Posts Tagged ‘food’

Brunch Bunch Brawlers – Part I

Brunch – how snooty I thought! That’s for women driving Jaguars, who plan their day around socials with other women driving BMWs. Who has time for a meal in-between meals? Alas, New York City has forced brunch upon me! It seems a majority of the city’s restaurant owner believe it is okay to restrict my ability to eat lunch on a Saturday! This angered me. Every noon-time reservation I tried to make came with a brunch menu online. The lunch menu is only available Monday through Friday when I am absolutely unable to venture in because……I don’t work in the city. Why was I being punished for living in New Jersey? Why am I not allowed to have a smaller version of dinner items mid-day – you know, around lunch time?? Shouldn’t I be able to order lunch during lunch hours no matter the day of week?!….Exhale…..

What stemmed from a schedule change in life has now resulted in a new habit. Dinner was the preferred meal for dining out – it’s grand, it ends your day on a satisfyingly full belly and you don’t need to think about food until the next morning (except for we night owls who -see what I did?- nibble late night). A change in circumstances caused me to start gathering friends together for Saturday lunches and where else but in nearby New York City for a mini quarter-day trip.

First up in December 2017 was Eataly Downtown because I wanted to impress with the panoramic view and an actual lunch with no dish resembling breakfast. There were five of us for the first jaunt, so we fit nicely packed into a sedan with a little food expansion room. Since the delicious dishes will be too many to list, I must highlight some favorites to provide a Brawlers’ compilation. Any chance I get, I cap the meal off with a stroll or drive to Pasticceria Rocco’s, and if you don’t know why, read all the mentions in my blog posts.

A week later, still in my brunch protest mode, another group of five headed to the Upper West Side to Celeste. Because it was on the other end of the island, I tried Cafe Lalo (made famous in “You’ve Got Mail”) for the first time. While it was visually fun and appealing, the quality of the desserts just didn’t measure up. I tried.

Yet another week later, I tried to get my toes wet and found a brunch menu at The Ribbon that included lunch items like burgers as well. I went for it with a Breakfast Sandwich: House Made Pork Apple Sausage, Avocado, Grilled Onions, Fried Egg, Cheddar, Butter Lettuce. It made me tingle with the idea that I could get used to this. I would never have meat for breakfast but combine it with an egg for brunch? Now we’re talking possibilities. Even a Fox 5 anchorwoman seemed to enjoy herself here. At this time I was on a best-pie quest and read that Petee’s claimed that title. I’d label it “OK”.

2018 began with Locanda Verde, which really dove into brunch. I was slowly converting. The Hudson River was like a floating iceberg that day, and sitting against the glass windows, I couldn’t remove my coat. But the meal began with Locanda’s own fresh baked goods: Apple and pistachio danish and cranberry goat cheese scone. A zucchini frittata followed by a hearty Rigatoni lamb bolognese, sheep’s milk ricotta and mint plate and closing with the fluffiest lemon ricotta pancakes, never imagining a fluffier one was yet to come.

We snuck in a return visit to Eataly Downtown with a new crew of five, but the area we ate in is a seasonally changing restaurant. Then it was La Stagione, so pasta it was, closing with a most important run over to Rocco’s:

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Celebrating a friend’s birthday – and with a record eight attendees in one vehicle – closed out January 2018 and the closest thing to brunch was the fried egg on top of the thin crust pizza at Otto Enoteca, a place of nostalgia for me. Pasta and more pasta was had and still we had room for Rocco’s after walking there through Washington Square Park.

Il Buco delivered one of the cutest decors and was another true lunch. I made a guess that their bread was from Sullivan Bakery but was surprised to learn they made their own! It was a small group of four on a rainy February day. The cod croquettes were a nice diversion, and I won’t even say where dessert was had!

Five of us were warmed up by the healthy-minded brunch at Hearth on another cold February day.  Bruschetta with goat cheese and carmelized onions, Mushroom brodo for dipping a wild mushroom and cheese sandwich, Bacon/egg/cheese on warm english muffin with contadina potatoes were some of the tempting items.

March rolled in with a double shot of Bar Primi. The brunch was so good the first time, I returned with six others the following week, and we all were treated with eating near Actor Patrick Stewart.

To be continued in Part II, where the Brunch Brawlers Bunch are fully addicted to this in-between meal….

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Dolce de Leche, a Sweet Cultural Surprise

Everyone knows I’m a dessert snob. Brought up being served European style pies, tarts and cakes right out of our oven, I can’t get myself to set foot in most American-style bakeries for a sugary rainbow overload. I favor Italian and French pastries with nods yet again to Pasticceria Rocco’s and Silver Moon in New York City. Bergen County, New Jersey shines with L’Arte, Erie and Ciel.

Today began with the notion of lunch at Aumm Aumm in North Bergen, arriving at 12:20. It’s been a year exactly since I last ate there. We walked in from the 18-degree weather to be told, “We don’t open until 1:00 for lunch.” I couldn’t comprehend why so late to start lunch service. In a panic, I Googled “lunch near me” and up popped a Yelp 4-star eatery La Sorrentina only .5 miles away.  My first impression was a pizzeria. I downgraded my expectations of having a satisfying lunch. But once the oven-warm bread and olive oil came out, I thought the runway was clear.

I am not particularly enamored with pizza unless there’s something special about it. This one was a little special tasting. We ordered a small (six slices) QUATTRO STAGIONI with
Eggplant, Artichokes, Mushroom and Prosciutto. That almost could have done it for me. Nervously I ordered the SPAGHETTI AI SAPORI DI MARE: Mixed Seafood with a Spicy Tomato Sauce because that’s what I had in mind for Aumm Aumm. Well the shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari were married with an arrabiata sauce that was reminiscent of Bocconi.  And the LA CAPRESE, Homemade Mozzarella with Tomatoes and Extra Virgin Olive Oil starter was quite satisfying.

Photo of Trattoria La Sorrentina - North Bergen, NJ, United States. Spaghetti ai sapori di mare. Mixed seafood w pasta in tomato sauce. Served fresh, hot, and delicious.  Yum

It was when my Argentinian friend brought up dessert at a nearby Argentinian bakery that I began to pout internally.  I pre-judged. I had an image of churros – a fried dessert. Oh no! That’s all I could see. He insisted, “We go for coffee there too!” Less than a half mile drive and we arrived at Dolce De Leche, a large, bright bakery cafe with many tables, most occupied. The first thing I noticed was the busy bakers in the kitchenIMG_5374through the glass. It was nice to actually see through the kitchen. This cafe offers a selection of savory breakfast and lunch items too, such as quiche and sandwiches and empanadas, but it’s hard not to go directly to the dessert cases. I skipped over the fried section to dispel my preconceived notions and went directly to the small desserts that look like they could’ve been in Rocco’s or Silver Moon’s cases. I actually tried an elephant ear too just because they looked so perfect. It was the mini desserts, though, with fruit and dulce de leche that were my favorite. And yes, the coffee measured up…in this instance, a cappuccino (a real cup rather than paper would’ve made it better for staying in house). Who knew Argentinians did dessert in a European style — not too too sweet!

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No More Soul (food) Searching

Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern US. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations such as Charleston, Atlanta I call it “down home” cooking and think immediately of one of my favorite places packed with memories: New Orleans. While NOLA has its own brand of Southern food – Cajun – it’s all about soul too. My vision is an African-American family cooking together.

This is not a particularly health-mindful cuisine as many of the original cooks could not afford shortening to fry. They would use and re-use the cheaper lard. In order to be more appealing to a more food-educated society, some tradition is overlooked to save a few arteries, but ethnic preservationists argue that taste and tradition are sacrificed with the use of vegetable oil and the substitution of pork.

But what about the sweet potato? It saves the day with its beta carotene, and collard

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Candied Yams

greens are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, helping to mask the other high levels of starch, fat and cholesterol. That’s why I highly recommend those two items as sides at Paula’s Soul Food Cafe in Hackensack, NJ. It’s easy to drive right by and not notice it among the two continuous rows of retail storefronts that comprise Main Street. But the word “Soul” got my attention.

I had just eaten lunch but needed to check it out for future reference. The cafeteria-style display of foods allowed me to get an overview and see its potential. Okay, I had to try something small, so I left with a side of candied yams.  That was enough to make me want to return for lunch the next Saturday.

I left there feeling a sense of culture, of family working together, even though we are in the North and the owners are Hackensack natives, which is not a town in Georgia. The Baileys opened their first location in the Bronx, and after two years, embarked on a hometown location. I saw a middle-aged gentleman dressed in a suit on the patron side of the counter, pointing at the younger man hustling behind the counter with other family members, proudly exclaiming to another: “That’s my son!” No sooner did he take off his jacket, roll up his collared shirt sleeves and jump behind the counter to assist.

After you peruse some of the items they have to offer – don’t miss out on the seafood offerings that may not be visible – you place your order and pre-pay. The food gets dished with generous portions on a plate and complemented with a piece of their cornbread (I missed the texture of some whole kernels in this version).

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Cornbread

Your name is called for pickup.

Generally, I am turned off by deep-fried foods because I imagine the unhealthy effects taking place the moment it is being ingested. There’s something about fried okra, though, 20171119_134046that transports me geographically and emotionally. It reminds me of gumbo (which can only be eaten in New Orleans in my opinion) and of my husband, who so often spoke about not being able to get good fried okra in this part of the country, and I agreed. So he made pickled jars of okra at home. Prepared any other way, it tends to have a slimy texture, but fried adds the exterior crisp needed to enjoy this vegetable. The South has a love affair that the rest of the country doesn’t understand. They fry, pickle, grill and add the green pod to stews. It contains potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, folic acid, and calcium. It’s low in calories and has a high dietary fiber content. And Paula’s does it right, so go for it!

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Beef Short Ribs

A true testimony to the quality of food here: My tennis partner and I recently celebrated a winning match. He’s Jamaican, and I dared to suggest having a soul food lunch. As he viewed his options, he discounted the oxtail and told the woman, “I’m from Jamaica; I’ll try something else.” Our other friend got an order and offered a taste. Our MVP exclaimed, “Mmm, goodbye Jamaica!” There’s also chicken galore: baked, barbecued, fried, smothered; but the large turkey wings wound up being the dark horse.20171119_133817

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Sampling Away

In Search of Pie to Die For

If you know me or at least read my blog, you’ll know that my Swiss Miss Mom is a most delectable baker, with pies being a specialty. Anyone and everyone who is fortunate enough to catch me on an unselfish pie Sunday and who has tasted as little as a forkful will testify to the maximum level of deliciousness she delivers. Unfortunately, it’s been about a year since she has been well enough to perform her culinary craft, and that leaves me, family and friends pieless!

I have been in search of backup pie for years. Nothing is ever as good as Mom’s European love touch that forms every golden crust. I thought for certain that my favorite Italian pastry shop Pasticceria Rocco’s would deliver, but for me, it’s the one thing they fall short on.

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The dough is more like a sweet cookie crust and thick; I require flaky and thin pie crust, not a thick tart frame. It is good under another definition but not “pie”.

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I receive lists in food-oriented e-blasts of the “best pie in the country”, but it doesn’t help me when they are located 3,000 miles away in San Francisco or when I merely see a photo of a pie with a half-baked blonde-colored crust! Oh no; dough! However, one such establishment was on a list of best pies in Bergen County, NJ. I couldn’t imagine any of the mostly American bakeries in this county being able to deliver a Pie worth Dying for.IMG_4984Erie Bakery in Rutherford’s web site lists both sweet and savory pies, scones, muffins – more like European breakfast baked goods – no icing or color. So I happened to be passing the exit on the way back from a business meeting and took a quick detour to find a cute bakery with a window counter and a handful of stools. I immediately put it to the test by trying the pear-crumb muffin and the burnt banana bread. Everything is made on premises. I was quickly ready to graduate to pie. Unfortunately, only whole pies can be purchased. Surprisingly, there was no standard apple pie. Varieties include Buttermilk

Sweet Potato, Bourbon Pecan, Pumpkin Pepita, but I went with the Salted Caramel Apple Crumb. It was about 15 minutes before I couldn’t resist the temptation of the taste test. In went the fork, and when there was a slight struggle getting the prongs to easily go through the bumps in the crust, I knew there was great potential here.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4988At $30, this pie better have a lot of love packaged. It embraced me, and I felt as close to home as I’ve been on Sundays a year prior and past. Next came the judge and jury though. I was then on my way to visit mom. Even though she hasn’t been completely herself these days, I approached with the box and a plastic fork, opened it up and put it in front of her. Nothing was said, but the fork went from box to mouth repeatedly, and her fingers broke off that bumpy end. There was a pause as it rested in her mouth awaiting a verdict. It got a nod – passing grade. An hour later Dad called and said, “By the way, that pie you let me taste was very good.” So far, it leads the race in the chase towards Mom’s pies, even though they will always be a lap ahead of the rest of the pack. Finally, something can join the race as a temporary substitute.

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A Rekindled Bouley Affair

When I read that Chef Bouley would be closing his flagship restaurant, I felt like I was hearing second-hand that my boyfriend was breaking up with me. Why did I have to read about this on the popular EaterNY, where everyone else would know at the same time? We had a bond, Bouley and I, even though we hadn’t yet met. I’m sure he doesn’t recall our rendezvous during my 11th wedding anniversary. I returned a year later Rosmarie & Evyfor him to meet my mother. Okay, really it was just to celebrate Mother’s Day with a five-course lunch tasting. So you see, the two most important people in my life had been introduced to him.

Still, he sold his longtime home but didn’t leave town. In fact, I found out quickly where he resided, and so he left himself open to being stalked by a nostalgic gourmand. Truthfully, the restaurant Bouley sealed its significance in my heart when I lost my husband unexpectedly in 2016. I vowed not to return there yet, and now it’s a forced issue. But somehow, I received digital notification of an educational dining event taking place at Chef David Bouley’s new venue Bouley Botanical, an urban farms event space with over 400 species of edible plants growing in the window gardens, which are directly used in cooking the dishes served. It was a chance to reunite with my love affair – the man who epicuriously turned me on without getting near. He delivered his love to me through his food creativity.

My income doesn’t quite allow me to fulfill being a bon vivant, but I make other sacrifices of luxury to live like one occasionally, and this occasion was suitable: Inside-Out Health: Eating for Optimal Athletic Performance” with Dr. Robert G. Silverman, Duke University Defensive Lineman AJ Wolf and Chef David Bouley at Bouley Botanical. How did they know I was an athlete? Would an educational dinner take the enjoyment out of the food experience? Would it turn eating for me from an art to a science? I took a chance and made a reservation for one. Daniel would have enjoyed this immensely.

The room had one long communal table with no assigned seating. It was bright green from the glow of chlorophyll.  I felt healthy already and selected the end seat closest to the kitchen. I wanted front row on the culinary action. I took handwritten notes on nutrigenomics and how to maximize fuel based on the type of sport you play. The mention of gut rot, however, didn’t seem conducive to pre-dining conversation. I was also uncomfortably cold with the air conditioning blowing upon us on a 50-degree evening. When someone asked the event coordinator to adjust the temperature, his response irked me: “The kitchen staff gets warm.” I mumbled to myself sarcastically, “We’re more concerned about the employees’ comfort than the patrons’.” I later asked another gentleman kindly, and he immediately obliged. The diners slowly uncrossed their tight arms, and we were now ready to ingest these healthy foods that we listened so much about.IMG_4762

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The first plate – Last of the season Chatham Wild Blue fin, matsutake mushrooms (which had a floral fragrance upon the tongue), and golden Osetra caviar.

The second plate came out not long after  – Organic Connecticut Farm Egg steamed in Artichoke Heart, Cesare Casella Prosciutto and Fava Beans.

Then I thought I heard a drumroll, but I imagined it because the culinary rock star slid discretely into the kitchen area and was standing off to the side until he was officially introduced. He came out to applause and spoke a bit about the ingredients used this evening and their benefits and was accompanied by a slide show. He was thrilled to share what he learned from his visits to Japan. While he spoke, a plate of Dayboat Chatham Skate sat in front of us (Eat it, wait, don’t eat it, wait?). My excuse was to not lose the temperature at which it was served. My skate skated off the plate and into my mouth before he finished speaking. Then I got up and had the honor of shaking

hands with the man who IMG_4772unknowingly participated in my culinary affair. I held his hand while we spoke, and he didn’t even know that he had helped me cheat on Eric Ripert. I didn’t want to let go of those masterful tools.

The next course piqued my interest because I have never been a fan of salmon except in sushi form. This was Wild Alaskan Salmon with buckwheat pasta, and an array of mushrooms (wild porcini, trumpet, shiitake). Blindfolded I would not have guessed salmon. The question is, however, how does the general consumer obtain that type of wild hooked salmon. Dr. Silverman commented that it would basically be too expensive.

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The first of two dessert courses was light and refreshing – Biodynamic Concord Grape

Sorbet, Coconut Butter, Chestnut Honey. Dessert two was more than satisfying as the  final chapter: Cocoa Sacher Cake, 70% Valhrona Chocolate, Almond Milk and 10 Exotic Fruit sorbet, and a hard sugar-coated almond, just to put a bow on the package. But the bow wasn’t tied. A mignardises plate of about 15 assorted minis (three of each kind) was placed at our end of the table. Five of us on the end were attempting to sample one of each until we realized it was the only plate on the long table and maybe we were supposed to pass it along. Oops, where does chocolate fit into my nutrigenomics? I didn’t really want to know that answer. I pretended to want to share, passing the plate down with three tiny bites remaining for the 15 or so other people. Fortunately they all looked too full to care.IMG_4782

I walked away with energy, not feeling overstuffed and lethargic – mission accomplished. I will likely implement half of what I was educated on, half of which I was already aware. The other half I will reserve for happiness. How could I ever eliminate fresh baked breads from my palette, particularly the types Bouley used to offer? The bigger question is why would I want to be miserable?

Chef Bouley, we will have another rendezvous when I stalk you at Test Kitchen one day.  You can’t hide those epicurean eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIEL IT WITH A SEMI-SWEET KISS

If you even just know me by name, you probably know that all retail desserts are measured against the quality of my mother’s desserts. Most don’t come close: too sweet, too many artificial ingredients, not baked enough, etc.  As a result, I am extremely selective – some label it snobbish – as to if and where I eat dessert elsewhere.

Most of you who do know me, know I’ve found the perfect competitor in Rocco’s, New York City, but that’s across the big river. I’ve written about two worthy contenders in New Jersey:  one in Ramsey, L’Arte , where I even dared to bring my mother once, and the other in Teterboro, Palermo’s. So when I saw a nearly full-page newspaper article (yes, I look at an actual printed newspaper), on a four-month-old French pastry establishment in Westwood, NJ, my eyes and mouth perked up. A panic rush of self-addressed questions comes over me – why didn’t I know about this, could it be as good as the pictures look, how soon can I try it? The first answer I don’t know. I was four months behind on this intel. Shame on me. The third answer was …this evening! And that would provide the second answer: yes!

20170920_214927Open until 10 p.m., which excites me by fitting into my late night schedules, I dashed to Westwood at 9:30. The space is tucked sideways, perpendicular to a strip center with another Korean-owned eatery, focused on bbq, called Kimchi Smoke, which moved from Bergenfield. The bakery case in front appeared nearly wiped clean, but there were a few desserts left. The Korean man (owner/partner) explained that these rectangles were called pallets. They are like mini-pound cakes that are warmed up and sliced, but they’re elaborate. One was pistachio, draped in white chocolate and another was milk chocolate and coffee with almonds. I ordered one of each to sit down and enjoy.

 

The back room is the open kitchen with counter and stools, along with a handful of tables. I was given a menu for separate plated desserts, which were more elaborate. At this point of the night, I had not eaten dinner. Dessert was destined to be my dinner because that’s what Ciel serves, and it’s served very well! Chef (and co-owner with her spouse) Jane’s resume sparkles in the pastry arts. Eleven Park Madison, Le Cirque and Nobu piqued my level of impression.  They both explained that they don’t and won’t serve savory dishes because they are doing only what they do best…..dessert! After all, you wouldn’t expect the pitmaster at Kimchi Smoke to serve up crème brulee.

When asked for a recommendation off of the dessert lounge menu, the gentleman suggested the chocolate soufflé as a first timer (a familiar French word of course). It is

 

baked to order in seven minutes and served with fresh made creme chantilly. The airiness and the gooey inside combined in a light and not-so-sweet marriage. That choice paired with the two “pallets” should’ve been a good enough first-visit tasting. But no; I had to notice the apple tarte tatin. I couldn’t  pass it up. It was the most beautiful looking of the desserts I had, but also the smallest portion. Here, Chef Jane’s artistic prowess was exhibited best. The “tarte”  looked like a large, square caramel filled with pieces of fresh apple. It was decorated with thin, dried apple slices, dabs of meringue and radish micro greens.

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Remember, French pastries such as these are meant to be tasted meticulously and slowly with small bites because the portions are not large. The textures are meant to touch every side of your mouth. In fact, the tasting of such desserts, rather than shoveling, is celebrated with a distinctive offering….a dessert tasting menu experience. Ciel offers a 20170920_215724five-course dessert tasting that she serves at the counter. The unique experience with her personal explanations takes about 1.5 hours. There’s also a three-course version that would take about 45 minutes. Reservations for a tasting experience is required at least 48 hours in advance. The tasting menu option truly brings the quality and New York food experience across that river and into this Bergen County town that’s filling up as a foodie destination.

She is quoted in The Record: “I barely use sugar. Fruits — raspberries, mangoes, cherries — have plenty of sweet in them. I don’t use anything that isn’t good for your body.” Her partner told me he goes to the market every morning to select the freshest fruits.

Dessert you can feel good about consuming! She even offers some that are vegan and gluten free, so there’s no excuse for anyone not to try her creations.

UPDATE: This writeup tasted so good to my co-workers, we all decided to try the three-course tasting created by Chef Jane. The images will artfully and tastefully speak for themselves…

 

 

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.