Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Magnolia of Le Monde

Having been the pet mom of an adoring cat the last 20 years, I wasn’t exposed to the same needs and opportunities that canines present. I had a toy fox terrier at my parents’ home as a late teen, but Rocky didn’t go places. He wasn’t a tag-along dog because someone was always in the house.

Now I’ve come to have a little rescue girl enter my life, and in some ways she has rescued me. Although she came from an outdoor, neglectful environment, her dining habits are quite good. She found a stepmom, who is a foodie, but who generally does not give her table food. On my latest lunch outings in Manhattan, I found myself wanting the company of my sweet, little Magnolia. She doesn’t bark…I mean ever. If we lived in Europe, she would tag along with me to many outdoor cafes, but where could I take my canine companion where other diners would not be disturbed and where she would be accepted nearly the same as I am? The answer came quickly the first warm days of spring.IMG_4513

I frequent Le Monde on Broadway for lunch, as you may have read from my last blog post. As soon as the al fresco dining began on the sidewalk, I brought Magnolia along for a test run. She sat close to me on the ground like a well-mannered six-year-old girl should. And then our kind host, Scott, offered her the option of an appetizer of grilled chicken. Actually, he politely asked her step-mommy for approval before bringing it. While her tastes are not so discerning (yet?), she immensely enjoyed her meal at Le Monde and washed it down with a few slurps of New York City tap water. What more could a little rescue dog ask for?

So whether you like dogs or not, I promise I would not subject patrons to Miss Magnolia if she were not well behaved. In fact, she is so small, she could mostly remain undetected. If you do like dogs, come say hello to Magnolia of Le Monde because she can’t wait to go back and see Scott, the hand that fed her , not scraps of fat, but quality grilled chicken. And more importantly, while the weather’s nice, go enjoy one of LeMonde’s well-prepared, delectable dishes for yourself with your furry friend accompanying you…quietly. You might even get a photograph of your pup to appear on https://www.facebook.com/Cool-Canines-of-NYC-624304414695457/ .

Prolifer..profil..pro… one of those (profiteroles), please???!!!20190608_140756

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Being Someone in “The World”

Upon arriving for your date with an unknown, your first impression is mostly based on appearance. You walk in the door; your eyes trace the surroundings – left to right, up and down. You can quickly sense what your level of expectation should be: how you will be greeted, how you will be treated.

Are you addressed personally by name, or are you just another paying date? Are you made to feel like you are the only one who matters in the room, or do you immediately get the sense that this is an eat and run? Once you sit down together, you absorb the wonderful, or not-so-wonderful smells, the colorful appearance and artistic presentation in front of you. But does what you are about to dive into make you feel special, or are you just another face in the crowd?

Yes, I am talking about a restaurant, not a Match.com meetup. Oh the reviews can be outstanding. The cuisine can be delectable, but what sets it all apart from others is not you simply being present beneath a French chandelier or behind a plate of  yellowfin tuna tartar with fresh mango and avocado mousse, but rather that you are recognized and celebrated for being there.

The maître d’ is key! My first visit to Le Monde (translates to: The World) on the Upper West Side (UWS) of New York City was somewhat out of location necessity. It was a weekday, late afternoon, following my 83-year-old mom’s doctor’s appointment. Lunch was overdue, and she enjoys trips over the GW Bridge if they’re not too long. A solution would be to stick to the UWS. In my never-ending research for worthy dining establishments, I came across Le Monde, but French always comes with a warning sticker for me: extra dollar signs or escargot and other dishes that mom would no longer experiment with these days. While those little buggers are on the menu, the rest of it celebrates “the cuisine of the Loire Valley”, and it seems more familiar everyday food than not.

Entering at an off-meal hour (3:00), the restaurant was maybe 20 percent occupied. Scott, the maître D’, sat us by the glass doors with a sidewalk view of Broadway. We connected immediately with the topic of pets somehow. I explained that Mom needed a “soft” dish due to her dental issues. He offered the French Onion Soup with gruyere, the Tomato and Burrata Tart with fresh basil, olive oil, balsamic glaze and the French Omelette with caramelized onions, spinach, gruyere. Yes, I said, to all. And she must have “French” fries! It’s her new weird addiction.

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Scott checked in several times, engaging in personal conversation with us. He felt like a long lost friend. And now, when I think of where to take Mom after her uncomfortable appointments, other restaurants come to mind and pass through quickly. The warmth that flows over me when made to feel like a celebrity or someone who might write a critical blog or just someone that MATTERS, embraces my decision-making process and satisfies my soul for an hour or so. The coffee doesn’t hurt either!

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Verboten Broten

Forbidden Bread: In today’s society of scandalous starch and refuting gluten, how does Sullivan Street Bakery survive? First, it’s people like me who revere crunchy-crusted, airy-centered fresh-baked breads as works of art to be idolized. Instead of admiring the loaves with my eyes and nose, however, my mouth engulfs it and removes it from IMG_5619possible display. I literally could eat a special loaf with just some EVOO (or even plain) as an entire dessert meal.

My first exposure to this delicacy (yes, I just referred to a raised ball of yeast as a delicacy) was at Mario Batali’s Babbo Ristorante. My then boyfriend Daniel and I needed to know if they were creating this crispy wonder since everything else brought to the table was fresh, high-quality food. The server gave up the provider – the secret of Sullivan Street Bakery. I know can almost always identify the overwhelming amount of restaurants that provide us diners with such a free opening treat.

The next time we were wandering the Village, we walked down Sullivan Street looking for the bakery to buy our own samples to enjoy at home, but no such luck. We did not know that Sullivan Street Bakery was no longer on Sullivan Street. According to the web site, Sullivan Street Bakery was founded in 1994 in New York City.  In 2000, the bakery moved to Hell’s Kitchen. And since then, they opened a cafe to the public in Chelsea on 9th Ave. to enjoy breakfast/brunch-style servings incorporating their breads!

Today, I had a carb craving. After all, I played tennis in the morning. There was a parking space practically out front. The different breads jutted out from racks on the wall like a beautiful sculpture. Two stools opened up at the counter, and a friend and I eagerly sat ready for someone to offer up the best options. Nobody behind the counter paid attention though. A kind regular patron told me to go to the register a few feet away and order. I found that a bit bothersome. The young man at the register made me feel compelled to try am Uovo in Coppetta though (poached egg bowl). I selected the AL CONTADINO – two poached eggs, toasted Truccione Sare bread, butternut squash, cipollini onion, fingerling potato, herbs, lemon oil. THIS made me experience a different kind of Flour Power!

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I’m also a sucker for a good butternut squash soup because I enjoy cooking my own. Even though this could’ve been slightly thicker, the pieces of sour apple and toasted pumpkin seeds gave it a different spin. As luck would have it, the kitchen accidentally made two instead of one bowl, so guess who enjoyed that? I needed a sandwich to truly experience their bread. The young man suggested ANINI D’UOVO (served on their Strecci bread) – The Originale: with soft-cooked eggs, crisp Prosciutto di Parma, demi-sec tomato, basil. So simple. So good. And just because it had the words “Roast Pork” in the description, I sampled that sandwich as well; it was very good but surprisingly my least favorite of the selections if I had to choose.

I always ask at a New York City dining establishment when I think their bread is provided by Sullivan Street because I want to confirm how identifiable its goodness is. I am mostly correct except one time I was fooled at Il Buco, where it turns out they used to be supplied by SSB, but decided they could make their own. Watch out Sullivan Street; they had ME fooled.IMG_5564

Circling back to the opening where I mention dessert, while the dessert items such as the bomboleno were tempting and I did taste their artistic cappuccino with swirly design, the Little Pie Company was only a six-minute drive! A seasonal pear apple crumb and the traditional high-covered old-fashioned apple pie were tasty, but don’t ask for it warm. The microwave “melts” the pie crust and steals the flaky, crispy texture that defines its excellence.

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The metaphor I used is ironic for I just found out that “Jim Lahey studied sculpture before learning the art of bread baking in Italy. When he returned to New York City in 1994, he opened Sullivan St Bakery in Soho with little more than the wild yeast he hand-cultivated in Italy and a desire to bring the craft of small-batch bread baking to America.”

Old-Walled Spanish Restaurant

NY Eater’s eblast popped up in my email, and it opened up with pictures of paella, yummy paella: 10 Old Fashioned Spanish Restaurants to Try. The visual is the first entryway to tantalizing my tummy, and I became very hungry and passed judgment quickly by the photographs. Spain restaurant had by far the most attractive-looking photo of paella Valenciana. So allow me to be a bit shallow and judge first by appearance with my food because I try not to with people.

This shallow food gal headed to 13th street, based on dish appearance alone, to meet her digestive dinner date. For all I knew, this paella could be an imposter; it could be all looks and no taste. I approached the address, and the canopy over the sidewalk made it easy to spot. A took a step down, opened the white door and was faced with a bar that looked all of its years old (since 1967). There were a few tables, but we were led to the back dining room, which had stark white paint-cracked walls with crooked paintings and prints of Spain positioned haphazardly. I was getting a mélange of granny’s basement and an old museum or back of a church hall. But I still had hope for my radiant dish of mixed seafood to brighten the room.

We barely sat on bench seating with worn springs underneath, when servers delivered three small plates of food: mini Spain 004meatballs in a slightly spicy gravy, cold plump mussels topped with chopped onion, celery and red pepper; and sliced grilled chorizo. That was a warm welcome and helped to block out the blah room. When we were close to finished with our tasty samplings, a server came over and picked up the plate with the one chorizo piece and rambled in Spanish as if he believed he was communicating with us, all well gesturing for me to take the last piece. It brought humor to the table because I felt like I did not have the option of turning it down. As if you couldn’t tell yet, there’s nothing fancy or serious about this experience.

Then the paella arrived. It was the same silver pot I saw in the profile picture mounded with shellfish. The saffron-stained rice sat beneath the shells. Like an online dating site, the photo on NY Eater was dolled up, and live, there were no lobster claws but rather small pieces of tail that looked more like langoustine. All-in-all, the seafood was cooked properly, and the rice below was moist. It was a pleasant meal, and even more enjoyable at $23.95 with plenty of leftovers.

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Perhaps the article I read, listing this as on of the Top 5, should be titled “old” restaurants instead of old-fashioned. Skip the cappuccino. It was hot water with a hint of coffee flavor. I expect more from a Spanish restaurant when it comes to coffee. I won’t be shouting olé, but it was an enjoyable evening. Next stop: Newark, NJ’s Iron Bound section for some “traditional” Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.

Don’t Leave the East Coast if You Love Italian Food

You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone (enter the 80s Cinderella song in the background). This adage has recently come to light regarding New Jersey’s and the Metro Area’s quality of food and abundance of, particularly, what we call Italian food.

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In the past couple of months, we have had friends visit from out of state – Texas, Oklahoma, California, Florida. Some were first-timers; some were original New Jerseyans who were wooed across the border for one reason or another. For the friends who left this state to avoid wearing gloves and scarves, they blissfully sat with us at Bocconi in Hackensack awaiting their simple dishes of linguini and red clam sauce and zuppa di pesce. The smiles overtook the room. While I thought it was partially our company, the confession came: “You can’t get good red sauce in California! Boy, do I miss this.” Who knew the combination of Jersey tomatoes and Italian-American cooks had such an impact on a New Jersey native’s taste buds?

 

OTTO 005In another instance, we ventured to New York City for a last minute invite on Fourth of July to meet with friends visiting from Oklahoma. We suggested Lupa. I offered to order the prosciutto for everyone to share. The woman with us asked, “What is prosciutto?” I nearly giggled, but politely assumed that she just never tried it growing up. Her husband, who has been to the East Coast, said, “You don’t understand. We can’t get prosciutto in Oklahoma or Texas.” Not that I eat it often, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of not having the ability to have it when the craving came on. He admitted mostly everything was barbecued foods. Oh those sadly deprived people. They quickly understood what they had (in NJ) and that it would be gone as soon as they left.

 

Blind Pig Logo 006Our plans for the Floridian, original Jerseyan, involved a walk through Harriman State Park, just over the North Jersey border, after we were barraged with complaints of the lack of properly cooked pizza in the sunshine state. The plan was to rescue his long-lost memory of crispy, thin-crust Jersey pizza by stopping for an early dinner at the ever-popular Kinchley’s in Ramsey.

A phone conversation with a business associate in Southern California ended with a joke’s punch line being Italian ices. There was silence. He said, “I don’t get it. What is that?” I explained, and the response was: “Oh, we have Hawaiian shaved ice.” I proudly said in disgust, “That’s not the same. Our ice is smooth and blended; yours is hard and crystallized with dye poured on top. Who wants to see that process?”

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228409_1023274422337_2524_nOn any given night if I want to go out for Italian food in Northern NJ, I can easily head to Good Fellas in Garfield, Luka’s in Bogota, Sergio’s Missione in Lodi, and of course, Bocconi in Hackensack. You may have 75-degree sunny weather you transplants, but just remember what it was like to be able to get a fresh Italian meal or a slice of non-grease-dripping pizza within a mile of your house any day you desire! And there’s further proof – when we were in Venice, Italy, we had lunch in a restaurant off the beaten path, and Sammy Hagar and his family were the only others eating there. After a brief conversation, Sammy said to us, “You guys have better Italian food in New Jersey than this place. It rocks!”

The Matriarch of Italian Food

“Lidia, oh Lidia; say have you met Lidia?” No, not the tattooed lady – I’m speaking of Lidia Bastianich. My answer is yes. Have I dined in her premier restaurant until now? My answer is no. After eating in nearly all of Mario Batali’s New York establishments, why would I delay dining at the matriarch of the B&B empire’s signature place?

My husband and I initially met Lidia in person when eating at B&B’s (Batali & Bastianich) Del Posto, the only four-star Italian restaurant in New York. She visited the tables as a gracious host asking if all was well. And of course it was. We glared at her in the center of the room as she hand-whipped and hand-delivered my husband’s zabaglione dessert. However, it was not until my birthday last week that we finally decided to respect the mother of this golden Hospitality Group and venture to Felidia for dinner.

IMG_6776 It was a Sunday 6:30 reservation, and the bar – the only thing you see when you enter – was empty. I looked to the right, and the silence was the product of a nearly empty dining room. Since I follow Lidia on Facebook, I already knew she was basking in the culinary delights of Croatia and Southern Italy the same time we decided to visit her home in NYC. Did everyone know that she wouldn’t be there? Is that why there were only four out of 15 tables occupied?

After a delightful conversation with John the bartender, who voluntarily recommended some of his favorite dishes, we tiptoed quietly to our table. The decor was simplistic and the furniture felt a bit dated, as if it hadn’t changed since opening in the 80s, but we were here for the food. The menu distracted us from the blah-red chairs. Four tasting menu options made the selections more difficult, so instead we just ordered a la carte.Felidia 003 The basket of mixed crispy-crust European-style breads was the first sign of quality. A spread of bean paste, olive oil and herbs was more updated than an 80s offering of just butter. After two pieces, I needed to push the basket out of reach so as not to fill up before my appetizer. I would have been easy to accomplish. The first plate to land, the Tutta Crudo, helped to ignore the bread. This first suggestion looked like a Jackson Pollack on a plate made of shaved raw tuna, salmon, branzino, vegetables, puffed rice and shaved horseradish to top it off. The bartender did mention that Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra was also a painter, and it showed. Yet it wasn’t exorbitantly decorated (although I must mention that the pricing seemed a bit exorbitant for the not-4-star Italian restaurant). John stated that everything on Chef’s plates are meant to be there for texture, taste profile, color. It’s very purposeful, and with every forkful that I stole from my husband’s plate, it served me a great purpose while I simultaneously enjoyed a pasta special filled with rabbit meat, topped with carrot and rabbit jus and butter. Felidia 004   Felidia 009Not too long after came the grand dame platter of simplicity and flavor: the Gigliata de Pesce – grilled scallops, lobster, calamari, shrimp, octopus, razor clams ‘alla piastra’, string beans, green onion, sea beans. Felidia 008 Even though I knew I would not finish it, happiness abounded knowing I would have more for a second meal the following day. While alternating cutting small pieces from each different piece of seafood, I missed the description of the black sea bass special as the waiter poured a green herb sauce into that bowl. Felidia 006 We waited a bit before sharing a single dessert: the palacinke, which is like a caramelized crepe with poached peaches, local sheep milk yogurt, peach salad. Although Lidia was not present to greet us again, we experienced the essence of her style and felt like we raided the fridge in her home and had her personal chef cook for us.

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 a 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 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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