Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category
Last week, I had the opportunity to have dinner at Mari Vanna, a traditional Russian restaurant on E. 20th Street in Manhattan. It was my first “dine-around” dinner with the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, and the date also happened to be my birthday. So, it was a nice way to celebrate.
Ambiance is part of any great dining experience, even if it’s non-ambiance, as in the case of some mom-and-pop places where the food is the focal point. The word “ambiance” really doesn’t even fit Mari Vanna. They’ve created a sense of place. A world, in fact.
Upon entering Mari Vanna, you feel like you are entering a turn-of-the-19th-century shop/café, with its trinkets and small café tables. The furniture is mostly (I think) baroque and reminiscent of an Old World country home. There was one woman at our table who happened to be Russian (she’d been born in Moscow but moved here when she was 7) and she described the restaurant as “like going to grandma’s house.” Indeed, a china cabinet was jammed with plates, baking dishes, gravy boats, candy dishes, soup bowls, and an assortment of other culinary vessels and utensils. It was so much like many a grandma’s kitchen.
The layout of the place was interesting, too. The main dining room was separated from the kitchen by windows, which made it seem as if beyond those windows was a garden. You can easily peek in and watch the staff cooking your meal.
There was also kitsch. Along the buffet table, and throughout the place, there were examples of Russian folk art: dolls, toys, and colorfully painted bric-a-brack. It brought a sense of charm to a room that might otherwise seem a bit stuffy. I loved the bathrooms! With its old-school pump faucets and wall-mounted toilet tanks with the chain, you really felt as if you’d stepped into another world…except for the fact that there is graffiti all over—and I do mean ALL OVER—the walls and doors. This is part of the décor and I think they actually encourage guests to scribble their own personal messages. When you exit the bathrooms, there’s an old wall-mounted rotary phone, above which is an old Stalin-era military propaganda poster. I had no idea what it said, but it did give you a sense of the atmosphere in which Russians lived in that era.
I suppose I should talk about the food. The menu consists of traditional Russian dishes, from blini with caviar to cured herring and Siberian pelmini. However, for our group, the chef and one of the NYWCA women worked on a creating a special menu. We had:
Cocktails (choice of one)
Signature vodka shot or signature martini
Salo Plate (Assortment of salt-cured pork fatback)
Meat Plate (Assortment of cured meats and charcuterie)
Soleniya (housemade picked vegetables)
Blini with Red Caviar
Smetannik (signature dessert with strawberries and cream)
All are classic Russian dishes. The dilly bread, as well as the raisin bread and pickles, was a tasty starter. The Olivier (potatoes, Russian sausage, and sage mayo) is similar to American potato salad, in that it is made with mayo, but it has a different mixture of elements (sausage, peas, and, in this case, halved quail eggs). The salad has a Hollywood folktale attached to it. Legend has it that it was named for the actor Sir Lawrence Olivier. In truth, it was named for its creator, a Belgian chef named Lucien Olivier, who created it in the 1860s at his renowned Moscow restaurant, Hermitage. (For more info on it, click HERE.
The sunflower salad consisted of tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, and—with a nod to more Western European ingredients—arugula, and topped with, of course, sunflower seeds. The vinegret was a kind of beet salad, and beets are a staple food of Eastern Europe. Speaking of beets, the borscht was exceptionally delicious and was my favorite dish of the evening. It was deeply flavored and warming (as opposed to the cold beet soup on the regular menu). By that point in the evening, though, I was already getting full and needed to leave room for everything else.
The pirogki, wheat dumplings stuffed with meat and potato-cabbage) were fun and so well balanced in cabbage and spice flavors. The blini were more like crepes than the little pancakes that are usually associated with blini, and were accompanied by red caviar and an assortment of condiments. They were light and delicate and buttery.
I’m not big on meat, but I did taste a bite of the beef stroganoff. The flavor was good, but the meat was a bit tough. The branzini, on the other hand, was delicate and cooked just right.
The desserts were all delicious, but I have to say that the Napoleon was not flaky. The smetanik was like a strawberry shortcake and cheesecake combined. The onegin was sort of like a Napoleon, but was more of a sponge cake with dried fruit and almonds.
The coordinator of the event, Wendy, was nice enough to have them put a candle in one of the cakes for my birthday. The entire staff came out with tambourines and sang a Russian song to me. I have no idea what they were saying, but it was enthusiastic and loud. As Wendy said, that’s something that will probably never happen to me again!
Of course, their specialty is their infused vodkas. There is a long list of choices and I’m sure you could spend a very long time trying out each one in a variety of ways. I had the cherry vodka with cherry soda. I thought it needed a bit more soda to sweeten it up a bit but I didn’t say anything because I was desperately fighting off a stomach bug and I didn’t think it wise to get crazy with the booze anyway. Although I did try a strawberry vodka shot after dessert. It was just so vibrantly red that I couldn’t resist. Delicious.
And that was my interesting journey through a long-ago Russia. I recommend it for the experience alone–it will definitely be a memorable one.
41 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10003
Between Park Ave and Broadway
By phone 212-777-1955
Last night, I went to the James Beard Women in Culinary Leadership dinner at Vermillion in Manhattan, where there was a panel discussion about women in the industry. The panel was made up of women who have made significant strides in the culinary world, including Lidia Bastianich; Rohini Dey, owner of Vermilion; Martha Stewart; Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation; Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of International Culinary Center; and Martha Teichner, CBS News correspondent as moderator.
While much of the discussion was focused on the obstacles women face, it also brought out how women have enhanced the the business, what qualities women bring to it, and what makes women capable. One interesting answer was were that women bring the mothering/nurturing quality that is natural to them into the kitchen because, as Martha Stewart said, it’s like having many babies. Employees need guidance and nurturing to grow as professionals. Rahini Dey pointed out that like mothers in the family sector, “mother” can be caring and compassionate when needed, and “mother” can be hard and strong and disciplinary when necessary.
Dorothy Hamilton was empathetic toward the men in her school, but having said that, she also said that she found women chefs/owners to have the most efficient, well-run kitchens she’s ever seen. Perhaps that’s also a residual effect of being taught to take care of house and home. One thing that everyone seemed to agree on is that whether you are a man or a woman, opening up a restaurant is a risky venture and no bank will invest in your business. Considering that in New York City, 59% of all restaurants fail within the first 3 years, I can’t say I blame them. Angel investors are the way to go with restaurants, and as Lidia Bastianich pointed out, the very worst thing you can do is start a restaurant under-financed. I think women, in particular, need to be careful because we have not traditionally had the financial support system that men have had.
Vermilion, on Lexington Avenue, is the second restaurant from Dey, the first being Vermilion in Chicago. Dey was a World Bank economist and a management consultant, before deciding to be a restaurateur. Ms. Dey said that for a woman to own a restaurant in India is frowned upon, which speaks to Ms. Dey’s resolve and ambition. The website decribes the cuisine as “a comtemporary global melding of Indian and Latin American cuisines.” It’s basically a fusion cuisine, elevated to gastronomic chic.
The dinner was a 5-course tasting menu and since a vegetarian menu was offered, I accepted it. I also chose to pay a little extra for the wine pairing. So here’s what I had.
Pani puri, olive and naan salad, jicama roll, and chili mint water
Wine: Vivanco Rioja Blanco
The pani puri was a flour shell with potatoes, a common street food in India. I thought the flavor was a nice combination of savory and sweet, if a little too spicy for my taste. The salad was nicely composed with mixed baby greens, pieces of pear, and dressed with Indian spices. The green olives were an unusual addition but they worked, as did the little naan croutons. The Jicama roll was a palate-cleansing counterpart to the spiciness. The crepe was light and thin and the jicama-and-fruit filling was refreshing. I didn’t care for the mint shooter; I found it too spicy for a drink and didn’t really enhance the dish in any way. Visually, it wasn’t very appealing, either.
Aloo vindaloo, tomatillo gazpacho
Plate brushed with pomegranate molasses and topped with eggplant fritter
Wine: Vivanco Rioja Blanco
The wine for the first 2 courses was a crisp white with fruity and floral notes. It was somewhat apple-y with hints of citrus.
A tapas version of a Venezuelan arepa, this corn pancake was topped with spicy potatoes—a little too spicy for me but the texture was good—and cooled down with a gazpacho shooter that was very different seasoned with Indian spices. The element on this dish that I enjoyed the most was the eggplant fritter garnish. It was light and while not crispy, not mushy either.
Vegetable caldeirada (Brazilian stew), fried papadum
Wine: Sula Chenin Blanc
Of the 4 savory courses, this one was my favorite. The soup was lightly spicy (curry?). In my bowl were bits of cauliflower, yellow squash, green and red peppers, onions, and baby greens. The non-vegetarian version also contained shellfish. I enjoyed it with the very crisp papadum. I discovered, however, that papadums are not sturdy enough to float in your soup like croutons. They kind of dissolve in your mouth, which defeats the purpose of croutons.
The wine was made with grapes from Mumbai, and its flavor profile is described as stewed apples, lychee, and a hint of minerality. Admittedly, it did have a distinctive undertone and finish that I couldn’t quite place.
Tandoori Portabella (Indian marinade), red swiss chard, sautéed spinach, plantain
Wine: Nieto Malbec
Again, the main element here was too spicy for me, and the spicy sauce that came with it did nothing to cut the heat. Having said that, the portabella mushroom had a nice flavor to it. The Swiss chard and spinach were mounded together and didn’t have very much distinctive flavor beyond that of the greens themselves, but maybe that was the point. Personally, I would have liked to have this dish with some rice. The plantain was a chip that was both visually appealing and a nice textural contrast.
The Malbec was a little oaky but fruity and a tiny bit spicy.
Trio of tastings: Mango flan, avocado beignet, and “vermilion hedonism” (dark chocolate flourless cake)
Wine: Blueberry Cardomom Fizz
I can pretty much use one word for all three items on the plate: Delicious. The Flan had a wonderful fruity flavor and wasn’t too sweet, as flans can sometimes be. The little mini cake was fudgy but fluffy at the same time. The Beignet was interesting take on the classic cream puff, filled with a chocolaty avocado filling that, again, wasn’t too sweet. I’d say it’s perfect for the winter holidays because it’s seasoned with cloves, which is not only reminiscent of the holidays but it’s a warming spice (hence its use in winter recipes).
The cardamom cocktail was slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so. It wasn’t the kind of thing I would order, though.
The most interesting aspect of Vermilion’s menu is their “herb and spice” cocktails. I’m not sure it always works, and I think you have to have a sophisticated palate to appreciate them, but I think they get an A for originality and creativity.
Obviously, I’m a wuss when it comes to spiciness, but I do believe that not every single course in a meal should be spicy. Overall, it was a nice change of pace from normal Indian or Latin meals. Certainly, don’t expect the usual fare when going out to eat either cuisines. It’s a step into the realm of unusual.
There are certain places to which every chef and food-lover must make a pilgrimage. One of those places is the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York.
Ithaca in itself is worth the trip upstate even without Moosewood being there. Part of the Finger Lakes region, it is a gorgeous area dotted with waterfalls and brimming with wineries and distilleries. You can do a wine/spirits trail, a cheese trail, waterfall trail, or go kayaking in summer or skiing in winter. Sticking to the topic of food, you can go to several ice cream shops for homemade ice cream, such as the Cayuga Lake Creamery on Route 89, along Cayuga Lake, where I had maple walnut ice cream and several other flavors, such as cinnamon, which tasted like freshly ground cassia. There’s also the Purity Ice Cream shop on Cascadilla St., which claims to have invented the first ice cream sundae. (Although several other places around the country have made the same claim.) At Purity, I had “boomberry” ice cream—black raspberry ice cream studded with pieces of cherries, blueberries and strawberries. It was simply to die for. And I can tell you that “one scoop” in Ithaca is radically different than “one scoop” in NYC—way more than I’m used to getting. The Ithaca’s Farmer’s Market is also a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
Now, onto Moosewood.
Moosewood has been a natural foods restaurant since 1973 and is collectively owned and the owners work in the restaurant. I’ve been looking at their cookbooks and even remember seeing Molly Katzen’s TV show now and then in the 1990s and I’ve wanted to go ever since.
It’s quite elegant looking on the outside, with white lights adorning the windows and ivy growing along the historic brick school building that the restaurant calls home in the Dewitt Mall on Cayuga Street. I was worried for a couple of minutes about whether my dinner companion and I were dressed appropriately (we had on shorts and hikers and sandals). But once inside, I saw how casual the atmosphere was. There were people there who were dressed for a special evening and others, some with children, who looked as if this is one of their local eateries. And I guess it is.
Truly, the décor is so unassuming as to be almost boring, but I don’t think anyone ever goes for the ambiance. The food is the star of the show here. However, I think sitting outside is probably quite lovely on a beautiful day (we chose to sit inside because it was a hot day and we desperately needed the air conditioning). There was an issue with the menus—we had to wait a bit because they had run out of menus, which seemed odd, unless their printer had broken down—but at no time did we feel rushed. We ordered and ate at our leisure. Two points for that.
I had a white sangria, made with organic white Cottonwood wine, fresh orange and lemon juices, and seltzer and it had pieces of apple and pear and grapes soaking in the bottom of the glass. It was light and fresh and just what I needed after a warm day of Farmer’s Market shopping and watching kayakers make their way down Cayuga Lake.
Both our dinners began with a green salad. The greens were very fresh and it was a nice blend that included baby greens. My companion chose the miso dressing and felt that there could have been a little more of it and that it would have been improved by the addition of sesame seeds. I thought my honey-Dijon was just right. However, more than one olive in our salads would have been nice (we both love olives).
We split a black bean dip with organic nachos. The dip was cumin-y and a bit smoky, but slightly sweet, smooth on the tongue and flecked with pieces of black bean. We discovered that it paired very well with the grape tomatoes that came on the plate.
I ordered the Caribbean Vegetable Stew with Jerk Tofu. This was a mélange of sweet potatoes, okra, kale, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, onions, ginger, and chilis served over brown rice. While it was slightly on the spicy side, it was otherwise very lightly seasoned. Some people would probably say that it was bland, but I thought it worked well because I was able to taste each individual vegetable on its own, and I think that’s what they were going for. The tofu was spicy but nicely balanced by the brown rice.
I think my partner made the best possible choice with the Polenta Lasagna. It was full of flavor, enhanced immensely by the ricotta and mozzarella. The polenta they used was the coarse kind, which gave it a chewy, toothsome texture, and the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash were nicely grilled. The dish had the allure of comfort food but it was elevated comfort food.
The portions were good—big enough to feel that you actually ate but small enough that if you finished it all, you wouldn’t feel like a fatted goose. Although neither one of us finished everything on our plate, we came pretty close. This, however, prevented us from being able to order dessert. I decided I’d save dessert for the next day.
I had planned on having lunch there the following day (Sunday) but I was extremely disappointed to find that it was closed. It was my mistake for assuming they were open without checking, but who knew the restaurant would opt out of serving the Sunday brunch crowd. (I knew I should have ordered that dessert while I had the chance.) So, unfortunately, my experience with Moosewood’s food is limited to, and I can only base my opinion on, those few items. So far.
Was it the most fabulous meal I’ve ever had? No. But their goal is to provide good, high-quality, healthy meals that taste good, make you feel satisfied, and are kind to the earth. I think they’ve succeeded.
I had Tibetan food for the first time last week and I have to tell you, I enjoyed it immensely.
The Himalayan Yak is a quiet establishment just off the main hustle and bustle of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York. If it weren’t for the fairly large sign above it, you might not even realize that the restaurant is there. But once you notice the dark, ornately carved doors, you know something good must be behind them.
Stepping through those doors almost gives you a feeling of stepping into a Tibetan temple and that you should probably speak in hushed tones. More dark wood greets you inside, along with Tibetan artwork on the walls. A flat screen TV showing programs on Tibet is the one thing that seems out of place (well, that and the pop music coming through the speakers). But the atmosphere is not at all uncomfortable. Once settled into our seats, my lunch companion and I fell naturally into conversation.
On the table were copper water goblets, which we promptly filled from the cork-topped bottle of water that was brought to our table. That bit of exoticism was contrasted by the very modern, “clean” plating of our food. It was very difficult deciding what to order, since everything looked mouth-wateringly delicious.
We ordered tsel momo, vegetable-filled, pan-fried dumplings; tzel nezom, a sautéed vegetable dish with tofu; shoku khatsa (aloo dum), a dish of pan-fried potatoes in a spicy chili sauce, served with bhaleb, a flatbread similar to naan, only thicker; and a tingmo, a Tibetan steamed bun.
When we received the tsel momo, they looked absolutely scrumptious. I cut into one and immediately said to my friend, “I think they gave us meat.” Indeed, they had. What we got instead was sha bakleb, which are patties filled with beef. Since this was my first time eating in a Tibetan restaurant, I didn’t pick up the fact that tsel momo dumplings look different than the patties. (like Chinese dumplings).
The sautéed vegetables was a combination of peppers, mushrooms, baby corn, bok choy, carrots, and some kind of green in a light but very flavorful brown sauce. That came with a beautifully cooked bowl of rice. The one problem I had with this dish is that it was supposed to have tofu in it and it did not. The potato dish was excellent, although I find it odd that it would be a main entrée because that’s all there was to the dish—potatoes. The fact that it came with bread is also odd. Maybe you’re supposed to use it to mop up the leftover sauce at the end, but it was an awful lot of bread just to do that. But the bread itself was fluffy and addictive. I used it to pick up the sauces that came to the table with our food. There were three sauces, each one a different heat level: a mild green sauce that was almost like a Latin salsa verde (much more green than the picture shows); a medium, orange one that had a creamy consistency; and a spicy, fiery red one. All of them were rich and savory.
Besides the errors in our orders, my complaint comes in the timing. It took them about 45 minutes to serve us. In a way, that’s good because it means that they don’t have the food already prepared and waiting to just be warmed up. I suspect that the food was made fresh. And they probably don’t cater to the typical “lunch crowd” —i.e., people who only have an hour to get there, eat, and get back. However, the restaurant was hardly crowded. Other than us, there were only 2 other tables with customers, so I can’t help but feel that 45 minutes was a bit much. We had to call our supervisor and tell her what was happening and ask for more time.
Because our food came so late, one we did get it and I realized the errors (the wrong appetizer and missing tofu), there was just no time to send them back and wait for new dishes. We probably would have been there another half hour waiting. So, instead, we ate what we got and enjoyed it regardless.
The server was very nice, however, and we did not punish her for the wait time by undertipping. (You should never do that, by the way, because it is not the server’s fault if your food is not coming out of the kitchen. Now, if your server is standing around chatting while your dishes are waiting to be picked up, that’s another story. But chances are, if he/she is that lazy, you’re getting bad service right from the start.) I get the feeling that dinner is when they really get hopping, and I’ve heard they have live music.
Despite the missteps, we plan on going back, but on a day when we know we can linger a little longer. Either that, or we’ll order ahead. As far as the food goes, I highly recommend it. Just prepared to be there a while, and check your order when you get it.
March 19-29, 2012, was Dine in Brooklyn Week, when people all over NYC have a chance to sample a 3-course meal in some of the best dining establishments in the borough for $25. While I wished I could have taken advantage of many of the great restaurants that are opening in Brooklyn—making it THE new culinary hotspot—alas, I was only able to try one (when you’re broke, $25 is a lot of money). That place was Soigne on 6th Ave. and 10th St. in Park Slope.
The word soigné in French means “well-groomed, sleek, sophisticated elegance,” which it delivered in both their ambiance and food. The décor was instantly pleasing. Its chic, upscale look was tempered with a sense of warmth and casualness. I saw people dining there in t-shirts (which I don’t necessarily approve of because unless you’re going to a burger joint or a Cracker Barrel, I think you should put on a nice shirt), and one table had a toddler in a high-chair. The lighting was intimate but bright enough that you could see what you were eating. They also have outside seating, which in warmer months will be very pleasant on 6th Ave., which is mostly residential and has less traffic than the busier 4th, 5th, and 7thAvenues.
I started my meal with a coconut margarita on the rocks with salt. They were not stingy with the tequila, and the drink packed a bit of a punch. Although, I can’t say that the coconut flavor was as upfront as I would have liked. We then ordered from a prix fixe menu.
The servers brought to our table two silver tumblers of bouchées, which are small pastries, usually puffed and filled with something. Translated, bouchée means “mouthful,” referring to their size (they were about the size of small cream puffs). These bouchées were made with cheese (probably gruyère), so I was surprised that they weren’t referred to as gougères, which are traditional French cheese puffs. They had a sharp, salty flavor that cheese lovers would appreciate, but may not appeal to everyone, as was the case at my table.
Next, we were treated to an amuse-bouche of cold potato soup. Again, I don’t know why they didn’t call it vichyssoise, unless they anticipated being asked a million times what it was and just decided to call it what it is, but whatever. The soup was served in little cups and had bits of bacon floating on top. One of the members of my party is a vegan and requested that they give her a soup without bacon and they happily accommodated her. (She would have picked them off the top except that they said that the bacon sometimes sinks into the soup.) The soup was silky and delicious with a slight hint of sweetness. Coupled with the bouchées, it was an outstanding start to the meal.
For the first course, I had Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, containing wild mushrooms and topped with chives and artichoke chips. It was light but so satisfying. The mushrooms added a nice meatiness and the chips gave it a delicate crunch. Two of my friends had the crab cakes, which I tasted. I’m not a big seafood fan and, admittedly, they were a bit on the fishy side for me, but aside from that, they were fresh and well seasoned—not too much, not too little—and they were complimented by a white balsamic-tomato jam. Alas, no one had the spring salad. I would have loved to try that as well, since it contained trumpet royale mushrooms, roasted fennel, frisée, and chevre and was dressed in a sherry vinaigrette. Sounded good.
For the second course, I had English Pea Risotto, with mascarpone, white truffle, and a parmigiano-reggiano tuile. It was truly delicious. I thought the rice could have been cooked just a drop more, but other than that, everything worked together perfectly. The mascarpone gave it a nice creaminess, while the tuile provided the crunch. One friend ordered the 8 oz. Boneless Rib Eye and she enjoyed it immensely. I tried some the truffled French fries that accompanied it and they were addictive. The seasoning was bold but not overpowering and I could definitely detect the truffle powered (I’m assuming it was truffle powder). It also came with Cabernet-black pepper butter and watercress.
Another friend ordered the duck confit, which came on a bed of lentils dup puy, white asparagus, and red wine-poached salsify. I didn’t get to taste any of it, but it looked beautifully cooked and judging from its disappearing act, I believe my friend enjoyed it.
Other choices on the pri fixe menu were Pan-Roasted Skate with Yukon gold gnocchi, favas, morels, sunchoke puree, and sunchoke emulsion; and Niman Ranch Pork Tenderloin with roasted apple, fingerling potatoes, glazed cippollinis, and grain mustard bordelaise.
For dessert, we had two choices: Valrhona Chocolate Flourless Torte and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake. The torte was great, as sumptuous as you’d expect a flourless cake to be and as chocolaty as you’d expect a Valrhona dessert to be. There was, however, some displeasure over the strawberry puree that came with it—some felt that it wasn’t sweet enough. I disagreed. The cake is sweet enough and I thought the puree was a nice counterbalance. It was topped with crème fraiche cream, which lightened everything up.
The cheesecake was smooth, cream,y and satisfying and the vanilla bean flavor came through. The black plum caramel was less sugary than regular caramel, and I liked that. The honey-poached plum on top, however, was probably the one thing that was unanimously disliked at the table. They were not ripe and, therefore, a bit tart, yet they were bland. And for something that was “honey-poached,” those otherwise pretty slices should have tasted sweeter. Believe me, I’m not a huge sugar person; I have a limit to how much sweetness I can stand in a dessert, so for me to say that it needed to be sweeter, it needed to be sweeter.
At the end, we were treated again to a plate of little cookies, chocolate with a cream filling that reminded me of dulce de leche. It was grainer than dulce de leche but delicious nonetheless.
The total, with drinks, was $40 per person. An incredible deal for a restaurant that is normally on the pricey side. We all walked out of there very satisfied. It was a visually and orally satisfying meal, and the servers were very pleasant and accommodating. We were won over.
Well, my internship at the James Beard House is over and my feelings about it are mixed. I miss spending the day working with food, putting my skills to use, and using new equipment. I miss preparing ingredients that I would normally (or rarely) be in contact with, such as truffles, fresh-from-the-farm baby golden beets, and micro-celery. I miss the adrenaline rush at service time, when 80 beautifully designed, identical plates have to get out in 5 minutes, which has to be repeated at least half a dozen times, and usually more. It’s a rush that lingers even at the end of the night, when it’s 11 p.m. and you’ve been on your feet for 12 or 13 hours, and your feet are throbbing and your back is screaming and your fingers ache from chopping several pounds of onions, and your hands are scarred and burned from the momentary lapses in memory or judgment, when you forget that the pot was only just turned off or the sheet pan has been sitting on the industrial pilot light all afternoon. I miss the satisfied smiles on people’s faces as they come through the kitchen to leave, and their comments about how fabulous everything was. I miss being part of that creation. I miss the satisfying contrast of having just done a shift doing something I love when I am at my full-time job hating what I’m doing. It gave me something to look forward to—a glimmer of hope that there is something else out there for me.
What I don’t miss is being on my throbbing feet for 12 or 13 hours, the backaches, the painful burns. I don’t miss getting home at midnight, thoroughly exhausted, yet unable to fall asleep because of the adrenaline still coursing through my body, and having to get up early to go to work the next day.
If I were younger, I would probably be able to deal with the “cons” for the rewarding “pros” of restaurant/catering work. But, unfortunately, I came to this juncture in the road later in life and, physically, it’s just not something I can do full time. Sure, I can handle it on a temporary basis, in short spurts, or occasionally. But all the time? No. I’ve been a personal chef and that is exhausting as well, but it’s on a totally different level in terms of time constraints and control, both of which are in your hands. But it’s also a tough business to negotiate. You’re totally in control…and you’re totally responsible. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, bookkeeping, marketing, etc. Just the marketing alone was daunting enough to make me run and scream. So, I’m looking elsewhere.
But I digress. I was talking about James Beard and I wanted to share some of my observations.
While every chef had a different take on food, a different disposition, and a different way of running a kitchen, I also noticed some common riffs. For example, ice cream was a common component of dessert. I understand this, since one of the rules of good meal planning is to use a combination of textures. Ice cream fits the “smooth and creamy” bill easily and it’s a crowd pleaser. But I read somewhere a criticism of the use—or rather, overuse—of ice cream in desserts. Whoever it was said that they were sick of seeing ice cream in every chi-chi dessert. On one hand, I agree. Surely, these highly acclaimed chefs could find something else to fill that texture bill; on the other hand, people really love ice cream and the flavors that can be created are boundless. (Of course, some people get a little out of control with the flavors, but that’s another story.)
Another similar theme was the use of gaufrettes (waffle chips). One chef using them was not remarkable; three chefs using them meant it was a trend. It told me that waffle chips have become a go-to item to make dishes look pretty and appealing. I don’t know if this has been the case for a long time or if it’s a relatively new trend, but personally I can take gaufrettes or leave them.
I also noticed that most chefs have embraced the use of the “spoon push” when saucing plates. I know that there are only so many ways to sauce a dish, but pretty much everyone has adopted this particular practice. Micro greens were the ubiquitous garnish, but since the JB House supplied those, it made sense. Duck ham, or duck prosciutto, seems to be another currently hot product. Maybe it’s been around a while, I don’t know, but it was certainly new to me. Poached pears were also a popular dessert component.
Each chef also had their own little touches that were unique to him or her. Chef Kaldrovic, from Sea Glass at the Inn by the Sea, used his own homemade lobster oil to garnish his lobster bisque. Blackberry Farm used their own charcuterie. Chef Ryan Poli, of Tavernita in Chicago, created a really nice “natural” serving platter by combining kosher salt with whole spices. Tony Esnault, from Patina/Los Angeles, cut his imported French truffles into thin little circles to garnish various dishes. And Fortunato Nicotra at Felidia had his gluten-free ravioli, as well as housemade burrata. Only one dinner had themed drinks: Blue Inc., with their Anorexic Model (Pierre Ferrand Cognac with Lychee Bubbles, St. Germain, and Berry Garnish) and Blonde Afro Puff (Chocolate Martini with Giant Marshmallow) and liquid PB&J, courtesy of wine director Tricia LaCount.
I also want to say the staff at the JB House were all so helpful, patient, and hard working. I always felt particularly terrible for the dishwashers as the evening went on and the massive piles of bowls, pots and pans, dishes, and multitude of utensils piled up higher and higher. Those guys have their work cut out for them.
The things I experienced and the lessons I learned at James Beard will always be in my mind as I move into the next phase of my life. I suspect that as I work with food, at home or at a job, I will have flashbacks to my days and nights at the JB House. I welcome those flashbacks as reminders that I was lucky enough to not only get a scholarship from the James Beard Foundation but to get some training at one of the most prestigious organizations in the culinary world. In the end, it may or may not get me where I want to go, but I’ll always have that particular notch on my belt. I met some really great people—some humble, some eccentric, all intensely focused on their art. If I learned only one thing, it’s that no one is perfect, not even highly acclaimed chefs at the top of their game who have been invited to cook at the James Beard House. And if those people can make mistakes and still be considered great chefs, then so can I.
Thanks to everyone at the James Beard House for being so nice. It was a pleasure to work with them all and I hope to see them again, as both a volunteer and a diner.
If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would find myself in Foley, Alabama, twice in a lifetime, I would’ve said you were nuts. Yet, for the second time in my life, I indeed found myself in Foley, Alabama.
Foley is on the southern end of Alabama and sits along the Gulf Coast, making it a popular beach town. The coast line is loaded with hotels and beach home rentals, and on a sun-parched day, you can see beach-goers trundling their way back to their digs. I first went there on a cross-country trip (which I blogged about HERE) and I was there again recently during a day trip around the Gulf Coast.
I was visiting a friend for a long weekend and, despite the savage tornadoes that had hit nearby towns in the previous couple of days, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. So, we headed over to Mobile, went across Mobile Bay to a little town called Fairhope, and then down to Foley. We then shot across a long strip of land (much like Long Island and kind of shaped like a sideways stocking) that was occupied mostly by private beach homes. At the end of that peninsula, we caught a ferry over to Dauphin Island—another sleepy beach town, minus the tourists—then went over a bridge back to the mainland. It was the perfect day for a trip like that, the sea air was relaxing, and our minds and bodies got a much needed break.
But this is not a travel blog, it’s a food blog, right? So, let’s head back to Foley. On my last trip there, we encountered a place called Lambert’s Café. It caught our attention because the signage for the café boasts “Home of Throwed Rolls.” As a food writer, how could I not investigate? So, we went in and I ordered a box of throwed rolls to go (we were not inclined to eat at that point). I inquired of the clerk why they were called throwed rolls. I thought it had something to do with how they baked them, just like drop biscuits are so called because the batter is dropped onto a baking sheet. But the clerk replied, “Because they throw them at you.”
“Excuse me?” I thought I had misheard.
“They throw them at you.” She looked at me as if had just asked her where her red-headed child came from.
The order desk is a little off to the side of the main dining area in Lambert’s, so while I waited for my rolls, I casually walked a few steps over and peered into the dining room. Sure enough, Lambert’s wait staff was chucking hot rolls at the guests. Legend has it that Norman Lambert, son of the first owner, would walk around the original location (there are 3), and hand out the rolls. One day, it was so packed that Norman couldn’t get to everyone and one customer, anxious to get his roll, shouted, “Throw the dang thing!” It stuck and it’s been a tradition ever since.
Having a hot roll lobbed at you isn’t the most fascinating thing about Lambert’s, though. It’s the menu. Or, more precisely, what you get from the menu. Here’s how it works: You order something from the menu and choose your sides. In addition, Lambert’s staff walks around with bowls of different sides, such as fried okra, black-eyed peas, and potatoes. You can have as much of any of these sides as you want. And, of course, there are the carts of freshly baked, warm rolls.
By the time we finished our dinner, I had more food on my plate than when I started. It’s a slightly disorienting experience—kind of like when someone keeps filling your glass of wine every time you turn around, and when you turn back, you wonder where it came from and whether you had actually drunk any. Unfortunately, my camera is coming to the end of its lifespan and so my close-up shots of my plate came out fuzzy, but you can still see the amount of food on the dish. The beverage cups, by the way, are bigger than my head. Between the two of us, we had enough pink lemonade to take out and refresh us throughout the rest of our journey that day.
Is Lambert’s food the best of its kind that I’ve ever had? No, but it’s good, satisfying, and filling (very). It’s also a fun and funny place (the interior is much like Cracker Barrel) and the throwing around of rolls elicits laughter and joking. It’s also a good place to stop if you’re on the road because you can always take your leftovers and ensure another meal for yourself and save money. The rolls are the best part—they’re fluffy, warm, and addictive.
They also make their own sorghum molasses, which they offer to diners to spread on their throwed rolls. I bought a small jar the last time I was there and decided to splurge on the 2.7-pound can. Sorghum molasses is a little harder to find in New York than it is down South so I stocked up. (I stocked up with 5 lbs of pecans, too, while in AL, which prompted the TSA scanner guy at the airport to comment that I had a little food in my bag. I told him that it was just a snack.) Keep in mind that if you’re flying, you can’t take sorghum in the main cabin with you, unless it’s less than 3 ounces. Pack it in your checked bags.
Some famous customers who have patronized Lambert’s have been: Elvis Presley; Morgan Freemen; Jay Leno; Tanya Tucker; Clint Eastwood; Waylon Jennings; Tammy Wynette; and many more.
Lambert’s 3 locations are in Sikeston, MO; Ozark, MO; and Foley, AL. Their website is www.ThrowedRolls.com.
2981 S. McKenzie
Foley, AL 36535
In honor of Lambert’s, here’s a recipe for rolls with sorghum molasses. The recipe is on the Internet, posted by numerous people, but no one seems to know who the original source actually is. Spread them with sorghum molasses. Enjoy!
Yield: 12 rolls
1 teaspoon sugar
1 (1/4 ounce) package dry active yeast
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten (at room temp.)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine sugar and yeast in 1/4 cup tepid water (105-110 degrees). Let stand 5-10 minutes until yeast begins to foam.
- Thoroughly mix milk, butter, sugar, egg and salt in large bowl.
- Stir in the yeast mixture and 3 1/2 cups of the flour, adding a bit more if necessary to make a soft, pliable dough.
- Turn dough out on floured board and let rest. Clean and butter the bowl.
- Knead dough gently 4-5 minutes, adding flour if necessary, until dough is smooth and silky.
- Return to bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until doubled in size about (1-1/2 hours).
- Butter a 12 cup muffin tin.
- Punch down dough.Pinch off pieces that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (enough to fill one-half of muffin cup). Roll each piece into smooth balls. Place two pieces in each muffin cup.
- Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap for 45 minutes.
- Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes, or until light brown.
- Serve as soon as they are cool enough to throw.
Day 9: Chef Ron Eyester, Rosebud, Atlanta, GA
Day 9 of my internship was non-stop. I began working almost immediately and it seemed like I never stopped. There was no break to speak of, although food was brought in to munch on as we worked.
Chef Ron Esyester has a little bit of a reputation. He created an alter ego for Twittering and called himself “The Angry Chef.” It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek vehicle for venting his frustrations with the biz. Eatocracy, CNN’s food blog, invited him to do a blog, called “Six ways customers tick off chefs,” and he was skewered by commenters who did everything from calling him names to sending him death threats.
I asked him if he really tells off his customers. He said, “I’m not afraid to let customers know what’s on my mind. I’m of the belief that the customer is not always right. But I do believe that a guest is a guest.” (I hope he realizes that I was just kidding by asking him that!)
But that doesn’t seem to really be him. In fact, I didn’t find him to be angry at all. On the contrary, he was very even-tempered and quite patient with me, even when I wasn’t sure about how to do something. And he’s quite involved in philanthropic activities: he volunteers at local schools, serves on the board of a local farmer’s market, and donates meals to firefighters on Thanksgiving.
But he definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer. He infuses his work with humor and a tongue-in-cheekery that reflects his non-traditional path in the culinary world: he didn’t go to culinary school—he went to The Citadel, a military college, and received a degree in Literature. And when another volunteer and I called him “Chef,” as we were taught to do in school, he told us to just called him Ron, that he couldn’t stand the whole “Chef” thing. In fact, everyone to him is “brother” or “sister,” as in, “How’s that salad coming, sister?” and “Can you take care of this for me, brother?” His menu is an example of his down-to-earth style: the beverage selection is called “stuff to drink,” the eggs on the brunch menu is “stuff with eggs,” and the favorites list on the brunch menu is “stuff regulars eat.” The pricing of the available wines are described as “cheap,” “decent,” and “good.” He is a believer in locavore eating, something he picked up from his former boss, Scott Crawford, who came to assist him the night of the Beatles dinner.
He’s very into music and got this idea from a Jerry Garcia dinner he did a couple of years ago. In fact, he has different ideas for combining music and food. To him, they are often (if not always) intertwined. For example, he found himself so well prepared, that he had time to devised an extra hors d’oeuvre—a soup shooter, which he concocted from the poaching liquid from the haddock (see menu below). He called this “Beatles Bisque,” and commented that it’s like an encore after a concert—a little extra something. We had music going in the kitchen all day long, from (of course) the Beatles to the Band to James Brown. One of the JBF staff who came in said, “It’s like a jam session in here.” I sang my way through dinner that night.
By the end of the night, I was showing my work on my physical being: I was covered in chocolate from the dessert and smelled fishy. One of the things he had me do was to make a roux, which I whisked into an oyster soup, which got on my hands; I trimmed and chopped scallops; later, I removed the little suction cups from the tentacles of several octopi; then, I chopped anchovies; and during dinner service, I poured the impromptu “Beatles Bisque.” By the time I left the JB House, I had a somewhat oceanic aroma about me. I think a couple of cats tried to follow me home.
On the other hand, oysters and chocolate are considered aphrodisiacs, so it could have been a worse combination.
I’ve never heard of anyone removing the suction cups from octopus tentacles, and that was definitely a new experience. My favorite task that evening was cutting up and cooking mushrooms. But I’m talking about a HUGE pot of mushrooms. The pot I used was a rondeau, which a child could take a bath in. Seriously. The mushrooms were for the Braised Mushroom Manicotti with Lightly Pickled Leeks, Lamb Jus, and Midnight Moon Cheese, and it was a combination of cremini, king, shiitake, enoke, and trumpet mushrooms, plus a black mushroom that I had never seen before (and neglected to ask about). They were foraged and were mixed with leaves, twigs, and rocks that I had to pick out. But what a gorgeous mixture of fungus! Part of the dessert was a pistachio cream, which I made using the fabulous Vitamix blender (one of my fantasy toys). It was so smooth and delicious, I fell in love with it. It’s going to be my new dessert topper. You can see more photos HERE.
You say you want a revolution? Well, you know… Okay, I don’t know where I’m going with this Beatles song reference, so here’s the menu:
Beatles Tribute Dinner
I Am the Walrus — Scallion-Baked Eggs with Milk-Poached Haddock and Cornflake Crostini
Eleanor Rigby — Carolina Rice Fritters with Dates and Curried Honey
Penny Lane — Fish’n’Chips with Potato Gaufrettes, Onion Crème Fraîche, and White Anchovies
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away — Spaghetti and Nantucket Cape Scallop Egg Roll
Lamberti Extra Dry Prosecco NV
Octopus’s Garden — Chilled Octopus with Baby Fennel, White Beans, Borage Cress, and Citrus–Oyster Vinaigrette
Conti Formentini Pinot Grigio 2010
Magical Mystery Tour — Braised Mushroom Manicotti with Lightly Pickled Leeks, Lamb Jus, and Midnight Moon Cheese
La Scolca Pinot Nero 2008
And Your Bird Can Sing — English Tea–Braised White Oak Pastures Chicken with Georgia Grits, Olives, and Natural Jus
Museum Tempranillo Crianza 2008
Piggies — Crispy Pork Cutlet with Mean Mr. Mustard–Bacon Sauerkraut and Lemon and Honey–Marinated Dried Apricots
Hugel Riesling 2009
The Ballad of John and Yoko — Buttermilk–Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Purée and High Road Craft White Chocolate–Toffee Crunch Ice Cream
Churchill’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto NV
Savoring Spain with Chef Ryan Poli
Day 8 of my Internship at James Beard was spent “Savoring Spain” with Chef Ryan Poli from Tavernita restaurant in Chicago.
Working with a different chef and crew each time has given me a broad view of attitudes and atmosphere in different circles, and it’s been very interesting. You can get a general sense of what it’s like to work with that chef because a person is usually the same at work as they are at home.
Of course, how a crew behaves at the James Beard House can be different than how it behaves in its own environment because it’s a special occasion for a chef to do a dinner at the JBH. A spotlight shines on them that they don’t have on them every day (even if they are a celebrity chef) and everyone who attends is focused on the food in a way that the average diner is not. Not to mention that the press is always at these dinners: representatives from such publications as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and at one time, Gourmet. Interviews take place, photos are taken, and the food is reviewed.
There was a sense of nervousness in the air that I felt the moment I walked in to work with the Tavernita crew, and much of the day was spent working in silence. There was shop talk and a little bantering, but for the most part, everyone was focused on their task. Chef Ryan checked and re-checked his mise en place for every single dish and I could see the focus in his eyes.
I’m not sure where the anxiety was coming from—I’m sure he’s been in the spotlight before. But he seemed to know exactly what he was doing and I had no doubt that it would all come off well in the end. Even when trying to figure out the plating, he seemed to have a vision that he managed to express, even if everything wasn’t exactly as he had planned.
Working at the James Beard House, I feel the way Steve Martin and Alec Balwin must feel hosting Saturday Night Live: I know the behind-the-scenes crew, even though the “on air” talent changes; I know how the stage feels; and I know where the bathrooms are. Therefore, I had no qualms telling him not to worry, that it would all come together. I’ve seen moments of panic, anxiety, and frustration, but, always, the dinners come out marvelous and the diners walk out exhilarated. Dinner on this night was no exception. Everyone walked out with the usual look of sated euphoria and compliments to the chef. And with a sigh of relief from Chef Ryan.
I don’t do oysters so I can’t comment on those, but the croquettes—a round mouthful of a crispy coating with an incredibly smooth, creamy interior—and the Pintxos de Escalivada (roasted peppers and eggplant on grilled bread) were quintessential Spanish tapas fare. The patatas bravas were Chef Ryan’s spin on the classic Spanish dish, which is usually potatoes cut into chunks, fried, and topped with a spicy tomato-based sauce. Chef Ryan’s version turned the potatoes into little cylinder-shaped cups and filled with two sauces: a spicy chile sauce and a garlic aioli (unless I’m getting my sauces mixed up). One pop into the mouth and you got all flavors coming together to make one composite burst. (The cape gooseberries that went with the gin-and-tonic drink for this course was delicious—sweet-tart with a slight hint of tomato.)
I didn’t try the octopus either, but it was visually stunning. They cooked it sous vide (a slow, low-temp bath) and then grilled them for that smoky flavor and bright color. Arranged on the plates, it was a work of art. And one of these days, I’m going to have to try making crispy artichokes. Delicious!
People were duly impressed with the leche frita (fried milk) and many people asked how that was done. I wasn’t in on the process from the beginning, but the “milk” is made into a custard, which is allowed to set in the refrigerator. Then it is cut into rectangles, breaded, and fried. It had a appealing texture and a mild custard-y flavor that was enhanced by almond ice cream, almond crumble, and dulce de leche. People were fascinated by it.
More photos HERE.
Here’s the menu:
Pickled Oyster Cocktails
Ibérico Ham Croquettes
Pintxos de Escalivada (Roasted Vegetables on Grilled Bread)
Housemade Sweet Vermouth
Winter Gin and Tonic > Death’s Door Gin with Clementine, Cape Gooseberries, and Winter Spices
Fluke Crudo with Artichokes, Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts
Arabako Txakolina Xarmant Txakoli 2010
Beet–Artichoke Salad with Arugula, Cabrales Blue Cheese, Crispy Artichokes, and Pickled Shallots
Burgáns Albariño 2010
Octopus with Fennel, Orange, and Olive Tapenade
CVNE Viña Real Reserva Rioja Crianza 2007
Rib-Eye with Potatoes, Sweet-and-Sour Fennel, and Habanero Chile Butter
D. Ventura Viña do Burato Mencia Lurra Garnacha 2009
Fried Milk Pudding with Almond Ice Cream, Almond Crumble, and Dulce de Leche
Lustau Solera Reserva San Emilio Pedro Ximénez Sherry NV
Gluten-Free Italian Indulgence
Chef: Fortunato Nicotra, Executive Chef of Felidia in NYC
On February 1, 2012, I did day 5 of my internship at the James Beard House. I assisted Chef Fortunato Nicotro, Executive Chef at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s restaurant in NYC.
It was the most interesting day for me thus far. First, I signed into the volunteer log book as usual. The log book has a column for the chef/event, for the volunteer’s name and signature, time in/out, and one for the volunteer’s school. I saw that another volunteer had already signed it and in the school column, it said “NG.” That meant Natural Gourmet. I haven’t seen another NGI student at JBH—most of the volunteers are either from ICE or FCI (Institute for Culinary Education and French Culinary Institute). When she walked back in, I introduced myself and found out that she graduated a couple of years ago and is now doing well with a catering and home-delivery business. (Shout out to Amy!) She lives in Western New York State and just happened to be in NYC this particular weekend and decided to volunteer.
Then, the chef and his crew arrived a short while later and as they came in, I immediately recognized one of them. She was another NGI alumnus, who graduated a few months ago, and I had helped out with her Friday Night Dinner. (Report on that FND HERE.) She interned at Felidia, which turned into a job. How about that for a coincidence? So, not only were there 3 NGI graduates there (when I was usually the only one), but one was a member of the chef’s crew, and I had actually worked on her Friday Night Dinner. I mean, I could have worked any Friday Night Dinner over the course of 11 months, and I happened to choose that person’s FND, and then encounter this person on a JBH shift of my choosing. What a small, weird world it is. (Shout out to Debbie!)
That was pretty cool. But my night became even more dramatic when, just prior to the guests arriving, two women walked in and leaned against the counter. Since all guests have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room, I really didn’t pay attention. I was busy spooning broccoli rabe into little shot glasses. I looked up briefly and one of the women smiled and said, “Hello.” I said, “Hello” and continued with my task. A moment later, I looked up again and it dawned on me that the other woman was Lidia Bastianich. I almost lost my broccoli rabe. Holy crap. Then I realized that the woman who had said “Hello” was her daughter, Tanya. And me without a camera! Doh!
They stood there and watched for a while as Amy and I helped the chef de cuisine (whose name I, unfortunately, missed) make little parfait hors d’oeuvres of ricotta, broccoli rabe, and saba. Lidia was watching me so I was as precise as I could possibly be. She and her daughter then went up to the private dining room and the rush of guests began.
I cut up burrata for a burrata and tomato salad. Burrata in Italian means “buttered,” and it is so named because it is made up of an exterior shell of mozzarella filled with a mixture of soft mozzarella and cream, making the texture buttery. I also sliced and speared salami with little wooden forks, dabbed homemade mustard with mustard seeds on them, and topped them with a homemade salsa of some sort (it looked like apple or pear and some root vegetables). I arranged them on a rectangular platter, the center of which Chef adorned with thinly shaved Grana Padano (my favorite grating cheese).
As usual, I didn’t get to sample everything because first priority is plating for the guests. If there’s anything left over, the staff gets to eat it. Unfortunately, there isn’t always food leftover, or it disappears before I get to grab some.
I absolutely wanted to try the Butternut Squash-Chocolate Ravioli with Butter-Sage Sauce, so I kept an eye on it. When all the servings were plated, there was plenty left for us, and I dove right in. The ravioli were absolutely divine. You would never have known that they were gluten-free. The dough was tender and fluffy, but firm enough to hold the filling, which was a delicious squash puree. The sauce was probably a thousand calories but it was luxurious. The tops of the ravioli got a generous dusting of ground pistachios. It was an extremely indulgent dish.
During the introduction/Q&A part of the evening (when everyone makes their appearance in the dining room for a round of applause from the guests), someone asked about the ravioli. Chef Fortunato talked about the process of coming up with a good gluten-free pasta that was superior to the stuff you find in the markets, but I don’t think he actually said what combination of flours they used. I think one of them was rice. I’d love to get my hands on the recipe. (Hint, hint, Chef Fortunato.)
I also tasted the beef duo of Braised Flatiron and Steak Tagliata, which were both tender and so flavorful, and I loved the Mashed Spinach and Potatoes. They were fluffy and smooth and delicious.
The cookie plates were adorable, and there were also little chocolate cakes adorned on the plate with a pistachio brittle that was worthy of a plate of their own. I never seem to be able to taste the ice cream at any of these dinners.
When dessert had been served, we were ushered up to the fourth floor, where Lidia and her guests awaited in the private dining room. I was so excited to be standing there in front of Lidia, who had obviously enjoyed the meal. The meal I helped plate! (Still getting over that.) On her way out a while later, she stated that everyone had done a great job. Of course, it was meant mostly for the main crew, but she did look at me, too, and I decided to bask in it anyway.
Chef Fortunato was really nice to me and I found his giddiness at the end of the night endearing.
I truly wish I’d remembered my camera. My phone camera is completely inadequate. However, the evening’s official photographer is a great person. I had met her a couple of events ago and I will be asking her for photos of both events. I’ll put a link here when the photos are available.
I really, really need a new camera.
Burrata and Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar
Bagna Cauda with Vegetables
Ricotta, Broccoli Rabe, and Saba
Flor Prosecco NV
Mediterranean Shrimp Salad with Toscanello Beans, Marinated Anchovies, and Tuna and Branzino Carpaccio
Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010
Butternut Squash–Chocolate Ravioli with Butter–Sage Sauce
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2009
Vacche Rosse Parmigiano-Reggiano Risotto with Pear and Celery
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2009
Beef Duo: Braised Flatiron and Steak Tagliata with Mashed Spinach and Potatoes and Braised Red Cabbage
Benanti Rovittello 2005
Poached Quince, Almond, and Frangipane Tart with Bourbon–Maple Syrup Ice Cream
Benanti Il Musico Moscato Passito NV