Archive for Manhattan

Brunch at Morandi

Weekend holidays tend to disorient me for the rest of the week, and Easter Sunday was no different. So this post is going to be short and to the point, because I also can’t let another day go by without describing the fantastic brunch I had at Morandi in the West Village a few weeks ago with my dear friend Cheryl.

When Morandi first opened in 2007, it received pretty mediocre reviews, a first for the Keith McNally empire that includes favorites such as Balthazar, Pastis, and Minetta Tavern. But before anyone could try a second plate of spaghetti at this stylishly rustic Italian restaurant, chef Jody Williams was fired and Tony Liu took her place. Now, since I hadn’t eaten at Morandi until a few weeks ago, I can’t talk about whether it’s better or worse than before. All I can say is that Cheryl and I had the best brunch ever when we ate there.

Of course we started with the carciofi alla giudea, or fried artichokes ($12). Lightly dressed with lemon juice, they were light and crisp, the delicate leaves protecting the soft center choke. They were also surprisingly un-greasy for a fried dish, and Cheryl and I ate them all in just a few minutes.

Everything on the menu from the egg-based dishes to the salads sounded amazing, and it took me forever to choose my main dish. I finally went with the fazzoletti di ricotta, warm buttery crepes filled with lemon ricotta and topped with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries ($13). Think of them as the Italian equivalent of the much-loved blintz. The crepes were thick and doughy, the lemon ricotta light and airy. Combined with a dusting of powdered sugar and fresh fruit, this was the perfect breakfast dish.

Cheryl had an equally difficult time choosing her meal, but finally went with the classic spaghetti carbonara ($15). Morandi’s was one of the best versions of this dish I have ever tasted. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the egg was just slightly cooked from its heat. Small chunks of pancetta hid between the egg-coated spaghetti strands, but believe me, none went to waste. Did I mention yet that Cheryl let me eat the last bite? If that doesn’t prove our friendship, nothing does.

We considered ending our feast after our main dishes, but then quickly requested the dessert menu. The crespelle di cioccolato, or chocolate crepes, could not be denied ($9). Topped with chestnut gelato and a sweet citrus-based sauce, they were delicate and decadent at the same time. As Cheryl and I lingered over our coffees, we saw so many dishes pass by our table that we wanted to try; we almost ordered a second meal then and there. But the tempting focaccia “occhio di bue” (cracker-thin focaccia topped with a sunny-side egg, pancetta, and pecorino, served on a gorgeous wood serving tray) will just have to wait until another visit—which will be sooner rather than later. We’re already looking forward to our next shot at the best brunch ever.

Morandi, 211 Waverly Place at 7th Avenue in the West Village, Manhattan. T: 212-627-7575


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Dinner at wd~50

We’ve been rather indulgent here at Artichoke Heart lately. Two weeks ago Jim and I had a wonderful, decadent meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Then, in honor of Jim’s birthday last weekend, we enjoyed an equally intense dining experience at wd~50 in Manhattan, where Chef Wylie Dufresne is known for using principles of molecular gastronomy to create unusual and unique dishes. Always interested in science and technology, Jim had wanted to visit this restaurant for some time.

Similar to Blue Hill, wd~50 treats food as art. But whereas Blue Hill’s focus is on the rustic, seasonal goodness of locally grown food, wd~50’s perspective is thoroughly modern. From the sleek dining room to its open, steel-equipped kitchen and manipulated ingredients, the restaurant’s philosophy is whimsical and experimental. Each dish makes you think while you simultaneously encounter exciting flavor juxtapositions, textures, and sensations. Not everything on the nine-course tasting menu was a success, but each plate had Jim and I wondering about the tricks and meanings behind them ($140).

Take, for example, the “knot foie.”  Smooth, creamy, and surprisingly light, this thin piece of foie gras was somehow twisted into the most delicate of knots. The silky texture was complemented by airy, crispy rice puffs, a riff on the traditional cracker accompaniment you might encounter at a cocktail party. I usually find foie gras too rich, but at wd~50 I dragged every bit of it through the different sauces and then to my mouth. Jim and I were still talking about this course the next day, finally figuring out that the “trick” lay in its intricate shape and how it was achieved without falling apart.

The “eggs benedict” were another treat. Two firm, cylindrical yolks staked their claim to the plate like stately sculptures, paired with two cubes of fried hollandaise coated with english muffin. Delicate bacon chips completed the scene, anchored to each yolk in a vertical balancing act. The flavors of classic eggs benedict were intact, but achieved in a novel and amusing way.

Some of my favorite dishes were the simplest, such as the Asian-influenced Hamachi tartare, served with crispy pear, a tahini sauce, and a grapefruit shallot dressing. Although I didn’t care for the tahini, the clean, fresh flavors of the raw fish prepared my palette for the rest of the evening’s fare.

As I stated earlier, not every dish was a success; sometimes I just didn’t get the joke. Five grilled corn “pebbles,” flavored with lime mayo and scallion, had a grainy texture that I didn’t enjoy at all. The waiter had explained that these tiny spheres were composed from various powders, leading to the unpleasant sensations I was feeling. On a more personal level, the beef tongue served with cherry-miso was an unusual but successful pairing of flavors, but I couldn’t reconcile myself with the fact that I was eating tongue. Jim, however, loved it. 

We also adored all four of the desserts, particularly the jasmine custard, served with banana ice cream and a sauce of black tea. Jim usually can’t stand bananas, but we were both thrilled by the intense flavor and texture combination. We applied the same positive sentiments to a spongy coconut cake paired with smoked cashews and a brown butter sorbet. Surprisingly, pastry chef Alex Stupak transformed some of our least favorite flavors into exciting revelations. 

By going beyond the conventional methods of how food is prepared, Chef Dufresne creates a cuisine that is untraditional and experimental. My husband always likes when our adventures make him think, and between Blue Hill at Stone Barns and wd~50, we’ve had a lot to contemplate lately. It’s all been pretty darn amazing.

wd~50, 50 Clinton Street, New York, NY  T: 212-477-2900. In addition to the tasting menu, wd~50 also offers an a la carte menu. You can also do a wine pairing with the tasting menu for an additional $75 each.

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Sunday Shopping at the New Amsterdam Market

Last weekend I spent most of my time racing against raindrops, trying to schedule outdoor activities amid the ever-present threat of extreme downpours. On Sunday Jim and I managed to explore the New Amsterdam Market at South Street Seaport before another round of thunderstorms arrived later in the day.

Sweet Cherries from the New Amsterdam Market

This was the third gathering of local farmers, purveyors, distributors, bakers, and chefs. The New Amsterdam Public Market Association’s goal is to permanently dedicate both the New Market Building and the adjacent Tin Building to a sustainably-produced, regional food market. The two buildings have been vacant since the Fulton Fish Market relocated in 2005.

Sunday’s food gathering was held in front of the Market Building, where the vendors displayed an amazing variety of products. It’s impossible to talk about all of the participants, so I’ll just highlight some of our favorite stops along the way.

Eggs from the New Amsterdam Market

We first visited the Ronnybrook Farm stand, where I tried their sweet and creamy Peach Yogurt drink. A few rows over, Hudson Valley Fresh treated us to their cool and flavorful whole and chocolate milks. They supply Ronnybrook Farm with their milk, which I took as an encouraging example of a local and sustainable relationship between two food producers. I didn’t try much cheese at the market—it was just so hot that I didn’t feel like it—but it was certainly well represented by purveyors such as Saxelby Cheesemongers.

Cranberry Pecan Bread at the New Amsterdam Market

Moving on from the dairy-based products, I tried some fresh gazpacho from McEnroe Organic Farm and tasted some beautiful, textural loaves of bread at the extensive bread pavilion. Later I topped it all off with a blue-straw-berry lavender sorbet from The Bent Spoon, and a summery bite of strawberry shortcake from the chefs at Centovini.

Marlow & Sons at the New Amsterdam Market

Although fresh fruits and vegetables were represented at the market, Jim and I were surprised by the focus on artisanal foodstuffs and purveyors. The New Amsterdam Market’s website makes some interesting points on the importance of purveyors such as Marlow & Sons and their relationships with producers and consumers. Just as creating a food product is a crucial aspect of the market system, so is having the knowledge of sourcing, preparing, and selling food.

I didn’t buy any meat from the vendors at the market, although the free tote bag from Bo Bo Chicken helped me carry all the free publications I collected during my tour, as well as a container of Health Shoppe’s organic popcorn, a bottle of Swarmbustin’ honey, and a box of sweet cherries. From the crowds I saw on Sunday, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for this market. I’m just glad I didn’t eat lunch beforehand.

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My Season of Seasonal Birthday Dinners

Warm Pecan Tart with Butterscotch Ice Cream at the Iron Horse Grill, Pleasantville, New York

For the past few years I’ve stretched my birthday to last at least a week, filled with multiple dinner outings accompanied by friends and family. While some may view this approach as indulgent, I prefer to call it ingenious, and this year I spread my birthday joy to three restaurants in three different counties. So instead of dwelling on how old I am, let’s concentrate on the food:

Iron Horse Grill: My father had wanted to take us to the Iron Horse Grill for years, so last weekend we celebrated both my birthday and my sister’s with Chef Philip McGrath’s three-course tasting menu ($49). Located in Pleasantville’s former train station, the Iron Horse Grill exhibits influence from all over the map, infusing fresh ingredients with international accents on its New American menu. I started with the intriguing and massive khaifi shrimp, wrapped in delicate, crispy filo dough and served with cucumber raita, papadum, and red curry sauce. The thyme-rubbed rack of lamb with an apricot-olive tapenade, polenta cake, and wilted spinach was comforting in its winter traditionalism. But I was most affected by the warm pecan tart with butterscotch ice cream, presented with a personalized birthday greeting. Thanks, Chef Phil! And double-thanks for not singing! 20 Wheeler Avenue, Pleasantville, New York  T: (914) 741-0717

Craftbar: My friends Cheryl, Rebecca, and I convened at Tom Colicchio’s sleek Craftbar, the informal sister restaurant to Craft; both restaurants focus on simple, seasonal ingredients. At Craftbar, the eclectic Snacks and Appetizers sections immediately grabbed our attention, and after much debate about what to order, we started with the creamy pecorino-stuffed risotto balls ($7), fried oysters with celery root remoulade ($9), and the dry but interesting sausage-stuffed sage leaves ($8). Cheryl and I both ordered the pillowy veal ricotta meatballs as our main dish ($21). The hefty portions were a perplexing contrast next to Rebecca’s small serving of salmon with brussels sprouts, apples, and smoked bacon ($21). We ended our meal with a brown sugar cake served with eggnog ice cream, and made a pact to return soon for drinks, so we could try the warm pecorino fondue with acacia honey, hazelnuts, and pepperoncini ($11). 900 Broadway, New York, New York  T: 212-461-4300

Flatbush Farm: On Saturday night (my actual birthday) Jim and I went to Flatbush Farm in Park Slope with our friends David and Rachel. Yet another member of the seasonal, market-driven restaurant scene, Flatbush Farm was packed by the time we arrived at 7 pm. Sautéed spatzle with mushroom ragout and parmesan cheese was the first of many large portions that night, the perfect choice for a windy and rainy evening in the ‘hood ($12). I moved on to the French Dip, a hot roast beef sandwich with horseradish, gruyere, and caramelized onions, accompanied by french fries and a beef jus for dipping ($14). Hefty, tangy, and tasty, the French Dip was also bit of a mess: Meat and onions spilled onto my plate every time I reached for it, covering my hands with slick, greasy juices. Finally, a dessert of warm chocolate cake pleasantly ended my week of birthday festivities. Another one down, hopefully many more to come. 76 Saint Mark’s Avenue, Brooklyn, New York  T: 718-622-3276

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The 7th Annual International Pickle Day

Pickle Guy Balloon at 7th International Pickle Day

On Sunday I found myself in a bit of a pickle. But don’t worry, I wasn’t in any sort of danger. I was simply surrounded by pickles at the 7th Annual International Pickle Day Festival on the Lower East Side. The only possible peril was to my stomach, as I was tempted by too many pickled wares. Oh, the pain of it all.

Pickled cucumbers, peppers, beets, turnips, okra, and more were available for tasting on the crowded stretch of Orchard Street between Broome and Grand Streets. You see, pickles actually refer to any type of food that has been preserved and flavored in acid. These acids can include vinegar, salt, alcohol (such as vodka), citric acids like limes or lemons, and savory spices such as garlic. I didn’t see any meat or fish being offered, but with the crowds of pickle fanatics crowding the stands, it’s quite possible I missed them.

At the turn of the century, the Lower East Side was known for its Jewish immigrant population of Germans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Greeks, all contributing to the neighborhood’s pickle history. On Sunday more recent waves of immigrants also made their pickled presence known. Kalustyan’s had incredibly spicy Indian mango chutney for tasting, while the Korea Agro-Trade Center hosted one of the longest lines for their pickled cabbage known as kimchi.

The neighborhood stalwarts held their ground as well, with Guss’ Pickles and the Pickle Guys enduring serpentine lines of pickle lovers. I couldn’t sample everything, but I soon discovered that my favorite pickles came from the Brooklyn-based purveyors. Who knew that Brooklyn boasted such an impressive pickle community?McClure’s Pickles from International Pickle Day on the Lower East Side Confronted with Wheelhouse Pickles’ amazing array of fruit and vegetable pickles, I found it almost impossible to walk away from their sweet pickled pears. Somehow I wound up with two jars of cucumber pickles from McClure’s Pickles: spicy garlic ones for Jim and garlic and dill spears for my parents.

Even on such a small strip of street, pickles were well-represented in all their glory by a plethora of products and information. I wasn’t surprised to learn that cucumbers are 96% water, but I  had no idea that that pickles existed in so many varieties. It’s no wonder they get their own festival every year!

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