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):