Dinner at Daniel

DInner last night was amazing. Chelsea and I had dinner at Daniel, the 3 Michelin starred restaurant on 65th and Park, for those of you not familiar. It was reaaaaaaaalll fancy, probably the nicest restaurant I’ve been to. Our combined ages would have made us the youngest table there (we hesitated to say we were the youngest there, as we noticed quite a few May-December relationships… and none of the cougar sort. So disappointing. But maybe you wouldn’t woo your 25 year old boy toy with dinner at Daniel, I guess maybe front row tickets to the Knicks would work better. Or do you have to spend money on boy toys? These are things I should find out before becoming a cougar) but we never felt we got any less attention from the wait staff. You’ll notice I don’t have any photos – we felt taking photos weren’t really in keeping with the decorum of the restaurant. Haha.

We arrived a bit early (as if I’d be late for a meal, much less a meal of this calibre) and had champagne cocktails while they got our tables ready. Ugh, how did they make that Pimms and champagne taste so good? How did they get the olive tapenade baked into those teeny bits of toothpick bread sticks? Why was everything so good and we hadn’t even sat down at our table?

We were seated, and pretended to review the menu, as we’d pre-planned what we’d be getting for dinner, thanks to the inter-webs. Chelsea ordered the Main Lobster Salad with Poached Peaches to start and the Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Artichoke Barigoule for her main. I ordered the Trio of Arctic Char: Hot smoked with Yukon Gold Potato, Confit with Lemon Zest and Lovage Pistou, Tartare with Seasame Oil and Wasabi-Spinich Coulis. My main was the Duo of Beef: Braised Black Angus Short Ribs with Romanesco Puree and a Seared Wagyu Tenderloin.

Our amuse bouches were melon themed – they were delicious, but I didn’t really follow the details, except that mine were lacking all shell fish. Thankful that they had that option, though I feel I missed out.

The bread – oh the bread. I’m not really a bread-lover, but every time they came around with that bread tray, I found myself salivating for another roll. There were about four choices – Chelsea and I only alternated between two of them – garlic and parmesan, and rosemary and thyme. It makes me want to learn how to be a baker. Or marry one.

Our starters were so nice – Chelsea liked the combination of the lobster and peaches, and I thought the arctic char was a perfect start, my favorite being the smoked piece. Mmmmm. We couldn’t wait for our mains.

I loved the tenderloin – it was perfectly medium-rare, cut like butter, melted in my mouth. Wow. It couldn’t get much better. But then I took a bit of my short ribs. Tears started to well in my eyes. It was absolutely beautiful. I have never eaten any plate of food so slowly, and I’m embarrassed to say I shushed Chelsea so I could enjoy my last bite. I so rude, but I think she understood.

For dessert Chelsea ordered the Milk Chocolate Dacquoise with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. That ice cream was divine. I ordered the Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant – that’s fancy for chocolate lava cake. It was delicious, not too rich, and went down so well with a sip of Port. Chelsea and I didn’t lie and say it was one of our birthdays (we saw about four birthdays, some of which may have been lies), so we got no dessert with a candle in it, but the chef sent out a third dessert. Either they send every table an extra dessert, or our waiters liked us. We had a lot of fun with them, I think much less stuffy than a lot of the other guests. And just so you know, the service was impeccable, the wait staff was beyond helpful and they all had French accents. Chelsea and I debated if they were all actually French or if some of the accents were fake. I decided to believe they were all French, much more fun. Anyways, the third dessert was the Raspberry Almond Sable, with Creme Fraiche Parfait, and Yuzu Sorbet. So lovely, and it was nice to get a fruit dessert as Chelsea and I had both ordered chocolate.

So you’re thinking that must be it – but you would be wrong. Next came a tray of petit fours, which Chels and I quite fairly divy-ed each one up, and then they brought us a basket of madelines. We ate the tray of petit fours, which were divine, and then they brought a tray of mini chocolates that we each could pick one to enjoy with our cappuccinos, and then when we thought our night was sadly at an end, they sent us another tray of petit fours. That tray was considerably more enjoyable, as we knew what they were already, and didn’t have to cautiously explore, only savor.

At this point our night was truly over, we left with full bellies (might have been the three pieces of bread, but we would have been idiots to turn away those delicious rolls) and happy palates. Definitely in the list of top meals I’ve ever had – certainly the highest rated restaurant I’ve ever been. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed it’s over – nothing to look forward to anymore!

Thanks Chelsea! xx

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Pick out your meal at Chuen Kee

Well after lunch at Tim Ho Wan, it was going to take a lot to have another adventure, but our trip to Sai Kung to eat at Cheun Kee was up to the task. Sai Kung is the most eastern part of Hong Kong, an old fishing village. The whole night was such an experience! We walked down waterfront, among the crowds of people who had stopped with the junk boats, little stands selling dried seafood (the smell was terrible haha). We even saw this little fishing boat selling live seafood over the wall – prawns, crabs, geoducks (!!), fish. It was so much fun to watch. There were several restaurants up and down the waterfront, that had a similar seafood selection – and by that I mean out the front of the restaurants there were giant fish tanks and baskets of LIVE seafood, any kind you can imagine. One of the tanks had one of those giant fish you always see snorkeling – presumably not for eating? The amount of different types, and even the sheer quantity of the seafood was incredible. There were giant crabs and lobsters – actual monsters!

Your selections from the boat:

Aquarium or restaurant?!

I told you, monster:

Even scarier on the ground:

The giant prawns have to go into bottles otherwise they fight each other:

After about 30 minutes of gawking, we walked down to Cheun Kee. It was so pretty.

Tiffany, our fearless leader and Hong Kong resident, of course did all the ordering for us, thankfully, and once she’d picked out our dinner, we got a number that corresponded to our fishes. Check out my dinner:

Once seated, Tiffany ordered pork ribs with chili and garlic and some greens. She also had them bring out some wine glasses (BYO!!) as she had brought a lovely bottle of wine, Cloudy Bay. After we’d chatted for a bit and gobbled down the salted peanuts, our food started coming out.

Pork ribs:

Long skinny clams:

Lobster with creamy cheese sauce. I was literally salivating over this when it was placed on our table, it smelled divine. I was so close to off-ing myself for just one taste. It smelled quite rich.

The scallops on a bed of rice noodles, with garlic and spring onions. The table, aside from me (Tom, Tiffany and Sophie) thought these were the best. The shells were beautiful, I wanted to take one as a souvenir!

Sea snails in a garlic chili sauce:

Something I can eat!!!

My fishy is looking a little less swim-y than he was before… tee hee. He came out, steamed with a soy sauce. Tiffany had them steam the fish so that we’d be able to taste the flavors of the fish better. The lady just took spoons and carved him right up, an deposed his head at the front of the plate. It was such a nice fish, the meat was light, flaky, maybe a bit sweet. I didn’t mind scooping him up onto my plate, although I was a  bit squeamish when I saw I’d gotten his fin… eek. I moved that bit into this bowl that had become my discard bin. Tiffany gave me the cheeks to eat – they were nice, and it is said that what parts you eat will help you out – good skin here I come!!!

He was very delicious!

We saw this lobster pass by, and had to go get a photo… His head was a big as mine!!!!

Post dinner:

After dinner was done, we did a bit more gawking at the diner options. Abalone:

EELS!!!!

Geoducks.

Heheheheheh.

The shops started closing up, so Tiffany took us next to Honeymoon Desert (the first one!). We got four different desserts so we could all try, one of which was durian!! Durian is this fruit that stinks to high heaven, when I would go into the grocery store, I thought I was smelling meat that had gone off. Nope, it was durian. Tiffany suggested we order durian glutinous rice dumplings. I don’t know how to describe the taste – the initial taste is sulfury, but the after taste is nice. That first bite is a shock, but it grows on you. Kind of. Enough to keep tasting. And of course I can’t find the photo, so here’s one from the website.

http://www.honeymoon-dessert.com/en_us/viewpic.php?pic=12%2F12286900540960195012008

We also ordered a mango soup with green tea ice cream, which I liked, except I wasn’t psyched about the bean curd.

We also got Thai glutinous rice with coconut milk; I loved the coconut, but the rice was okay.

And lastly, we had sweet balls. They were warm, sticky, covered in coconut and peanuts. The focus and flavors were really on the coconut and peanuts, as the ball was just sort of plain goop. I would like just coconut covered ones.

The whole evening was amazing, and many thanks go to Tiffany, our lovely host. Without her, we would have only gotten about half the experience. This was by far my favorite night in Hong Kong!

$14.60 for a seven course Michelin star meal?

Yep, that happened. I went to Tim Ho Wan (the original), which has a Michelin star for lunch yesterday. Check it out:

Tim Ho Wan menu

Once I finally found the place (I could tell based on the crowd gathered outside), I put my name on the waiting list. I was number 105, party of one. They were calling number 63 to be seated, so I was pleasantly surprised when she told me it would only be a one hour wait, as she’d been telling everyone else two hours. I wandered around for about 40 minutes through the Ladies Market that was just a couple blocks over, and came back, just in case they’d call my number early. And after about 15 minutes they called number 84, party of one. He was a no show!!!! He called 105 next, and I was there, jumping with my hand up! Wooo! It pays to be an eager beaver.

I was seated in a middle seat at a six person table. Two ladies at the table on my left, a girl about my age across from me, who was with the two boys to my right. We all nodded hello. I was a little scared and excited at the same time, adrenaline still pumping from getting to jump the waiting list. I looked at some of my neighbor’s food thinking “Fuck.really hope I didn’t order that” (I’d ticked off the items on the menu before I even went in. So efficient). The two ladies to my left didn’t speak much English, and the party of three next to me seemed quite friendly. We chatted a bit (well the word “chat” might be too generous). Given the low prices (about $2 – $3 per item) I ordered a ton of things, much to the amusement of my neighbors, as it wasn’t quite clear until I had about five plates that I was just going for the tasting menu approach.

Here’s how it went:

Glutinous rice dumpling

Glutinous rice dumpling. I think I’ve had this in Beijing before, it came wrapped up in a large green leaf, and it was filled with meat. I ate the pieces I could identify as chicken breast. Those bites were wonderful. I wish there had been more of them, and fewer scary looking bites, origins dubious. Luckily I reminded myself that I had six more courses coming, so I didn’t feel too compelled to eat even a substantial amount. Ha.

Steamed beef dumpling with potato

These came out next, and the shop owner had to show me how to eat them with the delicious sauce. Not dipping, as I was going to do, but you put it in the little empty bowl, and drizzle the sauce over. Just as well, I was having trouble keeping the dumpling in my chopsticks and put together from the bowl to my mouth. I loved these and the flavors. The potato was so nice. The beef was slightly strange looking, pinky and squishy. I tried not to think about it as I ate them. Good thinking, if I do say so myself, because they were good.

Fried noodle with soya sauce

The noodles were my favorite dish. I really liked the texture of the noodles and the green onions added such a fresh strong flavor. There were little bits of cabbage (I think) in there as well. I think a part of why I liked this dish so much aside from how it tasted, was that I could identify all the ingredients and could relax as I stuffed my mouth with these. One of my neighbors to my right thought this dish was the worst of everything. He had also eaten chicken feet. Clearly culture plays a part in palates.

Pan fried red bean dumplings

My dessert came next, the pan fried red bean dumplings, another item that I was so happy to have. I love these! Red bean paste in sticky rice dumplings, sprinkled with sesame seeds and pan fried. I need to learn to make these. They are similar to mochi, which aren’t pan fried.

Pan-fried turnip cake

The turnip cake came, three squares of strangely gelatinous white stuff, with things in it, some sort of meat. I took one bite, and instantly one of my neighbors started laughing at me. I realized that I’d made a face that clearly reflected how much I didn’t like it. It was quite funny, and since the jig was up, there was no point in trying another bite to make it seem like I was enjoying it. I left the rest of the dish untouched as I needed the real estate in my stomach for the other billion dishes that were yet to come.

Deep fried eggplant filled with beef

This looked terrifying when it came, and my fears eased only when I could identify the eggplant. This was definitely one of the dishes my neighbors had at the start that made me more than a little nervous. It was so hot, as things are when they come out of the fryer, and I’m embarrassed to admit I ate around the  beef, only getting little bites. The eggplant was so nice, and I wish I’d taken a little more time with this dish, to really get into it. I think the turnip cakes had knocked my confidence a little, and these truly would have been great.

Steamed beef roll filled with enoki and blac preper sauce

This looked quite strange at first, but it was wonderful. I loved, loved, the black peppercorn sauce. There was thin beef wrapped around what I thought was just the enoki mushrooms, but I think it was also some tougher, sinewy beef. I couldn’t get my teeth through it, so I unwrapped the thin beef using my fingers and the chopsticks. It was at this point the girl sitting across from me, who had done most of the translating throughout the meal, asked if this was my first time using chopsticks. Too embarrassed to tell the truth (although now I’m not sure that using chopsticks to fork sushi into my mouth counts), I said yes. She shook her head in obvious agreement. The seasoning in this dish was the best of all of them – complex, really nice. If it weren’t for the strange meat in the center, I’d make this my number one dish.

What a fun lunch – everyone there really wanted to be there – we’d all waited at least an hour. It was a little scary, it pushed my boundaries. I think there were bites in there that I really enjoyed, like when I’m eating some delicious Italian pasta dish or a steak, beyond the thrill of the adventure. I left feeling so excited and honestly, a bit proud of myself. And best of all – I didn’t need my Epi-pen!! I’d love to read the Michelin reviews, and see what dishes they had, and the reasons they awarded Tim Ho Wan a star – perhaps it would enlighten my Western mind. It was an experience so far from what I’d normally expect a Michelin-rated restaurant to be that it’d be nice to know the criteria, and what dishes they had. Not to say the food wasn’t good, it was truly was, but I just don’t think I understand the flavors/background to truly appreciate it. It was truly worth the wait, and worth the trip. I would certainly recommend it to anyone traveling to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Day One – Champagne and Caviar, no big deal…

My first day was certainly decadent and indulgent!!! What an amazing day! My first views of Hong Kong were when I was on the airport express heading into the city – tall green peaks rising out of the mist on one side of the train, and a blue green ocean on the other side at dawn. It was beautiful. After a successful adventure on public transportation to Sophie’s apartment, pictured below, with a Starbucks, Subway and Burger King right there, I went on a little mini walk to start my culinary adventures!! I was starving, and Sophie was fast asleep (it was just 8am!), so I ventured out to find some breakfast. I found a lovely little coffee shop/bakery and ended up with a ham and egg sandwich. How Western of me – I know, I know. But the roll was not Western-y, it was light and sweet and fluffy. And it was cheap. My sandwich and capuccino cost me $20HKD. That is right, $2.85.

Amazing! I’m going to eat like a king with those prices!!!! And eat like a king I did all day. Sophie took me to brunch to this place called Harlan’s in Kowloon, the other big island. We walked in to this fancy dinning room, with floor to ceiling windows, and I had the best view of Hong Kong Island, and the ocean and the boats and everything. It was beautiful! Hong Kong is so interesting – it’s a juxtaposition of nature and city, the mountains and the ocean make you feel like you are somewhere magical, and then if you adjust your gaze maybe 5 degrees, you see towering apartment buildings and business towers with their names across the top. And I got to gaze upon this for the entire two hour brunch. Yep, all you could eat buffet, endless champagne (okay, it was sparkling wine) and a main! It was out of this world. The buffet was incredible – and it was just your appetizers. There was a raw bar with oysters and clams and shrimp and crab legs and snail thingys – basically everything that spelled out death to me, but it looked incredible. There were salads, a risotto station with giant truffles (which, after cheekily asking for some shaved bits of one, turned out to be in fact not really that tasty. Disappointing.), a pasta bar, a charcuterie, and caviar! Then there was a second buffet around the corner with sushi and other Japanese dishes. Oh my lord it was insane!!! We went back and forth so many times.

My first buffet plate – foie gras, caprese salad, proscuitto, what’s left of my mushroom salad

Sophie at Harlan’s

Sophie’s first buffet plate

Truffles – surprisingly dry and un-tasteful 😦

Living the hard life

Two of Sophie’s work mates, while we wait for our mains

Then our main dishes came. Sophie had a Boston lobster, there was a pork option, and I got a really delicious steak tenderloin. The meat (it probably came from Kansas) was so soft and tender, it just melted in my mouth. We all got that vegetable side salad – it was nice, but nothing spectacular.

And then it was time to hit the dessert buffet! There was a Cold Stone-like ice cream station, fondue, fruit, cheese cake, mousses, brownies…. So good. My favorite was the chocolate mousse!

And that my friends, was my first main meal in Hong Kong. It was amazing, particularly coupled with the views and the company! We calculated that after about 10 or so glasses of champagne, we think each glass was about $1 haha. And we ate our fill – I’m sure they don’t count on people like us destroying their buffet, else they’d never make any money! Our whole meal was only about $100. Insane.

Sophie and I followed this all up with massages (no happy endings, for those of you who are curious haha), and at about 7:45 the jet lag hit me, and I was asleep in bed. Can’t wait for the rest of my trip!!!

Tortellini and (heirloom) bean soup

So what happens when it starts to warm up in NYC? I get so happy. The sun is shining when I get to and when I leave work, the trees are green and the flowers are in bloom. And I can almost ride my bike without a jacket! It’s wonderful.

And then I get hot. It starts reaching mid-70’s during the day and our apartment just will not get cool until fall. 29th floor? What amazing views of the GW bridge you have! What a terrible hot box I have. A/C is either on (super cold and expensive) or off, and when it’s turned off, its like you never had it on. Oh, how I miss central air.

So what did my brother and I do? We made soup. Something that warms you up even more. We are ridiculous. But this soup was ridiculously delicious AND easy. Perhaps we will crank the A/C, get really cold, and eat up all the soup.

I found the recipe on this new food blog I found (it’s not really new, just new to me), where the author, Jenna, is living my dream. She is a classically trained chef, food photographer, freelance food writer and recipe developer.  Dream job. Her blog is called Eat, Live, Run and she’s fun to read and posts fun things on Facebook (they IPO-ed today, in case you live under a rock). She posted this recipe and I promise I didn’t pick it because it was so simple to make. I liked how it sounded – light and Italian-y, which it is. Here’s the link, since it’s her recipe. 🙂 http://www.eatliverun.com/tortellini-and-heirloom-bean-soup/

Ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large fennel, diced
64 oz vegetable or chicken stock
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 package fresh tortellini pasta (either cheese or spinach)
2 cups either pinto, kidney or heirloom beans, either canned or cooked from scratch
3 cups fresh spinach or chopped swiss chard
Parmesan cheese for serving
Directions: 
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot. Add the garlic and chopped fennel and saute for three-five minutes, until the fennel just begins to soften.
Quickly pulse the tomatoes in a blender or food processor to just barely puree (you still want some chunks). Add the chunky pureed tomatoes to the pot along with the stock, salt and pepper.
Bring the soup to a boil before adding the tortellini and beans. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about seven minutes until tortellini are puffy and cooked through.
Add the swiss chard or spinach to the pot and stir so that the greens wilt. Serve soup with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and additional salt, pepper or red pepper flakes to taste.
We made some modifications – I don’t like fennel so we didn’t use that. Matt (my brother, for you strangers, if there are any of you reading this) was disappointed I veto-ed it, and was grumbling about how good it would have been. And we didn’t feel like cooking our own beans from scratch, so we used canned pinto beans. Yay protein. Also, we used vegetable stock, so bonus points to us for being vegetarian. It could only be more delicious with chicken, so I wouldn’t worry if you are vegetarian and constrained to veggie stock because you will still get a great flavor.
As you can read, the recipe was fairly self explanatory, nothing tricky. It was good advice to pulse the food processor (another reason why I really like Jenna’s blog, it’s so informative and takes out the mystery). I only had San Marzano’s on hand, which were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but so not necessary.
We used regular swiss chard – I loved the flavor and the green and red colors were beautiful. Also, we used a whole bunch instead of 3 cups. Matt and I noticed that it was when we added the swiss chard that it really started to look like a delicious soup and it really came together. We initially only added the 3 cups, but noticed that it didn’t seem like very much, and after we’d served ourselves the first bowls, that we hadn’t left very much in the pot! Adding the rest of the bunch solved two problems: the lack of swiss chard left for future servings, and what the hell I was going to do with the rest of the swiss chard.
As for the beans – CBF soaking and making our own. Canned to the rescue! We drained the beans, but didn’t rinse. This brings me to the pasta. Matt thought the tortellini was the best part. I liked it a lot as well – the burst of cheese when you bit into one was yummy. They were also the most expensive part of the soup – something you could easily substitute with another dry pasta to save on calories and dollars. With the addition of pecorino on top at the end, you cover your cheese base. Mmmm.
We seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper in the middle, and added two pinches of chili flakes. I’m never a  fan of seasoning too much before the flavors have had time to develop and meld, so we held off with too much salt and pepper until closer to the end.  I liked the kick the chili flakes added – don’t add too much because you don’t want it to be the focus of the soup. This took us no time at all to throw together. It was really flavorful and it’s quite healthy as well! I’m starting to cool down, and just sent Matt to pick up some ice cream to help!

Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too

Holy crap I just had one of the best meals ever!! I’m so excited I’m not even sure I can give you specific details about everything (that and I inhaled my food, not leaving much time for contemplation). Also, I am REALLY really full, so I need to sprawl out flat on the couch as soon as possible.

After a highly physical day (18 miles on my bike followed by a SUPER hard hour of Physique) we needed somewhere to go for dinner. Too tired to cook and STARVING. I found Miss Mamie’s by an NY Mag search, a critics pick on the Upper West Side. After reading the reviews that I’d find the best collard greens and fried chicken in Manhattan, and that this place was frequented by the likes of Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson and Angela Bassett, I knew I’d found the place for dinner. A short cab ride later to 110th and Columbus, we arrived. Yay!

Having already perused the menu on the ride up, I was already fairly sure of what I was ordering, but I used the 15 minute wait to check out everyone else’s food. I was right, it all looked delicious and my selection would be the best choice. The decor of Miss Mamie’s was decidedly 1950’s, and I felt I could have been somewhere in the south. We sat down, and ordered drinks. To my joy, the Iced Tea was in fact Sweet Tea, and that, my friends, was one amazing jar of sweet tea. They added mint to it, so refreshing.

As I may have mentioned before, I was STARVING (you would be too, if you’d done that much exercise in one day). Luckily they brought out a plate of corn bread. Oh sweet, moist (I hate dry corn bread), corn bread. It just melted in your mouth, perfectly void of those stupid kernels of corn. Who ever thought that was a good idea?? And I’m not saying it was some of the best corn bread ever b/c I was so hungry, it truly was!!

And it was warm.

After an agonizing wait, our food came. I ordered the sampler plate (of course!!! you get to try as many things in one go!!! I LOVE this option on menus!!!). This my friends, was “smaller” portions (no, really, they were smaller than if you ordered the full plates) of all the best things on the menu: fried chicken, shrimps (I substituted for gravy chicken), ribs (both short AND North Carolina barbecue) and your choice of three sides! Heaven! My sides were the collard greens, mashed potatoes and corn bread stuffing. BEST COLLARD GREENS I’VE EVER HAD. And I don’t make that statement lightly. Libby Keating has taken me to some of the best Southern home cooking joints outside of Nashville, most notably Barbara’s, but these greens were truly phenomenal. Not bitter, perfectly seasoned with pork. I think they were my favorite part. Ohhh yum. The mashed potatoes and gravy were delicious, and I liked the corn bread stuffing, but only for a couple bites. I was getting too full, and they were a bit too much bread/starch, in light of the rest of my plate. The protein winners on my plate were the fried chicken ($1 extra for white meat) and the North Carolina barbeque ribs. Ohhh yum. The skin was crispy on the chicken, and the meat moist. The BBQ ribs had such a good sauce and the meat just fell off the bone. I even got a little on my cheeks. Okay, a lot on my cheeks. The short ribs weren’t my favorite, but they weren’t bad. They had a sweetness to them that I found interesting (in a good way). I have to admit, at this point, I didn’t even make it to the smothered chicken (relax, it was more fried chicken covered in gravy, it wasn’t like I would actually leave a stone unturned. I got the gist).

I can honestly say this isn’t some NYC-bastardized version of Southern cooking. It was divine, I was thoroughly impressed. I had a giant grin all over my face the entire time. I cannot wait to come back – out of town guests get ready, and bring some pants that have some room in them. I’m not 100% sure on what I’ll get the next time, I loved the chicken AND the ribs, so I don’t know what to choose. Hopefully I’ll go back with someone who wants to share, and we can have both! Or, I might get the barbecue chicken. Definitely the collard greens.

I so full.

I don’t know what type of meat sauce to call this…

…but I really don’t want to use Rachel Ray’s name for it. She calls it “Not-A-Boar Meat Sauce and Pasta” and she subtitles it “Can’t find wild boar in your neighborhood? Neither can Rachel! She created this “fake-out” dish instead”. Ughhh is that a pun on the word “bore”? Could the caption be more cheesy? She really irks me. So last night, when my mom described this amazing pasta dish she made that didn’t have tomatoes and had cocoa powder (among other ingredients, none that caught my attention like those two) I was intrigued and thought it sounded fun to try. When she revealed it was a Rachel Ray recipe, I was quite dismayed (sweet Jesus I hope I’m not ruining my culinary career before it even starts by bagging Rachel Ray so much). My mother was still quite happy with her meal, and after assuring she too isn’t Rachel Ray’s number one fan, I downloaded the recipe and got to cooking (well perhaps I stopped at the store first).

Here’s the link: http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=3174

Ingredients:

1 pound rigatoni

2 tablespoons olive oil (or if you’re Rachel Ray EVOO. Ridic)

3/4 pound ground pork

3/4 pound ground beef

1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic (seems like a lot, but given the quantity of pasta and meat, really not. Go for it!)

3 sprigs thyme, stems discarded and leaves finely chopped (I omitted this at the request of a fellow diner, I didn’t miss it)

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 pinches ground cloves or allspice

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup whole milk (I used 1/4 c. skim milk, and 1/4 c. of half and half  b/c that’s what I had in the fridge)

1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Prep: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it add the pasta and cook it until al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is working, in a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the EVOO, two turns of the pan, over medium-high heat, until smoking. Add the pork and beef and cook, stirring, until browned, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the carrot, onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, cocoa and cloves; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste for 1 minute, then stir in the wine. Stir in the chicken stock and milk, lower the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

Stir the pasta into the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes more. Stir in the cheese, to coat. Serve the pasta in shallow bowls.

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I will give Miss Ray that this dish is very easy to prepare. Took maybe 45 minutes to prepare, and nothing was more complicated than chopping the onion and grating the carrot. The only advice in terms of preparation I’d give is to make sure all the ingredients that go in once the meat is cooked are ready to plop right in; I found myself scurrying to get them all in!

The cocoa powder was an interesting addition – I wonder how they came up with it. I accidentally bought cocoa powder w/chocolate chips (presumably for hot chocolate drinkers), but they melted right into the sauce, you’d never know. I initially thought that when my mom mentioned no tomatoes and chocolate sauce that it reminded me of a mole sauce, but it really isn’t anything at all alike. And in the sense that there are no tomatoes, there’s still tomato paste, adding a red color to the sauce. I think the best way to describe it is a variation on a bolognese sauce, sans the tomatoes. It has the same texture, with the meat doing the staring of the dish, and the other flavors backing it up. The sauce coats the pasta, and the meat hides in the hollowness of the the rigatoni.

Recently I’ve been using a lot of recipes that call for a dry white wine (I used Chardonnay, seemed to work!) and milk. I love the richness the wine adds, giving the sauce another dimension. I always feel like my recipes are extra fancy when the wine aromas float up right after you add it. The other smell explosion was the addition of the garlic, onion and carrot to the pork and beef. That’s the point when my worries about this sauce melted away as the dish moved away from ground meat into an actual dish.

I thought when I added the chicken stock that 2 cups seemed like a bit much – it didn’t thicken as much as I’d like it, but it didn’t seem to dilute any of the flavors. I’d maybe try to see what cutting it a bit down does, but in the end it turned out alright. The sauce just looked too fluid in the pot, it made me a bit nervous.

It’s a hearty dish that fills your belly and warms you up, great for a cold night (or a mild night in October, you know, just maybe not great for a scorcher in July). It’s a huge recipe (4 servings according to Rachel, but that must be why America is leading the world in the obesity race), and I’d say you’d get about 6 servings that won’t leave you feeling peckish after. All in all, I really liked this dish. It’s gotten the “repeat” seal of approval from others, and I’m looking forward to having it for lunch tomorrow! xxx

Sauce, right after adding the stock. A bit too liquidy?

Don't be shy with the Pecorino - adds a nice sharpness to the dish

Grown up pigs in a blanket! mmmm…

I think there are a million cute pubs/bars in NYC, and probably a bajillion of them are located in the West Village. Wilfie & Nell’s is one of those. I have been there a couple of times now, and have discovered their pigs in a blanket.

Sage pork sausage links wrapped in bacon.

Yep, meat wrapped in meat, my favorite thing.

What’s nice about these is that while they are pub food, they are fancy pub food. And I’m sure the rest of the menu is delicious (well I know the fries are), but I thought you should know about these piggies.

And to those who went with me the first time, and ate these before I arrived with nary a word, I will remember this. How cruel of you.

2 2 8  West 4th Street
Between 7th Avenue & West 1 0th Street

One if by Land, Two if by Sea, and no more for me!

So I know restaurant week was a couple weeks ago (sorry for the delay in posting – I’ve been a bit preoccupied with some family stuff and traveling), but I have to post about this particular restaurant. I saw an opportunity to get in at One if by Land, Two if by Sea, and was so excited by this that I didn’t care if it was for 5:30pm on Sunday evening. Anyways, it was a school night, better to eat early anyways, right? Haha. I rang up Beth and she and Will were both on board. We’d heard such good things about this place, and the three course tasting menu starts at $78 a person (they increase from there), so we couldn’t wait to get a taste for $35 a person!

Before the sun had even gone down, we arrived at One if by Land, Two if by Sea. We walked in the through the bar, and were quite excited, loving the décor and the atmosphere. Then we were led upstairs, to where I presume all the restaurant week-ers were. We were seated and given a choice of focaccia or a warm roll to start. Meh. We got an amuse bouche of a Portobello soup with chives, which I quite enjoyed. We ordered wine, very reasonable prices if ordering by the glass: $8-$14.

The tasting menu was organized by starters, mains, and desserts, each with 3 options. As there were three people, we decided to each get something different, so we (I) could taste them all!! So smart.  Will started with the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, which I quite liked at first. I liked the cinnamony flavor in my mouth, and the soup felt soft in my mouth. This being said, I’m not sure I could eat the whole bowl. I ordered the Heirloom Radish Salad, with wild arugula, Pecorino cheese and a citrus vinaigrette. Upon ordering, I was very excited for this dish, and upon consuming it, quite disappointed. The radish was good, not too spicy, but honestly, I think I could throw together a better salad with the same ingredients. I did like the texture of the popcorn they threw in! Beth ordered the Calamari a la Plancha, which, as I’m not sure if I’m allowed to eat, I let her do all the tasting. She felt it was just alright, the chickpeas were good, and it was a nice dish if you like olives, but that the calamari was just mediocre. She’d had better.

It was at this point in the meal that our excitement had waned. Will’s Grilled Bavette Steak was so nice – I loved it, wished I had ordered it. Beth’s Red Beet Risotto was good – I liked that it captured the flavor of the beet, and I liked the red color. This brings me to my fish. I ordered the Pan Roasted Red Snapper. It was served with roasted root vegetables, all of which were crunchy and undercooked, kalamata olives, which I hardly noticed, and preserved lemons and chevril, also not really noticeable. I will have to say the piece of fish was very nice – soft and flaky, the dish’s only redeeming quality. I have only once sent a dish back, and had the fish not been nice, I would have sent this back. Ugh, I was so disappointed.

Dessert! Not really my favorite part of the meal, I always prefer savory over sweet, but since it came with, I was happy to oblige them by eating it!!! Will ordered the Gianduja Mousse, which was a concoction of bananas, hazelnut, and had some foam-like consistency. Beth ordered the Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, which for panna cotta was good – it was served with blood orange made to look like caviar. I ordered the cheesecake – while not the best cheesecake I’ve ever had, it was certainly the best dessert of the evening. It was very light, not too rich, but it was served with this weird foam – a cinnamon flavored foam. There was certainly too much of it, and was not tasty.

I don’t know where we heard the hype about this restaurant, and I don’t know if we came in expecting too much. I do think that if there is a place that has its cheapest tasting menu start at $78, that when you take a bite into at least one of your courses, you stop to savor the bite in your mouth, feeling the sensation all over. There was not a single bite of food here that lit up my taste buds. I think the décor was a bit cheesy, and cringed (while simultaneously loving it) when the pianist broke into “My Heart Will Go On”. Oh Titanic. Don’t waste your money at this restaurant. If you’re really dying to go, speak to me, as they gave us $30 gift cards each, for our next trip in (keep in mind that’s not even half of one tasting menu). Or, you can pay me $50 and I will cook you a better meal.

Italy is Eataly

This past Monday I was searching for some sort of culinary adventure – a new restaurant, some obscure food market (too much effort), a new recipe? And then it hit me – I’ve been dying to go to Eataly. Eataly is this 50,000 square foot behemoth of a Italian supermarket/restaurant combination located at 200 5th Avenue, catty-corner to the Flatiron building. I figured if I was going to eat and shop, I would need at least a couple hours, and what better to do on a day off!!!! I recruited Beth, who, after hearing stories of friends leaving with over $100 in cheese, was quite willing to go with me. $100 in cheese? Ahhh this place must be divine.

And it is. I walked in, and felt what must be sensory overload. We entered in the produce section, and I could not focus my mind, looking everywhere trying to take it all in. Thinking it unwise to shop on an empty stomach, and me being too excited to stop myself from putting one of everything in my basket, Beth and I walked straight ahead to the first eating stop we could see. Eataly has been designed so you can shop, eat a little, continue with your shopping, and then if you’d like, stop in for another bite somewhere else. With good fortune, Beth and I found ourselves surrounded by salumi e formaggi, in La Piazza, perfect. We shared a high top table with a couple of girls who had a magnificent tray of meats and cheeses (you just walk up, remain standing, and someone brings a menu to you). We ordered the same, the Grande Piatto Misto. We ordered a moderately priced glass of red each, and feasted on salumi, cheese, figs and candied oranges. While mixing up combinations of cheeses and salumi (for those not fluent in Italian, salumi are Italian cured meats, made predominantly from pork. Think prosciutto. Yum.) we were able to get our bearings, and start to take in the experience. Around us was bustle everywhere – we watched them make fresh mozzarella, serve various drafts of beer, and figured out the woman yelling “ding ding ding ding ding” had something to do with the $10 wine and cheese tasting. I told Beth I thought I’d died and was in Heaven. I must get myself to the REAL Italy.

Once finished eating we set out to shop. We went to the gadgets first, full of colorful Italian products. I have to say, it was genius that the creators of Eataly have incorporated eating and drinking into the shopping experience, as I am convinced that a significant portion of their sales must come from impulse buys from pissed shoppers. Beth – might you have anything to comment here? Anyways, as much as I wanted to go home with something, I somehow was able to not buy anything!! We moved on to the book section, the pasta section, where again, you watch them make the pasta in front of you, the meat counter, the dairy section, the coffee bar, the dessert bar. Again, showing remarkable self-control, I found my basket still empty. The treats I settled on were freshly made pasta (you have to be very gentle with it, advises the pasta maker) and 5 oz of mozzarella.

Deciding we wanted to make the most of adventure, Beth and I set out to eat again. Not wanting too much more (and vowing that next time we’d visit the La Pizza & Pasta, with empty stomachs) we went back to La Piazza. This time we ordered the hearts of palm and chick peas salad. And Italian birra. The salad was delicious and I intend to try to recreate it. It was a base of chick peas. They were not canned, so it will be an adventure to cook my own peas! On top were marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, tiny slices of red onion (which, I’ve always wondered why it’s called red onion, when its color is most certainly purple), parmesan cheese and a hint of mint. After enjoying our salad and beers, Beth and I were exhausted, and ready for naps, so back uptown we went.

I have to admit that after a day in Eataly and Pasta alla Norma the night before, I was so full of sodium and food that I was mentally not able to prepare my fresh pasta until today. I know, fresh pasta is only fresh for about a couple of days, but it didn’t fare too badly. I’ve been craving meatballs for about 2 weeks now, and so I prepared meatballs and red sauce. I admit I bought meatballs from Gourmet Garage, but I prepared a version of the sauce from last weeks Pasta alla Norma. The meatballs, pasta, and sauce were so good, I’m writing now with a full belly.