC. Everyone is so friendly and supportive of one another, and their mission as a restaurant is one of which I am extremely supportive: keeping everything as local, organic, and sustainable as possible - not only in the kitchen, but throughout the entire restaurant. This can seem a bit gimmicky, but the effort is truly present, right down to the wine list and servers' uniforms.

ABC Kitchen is located in the building that houses ABC Carpet & Home, and is furnished and decorated with items sold in the store. It is truly a gorgeous space. One of the things I enjoy most is that the pastry station is located just off the dining room, so not only do guests get the chance to see a display of all the desserts we offer on the menu, but service is especially calm, quiet, and organized (well, at least from the point-of-view of the guest).

The dessert menu consists of traditional items such as cakes, pies, and tarts, as well as an array of plated desserts. It changes seasonally, which I love, and all of the produce, dairy, etc. we use comes from local farmers. Currently, we are about to move from rhubarb and strawberries into cherries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. Ah, summer.

(below: chocolate cake with malted chocolate ganache and toasted marshmallow frosting; sundae with salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts & popcorn, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a caramel tuile)

As we continue to get busier (thanks to several good reviews) and move from serving only dinner into the addition of lunch and brunch, we find ourselves very busy in the kitchen. We've basically begun doing twice the production with the same amount of people. It's extremely stressful at times, but at the end of the day I can look back and think about how being pushed to such an extent shows my loyalty and commitment to such an impressive restaurant, and reminds me that my skill set is growing.

22 April 2010

No. 7 Sub

No. 7 Sub is a recently-opened sandwich shop in the Flatiron District. Though in the same building as the Ace Hotel, its entrance is very discreet... until you see the line of people waiting to place their orders. I've learned that people eat lunch later than noon in NYC, so if you can make it before 1:00 or so, you're golden. Not that several of the sandwiches aren't worth waiting for - they are.

Today for lunch I had the braised lamb sub, with peanut butter, mint jelly, romaine, and papadam. It was delicious.

I was also sure to try a black-and-white cookie, which is my favorite cookie on the planet ("...and yet somehow racial harmony still eludes us."). The cashier let me know they were also selling caramel black-and-whites on this particular day, so naturally I also had to try one of those. Their traditional b&w is in fact untraditional in that the cookie is actually chocolate rather than vanilla. This is good - everyone loves chocolate, right? The caramel version was also great - the perfect salty bite in a sweet cookie.

The menu at No. 7 Sub changes frequently, so I'll have to make it back soon. The earlier in the day, though, the better: when they run out of bread that's it for the day.

On a somewhat related topic: I just found this (horrible cell phone) picture of a huge batch of b&w cookies I made several years ago. I was serious when I said they're my favorite. :)

17 April 2010

A Lovely Brunch

I met my (dad's) cousin Jeanne for brunch on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria, the new Nate Appleman spot owned by Keith McNally. We shared several plates...

mediterranean bloody marys
fresh asparagus
baked ricotta with proscuitto and roasted bread
roasted sunchoke and red cabbage salad with pancetta, oranges, honey, and pecorino
"acciughe" pizza: anchovies, tomato, mozzarella, capers, garlic, and basil
gelati et sorbetti sampler: dark chocolate gelato, buttermilk brown sugar gelato, and orange sorbet with fennel
milano cookie plate: almond and pistachio

What made this meal so enjoyable was the chance to reconnect with Jeanne; I can't remember the last time I saw her. We talked for hours about her job and mine, music, and life in NYC (primarily Brooklyn, where she lives). When reconsidering the food at Pulino's, I would say it was very good, but that maybe I expect a little more from Appleman. The gelati, sorbet, and cookies (by Jane Tseng, who traveled to NYC from San Francisco with Appleman), however: outstanding.

10 April 2010

A Day Off in NYC

Last Thursday my friend, Michael, and I met for lunch at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The line for burgers and shakes wrapped around the park, but it was sunny and 65 degrees, so no one was complaining. While eating our lunch on what is literally the median between Broadway and 5th Avenue disguised as a seating area (with the perfect view of the Flatiron Building's northern-most point), we couldn't help but notice several people wearing Tar Heel gear. After determining that the NIT championship game was being held that night at Madison Square Garden (which isn't even close to Madison Square Park, by the way) between the aforementioned Tar Heels of North Carolina and the Dayton Flyers, we shrugged our shoulders, stumped for a reason not to go, and decided to walk over to MSG to pick up a pair of tickets.

The game was fun, if not relatively sloppy; Roy got worked up several times, which is always fun to watch. In the end the Flyers were too much for UNC, and they took home the trophy. Congratulations on 66th place, Dayton, though at this point I'm convinced you could've given the Jayhawks a run for their money had Northern Iowa not already done so.

02 April 2010

Colicchio & Sons

After nearly two weeks, I am finally becoming accustomed to the way things are done in the Colicchio & Sons kitchen. The first week was terrifying, because rather than gradually learning the line, I was tossed directly into the insanity known as dinner service. Service has always intimidated me because it's the area in which I have the least amount of experience, not to mention I consider myself to be incredibly slow when it comes to plating. The restaurant had been relatively busy already, but throw in a couple of three-star reviews (from the New York Times and Bloomberg), and it's a whole new kind of busy. At any rate, after plenty of mistakes I finally had an error-free evening. Now I'm enjoying two days off before I go back and do it all over again...

So far I've been trained on the "hot" station, which includes: cinnamon-raisin pain perdu, topped with grapefruit caramel, grapefruit segments, candied pine nuts, and served with rosemary ice cream; coconut cream-filled doughnuts, tossed in toasted coconut sugar, served with candied macadamia nuts, lime marmalade, and caramel ice cream; beignets, tossed in powdered sugar, served with apple butter, apple slices, bourbon panna cotta, a brandysnap tuile, and sour apple granita; zeppole, also tossed in powdered sugar, served with lemon curd and vanilla ice cream; banana-pecan upside-down cake, topped with rum toffee sauce, candied pecans, and served with banana sorbet and malted milk ice cream; and a chocolate-espresso tart, served with salted caramel, bittersweet chocolate parfait, citrus salad, and blood orange sorbet. All are beautiful, all are delicious.

26 February 2010

Four Course Lunch at Del Posto

Today my friend Michael and I decided to go crazy and check out the three-course, prix fixe lunch menu at Del Posto. It's snowing, and few are roaming the streets, but one can only be trapped indoors for so long. So we went... and it was fantastic.

After learning the course options were antipasti, primi or secondi, and dolce, and not wanting to miss out on pasta (all of which is made from scratch, in-house), we decided to up the three-course meal to four, bringing any thoughts of further restaurant exploration during the next couple of weeks to a screeching halt. The rationalization: when are we ever going to be able to eat here again? I can live on hummus, tomatoes, crackers, and boxed macaroni and cheese for awhile pretty easily. And if I end up getting whiny about it, I'll just remind myself how delicious this meal was...

primi assaggi
mortadella in pastella
saffron suppli with edible gold leaf

bread basket
salted grissini
lightly-oiled ciabatta
olive focaccia
mini baguette
...all housemade and served warm, with butter and whipped lardo

CARNE CRUDA with truffled salsa, parmigiano-reggiano, and shaved porcini
seared LAMB tenderloin with sea cucumbers mare e monte

ORECCHIETTE with lamb neck sausage, cherry peppers, and broccoli rapini
del posto AGNOLOTTI dal plin with parmigiano-reggiano

cioppino with SCALLOP carpaccio
grilled PORK ode to emilia-romagna with sunchoke crema and lambrusco

SFERA di caprino with celery and fig agrodolce and celery sorbetto
CHESTNUT cake with warm plum macedonia, crushed chestnuts, and yogurt gelato

chocolate-covered olive oil gelato pop, sprinkled with salted breadcrumbs
warm bomboloni filled with orange cream
chocolate-covered honeycomb
candied, dehydrated grapefruit with caramel sauce and amaretti crumbs

22 February 2010

A Fresh Start, and A New Look

Hello to all! I hope this post finds you well. It's been a long time since I've written, and I thought it would be appropriate to clean up the site a bit and give it a more simple look. And since citrus is in season right now... citrus is the big winner.

I'd be lying if I told you I've been busy during the past couple of months. Actually, I've been quite lazy. After spending Christmastime in New York, I returned to Chicago to pack my belongings and drive home to Kansas City. There I had the opportunity to catch up with family and friends, as well as sell nearly everything I own (car included), all with the intention of returning to New York to find a job and an apartment. I also slept. A lot. And made some delicious ice creams: cinnamon espresso, Boulevard Dry Stout - milk chocolate; cookies: chocolate chip with candied bacon; and NOLA-inspired goodies: king cake, pralines.

I am back in New York now, thanks to my friend Devin, who is being kind and generous enough to share his coveted space with me until I land a job and a place of my own. I love this city so much, and am surprised at how comfortable I feel already as it relates to exploring, etc.

Finally, I want to thank every one of you for being so supportive of me during the past year or so. Your encouragement has not only been reassuring, but motivational. I'm hoping to use this site as a way to keep everyone up-to-date with regard to my whereabouts and goings-on. Hopefully there will be some good stories and pictures thrown in as well.

Stout - Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
makes about one quart

7 oz. milk chocolate, finely chopped
1c whole milk
1c heavy cream
1/2c sugar
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
3/4c stout beer (Boulevard, Guinness, etc.)
1t vanilla extract

Put chopped chocolate into a large bowl; set a mesh strainer over the top. Prepare an ice bath.

Warm the milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Slowly temper some of the warmed mixture into the yolks with a whisk, then return all of the yolk mixture back to the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly with a heatproof spatula over medium heat, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

Pour mixture through the strainer over the chopped chocolate; stir until chocolate melts. Once the mixture is smooth, whisk in the stout and the vanilla. Stir until cooled over ice bath.

Chill mixture thoroughly in the fridge, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.