A Couple of Tarts

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf. ~ Epicurus

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

lever house

AIDEZ-MOI, I have forgotten what dining out is like! J'en ai marre! Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire? What is a girl to do? Luckily, I still have a few connections in the restaurant business. Earlier this month, on a quick jaunt up to NYC, Dave and I had the good fortune to spend some time with our friend Deb (superstar Pastry Chef) and her adorable son, Gabriel. (superstar cutie) We happily accepted her invitation to have dinner at her restaurant, Lever House.

I have never had the good fortune to dine there, because it always seemed a bit too swank. The reputation of the food is only equaled by its design. The entrance alone impresses with its sleekness. Being the modernist I am, I felt at ease the moment we walked through the doors. The Marc Newson interior is absolutely stunning with its honeycomb motif and soothing palette. This is how I envision my dream home. Deb greeted us as we settled into the pod-like booth. As I sipped my "Quincy" cocktail, I absorbed our sumptuous surroundings. Ahhh..such perfection in the details. I felt a bit shabby, especially since I've been running around all day, maybe I'll try to sit up taller.

My starter was a beautiful winter salad of Satur Farm greens, butternut squash, ricotta salata, and hazelnuts. The unique combination was not only delicious but had a most pleasant texture. Chef Dan Silverman sent out an albacore and fluke tartare which was unlike one I have ever tasted. The buttery fluke was delicate and came to life with a burst chive, jalepeno, and orange. My entree was a sweet and rich monkfish highlighted by olives and cipollini onions. What came next was a feast of desserts, 3 courses to be exact. We began with light-as-air potato doughnuts, hot chocolate and cranberries. It was followed by a dizzying array of perfectly executed desserts...Blood Orange Ice box Cake with Graham Crackers, Chocolate and Peanut Butter Layer Cake with Peanut Brittle Ice Cream, Butterscotch Creme Caramel with Cornbread, and Marscapone Cheesecake with Pineapple Fritters. Jaloux? Nous sommes tres heureux! It is impossible to choose a favorite. The flavors are familiar but composed with such sophistication and balance. Je suis tres content, mais combien de temps dois-je attendre pour le prochain?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dining Out in Astoria

When you think of Astoria, do you automatically think of Greek food? Yeah, that and maybe the Bohemian Beer Garden. But there are other a plethora of other types of restaurants in these parts. Since RFC moved in, I've been eating out in the neighborhood a lot more. I think when I was living here by myself I figured if I was close to home, I might as well save my money for when I was going with friends and eat the food I had in my fridge. Now that I have someone close at hand to explore with, I've been trying out new places.

Friday night we went to Stove. It had been recommended by one of RFC's friends and it was just down the street. The bone chilling weather made it a good night to try some place nearby. The place was very cozy inside, almost a little too warm, especially once I'd had a glass of wine. But the Irish waitresses were friendly and we felt very comfortable. The menu is eclectic, with options ranging from shepherd's pie to chicken Kiev. RFC and I decided on an onion, tomato and blue cheese salad. It was a little heavy on the red onion, but still tasty. We shared two entrees, wienerschnitzel with warm potato salad and red cabbage and crab-stuffed sole with mashed potatoes. I thought the fish was flavorful and RFC liked the cabbage that came with the wienerschnitzel. Overall it was a pleasant meal. The food was good, not spectacular, but satisfying. We will definitely go back and it is a great option to have in the neighborhood.

A far superior meal was had at Locale, a nouveau Italian restaurant. It is a modern looking cafe and the night we went it was filled with families. We shared a pasta dish, fagottini alla barbabietole, a beggar's purse filled with gorgonzola served in red beet creamy sauce, and a fish dish. It's been a while since we went, so I have forgotten exactly what it was. What I do remember is that it was a delicious meal.

Finally, we recently went out with some family to the old school Italian joint the other way down the street, Ristorante Piccola Venezia. RFC and I had been curious about this place for quite some time. There are always cars double parked outside and there aren't really any windows, so we couldn't check out the inside. Very mysterious. One night we ducked in to check out the menu and a few weeks later made a reservation. This place was a treat! Definitely a throw back to an older Queens. You have dinner there and you feel like they are really taking care of you. It isn't cheap, but I think you are paying partly for atmosphere and the experience. They sit you down and give you a chance to relax, order a drink and nibble on the bruchetta, meat and cheese they have set down on the table. Once you have caught your breath, then they come with the menus. Our waiter assured us they could prepare any of the fish or meat any way we preferred. I had osso bucco that was so tender, I didn't need a knife. It came with gnocci in red sauce. The baked clams were also good. RFC had fish, but again I can't remember what it was (bad foodblogger! bad!). It's not some place we can go to all the time, but it was a treat.

45-17 28th Avenue
Astoria, New York
(718) 956-0372

33-02 34th Street
Astoria, New York
(718) 729-9080

Ristorante Piccola Venezia
42-01 28th Avenue
Astoria, New York
(718) 721-8470

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sugar High Friday #27: Chocolate by Brand

This is my second opportunity to participate in Sugar High Friday, a food blog event first started by Jennifer at Domestic Goddess. This month it is brought to us by one of my pastry idols, David Lebovitz. Being that his passion is chocolate, it is not surprising that he threw the parameters of the event wide open and made the theme Chocolate by Brand.

On my trip to the Bay Area last summer, I finally was able to take a tour of the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory in Berkeley. I am partial to their chocolate because they are a Bay Area company and I used their semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate for all my creations when I was a pastry chef in San Francisco. While I was visiting, I bought a package of their cacao nibs. Up until now, I had only used them a few times and was saving them to try and recreate a meringue cookie I had at another Bay Area favorite, Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. At Tartine they call them rochers, which means boulders in French. The one I had on my visit had a crunchy outside and was chewy inside. The cacao nibs were a fine foil for the sweetness, adding chocolate, but not more sugar. I have been meaning to try and make them myself and SHF #27 gave me the perfect excuse.

The following recipe is a combination of two I found. The ingredient list (with the addition of the nibs) is from Emily Luchetti's Chocolate Meringue Cookies which is in Star Desserts. The technique came from the Almond Rocher recipe in Tartine Cookbook, by the owners, Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. My version turned out wonderfully, although not as chewy as the one I had at Tartine.

Cacao Nib Meringue Cookies
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Scharffen Berger unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup Scharffen Berger cacao nibs
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl. Heat water in a saucepan, bringing to a simmer. Put the bowl over the hot water and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture in hot to the touch. Take the bowl off the water and begin to beat with an electric mixer (or on a Kitchen Aid with whisk attachment) at high speed until the mixture is thick and shiny and holds stiff peaks. Fold in the cocoa powder, cacao nibs and vanilla. Either drop by a spoon onto the baking sheet or use a piping bag to make "kisses."

Bake with the oven door slightly open (use a wooden spoon to prop it) for 17 - 20 minutes until they begin to crack and are dry to the touch. Take out, let cool and store in an airtight container.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Luckiest Girl

Who has the best boyfriend ever? I believe that would be me.

Yesterday was my birthday and I was treated to a day that was both relaxing and fun, filled with excellent company and good food. All courtesy of RFC.

The day started with a breakfast that included hashbrowns I have been hearing about for months. They were well worth the wait and RFC spent the morning slaving away over the stove turning them out as well as eggs and bacon. For my part, I lounged around reading the Sunday paper and drinking coffee, something I don't get to do leisurely very often these days. Once breakfast was over and we had gotten ourselves together, it was into Manhattan to spend a few hours at MOMA. Have you ever noticed that the Male and Female bathroom icons at the museum have a swagger in their step?

Dinner was a surprise and I knew that RFC had been emailing with S. to pick out a place to take me. When he told me this, there was one restaurant that popped into my that I hoped she would suggest. As we walked through the West Village, down Bleeker Street, I realized that was exactly where we were going. August Restaurant is a place I have been wanting to go for literally years. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about it and it was number one on my To Dine List.

We started with a chestnut canellone filled with ground veal and chicken. I can't describe to you how rich and meaty it was. We shared our two entrees, oven roasted whole orata (a meaty white fish) and grilled bavette of beef which came with a creamy sauce of sunchokes and mushrooms. We added on a side of brussell sprouts with almonds. Everything was perfect and one of the staff helped us pick out a delicious wine to go with our meal. We sat in the back, which is like a patio with a glass roof. If you have a choice, sit there. We finished our meal on a sweet note with their sticky toffee pudding. Cavity inducing, the sweetness was offset by tart pomegranate seeds sprinkled over the top. August lived up to all my expectations.

The evening ended with jazz dowstairs at the Cornelia Street Cafe and me wishing it could be my birthday every day.

359 Bleeker Street
New York, NY
(212) 929-4774

Sunday, January 14, 2007

bon anniversaire karen!


Please join me in wishing the NYTart a wonderful birthday.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

la raison pour laquelle j'adore NYC

In the year and a half that I have left New York, I think of it everyday. I know this sounds quite sad, but everytime I return it is that much sweeter. For a period of less than 48 hours, Dave and I ran around like a bunch of "country folk." Actually, that is a lie. It took us about 15 minutes to get back into the swing of things. Dear, sweet city how I miss you so. Here are a few reasons why.

class with Kristin and Barbara at The Shala

enjoying the bread basket at Le Pain Quotidien with friends and your honey

fighting over the last NYTimes at your corner bagel place (OK, I borrowed that one from Karen)

Pat Kiernan on NY1

greenmarket at Union Square

boutique hotels and their swell-looking staff

sitting in Central Park and taking it all in

city noise

obsession for real estate

the fashion show on the street

Lever House (to be continued...)

Friday, January 05, 2007

48 Hours in Baltimore

And not a pink flamingo in sight.

I went down to Baltimore (or B'more as the t-shirts say) for a couple days to visit KB. I had never been there before so it was all new to me. An interesting place with lots of little neighborhoods to walk around in. KB and I spent lots of time bumming around, drinking coffee, and taking advantage of this freakishly warm weather. One neat little coffee house we had lunch in was Spoons in Federal Hill. The coffee was great and I had a delicious tuna salad sandwich. It had just enough mayo to hold it together and it still felt healthy. It also had bits of apple to make it interesting. We spent an afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This museum and the Walters are now free to the public all the time. Pretty cool if you ask me. BMA has a number of Turkish mosaics that are amazing. We ended the first day satisfying our sushi cravings with dinner at Matsuri. What impressed me most about our meal was the yellowtail and scallion roll we ordered. Usually, the piece of yellowtail is pretty small, but here it was a good-sized chunk so that we could actually taste the fish.

My trip ended with a slice of pie from Dangerous Pies. KB had heard of this place from others and of course I had to give it a try. The minute we walked in the door, we were engulfed in the sweet, buttery smell of baking pies. The owner was set up at the back tables filing pie shells with apples and cherries. So it was pie for breakfast for both of us. KB had a slice of blueberry, while I decided on cherry. Now I know neither of these fruits are in season, but we both thought they were delicious. The cherry pie was a little tart and the crust, while thick, reminded me of a cookie. KB's slice of blueberry was a little sweeter and the crust was flaky and thin. They also have savory pies and quiches on the menu.

24 East Cross Street
Federal Hill
Baltimore, MD
(410) 539-6751

1105 South Charles Street
Baltimore, MD
(410) 752-8561

Dangerous Pies
1036 Light Street
Baltimore, MD
(410) 522-PIES

Monday, January 01, 2007

The LA Report

I answered the call of sunny Southern California for the holidays and spent a relaxing week with the family and RFC cruising around, snowboarding and eating lots of Latin food. Isn't the ratio for any CA trip one taco for every two days in California?

In honor of RFC's first time meeting my family, we had to get a pizza from Baronne's. They say they are the originators of the rectangular thin crust pizza in So Cal. I have no idea if it's true, but I do know that their pizza is like no other I have ever had. It's nothing like NY pizza or Chicago pizza or the fancy CA pizza with tandoori chicken and feta cheese. It's kind of greasy, the bottom crust is a little doughy and the crust around the edge is almost non-existent, but what is there is crunchy and crisp. It is the best pizza I have ever had!

Another must-eat every time I am home is Poquito Mas. Their ahi tacos are simple and delicious, as are all their tacos. They also have salsa bar with two kinds of salsa, various shades of other pepper sauces, jalepenos and carrots, and cilantro. And the tortillas are made to order. Yum!

That was only the beginning of the Latin food we enjoyed. There was also a trip to El Torito. I know what you must be thinking, "Ack! A chain! The TGI Fridays of Mexican food!" But it is a favorite of my mom's and I have to say that the food was much better than I remembered. I had the Mexico City tacos which were pretty darn tasty. We also indulged in the tableside-made guacamole as well. I admit I was pleasantly surprised.

One night was spent down in Venice. If I ever have to move back to LA, this is where I would want to live. There are so many sweet little houses and they are all distinctive. My friend recently moved into the neighborhood and she has such a neat little set up. She took us to a laid back tapas place, Santino's. Many of the dishes have an Argentinean bent and there is also a large panini menu. We were partial to Eggplant Mamma Mia, a garlicky spread, and the chicken empanada. From there we went down the street to La Cabana for excellent margaritas and creamy guacamole. Both restaurants had a laid back, chill atmosphere. Great places to catch up and get to know my friend's new beau.

One last treat was a visit to Porto's. This Cuban bakery has been family owned and operated since 1960. They have an outpost in Glendale, but we checked out their newish location in Burbank. The little cakes and pastries filling in the case are beautiful. Mini coconut cakes with purple orchids perched on top, tres leche cups with piped merengue, fruit filled empanadas...you can't go wrong. This time, though, we were there for lunch and I had my very first Cubano sandwich. I can't believe I waited so long! The bread was crisp and toasted just enough to warm the inside, which was filled with pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. All the sandwiches come with plantain chips. The next day we stopped in for breakfast on our way to the airport and had omelets on croissants with guacamole and papa rellenas. These breaded mashed potato balls are heavenly and filled with seasoned ground beef.

The week was fun and went by so quickly, but it's nice to be back in NYC. I still have a little down time before I go back to work and I think I need to detox just a bit and hit the gym after all the indulging. RFC seemed to enjoy his time there and fit in well with my people. Next time, though, I have to get get him up to Northern California for an entirely different experience.

13726 Oxnard St.
Valley Glen, CA
(818) 782-6004

Poquito Mas
10651 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
(818) 994-8226

3021 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
(310) 392-5920

La Cabana
738 Rose Ave.
Venice, CA
(310) 392-7973

Porto's Bakery & Cafe
3614 Magnolia Blvd.
Burbank, CA
(818) 846-9100

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