Craving for Tapas

Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

It’s 4 p.m. Friday, and my body is starting to perform the no-dinner-plans shake. The easiest remedy is to rely on one of my staples like Bocconi, but this evening I was craving for something different with friends. I went into a Google and Yelp research frenzy. This was the night that tapas and I were meant to become acquainted. Not to sound cheap, but I always like to get the value of what is being paid, and the notion of spending $10 or more on “small” tasting plates never seemed favorable to my belly or my purse.

Cravings in Ridgewood, NJ, eradicated that stigma. Parking limitations in downtown Ridgewood can be a deterrent, but this place is located across from the train station, where cars are coming and going often, opening up spaces. The restaurant was bustling, yet we managed to get a 7:30 reservation with a few hours’ notice. The menu offered tapas portions and entree portions, but it wasn’t clear which was which with prices varying from $12 to $25 or so.  The waiter explained without us asking that items priced under $15 were tapas.

Lobster Sandwich

Lobster Sandwich

Anything “lobster” usually flashes loudly on the menu, and my friend heard and saw it clearly. He ordered the lobster bisque and the lobster sandwich, described as, “Maine lobster, buttered white toast, sunnyside egg, pickled onion salad”. The bisque was bouncing with lobster flavor, but any evidence of even bits of lobster meat swimming in that bowl was gone. I searched high and low for chunks of lobster in the “lobster” sandwich but could only see some orange flecks. The descriptions are a bit too promising. Maybe if they said “lobster-flavored”, the expectation would be lower and the dish would be very enjoyable just the same. The sweet/sour onions married beautifully with the arugula and fried egg.

The tapas portion sizes were generous.  They say pork fat rules; I say crispy pork fat rules. I was secretly clapping when my friend ordered the chicharones with clams and cannellini beans. We couldn’t decipher the difference between some of the white beans and the hunks of garlic. That’s a positive for some people like my other friend who collected them on her plate and ate them all like candy. Oh, but that crispy pork was predominately mine. It was a great trade. The ahi tuna tartare with cucumber and toasted sesame dressing was just the opposite, being a lighter, refreshing tapas. It was delicate and a bit hard to take off the plate, as the the thin slices of cucumber were too flimsy to hold the tartare. But once it hit your mouth, it didn’t matter how it fell apart.

Chicharones with Clams

Chicharones with Clams

Ahi Tuna Tartare

Ahi Tuna Tartare

My favorite, though, and surprisingly so, was the gnocchi topped with lamb and fresh thyme. The gnocchi wasn’t too dense, and the lamb added a bold taste to a normally bland pasta. However, I think it was an entree.

One of the other entrees we tried was the sauteed branzino with tomato, roasted fingerlings, kalamata olives. This was another winner for the crisp category.

Branzino

Branzino

The meal felt like an eating frenzy for my first tapas experience because there were a number of dishes coming out at once, and I didn’t know what order to go in. Each time a new plate arrived, it felt like the new kid striving for my attention. I now am proud to have a tapas stripe on my foodie belt and am ready to advance to Casa Mona in NYC.

Lemon Tart w/Blueberry Compote

Lemon Tart w/Blueberry Compote

Mohawk Kitchen Madness

After the Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali era of Iron Chef episodes ended, my interest waned a bit. Although the impressive and much-respected Morimoto is still hanging in there. So when I came across a Wall Street Journal article on the resurgence of chefs providing tableside service, one of the names of these such chefs was vaguely familiar: Marc Forgione. It wasn’t until I looked up his image that I recognized this follicley-creative restaurateur. I was trying to figure out, though, the name of his restaurant. Duh, it’s “Marc Forgione”.  And after perusing the menu and reviews, with a huge push from the Wall Street Journal article, I needed to go there…soon.

I read the paper Tuesday and was able to get a reservation for an easy drive on Sunday to this quiet section of TriBeCa.

IMG_6150Street parking was a breeze only a block away. The coziness embraces you with the rustic feel of barnwood and brick,  shelves filled with collectible cookbooks and kitchenware. The lighting replicates a lodge illuminated by only a fireplace with candle in glass cages hanging overhead.

“Fishy” fish makes my tastebuds retreat like a frightened turtle, so when the amuse bouche was presented as blue fish with radish, my mini fork approached it like a child going in to pet the head of a rottweiler. But the strong flavor was cut with acid, maybe a vinegar. It was almost like a fancy tuna salad, and I was getting very comfortable with this rottweiler yet still cautious.

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I am enamored with breads; they bring me such delight and act as a shotgun to the start of my dinners out. I curiously, and somewhat sarcastically asked why we each had a butter knife when our appetizers came out. The waitress was surprised that we did not get our bread.  The bread boy must have been immediately instructed to rectify that because we now had our wooden  board with two small egg-washed rolls and some creamy butter that I was able to slide my butter knife into.

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Since I read about the chef’s tableside service with certain dishes and since I am a well-behaved star gazer, I was hoping to spot the Mohawk in the dining room. However, the sight of my appetizer was nearly as pleasing. It was Kampachi Tartare, avocado, Sechuan buttons, toasted pinenuts, Saratoga chips, and what was in the bowl was deconstructed in spoons outside the bowl. At first you are requested to taste each component individually and then you can dive into the combined flavors. My foodie blue belt should have been stripped from my waist by thinking that the Sechuan button was some kind of Asian mushroom. In fact, it’s the little bud in soup spoon that I was instructed to let roll around and numb my tongue in order to electrify and awaken my tastebuds for what was to follow. I admit; I was almost a little scared. Consequently, I didn’t didn’t let it “roll around” too long before swallowing it. Mouth numbness sounds just as enjoyable as the “fishy fish”.

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Maybe I cheated myself from that entire experience, but I think the appetizer electrified me all on its own. My companion began with the BBQ baked olde salt oysters, with aromatic sea salt and pancetta powder.

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The entrees came out, and again, I had some inner questions about what some items were on my plate. After all, I ordered veal tenderloin, and there were a few different looking cuts of meat. Veal tenderloin, black truffle crepinette, cheek, paisley farms brussels sprouts, celery salsa verde was beautiful and fun to take a taste from each different part of the plate. At a perfect temperature on the inside, the loin’s outside was crisp like pork fat. The one cut I bet myself was sweetbreads, but I wouldn’t confirm it until I was finished. I don’t want any misconceptions and childlike “yucky” thoughts ruining this delicious soft meat. The other entree was the halibut en croute, artichoke, golden raisins, hazelnuts, sauce “PIMG_6158roposal”.

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The desserts we chose were:

  • Pumpkin Creme Brulee, Pepita Brittle, Poached Cranberry
  • Mascarpone Cheesecake, Bananas Foster, Pecans

I favored the second, but it was interrupted by a milk incident. I asked for coffee with just milk and was brought a small metal container of milk with a handle too tiny to grab but a big enough loop to stick my finger through to hold it. I was not warned it was steamed milk, and the container was metal-hot! Without making a big deal about it, my husband told the waitress while I was in the ladies’ room cooling off my finger, and she brought a glass of ice. Nothing was offered to smooth it over, but the manager did apologize. Patrons should be alerted it is a hot container – or it should be put in something that doesn’t conduct the heat so well. All in all, I would definitely return.

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A Seafood Gem (Okay, a Pearl)

dishingondining:

imageI am not an impulse buyer; however, after seeing the photo of lobster stew that would be available New Year’s Day, I impulsively drove myself over the bridge to order it. The bowl initially looked small for an entree but was deceiving. It with jammed with potato, carrot, snap peas, truffle butter, cream, sherry, and of course chunks of lobster. It paid off to be impulsive!

 

Originally posted on dishingondining:

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur.

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salt Shrimp

Salt Shrimp

Whether you like Mario Batali or not – I obviously do, if you’ve seen my blog posts – you have to respect a chef/restaurant owner who has four restaurants on Michelin’s 2014 NYC Star Ratings list. What I want to know, though, without him giving shameless self promotion, is what restaurants someone like Mario enjoys for himself. And here it is: http://www.lifestylemirror.com/life/food-drink/1232978581/best-restaurants-in-nyc-mario-batali-favorites/.He, however, eats on a celebrity income; I, on the other hand, pretend to do that once or twice a year. His restaurants, in comparison to other star chefs’, are quite affordable though. As I’m perusing the list of NYC restaurants, it’s “skip, too expensive”, “skip”, “oh, this is a possibility”… I remember Cornelia Street because it’s where Mario’s first NYC restaurant (no longer his) opened in 1993  is located, and it is the first Batali eatery I…

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What’s the Wurst?

dishingondining:

Now having been to Germany, I still have the same perspective on this NYC-located restaurant. The schweinehaxe lives up to the one I had in Munich, and maybe even exceeds it in taste. The only mis-step on Heidelberg NYC is the black forest cake. After having it in the Black Forest region, this is not a true representation of the well-known cake.

Originally posted on dishingondining:

When dad’s a chef/owner of a German restaurant, the word “wurst” is heard quite a bit. I couldn’t help but to hear that inner guilty childish giggle every time it was verbalized. It sounded dirty.

Now, where do you even find a wurst or a wienershnitzel (why does the Lorena Bobbitt story always come to mind)? Oops, there goes that giggle again. Well, Germans and Austrians do love their meat – suppress the giggle – but in a time where everyone is carrying a pill bottle of Lipitor or trying to fill up on salad and tofu, there’s hardly a demand for consuming protein- and starch-heavy dishes.

There are those days, however, especially when it’s cold, when you need a little pork fat to warm up your veins. And there is still the older generation of German immigrants who are true to their hometown cuisine. So where to go since dad’s place…

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Back to Bocconi again and again*

dishingondining:

It’s that typical Friday again, and like an obedient one to my regiment, I head back to Bocconi AGAIN!

Originally posted on dishingondining:

It’s a typical Friday evening, heading home from work. I make the anticipatory and, at the same time, dreaded phone call: “Where do you want to have dinner?” There’s always an attempt to suggest restaurants to which we haven’t been locally, but at the end of the work week, comfort always seems to win. While many aspects of my life are regimented, I like my food and travel to be multifarious. So when the answer from either one of us is ultimately, “Let’s just go to Bocconi,” there’s an air of ambivalence.

We try to fight that response, but deep down, both of us know that our mouths and stomachs will end up

Pear Salad with endive, radicchio and a balsamic reduction

Pear Salad with endive, radicchio and a balsamic reduction

much more than satisfied and our pockets won’t be heavily emptied, which weighs greatly in the dining decision for many people. In order to reject the repetition…

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A Seafood Gem (Okay, a Pearl)

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur.

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salt Shrimp

Salt Shrimp

Whether you like Mario Batali or not – I obviously do, if you’ve seen my blog posts – you have to respect a chef/restaurant owner who has four restaurants on Michelin’s 2014 NYC Star Ratings list. What I want to know, though, without him giving shameless self promotion, is what restaurants someone like Mario enjoys for himself. And here it is: http://www.lifestylemirror.com/life/food-drink/1232978581/best-restaurants-in-nyc-mario-batali-favorites/.He, however, eats on a celebrity income; I, on the other hand, pretend to do that once or twice a year. His restaurants, in comparison to other star chefs’, are quite affordable though. As I’m perusing the list of NYC restaurants, it’s “skip, too expensive”, “skip”, “oh, this is a possibility”… I remember Cornelia Street because it’s where Mario’s first NYC restaurant (no longer his) opened in 1993  is located, and it is the first Batali eatery I ever patronized, and thus the catalyst for my sickening Batali dining mania. Po’ was quaint and narrow, and I was introduced to Mario while he was cooking in the tiniest commercial kitchen I had seen, sweating alongside only a salad guy and a dishwasher. He was young in his stardom, recognized from Malto Mario, and hadn’t laid the foundation of the Batali/Bastianich empire yet.

I digressed heavily, so let me open the shell and reveal the Pearl! It is across and a few numbers up the street fromIMG_6189 Po’. After reading the endless raving reviews about Pearl Oyster Bar having the best lobster roll in NYC, I couldn’t wait any longer and headed there the following evening in the rain and cold. Parking couldn’t have been easier – right around the corner on Bleeker.

I pride myself on preparedness, so I knew that they don’t take reservations and to expect an hour wait. There was no chance of the Wicked Hungry Witch appearing, but her cousin was still trying to show up when the aromas from the kitchen reached my olfactory nerves. We arrived nearly 8:00 on a Friday night, were told it would be 45 minutes but were seated by 8:20. One side of the restaurant is all bar where many ate; the other is all restaurant slightly bigger than Seafood Gourmet in NJ.

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Plate after plate was ushered by with a meaty lobster roll and a mountain of shoe-string fries. The fries and the idea of a mostly cold dinner turned my steadfast entrée choice into something completely different and even less expensive. The bouillabaisse grabbed me by the throat and shouted, “Speak my name now to the waiter!” With no hesitation I ordered it ($23), and it threatened my mouth with a good time and succeeded. There was no evidence of sand inside any of the shellfish, and the broth was popping with flavor. It was prefaced with a few spoonfuls of the clam and smoked bacon chowder appetizer- another good choice.Bouillabaisse

Our waiter was not too knowledgeable of the dishes. When asked what seafood was in the bouillabaisse, he included oyster, which I thought was peculiar. I’m glad he was wrong. When asked about the pot of steamers starter as to whether they were steamed clams or steamers, he replied, “steamed clams,” which dissuaded my companion from ordering them. Soon after, we saw a pot of actual steamers at another table, and my companion quickly educated him. We had two other waiters (which was confusing) that were a bit more experienced, but all were friendly. That would be my only negative criticism.

The apple and sour cherry pie sounded like it had potential for dessert. It just had potential; that’s all. Then again, it takes more than a little effort to impress me with desserts. I’m spoiled by the standards of the Swiss Miss W.

Thank you, Mario, for sharing one of your favorite dining spots with us non-celebrity types.Fried Oysters

 

Hake with Brussel Sprouts

Hake with Brussel Sprouts

Cooking When It’s Cold

The clenching cold weather is suddenly upon us in the Northeast. It makes one dread to step outdoors even to get into a car, which is ironic for me because being cooped up indoors leads to a path of annoyance and crankiness. In an effort to make this imprisonment productive, I plan the Sunday dinner.  It’s the only day with some possible “down” time.

Because I am not a chef, recipes are my friends. As one who is regimented and organized, I, along with these formulas, have formed a natural bond to produce a rather good meal when the effort is put forth. The process begins with a search usually on epicurious.com or in a cookbook coated with a light layer of summer dust, sitting on the book shelf. The stomach’s mood of the day usually dictates the search words. Tummy said “shellfish” today. While the thought of consuming paella or gumbo or jambalaya pleased me, the time investment wasn’t as appealing on this blustery day. IMG_6101

So I found something not just simple but full of texture and flavor: shrimp with roasted cashews, celery, scallion, mushrooms, peas, chicken broth thickened and parsley with a 45-minute cook time. I counted on at least an hour to compensate for some dilly-dallying, some dancing and singing along to my ipod, a peek at 60 Minutes in the neighboring room and careful execution. I follow the recipe exactly, and because of that, I have never made a bad meal. On the contrary, this was quite good.

I made a bed of jasmine rice – my low-level creative addition – and laid the shrimp mixture neatly upon it, only to be tucked into my now warm belly. Maybe cold Sundays don’t have to be so bad. Oh yeah – then there’s clean up.

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