If there’s one thing I love about NYC, it’s that for every diehard fitness fanatic waiting impatiently at the gym’s front door at 6 a.m., there’s a fried pizza fanatic who thinks four pizzas for three people might not be enough food. It used to be that you had to go to Park Slope’s Chipshop for a deep-fried slice, but Forcella took the fried pizza from an outer borough novelty to a full-on Manhattan sensation. Of course I was interested from the words deep-fried and pizza, but it was New York magazine’s article about the new Don Antonio by Starita that made me finally put down my Papa John’s and venture to Midtown:
Just when you thought the market for Neapolitan pizza had reached saturation, along comes Kesté’s Roberto Caporuscio and his old mentor Antonio Starita, who’ve teamed up to open Don Antonio in Hell’s Kitchen next Tuesday, February 7. In certain pizza-world circles, this is huge — like Gennaro Lombardi rising from the grave to sling slices with Dom DeMarco. For the uninitiated, Starita is third-generation pizza royalty. Along with Sophia Loren, his family’s Naples pizzeria starred in the Vittorio De Sica film L’Oro di Napoli. The man has served pizza to popes. He has tomato sauce coursing through his veins. In short, there is nothing about dough he doesn’t know. His student, Caporuscio, the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers, is no slouch either.
How could I resist when my friends The Pretender and Lucy invited me out on a whim one night last week? And luckily, Lucy had her camera on hand to take these glorious photos:
Henry ordered these three starters–fried potato with homemade mozzarella and bread crumbs, a rice ball, and a spaghetti cake with baked Italian ham and mozzarella–and seemed pleased but not overwhelmingly excited by them. I really wanted a spaghetti cake of my own but knew I was already going to have a hard time finishing the four pizzas we’d ordered.
The S.T.G. is for guaranteed typical specialty, the pizza by which to judge all other pizzas. Typical as it may have supposedly been, I was pretty impressed. It needed more basil, but the sauce–which seemed a weak tomato-only puree at first glance–was somehow extremely flavorful. The crust was this perfect not-too-burnt-and-crispy, almost-chewy texture, bready enough and airy enough to please everyone.
Despite the similar toppings, the fried pizza was wildly different from the S.T.G. Every bite was noticeably smoky, and well, the crust was something special: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, like a funnel cake or a French fry. And with that specific French fry/funnel cake soaked-through-with-oil-ness. It’s a magical mix of frying and oven-baking, and it was my favourite of the four.
It’s shaped like a racquet! And the handle is full of cheese! And is a big disappointment!
Overall, this pizza was awesome, and I say that as someone who barely like vegetables on pizza at all, especially when those vegetables are mushrooms (half-blergh!) and tomatoes (double-blergh!). But these vegetables were cooked down so flavorfully and lent a level of heartiness to the pizza that meats don’t. The disappointment was in the handle, which was lightly stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese and should have been the best stuffed breadstick ever but was just sort of okay–not quite flavorful enough and not quite cheesy enough. I need some oregano stuffed into that sucker.
With ricotta, mozzarella, and salami stuffed inside the crust and Italian ham, mushrooms, and basil on top, this is the pizza you order if you want to fill up on just one. We made the mistake of saving it for last and only ate half of it, because each piece feels like two. The spice of the salami contrasted the sweetness of the ham, and the cheese spilling out of the center made it a messy fork-and-knife feast.
For the longest time, the list of restaurants in NYC with three Michelin stars was three long, and there was one I couldn’t visit: Le Bernardin. My boyfriend, god bless him, didn’t want to drop a few hundred on a bunch of fish that he knew I’d only complain about, even after he went to the restaurant with a client and came home unable to stop talking about the things he’d seen. But after proving myself capable of continuing to gulp down guppies even in the face of great adversity recently, he finally relented and invited me to the three-course, $70 lunch.
And just as he suspected, I’m going to complain about it.
The place settings waiting at the table were some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The white plates were immediately replaced with fresh ones on which to eat our salmon rillettes.
I’m to the point with fish where I could eat raw salmon all day long, but smoked salmon is still fairly unappetizing to me. Still, I took a heaping spoonful of this spread and applied it to my chewy bread hopefully. It tasted just like I expected, which is to say smoked salmon. I was hoping for a tuna-salad-like flavor experience, where I could be distracted from the fish by the celery or the pickles. I’ve seen recipes for this that involve leeks and onions, bay leaves and peppercorns, but this tasted much simpler, like smoked salmon slightly subdued by mayonnaise, slightly perked up with chives. I was a bigger fan of the Parker House roll I chose from the bread basket.
The wines-by-the-glass list wasn’t very extensive, but the one Riesling on hand was sweet enough for the citrus in my appetizer but dry enough to pair well with the beefiness of my entree. Perfect for my needs.
Our other dining companion had this, and I failed to ask her for impressions. It’s highly recommended on all of the review sites, though, so do with that what you will.
In this preparation, octopus was the steak of the sea. It was thick, meaty, and hearty, yet tender, too. The charred suckers were the perfect crispy topping, and the sweetness of the meat was complimented by the savory black bean sauce and pears. My boyfriend said the “major flavor drama” was the charred shellfish against the tart tang of the bean, pear, and ink.
Le Bernardin meant it when they named one of their menu sections “almost raw”. If these were “cooked” at all, it was by the citrus in many of the preparations. Clockwise, there were plain scallops, scallops with olive oil and sea beans, with piquillo peppers, with wasabe and roe, and with yuzu and shiso. It truly was a progression from simple to complex, starting with the purest scallop flavor, moving to the crispy bean and lemony olive oil, then to the sweet pepper, to the spicy, crunchy roe, and ending with the big kick of the yuzu. I certainly prefer the texture of seared scallops, but I couldn’t have asked for better accoutrements.
This was another dish ordered by our friend, and again, we were too busy yakking about other things for me to catch her thoughts on it.
My boyfriend ordered this, and I was shocked to see the pile of truffle slices on top! He said the truffle butter was the star of the dish, and I agree that buttery is the best descriptor for his dish in general, but I’m surprised that big ol’ stack of truffle wasn’t written somewhere on the menu.
I’ll admit that I ordered this a little bit to suck up to my Persian boyfriend and a little bit because I’ve had a hankerin’ for his mom’s cooking lately. This was all the flavors I’ve been craving. The sauce was like a rich beef broth, the cucumbers fresh and sour with a bite. The garlic cloves were sweet and jam-like in texture, spreading smoothly onto the bass with my fork. I loved the crisp skin and the seared edges of the fish and longed for more surface area.
When the server set this in front of our dining partner, she said, “Oh, I ordered the pistachio,” and the server nodded. I think she actually expected to see pistachios somewhere on the plate.
My boyfriend only ordered this for the name, and it looked like the least interesting thing on the menu to me. When he gave me a bite, though, I was ready to trade. The choux pastry had a crunchy sugar top and the flavor of brown butter with a little sourness from the powder. I usually want to eat choux for the filling, but this was all about the shell.
I was concerned that this dessert would be too light and that I’d miss having chocolate, but I couldn’t resist the call of the spicy yuzu and ginger and am so glad I went with my gut instead of my brain. The yuzu parfait was a cold cross between mousse and meringue, supplemented by the thick white yuzu foam. There was a chewy green tea cake under the ice cream and dots of a sweet and sour sticky ginger sauce. I loved the crisp of the rice but thought that the green tea was enough of a savory element that the sesame wasn’t necessary. Otherwise, a flawless dessert.
We were only disappointed that the bottom of this bowl had a little pedestal in it to prop up these warm, chewy pistachio madeleines to linen-parting heights and make it look more full; we thought we’d be there snacking all afternoon.
The reason I don’t think Le Bernardin stands up to the other 3-Michelin-star restaurants in NYC surprisingly has nothing to do with the fish; our fish was cooked perfectly, sauced perfectly, presented perfectly. What was lacking was the rest of the dish; all of the entrees seemed incomplete. Each dish was just fish, and no plate of pickles will convince me otherwise. Dishes at Per Se, for instance, are also composed of a protein, a sauce, and small side items, but the difference is that those sides items are creative, intricate creations like cauliflower panna cotta and spinach pain perdu. On the other hand, I found the service and decor luxurious (finger bowls with lemon between courses and plush banquettes that begged to be lounged upon), and I loved seeing that Chef Eric Ripert was actually working in the kitchen. I’d return to Le Bernardin for exceptional desserts and a perfect piece of fish, but I’d bring a purse full of side dishes from somewhere else along with me.
Bouchon Bakery is part of the Thomas Keller empire of restaurants you can’t afford. You think you can, because from the outside, it appears to be an innocuous bakery, twenty times more casual than Per Se and without the need to make reservations a month in advance. But as soon as you walk in the door of the Rockefeller Center location, you notice the display of peanut butter cups for $3 each. (And those are mini ones; the regular-sized cups are $5+.) The sandwiches are $9, the French macarons $3.25.
What my boyfriend and I ordered was a little hit or miss depending on which one of us you ask. I wish we’d been hungrier so we could’ve sampled more than a sandwich and a cookie apiece (which still set us back a healthy $31), but it gave me a good idea of what I’ll come back for.
The sandwich selections were paltry on a Sunday night, so I went with a classic belly-warmer to see how Keller’s team could transform it. On paper, it sounds pretty incredible: this sandwich, inspired by the traditional French charcuterie, is prepared with Madrange ham, a slow-cooked, delicately flavored ham. The combination of sweet butter and Dijon mustard complements the subtle nutty flavors of Emmenthaler cheese.
In my mouth, it tasted like a pretty standard ham and white cheese. The one thing this sandwich has going for it is that the bread couldn’t be better-suited to it. It was crunchy on the outside but didn’t flake into a million crumbs with every bite. The buttered interior was chewy and light in contrast. I wish the filling had done it justice.
This was quality beef, cooked tender and sliced thin, but there was unfortunately very little of it on the bread. My boyfriend liked the roasted tomato garnish, but I needed more of the acidity to be cooked out of the tomatoes before they could be sweet enough for me. This tasted like a more complete thought than the ham and cheese because of its bright vegetable filling, but I couldn’t help but think of the $7 sandwich we buy on weekends from Tudor Gourmet, piled high with spicy pastrami and crisp arugula and served with a friendly joke instead of a haughty scowl.
After the disappointing sandwiches, I was prepared to roll my eyes at this $7 peanut butter cookie sandwich, but I walked away from it feeling like a little whipped cream and bittersweet chocolate shavings would make it into a plated dessert I’d willingly pay $12 for. I was expecting–and desiring–a soft, gooey cookie, but what I got was this crispy thing that snapped and crumbled apart. And I loved it.
The pastry chefs must be using a stick of butter per cookie, god bless them, because this thing was greasy as a pig in a wrestling contest and twice as delicious. The peanut butter filling, leaden with sugar but then whipped into a fluffy frosting, spilled out the sides of the cookie with each bite. My last mouthful was nothing but the peanut butter left on my hands, and it was perfection.
After a totally-not-heated debate over on my personal blog, I decided to watermark my photos until enough people complain about them being ugly. Well, as luck would have it, Dr. Boyfriend invited me to Quality Meats for lunch on a whim last week, so I didn’t have my DSLR with me, and I forgot to set my point-and-shoot to take RAW photos, so the first time you’re going to see my watermark is on these less-than-stellar pictures. I recognize the error of my ways! No need to publicly mock me!
Anyway. Niko from Dessert Buzz was kind enough to link to one of my posts last week and also mentioned this post from Midtown Lunch that featured this sundae. Which I obviously had to have. So I linked it to my not-usually-impulsive Dr. Boyfriend, and he said he wanted to go. For lunch. Right then. I called and asked if it was okay for me to show up in jeans, the hostess laughed at me, and I hopped on the subway post-haste.
We love Quality Meats. This was our fourth time there, I believe, and it never gets less delicious. The decor is maybe a little three years ago, with those old-timey exposed filament lightbulbs and dark, dark wood everywhere and the feeling that someone may butcher a cow right next to your table. But I’ll never get tired of that decor; to me, it feels casual and expensive at the same time.
The rolls are the very best bread service in NYC. I dare anyone to contest that. Topped with chunky salt and so much rosemary you’d think you were dining with the Virgin Mary, the rolls are soft, warm, buttery, and taste like a forest full of evergreens. We asked for seconds, and I am not ashamed.
I’m not a huge fan of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s food, but I credit him with the surge in homemade sodas simply because I had them there first and have ordered them everywhere I can since. So I guess it’s my own surge. Either way, these were far more elaborate than the Jean-Georges versions, with ingredients like whole lemon slices, strawberries, and hibiscus in mine and cucumber and jalapeño in Dr. Boyfriend’s.
I’m not saying they were better than J-G’s, because the ones at his restaurants are a little more intensely flavored, but I really appreciated how huge the drinks were for the price and the fact that they’re served in to-go cups so I could enjoy mine well into the afternoon. And then suck dry all of my hibiscus leaves while my co-workers’ heads were turned.
Huuuuuge chunks of crabmeat served with sides of cocktail sauce, a soy-sauce-based sauce, and an herbed mayo. There’s not really much I can say about this, because um, crabmeat is kind of just crabmeat. I guess that’s why I’ve never jumped at the chance to share a plateau de fruits de mer with Dr. Boyfriend, much as he’s dying to. I like the taste of crab, and oysters are fine, and lobster has one of my favourite textures ever. But I’d much rather see what a chef can make with the meat than to just be served the meat alone, which is why I’m a crabcake kind of girl.
I have to admit that the presentation threw me off a little. It’s a . . . log . . . of chicken salad. But really, what else are you going to do with chicken salad? Take a big scoop of it and plop it down in the center of the plate? Classy. Fill a lettuce wrap full of it? Tired. So I guess chicken salad meatloaf is the only option.
If you like chicken salad, and I do, this is a fine one. Crunchy from the celery, biting from the onion, and rich from the truffle, all on top of a buttery bread with a millimeter of crust on the top and bottom. The Marcona almonds and red grapes were the perfect crunchy, sweet accompaniments.
I kind of secretly wanted a steak, but I didn’t think I could handle a porterhouse for two all by my lonesome at lunch, so I went with the burger. I love ordering burgers, because:
1) there’s no such thing as a bad one, and
2) they’re both super-familiar and super-nuanced.
I haven’t really had, say, enough halibut in my life to be able to say how this one’s flakier than that one. But I’ve had a lot of burgers, starting with the ones made from the meat from my family farm’s own cows. This one tasted like steak. Not like regular ground beef but like a slab of prime rib slapped on a focaccia roll. It was seared so dark on the outside yet dripped juice all over my hands with each bite. With cheddar and crunchy pickles and spicy mayo and all that steak flavor, it was not a kids’ meal burger.
Accompanying both of our meals were these cross-cut fries with some well-aged Parmesan on top. These were the crispiest fries ever. I really mean that. Crispy to the point of too-crispy almost. There was no soft potato left inside of them, just oil-soaked snap-off-in-your-teeth crispiness. It was interesting but probably not my favourite way to prepare fries.
. . . and that’s where the meal ended. Dr. Boyfriend remembered halfway through the bread that he had a conference call and would need to leave in a half an hour. So we plowed through our appetizer and entrees and left entirely sundae-less. Which, of course, was the entire reason for the meal. I wept at first but later realized this just means we have to go back again now, and obviously there’s no complaining about that.
As a fairly new food blogger originally from three states away, I sometimes feel out of the food-blogging loop. And as a pig farmer’s daughter, I really love me a good pork roast. So it was a delight to be invited to eat a whole suckling pig at The Breslin Bar & Dining Room with one of my favourite food bloggers, Chubby Chinese Girl, and her pals Henry from Ramblings and Gamblings, Tia from Bionic Bites, Addie from Gypsy-Addie’s Food Diary, and other friends who actually eat things without blogging about them.
The first thing you notice about The Breslin is just how gastropubby it is. It’s a bar, but it’s the kind of bar where the bartender’s serving more burgers than beers. Every inch of wall space is covered in something farm-related–mostly ceramic animals in all shapes and sizes–and all of the fixtures are old-timey. The place is dark but for the bright light coming from the sparkling white open kitchen in the back. And we especially loved the use of what appears to be the original ceiling, which was cracked and peeling and beautiful.
I’m really not an appreciator of salad. I get that some people like light, fresh foods, but I’m going to chase my oysters with a big buttered steak every time. Our first course was a salad even I could’ve eaten as a meal, though. The Caesar dressing was just so flavorful, the dried herbs so crunchy. The anchovies weren’t fishy at all, really, but just added some salty depth. I would order this again in a second.
And then the pig arrived as the entire restaurant spontaneously broke into applause.
Its little piggy face was right in front of me, its eyeless sockets staring at me and its puffed ears floating alongside its head, begging to be popped like balloons at a county fair dart game. It was much smaller than I’d expected, but I guess we were feeding a table of nine and not a whole neighborhood of smalltown Ohio hillbillies.
Our pig-carver deftly removed the legs from each side and then tonged shoulder, belly, loin, and butt onto our plates.
My plate of crispy skin and shoulder was heavenly. The forkfuls alternated between completely falling apart and so crunchy I couldn’t cut them. It was all of the best things about pork with the benefit that I could sample all of the cuts in one dish.
My boyfriend’s experience wasn’t quite as good as mine, because the skin he got was floppy rather than crispy. I had to give him a piece of my skin before he understood why everyone was salivating over it. I guess that’s one of the side effects of EATING A WHOLE PIG.
It was served with sides of potatoes roasted in duck fat, roasted fennel, broccoli rabe, green sauce, and red sauce. The potatoes were the star with their extra crispy/extra fatty exteriors and soft insides, but really, all of the accoutrements held their own. The garlicky broccoli rabe and tender fennel were both spicy to accent the sweetness of the pork, while the chunky red sauce of peppers and tomatoes only added to its sweetness by tasting wildly of apple pie.
The apple that had been roasted in the pig’s mouth, on the other hand, was funky. My first bite was just nice, mushy apple, but my second bite was freaky, pig-saliva-flavored mushy apple. Lesson learned.
We spent an hour or so really ravaging that carcass, peeling back the cheeks and breaking off the ears, making excessive mentions of the butt meat and trying the doubly-flavoured neck meat.
Even my boyfriend, the salad-lover, found himself ravenous.
In the end, only this
and this remained.
And that’s when they brought the chocolate tarts
and ice cream.
The tart was very good, especially the parts with course salt sprinkled on top, but the ice cream was the really delicious part. I don’t want to pretend like I have any idea what to compare the flavor to, but the ice cream was extra sweet and just had a really wonderful smooth texture. I wondered if there was Marshmallow Fluff or something mixed in.
This was a difficult rating for me. On one hand, I really appreciate the novelty of being able to eat an entire pig in a fairly small NYC restaurant. I appreciate the work and care that had to go into preparing it. The side dishes were all better than expected and were flavorful enough not to become just afterthoughts next to the pig. I’m still thinking about that ice cream. But at the end of the day, if I’m going to spend $85 for a plate of food, I’d rather have it be an uncommon preparation made with ingredients I have to Google before I leave for the restaurant. Had this been anything but a whole pig, it would have been much less expensive, and there wouldn’t have been any floppy skin to deal with.
But my boyfriend said, “I mean, I just ask myself how much better they could have done with that, and it seems like, for what it was, that’s about as good as you could expect,” and I think that’s reasonable. It was a really neat experience, and I’m very glad I got to be a part of it. I found out that for me, eating an animal that still looks like itself isn’t weird at all! And I met some great people in the process.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)