Monday, December 21, 2009

Hundred Acres

For years I stayed away from chicken dishes at restaurants. It's simply the most practical dish to cook at home and so when eating out, it was always the easiest option to eliminate. But, with the rise of New American restaurants, it's been harder and harder to look past the many enticing poultry dishes. And, as much as I do cook chicken at home, roasting a chicken for one doesn't exactly fall under the easy or practical category. However, as the cold has taken over, my cravings for roasted chicken have been close to impossible to ignore. And, much to my surprise, I've strayed from the search for the latest burger, pizza or homemade pasta. This winter, I have been on the hunt for roasted chicken.


After one of the warmest, most festive meals at Hundred Acres, I am proud to report a chicken dish that truly stands out in my mind. I have raved in the past over the brunch at this Soho offshoot of Five Points and Cookshop, but it's time I give the dinner menu some well-deserved attention. While the chicken more than satisfied my cravings, the rest of the meal was a true comfort on a cold winter's night. Now, it would be unfair for me to go on without mentioning their butter. Forget the fact that basically everything on this menu is hearty and you should probably be saving up, their homemade butter is heavenly. I do recommend starting to eat it as you know that your appetizers might soon arrive - otherwise, you really might find yourself devouring the entire loaf of bread and serving of butter. It's just that good.

Regardless of your butter indulgence, you do want to enjoy a starter or two. If you are sharing, I recommend the grilled flatbread with crescenza cheese, charred red onions and chili-rosemary oil. The chili oil really brings this dish to life. And, you will find it nearly impossible to pass up the cauliflower and Brussels sprout gratin served with parsleyed breadcrumbs. Do not miss out on the roasted parsnip and turnip soup if it is on the menu. It would be an excellent prelude to the spit-roasted Amish chicken served with roasted sweet potatoes, dried fruit compote, and walnut butter. Yes, that is the dish of honor that makes me want to stop cooking chicken at home altogether and just eat it out at every chance possible. The chicken was perfectly roasted and seasoned with hearty, fall ingredients. If you are still of the mindset that eating chicken while dining out is not for you, the chef makes an excellent burger of pasture-raised beef served with Vermont white cheddar, vidalia onion mayonnaise, and fries. And for a slightly less hearty, but still rich with flavor option, I recommend the Block Island swordfish prepared with hummus, garlic braised escarole and dried fig anchoiade.

After nearly consuming a full baby chicken, I somehow found a way to convince myself that chicken (even when rubbed in walnut butter), is still a healthy option - making way and excuse for the dessert menu. I'll also argue that when appetizers and main courses are that well prepared, it would be an insult to the chef not to continue indulging. And so we cleared one more plate - one covered with vanilla bread pudding topped with caramel ice cream. I was quickly reminded of their French toast, one of my favorites of their many delicious brunch items. Although, Hundred Acres is certainly no longer just a brunch spot in my mind. The hunt for the roasted chicken is over - and I am pleased to report it was never too far from my own backyard.

Merry Merry and Happy Happy!! I will see you in 2010!



Hundred Acres
38 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 100
12
(212) 475-7500

website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pasita

Wine and cheese have always been a delicious duo. And there are plenty of bars throughout New York City showcasing this twosome. So, it's funny to think that pizza, an excellent culinary use of cheese, usually gets paired up with beer. People rarely talk about going to grab some pizza and wine as it's almost always pizza and beer. But, at the end of the day, pizza is defined by the cheese, and frankly, I prefer wine with my cheese! In fact, I'm not quite sure why a wine and pizza bar is not a more common occurrence.

The owners of Pasita seemed to have figured this one out several years ago - setting up one of the coziest wine bars in the west village. Not only do they venture out and feature the rare pizza-wine duo, but they also add an unusual Venezuelan flare to the menu - and it works. The idea is to enjoy some small plates, warm up with some wine, and round it all out with a brick oven pizza. And, I have to admit, they have it mastered. I have gone to Pasita for just a glass of wine, for just a few small plates, or for an entire meal, lingering between food and wine.


While pizza and wine are the real highlights here, you shouldn't overlook the traditional Venezuelan small plates. I always enjoy a selection of their house marinated olives and then have a hard time deciding between the yuca fries with creamy avocado dipping sauce or the fried green plantains with cilantro, green pepper salsa. The yuca are heartier, but both are full of Latin flavors. And while both dishes seem like an odd precursor to pizza, they provide a nice unexpected break from the Italian cuisine. For a more traditional route, I recommend all of their salads - even the most basic of greens with roasted garlic and red wine vinaigrette. No matter what you start with, you should have plenty of room for their delicate brick oven pizzas. The crust is thin and crispy and they use all of my favorite vegetarian and carnivore toppings offering both traditional and Venezuelan pies (if you can believe they exist). I recommend the La Joya - prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula drizzled with extra virgin olive oil as well as the Champinon - roasted mushrooms, artichoke hearts, caramelized onion, mozzarella, and ricotta salata topped with extra virgin olive oil. And for the ultimate ethnic pie that basically sums up the restaurant, go for the Ropa Vieja - spiced beef, caramelized onion, manchego and red pepper.
Who knew there was such a thing as Venezuelan pizza?! Unique, Pasita is. This cozy spot gives new meaning to cheese and wine. And as nights get colder, good luck leaving - this is definitely a place to linger.



Pasita
47 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014
website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Macelleria

It's 5 pm on a Saturday night in New York. Two friends from out of town call letting you know they will be in the city and would love to see you for dinner. Would 8 pm work? While you can't wait to catch up with your friends, this is no simple request - especially for those of us who care about food. The current "go-to" restaurants are definitely out of the question. Opentable is booked - well, at least all the good options are taken. It's time to think about some of the old favorites - those spots that were always great, and are certainly (or rather, hopefully) still great. They are simply in the land of the forgotten. Although there was a quick moment of panic, I'm thankful for times like these when the forgotten can jump right back on the radar and take you back just a few years to some of your most memorable meals in the city.


A few weeks ago, it was Macelleria to the rescue. Four to five years ago, this was definitely on my list of "go-tos." I'll admit that I was a little nervous about any place where I was able to get a reservation at the eleventh hour. But the minute I walked in to a packed restaurant and bar, I was immediately put at ease. Little had changed and that was more than fine by me. The warmth of the brick walls and the festive decor made it even more perfect for our late fall dinner.

Macelleria is a rustic, Italian steakhouse - an extremely appealing setting among the many overpriced, trendy meatpacking options. And the menu matches perfectly with the atmosphere. We started with an iceberg wedge with gorgonzola and peppercorn dressing as well as the fried zucchini. The peppercorn added a nice kick to this basic dish, but it was the zucchini that I couldn't stay away from. The strips were so lightly fried and crispy - reminding me of Elio's, the best in my books. I was soon reminded that this was the first place where I tried wild boar meat and was pleased to see that my favorite pasta dish was still on the menu - pappardelle with wild boar sauce. The meat is so flavorful, setting it apart from any standard meat sauce. I also highly recommend the straw and hay tagliolini with peas and proscuitto for a richer, creamier option. While you cannot go wrong with any of the meat dishes, the simplicity of their fish preparations should not go overlooked. Be sure to look out for the special of the night which is usually baked with herbs and lemon and served over spinach.

Seeing old friends, indulging in hearty Italian food, and rediscovering an old favorite, it was a comforting night all around. While it could very well have been 2004, I did learn something new that night. I have no idea if this is a new addition or just something I hadn't observed on previous visits. Down in the basement, there is an even cozier, quaint area where a group of 20-30 were celebrating a festive occasion. And while I had just faced the last minute Saturday night dilemna a few hours earlier, I was reminded of the private space dilemna that we so often face in New York. Noted: Macelleria to the rescue for that situation too! It's always great to be reminded of the past, while learning something new.



Macelleria
48 Gansevoort St. (at Greenwich St.)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 741-2555
website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Corsino

Every neighborhood deserves an 'ino. Few would argue that there could never be too many wine bars featuring meats, cheeses, antipasti and paninis in the most initimate of settings. The latest creations from this team have strayed slightly from the cozy feel of both the original greenwich village 'ino and the lower east side 'inoteca with last year's opening in gramercy and most recently with the borderline meatpacking/west village opening of Corsino. While the culinary concept is still the same, these grander atmospheres certainly change up the overall attitude and experience. In all honesty, I will always prefer the intimacy of the original spaces, but I am still pleased to welcome more cheese and wine to my hood. And, with more square feet, my chances of getting in are automatically heightened!

In addition to adding space, Corsino offers a menu that has added more components than its predecessors. With both fish and pasta options, there is less of a focus on small plates. Nevertheless, I recommend that you stick to what they know best as the paninis, crostinis, and antipasti are still the highlights. I recommend the roasted beets with yogurt and pistachio as well as the butternut squash with celery root, pomegranate, and guanciale. It's hard to go wrong with the crostinis, but the cannellini bean with artichoke as well as the sweet onion with walnut are among my favorites. The same is true with the paninis. For those who love spice, I dare you to try the coppa, hot peppers and wild arugula. For a classic taste, I recommend the proscuitto, fontina, and arugula.

I am convinced the larger plates are still works in progress. I enjoyed the flavors of the fussili pasta with sausage and tomato as well as the braised heritage pork Osso Bucco with fennel and onion. Both were well prepared, but were lacking the components that really wow me. I was extremely impressed with the unique flavors of the Heritage brisket meatballs served with tomato and pecorino. These are a must - and are quite a hearty portion. Paired with the delicious side of brussel sprouts tossed with cracked black pepper and parmesan, this dish could have been a full meal. I am already looking forward to going back on a cold winter's night and ordering my very own plate.

Some places get it right from the start. Most take a little time to heat up. Corsino is just starting to get warm. This certainly has not stopped the crowds from pouring in. As I said, the concept is there and the neighborhood is ready. As long as the wine keeps flowing, I have a feeling the best is yet to come.



Corsino
635 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-3093
website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Irving Mill

It's hard to believe Thanksgiving hasn't happened yet. With the number of Christmas commercials dominating the television and lights decorating the streets, it often feels like it's mid December. Although, I'm not really sure why each year I act surprised by the ridiculously early Christmas cheer. This has been going on for years - I just think we all get a kick out of making a big deal of the immediate post Halloween transition. This is the time of year when generic weather complaints in elevators can be replaced by commentary on how the holidays have crept up on us once again.


This is all fine by me - as long as Thanksgiving still has its prominent place on the calendar. No one can argue with the fact that Thanksgiving equals family, thanks, and American food at its best. And this year I'm feeling particularly thankful and ready to celebrate such an American holiday. After a recent trip to Irving Mill, it actually felt like the month of November. This seasonal American restaurant (named after one of the greatest American authors) could pay a tribute to the upcoming holiday both in the comfort of its setting and in the preparation of its cuisine. Whether in the main dining room or up front in the bar tap room, this is a great spot to enjoy with a large group. And, if your group is large enough, I recommend the large round stone table bringing together these two sections. It's a great way to appear VIP, but more importantly, it can actually hold more food in the center - ideal for sharing.


We started the meal sharing several small plates. These included charred wax bean bruschetta with ricotta as well as the salt and pepper pork ribs. Both were great, but the ribs were out of this world, falling right off the bone and seasoned with the perfect amount of heat. If that wasn't enough, there was an actual Sausage section on the menu - the finest of American cuisine! I should have known from the start that it was going to be a great night. We sampled the lamb-olive sausage and the rabbit-ratatouille sausage, both served with grilled country bread and mustard. I was really drawn to the preparation of the rabbit. The mains are either pastas, meat or fish. I recommend the eggplant agnolotti, mini ravioli stuffed with ricotta, tomato confit and chili flakes as well as the roasted red snapper with autumn vegetables - a great way to eat fish in the "off season." But, in all honesty, it was the good old American Irving Mill burger with cheddar and fries that truly won me over that evening. It was one of the more simple, yet juicy and full of flavor burgers I have had in awhile.

Irving Mill's menu at certain moments definitely hints towards French and Italian inspiration. But, that is really what New American cuisine is all about - and basically what America is all about. However, it was the ribs and the burger, dishes that over the years have come to define true American cuisine, that were in a league of their own at Irving Mill. Sometimes, it's the most basic and most comforting things that win us over - and that is what Thanksgiving is really all about. Have a happy one!!





Irving Mill
116 East 16th St.
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-1600
website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):






Sunday, November 15, 2009

Momofuku Ssam Bar

It's time I got on board with the Momofuku empire. I've been a big fan of Noodle Bar for the past few years, but I am embarrassed to say I haven't been able to keep up with David Chang's east village dynasty. And now, as he is on the brink of bursting out of his familiar hood to open Momofuku Ma Peche at the Chambers hotel in midtown, I figure I better pick up the slack before it is too late. While I am still waiting for that lucky person to treat me to a night at Ko, I finally decided to head over to Ssam Bar.

Before I go any further, I want to clear up a common misconception that I and most others hold about the Momofukus. I had assumed that all of the restaurants must be Asian inspired - mostly due to my desire to continuously order the ramen from Noodle Bar. However, Ssam Bar quickly taught me that the Momofukus are all inspired by American cuisine. Of course this is an extremely broad term, but the point is that the menu is influenced by nearly all ethnicities. This even rings true at Noodle Bar as fried chicken is one of the featured dishes- I just need to learn to shift my one-tracked mindset there (and the name doesn't help either)!


The menu at Ssam Bar is broken up into raw bar options, small dishes, country ham, local/seasonal plates, and main courses covering the categories of meat, fish, and offal. This is one of the most adventuresome menus I have come across and as someone constantly looking for the strangest, yet most flavorful dishes, I was given a run for my money. The fact that there is even an offal section may turn many people off - and for those of you not familiar with the term, it basically is what it sounds like. I'll leave it at that since my hope is that you all can appreciate the role culinary expertise plays in innovative cooking. David Chang demonstrates that he can master any edible item from the most basic to the most complex.


We started the meal with an excellent assortment of seasonal pickles which included mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, corn, cauliflower, and kimchi. This is basically the extent of greenery on the menu and so we got our fix early on. If you are still craving a truly Asian inspired dish, I recommend the steamed pork buns prepared with pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallions. The meat is perfectly seasoned and tender. The soft boiled egg with summer beans, bacon, and pumpernickel was as close to a salad as they offer - and this was actually one of my favorite dishes. But, the winning dish came from none other than the offal section. The crispy pig's head was so full of flavor and perfectly paired with cashew and pineapple kimchi slaw. I appreciated the presentation of the dish - resembling nothing more than simple fried cakes. The spicy pork sausage and rice cakes served with Chinese broccoli and crispy shallots is both hearty and full of fire. While the meats are definitely a feature of Ssam Bar, you should not miss out on the fish. We sampled a delicious grilled simple preparation of hamachi, one of their specials that evening.

I had every intention of making serious headway in the Momofuku world that night since Milk Bar is directly next door to Ssam Bar. However, with a menu where I was debating between ordering pig's head, country ham, and a bbq rib sandwich, I decided to order more and resign to the savory dishes. And, after peering in the window at Milk Bar, I realized I could soon make a whole meal even out of their sweets menu. Based on the crowds lined up inside and outside, I have no doubt that David Chang's big move uptown can only be a good thing. And he has given me every reason to continue to keep up with him and his adventures.


Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 Second Avenue (@ 13th st.)
New York, NY 10003
website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sorella


Sorella makes me happy. Sure, it's pretty hard for good Italian food to do anything but. However, the fact that two women in their 20s opened this spot after a trip to Northern Italy is truly an inspiration. This is exactly the kind of place that I'd love to call my own - the kind of place perfect for good friends and family to gather. I'm not saying I've ever really wanted to open a restaurant. In fact, I can easily say I much prefer being on the receiving end. But, I can still dream of supporting a close friend in following their dreams and then claiming at least part of their grounds as my own- every restaurant needs a good appetite! Yes, that would be the ideal. If only it were my friends who had gone to Italy and come home to set up Sorella.

The varied layout in Sorella is excellent for nearly any social gathering imaginable. As you walk into the restaurant, most of the front room is occupied by the bar - excellent for glasses of wine or a full meal, and definitely ideal for both. Just a few steps towards the back, there is a large communal table with stools - intended for large groups, but open to friendly diners. The back room of the restaurant, while still elegant, is more laid back with table dining in an indoor garden-like setting. Regardless of where you end up, the food will keep you happy. Inspired by the Piedmont region in the northwest, the menu focuses on wine and small plates. While there are 3 special entrees offered each night, the restaurant's actual intentions are to inspire both sharing and wine consumption. And this place has no problem doing so.


Whether you are seated at the bar or at a table, a white paper cone full of fresh baked bread sticks will accompany you from the start of your experience. These are delicate, thin and topped with just the right amount of salt. If you weren't already planning to eat there, these will surely whet the appetite. While everything we ordered was offered as small plates, the sizes are actually quite generous. I recommend the arugula, prosciutto, black fig and Parmesan salad. We then shared the semolina fritte which is a wheat product similar to polenta. This side is a must. It's not quite as dense as fried polenta and there is an excellent sweet flavor in this dish. My favorite dish was the tajarin - a traditional egg pasta from the Piedmont region - served with lamb ragu, black pepper ricotta, pistachios, and mint - a truly outstanding flavor combination driven by the pepper. I was less impressed with the gnocchi prepared with a fresca cream sauce, brown butter pears and chives. These were mini and not quite as soft as I would have liked - almost resembling a sort of Israeli cous-cous. But, the grilled quail served with Benton's country bacon, black rice, apple, cranberry and arugula brought us right back to the great food and the good life that defines the Piedmont region.

And so, when it came time for dessert, I realized I'm not the only one who'd like to call this place their own. Whoever Molly may be, she has made her way onto the menu and her presence is most certainly known. Molly's birthday cake is a delicious nougat cake with chocolate fudge filling and frosting - and topped with a lit candle, of course. No matter the date, it's the perfect excuse to make a wish and I was more than happy to pose as Molly for the night. There is just no denying that Sorella was designed as a tribute to Piedmont and to great friendships. Here's to becoming a Molly and hoping her wishes come true!



Sorella
95 Allen St.
New York, NY 10002
website
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):