Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More Quick Hits! Restaurant week.

I wasn't sure I would be partaking in Restaurant Week this year but as luck would have it I had two good meals in the first two days of RW 2012.

The lovely folks at TheDailyMeal.com took me to lunch and we ended up at Periyali. Periyali is a wonderful Greek Restaurant on West 20th Street. It has been in business for almost 25 years and it has not lost a step. Periyali is one of those restaurants who's name elicits a smile and fond memory from everyone who has ever been there. When you tell a friend that you just ate at Periyali the response is always the same;" Oh, Periyali! I love Periyali." That is usually followed by a memory of a birthday dinner there, a party for a family member or a romantic night. It is one of those rare restaurants that has survived by serving great food with great service in a beautiful setting. This is a restaurant for adults, and I mean that in the best way.

The room is long and elegant, with white walls and light blue and silver touches that evoke memories of a sun drenched Greek Isle. The service is professional and welcoming. The food doesn't disappoint.

We went to Periyali on a whim and it turned out they were participating in restaurant week. I went with the restaurant week menu. My starter was a classic plate of mezze.

The plate consisted of Taramosalata (caviar mousse), Melitzanosalata (grilled eggplant puree) and Tzatziki (cucumber with yogurt and dill). If you love Greek Mezze, you will love Periyali's.

For my main course I went with Kotopoulo Foumou.

Roasted free range chicken with oregano and lemon potatoes. For whatever reason I tend not to order chicken in restaurants unless it is fried chicken. Maybe it is because I have read too many times that chefs hate having chicken on the menu (they find it boring) but the customers insist. Regardless, on this day I ordered the chicken and it was the right call.

The chicken itself was top notch, plump and full of flavor. Perfectly roasted so that the meat stayed moist and juicy, it was bathed in a lemon-oregano sauce that was tangy and delicious. I am re-thinking my "no chicken" policy. Kotopoulo Foumou warrants a return to Periyali.

A nice plate of sweets and an espresso later, I walked out of Periyali with a smile on my face. I know when someone mentions "Periyali" to me in the future that smile will return.

Periyali - 35 West 20th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue - www.periyali.com

For my second meal I was joined by my dear friend Ben. We have been restaurant week partners for a long time, but when the last round came he passed. He was on a health kick and was staying away from long, leisurely meals. So I was pleasantly surprised when we made a plan for lunch and he suggested hitting a restaurant week spot. After surveying our options we decided on The Dutch.

I will be honest, I had been avoiding The Dutch. The hype and scene kept me away. There are too many other great restaurants in New York. I was surprised to see them participating in Restaurant Week and was more surprised when we were able to get a reservation for the time we wanted. I was asked if we would be participating in their Restaurant Week menu. I said yes and I was worried we would be shuttled to some remote corner where the Restaurant Week people would be out of eyesight of the regular patrons. I am happy to report this was far from the case.

The Dutch sits on the corner of Sullivan and Prince. It is a handsome place. The front room has big windows, lots of wood, a tiled floor and a bar with green tiles, a light wood top and brass fixtures. All this gives The Dutch that modern "old time" feel. A hallway leads to a large back room. This is no purgatory. It has a slightly more casual, comfortable feel than the front room. The staff was friendly and enthusiastic. We were given the option of both the regular menu and the Restaurant Week menu. We went Restaurant Week, with a supplement.

We opened up with a few Oysters. Wellfleets and Island Creeks. They were cool, fresh and delicious.

We then hit the Restaurant Week menu. First up were the appetizers. I started with the Watermelon Salad with Sugar Snap Peas and handmade Sheep's Milk Ricotta.

I love a good watermelon salad. The addition of the snap peas was an interesting one. Eaten together, the snap peas and watermelon didn't really work, but eaten separately, with some of the ricotta, the watermelon and snap peas were a great contrast. The watermelon was soft and sweet in one bite, the peas crisp and sharp in another. A great summer time salad.

Ben went with the White Gazpacho with Ruby Red Shrimp and Marcona Almonds.

The soup was not a traditional gazpacho. There were elements of tomato in the soup, but it was creamier (almond milk I believe) and smoother. Each bite brought forth different flavors. Sharp tomato in one spoonful, cool almond in another, a chewy, sweet bite of shrimp in a third. The soup leaned a bit towards the bland side, but it was unique enough not to be disappointing.

It was time for the main events, and I went with the Orecchiette with Benton's Bacon, Sweet Corn and Sungold Tomatoes.

The Dutch is a restaurant who embraces seasonal cooking . The orecchiette had a delicious light pesto on it. Again, each bite brought a contrast. One bite featured the smokey bacon, the next the sweet corn then a bright, tart tomato. This is what seasonal cooking is all about. I loved it.

Ben had the Steamed Halibut with Quinoa, Local Beets and Horseradish.

Sounds healthy, maybe boring. Nope. The halibut was delicate and delectable, the quinoa earthy and chewy. Pickled beets and horseradish sauce brought it all home. Healthy? Probably. Tasty, definitely.

Dessert. No afterthought. First up, Ben's. Peach Melba Sundae.

I couldn't stop him. Peach sorbet. Vanilla Ice Cream. Cake. Raspberries. Sweet summer goodness. You get the picture.

Me, Chocolate Semifreddo, Rocky Road.

There is something you should know about me . I don't love marshmallow. Outside of s'mores I never eat them and Rocky Road has never been my ice cream of choice. Now that you know that let me say, wow. This was probably the highlight of my meal.

This dessert was essentially deconstructed Rocky Road. A tower of chocolate semifreddo was rich and smooth, somewhere between gelato and a frozen mousse. A heavenly, berry flavored marshmallow sauce formed a moat on one side of the tower. The whole dish was sprinkled with chopped, candied almonds. Add this to the list of my favorite desserts.

Lesson learned. Don't believe, or be turned off by the hype. The Dutch was a delight. I can't wait to try it for dinner. I hope they will still have the semifreddo.

The Dutch - 131 Sullivan Street, corner of Prince Street - www.thedutchnyc.com

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Quick Hits! Thai, coffee and ice cream, fried chicken and sides and a surprisingly good pizza

It is brutal out. Too damn hot. Too hot to type a tome. Despite the heat it has been a good food summer so far. Here are a few of my highlights of the last few weeks:

Trying to beat the heat on a Friday afternoon.

 I have been dragging. The heat killed me the week of July 4th. But like an idiot I wandered down 1st Ave looking for lunch anyway. They say you should eat and drink hot food on a hot day and I did. I finally made it to Zabb Elee. Over due. Zabb Elee is "authentic" Thai food. I had Pla Dook Dad Deaw, which is an odd but tasty crispy catfish with a sweet tamarind sauce:

The home run though was Larb Moo.

Larb Moo is ground pork with shallots, mint, scallions, cilantro, chili powder and lime dressing. It was light and invigorating. On the 1-5 heat scale I asked for a 3 and it was perfect. Spicy enough to get me sweating without killing my taste buds. A great dish for a hot day.

This is one of the best versions of Larb I have eaten and it is worth a trip to Zabb Elee for the Larb Moo alone. I will be back.

Zabb Elee - 75 Second Avenue, NYC (Between 4th & 5th Street)  www.zabbelee.com

I rolled out of Zabb Elee feeling a little stronger. I started heading uptown when a thought occurred to me. I had been downing iced coffees, soda, water, lemonades, whatever I could get my hands on to keep me going in the heat. Then I remembered the ultimate pick me up. I crossed 1st Ave and made a right on 7th Street. I hopped up a few steps and entered the Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Shop.

The light yellow Van Leeuwen Ice Cream trucks were one of the first break outs in NYC's food truck craze. They brought artisan ice cream to the mean streets of NYC, offering an alternative to Mr Softee. The success of the trucks has led to three brick and mortar spots, including my stop on East 7th Street.

So what was it that drew me to Van Luuewen? That most wonderful of Italian creations, affogato.

The Italian version of a root beer float. Affogato is vanilla gelato with espresso poured over it. Van Leeuwen amps it up, American style, with a generous two scoops of their Vanilla Ice Cream and a generous pour of espresso. Hot and cold, caffeine and sugar, bitter and sweet, this is my ultimate pick me up. Keep your Red Bull. I will take an affogato every time.

Van Luueween Artisan Ice Cream - 48 1/2 East 7th Street, NYC, between 1st and 2nd Aves (as well as other locations and trucks) -  www.vanleeuwenicecream.com

Sitting at the Bar.

For the past few summers I have ended up with a free Saturday. No kids, no responsibilities. And my ritual has been simple. See a movie, sit at the bar at The Redhead. The Redhead is a great little spot on East 13th Street serving Southern food with a heavy dose of New Orleans. It is one of my favorite spots and I have sampled most of the menu. But when I go and sit at the bar on a summer Saturday night I am there for two things. Fried Chicken and a side of watermelon.

The fried chicken at The Redhead is one of the best in the city (and we now have a lot of great fried chicken here).

The picture does not do it justice. The skin is top notch. Extremely crispy without being dry and full of flavor. The meat is plump and juicy. It is must for any fried chicken fan. And the sides it comes with put it over the top for me. A big wedge of delicious cornbread and a salad of spinach, strawberries and candied almonds. It has made me strongly reconsider the usual mashed potatoes and greens.

With a Sazerac or Abita in hand, I am in heaven sitting at The Redhead's bar. But there is one other dish that has drawn me here. It is a simple thing, but I wait for it all winter. A side of watermelon.

Wedges of watermelon sprinkled with chili salt and lime juice. Simple. Amazing. Sweet, sour, salty, spicy and completely refreshing. Please, try this at home.

If you like bacon peanut brittle, shrimp with low country grits and sausage or Caesar Salad, The Redhead is for you. If you like fried chicken and ramped up watermelon, welcome home.

The Redhead - 349 East 13th Street, NYC (just off 1st Avenue) - www.theredheadnyc.com

OK, I'll admit it. It is pretty good.

For years my friends from Connecticut have claimed that New Haven has the best pizza. We all know that isn't true, but they need something to hang their hat on. With the pizza revolution going on in NYC, that claim is sillier than ever. But after years of hearing raves I finally made it to Frank Pepe's Pizza.

I did not go to Frank Pepe's in New Haven. At this point it is a tourist trap like Lombardi's. The pizza may be good but you have to suffer long waits with the masses. No thanks. No, I went to Frank Pepe's branch on an industrial street off the highway in Fairfield. We rolled in for lunch with a group of seven and had no problem getting a seat. So, the pizza.

We ordered three different pies. The first was the original tomato pie with mozzarella. It was fine. Good thin crust pizza. Nothing to go insane over but solid.

The second pizza was a white spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola pie. Now we were getting somewhere.

Good, chewy crust, with the gorgonzola mixing with the mozzarella to make it savory but not too rich. The mushrooms and spinach add the right funky and bitter notes. Nice one.

Finally, we had the white clam pizza. Fresh clams, grated cheese, olive oil, fresh garlic and oregano. This is a pizza to brag about.

This is as good a clam pie as you will get. Big, plentiful chunks of chewy clams are generously bathed in olive oil and a lot of garlic. Imagine great linguini and white clam sauce with a nice thin pizza crust standing in for the linguini. Outstanding.

The next time I am stuck in bad traffic on 95, outside of Fairfield, I won't get mad. I will just pull off the highway for a quick pit stop with a smile on my face. Pepe's white clam pie awaits.

The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria - Various locations in Connecticut - www.pepespizzeria.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Take Me Out To The Ball Game....

Take me out to the park....

Everyone knows that New York has two major league parks. Yankee Stadium, home of the Yankees, and Citi Field, home of the Mets. They do not need me singing their praises (OK, maybe Citi Field does. I am a Yankee fan but Citi Field is a great place to see a game). But NYC has two other ball parks that not only offer good baseball but a classic New York experience to boot. And it will cost you a fraction of what a day at one of the major league parks will cost. There are a lot of great minor league ballparks in this country, but you would be hard pressed to find any that offer up the experiences surrounding, and getting to, the ballparks  here in New York.

A trip to Coney Island has been a classic family outing for a long time. After falling on hard times Coney Island has seen a major clean up and resurgence (yes, some would say it is getting a little to clean). You can start with the beach, hanging in the sand and playing in the water. For lunch you have the world famous Nathan's and other boardwalk staples. Then you can hit the amusement parks in the afternoon for rides and games. Every summer we make at least one trip as a family to Coney Island. But as the sun sets, there is no need to go home. Instead, you can head to the ballpark.

From the day the Dodgers left in 1957 to move to LA, Brooklyn had been waiting for baseball to return to the borough. It returned in 2001 with the Cyclones inaugural season. The ballpark has been packed ever since. The Cyclones are one of the big success stories in the Minor Leagues. As you sit in the stands, eating your Nathan's hot dog (of course), you can feel the Brooklyn pride in the air.

The Brooklyn Cyclones are the Single A affiliate of the Mets. They play in MCU Park. The park is located at the western edge of the boardwalk in Coney Island. From the stadium you can see all the attractions you just spent the day enjoying. The amusement parks and rides, including the legendary parachute jump, The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone are all on view, lighting up as the sky grows dark.  You also have a view of the boardwalk, the beach and the water. Exhausted from your day, you can sit back, relax and enjoyed America's pastime.

Sand and surf. Hot dogs and roller coasters. Baseball. This is summertime in America, Brooklyn style.

The Staten Island Yankees are the Single A affiliate of the Yankees. They play in Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island. The ball park is right next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The Cyclones are their arch rivals and the difference in the experiences is greater than you would expect.

The Cyclones draw a full house every night. They have a huge base in Brooklyn and beyond to draw from. They have the legacy of Brooklyn Baseball. They have Coney Island as a draw. Ask people in New York if they have been to an SI Yanks or Cyclones game and I would guess that out of every ten people that have, eight of them went to a Cyclones game.

The Staten Island Yankees have a much harder time drawing a crowd, despite being an affiliate of the Yankees. Outside of games against the Cyclones, or a Yankee player playing a rehab game there, the park is rarely full. I am going to make the case for why you need to get to a Staten Island Yankees game. I have three main reasons, and the third reason to go is actually what I believe is the main reason keeps people from going.

Reason 1 - It is a great deal. Most minor league games are great deals, and the SI Yanks are no exception. The tickets are cheap and they run a number of promotions. I was there last week with the family. We do an annual outing with another family and have a great time. Because we always have at least ten people we can get a package deal. Here is the deal we had last week.

We paid $22 a person per ticket. We each received a ticket, a free SI Yanks hat and a wrist band that entitled us to use the three all you can eat areas. Unlimited burgers, dogs, chicken sandwiches, chips, water and sodas. Pretty sweet. On top of all this there was a fireworks show at the end of the game and the kids got to go down on to the field and run the bases. For $22. Beat that.

Reason 2 - The view. As good as the view is at a Cyclones game, nothing can beat the view from the SI Yanks ballpark. The stadium is right on the water, next to the ferry terminal, and the view is New York Harbor. As you lean back in your seat you see the water, the boats, the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. You watch they sky change color as the sun sets. You see the orange Staten Island Ferries travel back and forth. You see giant container ships heading out to sea. I have even seen fireboats turned into floating fountains as they tested out and cleared all their hoses and spouts.

Reason 3 - Getting there. I believe the main reason people avoid going to see the SI Yanks from Manhattan is because they have to take the Staten Island Ferry. They will take an hour subway ride or drive to Coney Island, but there is a mental block about a 25 minute Ferry ride. And this is a shame because the reason people put off going to a game is, in fact, one of the highlights of going to a game.

It is incredibly easy to get to the Ferry terminal from just about anywhere in Manhattan. And, unlike most things in New York, the Staten Island Ferry is free! Once you are on board, here is what happens. You pull out into New York Harbor and are greeted with an amazing view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Then, as you pass Governor's Island, lower Manhattan comes into view. As Lower Manhattan grows smaller, you pass by Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. You can see the Verrazano bridge in the distance as you pull into Staten Island. It is wonderful. When you return, the reverse happens, and at night the city is lit up, welcoming you back. And I have to admit, after years of having something missing from the view, it inspiring to the the Freedom Tower going up, filling the void, reminding us how resilient New York City is and that it never stands still.

So there you have it. Minor League Baseball. Small town entertainment in the big city. This is what summer is all about. Don't miss it.

Brooklyn Cyclones - www.brooklyncyclones.com

Staten Island Yankees - www.siyanks.com

Monday, July 9, 2012

DP Pizza

I know I promised baseball, but I wrote a piece on NYC's newest pizza, DP Pizza, for The Daily Meal and it is up. Here is the link:



Play Ball

The 4th of July is that most American of holidays. It is the day we honor the birth of our nation and it also is the real starting gun for the two months of summer. Today marks the start of another quintessentially American event that is also one of the rights of summer, Major League Baseball's All Star break.

The All Star break marks the halfway point of the regular season. The cold and wet games of April have given way to the hot and sunny games of July. We know we have officially put spring and the school year behind us. Here come the dogs days of summer.

In honor of the All Star Break the next few posts on this blog with have a baseball theme running through them. I hope you enjoy them. First up will be New York City's two ball parks, but not the ones you are thinking of.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cherries - An update

My old friend Andy read my piece on homemade maraschino cherries and sent me his thoughts. I knew Andy had been making them for a while and, as expected, he has some great insights. There are a few things you should know about Andy. First, he is a true cocktail enthusiast, and loves to tinker with them (one of the reasons we became friends). Second, he has an engineering degree and a law degree, so he is smart and methodical. This all adds up to some wonderful tips on improving your imbibing at home. What could be better?

One other note. Andy doesn't have a sweet tooth like me, so he prefers his Manhattan neat (with dry vermouth instead of sweet) and will forgo the cherry, as you will see. I will argue that no longer makes it a Manhattan (Andy disagrees), but who cares. All that matters is that you are happy with the drink in your hand. Here is Andy's note:

Just read your latest blog on maraschino cherries and enjoyed it very much.  You're right--sour cherry season is upon us and you have to get them before it's too late.  I can give you a couple of additional bits of info because I've been making maraschino cherries for the past couple of years myself:

(1)  No need to warm them.  I tried batches that I heated first and those that I just put in the jar with the liqeur.  If there was any difference at all (and I don't think there was much), I enjoyed the ones I didn't warm more.  The warmed ones are just ready a week or so earlier.  Also, I'd keep each of them at least a week before using.

(2)  I also tried it with bourbon--Makers Mark.  Warmed and cooled.  (You know me, an engineer through it all.  I went through the whole scientific method with these things, labeling lots of different jars.)  I thought that would work great, but I didn't like the results at all.  Don't waste your time and money on that.  Stick with the maraschino.

(3)  Heretically, I've grown to prefer an orange twist with my Manhattans in place of the cherry.  I know this is heresy--I admit it, and feel free to burn me at the stake.  But I think it's a very refreshing change of pace.  Grapefruit twist as well.  I like to mix it up between cherry sessions.  Variety is the spice of life.

(4)  Alexis *loves* the cherries.  So it gives me an excuse to put 2 into every Manhattan.  To share.  And because it means that everyone is happy when I drink my Manhattan!
      - Andy 

My sincerest thanks to Andy for letting me share the results of his research with you and a toast to his generosity! I just might have to try that orange twist.