Monday, 9 November 2009

London in October

More delicious dining in London, including a terrific Japanese robata-sushi bar, a favorite Italian, a hallowed hall of gastronomy and where to go for simply prepared fish

Another trip to London and that means great eating. My favorite new discovery was Zuma at Knightsbridge on Raphael Street. It is a sushi bar, a robata bar and a large, noisy, and very attractive modern restaurant. If not for the sushi bar, you would say that this is modelled after the Japanese izakaya--or brasserie. The menu boasts long lists of very interesting salads and hot dishes, and I was able to try a number of them, along with robata (grilled food). To start with I had Hamachi usuzukuri pirikara ninnikugake. Another way of saying it is thinly sliced raw yellowtail with a green chili relish and ponzu sauce. I also had a beautiful chilled langoustine and clear noodle salad with a yuzu granité (Akazebi to shirataki no reisei salada yuzu fumi). It was served in a round glass and was very pretty. From the robata grill, I ordered grilled scallops with umeboshi (tangy Japanese plum), shiso and mentaki as well as grilled sweet corn with hojiso butter. The corn was spectacular and my favorite part of the meal although everything was sensational. What is fun in this restaurant is to sit at one of the bars and watch what other people order and the chefs in action. Everything looks fantastic and judging by the number of enthusiastic people there, it has reasons for its popularity.

At lunch the next day, I met my friend Peggy and we went to Marcus Waering at the Berkeley Hotel. We each ordered a menu dégustation. Peggy had the vegetarian one while I ordered from the regular menu. With our champagne was served a baby foie gras sandwich with quince and raspberry, olive toast and smoked tomato dip with a black olive compote.

Before the meal, we were served a small cup of mushroom soup with truffle foam. A lovely way to begin. My menu was a salade of scallops and cod with cauliflower, macadamia nuts and shallot dressing. This was followed by poached and roasted Dover Sole with beetroot, fresh walnuts, walnut ricotta and gnocchi--wonderful. I also had a small dish of roasted sweetcorn with braised leeks, mushrooms and a thyme salad topped with a coddled quail egg. Very delicate and delicious. Peggy and I shared a half bottle of an excellent Pouilly Fuissé.

The desserts were a pleasant ending to a very special lunch: the pre-dessert with an opera and vanilla cream on an apricot crisp, and a passion fruit jelly with lime sorbet and lemon cream. The dessert was a warm chocolate and salt caramel moelleux with banana cacao ice cream and a banana caramel jelly. None of the desserts are among my favorites (I don't like chocolate with banana) but they were fine nevertheless.

J. Sheekey is a gentleman's clubby restaurant that specializes is preparations of unadulterated fresh fish. I had Dublin prawns and learned then that they are what the French call langoustines. My main course was a succulent grilled West Bay Brill--a firm white fish--with an excellent herb and watercress salad. I chose Cookies and Brownies for dessert. This was a simple delicious meal and is a place that I would return to again and again.

I never miss the River Cafe when I go to London. It is my favorite Italian restaurant outside of Italy and Waltham (see the post about dining outside of Boston). The "calamari ai ferri" is a specialty and is tender chargrilled squid with fresh red chili and rocket. I also had an Insalata di Porcini with rocket, parmesan and lemon--very fresh and full of flavor. For my main course, I didn't order a meat or fish. This time I chose Gnocchi di Patate with chestnuts, sausage, tomato, Chianti and sage. Does that sound good? It was SPECTACULAR and I was very happy with my choice. For dessert I had their famous caramel ice cream with has a pleasant burnt sugar tang that comes from the way the caramel is melted. With the meal, I chose two very good wines and I was in 7th heaven as usual. I always buy one of their books and wish that I could duplicate their cooking expertise. Who would ever imagine that two British women would be such experts at creating authentic Italian food? And their cookbooks are also noteworthy.

Dining outside of Boston

Fine dining in the towns that border Boston, MA including a wonderful Italian, a Middle East treasure, a tiny hideaway with a stellar chef

Over the past ten years, Boston has seen a rebirth. The South End, where no one dared tread is now a chic area full of beautiful shops and terrific restaurants. And there are also several good places to try in Cambridge across the river. I lived in Cambridge for 22 years before moving to Paris and as I still have many friends there, I visit every other year.

The most popular restaurant according to the Zagat Guide is Oleana. It is on an unassuming street in East Cambridge. I have never been to place like this. The cuisine is Mediterranean and one dish is more creative and interesting than the next. I went with my hosts: John and Phil, and we were able to sample many dishes. We shared several starters: Deviled Eggs and Tuna with Black Olives, Armenian Bean and Walnut Pate with Homemade String Cheese, Fried Mussels with a Hot Pepper and Turkish Tarator Sauce, Zucchini Pancakes with a Green Tomato-Nectarine Salad and Haloumi Cheese (what is that?), and Ricotta and Bread Dumplings with red wine, Porcini, and Black Kale. I must say I am a novice at this type of food and never ate as well in Turkey. I didn't know many of the ingredients but the food was terrific.

Our main courses were Swordfish with a Salsa Verde, Kohlrabi Fritters and Maine Yellow Eye Beans; Dayboat Cod with Chanterelles, Chorizo, Chick Peas and Romesco Sauce; and Venison with Pomegranate served with a Celeri Root Purée, Swiss Chard infused with Black Tea, and a Wild Mushroom Garnish. We had an excellent Pinot Noir with the meal. John and Phil told me that the dessert specialty is Baked Alaska so that is what we ordered. I also chose coconut ice cream with a passion fruit caramel. I was so pleased to come to this place as it was thoroughly unusual, fun and delicious.

Out in Waltham, I am always very happy to visit my cousins, Caroline and Andy. Down the street from their home is one of my favorite Italian restaurants: Campania. We go there together every time I am in Boston. Usually, we are a large group but, as Andy and Caroline's children no longer live at home, it was just the three of us. The menu featured many delectable choices and we chose wisely: Pan-seared Foie Gras, Roasted Peaches, Duck Leg Confit with a Gorgonzola Crema and a Port Wine and Orange reduction was the first appetizer we shared. That was followed by a Risotto with Pan-Seared Shrimp and Scallops, Fresh Corn and Chanterelle Mushrooms. I adore corn and get it whenever I see it on a menu. And September is a great time to order it.

Our main courses were Salt-Encrusted Whole Branzino stuffed with Herb Gremolata and accompanied with a "teeny" greens and French pear salad with whole roasted garlic; Osso-Buco with a creamy Parmiggiano Polenta, Sauteed Asparagus and a veal reduction; Duck Leg Confit and Pan Seared Breast with Sautéed Escarole "affogato", poached pear with Gorgonzola "Dulce", and an Apricot and Pear Brandy Sauce. The owner sent over a little present for us: Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Cauliflower Caprino Purée and a saffron vinaigrette. Our fantastic wine was a 2006 Barbara d'Asti from Ca di Pian' Spinetta. We always get both desserts which must be ordered in advance: The chocolate soufflé and the crostata à la pêche served with ice cream and drizzled with caramel. What a great meal and how stuffed we all were!

My friend, Richard Kzirian, is a wine connoisseur and has a shop in Cambridge. He supplies many restaurants in the area with wines from the store. It is always a great treat to go out with him as he invariably knows and likes the chefs of the restaurants he chooses. This time we went to Ten Tables. Ten Tables is a small place in Jamaica Plain that has been very successful. Recently the owner and chef opened a second larger place (17 tables) on a quiet residential street in Cambridge. Richard and I had a lovely meal there. He chose the wines of course. The restaurant features Iggy's bread and that means fantastic. My starter was a wonderful Beet Salad with green apple, grilled pistachios and Fourme d'Ambert--a tangy blue cheese that I like. For my main course, I ordered Uchikiri ravioli with butter, sage and parmesan. Uchikiri is a very sweet Japanese squash and the dish was absolutely delicious. The chef made Richard a special dinner using no milk products and that meant a fish stew which was excellent. We were treated to a baked polenta ribbolita, with Tuscan beans and kale. Ribollita is a delicious soup made with stale bread and lots of beans and vegetables. In an earlier post, I wrote about the one I had in Florence at Da Ruggero. This one was different but also memorable.

My last night in Massachusetts, I went out with friends Tim and Jim to Rialto, another restaurant in the Charles Hotel. One more delicious meal and vows to diet once I got back to Paris! There were three of us and that enabled us to take a little trip through the menu. Some examples: Potato Gnocchi with a Rabbit Bolognese sauce with wild mushrooms; perfect Grilled Littlenecks with qndouille sausage and toasted garlic bread to start. After that, there was Local Grilled Bluefish (which is a specialty in Massachusetts and a favorite of mine) with corn relish, heirloom tomatoes and pickled peppers; Julia Child's Lobster à L'Americaine cognac and clams. We ordered a side of creamed corn to satisfy my craving. Jim always get the Tuscan Beef and that evening was no exception.

After that huge meal, they took me to Christine's in Inman Square for pistachio ice cream: their favorite and a big specialty. It was a lovely way to end the evening.

I ate in a few restaurants in Boston and one of them, Oishii is a big favorite. I wrote about it in a blog two years ago and stand by everything I said then. On this trip, I was most impressed by the "outside of" Boston restaurants I went to.

Pizza wars in NYC

New York magazine came out with an article and review of the "25 Best New Pizzerias in NY" and I tried three of them. Although these were good, they don't depose Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge.

The biggest culinary news in New York is the renaissance of the authentic pizzeria. New York Magazine and the New York Times devoted many an article on this fact. Frank Bruni developed an interactive critic's article with taped reviews accompanying the photos. Many truly excellent pizza restaurants of all shapes and sizes have opened over the past year and are stiff competition for each other and for the strongholds like Grimaldi's, Una Pizza Napoletana, John's and Lombardi's. The sad news is that Una Pizza Napoletana closed. Anthony, the lone pizzaiola who worked hard and created every single pizza over the past several years, had enough of pizza rolling and sold the shop in order to move to San Francisco. I hope he gets a surge of energy out west as his was my very favorite pizza place.

During my trip this past fall, I went to three excellent and very different pizzerias. Lucali's in Carroll Gardens has gotten a great deal of press. The pizza is lovingly prepared but I didn't like the crust--more like a cracker-type Roman crust and not chewy at all. However, Lucali's does have its following, as evidenced by long lines. Service is youthful and Brooklyn and friendly. They don't serve beer or wine but you can bring your own. And the corner store sells some basic wines just for this purpose.

My favorite of the new pizzerias that I tried is Co., bar none. It is in Chelsea on 9th Avenue and 20th Street. The chef is a bread maven and his talent shows in the chewy crust. The restaurant is an upscale Chelsea place with butcher block tables and a subdued decor. There are appetizers, drinks, and desserts. Chris started with a fabulous radicchio salad with taleggio cheese and a great balsamic vinaigrette. We had the Popeye--a true winner of a pizza with spinach, garlic and a variety of Italian cheeses. And next was the Fennel and Sausage pizza with crushed tomato, mozzarella,roasted fresh fennel, sweet sausage and chili. The desserts are modern Italian and look great, but I didn't have room to try one. However, the people around us raved about the chocolate torta and the gelato.

Across town in the East Village is Veloce on 1st Avenue at 6th Street. It is the third place I tried on this trip. They serve their take on Sicilian pizzas and these are large, square and chewy. One pizza is enough for two. We opted for a superb tomato salad (when tomatoes are in season as they were, there is nothing like them) and a Porchetta Sausage Sicilian pizza. It had rosemary, sage, fennel, tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh Porchetta sausage. This was quite tasty and with the house wine, went down very easily. This restaurant is not as upscale as Co.

Now that Una Pizza Napoletana has left New York, I will have to say that until I find another favorite, Co. and Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge (written about in an early blog) are my favorites.