A (Fantastic) Alto Adige Dinner

January 10, 2017

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I’d heard great things about Italienne, the new restaurant on 24th Street, but I was unprepared for the pure pleasure of the relaxed ambiance, caring service, lovely wine list and wonderful food.

We happened to land there on Monday, which the restaurant devotes to regional meals.  Last night honored Alto Adige, which is as close to Austria as Italy ever gets. This meal, which began with the plate above, was proof of that.

On the left, light, almost lacy slices of speck.  In the middle, cheese and potato cakes – rich, crisp, completely seductive.  And on the right, little herbed fresh cheese dumplings which were perfect on the restaurant’s flaky rolls.

There was also this faro soup, redolent of a rich meat stock.

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On to canderli –

fullsizerender-9remarkably airy bread dumplings surrounded by apples, red cabbage and horseradish.

Next a major meat plate

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smoked pork loin, a rib so rich it shattered at the touch of a fork, gorgeous sausage, sauerkraut and little nubs of roast potatoes.

Finally

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apple strudel with a fior di latte gelato as soft as frozen velvet. 

Finishing this fantastic meal I had two thoughts: I wish my German father could have been here.  He would have LOVED this meal.

And… when can I come back and taste the rest of the menu?

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Munching Around New York

January 9, 2017

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I’ve been skidding across the frigid streets of the city, snow blowing in my face, dropping in here and there to have a bite.

Even if you don’t plan on eating there, you should stop in at Augustine, surely the most beautiful (and comfortable) restaurant to open in New York in some time. Downtown, in the new Beekman Hotel (which occupies what was at one time the tallest building in the world), Keith McNally has invented a belle epoque space that makes you long for more leisurely and saner times. Here’s a tour of the space.

The food is what you’d expect from the people who run Balthazar: luxuriously old-fashioned French fare, beautifully executed. You might want to start with those oysters, baked in salt with Pernod butter and little bits of smoked roe.  Or this lovely cheese souffle

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Or perhaps some foie gras, topped with a scattering of artichokes and beans.

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If you’re a crowd, you might want to try the latest incarnation of the seafood plateau, here rendered as a grand aioli replete with mussels, lobster, shrimp and vegetables.

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A “whiskey hamburger” is a fine fat burger, with fries and a glass of single malt on the side. Steak tartar is lovely, the halibut in cocotte comes, of course, with truffles.

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But should I really admit that what most won my heart was the spinach, with its herbed crumbs and gruyere?

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During the heart of the storm – great flurries of sturm und drang – I managed to slip slide my way to White Gold Butcher for the famous chopped cheese

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and a kimchi hot dog.  Great fun sitting there, watching people struggle in the door.

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Then over to the Met Breuer to the fabulous Kerry James Marshall show – don’t miss it – and lunch at Flora –  my favorite new restaurant.  The food is so beautifully elegant and original; I always want to order everything on the menu. But I managed to restrain myself to these dishes.

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Purple endive. Pecans. Bayley Hazen blue cheese.

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The most amazing tuna tartar, all crunch and salt and flavor.

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Spicy shrimp roll on brioche.

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Lemon scented potato tart with truffled egg and frisee.  An exciting little lunch.  Made even more so by the presence of Steven Spielberg at a nearby table.

And finally dinner at Charlie Bird, among the most amiable and likable restaurants in the city.  The room is warm, the service gentle, the menu filled with food I always want to eat.

We started with razor clam ceviche, which we inhaled so quickly I had no time to shoot it.

Then gorgeous little agnolotti

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and sea bass in a flurry of vegetables.

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Lovely wine list, too.

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Then and Now: Adapting an Old Recipe

January 5, 2017

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I found this recipe for Nina Simond’s Ch’eng Tu Tzu Chi in the February, 1979, issue of Gourmet.  Since I happened to have some of the ingredients on hand, I decided to make a slightly truncated, less fussy version.

Here’s Nina’s Recipe

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And here’s what I did.

Spicy Chicken with Peanuts

Skin, bone and cube 3 or 4 chicken thighs.

Mix 2 teaspoons of cornstarch into 5 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, 1 tablespoon of water and a splash of toasted sesame oil, add the chicken cubes and allow to marinate for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, gather all your ingredients and set them near your stove.

Mince 3 scallions, a couple of cloves of garlic and a small knob of ginger and set aside.

Combine  4 tablespoons of chicken stock with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons of rice wine,  a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and 3/4 teaspoon sesame oil. Stir in 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Mix well and set aside.

Measure out a tablespoon of chili paste (you could also use hot bean paste, if that’s all you happen to have).  

Slice a handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms and wash a generous handful of baby spinach leaves.  If you have some romaine lettuce, tear it into 2 inch pieces and add them to the pile.

Put a handful of peanuts in a dish and have them near your wok as well.

Get a wok very hot, add a couple tablespoons of peanut or grapeseed oil and allow that to get very hot. Toss in the shiitakes and stir fry just until they begin to wilt. Remove to a plate.

Add a bit more oil, get it hot, add the chicken and stir-fry until the meat changes color. Then put the chicken cubes on the plate with the shiitakes.

Add a bit more oil, allow it to get hot and add the scallion mixture along with the chili paste. Stir fry until the fragrance is floating over the pan, then add the spinach and lettuce.  Toss vigorously for a minute or so. Return the chicken and mushrooms, to the wok along with the broth mixture.  Bring to a boil and cook very briefly, until the sauce begins to thicken. 

Add the peanuts, toss around for a bit, and turn out onto a platter. 

Serve over rice, with Sriracha for those who want added heat.

This will serve two or three people.

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A New York Classic: Looking Back

January 4, 2017

When I wrote my own review of the (now defunct) restaurant in the New York Times, my editor refused to let me say that Ponte’s occupied the only block in New York where you could leave a camera on the front seat of your car knowing it would still be there when you returned. It was not, he said, sufficiently subtle.

I was interested to see how other reviewers handled that issue. John Canaday, as you can see, simply called the place “sinister.” Jay Jacobs, in his 1983 Gourmet review, put it slightly differently.

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And then, just as a reminder of when this review was written, here’s an ad from that issue of the magazine.

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Black Beans, Star Anise and….Beer Cookies

January 3, 2017

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Another blast from a past January.  These recipes, from the 1983 Gourmet, struck me as particularly interesting, especially for their time. Nina Simonds, who was writing a two-year long series on Chinese cooking, took time out to suggest non-Chinese ways of using classic Asian ingredients.  I was especially taken with her notion that black beans are a good substitute for black truffles (two umami ingredients), and I’m eager to try this pate.

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the steel blade grind fine the mixture in

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I like the sound of these simple short ribs too: they’re not all that different from the recipe David Tanis published in the New York Times a few weeks ago.

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And here’s a reader recipe.  Who can resist the lure of beer cookies?

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Tomorrow, for those who were intrigued by yesterday’s ad for Ponte’s, I’ll post Jay Jacobs’ fascinating review of the restaurant (which was also in this issue).  I’ve never read anything quite like it.

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