Posts tagged the young gourmand
Posts tagged the young gourmand
Restaurant week in New York City is an interesting time for dining out. I label this time interesting because for many, it affords the opportunity to try a restaurant that is otherwise too costly or difficult to get into, but the experience is often soured by large crowds, a limited menu, and in some cases, a very frustrated restaurant staff. Even in some of my “successful” outings of the past, I have often found myself wondering: “What’s that place like when its not restaurant week?”
For that reason, for this summer’s NYC restaurant week, I chose one place to attend. A roman-trattoria inspired, Danny Meyer owned, fine dining Italian restaurant nestled into the western corner of Gramercy Park (inside the Gramercy Park Hotel). Ironically, the day before our 8:30 pm reservation, I realized that Maialino was only participating in restaurant week for lunch. Enthusiastically, the next night, we went to dinner for the real deal…prices and all!!
Before you even walk in, the charm of this place is undeniable. If you are on foot, any way you approach the restaurant, you are sucked in by the beauty of the 19th century buildings that make up the park’s neighborhood. Beyond the heavy glass and steel door and down a half a set of stairs is a contemporary, yet homey, establishment.
Despite the great vibe, our service was surprisingly mediocre for a Danny Meyer spot- it took about 15 minutes after our reserved time to be seated, and from there the wait staff seemed more focused on the tables that did not have two twenty-somethings sitting at it. A mix-up with our drinks from bar to table was also a bit bothersome.
The food rundown goes a little something like this:
1. Some pretty incredible rosemary infused foaccacia and those delicious crunchy long italian breadsticks- on the house with a good olive oil.
2. Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with OO and Anchovies- Some high quality dairy and a nice prelude to the pasta.
3. Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Bucatini all’Amatriciana- The pastas were outta this world. Fresh tasting, perfect al dente texture, and aptly sauced. Both dishes introduced my first experience with guanciale, (AKA Roman Bacon). It is definitely intimidating when you read about it, but delicious in a well prepared dish of pasta
4. Suckling Pig for two with Fingerling Potatoes- the namesake dish for this restaurant (Maialino in Italian translates to piglet.) This was a special for the night, but was surprisingly pedestrian. A rather bland “crispy skin” topped a rather small pile of pork that was moist, but lacked seasoning. I was dying for some sort of flavor to pop out as we tore through this final dish, but I got nothing. The fingerlings were great, the “maialino” just did nothing for me.
After another glass of wine and some more breadsticks, the bill arrived. I thought to myself, “Wow! This is definitely not a restaurant week sponsored meal!”. Although we had a few drinks and an appetizer, I can definitely say I have spent this amount of money elsewhere and had a much better meal and experience.
Overall: This restaurant has an incredibly authentic italian vibe and is a great intimate setting for a special occasion. With only one experience, I can pretty confidently say that you will get a nice meal, but you will definitely pay for it. I am sure the service issue is not prevalent, as DM places just don’t operate that way, but you may find the waitstaff giving disproportionate attention to the high-roller types. I hear brunch is the best meal at this joint, so I plan to go back again!
I am going to start baking bread.
Baking bread using the most primitive techniques requires immense knowledge and aptitude. To bake a great loaf of bread is a remarkable skill.
I love the challenge of taking on a new skill.
I am going to start baking bread.
I make this declaration after watching a video promoting the new(ish) book from the folks behind the legendary Tartine Bakery and Cafe in San Francisco. There is something addicting about this video for me. I am now reading (studying) Tartine Bread. Chad Robertson has inspired me.
I am going to start baking bread.
Although I have yet to go to The Meatball Shop, based on the things I have read about the restaurant and it’s owners, I have an enormous amount of respect for this business.
Listen to Daniel Holtzman talk about smart ways to grow a small business. Staying hungry (figuratively speaking, although I’m sure literally too), yet humble. Awesome stuff.
Every Saturday in Williamsburg from 11 am to 6 pm, the folks behind Brooklyn Flea bring us: Smorgasburg. As the event’s name suggests, the focus here is on food. The tents of 100+ vendors are strewn about on the East River waterfront waiting for you to walk up, take a smell, taste a sample, ask a question, or perhaps make purchase. In pleasant hipster fashion, most if not all of the vendors are happy if you do any of those things.
Sunday Gravy- Front an center in this tent is a giant dutch oven on a propane burner. The contents: a thick bubbling meat sauce made with on the bone beef and pork, meatballs, and sausage. Simple but packed with flavor. You can have it over pasta (boiled right in front of you) or my favorite way: in a scooped out piece of seeded italian bastone known as a “bread boat”. Grab a fork, a napkin, and enjoy. $5
Porchetta- This has been at NYC markets for years and at their flagship store in the East Village since 2008. I have had the sandwich at least five times and its just as good every time. Theres not enough time to go into it in the detail it requires, so in short, its a heavily seasoned, slow roasted pig whose best parts are shaved, ripped, and cracked onto a crispy Grand Daisy Ciabatta. Need I say more? $6
D’vine and Olive- Tasty infused Extra Virgin Olive Oils from California. Stand and dip for 20 minutes.
The Good Batch- After finishing my first two items, participating in several tastings and samples, and after finishing a cold refreshing Brooklyn Witte from Smorgasbar, we felt the next logical step was something sweet. The Good Batch was serving up homemade ice cream sandwiches that couldn’t be turned down. 2 giant salt dusted oat chocolate chunk cookies housed a healthy schmear of bourban vanilla ice cream. Next to the small ice cream sandwiches served at Sugar and Olivesthis might have been the best one I have ever had. $6 (its huge)
Things I plan to try next time:
1. A schnitzel sandwich from Schnitz NYC
2. Hot out of the oven pizza from Rubirosa
3. Fried anchovies from Bon Chovi
4. Mexican Sandwich from Cemitas Mexican Sandwiches
Take the L out to Bedford Ave, and stroll down to the water for Smorgasburg- its worth it!
Exiting the terminal you ascend onto a beautiful street from a seemingly distant era. Your eye is drawn to the cobblestone and fading railroad steel and looking up you notice the age-old Edwards Hotel. On the corner to your right a loud comiserating after-work crowd forms at the bar to drown the stress of the day in bar food and Bud Light. You are accompanied by droves of 20 and 30-somethings in professional attire as you walk from Hudson Place to Newark St. and you join them in dodging families walking four-across on the sidewalk, each one carrying a cupcake and a canoli from Carlo’s Bakery. Finally, you reach Washington street; a vista of sports bars, fast-casual restaurants, small retailers, and thousands of pedestrians.
Congratulations- you’re in Hoboken.
There is a definite charm to this tiny Manhattan outpost, sometimes known as “the sixth borough” or “the mile square city”. Several parks and a one and a half mile waterfront promenade on the east side of the city afford, in my opinion, the best view one can get of the New York City skyline. Most if not all of the streets have centuries-old buildings and zoning restrictions keep new construction to four or five stories tall in most parts of the city, giving it a village feel. The culinary scene is fairly homogenous and pedestrian, but along with the city, it is growing and become increasingly varied. Washington and Hudson Streets are home to most of the city’s eateries, however some of the best restaurants are on enchanting corners tucked in the residential streets to the west.
One of those places is Zafra- a tiny, 25 seat Cuban-Lat-Am restaurant located on the corner of 3rd St and Willow Avenue. Walking in, you are consumed by the color and energy in the restaurant. The small tables are outfitted in brightly colored cloths, and the walls are adorned with vibrant oil paintings by a Cuban artist and father of owner Maricel Presilla. Other subtle Latin American details are incorporated throughout the busy little restaurant giving it a truly authentic feel.
My girlfriend and I visited on a Saturday night, and decided to forgo the 20 minute wait for a table by sitting at the bar (due to the size of the place, expect this on a weekend). Off the bat, we noticed that although the service and back of the house were extremely busy, they were all laughing, and having a great time. As a result, we found ourselves smiling before we tasted anything. On to the food…
Like many of Hoboken’s small restaurants, Zafra does not have a liquor license, but they allow you to bring your own booze. Bring rum and they will make you a killer Mojito, bring a bottle of wine and they will make Sangria. We came in with a bottle of red wine and watched the “bartender” add a battery of ingredients, including 4 or 5 different types of fresh fruit, furiously mix it all together, and then serve us, in a giant pitcher with an old wooden spoon, perhaps the best Sangria I have ever had in my life. As we sipped from our giant wine glasses, we sorted through an extensive menu of small tapas-like plates, tamales, sandwiches, and entrees.
To start, we decided on the ham croquettes- salty little fried potato balls filled with juicy serrano ham, served with a delicious spicy dipping sauce. In lieu of another appetzer, we decided to request a second basket of the complimentary toasted, pressed and buttered Cuban Bread. It was so basic, so expected, but something about it was enthralling; we couldn’t stop eating it.
We guzzled Sangria and picked out chunks of fruit as we anxiously awaited our entrees. For Kate, it was the Pollo con Mole Oaxaqueño- a traditional chicken dish, with thick mole sauce, rice, and tortillas. For me, it was the Churrasco con Chimichurri- Aregentinian Style skirt steak served with chimichurri sauce. Both entree’s were satisfying. The chicken was moist with strong, but not overwhelming flavor from the mole. The steak, melt-in-your-mouth-tender, grilled to a perfect medium rare, served with a solid chimichurri. We ate off of eachothers plates, and contemplated asking for another basket of the pan cubano to take care of some of the dishwasher’s work.
Overall: The atmosphere of a restaurant and the attitude of it’s employees can make any dining experience enjoyable. Put authentic, well-prepared food on the plates, and you’ve got a winner. Zafra delivered on all of the above. Take a trip out to Hoboken, and stroll through the backstreets to this busy corner restaurant and enjoy a little slice of latin america.
On your way, stop at Sparrow Wine and Liquors on Washington St. and pick up a cheap, young bottle of red for the Sangria!
Went here Sunday night and had the Thai Burger. Delicious and interesting. @noahfecks great post and picture!
The Thai Burger at Hong Thaimee’s NGAM is quite possibly one of the most interesting things i’ve ever had to eat in my whole little life… Therefore you have only two courses of action:
1) If you live in NYC - go there for dinner POST HASTE!
2) if you live elsewhere - the link above has the WHOLE RECIPE!
Special Thanks: Hong Thaimee, Linnea Covington & Rachel Walensky
A TRIP TO CHINATOWN
Chinatown in New York is the largest of any city in the country and has the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. It’s no wonder there are so many incredible Chinese restaurants to choose from. Remember my previous post about needing to visit the Chinatown food scene? Probably not- who am I kidding? Anyhow, here it is and today, I had the chance to go down and taste the best noodles and dumplings I have ever had
CHINATOWN- 67 Bayard Street New York, NY
After navigating through the maze of Chinatown from Franklin St., I arrived, sweating and hungry, at 67 Bayard St., the site of Xi’an Famous Foods. A crowd of locals and lunch-breaker’s congregated around the small counter in the front, ordering from the completely deserved, famous menu.
The main draw to this tiny Chinatown storefront are the hand pulled noodles made fresh everyday from just water, salt and flour. The boiled to perfection noodles are velvety smooth and when mixed with the succulent pork, lamb, ox-tail, and other ingredients like homemade chili oil, and the secret soy based “house” sauce, they become one of the best and most addictive things you will ever taste. I had the stewed pork hand-ripped noodles and requested they be made a bit spicy- absolutely incredible. On the side, I sampled their equally famous spicy cumin lamb burger. The lamb is sautéed with jalapenos, onions, and scallions, and seasoned liberally with cumin, then stuffed into a hard, crispy-warm bun. This combination of flavors almost feels Middle Eastern inspired, and it is, due to Western China’s large population of Muslims. A unique flavor that’s a must try.
Thanks to attention from Andrew Zimmern, and several other notable food authorities Xi’an has enjoyed a ton of success. Do yourself a favor and go for the noodles and a lamb burger- all you’ll need is 9 bucks cash and you won’t even come close to finishing everything.
CHINATOWN- 9 Pell Street New York, NY
Next stop: Dumplings. A ridiculous move when I consider how much food I just ate at Xi’an. But right around the corner on Pell St. is the dumpling institution in NYC and I couldn’t resist. “Soup Dumplings” are the choice here- filled with crab, pork, and soup broth (in solid state) that then liquefies when each dumpling is steamed to perfection. We grabbed these to go, but every party in the crowded place had a bamboo steamer full of them in the center of their table. Although messy and hot, the flavor was incredible and has changed my view on dumplings!
Next time I am down in the LES, I plan to sample more of the famous authentic Chinese food in the streets of Chinatown.
Everyday, with a gym bag on my back, I schlep down Hudson St. to get to my office. The walk from Christopher to W. Houston is always my favorite stretch of the daily commute; between the excited little kids filing into St. Luke’s school, the constant set preparations for the filming of a new movie or the occasional celebrity sighting, there always seems to be something interesting going on.
Lately, my sights have been set on the ground floor transformation of a beautiful brownstone between Morton and Leroy streets into what is now The Goodwin: West Village Wine Bar and Café. The doors swung open on June 1st and foodie inclinations aside, I was compelled to patronize due to my witnessing its transformation twice a day, everyday, for the past six months. So this past Wednesday, I found the perfect opportunity to drop in for lunch.
The layout of the restaurant is great- there are a few tables in the front, a long bar with about 20 seats in the middle as the space narrows, and in the back is a main dining room (seats about 40) where floor to ceiling windows afford lots of natural light and a nice view of a garden. The décor has that predictable, omnipresent, “industrial vintage” feel. Thick wood beams with a hand-hewn look line the ceiling, a large carriage wheel sits on the wall by the bar, and plumbers-pipe light fixtures and accents are everywhere. You may as well be in the middle of a catalogue shoot for Restoration Hardware.
Their “preview” menu consisted of bar snacks, salads, soups, sandwiches, and small plates- all seemed to be American inspired with the requisite high prices characteristic of Gastropubs. The wine and beer list had some nice selections, but was fairly limited; one would expect this to grow should they intend to live up to the “Wine Bar” in their title.
After I was seated in the back room, I had to wait 10 minutes until a fumbling waiter came over and stuttered over the words: “What do you want?” Not the best first impression for a new place. Nonetheless, I ordered “The Rich Boy” which is Goodwin’s play on the traditional Po’ Boys of the bayou; tempura mussels, clams, oysters, and chorizo, with spicy pork gravy and pickled onions on a pretzel hero served with herb fries. At $17 I expected the best damn po’ boy north of the Mason Dixon, but I was let down. The tempura’d seafood should have been crisp and crunchy, but it didn’t even have a chance due to the amount of pork gravy it was swimming in. And the Pork Gravy- was this made from a can of whiz from Gino’s Cheese steaks? It certainly tasted that way- much too much cheese taste. The only thing that could have thrown a lifeline to the dish was the fries, but they also disappointed. Dry and over seasoned, they were begging for ketchup (which I asked for, then waited 10 minutes to receive).
Overall- my dish and the service were lackluster. Despite the fact that I only had one menu item, and despite being sympathetic to the fact that it takes a couple of months for a new restaurant to get the kinks out, I’m not optimistic about this place. Go there once the full menu comes out and they get their act together, I may do the same. For now, I’ll just be observing on my walk to work each day.
An interesting find here- the graphic designer elaborates on his inspiration for the logo, typeface, and seal at the restaurant. I wish some more of the rich history of Goodwin & Co. Farm was incorporated into the interior design and menu items.
There is something special about food and its ability to transport you to a different place or time. I think some of the best food experiences do that in one way or another. That is certainly the goal of Jody “Joe” Scaravella, owner of Enoteca Maria (referenced in my earlier post). He employs a different “Nonna” each night to cook the authentic food from their Italian hometown. With this approach, he hopes to create a place that makes you feel as if you are sitting at a table in the Italian countryside or in your own grandmother’s kitchen, when really, you’re in Staten Island.
When I shared the news of this place with my family, they all wanted to go. So this past Saturday, in celebration of Fathers day, we took a beautiful ferry ride from the southern tip of Manhattan out to the island. When we arrived, it was just a 5-10 minute walk past the historic Staten Island Supreme Court House and up the steep hill that is Hyatt St.
The space itself is very small and unassuming. Exposed brick and the butcher-block table in the front give it a rustic feel, but white subway tile, high tech ceiling fans, and occasional rock music contradict. The galley kitchen in the back has a half wall of clear glass that allows you to actually see the Italian grandmother at work, bringing the whole restaurant concept to life. Joe hangs out in the front of the house, greeting parties and acting as the house sommelier and barista.
Our cook for the evening was Adelena from Casola, Napoli. Here is a short bio of Adelena from the restaurant website:
Adelena Masana was born and raised in Naples, in the Campania region of Italy. She learned to cook from both of her grandmothers and her mother. She remembers the rustic Neapolitan cuisine of her childhood fondly.
She came to America in 1990 and took up residence in Brooklyn. Her favorite recipe is Tagliatelle alla Mantavana, but she loves everything about preparing a full-course traditional dinner with pasta, salads, meat and dessert. Of her six children, it is one of her sons who carries on the tradition of cooking back home in Naples.
To start we ordered a bottle of the Casa Boschino; a medium bodied Tuscan red that was easy to drink and held up well with some of the heavier Neopolitan dishes of Nonna Adelina. Later in the meal, we ordered a second bottle.
For appetizers, we had:
Vongole Oregenate: Baked Clams
The “stuffing” was tasty- nicely seasoned and with a liberal dose of Parmagianno, which I loved. They were a bit small though- I believe they were littlenecks and I was expecting quahogs.
Zampe di Porcellino: Braised pigs feet in red sauce with cannellini beans.
I had never had these before (for obvious reasons), but was very happy they had them on the menu as it evoked childhood memories for my father. The pigs feet themselves were salty and delicious and the cannellini beans and traditional red sauce were even better. The pile of Focaccia that our attentive server continually delivered was great for getting every last drop of sauce off the serving plate.
Peperoni Ripieni: Red peppers stuffed with rice, peas, onions, raisins, pine nuts and ground beef
This was my favorite dish of the whole night. The filling exploded with flavor and the peppers melted in your mouth.
The “Secondi” menu items were true to Adelena’s background in cooking. Italian American food is nowhere to be found on this menu, so if you are looking for Veal Parmagianno, take your business elsewhere. On this menu you’ll find several fish entrees, cappuzelle (half of a sheeps head, stuffed and baked), tripe, and other rustic preparations.
Coniglio con Ciliegino: Tender pieces of rabbit cooked with cherry tomatoes and pancetta in white wine
Simple and Delicious. Rabbit can be tough and have a “gamey” taste sometimes, but this execution was flawless. Tomato, Garlic, White Wine, and Pancetta flavors oozed out of the tender, juicy rabbit.
Vitello al Limone: Veal dipped in flour with capper and sautéed in a lemon and white wine sauce.
Polpette Piccanti: Meatballs made of pork and spicy Italian sausage, flavored with raisins and curry powder, wrapped in prosciutto then baked
Heavenly. Upon special request the meatballs were accompanied by a side of penne with a traditional tomato sauce.
Branzino al Cartoccio: Whole Mediterranean sea bass baked in foil with a lemon-herb sauce.
Classic branzino preparation, fresh fish and cooked perfectly
To finish the meal we had cappuccinos and a plate of their homemade Italian cookies- authentic as could be. Had there been Panettone and a bowl of uncracked nuts present, I could have been sitting at my own Nanni’s table. Eating Italian cookies after I had already had too much to eat- that was a familiar feeling.
Overall, we had a sublime experience at Enoteca Maria. Joe and his staff do a great job of making you feel right at home. The food was delicious and authentic- a nice change of pace from your typical “red sauce” joint. Best of all, the entire experience motivated a lot of conversation and reflection about our own Italian family making it a very special place for Father’s day. I would not hesitate to go back and I would highly recommend it to others. Bring Cash and expect to leave satiated!
Before we left, Nonna Adelina was kind enough to come out and take a picture with my dad and brother…take a look!