Batard: A Lone Shining Star, the Sequel

 

IMG_4609Not to start this out on a discordant note, but this is the sequel to my first and only visit to Batard two years ago. It was my last anniversary dinner with my husband. I felt a need to revisit the experience – alone. As I walked down North Moore street looking for the restaurant again, I had a vivid recollection of last time when we walked by the entrance two or three times. It’s a somewhat dark section of West Broadway. At 6:45, the restaurant only had two other occupied tables, and I was led through the empty room to the same table we had occupied, but this time, a chair was removed. I sat on the bench seat along the wall. I requested that table in my reservation, sillily thinking it would stir up some remnant particles of previous presence. Instead it was just a sad reminder of the absence.

But the server greeted me with a smile that I forced myself to comply with. At least I knew Michelin-starred (1 still) dishes would be on their way to me soon enough to forget about those things for a while. And then, it returned: the algebraic dilemma – two or three or four courses and the added complexity of which combination of courses would best add up to the number selected. I settled on appetizer, first course and entrée after I saw the complimentary bite-sized dessert being given to the table next to me at the end of their meal.

First came two selections of bread, both of which were placed on my bread plate: a slice of grain sourdough and a brioche topped with sea salt. Bread is my starter dessert, and when the woman asked if I’d like more bread, the left side of my brain said, “Don’t; you’ll get too full.” The right side said, “It’s too good to pass up; you have plenty of room in that empty stomaIMG_4607ch.” Out came: “Yes please”. Right side wins, and I unexpectedly was given one of each again.

Then came out my beautifully presented first choice: Madai Crudo, blood orange, cucumber and red pepper vinaigrette. The colors exploded in front of me like a bag of Sunkist candies. It’s still summer for sure! I see the French sauce spoon and am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t quite sure of its proper use. Should I break the fish with it? It’s somewhat flat, so I don’t see it being useful in scooping up that delicious vinaigrette that the snapper was bathed in. I faked it using the fork to break apart and eat the fish, alongIMG_4608 with the crispy curls of fish skin and then the ‘spoon’ for whatever less-solid remained. I cleaned up well.

The room began to fill up, and I didn’t feel so alone any more. It was a later-night dining crowd. The next course arrived. Tortellini,  tomato conserva, sweet corn, andouille, pickled chiles. It had just enough heat from the chiles and sausage to warm the tongue but not too much to burn the tummy. The little packages of pasta had the IMG_4610proper chewiness and the yin and yang of the gentle sweetness of the corn and slight sharpness pepper blended into a harmonious dish that left me wanting more….partially because of the smaller-sized portion.

Even though the waiter tried tempting me with the special pork schnitzel entrée, I told him I would reserve that for my German restaurant and go with the striped bass with goldbar squash puree, halved baby red potatoes, thai basil, roasted fennel bulb and some type of cabbage greens with the golden-browned fish draped over.

Surprisingly, probably because I went with fish versus meat, I wasn’t weighted-down full.

The two-bite-sized complementary pistachio mini muffin (but fluffier) with roasted pinapple laid in the top was enough to satisfy the need to end with a “dessert”. I’m doing it an injustice by calling it a muffin. In four bites, the two were politely completed.

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My first visit I questioned why it wasn’t two-star rated. After revisiting LB last September, I recognize where Batard has some room to grow. I didn’t feel like the Queen I was crowned at the 3-star. I wasn’t asked how everything was! I want the chance to give positive feedback after each course. I will likely not return soon, as the memories are still raw, but under regular circumstances, I would want to return for the food!

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Smooth Running Kitchen Macchina

What a nice find in search for a quick lunch on the upper west side of New York City on a holiday. Although they were short staffed, the food made up for it. We were mistakenly given the later day menu and were disappointed when we had no pasta options. Start with the avocado bruschetta and thick juicy burger appetizer though. Pickled onion pieces sat atop the guacamole-like spread, which included the same cilantro addition. The burger is a custom blend beef topped with sweet caramelized onions. Fries don’t tend to be something impressive, but these seemed like they were baked – no greasy fingers and some with a crispy blackened end. In choosing one wood-grilled oven pie, I selected the veal polpetto (meatball). It was a white pizza (no red sauce) with
smoked mozzarella and fresh oregano. Yum. The smokey flavor combined with the shavings of hard Parmesan cheese gave the mild veal meatballs a balanced punch of flavor.

And a little over a week later, I could not get the idea of a fig and fennel pizza out of my mind. Unfortunately, it’s only offered for dinner. So are the pastas! After a good workout, I deserved to have a 9:45 sampling. A quick drive to the Upper West Side was in order. After 20 minutes, I arrived and was immediately seated. Before the water arrived, I interrupted the waiter’s spiel and asked for the SPAGUETTI and clams, mussels, saffron, and parsely crumb. I squirmed at what I thought was a typo, but a quick Google search shows it might be a foreign spelling…Forgiven! There’s a $16 plate option and a $23 option. The $16 version was sufficient as it was much larger than an appetizer portion. It sat in a small pool of saffron-scented broth that demanded to be spooned over every forkful I took. The pasta was cooked to a nice al dente. 20170911_221314

Nothing has fallen short here, but menu items are somewhat limited, and I imagine for a full dinner, one might get a little bored with the selections; however, they do offer Specials.

Silver Moon has Silver Lining

If I dine out, I generally prefer having dessert at a place that…well.. specializes in desserts. My staple is Pasticceria Rocco’s, but today there was no time to head all the way down to the Village. Lunch was at Macchina at 106th and lo and behold there’s Silver Moon on the corner. I always get excited to see such a bakery and generally am always disappointed. Not this time. The selection is small but delicious. Both the peach tart and plum crumb were tasty. The coffee was acceptable too. What really excited me was the variety of breads baked there. I had to take one home. Perfect crispy bread is perfect for any time of day. I know what I’ll be having for my late afternoon snack.  Read the charming story about the owner in the window. It makes it even more enjoyable to sit outside.

Well it is passed midnight. Driving home I see the long load of fig and black pepper bread in a white bag I had to try it. So I just bit into it like an apple and then I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t even really hungry, but it was so good that I think I crunch and a quarter of the loaf.

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Oh, did I fail to mention in a return trip to get a rosemary olive loaf and cranbury walnut sourdough, the thin napoleon and pear tart begged to be eaten?!

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Rosemary/Olive!IMG_5010

FORAGING IN THE WOODLOCH FOREST

My parents introduced Woodloch Pines to me in the late 70s, and Woodloch and I have been having our summer fling ever since (with a winter rendezvous thrown in), except now with friends joining along. We are both not the same as we were in the 70s. We have each grown and improved. To begin with my metamorphosis, Woodloch was never able to lure me with food because eating, to me, was obviously a Medieval form of torture as a child. The dish that came closest to piquing my interest was Woodloch’s famous Scandinavian pancakes, which I recall to be deceivingly consumable in a few bites. That’s about how long it took for my stomach to lose interest, not realizing unrolled, this griddled batter would be larger than my head.

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Friendly servers

These days, as June/July nears, like Pavlov’s dog, it triggers visions of those pancakes, but I have not experienced a Woodloch breakfast in many years. So the moment I arrive for lunch, I live out my Hawley, PA morning reminiscence by ordering a crumb cake to take home and savor for days to follow (okay, maybe it lasts a day). In case you haven’t noticed the transformation, food is now the generator of jovial taste buds, which yield a glowing smile. And here, many happy bellies strut through the main dining room after being treated like a king with all the offerings.  In this dining room, the focus is on family-style, country-comfort cuisine; however, there are nine dining facilities that range from grab-and-go bites at the Lakeside Grille to the epicurean-inspired “farm to fork” at The Lodge at Woodloch. Corporate Executive Chef Stevan Sundberg has expanded the offerings to elevate the dining experience.

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Chef Sundberg

The menu items not only have increased in number to satisfy today’s diverse food lifestyles – with multiple vegetarian options – but also in class. Chef Sundberg needs to dispel any stereotypes of a “Dirty Dancing”-type resort with campy food. Today for lunch, we ordered the Tomato/Basil Soup, Slow Cooked Beef Brisket Sandwich, Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and a Charbroiled Cheeseburger for the young one’s unadventurous palate. A refreshing Cucumber, Tomato, Chick Pea and Red Onion Salad was already on the table.

I was always impressed, although there are only a handful of entrée offerings, how the servers never write down the orders. What’s more impressive is how Chef Sundberg is able to churn out the potential of 600 dishes in a relatively small timeframe (seating 12:30-1) and maintain the consistency of perfectly cooked food…and it always is. The choices these days lean towards healthier combinations, but nobody can resist dipping their hands in the basket of boardwalk fries. And if you’ve gone that far, you might as well pour on the cheese sauce!

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Fries and Cheese Sauce

But wait, there is dessert with lunch, and it doesn’t matter if you’re going swimming or waterskiing immediately afterwards. You’re in PA, but ask for the Mississippi Mud Pie, even if it’s not on the menu. They’re hiding some back there…always. Otherwise, I am a connoisseur of maple walnut ice cream. It doesn’t show up in supermarkets, ever, so I must have a dish with chocolate sprinkles when here. A more recent dessert is the warm Chocolate Chunk Skillet Cookie a la mode. It partners nicely with that already existing scoop that was ordered. A little gluttony in the middle of the Poconos is forgivable.

I experience a guilty pleasure at this point. More than satisfied, my logical German mind begins to map out dinner options so as not to be repetitive: beef for lunch equals no Prime Rib for dinner. While I’m intensely paddling a kayak, a standout upgrade to the food is evident to me – the dish presentation, focusing now on color, texture, garnishes. I P1010553certainly don’t recall microgreens topping any fish of years past.  Even the sides have been modernized. Today’s broccoli with roasted garlic, EVOO and asiago used to be steamed broccoli with the reliable cheese sauce.

 

It’s around 4 p.m. when my high metabolism begins to drive me to ingest something, anything. All that biking, climbing, swimming on a warm day begs for an iced coffee and a small, on-premises-baked item. It’s the first summer Gigi’s Coffee House is open for guests to enjoy a

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Gigi’s Cafe

locally roasted cup of java (the difference in taste quality from the dining room pot of coffee is more than apparent for coffee lovers). Premium foodP1010534 deserves…no, demands premium coffee. It can be accompanied by a blueberry scone or bran muffin with honey butter or, in my case, a peanut butter cookie. They’re all tasty tie-overs to the grand supper.

Hints of dinner linger in the air as I suspect preparation happens around that 5 o’clock hour. If you are prematurely hungry, stay away from the front lawn. Delectable smells of roasted meat and baked fish will leave you in a food coma, robotically playing the ring-toss until that traditional dinner bell resonates through your olfactory system granting permission to begin replacing calories.

My self-imposed dress code on a Saturday night is comparable to going out to dinner in New York City with friends. I couldn’t help but peek at the dinner menu lunch time to mentally prepare myself for the tasting journey ahead. Before our hospitable server could get the word “shrimp” out, I blurted out, “Yes, please” for the shrimp and corn

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Shrimp & Corn Chowder

chowder. It provides the proper taste bud awakening with a mild kick of spice; perhaps some red pepper. The other opening choice this particular evening was the Burrata with Pea Tendrils, Blistered Tomato and Crispy Prosciutto. Never say no to burrata; it’s fresh mozzarella resting on a creamy cloud. And in case you really can’t wait a few minutes, a healthy-looking family-style bowl of Greek salad greets you at the table. Shortly thereafter, a basket with two different breads is laid upon

the table also: olive and banana walnut, the latter being another fundamental in my Woodloch food memories.

The servers push their carts of food at a swift pace, stacked with covered dishes of food selections. The guests cross their fingers hoping the next sound of wheels in this food-cart derby will be arriving at their table. And here comes the Slow Roasted Prime Rib of Beef, the cover lifted to display itself in all its simple elegance with just a sprig of

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Prime Rib

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Potato Lyonaisse

rosemary. A helping of the Roasted Potato Lyonnaise worked well as the required starch side dish. Then came the dressings: a boat of au jus and some creamy horseradish sauce. Next to be revealed is the Lemon-baked Halibut with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fried Capers and Basil Oil. The thick cut of fish is flaky and moist, and the sweetness of the tomatoes is balanced by a baked, thin slice of lemon atop the steak. The Lime-grilled Chicken with Zucchini Noodles, Falafel Cakes, Roasted Tomato and Cucumber

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Halibut

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Lime Grilled Chicken

Yogurt followed. The Mediterranean flair of the ingredients and the color palette made this a fun dish to want to dive into. The flavors complemented each other.

I was remiss in not ordering Woodloch’s Traditional Jumbo Butterfly Shrimp this time, but it was in the past few weeks that I had the delight of dipping those succulent, crispy-coated crustaceans into both tartar and cocktail sauce. Fried to golden perfection, there is no unhealthy evidence left upon your fingers. However, any diet should be cast aside to delve into the featured dessert, which tonight was House- prepared S’mores with graham cracker crust, chocolate ganache, topped with roasted marshmallow. The portion is not overindulgent, so there is room for another scoop of maple walnut ice cream! And

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S’mores

to work it all off, we strolled down to the night club to dance to the sounds of The Company, which had a remarkable guest singer, DaVido, before the theme show.

Whatever your gastronomic preferences or requirements are, Woodloch Pines is able to not only satisfy them, but exceed your appetite’s expectations. Your taste buds will be celebrating with you!

Fly Over to the Uncle’s

I rarely order takeout food. It’s either cook at home, heat up leftovers or dine out. Recently I discovered the need for a quick meal that might be divided into multiple meals with no preparation time. It was a forced issue, taking care of two hospitalized parents at the same time and running around with other everyday matters. Where could I save time and satiate my hunger without sacrificing my taste buds or my cholesterol level, which remains ideal? I could have thrown together a salad, but my belly needed a little warming and there was no time to drive back home.

It was only a few weeks ago I was reminded of Uncle Paulie’s Peruvian Chicken in Maywood, NJ. I was at my office when a delivery guy walked in with a food order for Evelyn. It certainly wasn’t for me. It so happened that there was another Evelyn down the hall. When I ran into the delivery guy on the way out, I asked, “By the way, where is that food from? It smells really good.” He answered enthusiastically, “Uncle Paulie’s in Maywood. You should try it.” Well I had tried it before and was now gustatorily charmed to try it again.

A whole rotisserie chicken marinated in their ‘special ‘ Peruvian sauce can be taken home for only $10. If that’s not what you walked in for, you will be tempted to get one as you become hypnotized by the rows of seasoned whole chickens rotating behind the front counter where you pay. The chicken is served quartered, making it easy to divide it into meals or deliver half to someone else. There are many other Peruvian-style items, but if chicken is in the brand name, make chicken your first order here. While chicken is never a leading star, the seasoning combined with the moisture of the meat makes it a winner.

According to the web site, Owner Paul Padro had fallen in love with the Peruvian cuisine of his wife’s native country. There was an absence of Peruvian food in Bergen County. He found he had to travel to further towns like Passaic and Paterson. His establishment has been open in Maywood since 2009. Fly over there when you’re in a rush to bring something home to the family or if you don’t mind sitting in a pizzeria-type dining area for a homey (a Peruvian home) meal.

In a Sicilian Kitchen

I admit it – for the most part, I don’t like when a friend recommends a restaurant.  That’s a facet of my entertainment life I’d like to hand pick. Maybe it’s because I love to explore and research and dive into the “About Us” of the restaurant before dining there. I want to go in feeling confident that the food is going to be good and I will thoroughly enjoy it. Everyone has different tastes and preferences; some are food discerning and some are quantity satisfied.

So when my friend Eddie suggested a New York City restaurant to me for casual Italian food, I almost ignored his recommendation. First understand Eddie. He loves to eat and does it as often as I do, but he finds a favorite dish at a restaurant and orders it every time. He literally licks the plate clean. He appreciates food like I do but within his own confines. I see the pleasure run from his mouth, through his body and settle warmly in his belly. I understand it. We used to enjoy Bocconi in Hackensack, NJ and have been hit and miss finding similar home-cooked-feel restaurants with quality food and family-like hospitality. It wasn’t until Eddie said, “They serve your food in the pan it’s cooked in, and there are only about 10 tables,” that I knew this had potential.

I made a lunch reservation (I wasn’t ready to fully commit to dinner) at Piccola Cucina on Spring Street, NYC. Mind you, it’s not Italian; it’s Sicilian food. The servers all have an accent; although one has a South African accent – it all sounds good. Okay ladies, they do hire for eye candy appetizers it seems.

Without a reservation, I’m not sure how you get in or where you stand. It’s small, and I’ve come to find out they have a larger location with a different type of menu around the corner on Prince Street. But with small comes personal. From the moment the servers and bussers approached our table, I felt like we were friends in another country. A birthday celebration was happening and all the lights were turned out as dessert was brought to the birthday child (not in an Applebee’s manner); everyone was singing and the kitchen staff rhythmically was hitting the pots and pans with utensils. It was a momentary party at someone’s house. Aside from the welcoming staff, let’s get down to the food.

Lunch and dinner are listed as separate menus on the web site, but I can’t see 20170513_173841the difference. Highly recommended by me now, and at the original suggestion of server Misha, the Eggplant Parmigiana Rivisitata is a fun and delicious “revistation” of the traditional dish. Served with grilled toasts and mixed green salad, the glass jar is layered with a pureed eggplant/basil mixture, topped with a creamy tomato sauce and finished off with a fluffy ricotta. We were instructed to reach from the bottom with the small spoon and scoop up, then spread it on toast. Delicioso! Close your eyes, and it’s a lighter, deconstructed version of eggplant parm coming back together in your mouth.

Another appetizer worth trying is the Polpette della Nonna con Caponata Siciliana  -Homemade grilled MeatbIMG_3990alls. But the apogee of appetizers was the special Grilled Octopus delivered on a cloud of burata cheese with olives and cherry tomatos. It was tender and smokey, and it turned a non-octopus-eating friend into a fan. The visual alone drew her in.

 

For the main course pasta dishes, these were all easy home run hitters:

  • Tagliatelle verdi con ragu’ di cinghiale aromatizzato alle erbe di campagna e scaglie20170319_142111 di tartufo  – Green Tagliatelle in a wild boar ragu’ with fresh herb aroma topped with black truffle shavings
  • Ravioli agli spinaci e ricotta con ragu’ di salsiccia – Spinach and ricotta ravioli with sausage sauceIMG_3931
  • Linguine all’astice 25 Lobster linguine served with half grilled lobster and tomato sauceIMG_3930

The only Second Course entree that made it in front of me was:

  • Composizione di crostacei al vapore  – Steamed Shellfish with vegetables

My only gripe might be that the same basic sauce is seen among several dishes. That might get boring after the love affair loses its luster.

The Prince Street location right around the corner is a bit roomier (larger) and focuses more on the fresh seafood displayed in a case but has similar dishes just IMG_3986as wonderful. While the servers tend to run back and forth between the two, sometimes to grab a cup of cappuccino or espresso from Prince St. for the customers at Spring St., my allegiance is now to Spring St. and my friendly waiters.

Their coffee rocks, but I admit I walk the .4 mile to Pasticceria Rocco‘s for dessert and a visit with my other fairly new hard-working Italian ‘friends’.

Hush Hush I Smell It Calling My Name

Aumm Aumm means “Hush Hush” in the Neapolitan dialect. Well, I’m letting this secret out. I never find myself in North Bergen, but I’ll be visiting frequently now. A friend who works at the elite Le Bernardin – need I say more – had been posting photos of dishes from Aumm Aumm quite often in the last six months. I trust the culinary opinion of someone who is employed at a number one New York restaurant. So back in December, with no reservations accepted, a group of us tried this self-proclaimed “wine bar and pizzeria”…which neither descriptive piques my gustatory sense.

It’s name it was: Aumm Aumm the surprise. I dislike the name; I dislike the tagline. Neither of them provide the golden key to this restaurant – fresh food! Because we waited 20 minutes, our hunger was building. It was best to order a cold throw-together dish to share. The Tagliere is a chef’s selection of 20161216_201942imported cheeses, imported coldcuts, olives, nuts and fresh fruit. It’s the perfect traditional way to begin.

Another cold dish followed: the Insalata Aumm Aumm. A signature dish should be the popular one, and it was among us, as far as a salad can be. Baby arugula, endive, raddichio, artichokes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cacciocavallo cheese was all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.20161216_201312

I’m not one to dine out and order pizza, but with a bunch of people sharing food, one is tempted to try it, since it’s claimed in the name and you sit facing the opening of the large brick oven stove. Choices 20161216_200701are red or white pizzas, round or the larger oblong. We went with a round, red one – the Cappriciosa. It was topped with tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, Gaeta olives, artichokes and mozzarella. The flavors popped, but as is often with brick oven pizzas, the dough has that lovely charcoal crisp on the outside, but is soft and chewy on the top side. I am a crispy bread freak too, so I was a bit disappointed to get strips of pizza dough in our bread basket for starters.

They carry 150 types of wines. Several primi pasta dishes were ordered, and all were cooked al dente. On the first visit, we tried the Sciallatielli allo Scoglio with fresh pasta, baby clams, shrimp, octopus, PEI mussels, calamari and cherry tomatoes. The second time we went with their new frequent patron, my friend, and the same dish was twice as large and came out inside a pizza dough crust to absorb all the seafood flavors.IMG_3902

Seared pork chops, fish of the day, grilled octopus, among other second courses are worth exploring. Now that Aumm Aumm is no longer on the down low, they may need to change the name…please.