Sunday, 24 August 2008

Trip To New York--June 2008

Some NY greats: Italian finds including the best antipasto, a wonderful breakfast and lunch place, theater district dining, and some of the top American restaurants

I am definitely a lucky woman. I live in beautiful Paris and visit the spectacular city of New York at least twice a year to see friends and family (and eat!!). I spend a few days in my mother's apartment which is in Riverdale (a gastronomic no-man's land) and then move on to the Village where I stay with my cousins Boots and Larry. Although Larry makes a wonderful breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, various breads and wonderful coffee, I do at times venture out to City Bakery. The staff know me, as I do go there several times on every trip. It was actually a French cook who told me about their Pretzel Croissants; chewy croissants made in the shape of pretzels with a texture between a croissant and (you guessed it) a chewy pretzel. They are quite filling and I love them. I have a picture of them along with some of the beautiful muffins on this blog. On the weekends, City Bakery serves a wonderful caramelized French toast and everyday you can get their stupendous macaroni and cheese. I never liked that when I was a child, but I do now. At lunch, there is always a beautiful array of delicious and healthy salads and sandwiches, and on weekends the compulsory bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese. They are known for their tarts and cookies, but I prefer their breakfast pastries.

After years of going to the top American restaurants in the Zagat Guide which have been written up ad infinitem and tend to be very noisy, I prefer the smaller quieter delicious places. The prices in NY are extremely elevated, but one can find places that are more reasonable. My new favorite place is Ama on MacDougal Street. I was told about it by my friend, Mary, and I asked Boots and Larry to go there with me last fall. It is wonderful. Since that first visit, Boots and Larry have been back there many times. It is a simple restaurant with delicious food and wonderful friendly personalized service. Here are some of the dishes I have had there: Orrechiette with Broccoli de Rape e Saliccie, Cozze (mussels) Tarantino with White Wine, Lemon and Fresh Thyme, Panzerotti (little deep friend ravioli-type things) filled with Tomato-Mozzarella and with Spinach-Ricotta, Grilled Branzino, Rombo con Piselli et Cicorria (peas and chicory), Mezzalune di Melanzana (half-moon pasta filled with eggplant), Capunti di Altamura (pasta with a fresh tomato sauce. We have had every dessert on the menu and the standouts are Panna Cotta di Castagna or whatever flavor they are serving that day, Cioccolato Caldo Freddo (molten chocolate cake with dark chocolate ice cream), Ama--the classic sponge cake bathed with amaretto with cherry crème brulée, and biscotti. Doesn't it sound wonderful?? This is a great place.

My mother dragged me kicking and screaming to a French restaurant. I am a stickler for eating American, Italian, Thai or Japanese food when I am in NY but think it is a waste for me to get French food. However, Cafe Boulud was just wonderful. We had a lovely lunch with my cousin, Judy, and the waiters assured me that the food is American with a French twist. I had House Made Farfalle (not French!!) with Ruby Red Shrimp, Zucchini, Corn, Baby Yellow Squash in a wonderful light cream sauce. For dessert we shared Coffee Opéra (yes, it's French), Chocolate Pain de Gênes with a Marscapone Mousse and an Amedei Chocolate Cremeux with Amaretto Ice Cream. You guessed it! Everyone in my family loves chocolate.

The next day I had tickets to see South Pacific at Lincoln Center. My favorite restaurants in the theater district are Esca and Orso (both Italian) but I was not going to be near either one. So I chose Cafe Fiorello and was very pleased with the spectacular antipasto spread that they have. You can choose four or seven items either vegetarian or vegetarian and fish. One thing is more beautiful than the next and everything is excellent. There are about twenty different savory seafood salads and even more preparations of beautiful vegetables. Not only that, but there are lasagnes and frittate. I sat at the counter and was entertained as the different dishes were placed in their spots. The longer you are there, the more wonderful items are introduced. I had a light lunch but decided that I will definitely go back even if I don't have Lincoln Center tickets. See the photos of the antipasto spread.

My friend, Chris and I always dine out together and usually choose one of the big Zagat choices like Gramercy Tavern or Union Square Café or Tabla or Aqua Grill in Times Square. I have to say that I am tiring of them because, despite the quality of the food, they tend to be expensive and noisy. We went to Blue Water Grill this time and although the food was fine, the noise level made it difficult for us to talk. I had a fancy sushi roll (Spicy Yellowtail and Shrimp with Bok Choy, Arugala Aioli and Tempura Flakes) and a Blacked Swordfish with Sweet Potato-Crabmeat Hash. They were both too complicated to be good. Chris was smart and ordered oysters and a grilled sea bass. Those were delicious.

For my last night, my cousin Gary took his wife Lynn, my mother, and me to the wonderful Italian restaurant, Felidia. There you will have a quiet evening with excellent food and service. It is definitely pricey, however, The bread selection with accompanying olives started us off in fine style. I had a spectacular Ravioli con Cacio et Pere (pungent cheese and pear) with fresh pecorino. Just lovely. After that, I had Spigola Selvaggia Con Sedano e Funghi. This is red snapper with celery, sautéed mushrooms and a mushroom tomato broth. Lynn was the other inventive eater in our party an she had Sautéed Chicken Livers on a bed of Polenta with Frisé and Liver Paté followed by the Spigola. I ordered Granita di Caffé con Panna in memory of a wonderful dessert from Doney's in Rome that I had when I was 16. It was served with biscotti and brioche.

Cousins and friends live in the Upper West Side and I have had the good fortune to go to Gennaro's. It is in the west 90's and they don't take reservations or credit cards. But if you get there at 7, you can get a seat. It is noisy but fun and not so noisy as other restaurants can be. Everything on the menu is wonderful--especially their antipasto and pasta dishes. In addition to the dishes on the menu, they have a long list of daily specials that the waiter recites at table side. They do take-out, and I guess people opt for that rather than wait on line. I was introduced to Gennaro's by my cousins, Kate and Alex and after that, went there with foodie friends, Pat and Tim. You never leave this place hungry or dissatisfied.

Dining in L.A--June 2008

A report on LA's delicious restaurants: American style, grilled cheese, pizza, and some wonderful Japanese finds

I spent a delicious week in L.A. at the home of my friends, Rusty and Joel. Joel is a fantastic cook in his own right (you should see his kitchen) and he created two wonderful dinners for me--his seafood pasta one evening, and a trio of grilled fish--each one lovingly paired with its own sauce. But here is a list of the wonderful L.A. restaurants I tried. I was pleased to note that although they were pricey, the bills were nothing like what you see in Europe or in New York, for that matter.

The first day, I took a walk and discovered a stupendous sushi restaurant: Sushi Roku on Third Street in West Hollywood. I sat at the bar and spoke Japanese to "my" sushi chef (ittamae-san), Tizzi-san. Although I enjoy the fancy multi faceted rolls that characterize California sushi, give me some pristine fresh fish on rice balls and I am in seventh heaven. I was very impressed with the quality of the fish at Sushi Roku and thrilled when Tizzi-san prepared me a fresh shrimp in two different ways: the body live and the head quickly deep friend tempura style. The yellowtail (which is difficult to get in Paris) was heavenly and the drinks sublime. I also enjoyed speaking Japanese to a Japanese woman who had lived in L.A. for such a long time that my Japanese was actually better than hers!! See the photo of Tizzi-san with the head of the shrimp he prepared for me.

That evening, Joel, Rusty, John, Onil and I tried a brand new restaurant in Culver City. Both Joel and John are old friends from Boston and Rusty and Onil are their partners. Onil is a chef and has a small restaurant in Pasadena (see below). We went to Ford's Filling Station, which is owned by Harrison Ford's son. The food is California-style, and we all shared several dishes: Jamon Serrano Flatbread with Roasted Red Peppers and Mozzarella, Curried Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese, Pecans and Duck Prosciutto, Smoked Trout Brandade with Grilled Garlic Bread, Scallops with Fresh Corn (can't get that in Paris!!), Blistered Tomatoes, Fingerling Potatoes and Brown Butter, Polenta Cake with Vegetables and Truffled Marscapone, Kobe Beef Cheeks with Cracked Wheat Risotto, etc. etc. For desert, we all shared the Chocolate Pound Cake with Whipped Cream, Blackberries and Strawberries. Onil chose a French Viognier wine which is one of my favorite grapes. He went wild ordering for everyone and we each got tastes of every dish. It was delicious, a lot of fun and came to about $60 per person.

The next evening, two tried and true Foodie Friends of mine (the son of another friend from Boston and his wife: Rafi and Megan) took me to the spectacular Pizzeria Mozza. This is the newest offspring of Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery and cookbook fame. Although the pizzas are designer, I could not resist when I learned that this was her restaurant. She has a fantastic reputation. You would think that I had not eaten for days when I tell you of all the things we ordered and tasted. The starter was to die for: a Chicken Liver-Caper-Parsley-Pancetta Bruschetta. All the flavors married beautifully and this was a spectacular dish. We also shared Fried Squash Blossoms filled with warm melting Ricotta Cheese--sensational. As there were three of us, we splurged and actually ordered three pizzas and each one was more delicious than the last: Fennel Sausage, Panna, Red Onions and Scallions for the first; Funghi Misti with Fontina, Taleggio and Thyme for the second; Wild Spinach, Cacio di Roma and Salami Nostrano. The third was my favorite. Next door to the restaurant is Mozza Trattoria but Rafi told me that he much prefers the pizzeria. Given the way I feel about pizza, I think he is right, and I cannot wait to go back to Mozza.

The next day, I took public transportation (that's right--no one can believe it even exists in L.A.) to Pasadena where I met John. It was a very hot day and we took advantage of the wonderful weather to visit the Huntington Estates--beautiful gardens. John took me to Onil's restaurant (Elements) where I had a Pan-seared Atlantic Salmon Niçoise. John had the famous Organic Egg Salad. Both were delicious. Just a few days ago (end of August), Onil opened the restaurant for dinner. It is a small place but everything is lovingly and deliciously prepared. I think he will go far in this business.

That evening, we joined another friend of John (Tom) and were completely wowed at R-23, an unusual and wonderful Japanese restaurant in Japan town. Japanese people really know about service. We had two lovely beautiful women waiting on us. They recommended the best sushi and other dishes and the four of us enjoyed a wonderful feast. We had a French Dungeness Crab Salad, Yellowtail Carpaccio with Yuzu and Salmon Roe (yuzu is a citrus fruit), an assortment of wonderful sushi, Fried Soft Shell Crab, Beef Sashimi, Grilled Duck with Scallions, Shiitake Mushrooms with Asparagus, Ohitashi (a spinach dish) with Shiitake. We drank a wonderful cold sake with this terrific meal. Japanese food can be ultra-expensive but in spite of what we ordered, it came to about $67 per person. That would NEVER happen in New York or anywhere in Europe much less Tokyo. It was very impressive and I would return there in a heartbeat.

Joel, Rusty and I had been talking about Grilled Cheese Night at Campanile for over a year. It is the most popular evening when Mark Peel (the chef and genius behind the restaurant) makes delicious GRILLED CHEESE sandwiches. One must reserve very far in advance for this event and it is worth it. If you can say that Grilled Cheese can be a gourmet undertaking, this is it. Such crisp bread and warm meltingly delicious cheese! Perfect comfort food. You have never had a grilled cheese sandwich like this before. That was not all, however. Campanile is a wonderful restaurant and we had the entire menu at our disposal. We chose the Grilled Cheese sandwich, a wonderful Lobster Roll, Crisp Ricotta and Squash Ravioli wih Wild Mushroom Duxelles, and a Nectarine and Blueberry Cobbler. We also shared the rich brownie à la mode. It was a wonderful memorable meal, made only that more memorable when I fell in the bushes on the way back to the house. I guess all the partying and excitement went to my head!!!

I don't mean to be boring but every single restaurant I went to in L.A. was so
wonderful that I want to do the same thing the next time I go back. Joel and Rusty will suggest that we go elsewhere and I am always up for trying something new. However, these several choices could not be beat!!