Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blue Hill At Stone Barns


With both of our husbands otherwise engaged, my friend Peggy and I scooped up a last minute reservation at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and had our own date night- complete with side-by-side seating. Under the first full moon of 2010 (also predicted to be the biggest and brightest of the year), we embarked on the 35 minute journey on the Metro-North and indulged in some of the most memorable food we have ever eaten.

Traditional menus do not exist at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant housed on a beautiful working four-season farm. Diners are provided with a list of over one hundred of the freshest ingredients that are either harvested daily from the farm's fields and pasture, or sourced from other local farms. They are then instructed to choose either a 5 course or 8 course "Farmer's Feast" designed by the restaurant's executive chef and co-owner Dan Barber. Not only has Dan Barber's culinary genius helped him garner an invitation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (the only chef to receive such an honor), it has also caused him to be recognized as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2009 and has earned Blue Hill at Stone Barns a spot on Food & Wine Magazine's list of the World's Top 10 Life-Changing Restaurants.

We were seated in the restaurant's elegant candle-lit dining room and began our meal (the 5 course Farmer's Feast with wine pairings- 2 whites, 2 reds and 1 ice wine) with several small bites including homemade bread with cottage cheese, butter, and parsnip and carrot salts; dehydrated beets, yukon potato chips with sage, and smoked kale; salsify covered with buckwheat and served on long skewers; mini beet burgers with farmer's cheese; crunchy potato cups overflowing with greens and topped with parmesan; and sardines over smoked oysters on multigrain toast.

Each of the 5 successive courses built on the last and the layers of flavor and meticulous presentations served to enhance our gastronomic adventure. The dining room staff worked like a finely tuned machine to present us with a colorful beet salad with yogurt and pine nut butter (if I had a spoon and a vat of this stuff I would be in heaven); braised hake with finely diced calamari, mussels and mustard greens; a soft-boiled farm fresh egg that had been lightly breaded and fried to a crisp perfection, paired with green sauce and hearty lentils; a slightly chewy baby lamb with braised endive, greens and peanut puree; and a tender white fish with olives and mokum carrots. With several small bites and four courses behind us, we somehow managed to feast on two satisfying desserts (an apple cake topped with warm marshmallow- reminiscent of a campfire s'more- and elderflower ice cream; and a chocolate wafer cake topped with maple ice cream enrobed with chocolate crispies- one of the most delicious desserts I have ever devoured) and one plate with mini pastry bites (mint meringues, flax brittle, and sesame brownies), bringing our grand total to well over the 5 courses we initially ordered. The food, service and atmosphere at Blue Hill at Stone Barns are beyond stellar. Dinner in the main dining room is a must-have experience- and one that I would happily have again and again.

At the entrance to the restaurant

Warm, crusty bread was served with butter, lemony cottage cheese with flecks of ground peppercorns, and colorful parsnip and carrot salts

A fresh sage leaf was woven through a yukon potato crisp and was served alongside thinly sliced dehydrated red beets and long pieces of smoked kale



One of my favorite parts of the meal- mini beet burgers, mache, and farmer's cheese on freshly baked buns

The beet salad with yogurt and garlic oil/pine nut butter was the perfect first course

Before our third course (a farm-fresh soft-boiled egg that was breaded/fried and served over lentils with a sauce made from fresh greens) a member of the waitstaff presented us with a basket of speckled hen eggs and provided information on the farm's egg gathering process


The fourth course- a beautifully roasted white fish with carrots, olives and greens

One of our two desserts- an apple cake topped with a browned marshmallow and served with elderflower ice cream

A pot of chocolate-mint tea to end the evening

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Easter In January

Easter abounds! In grocery stores, CVS, Duane Reade, and Rite Aid- everywhere you turn shelves are stocked with peanut butter, marshmallow, and chocolate filled bunnies and eggs, overshadowing and outnumbering bright red heart-shaped Valentine's candies. For me, the arrival of Cadbury Mini Eggs is always a bright spot in the otherwise drab month of January. A speckled pastel candy coating surrounds an addicting solid milk chocolate that begs to be eaten again and again- and unfortunately, that is exactly what I do, year after year, until Easter passes and I am forced to wait until the following January.

Although the candy is named after Cadbury, it is actually manufactured by The Hershey Company

The speckled eggs are pastel blue, pink, yellow and white

The interior is solid milk chocolate...mmm

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tom: Sunday Dinner

Last night my husband and I had a quiet dinner in the half-empty dining room at Colicchio & Sons, Tom Colicchio's new restaurant housed in the old Craftsteak space and inspired by his widely popular dinner series, Tom: Tuesday Dinner. While the ambiance screams upscale steakhouse (not altogether surprising as few changes were made to Craftsteak's decor), Colicchio & Sons' menu is thoughtful and each dish we ordered was prepared with refined elegance. Our favorite items included lightly crisped squid, roasted pumpkin batons, succulent lamb wrapped with spicy merquez sausage, and smooth malted milk ice cream. Our least favorite items were a hair found underneath a piece of sturgeon (the manager was extremely accommodating and offered to send out a new dish or take the full cost off the bill, and also brought a complimentary dessert), the greasy artichokes that accompanied the hamachi appetizer, and the sour apple granita- an unnecessary addition to a dessert that was delicious without it.

The artichokes in the olive oil poached hamachi with artichokes and verjus were too oily and took away from the overall taste of the dish

Cavalo nero was neatly packaged in tubes of squid, and placed atop squid ink risotto. Spicy tomato, cacao nibs, crispy squid and micro greens added layers of flavor

The roasted sturgeon and pumpkin were perfectly cooked

The hair that ruined the sturgeon- look to the middle of the plate

The lamb loin with merquez sausage and lentils was a juicy favorite

Our complimentary dessert- warm powdered sugar beignets with bourbon panna cotta and sour apple granita (which added a fresh element but seemed out of place on the plate)

A moist banana-pecan upside-down cake with rum caramel, banana sorbet and the most delicious malted milk ice cream I have ever tasted

To end the night- two pieces of chocolate covered peanut brittle to go


*Apologies for the poor quality of these pictures - the dishes were nicely composed and these pictures do not capture the true presentation.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Village Tart


A Saturday afternoon lunch date with my girlfriend led us to Lesly Bernard's latest venture, The Village Tart- a bakery, cafe, and wine bar. Acclaimed pastry master Pichet Ong, who recently opened the dessert bar "Spot", is The Village Tart's consulting chef and, according to its website, is "responsible for developing the overall culinary experience of the restaurant." The Village Tart's somewhat limited bakery menu was unveiled earlier this week while its café menu is set to debut February 1.

After watching two seemingly confused workers struggle to help the three people ahead of us (everything on the bakery's current menu is pre-made and is either put into an oven or directly onto a plate- so I hope this, and the fact that I was given the wrong change twice, was a result of opening week jitters), my friend and I ordered two pizzetas and sat in the adjacent café where the marble topped tables and sweetheart chairs flooded me with memories of my favorite hometown ice cream parlor. Although the pumpkin ricotta pizzeta (topped with pumpkin puree, generous dollops of ricotta, grated parmesan, tiny pieces of asparagus, and white beans) was a tad too dry, its crust was superb- salty with a hint of fresh rosemary. I skipped the bacon onion jam pizzeta (spread with béchamel, thinly sliced scallions, crumbles of bacon, and caramelized onions), but my friend gave it rave reviews saying it was the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

On our way out we picked up a Valhrona triple chocolate chip cookie (it ranks as one of the most outstanding oversized cookies I have ever tasted) and a tangy meyer lemon tart (speckled with vanilla beans and topped with a bruleed marshmallow crème). I am looking forward to making a return visit to The Village Tart when its full menu is available, but hope the behind-the-counter kinks will be worked out before Feb 1.

The café's full menu (much more lunch friendly than the bakery menu) will become available Feb. 1

Pumpkin ricotta pizzeta - needs something to help its dryness

Bacon onion jam pizzeta - I decided to skip this and avoid a Saturday afternoon of onion breath

The Valhrona triple chocolate chip cookie was crunchy and chewy at the same time

The state of the meyer lemon tart when I opened the box at home- apparently it didn't set long enough

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

KitchenAid Pasta Press: Round 1



I was recently gifted the Pasta Press attachment for KitchenAid's Stand Mixer. The Pasta Press comes packaged with six pasta plates (spaghetti, bucatini, rigatoni, fusilli, large macaroni -I find it to be fairly similar to the rigatoni, and small macaroni), a cleaning brush, a pasta pusher, and an instruction manual complete with several recipes. KitchenAid's new tool allows users to push their freshly made pasta dough through the Pasta Press' tube to the chosen pasta plate and cut the resulting pasta shape to their desired length. It also eliminates the need to dry the pasta before cooking; once the shapes are cut they can immediately be thrown into a pot of boiling water.

As revolutionary as the Pasta Press appears to be, and as excited as I was to begin gorging myself on limitless fresh pasta, the unfortunate reality is that my first attempt with the Pasta Press was not as successful as I had hoped. Round one produced a bastardized version of the fusilli I know and love, followed by a mess of rigatoni- each stuck together rather than hollow. I found the clean-up to be somewhat painful but knew what was in store after reading step 5 under the "Care and Cleaning" section in the instruction manual (yes, I am the type of person that reads a new instruction manual cover-to-cover)- "Allow remaining dough on pasta plates to dry overnight before separating. Remove completely dried dough with the cleaning brush. Use a wooden skewer or toothpick to pick out any remaining dough. Do not use metal objects or put pasta plates in the dishwasher to clean." I let a defeatist attitude momentarily get me down (I fought visions of the Pasta Press collecting dust alongside a had-to-have bread machine and yogurt maker), but ultimately resigned to take the hardships and sticky dough for what they are- minor set-backs in round one of the ongoing battle for fresh, homemade pasta. My hope is that round two ends as I envision it- with delicate and delicious pasta!

I decided to make carrot pasta dough utilizing carrots from the Union Square Farmer's Market

The fusilli didn't curl as I had anticipated

After a failed attempt at fusilli, I switched to rigatoni- once cooked they lost their hollow shape (for those that actually came out hollow to begin with)

The final dish- edible- but not as tasty as it has the potential to be

Pointless "cleaning brush" included with the Pasta Press

Dried carrot pasta dough stuck in the fusilli plate- back view

Dried carrot pasta dough stuck in the rigatoni plate- front view

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Tribeca Rooftop

A friend from college was married last night at the Tribeca Rooftop, a beautiful 15,000 square foot penthouse with views of lower Manhattan and the Hudson River. In addition to a slice of moist red velvet cake layered with sweet cream cheese frosting, guests were served bite-sized desserts including carrot cake studded with plump raisins, a variety of cheesecakes (original, chocolate, and gooey caramel), and rich chocolate cake topped with bittersweet chocolate shavings. To round out the evening (making my dress slightly tighter)- shots of chilled milk and warm chocolate chip cookies.

Red velvet wedding cake with juicy berries on the side

Bite-sized decadence

The perfect shooters- and the perfect way to end a wedding


Congratulations Abe and Ari!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Recette


Last night, as we were walking home from dinner in the West Village, a friend and I happened upon a little gem of a restaurant named Recette ("recipe" in French). We decided to stop in for one after-dinner drink and ended up staying for many, many more (always great fun until the next morning). We quickly realized it was Recette's opening night and as luck would have it we were seated at the area of the bar that provides an unobstructed view into the open kitchen- to our direct left sat two of the restaurant's co-owners (who we later learned are Executive Chef Jesse Schenker's very proud, incredibly friendly, and funny parents).

While Jesse's parents kept us laughing, Jesse graciously provided us with complimentary samples of his flavorful food. Although we had just finished a rather large dinner, we found room in our stomachs as Jesse's creations are too good to pass up- the crispy, salty razor clams have a touch of heat when eaten with the accompanying chili compote and cherry pepper; the duck fat fingerling potatoes are morsels of goodness; the seasonal root vegetables, served in a mini cast iron pot, are roasted to perfection; the scallops with heavenly coconut saffron "stew”, mussels, celery root and basil is a dish I would happily eat over and over again. Recette's highly satisfying menu is matched by its inventive cocktail list. The restaurant's bartender, James, makes a dangerously delicious Classic Recette by pouring champagne over a brown sugar cube and topping it with Angostura bitters (Jesse's aunt brought several bottles from Florida as panic resulting from a potential bitters shortage made bottles difficult to find in Manhattan) and fresh orange peel.

Recette's rustic, homey atmosphere is so inviting (Jesse's mother, an interior designer, is partially responsible for its warm accents) that we decided to make reservations for this coming weekend (I am beyond excited about Pastry Chef Christina Lee's deconstructed s'more) before finally heading home.

27 year old co-owner and Executive Chef, Jesse Schenker (picture from Recette)

Roasted scallop, coconut saffron “stew”, mussels, celery root, basil (picture from Recette)

Duck fat fingerling potatoes (picture from Recette)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Favorite Food Photography

I sometimes catch myself perusing Matt Bites, Matt Armendariz's food blog, for hours at a time. A professional photographer who has worked in the food industry in one form or another for over 20 years, his incredible photography is not to be missed. Take a look at his photography website as well- but be warned, his pictures will make anyone hungry!


(picture taken from http://mattbites.com/)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Socarrat Paella Bar


Last night a friend and I decided to try our luck at Socarrat Paella Bar, a popular Chelsea restaurant that operates on a first come first served basis. We agreed to a 45 minute wait and were directed to a quiet table inside owner Jesus Manso's latest endeavor- a 3 week old tapas/wine bar (Socarrat Bar de Vinos) conveniently attached to Socarrat Paella Bar. We ordered a bottle of wine and a plate of Spanish cheeses to tide us over while we waited for our spot at the paella bar's communal table. When it finally came time to move next door (over an hour and a half later) we were knee deep in booze and ready for our pre-ordered paella- a trick the waiters try to pass off as a favor, done so diners can be shuffled in and out quickly (we were clued in when we declined dessert at the end of our meal and our waiter rudely informed us, "There are a lot of people waiting.").

Suspect service and wait time aside, our Paella de Pescado & Mariscos (loaded with colorful ingredients like Spanish rice, chunks of white fish, cuttlefish, shrimp, mussels and cockle clams in shells, squid, thinly sliced scallops, fava beans, and sweet red peppers) was a gastronomic treat. When the paella was placed on a pedestal in front of us all conventional etiquette was thrown to the wayside- our plates were rendered useless as we edged our faces dangerously close to the steadily rising steam and began to use our forks to comb the shallow pan. The fact that we were instructed to wait until the thin blanket of rice stopped crackling did nothing to slow us down. We were battling for the prized socarrat (the deliciously crunchy, nutty grains of rice stuck to the edges and bottom of the pan), the seafood and vegetables were an added bonus. Luckily there was an abundance of socarrat and, in the end, the Paella de Pescado & Mariscos (priced for 2 people at $23/person) proved to be too much for us- over a quarter of the paella was left uneaten as we headed home...a little fatter and much happier.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Local Trend Takes Toll On Fro-Yo Chain

The growing trend for eating locally produced fare has hit West 23rd street's fro-yo chain, Berrywild. For the past several months, a Van Leeuwen truck strategically parked itself in the street just beyond Berrywild's storefront. Van Leeuwen produces artisan ice cream utilizing cream and hormone free milk from farmers in Lewis County, New York. Its website describes the ice cream making process with four buzz words: "Fresh. Local. Pure. Simple." Before frigid temperatures hit Manhattan, patrons could be seen waiting in long lines for Van Leeuwen's deliciously smooth ice creams while Berrywild remained virtually empty. Open slightly longer than one year, the 23rd street location of Berrywild finally succumbed to the fate so many frozen yogurt chains have before it- last week its windows were covered with drab brown paper, and its doors were locked for good.

*Winter weather and an overabundance of frozen yogurt chains in Manhattan may have something to do with the shuttering of Berrywild, but I like my theory better!

The current state of Berrywild's 23rd street location

Strategically parked- Van Leeuwen's truck is on the left, a shuttered Berrywild is on the right

For those that don't want ice cream in the winter, Van Leeuwen's trucks also sell hot chocolate, coffee, tea and baked goods

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fear Not: The Pressure Cooker


Michelle Obama made a special appearance on last night's highly publicized episode of Iron Chef America. The First Lady emphasized American's growing desire for sustainable, local food sources as she announced a secret ingredient having "national importance": any item in the White House Garden.

A portion of last night's episode also highlighted the contestants' reliance on pressure cookers- an underutilized kitchen tool that allows for the preparation of healthy, flavorful dishes in a fast and efficient manner. I found this part of the episode particularly interesting because, until recently, I considered pressure cookers to be mysterious, dangerous tools. This uninformed sentiment is shared by many, including one of last night's judges. While being interviewed by Food Network native Ted Allen, judge Natalie Coughlin (recipient of eleven Olympic medals) stated that she is intrigued by, and afraid of, pressure cookers- a tool she has never used. Natalie agreed to try pressure cooking at home after Ted informed her of 2 facts every home cook should know- the new generation of pressure cookers are safe (thereby assuaging any fear of explosion- a concern I shared with Natalie until I saw firsthand how easy and effective a pressure cooker actually is), and their use is necessary during the 60 minutes contestants spend cooking in Kitchen Stadium because they speed up the cooking process.

I believe people are afraid of the unknown. In my opinion, before they began to regularly appear on popular cooking programs, pressure cookers were generally unknown to the average home cook. I credit, and thank, shows like the Food Network's Iron Chef America and Bravo's Top Chef (a series that has also showcased the use of pressure cookers) for bringing this incredibly useful, versatile kitchen tool into the homes of everyday Americans and teaching them (even if it is an abridged lesson) there is nothing to be afraid of.

Tommy Kurpradit adding kale, collard greens and apple cider to a pressure cooker

Locking the lid in place

The contents of the pressure cooker were combined with additional ingredients from the White House Garden and became collard green tamales topped with tomatillos

Local pork butt, vegetables from the White House Garden and stock in a pressure cooker

Iron Chef Bobby Flay continues to work on other dishes as his pork butt cooks in a pressure cooker

As a result of the pressure cooker's functionality, Team Flay was able to produce barbecue pork in less than an hour. The pork sat atop cabbage from the White House Garden, and was finished with slaw and sour orange