Recipes for restaurants

Signor Pepe’s Pizza

February 13, 2017

FullSizeRender (9)Franco Pepe travels the world, preaching pizza.  He is an earnest man, a perfectionist, a control freak, who makes every chef he visits nervous. Every single ingredient must be up to his standards.

When he leaves his small Pepe in Grani pizzeria in Caiazzo, outside Naples he travels with his own wheat; nothing else will do. He’s fussy about tomatoes; they  must be Piennolo del Vesuvio tomatoes (he has them preserved in jars).  Anchovies, of course, will only do from Cetara and Signor Pepe prefers the olives from his hometown. As for mozzarella, here’s Chi Spacca’s chef, Ryan Denicola, on the subject. “We got buffalo mozzarella from four importers, and he rejected them all.  They were too soft inside. He won’t use mozzarella unless you can see the layers in the cheese, like rings in a tree.”

And when he’s mixed the dough, he runs around whatever kitchen he happens to be in with a thermometer, searching out the perfect place to let it rise.

The result?  The most perfect pizza you will ever eat.

Signor Pepe spent last weekend in Los Angeles, teaching pizza classes at Chi Spacca. He was a wonder to watch, deftly patting out the dough, covering it with cheese and putting it into the oven for less than a minute.  At the very end each pizza is hefted on the peel, lifted to the fire and toasted on top, much as you would a marshmallow around a campfire.

The result? Simultaneously soft and crisp, the crust bakes up into something very much like a cloud, cradling whatever toppings Signor Pepe chooses to add.

FullSizeRender (6)My favorite was Il Sole nel Piatto (sunshine on a plate) with buffalo mozzarella, anchovies, basil, extra virgin olive oil and olives. The flavors simply exploded on the palate.

Fried into calzone, the dough becomes crisp, fragile and  virtually greaseless; I had a hard time believed it had ever encountered oil.

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Pizza Scarpetta.  In Italian table talk, fare la scarpetta means “make the little shoe.”  It’s what you do when you tear off a piece of bread and scrape the last bit from your plate.  And this pizza, with is stunningly intense tomato sauce, insists you eat every last tidbit. Fantastic!

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Onions. Cheese. Cream  By this time I was in a pizza coma, eating blindly, unable to stop.

Sadly, I neglected to photograph the “wrong Margarita,” which the chef makes by cooking only the mozzarella, then adding squiggles of tomato sauce and basil oil after the pizza emerges from the heat. A challenge and an exclamation from the man who many think is the greatest pizzaiolo in the world: “I will make it mine!”

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Eating Asian in LA

February 11, 2017

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That is the $18 chirashi lunch at Soregashi, a modest little sushi bar my friend’s Hiro and Lissa recommended.  Lovely food – great prices.

But I’ve been eating well everywhere in LA.  The day before that lunch, Hiro, Lissa and I dropped in at Aburiyaraku, a very trendy Japanese restaurant on La Cienega, where we indulged in this luxurious combination of poached egg, sea urchin and salmon roe; if there’s a more appealing spoonful of goo, I have yet to encounter it.

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The restaurant also makes its own tofu,

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arranges beautiful plates of sashimi

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and if you’re in the mood, will gladly serve you slices of raw wagyu liver

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Another night we indulged in Korean food at Gwang Yang BBQ,  the most serene barbecue outpost I’ve encountered here. Ensconced in the luxury of a private room, the waiter (you summon him with a buzzer), covers your table with lovely panchan,  the little side dishes that are the introduction to every Korean meal.

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You can move on to icy steak tartare laced with cool crisp slices of Asian pear

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Robust meat-laced pancakes

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and all manner of noodles before the waiter fires up the grill and starts cooking your meat.  What you want to try here is the galbi; it has a delicacy I’ve not encountered before, the garlic and sugar muted so you can really taste the excellent beef.

For an entirely different experience of Asian food, you might stop in at the always packed Pine and Crane in Silverlake, line up at the counter to order and then attempt to find a seat in the spare, sunny dining room.

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These pea shoots are a fine beginning.

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A fairly irresistible Taiwanese omelet….

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and very clean-tasting Dan Dan noodles.

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Mid East Flavors in Los Feliz

February 7, 2017

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Hiding beneath those lovely leaves of mint and cilantro are the crispest, flakiest little pastries filled with an enchantingly lemon-scented mix of chicken and pine nuts.  It’s the perfect way to start a meal at the airy new Kismet in Los Feliz.

I lived in this neighborhood for ten years, back in the eighties, and it’s something of a shock to stroll down this formerly derelict block and find it filled with hip new restaurants.  (Go Get Em Tiger is just a few doors down; McConnell’s is practically next door.) With its clean lines and blond wood, this newest entry is as cool and calming as a spa.

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The food is equally attractive. You might begin with this refreshing marinated feta served with roasted squash, crisp green apple and the slight bite of nasturtium leaves.  Scoop some up with pieces of bread, and you find it hits every flavor note.

But what you definitely don’t want to miss is this crisp, flaky bread – a version of the Yemeni malawach –served with a soft-boiled egg, labneh, tomatoes and spice paste. The bread looks innocent, but in its rich, buttery flakiness it is pure seduction. 

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 The restaurant is the creation of the two Saras – Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, who both worked at Blue Hill and then Glasserie before coming west to open Madcapra in the Grand Central Market. (As rents in Gotham keep climbing, expect to see more young chefs make the move to the left coast.) I haven’t been for dinner yet, but the menu offers many pleasures, including a rabbit feast for two that I can’t wait to try. 

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How to Visit Japan Without Getting on a Plane

February 3, 2017

These days, the longing to leave the country is often overwhelming.  A couple days ago, after a morning spent calling elected officials to urge them to do the right thing, I needed to escape. I chose the easy way out: a little lunchtime trip to Japan.

No restaurant in New York offers a more compelling illusion of being elsewhere than Sushi Azabu. The journey begins as you make your way past the hanging black curtain and down a narrow flight of stairs; by the time you reach the bottom you are in one of those tiny subterranean Tokyo sushi bars, being greeted by a chef quietly cutting fish behind a wooden counter.

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Pick up the chopsticks and you are instantly enchanted; light and lithe, they fit happily into your hand, a subtle way of forcing you to pay attention.

You might order a lunchtime “set” – a plate of sushi followed by a shining pair of grilled red snapper collars.

IMG_9488Or you might decide to splurge on the omakase, which promises a flight of dreamlike dishes beginning with a cold appetizer.  Today it was  tiny squid tentacles in seaweed paired with a little dish of lightly pickled fish draped in shawls of onion.

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Now the warm appetizer.  This is the luxury of snow crab, the leg still snuggled into its shell and swathed in a creamy blanket of crab miso.

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A beautifully constructed platter of sashimi tells an interesting story. All the fish is imported from Japan, and while the gentle octopus is deliciously familiar, the abalone is a startling experience. Simultaneously toothy and tender, it offers a fascinating textural paradox.  IMG_9485

Another contrast of color, taste and texture.

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And finally the purity and pleasure of raw sweet shrimp.IMG_9487

The restaurant makes a point of serving uni from Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.  This is quite different from the sea urchin found in either of America’s oceans. Here the contrast is uni from opposite ends of the island, each with its own unique flavor. The idea is to roll a bit of urchin into a crisp strip of nori, add a dab of freshly grated wasabi, give it a quick dip in soy and pop the entire package in your mouth. I could happily do that all day.

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Now the nigiri arrives, one indulgent piece of sushi after another, each superb.

Red snapperIMG_9495Scallop

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shrimpIMG_9499

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sea eel

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Finally, a strangely irresistible tamago that resembles custard more than the customary omelet.

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I’ve missed a few dishes here: wagyu beef, lightly torched and set on a little pad of rice, a few fishes, and the tiny scoop of yuzu ice cream that is the final offering before you’re sent back up into the world.

It’s hard to climb the stairs and find yourself in the gritty snowy streets with headlines blaring from every corner. But the tang of that citrus stays on your lips, reminding you that for a little while at least, you managed to escape.

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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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