A year ago, I traveled to New York with my mother, who was nominated for a Louie award for one of her cards at the annual Greeting Card Association powwow. She didn't win, alas, but it was an honor nevertheless, and it afforded me the opportunity to socialize with a few of my favorite folks in the city that I love perhaps second only to my home in San Francisco. While nearly every meal I ate was in the company of others, I had one solo meal at the bar at Boqueria, where I had a charming salad of snap peas, shaved radish, chevre and mint, which I promptly ripped off.
In that post, I implored readers to take a light hand with seasoning, so as not to overwhelm the delicate fresh spring flavor of the snap peas. I suggested they savor the peaness. A few of my cohorts on Twitter took the joke and ran with it, and the hashtag #peaness still manages to rear its, uh, head from time to time. It's a joke that never, EVER gets old. Now, I've taken it to the next logical step and fashioned some #peaness men's underwear. (They then made a cameo in an auto-populated CafePress ad, heh.) They may not be quite worthy of the runway, but surely they make a charmingly cheeky gift.
Earlier this month I had the cause to return to New York. DPaul had to go for business, and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a free hotel room and subsidized meals. Again, I was able to schmooze with a number of my favorite peeps — but since having launched Punk Domestics last July, I've acquired a few new chums with whom I was able to break bread. I met with Sean Sullivan, who aside from penning the delightfully quirky blog Spectacularly Delicious (a regular contributor to Punk Domestics with his unusual jams and other concoctions), is also associate publisher at House Beautiful. Sean toured me through the very impressive Hearst Tower, including the impressive Good Housekeeping test labs. Truly, I was awe-struck.
(In case you haven't heard me blather on about it enough already, Punk Domestics is a community and content aggregation site for the DIY food set — you know, those of us who like to make jams and pickles, and can them, or maybe cure meat in a year-long challenge, or brew our own beer. Are you a DIY devotee? Come check us out!)
Since my visits to New York are infrequent and brief, I try to do some strategic eating (and drinking) while I'm in town. This does not necessarily mean I built a rigid schedule of reservations; in fact many of our best meals were spontaneous. Rather it meant having a mental checklist of places to hit, and ticking them off when and as appropriate. Some highlights:
This quaint little bar in — guess where? — the Flatiron District would be at home in San Francisco. Long and narrow, with a well-preserved Art Deco bar back along one wall, it's clearly been a mainstay of the neighborhood from its more humble days and has enjoyed a hipster revolution relatively recently. We met with Emily Cavalier and talked about life, work and the future over well crafted cocktails. All this without a total mob scene, and good service to boot. If I lived here, this could be my favorite bar.
The sun was blazing bright when we arrived, and as the doorman ushered us into the bar, we were struck blind. The interior of Death & Co. is so dark you think at first the name is actually literal, and you've been thrust into Hades. Once your eyes adjust, you see plush banquettes, small oil candles on the tables, and dim sconces on the walls. The cocktail menu is sprawling and complex, segmented by anchor booze and peppered with highfalutin ingredients that are the darlings of the cocktail geek set: Velvet Falernum, Carpano Antica, Fernet Branca, and so on. We were joined by the lovely Emily Hanhan of Nomnivorous for a quick one in this charming space.
I got to tag along with DPaul and his colleagues for a meal at this LES spot. Upon entry, the front of the restaurant looks nothing like a restaurant at all, but rather like a funky antiques store or curio shop. But as you pass the receptionist through an unassuming door, you enter a dark, cavernous space gilt with retro-60s chic. Think mahogany-toned walls clad with bejeweled wall hangings that might have once hung in my Italian grandmother's home. In the main dining room, a massive domed skylight throws a column of light into the space, further enforcing the cave-like feeling, as if you've just rapelled into the restaurant from above. The menu is segmented into categories of sharable plates: Crudos, "jewels on toast," salads and heartier plates. The chicken liver mousse on toasts with sweet-sour onions was a highlight, but everything was quite good.
This ended up being a lovely, spontaneous lunch with Jennifer Perillo, who used to work here. Since the attrition rate of the staff there is amazingly low, everyone knew her and gave her the star treatment. It was as if I was Beyonce's guest, watching the staff fawn over her. I felt, frankly, honored to be in her company. Over a bowl of snapper with braised squid, leeks and heirloom beans and a lovely glass of pink wine, we gabbed for a couple hours. I'm sure the food was as wonderful as I recall thinking it being, but mostly I remember the company.
I've been eager to visit this temple of meat for some time now, and had planned to make a lunch of it with a couple folks, which unfortunately fell through. Coincidentally, dinner plans that same night also fell through, and so DPaul and I hit it up as it was probably the best option within a reasonable radius of our Midtown hotel room. The place was predictably chaotic on our arrival, the bar area thronged with happy hour patrons, but we were assured it would only be a 15-minute wait. Almost exactly 15 minutes later, we were seated at a small two-top in the publike dining room. We knew we were in for a mighty meat fest, but still I think we were ill prepared. We kicked it off with the "small" terrine plate, which arrived as a massive slice of a tree trunk topped with five hockey puck-sized rounds of various pâtés of guinea hen, pork and rabbit, paired with piquantly acidic piccalilli and pickles. That alone should have fed us just fine for the night. But then came the famous lamb burger and a gorgeously charred rib eye with ramp béarnaise. Delicious, but easily three times the amount of food we could consume that night.
Remarkably, they had a local (North Fork, Long Island) wine on tap, a spritely cab franc blend, that we ordered a half liter of. I'm a big fan of our local unbottled wine, and was excited to see an option on the East Coast as well.
I sort of had to bait DPaul on this one, knowing its popularity and the likelihood of a long wait; I assured him that there would be other options in the area if we decided the wait was too unbearable. Indeed, when we checked in we were given an estimate of 45 minutes, maybe an hour. However, Ssäm has a small bar area in the back where you can while the time away over a glass of wine, beer or sake and a small plate or two to whet your appetite. This quelled DPaul's reluctance, and after a glass or two of sake and a couple of their rightly famous pork buns, it was time for us to be seated. We had hardly notice the time passing.
Unless you're a larger group, seating is along a lengthy communal table. Quarters are tight, but not so tight that you can't flare your elbows out a little to maneuver your chopsticks as you hoist some seasonal pickles from plate to palate. The menu is eclectic Asian, a fluid cross pollination of Korean, Chinese and hints of Japanese presentation. But most of all it's delicious. The steamed buns alone are worth the price of admission, and we enjoyed all our plates that night. The bottle of house sake might have had something to do with it.
Eataly falls somewhere between a reverent shrine to all things culinarily Italian and what an American might think mall food court would look like in Rome. The rambling space houses a variety of food and drink-themed stations ranging from quickie espresso and gelato bars to casual eateries to one full-on restaurant. We got there at the crack of 11, when the eating establishments open, and after doing a quick recon of the space (a Guzzini shop! Oooh!), settled in on eating at the pasta and pizza station.
Our adorable waiter rattled off the pizza and pasta specials of the day, including the unfortunately named pizza salmonella, topped with salumi and, awkwardly, an egg on top (no salmon, which I would have thought). We opted for the pizza pepperonella, a white pizza topped with smoked salame and grilled bell peppers, and the penne napolitano, with a simple red sauce, fresh mozzarella and torn basil. But first, we started with a salad that spoke to me of the simplicity of all great Italian foods. Just four ingredients, juxtaposed so each of their voices could be heard both individually and in harmony with each other. I knew, then, that it was time for me to rip off yet another New York restaurant salad.
Shaved asparagus, fava beans, grana padano and mint salad
The asparagus we had at Eataly appears to have been shaved on the side of a box grater to get slightly thick slices, almost like chips. Evidently my cheap, old box grater is not sharp enough to do this, as it merely mangled the stalks and left a less than appealing presentation, so I just laid each stalk on the cutting board and took a knife to it, cutting in thin slices along a bias. If you have a mandoline, you might be able to use that to good effect as well. I was not able to find grana padano, and while we always have parmigiano in the house, in a fit of locavore pique I opted to invest in a small hunk of Sonoma dry jack, which worked at least as well. If you wanted a lighter cheese flavor, I would think ricotta salata or a very firm feta would be very nice indeed. For dinner after I shot this, I extended the salad with a few handfuls of arugula, added some dressing and more favas, and it was really delightful, especially with the seared steak.
3-4 fat stalks of asparagus
1/2 c. hulled fava beans
~1 oz. grana padano, parmigiano or other hard cheese
1/4 c. mint leaves, packed
Lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Process the fava beans: After removing the beans from their fuzzy pods, blanch them in simmering water for a few minutes. They will float, and the color will brighten.
I love the color of the favas at this stage. The inner bean has a strong bluish tint, and the creamy, opaque white hulls give them a gorgeous milky pastel tone, like Jordan almonds. Remove the beans and shock them in cold water. Drain, then tear the skins of the outer hull and squeeze out the inner bean. That's the stuff you want. Discard the hulls and set the beans aside.
Peel the stalks of the asparagus up pretty far, just to the point where leaves are beginning to form. If you have a very sharp grater with a shaving blade, use that to shave the asparagus at a long bias; you want about 1/8" thin slices. Alternatively, use a knife and cut on a long bias to achieve the same effect.
Combine the asparagus and beans in a bowl large enough to toss them well. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the grana padano in chips into the salad. Squeeze a half a lemon (or toss a few dashes of vinegar) into the mix, and add a few good cracks of black pepper. At the last minute, make a fine chiffonade of the mint, add to the salad, and toss well. Taste and season accordingly. The cheese should have added sufficient salt, but if your asparagus is very bland you may want to add more salt. If the salad feels dry, add a drizzle of good olive oil and toss again. Adjust until it tastes good to you.
Serve, chilled, on its own or alongside slices of chilled seared beef.