Monday, August 04, 2008

Dispatches from New York City

I'm always excited when I have an event in NYC, because I always make time for several of the city's amazing restaurants. Delivering my increasingly popular wine tasting challenge: In Vino Veritas as a team building event for a corporate conference brought me to the big apple this time. So I made it a point to squeeze in an extra day of exciting dining, here are my impressions.

The Spotted Pig-
It seems you can't visit Omaha without finding that the city has new "gastropubs" popping up left and right. The descriptor has taken on the tired familiarity that "pan asian" claimed on so many restaurants a decade ago. So being a little suspicious and also a huge fan of the genuine article, see London post, I really appreciated how good The Spotted Pig (TSP) is. Located on a hopping corner in Greenwich Village, TSP accomplishes the two main objectives of a kick-ass gastropub: great food and no pretension. I ate there after my team building program, let's say it was 1 am, so my memory is a little blurry, but I remember they had great oysters, shucked by the cook behing the upstairs bar, outstanding "snacks" like chicken liver toasts and stuffed dates, as well as creative appetizers and a killer burger. One caveat, it is a tiny place so be prepared to wait. 314 W. 11th St. @ Greenwich St., (212 620-0393

Eleven Madison Park-
I make it a point to visit one of Danny Meyer's restaurants virtually every time I'm in New York. It's not that I'm trying to support a St. Louis native, but rather that I've never had a bad experience at one of his restaurants (and I've tried them all: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Table , The Modern, Blue Smoke, Shake Shack and Eleven Madison Park). This time I decided to visit Eleven Madison Park again (EMP); as I hadn't been since they brought in their new chef: Daniel Humm. Every serious food person should know that if you want a great bargain visit an acclaimed restaurant for lunch. And lunch at EMP is no exception. A five-course tasting menu for $55? You'd be lucky to get one course for the same price at dinner. And believe me, you want to get as many of Chef Humm's courses as possible. As seasonal and local as ever, it seems EMP has taken on a refinement that befits its stunning dining room (see Frank Bruni's comments on it in last month's New York Times). If you don't have any serious afternoon commitments, the lunch tasting menu paired with wines is a great way to go as the outstanding wine list has the girth of an Ayn Rand novel. 11 Madison Avenue, (212) 889-0905

I've always been drawn to restaurants with attitude, the kind of place that tells the diner "this is how it's gonna be!", because that is how it should be done or simply because that's how the owner wants to do it. David Chang's Momofuku restaurants have serious attitude. I ate in his Momofuku SSam (there's also Momofuku Noodle and tasting menu only Ko) and loved it. It is the most eclectic restaurant I've been to this year (or perhaps ever). They do stuff like offer a wine list with several $1000 bottles at a restaurant that has communal tables with paper napkins and chopsticks collected in a glass in the center of the table. The restaurant serves only Dr. Pepper for soda pop (why would anyone drink soda at dinner anyway) and has one of the most unique menus I've seen in a long time. There is the pig lover's disclaimer "we do not serve vegetarian friendly cuisine", and their signature dish is a communal Pork Butt with Kim Chee & Oysters for $220.00 (on a menu where most of the stuff is less than $20). Of course it would be hard to pull off this culinary eccentricity if the food weren't damn good; and it is. Try the banh sandwiches, steamed buns with pork belly and any of the artisanal country hams. 207 2nd Ave., No Phone Number

A Voce-
Andrew Carmellini, the former chef at Cafe Boulud, has opened this wildly popular Italian restaurant near Madison Square Park. I only had a snack at one of their al fresco tables, grilled bread with hand-dipped ricotta and olive oil, but when something that simple can be that unforgettable I can't imagine how tasty the rest of the menu must be. 41 Madison Ave. (at 26th St.), (212) 845-8555

One of the original "dessert bars" specializing in the all important final course, Chickalicious is a fun place to go just to check-out the scene. Very small, you sit at the bar or one of two tables, in order to get in you almost always have to queue outside looking through the large front window as if you were witnessing a delicious Edward Hopper scene. The owner Chick, a diminutive Korean woman, Knocks out three-course dessert tasting menus that can be paired with a glass of wine until 12am nightly. If on a given night the line outside is too much for you, try the Chickalicious shop across the street that sells sweets to go. 203 E. 10th Street, No Reservations

That about does it for my culinary wandering this time, not bad for a 24-hour span, but I've got a big trip to Europe coming up in a few weeks and there will be much to share from that excursion I'm sure.

I'm So Blue.

As I wrap-up my final week here in Saugatuck, Michigan I think my skin is starting to take on a Oompa-Loompaish blue hue from all the blueberries I've been eating. It's hard not to binge on these amazingly plump and tasty blueberries that cost as much for 5# as a half-pint of small, sickly blueberries cost in the city. As usual, during their fleeting season I've been making everything I can think of with them: pies, tartlets with pastry creme, clafoutis, turnovers, cobblers, chutneys, juices, gastriques, vinegar, soap...(just kidding on the last one). Here is one of my favorite light cake or muffin recipes, courtesy of the kitchens at Gramercy Tavern in New York. They work equally well at breakfast, during afternoon tea or as a dessert.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cakes

Quantity Produced: Makes 12 Cakes

Butter 1 Cup
Powdered Sugar 2 2/3 Cups
Almond Flour 1 Cup
Cake Flour ½ Cup + 1 Tablespoon
Coarse Cornmeal ¼ Cup
Egg Whites 1 Cup (about 8)
Grated Orange Zest ½ Orange
Blueberries 1 Cup

Preparation Procedure-

Preheat oven to 400˚. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to let the butter cook until it browns. Strain the browned butter through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, discard the solids.
Sift together the confectioners sugar, almond flour, cake flour, and cornmeal. Place the sifted ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. On the lowest speed, add the egg whites and zest; mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium-low and stir in the browned butter. Increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the blueberries. (The batter can be made up to 3 days ahead). Butter and flour 12 muffin tins or 2-inch mint tartlet pans. Spoon the batter into the tins and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden.