Recipes for restaurants

Very Well Bread

May 17, 2016

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Four days of extraordinary eating has convinced me that this is a very exciting time for food in New York City.  I’ll be writing about the best of those meals over the next few days. But right now I want to point out the latest trend in cutting edge cuisine: bread.

For starters there is the bread above, at Del Posto, served in a plate designed by the chef, Mark Ladner. The bread is just what you want: crusty, flavorful, fluffy inside.  But it’s that butter substitute that really gets your attention. It’ looks like mozzarella, but it’s crème fraîche and cultured cream whipped into a frenzy. I dare you to leave even one scrap on the plate.

Then there’s the bread at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  Complex and chewy, it tastes not only of wheat, but of the weather.  Eating this bread made me think of drinking wine; it is bread with terroir.  (And I loved it so much that I forgot to take its picture.)

Then there is the bread at the new Agern in Grand Central.  The brainchild of Claus Meyer, who co-founded Noma, the restaurant is serving absolutely fascinating food; it is unlike anything else you’ll find in New York right now. They certainly care about their bread, which arrives in two different forms:

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This crusty loaf, which is very light inside. It’s served with butter that’s been lightly whipped with a bit of buttermilk (think acid tang), and whipped lamb fat laced with lamb cracklings.

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Later in the meal a second little loaf appears: this dense slightly moist rye bread, tasting faintly of caraway.

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And then the other night at Le Turtle, before the perfect Caesar salad and the fabulous chicken cooked in hay, this delightful loaf appeared:

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It was surrounded by butter: one plain, one tossed with lovage and citrus (sprightly, spring-like, herbal), and a third spangled with snails (frankly I didn’t think they added much).

Tomorrow: more about the meals.

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Vegetables with a College Education*

April 27, 2016

You should probably take this with a grain of salt; I have many reasons to wish the new Nix well.

For one thing it is owned by my former boss, James Truman, who astonished the world (and me along with it), by walking away from the best job in publishing simply because he felt like it.  He was the Editorial Director of Conde Nast, he had no idea what he was going to do next, but he’d had enough.  It’s hard not to admire that spirit. Still, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that he’d go into the restaurant business.

For another thing, Nix is around the corner from the apartment I grew up in. I walked along the sidewalk where the restaurant now stands almost every day for fifteen years, and just being here feels like coming home.

And for the third, I was having dinner with one of my oldest friends, a man who has the bad taste to live in Paris which means I don’t see nearly enough of him.

On the downside, Nix is vegetarian.  Upscale vegetarian.  And that kind of gives me pause; it feels trendy and a little precious. So when I ordered the first bite, tandoori bread with a couple of dips, I was feeling skeptical. Then this arrived:

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Nothing precious about that!

These are the dips….

 

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The one at the top is labnah with marinated cucumbers; I couldn’t stop eating it. The pink one is a take on muhamara – walnuts and red peppers – and every bit as appealing.  A great start.

 

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Jicama, carved into ribbons, served with blood oranges, chiles, crisped onions.  Light and totally refreshing.

 

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A fascinating vegetarian take on the almost-ubiquitous pork belly buns, made famous by David Chang and now served almost everywhere. Chef John Fraser has made them his own by replacing that fat chunk of meat with tempura-fried cauliflower. Suddenly the dish feels new.

 

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This is, as you can see, far from uncomplicated cooking.  But it all feels fresh and tastes wonderful.  I loved these fava beans.

 

IMG_7943And these little pea dumplings, with their white asparagus  were spectacularly good.

Then there was dessert. It reminded me a bit of the pineapple Heston Blumenthal serves at Dinner in London, roasting the fruit on a spit.  Fraser tweaks it by roasting the pineapple in the tandoori oven, which intensifies the flavor until it is almost achingly delicious.  As for that “whipped cream” on top … it’s made of vegetables – and I forgave it.

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Should you be wondering where the name comes from… Nix v. Hedden was a Supreme Court decision of 1893, declaring that the tomato be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit.

 

*This is a reference to a much-loved and long-lamented restaurant on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street called Prexy’s.  They boasted that they served “burgers with a college education.”

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