PeraSoho. 2011 Favorites. The Dutch. Discount Lunches. Flea Market. Cesare's Contrition.
Dear Friends and Family,
Sea urchin. Whenever I see it on any menu, I must have it. Tonight at the new Pera Soho it's apricot blush in a puddle of green. I taste. A rowdy rubble of tangy pickle tickles my tongue. The surge of sea fills my mouth. My eyes open wide.
"Let me taste," cries my friend Harriette. She closes her eyes. "Only a crazed genius could have put together this sea urchin dish," she observes. I consult my notes: the green is pickled radish, parsnip and shiso.
I know that just behind the kitchen door is the itinerant chef Ryan Skeen. Remembering his provocative genius with pig at Irving Mill (click and scroll down to read my BITE), my expectation is high. This downtown incarnation of the Pera Mediterranean Brasserie on Madison -- hummus with pastira, shashlik kebab, ground lamb "adana" -- seems an unlikely showcase for his talents. But I like the look of the place as it unfolds in alcoves behind a steel wall on the corner of Thompson and Broome. In the open courtyard a modish muster of tipplers gather around a fire pit, sipping cocktails. Inside I choose a table under the painting of a bright red Taksim Streetcar hurtling toward us.
"I like my food to be three dimensional and radiate with soul," Skeen has said. If only the kale and fried chickpea salad, the fried calamari, the arid lamb "adana" were even close to the soul of his uni. Time will tell. 54 Thompson Street at Broome. 212 599 3063.
Forkplay colors today are eggplant and ice.
Favorites of 2011
When Pete Wells, the latest in the long march of Times critics, pasted two stars on Wong for his first review, I couldn't help feeling a frisson of triumph. Not that I need validation from the paper of record. But I went out on a limb with a rave and three hats for the chef's highly original Asian fusion at his modest do-it-yourself village cubby and then left town for three weeks knowing I could be leaving the scene of a crash. On returning, still in jet lag, I rushed back to Cornelia Street. I had to have the shrimp fritters again with a last minute pour of preserved fish sauce, the sea slugs with chewy rice noodles, and my favorite lobster egg fu young. The staff's passion and professionalism was striking too, easily bringing Wong into my top eight restaurants for 2011 as listed in last week's BITE. Click here to see my hit parade.
Actually it was a good year for oxtails. I loved them at Red Rooster and in between the dazzling floor show at Miss Lily's Favourite Cakes. Wong pastry chef Judy Chen's duck fat ice cream was certainly the dessert surprise of the year. But my favorite was Coppelia's chocolate cake with dulce de leche buttercream when pastry wiz Pichet Ong was helping his pal Julian Medina launch the all night Cuban luncheonette on West 14th Street. (I felt an aura of neglect on my most recent visit.)
Fans of Thai food who ignored Qi Bangkok Eatery sitting like a Las Vegas apparition in the sleaze of yet-to-be-gentrified Eighth Avenue might want to reconsider lest its luster fade from lack of love.
The Dutch Again
Reviewing what I loved most in 2011 reminded me I'd not been back to The Dutch since it's earliest opening heat. I took care of that last week. I suspect some or all of the partners - John Picard, Andrew Carmellini and Luke Ostrom - might be in South Beach, wrestling with The Dutch-Miami plus all the food service at the new W Hotel. In memory the menu seemed shorter now and not as thrilling. I craved ribs, the fabulous lamb mole and fried chicken with biscuits - a generous portion of fried chicken wings helped. And of course I had my fried oyster slider. The steak tartare was as lush as remembered. Indeed I loved Steven's spaghetti carbonara with black kale and a poached egg even more than he did.
Son Nico couldn't bring himself to order a $48 steak so he settled for the first-rate spice-glazed veal chop - I would have liked it a bit rarer but it was just to his taste. After scarfing down a couple loaves of jalapeno cornbread, we ran out of steam toward the end - is it possible we actually left some of the fatty rich stout-braised pot roast?
Amazing how we recovered when two old-fashioned pies arrived - banana cream and crumbly apple. As we left, a flying wing of tall women were arranging themselves at the center table. 131 Sullivan Street corner of Prince. 212 677 6200.
Posh Bargain Lunches
Restaurants unite to outwit the January doldrums with upcoming Restaurant Week - January 16 to February 10 - offering lunch at $24.07 and a $35 dinner. But some restaurants discount lunch all year round. Even at its newly inflated $38 two course prix fixe, my neighborhood table remains Jean Georges in the backroom. I go there every few months expecting at least one or two oh-my-god bolts of lightening. 1 Central Park West.
But my friend Bob makes a career of lunch and recently he's been urging me to discover the riches within blocks of his midtown office. We sat in front of the roaring fireplace in Ciano's rustic dining room eating more toasted bread and focaccia than we meant to, prelude to the $20 three-course prix fixe. The Tuscan bean casserole with turnips and smoked fennel sausage is the kind of hearty originality that brings gourmands to Ciano. I could feel the tremors of passion in the air when we traded forkfuls of the exuberant eggplant amatriciana. 45 East 22nd Street.
I regret not finding time earlier to discover the $28 two-course Café Menu in the bar at Le Cirque before Chef Craig Hopson announced his departure. His unique Caesar had his signature and the supernatural pork burger with bacon may disappear with him. Still the Maccionis and their crew deliver the discount goods with upscale style, as if it were truffles and foie gras instead of butternut squash soup and farmed salmon. By February, the menu should reflect the new chef's whimsy. I'll expect to be hearing from the serial luncher. One Beacon Court. 151 East 58th Street.
How can Rouge Tomate make a profit from its $29 three-course "business lunch" in its high roller real estate? At my tasting it's a choice of carrot curry soup or broccoli salad to start, then spot prawns or duck a la plancha? The vast airy blond space is full today, mostly women. And the menu vows the fare will be healthy, organic, sustainable and otherwise virtuous (even if you are not.) It helps the house's bottom line if, like my friend Naomi and me, you succumb to a mocktail from the juice bar at $8 each. By the time dessert arrives, you'll have forgotten how much bread you ate. Chocolate frosted gingerbread please. 10 East 60th Street between 5th and Madison Avenues.
Click here to find your guide to three lunch deals that extend beyond Restaurant Week.
The Incurable Collector's Flea
I discovered that my web site email box was full long after Christmas and after I'd posted my post-Christmas flea market sale. I'm re-connected now and hope you'll try again to come by to check out two big boxes of copper pots and pans - including a few signed and dated treasures - Steuben glassware from the Sixties, American folk art, evening bags, vintage table top, kitchen and grocery store collectibles. I just opened the last few boxes that came from our little church on the hill outside Woodstock. Crocks and pitchers, an old coffee grinder, graduated earthenware mixing bowls. My collection of New York magazines - with all my reviews - starting from the first in 1968 - is a history of how New York fell in love with food. A treasure for scholars, historians and just plain obsessed foodniks. As I confessed a few weeks ago, I live in fear of dying like a Collier brother, crushed by a ton of magazines. Email me for information and to make an appointment: AskGael@insatiablecritic.com ***
Chef Cesare Casella's Contrition Soup
It's January 3. I notice Salumeria Rosi has a new soup on the menu, Zuppa Mia, cabbage with root vegetables and squash. "It's my diet soup," Cesare Casella confides. Of course, I suddenly remember. It's the famous diet cabbage soup. A January perennial. I recall friends who swore by it twenty years ago. But it never tasted like this. Peppery and wreathed with umami. "Of course, I fix it up so it tastes good," the chef says with a big grin. Here's his recipe to make 4 quarts. You'll notice he doesn't tell when to use the olive oil. I suggest a touch for the cabbage. The rest for the sofrito. Eat a bowl for lunch and another for dinner. And another for breakfast,optional. Share with loved ones, makes four quarts for 12-16 bowls. Freeze what remains and thaw as needed.
Cesare's Zuppa Mia
* 1 Medium Cabbage (Cut 1 inch per half inch)
* Pint Medium Diced Fennel
* Pint Medium Diced Carrots
* Pint Medium Diced Onions
* Pint Medium Diced Celery
* Pint Medium Diced Squash
* Pint of Cauliflower (Cut into Florets)
* Quart of canned Plum Tomatoes
* ½ Tablespoon Droga (Can be replaced with equal portions of Curry and Garam Masala)
* Pinch Chili Flakes
* 6 Tablespoons Olive Oil
* 1 Tablespoon of each of the following: Rosemary,
Thyme, Chives, Parsley, Oregano
* 2 Quarts Vegetable Stock
* Salt and Pepper to taste
* Grated Parmigiano (Garnish) (Optional)
* Chopped Chives (Garnish) (Optional)
Roast the cabbage heads for 30 minutes, flipping and moving around frequently, in a 400 degree oven. Start the Sofrito by sautéing the carrots, celery, onions and fennel in a pan for 20 minutes, add squash, and cook for 10 more minutes. Make sure the vegetables are caramelized and add the cauliflower. Cook for 5 minutes, stir well, and the herbs, the can of tomatoes and the cabbage. Bring up to a slight boil, and add the stock and season with salt and pepper, chili flakes and droga. Stir and cook for 30 minutes. Garnish with Parmigiano chives and fresh black pepper.
Connect to me on twitter at twitter.com/GaelGreene.
Photo of Qi Bangkok Eatery's prawns may not be used without permission from Steven Richter.
Photo of Pera SoHo's Taksim Street Car Mural, Genius Sea Urchin, Calamari; The Dutch's Chicken Wings, Pot Roast, and Desserts; Ciano's Eggplant; Le Cirque's Caesar Salad and Rouge Tomate's Broccoli Melange may not be used without permission from Gael Greene.
Fork Play copyright Gael Greene 2012.