Recipes for restaurants
December 7, 2016
I loved Flora. But I wonder how the neighborhood is going to take to this downtown restaurant in its uptown setting. The new restaurant in the Met Breuer is not your average upper east side place.
The room is spare, cool, edgy. The menu is the same. It begins with a list of lovely (and pricey) seafood, like these beautiful blue shrimp
Raw scallop snuggled into a sheet of nori
The most delicious take on uni I’ve encountered in a while – the orange roe is paired with pounded fluke, which picks up the flavor and echoes it like a gong making the taste of the sea urchin resonate, going on and on.
The strangest version of steamed clams I’ve ever encountered (don’t get me wrong – I loved them).
Then there are these completely addictive potato croquettes, which crackle deliciously when you take a bite
An elegant little salad of red endive and Bailey Hazen blue cheese
A little tart of rutabaga and raclette
And lobster dumplings and greens in a pellucid broth
Finally, this simple apple tart
One added bonus: the excellent wine list.
My advice: if you’re having trouble getting into Estela – and you undoubtedly are – consider a trip to their uptown outpost. As the Michelin people used to say – worth the trip.
I also want to tell you about the fantastic meal I had at Annisa last night; although it’s not new, I haven’t been in a while, and now I wonder why. I can’t wait to go back. Cozy, comfortable, with wonderful service (included in the menu price) and completely delicious food. If you’re looking for that rare place where you can have a conversation with your friends, this is it.
And did I mention that the food is fantastic?
We started with this: sea bream sashimi with beets and shiso. The flavors were so delicately balanced it took my breath away. Sheer joy.
A lovely little fried oyster with fennel and cucumber. What really makes this dish sing is the yogurt; so much more convivial with oysters than the richness of tartar sauce.
Barbecued squid with boiled peanuts, Thai basil and just a hint of hoisin. Squid has never been more elegant.
The main courses were both surprising, inventive and extremely satisfying. I apologize for not having better photographs, because I’d love to be able to convey the sheer deliciousness of this miso-marinated sable on its bed of fried tofu silken in a slightly sweet bonito broth. The flavors twirled around each other as the textures did a surprising little dance.
As for this duck with its pickled plums, its yama imo (Japanese mountain potato) and that little cup of foie gras chawan mushi – another texturally complex dish that made you wonder why nobody has ever put these ingredients together before. I liked it so much I almost ordered a second helping.
But that would have been wrong. It would have left no room for this delightful poppy seed bread pudding with its meyer lemon sauce. It was the perfect ending.
October 17, 2016
What took him so long?
Wolfgang Puck has conquered so much of America, it’s hard to believe he’s only now getting around to New York. But he’s arrived with a bang at his new Cut in the Four Seasons Hotel downtown.
It’s dark, cozy, romantic, loud – the kind of place that wants to send you out the door saying, “Boy that was fun!” It’s also inventive and up to the moment.
Consider, for example, the pork belly pictured above. Half the chefs in the country are doing a version of the pork belly sliders David Chang first made famous at Momofuku Ssam bar – but Cut does it differently. The pork is from Mosefund farm, and it comes with roasted apples and mustard seeds. You make your own sandwich, placing the crisp pig between two white circles of dough. Each one of those little dribs and drabs adds another level of flavor and sophistication. We couldn’t stop eating them.
This is the Cut version of tuna tartare. With togarishi crisps, wasabi, soy… the flavors dance around in your mouth very happily.
And this is their steak tartare, which has a kind of thick egg yolk jam that adds a new layer of richness to the beef, and crisped beef tendon that gives it crunch. Another totally addictive treat.
A little sashimi – of course! – hamachi, blood orange, ponzu, cucumber.
Tortelloni with corn, mascarpone, cheese… a delightfully gilded lily.
From the Negroni cart: the perfect expression of the drink of the moment. The scent of citrus leaps from the glass. And the glass is a joy to hold – smooth, a little too large, rounded – with the biggest ice cube you’ve ever seen smack in the middle. It arrives with long parmesan crisps and a basket of gougeres.
And then it’s show time: the meat display
They make a big deal of the wagyu at the bottom, but frankly I’ve never understood the appeal of meat that’s more fat than chew. We opted for the prime aged American beef at the top
And onion rings…
and creamed spinach that looks so unappealing in the photo I took that I refuse to subject you to it. Take my word that it tasted far better than it looked.
Other dishes that did not enjoy their moment on film: bone marrow flan, served snuggled into the bones, which turns out to be the perfect way to stretch marrow into more. I also loved the mush of mushrooms on the side.
Desserts, on the other hand, are pretty: I especially liked this baked Alaska.
Cut strikes me as the perfect expression of the up and coming FIDI area: lots of inventive nibbles followed by straightforward red meat. The truth is, you might want to come just for a Negroni – and to watch all those beautiful people come pouring through the door.
October 7, 2016
If there is a more brilliant use for kohlrabi, I have yet to encounter it. I ordered this kohlrabi noodle salad with sesame peanut dressing, anchovies and crisp little bites of fried rice noodle last night at Fung-Tu. Then I ordered another. And then I contemplated a third. The “noodles” have such an appealing snap and crispness they make every other sesame noodle dish seem limp and pathetic, and the dressing has all the right ingredients. I’m going to try and duplicate it, but I doubt that I can. Unlike the chef, Jonathan Wu, I am not a veteran of Per Se.
There were other wonderful dishes at this appealingly quirky restaurant. My favorites were this
fava been curd – like tofu on steroids – with a sprightly topping of pickled mustard greens, bacon and chile oil.
And this intriguing take on pizza:
crunchy scallion pancakes topped with clams, with bacon, with chiles.
I found the smoked, stuffed dates irresistible, and I loved the taro mashed with lots of cheese (gruyere and smoked mozzarella) until it had become an Asian version of pommes aligot. And once I got over the fact that the baby back ribs weren’t what I expected – they’d been steamed until they fell from their bones – I simply sat back and appreciated the dance of flavors: black garlic, fried scallions, and the occasional snap of chiles.
Fung-Tu is an intriguing restaurant, one that’s forging its own path. This isn’t food you’ll find anywhere else, a bold mix of cultures, ingredients and cuisines. It isn’t always successful; I pretty much hated the pork belly egg rolls, and the pastrami fried rice made me long for the Mission Chinese version. But that’s part of the appeal of Fung-Tu; the chef, Jonathan Wu, is walking a tightrope. You’re bound to love some dishes and hate others. What you won’t be is bored; this is not just food, but food for thought.
I can’t wait to go back.
October 2, 2016
The B train was the subway from hell – stopping for at least 5 minutes between each station so that an air of claustrophobic desperation began to fill the car. I emerged, at last, to pouring rain, and trudged grimly down Houston Street, late for our big family reunion dinner.
But the moment I walked into the cozy dark warmth of Estela, it all faded away. This is a happy place, one that manages the special magic of restaurants, cocooning you in a little bubble during the time that you are there. It is, I might also mention, the most perfect place I’ve ever found to feed a small crowd. The table in the alcove in the back, which seats ten if you don’t mind squeezing, makes you feel part of the festive room and somehow also private. It was, in fact, a perfect night.
We began with these oysters in a yuzu mignonette. How could they possibly be anything but wonderful?
I’ve always loved the restaurant’s icy chunky beef tartare. Laced with crisp little bits of sunchoke it is a dance of many textures, and a joy to eat.
Mussels in escabeche on toast.
Burrata in salsa verde on charred bread. This is the only dish I had reservations about; the salsa takes the cheese to its complicated acid side when it really yearns to be sweet and simple.
This, on the other hand, is the opposite: the edgy bitterness of endive is tempered with a rich, round filling of walnuts, anchovies and ubriaco cheese. It’s one of those dishes that stops you in your tracks, and makes you taste it thoughtfully, again and again.
I’ve always loved Estela’s fried rice, dark with squid ink, dense with romesco and utterly irresistible. It would have been my favorite dish if the two that followed had not been so intensely delicious.
Those are mushrooms on top. Hiding shyly underneath are little pecorino-laced ricotta dumplings of such ethereal lightness the mushrooms seem necessary, the only thing that keeps them from floating off the plate.
Sadly, at this point my family tired of holding the candles up to photograph the dishes, so I can’t show you the wonderful steak that came next. But trust me when I say that although it was just a few bites, this was memorable meat, the kind you so rarely find anymore, flavored with the unmistakable taste of age.
There were desserts of course, all lovely, and the evening rolled merrily on. It was a terrible shock to go outside and find the rain still coming down, the traffic terrible. Having spent a few sheltered hours in Estela, the return to reality was hard to take.
September 15, 2016
“I love this restaurant,” said Rita Jammet when we ran into each other at Le Coucou.
That is not a recommendation I take lightly; Rita and her husband, Andre, owned the much-lamented La Caravelle, which was in its day one of New York’s most appealing restaurants, and her son Nicolas is one of the founders of Sweetgreen. Rita’s got her eye on both the past and the future, and that’s pretty much what you get at this impressive new restaurant.
The vibe is young and buzzy; there’s real energy in this beautiful room. (How did the designers manage to make a room in an old hotel on a gritty almost-Chinatown corner look like the rural chateau you’ve always longed to own?) But while the room looks of the moment, the food could not be more classic: this is a loving look backward to a vanishing France. It is a country of cream, sweetbreads, caviar and lobster, the France of sole Veronique. The food is so delightfully nostalgic that by meal’s end I found myself wondering when the cigar box was going to appear.
The chef, Daniel Rose, is an American who went to University in Paris, studied cooking in Lyon, and opened a couple of wildly popular but modest Paris restaurants. Taking on a restaurant as large and ambitious as this – in New York – was a bold move. It’s risky to judge a restaurant on a single meal, but I’d say he’s returned in triumph.
There was butter with the bread. But there was also this fantastically flavorful whipped mangalitsa fat.
Those oysters at the top, slightly warm, were so deliciously bathed in seaweed butter.
A crepinette of chicken, topped with plum and a few fine slices of foie gras. If Marie Antoinette ate sausage, this is how she’d want it cooked.
As a tripe lover, I found this preparation, which masked the barnyard quality of the meat, slightly annoying. People who don’t like tripe, however, will be charmed. A tender chew (this is no ordinary tripe, but the lining from the stomach of a wagyu steer), it tastes like a beautifully breaded cutlet.
Daikon, masquerading as sauerkraut. Crowned with caviar. Irresistible.
Quenelle de brochet – one of the glories of classic French food – beautifully executed in an intense lobster sauce. The brilliance of this was the clear intensity of the sauce, and the way it played against the airy subtlety of the quenelle. It’s hard to imagine there is anyone who would not fall instantly in love.
I’m so happy to see sweetbreads emerge from obscurity. Of all the innards, these are the most amiable. More texture than flavor, when expertly cooked they make you feel as if you’re eating clouds. Rose’s version inserts a touch of tomato into the usual tarragon cream sauce, which adds a perfect little zing of acid.
Le tout lapin – rabbit served in three different preparations. I envision this bringing back a fashion for bunny. This is the rolled saddle, toped with various inner parts.
More rabbit hiding down there.
And the legs, cooked into a broth.
Very embellished rice pudding (and to my mind not up to the famous version at L’Ami Jean). But the seemingly modest piece of fruit, below, is replete with mystery and the perfect way end to a meal.
The menu is, in many ways, an homage to Lyons. The wine list roams the world, but the French entries are especially interesting. We drank a de Moor Chablis – a deliciously flinty expression of Chardonnay, from a famously organic producer – and a Saint Peray from the great August Clappe.
Finally, a note on the service. How wonderful to be in the hands of professionals. And how rare, in a brand new restaurant. Like everything else at Le Coucou, it’s old-fashioned in an extremely modern way.