Posts Tagged ‘Mario Batali’

Tasting Tapas with Garces

This is the fourth Food Network Iron Chef’s restaurant in which I was graced with the presence of the celebrity chef not long after opening a new establishment. That is the time to see them if you are a celebrity chef stalker. The first for me was Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s in New Orleans, where he was actually cooking. The second was Mario Batali at Babbo, where he was busy in the kitchen. The third was Bobby Flay a week after he opened Gato; he was visibly sweating on the line and poking his head out to scan the dining room. The fourth, and latest, is Jose Garces at the four-week-old Amada. None were planned to seek out these chefs specifically; I was just seekingchef jose garces quality food, and I found it this evening in Battery Park, NYC, even though Chef Garces was playing overseer from the outside of the kitchen looking in.

Andalusian tapas, traditional and modern, is what’s happening here. Naturally, one wants to taste everything, so the Spanish gastronomy began with Sopa De Esparagos – White Asparagus Soup, Mushroom, Duck Butifarra (described as a duck and garlic sausage), Pistachio. Something comes over me when I order dishes that sound so fluid in another language. Suddenly I speak proper Spanish with the right inflection and all. So I didn’t order it as the “asparagus soup”.

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Sopa de esparagos

While we were waiting for the train of dishes to pull in, a complementary garlic flatbread with a tuna and caper with black olive oil spread was delivered.

20160528_191704After a few spoonfuls of soup, the traditional PIQUILLOS RELLENOS – Crab Stuffed Peppers, Toasted Almonds, arrived, as well as the PULPO A LA GALLEGA – Spanish Octopus, Pureed Potato. The octopus was sliced into thick nickel-sized pieces. The flat top of each was pan seared I’m guessing to garner a crisp slight garlic and oil flavor. They sat sunken into a bed of velvety pureed potato. 20160528_192355

Then came a 10-minute welcomed digestion break. The remaining dishes were brought together: the BACALAO – Poached Black Cod, Sunflower-Chorizo Broth, Whipped Potato, dancing with complementary flavors and textures and was the star of the evening for me; the PERNIL ASADO – Roasted Pork, White Beans, Arugula & Orange, which was sold by the waiter after saying, “crispy top and juicy beneath”; and the COSTILLAS DE TERNERA – Spanish Flatbread, topped with Beef Short Ribs, Horseradish, Parmesan, Bacon, which flavor-wise was a surprisingly close second.

20160528_19573020160528_195300Not only was there no room for dessert, there were leftovers. The enjoya20160528_195318ble meal closed with me approaching Chef Garces and thanking him for putting me in a delightful food coma.

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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

OCD with Batali at Eataly

I am not obssessed with Batali/Bastianich eateries.. I am not obsessed with Batali/Bastianich eateries… I am not.

One just must understand that when I bark for mealtime and dish after dish is placed in front of me that continues to satisfy every epicurean cell of my being, I will return for that gastronomic experience like a loyal puppy. And so, Mario Batali has collared me and walked me to numerous establishments in New York City to lap up some luscious morsels that make me want to run around in circles over. There is one place that leaves me in the center of a culinary carnival with difficult choices to make whichever direction I face. That is the wonder of Eataly – an Italian food market modeled after the one in Turin, Italy. Mario Batali, Lidia & Joe Bastianich, and Founder Oscar Farinetti have joined together to bring this permanent food festival to NYC.

Walking into Eataly feels like you’ve entered a European cafe with hightop tables for those ordering gelato and/or coffee. As you traverse the center aisle, smells of Italian products waft through the air – from packaged Baci chocolates to

Sicilian breaded Swordfish

cheeses and cured meats. The carnival really begins when you turn the corner to the counter of La Piazza, where crowds are standing at marble tabletops, delighting in platters of salumi and formaggi, sipping on wine. The making of fresh mozzarella is displayed. If you make it past here without ordering something, your will is stronger than mine. Two eateries are eye-cathingly at the center: Le Verdure, which pops with colorful plates of fresh, local, seasonal products but no meat, and Il Pesce, serving seafood dishes with all the fish coming from Eataly’s Seafood Counter. This is the place I found myself sitting twice. Although you are essentially dining in the center of a ‘supermarket’, it feels nothing like a

Grilled Cod on roasted corn w/basil, yellow/red grape tomatoes

Grilled Shrimp and mixed greens w/speck, roasted figs & balsamic reduction

food court and everything like a piazza with the case of fresh made pastas being sold just across the way. The sight and smell of the plate in front of me tend to take full hold of my attention to notice much else.

There are 12 eateries in total to feast upon, which guarantees you’ll need to return for a different meal. They vary from casual pizza and pasta to a new rooftop beer garden to an upscale “meat palace”. Because each place is so specialized, the only problem lies in that everyone in your group needs to be in the mood for the same type of food (meat, fish etc.). If there’s a vegetarian, and there’s someone that wants fish, they’ll be eating in separate quarters but can meet up at the dessert or espresso counter or to shop afterwards.

Food and Italy – since they seem almost synonymous, Eataly is a harmonious combination of both that everyone should rejoice in at least once.

Hail Mario!

I feel like a princess whenever I set foot in one of the castles of the Mario Batali/Joe Bastianich empire. And it has absolutely nothing to do with prices because comparatively speaking, these restaurants are very inexpensive with the exception of Del Posto – and with very good reason. As soon as I sit down on a Batali chair, I feel like I am being waited on hand and foot. A certain magic wand is waved upon each dish before it is delivered.

So I was in the mood for some dishes that we don’t typically order. Don’t get me wrong – the house-aged prosciutto is a fantastic staple, and the gelato desserts at Otto are a light and delightful way to end a meal, but it was time to head back to Lupa. The prosciutto popped off the menu, and I gritted my teeth when the waitress came over, so as not to say “prosciu…” No, I’m going to try something that I would never order elsewhere because, frankly, I don’t really care for mushrooms, unless it’s portabella. But with Mario, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like a particular food. You could order poop on a platter, and somehow you’ll be fantasizing about that delicious platter for weeks to follow.

I said it: “I’ll have the roasted mushrooms with the cavolo nero and shaved ricotta.” The cavolo nero, we were informed, is a type of kale, but not as bitter. Did I really order that? Oh, and thank goodness I did! It was hen-of -the-wood mushrooms, fully of earthiness, and the greens were shredded and also roasted, giving them a little bit of a crisp. All that was topped with a hard ricotta, adding a bit of saltiness. Wow.

Then, the seafood spoke loudly to us off the menu: Red Snapper with Sunchokes, Grapefruit & Rapini (broccoli rabe) landed in front of me. The skin on the snapper..oh yes, crispy again..was balanced by the soft sunchoke puree and the refreshing, cool citrus. There was zero bitterness to the rapini. It was like fresh greens from the garden.

 

In front of him swam in the Fluke with Lentils, Bitter Greens & Agrumato, which is an extra-virgin olive oil pressed with lemons. Without wanting to interpret the flow of taste and the perfectly crafted combination coming off of my plate, I waited until I was finished to taste the fluke. It was another winner but a close second.

Finally, the dessert round was nearing. Unlike Otto, Lupa offers more than gelato. And while Otto’s gelato combinations are works of art unto themselves, I needed something a little more solid. The olive oil torta and roasted pears fit that criteria. I immediately recalled the first time I heard “olive oil gelato” at Otto and cringed until it touched the tip of my tongue. There was no cringing this time when I heard “olive oil” as an adjective to torta.

The Apician Spiced Dates & Mascarpone was a healthier choice, but three dates instead of two large ones might have made it a more worthy contender. I leave the Batali/Bastianich abode smiling once again. More to follow on Otto.