New York, NY

Babbo

December 11, 2010 - If you've perused the recipes on this site, you'll know that I'm a huge Mario Batali fan.  I was in New York City and I wasn't leaving this time without trying Babbo.  We did not have reservations, but my friend, Amy, who has been to Babbo before, suggested that we go early, when the restaurant opened, and try to get a seat at the bar.  We arrived at 4 pm - 1 hour before the restaurant was to open. Since we were the first there, we decided to take a stroll around the block to check out this Greenwich Village neighborhood and all the Santas that were wondering the streets of New York City that evening.  
 
As we walked around the block, we saw a wide variety of Santas, Santa's elves, Mrs. Clauses, and other "women" who clearly were not Mrs. Claus, hanging all over Santa - if Mrs. Claus saw them, she would not approve. We found out later that apparently, the city was hosting a Santa Con. According to one website, it is a non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and non-sensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year for absolutely no reason (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2225921506&v=wall).  
 
 
We arrived back at the restaurant 15 minutes later and to our surprise there were 4 people standing in line.  We quickly took our place in line and hoped that our walk around the block didn't hurt our chances of getting a seat at the bar. The bar was first come, first serve, so Amy strategized, as we waited in line, which seats we would take.
 
The doors opened and in we went - in my opinion, we got the best seats at the bar. The bartender greeted us and took our drink orders.  She was very knowledgeable about the wines, made some suggestions, and let us sample several before we decided on one we liked.  Amy and I like to order wines by the glass when we dine out because it gives us more opportunities to try different kinds.  Babbo has a very nice wine by the glass selection.  Our first glass was a Langhe Nebbiolo - the same grape used to make a Barolo.  This wine had bright cherry fruit upfront, a little tannins, something like coffee, chocolate or leather on the end with a nice fairly long finish. I enjoyed this glass very much and it was much cheaper than ordering a glass of  Barolo. 
 
 
It was a good thing I was enjoying the wine because it eased the pain I felt when I leaned over to get my Nikon camera out of my purse to take a picture of the bottle (and our meal that was to come) and discovered my camera was missing.  I had somehow lost it earlier in the day.  This almost ruined my evening of food picture taking - at least I still had my iPhone so all was not totally lost.  I would make do.
 
The bartender brought us some parmesan pepper grissini and olives. I didn't try the olives since I don't like them but the breadsticks had a very nice peppery spice to them.  Amy said the olives were "big and meaty"  - and since I don't eat olives, I'm not sure if this is a good thing.
 
 
First, the waiter brought out a chickpea bruschetta, Babbo's signature amuse bouche. I'm not a huge fan of chick peas but I actually liked this very much. I have no picture of this because at this point, I'm still trying to figure out how to work the flash on my iPhone.  I figured it out after we ate the bruschetta.
 
Next, we decided to upgrade and pay the $2.50 up-charge to try premium olive oil - Cappezana's unfiltered extra-virgin Tuscan olive oil.  And yes it really was that green.  I did a google search to try to find more of this olive oil, and Dean and Deluca sells it- $40 for a 17 ounce bottle.  The olive oil is very intense with some hints of pepper at the finish.  
 
      
 
To maximize the number of different dishes and to try to conserve some calories, Amy and I shared appetizers and pastas.
 
Our first appetizer was a braised fennel salad with pears, gorgonzola piccante and cherry vinaigarette. The only remarkable thing about this dish that I remember was the cherry vinaigarette. It was very tasty. Also, it was a little disappointing that the chef didn't split our fennel salad onto two separate plates.
 
 
Next we ordered the Sarde a Beccafico, a traditional Sicilian dish of stuffed sardines. Lately, I can't seem to go to a restaurant without ordering the sardines if they have them.  Babbo's sardines were stuffed with raisins, breadcrumbs, celery, eggplant and red onions.  You can find the recipe for this dish here:  http://www.babbonyc.com/recipe.html
 
The sardines were moist and perfectly cooked.  The stuffing ingredients were delicious and combined nicely with the sardine's flavor profile.  Now that I have the recipe, I'm looking forward to making this at home.
 
 
After consultation with the bartender, we decided to share three pastas. The chef promised to split our pastas on two separate plates. The first of the three was maccheroni alla chitarra  with oven dried tomatoes, red chiles and bottarga di muggine.  Not only have I never tried bottarga di muggine, I had never even heard of it.  Since my evening at Babbo, I've learned that bottarga is fish roe, extracted with its membrane still intact, lightly pressed, cured in brine and dried in the sun. Bottarga di muggine is the bottarga of grey mullet.  It has a briny, almost sweet flavor and I would liken it somewhat to the taste of anchovies.  The pasta was cooked to perfection and truly served al dente. The bread crumbs added a nice texture and slight crunch while the bottarga di muggine added a depth of flavor to the dish that would be hard to replicate using an alternative ingredient. This pasta gets my two thumbs up (and if I had a third thumb- I would put that one up too).
 
 
My next glass of wine was the 2008 La Mozza, a wine made by Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali in their joint winery in Tuscany's Maremma region on the west coast of Italy.  This sangiovese has hints of floral on the nose, a lot of fruit up front, and finishes with licorice.  I enjoyed my second glass very much.
 
 
Our second pasta was garganelli with funghi trifolati. Once again, I had ordered something I'd never heard of before - garganelli pasta - a handmade combed penne pasta made from a grated Parmesan, nutmeg, eggs and flour dough. Amy and I wondered how you would "hand make" the ridges in the pasta. Well, apparently, there is a tool called a garganelli comb that is used to make the pasta's ridges. Even though I don't remember the types of mushrooms in this dish, I think this was my favorite pasta of the evening. The simplicity of the sauce (olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese) enhanced the flavor of the mushrooms.
 
 
My third glass of wine - which I couldn't finish because I'm a lightweight - was a very nice Sicilian wine. It was made of 100% Nero d'Avola, a red grape native to Sicily.  I don't remember too much about this wine other than it was full-bodied, very rich, and had a long finish.
 
 
Our last dish was the gnocchi with braised oxtail. Like the sarde, I tend to order gnocchi at almost every restaurant I go to that has them on their menu. The potato gnocchi were very tender as was the oxtail, which almost melted in your mouth. Babbo's gnocchi are probably somewhere in the top 10 of the best potato gnocchi that I've had (I think Palena, in Washington, DC still gets my vote for the best).
 
 
Finally, it was time for dessert and this we didn't share. I ordered the pistachio and chocolate semifreddo and Amy ordered an assortment of cheeses.  Pistachios are my favorite kind of nut and this dessert was a perfect way to end my experience at Babbo except.......
 
 
 
....that we had one more thing coming, compliments of the chef - an assortment of cookies.
 
 
Final note: We entered the restaurant at 5:00 pm and left at approximately 8:30 pm.  During that time, we received exceptional service and even with the many people waiting in the small and crowded bar to have dinner, the wait staff did not rush us.  Our 3 plus hour dining experience was well worth the one hour wait to get in the door. The food, in my humble opinion, was incredible, and the atmosphere was homey and non pretentious.

Bar Boulud

December 12, 2010 -  Daniel Boulud has many award winning restaurants around the world and I really wanted to try one of his restaurants while in New York City.  I am intrigued by him for a number of reason, one being is that he is from Lyon, France, the gastronomic capital of the world.  He has five restaurants in the city - they include Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, and DBGB Kitchen & Bar.  

The restaurant I really wanted to try was Daniel. The 2011 Zagat's guide touts it as "perfection on a plate."  Perfection; however, comes at an average cost of approximately $140.00 per person. I may have considered making reservations at Daniel had this been our only evening to dine out in the city, but I was already way over my "dining out" budget for the month (and nothing new here - I'm always over budget).  I chose, instead, Bar Boulud, his casual, more affordable bistro, located at 1900 Broadway, across from Manhattan's Lincoln Center. I made reservations on opentable.com a few days in advance. Amy was game to try this restaurant because I wanted to try it, but I could tell that she would have preferred to go somewhere else. Throughout our stay in the city, she kept suggesting alternative restaurants for our Sunday evening dinner.
 
First, bottom line up front - I've just come to realize that I don't like terrines or pates. 
 
Our first plate Amy and I ordered to share was "lapin de garrigue" or provençal pulled rabbit, carrot, zucchini and herbs. It's the square looking thing in the picture below.  I had not a clue of exactly what I was ordering.  Because the word "pulled" was in the description, I was expecting something hot and similar to "pulled" pork barbecue but made with rabbit instead.  I know, silly me.  I was quite surprised to get the cold square looking thing that tasted like cold roasted chicken with vegetables in gelled chicken juice and fat.  The only nice thing I can say about this dish is its beauty and color. 
 
 
The second thing we ordered was "tourte de caille." It consisted of vermont quail, berkshire pork, foie gras, apricots, and sicilian pistachio, all in a pastry crust. This one is the triangular looking thing next to the square looking thing in the picture above. The pastry was served cold and I only liked the foie gras - which tasted very buttery, smooth, and creamy. The foie gras is the cream-colored looking stuff almost in the middle of the pastry crust.  Overall, I did not enjoy the tourte de caille.
 
Next we ordered the "velouté de champignons" which consisted of a mushroom velouté, porcini confit and chive crème fraîche" or to describe it more simply - "cream of mushroom soup."  The soup was served hot, it was thick, and very tasty.  I enjoyed this very much.
 
 
After the soup, we shared a plate of aïoli with olive oil poached cod and carolina shrimp, garlic dip, quail eggs, vegetables, and mussels. Again, everything was served cold. Amy really enjoyed this dish and it inspired her to recreate it for her next dinner party. I, on the other hand, did not like or enjoy this dish at all. The only tasty part was the garlic aioli. 
 
 
Finally, we ordered the pommes frites.  I thoroughly enjoyed the frites and they were especially delicious dipped in the garlic aioli that was served with our previous dish.
 
 
Final note:  The service was incredibly slow and the wait staff did not offer helpful suggestions. If I ever go back to Bar Boulud, which I doubt I will because the service was horrendous, I plan to order some of the more traditional bistro dishes, like coq au vin or the black angus steak with fries, instead of the terrines and pates. I can attest that Bar Boulud is not "perfection on a plate." 

 

Del Posto

 

 

 

 

 

Eataly

December 11, 2010 - If I could imagine what heaven is like, it would be exactly like Eataly. When I walked through its pearly gates, I thought I had died and gone to heaven - Eataly is a foodie's paradise.  Anything your heart desires in fresh fish, cheese, produce, meats, pastas, coffees, and desserts can be found here.
 
Mario Batali's Eataly, founded by Oscar Farinetti and Luca Bassigo, is one of the largest Italian marketplaces in the world. The original market, located in Turin, Italy, is half the size of the New York City market located at 200 5th Avenue in the Flatiron District. 
 
I, unfortunately, wasn't able to shop and bring home any groceries since I was traveling by train.  Next time I visit the city, I will plan to drive so I can buy some of the high quality olive oils, pastas, canned tomato sauces, vinegars, fresh seafood, meats, cheeses, and anything else I can put my hands on. I literally could go on and on about all the amazing produce, meats, and other groceries but you really must visit and witness Eataly for yourself.  
 
I had wandered down to Eataly around lunch time so I decided to sit at Il Pesce, the fish bar, and order a little something to eat. Il Pesce is run by Dave Pasternack, who is also the executive chef of Esca, located at 402 West 43rd Street.  Dave just so happened to be at Eataly that afternoon and was kind enough to take a picture with me (see below).  Dave, by the way, has lots of family in Montgomery County, MD, where I live - who knew? Since meeting Dave, I've read some reviews of him and his restaurant. Esca is a southern Italian restaurant that mainly serves seafood. One review gave Dave the nickname of the "fish whisperer," and after eating at Il Pesce, I can certainly understand how he got that nickname. I look forward to visiting Esca on my next trip to the city.
 
 
I decided to order the crudo trio tasting which consisted of three different kinds of raw fish - mahi mahi, diver scallop, and orata.  The seafood was very fresh and was drizzled with a nice olive oil. The pistachios on top of the mahi mahi and the pomegranate seeds served with the diver scallop added a nice touch.  The crudo was exactly what I was looking for - something light and not filling.  
 
 
Ordering a glass of wine on an empty stomach may have been my biggest mistake of my New York City trip.  I'll get to why in a minute.  I ordered a glass of the Perdera, a Sardinian wine made from 90% Monica, 5% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo grapes grown in the Argiolas’ Perdera vineyard. I remember this wine having a mix of both fruit and earth with some tannins. It was a well balanced wine with a nice finish. I enjoyed it very much.
 
 
Ok, now to why ordering a glass of wine was a big mistake. It's no secret that I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking alcohol. I essentially can't drink more than one or two glasses of wine.  I basically drank this glass on an empty stomach - the wine went straight to my head and I somehow left Eataly that day without my camera. I discovered my loss later that evening. Losing my camera made my lunch at Eataly incredibly expensive!
 
Next I decided to order the monkfish liver.  This had a very interesting texture and tasted very close to foie gras.  I wasn't sure at first if I liked it but it seemed to get better with each bite. I've decided that if you want to eat foie gras that this is a more humane way to go - I would think it would be nearly impossible to force-feed a monkfish in the same way they force-feed a duck. 
 
  
 
 
Final note - I would highly recommend visiting Eataly as often as you can.  I plan to go each and every time I visit New York City.

Esca