Recipes for restaurants
February 7, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or 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.
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.
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.
Another contrast of color, taste and texture.
And finally the purity and pleasure of raw sweet shrimp.
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.
Now the nigiri arrives, one indulgent piece of sushi after another, each superb.
Finally, a strangely irresistible tamago that resembles custard more than the customary omelet.
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.
January 10, 2017
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.
On to canderli –
remarkably airy bread dumplings surrounded by apples, red cabbage and horseradish.
Next a major meat plate
smoked pork loin, a rib so rich it shattered at the touch of a fork, gorgeous sausage, sauerkraut and little nubs of roast potatoes.
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?
January 9, 2017
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
Or perhaps some foie gras, topped with a scattering of artichokes and beans.
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.
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.
But should I really admit that what most won my heart was the spinach, with its herbed crumbs and gruyere?
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
and a kimchi hot dog. Great fun sitting there, watching people struggle in the door.
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.
Purple endive. Pecans. Bayley Hazen blue cheese.
The most amazing tuna tartar, all crunch and salt and flavor.
Spicy shrimp roll on brioche.
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
and sea bass in a flurry of vegetables.
Lovely wine list, too.
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.
And then, just as a reminder of when this review was written, here’s an ad from that issue of the magazine.