Posts Tagged ‘tuna’

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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The Colors of Jean-Georges

A name like Jean-Georges Vongerichten connotes an air of fanciness – maybe even a bit pretentious – and preciseness. He delivered all of that upon our first approach to the entrance with the name in gold letters mounted upon a marble wall. It wasn’t easy to decipher that the restaurant was inside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and we looked quite silly walking around the building trying to figure out where to enter.

After being greeted at the front desk, where it was reminiscent of checking into a hotel (oh right, we were in a hotel), we were seated at the bar since we were early and not primed to dine yet. The Nougatine room was sleek modern and offered a view into the working kitchen. I swiveled in my cushioned stool, bobbing my head left and right searching for a star-struck glimpse of Chef Vongerichten. ‘Is that him?’ I thought. It could’ve been, but my uncertainty brought my attention back to the pretzel sticks and spiced nuts on the bar. Something about the hard, tiled floor left me hoping we weren’t going to be seated in this area for dinner. It wasn’t $128/per person kind of nice, even though the front wall is entirely window looking upon Central Park across the street.

With relief, we were led into the carpeted restaurant and seated side-by-side on a curved couch-style bench, but our backs were facing the only decoration – the outdoors. It lacked color with the linens, window dressings, and chairs being mostly all white and taupe. Again, it felt a bit like a gala in a hotel. It having been September, it was getting to be dusk early, and so our outdoor painting was removed when the curtains were drawn. Optimistically thinking, the lack of color may have been intentional so as to let the true star of the evening burst decor…the food! All presented on white plates, each dish was an exploding art palette.

The prix fixe menu gave us each a choice of three items plus a dessert theme. And here were our selections.

SEA SCALLOPS – Caramelized Cauliflower and Caper-Raisin Emulsion

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YELLOWFIN TUNA RIBBONS – Avocado, Spicy Radish and Ginger Marinade

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BUCKWHEAT CRACKLING GULF SHRIMP – and Silky Carrot Cocktail Sauce

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ROASTED HAKE – with Basil, Crushed Tomatoes and Olive Oil

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CRISPY CONFIT OF SUCKLING PIG – Baby Beets and Ginger Vinaigrette

This was the whooah dish of the evening for me.  I vividly recall the crispy pork confit of ABC Kitchen. It’s branded in my tastebud memory. This was a larger tasting of heavenly crispiness.

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BLACK SEA BASS CRUSTED WITH NUTS AND SEEDS – with Nuts and Seeds, Sweet and Sour Jus

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I chose the FIG theme, and the following four desserts were brought out on a platter:

Concord Grape Sorbet, Fig Soda, Sesame Nougat
Fig Financier, Raspberries, Ginger Syrup
Warm Brioche, Port Poached Fig, Pistachio and orange Flower Glaze
Spiced Fig Jam, Soft Chocolate, Almond Milk Sorbet

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He chose the SUMMER theme, which rewarded him with:

Sparkling Plum Soda, Riesling and Raspberries
Frozen Apricot Parfait, Candied Corn, Orange Sponge Cake, Currants
Stone Fruit Gelee, Almond Crunch Ice Cream, Honey Whole Wheat Cake
Warm Pain Perdu, Blueberry Jam and Lemon Thyme Roasted Peaches

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I’m not sure where to rank Jean-George among my Michelin-starred male culinary lovers, but if I were rich, I’d certainly give him another whirl soon. He made the top 5 with Eric, Daniel, David and Mario, but he might have to duke it out with Bobby for that slot soon.

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.

Same Food, Different Name: Former Red Hen Showcases its Golden Egg – Chef/Owner

The Red Hen flew the coop..well not really. Red Hen Bistro just has a new name – Robert Andrew’s Kitchen, which is more suitable because it’s all about Robert. I’m not bragging about him; it’s just that he handles his kitchen all by his lonesome self. Why, because he’s a perfectionist at his craft and doesn’t want any dish going out beneath his standard of excellence.

flatbread with tomato and white bean dip

flatbread with tomato and white bean dip

And so we returned to the same location with only a different name on the door and some updated selections on the menu for spring. I don’t always like change, but this change is sublime. Quite honestly, my meal is not affected by the name on the door. We were seated at the table in the front window that faces all the other diners, feeling like we were looking upon our people. These were not ‘my people’ for sure. What has happened to eating etiquette?

Two tables in front of and perpendicular to us, there was a man in his 50s who received the succulent-looking pistachio-crusted rack of lamb. I ogled as he shoveled all of the vegetables forkful upon forkful into his gaping mouth. Echoes of my childhood filled the air: “Chew what’s in your mouth before putting more in.” It was like observing an eagle landing in a field with its wings spread to prevent a predator from stealing its food. Then, he began to attack the bones, picking them up and gnawing on them like a dog in training for a street fight. These were not ‘my people’.

We felt like we were hosting our own dinner party, and we were the guests of honor or royalty. The other diners glanced our way from time to time. I had fun pretending they were the peasants, but even jesters would have better manners. My attention was immediately pulled away from the savage beast when our appetizers floated down from the heavens onto our table: seared day boat scallops/fennel vinaigrette/parsley oil/blood orange salad/buttermilk foam/snow pea shoots (yes, that was one dish) and African adobo spiced tuna, seared/mango and avocado salsa/champagne cucumber noodles/crispy plantain chips. All the components played nicely together and were harmonious in color and contrasting textures. The hostess stopped in mid-question when she saw the enjoyment worn upon my facial expressions: “how is….” I said I hoped I wasn’t too loud with my mmmm’s.Day Boat Scallops

Spiced Tuna

Spiced Tuna

  My preference is to order a different entrée than my dining partner so I can sneak a taste of more than one. But the description of the new Chilean Sea Bass dish (pan roasted/caramelized shitake mushrooms/shaved asparagus with shallot and pancetta vinaigrette/crispy potato dumplings) hooked my selfishness to explore every morsel on that plate without having to share a bite and to be able to steal more of it if he couldn’t finish. During my last few bites, I glanced up to now see a 60-something couple directly in front of us, texting and playing games on their phones as their food is being placed in front of them. Really? I overheard the woman comment earlier on the amuse bouche (mushroom flan with vegetable ratatouille and braised short rib meat in an egg shell) how it tasted like rice pilaf! She was so immersed in her video game, she didn’t even taste or know what she was eating. It actually took some effort not to tell her that there was no rice in there. It was slanderous and disrespectful to Robert’s artful and carefully crafted creation. She was not worthy.

Chilean Sea Bass

Chilean Sea Bass

It took every spoonful of the banana croissant bread pudding to ease my mind and distract me from the kingdom of dining criminals before us. Oh, where has the honor gone for the culinary arts? I swear I am not a food snob; my mother just taught me how to respect and appreciate food and eat like a human.