Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Father's Day torture

I got my appendix out this week. It was a fairly traumatic affair that, quite frankly made me a much stronger individual.

I left work early this past Wednesday feeling like a wimp because I was going home due to a "stomach ace". Now, I'm pretty tough and proud of it, but on this day, something just wasn't quite right. Anyhow, long story even longer, by 6pm, I was admitted to the QEII and scheduled for emergency surgery.

What does this have to do with food you might ask? Well, Father's Day was right around the corner, and I was recovering at my aunt's house. My Appendix recovery sheet advised "Avoid all meat products", so this year on Father's day, I was a tortured soul. With my uncle being a BBQ King, it was quite difficult-especially as steak and pork chop were on the menu, while I was stuck with ice cream. Never underestimate the sinful temptation of a piece of rare beef.

Biting off the Big Apple

My recent trip to NY rolled out in much the same way as it normally does; I eat, walk to the next place I wanna eat, then eat some more. Charmed life, really. I mean, yes, with my sister in the classical music scene in NY, I take in some cultural aspects; recitals from Juilliard students, concerts in Central Park, the MET, you know-the usual. I have also been known to ‘shop ‘till I drop’. Though I definitely didn’t drop due to lack of sustenance!
Anyway, here are the highlights of my culinary adventures. I restrained myself from writing about several ridiculous-good muffins, scones, cream puffs, cupcakes and Pinkberrys along the way…You’re welcome.

SUSHI DAMO 330 West 58th Street

So my first meal in NY came kinda by accident. I was waiting for my sister to finish up a rehearsal- which ended up going for hours! What I thought would be a 9 pm dinner ended up being a late-night feast. But what does one eat at 10:30 in the night when you’re starving? Why Sushi of course!
We started of with Saki martinis- a genius mix of vodka, Japanese beer – yes, not wine, a common misconception- and, our addition of pickled ginger. As is the usual when I go out for sush,i there was a serious danger of me ordering the entire menu, but I curbed my enthusiasm/appetite, and we decided on three inventive, decadent rolls.
The masterpiece that was our late-night snack arrived carrying Crazy Horse rolls composed of three kinds of fish; tuna, yellow tail and salmon, along with avocado & tobiko (lying fish roe). We also relished a sweet, creamy Sweet Potato Roll, and a delightfully refreshing Yuki roll, soft seaweed encompassing spicy salmon, flakes, avocado, cucumber & tobiko.
We left the restaurant sated and content. Crisp, slightly spicy drinks and vibrant, healthy snacks were deemed an invigorating start to my latest NYC culinary adventure.

PRUNE 54 East 1st Street

I had been anticipating a meal at Prune since my last trip to NY 6 MONTHS AGO! I heard of Gabrielle Hamilton’s little restaurant and quickly looked it up online at the NY Times restaurant pages. Where the dinner menu didn’t particularly grab me, the brunch menu attacked! It’s a small menu, with only 13 items, but each of these are heart-warming dishes. Classic brunch menu items like Eggs Benedict, Huevos Rancheros and Steak ‘n’ Eggs share the stage with some unusual, inventive items like Sausages & Oysters and Spicy Stewed Chickpeas.
We chose two similarly interesting dishes. I had had my heart set on the Joe’s Dairy since, oh- I dunno…August! And I knew that with one look at the menu, my sister would be going for the Monte Cristo Sandwich.
Though we were hung over, and I mean it- we needed a bit of the hair of the dog. We went for a classic American brunch cocktail- the Bloody Mary. Prune is famous for their Bloody Mary menu with over 10 varieties including the Classic with celery and lemon, Danish with Aquavit Danish vodka, fennel and marinated anchovy and the Southwest mix of tequila, smoked chipotle peppers and lime.
Joe’s Dairy was pretty much fluffy, creamy heaven in a bowl. An alluring mix of supple, plump figs, tart raspberries and rich, buttery pine nuts were nestled in a cloud of lush Ricotta. This concoction was further sinful-ized with a drizzle of glistening, golden honey. For dipping (Goodness- I love dipping) were crispy, crumbly fried dumplings dusted in a blanket of powdered sugar. Dessert anyone?

BABBO 110 Waverly Place, Washington Square Park

I’d wanted to go to Babbo for a loonnggg time. I once read a fantastic book by Bill Buford (Heat) recounting his experience of working at Babbo as a cook, and subsequently re-tracing Mario Battali’s journey through Italy to become a chef. Since then, I’d had Mario’s short ribs braised in Barolo wine on my brain. But- I’ll start at the beginning.
My sister and I were planning on giving it a try on Monday night (at a famous Iron Chef’s restaurant –in Manhattan at that) without a reservation! Miracle that it was, we walked in, and were seated at a table before you could say “Salute!” As is always a practice dear to my heart, they started us off with a complementary amuse bouche of chick peas and black olive tapenade. The meaty, buttery chick peas mixed with the saltiness of the black olives certainly served its to whet my appetite.
For a first course, or ‘Primi’, we shared an order of “Maccheroni alla Chitarra” with oven dried tomatoes, red chilies and Bottarga di Muggine. Yes, it sounds like macaroni, but it consisted of strands of thick spaghetti, drenched in a chili flavored olive oil, tossed with earthy, sugary tomatoes and salty caviar that burst in your mouth. The portion, split in two, was certainly enough to save room for the main event, while allowing for a little bit of indulgence.
For my main, I had decided (months ago) on the “Bresato in Barolo”, braised beef short ribs with Porcini mushrooms. Though I hate the use of the over-used term “cooked to perfection”, there would be no other way to describe this dish. No knife was necessary, as the bites fell off. The savory-cream mushroom gravy added a depth of rich warmth to the meat. This experience was further heightened when our server grated fresh, piquant horseradish on the meat, tableside. The spiciness of the horseradish served almost as a wake up call to bring me back as I went off in my own little world with each bite.
At the end of this meal, I humored my sweet tooth, “When in Italia” after all! We shared a dessert; sumptuous, saffron panna cotta which was both decadent and light. The rich custard-like dish was cut by an icy, tart rhubarb sorbet, spiced up with rhubarb and pink peppercorn compote. Yet another example of the joys of sweet meets heat.

BAR AMERICAN 152 W 52nd Street

Bobby Flay. The name alone conjures up memories of the most succulent, tender and mouth-watering steak that I’ve ever had in my life (MESA GRILL -102 5th Avenue). He outdid himself this time.

We started off by sharing a few appys: a beautiful, spicy tuna tartar and fried green tomatoes. The latter were a pleasant surprise; lightly battered and fried, the sweet tomatoes were paired with a rich mix of crispy fried duck and drizzled with a homemade sweet ‘n’ sour sauce. I hate to go all Rachel Ray, but allow me to say: “Yummo”. The tartar was a refreshing mix of classics; buttery tuna and salty capers along with creamy Parmesan cheese and plenty of fresh cracked pepper. This light dish was a great contrast to the richer tomatoes.

Next came the mains. As per usual, when I made the reservation for Bobby Flay’s Bar American on 54th and B’way, I poured over the on-line menu, and had already decided that I would have- the Wednesday night special; Bourbon BBQ’d ribs. The plate held a half rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs, glazed with a smokey, caramel-like Bourbon glaze. A down-home cornmeal biscuit with savory tomato butter rounded out the flavor of the meat.

As the menu was a la carte, we shared two soul food-like side dishes; fresh, crisp spring asparagus with a light and creamy green peppercorn vinaigrette, and a sweet potato gratin that conjured up every memory of a Thanksgiving meal all in one bite. It was both smooth and creamy, sweet and spicy all at the same time.

Now, I have to back up my claim as this being “The best meal I’ve ever had.” Normally, though the mere mention of ribs makes my mouth water, it was all these components together that made the meal. To top it off, we shared a bottle of a smooth Pinot that complemented each dish remarkably well. There’s just something about Bobby’s stuff- just when I think that something is (really) ridiculously delicious, he adds that extra little detail that makes it an assault on your senses