"[A] fantastic blog... which ranges from opinions on food and wine to daily adventures in a culinary-related profession."

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Golden Birthday

bubbles and nibbly bits at Tavern on the Green

MARKING my 35th birthday, I'd spent several weeks planning for a special evening out with my best and closest confidants...

getting addresses for the eighty invitations mailed
was not the easiest of feats (in this digital age)

After confirming with my dear friend, Gazelle Paulo that he'd be in town on the proposed date I'd also requested the honor of Marilyn Monroe-esque starlet, Mona Marlowe to be on board as a host for the evening. Arriving promptly at 7:15 p. m. (12 hours past the minute I was born, 35 years prior) I was greeted by Tavern on the Green's host team to whom I'd introduced David, but to my utter surprise: We met this afternoon! Arriving straight from the Cornell campus, David had stopped at Tavern on the Green to 'make some arrangements' for my birthday including reserving a section of couches, concocting a menu for the evening and ensuring that there would be free-flowing bubbly for everyone in attendance! Aside from the printed invitations and having some of the brightest hosts in New York City (and a dress code: Solid ties for men | French or Italian RTW for women), I was anticipating an informal evening, expecting guests would simply 'mill about' near the bar and enjoy a few cocktails while there.

Paul Alexander of The Ones and host,
Gazelle Paulo

As I settled in near the bar's fireplace, the first guests began arriving and it wasn't until our cocktail server started setting the tables with plateware and linens that I'd begun to get an idea of what David had planned...

posing in front of the fireplace
The night ultimately mimicked a reunion for me as faces that I hadn't seen in years joined in the celebration. Halfway through the evening I was surprised again as a candle-topped plate was brought out to shouts of Happy Birthday. Whilst chatting with Gazelle and Mona about their upcoming documentaries and Jenny Smith about demonstrating NARS graphic eyeliner on the 10 o'clock news (#successfulfriends), I'd realized that all good things must come to an end; and like a lady who knows when it's time to leave a party, I made the announcement that anyone who was interested should join me for disco downtown (I'd also announced that it was a "high-low" evening and that the "low" portion was about to commence).

the next day found me feeling positively domestic

After dancing the night away below 14th Street, the next morning I was up surprisingly early. I'd been keeping an eye on the weather as my calendar was reminding me that I was to host my fourth annual The Family Stone-watching and strata-eating party that evening. Alas, with nearly a foot of snow expected, my sisters (who would be driving) and I decided we'd postpone the event until a later date. Having cleared the day for it, David and I decided we'd have a strata and movie night of our own.

this year, David initiated hearts and stars as opposed
to my traditional snowflake shapes
Making the same strata year after year, I decided I'd try a new one this year of which I'd been saving the recipe since last winter. Announcing to David that I was headed to the supermarket, after looking over the recipe at hand he decided that he'd join me on the trip. We agreed upon a slightly modified version of the "hearty greens strata" and substituted the greens with mushrooms (and plenty of onion). Returning home with all that was needed for the strata and some wine and eggnog to boot, our local forecast predicted a stellar evening in!

we also found some good-looking thyme while out
Having prepared strata several times prior, getting started was a breeze; the only completely new addition was thyme, which David demonstrated how to quickly and easily strip its leaves by pulling backward along its stems. After the snowflake heart and star cut-outs and egg mixture were ready, David got to work sautéing onions and mushrooms while I grated a block each of parmigiano-reggiano and gruyere. As we both sipped on a 'mouthy' vouvray, we were getting closer to our finished product.

David demonstrates "de-leafing" thyme
Once the oven had been fully heated and the strata had been assembled in its pan, I went to setting up the front room for The Family Stone, complete with a champagne bucket to keep chilled the Taittinger I'd received as a birthday gift the previous night. And while David continued to whittle away in the kitchen preparing side dishes, I was putting the final touches on our dinner table, folding linens and lighting the candles.

just before...

and just after

The final product was an indeed savory strata, with the meatiness of the (shiitake) mushrooms dominating, yet meeting amicably with the addition of gruyere. And the toothy vouvray (David's pick) was a refined pairing like a sword piercing earth. My pick would have been champagne through and through, but David insisted upon saving the Taittinger for the dark chocolate truffles given by my new BFF's, the Rockefellers, the night before.

a celebratory gathering preceded a quiet evening in

While David and I watched The Family Stone in the cozy of our home, I reflected upon what a wonderful 24 hours I'd just had, and the 24 hours that had yet to happen (the next day would be Thanksgiving). Later that week, I'd remarked to David that it had been my best birthday yet... a golden birthday, indeed!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You Win Some, You Lose Some...

BEING a part of the printed publishing industry certainly has its rewards. There are the highs of seeing your hard work in print, spread across (insert big city here) for hundreds, even thousands of people to read. And there are the super highs: when you've worked extra hard on what you'd consider your "masterpiece"; you've received plenty more press than you normally do for a piece; or you receive an "accolade" of some sort. There are plenty of satisfactions. 

Alas, there are also the lows (and the low lows); but one can only carry on, persistently.

THIS week was a busy one: I had two "on the street" assignments for two different publications--one was to be a new one, which was slated to publish its premiere issue next month. Both articles would be due during the same week; I had a full schedule at my 'day job'; social obligations; and I had to eat and sleep on top of it all. By Monday, I awoke to notice a subconjunctival hemorrhage on the white of my eye (Halloween had come early).

And tonight, as I was whittling away the whiteness of my Microsoft Word screen I'd received notice that the publication, which was slated to debut next month, had folded before it'd even begun. (That's the short version of it.) What to do with the hemorrhage-causing article, now finished... for naught?

THE DISH* (title of column)

by Patrick Bradley



What’s just as New York as pizza, bagels and deli coffee? Saturday brunch. 

And we New Yorkers are often a picky lot; that’s why if you go to Cookshop anytime between 10:30 a. m. and 4 on any given Saturday or Sunday, you’ll most likely be met with a queue—because brunch at Cookshop is as tried-and-true as a black-coffee-breakfast or that 3 a. m. hit-the-spot dollar slice.

I’ve been brunching at Cookshop for nearly three years now and have come to learn that it’s best to make your brunch reservation at least two weeks in advance, lest you find yourself with the lot of bloody Mary-sipping standees, restively awaiting an open table. Speaking of bloody Mary’s: Cookshop offers a whole slew ranging from the mezcal-lacedOaxaca Mary,” to others doused with pickle juice or cold-pressed spinach, and there’s even one version garnished with a whole strip of bacon! Moving on to the dishes, my Cookshop triad has for long been the DiPalo’s fresh ricotta beignets; house made semolina macaroni with five cheeses and seasoned breadcrumbs; and the can’t-miss chipotle-spiced potato hash (clearly, I’m all about health). But having graduated to “alumni status,” I’m more often branching out to taste some of Cookshop’s other choice selections as of late.

Last weekend—at my usual corner table—I was given the opportunity to taste two recent additions to Cookshop’s brunch list: smoked bluefish rillettes and chopped egg salad crostini. The bluefish rillettes, served on organic rye toast with crème fraîche and pickled daikon radish were the freshest-tasting rillettes I’d ever tasted! And the chopped egg salad crostini with roasted red peppers, arugula, Dijon dressing and fine-quality boquerones (no canned anchovies here) was as good on the palate as it was on the plate. For my main course, I selected poached eggs with beefsteak tomatoes, choron sauce, toasted rye croutons and basil. Having had a taste of Cookshop’s choron sauce (think fresh-tomato hollandaise) on a recent visit, anytime I see it on the menu, it’s hard to resist.

Slicing my first portion of the multi-colored tomatoes, I was beyond pleased with a taste so good that I swore I was eating heirloom tomatoes. And the soft, poached eggs paired with the crunchy, yet tender rye croutons and the silky choron sauce made for a most decadent experience (for which I had moved on to prosecco from my former “BLT Mary”). All that remained was dessert for which pastry chef, Amanda Cook is always serving up something that is sure to please! Pointed out by my server, the peanut butter & jelly sundae was an easy decision for this suburban-raised transplant who’d spent a majority of his formative years sustained on little more than p. b. & j. sandwiches and cereal (living here more than half my life now, I finally feel comfortable calling myself a New Yorker). With peanut butter ice cream, concord grape sorbet, peanut butter shortbread and a concord grape (‘tis the season) sauce, Ms. Cook’s sundae was a refreshing spin on what one could easily view as a rather “pedestrian” dessert combination. As my server dutifully saw to my every beck and call (good food is near naught unless combined with good service), I vacated my corner banquette of another satisfied diner. But next time, I’ll remember to wear my elastic-waisted pants—a carefully placed napkin did nothing to conceal the damage!

Patrick Bradley is a freelance food writer and author of the blog, “From Behind the Open Table” frombehindtheopentable.blogspot.com.

*Changed to maintain the integrity of the publisher

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pat LaFrieda Patties in Upper Manhattan

DOWNTOWN food goes north. At least that's how the Times put it, in a recent article.

j'ai finis

WITH my recent excitement over a decent Margherita in Inwood, I could barely ignore the fact that "brand name" (Pat LaFrieda) burgers were now arriving in Washington Heights via the recently opened Burger Heights. On a recent Monday afternoon, I went to see what all the buzz was about (and if it was justifiable).

"Heights Burger"

Happening upon Wadsworth Avenue and 182nd Street, I'd arrived at the small, but attractive hamburger joint, which hosted counter-only seating. Burger Heights offers a variety of burger combinations from "The Wadsworth" (grilled ham, pineapple and provolone) to "The Cabrini" (lamb patty, baby spinach, red onion and feta), but being my first visit, I figured I should try the "Burger Heights" (American cheese, lettuce, tomato and "Heights Sauce") variety. While the menu states, Burgers are cooked to medium, unless otherwise requested, the cheery cashier asked my cooking preference: Medium-rare

"Your order number is at the bottom of the receipt," which I thought a bit superfluous, being that there were only about five guests in the roughly ten-square-foot space. But what do I know.

When order number forty-eight was called, I retrieved what I thought to be a rather stylish tin tray, lined with an equally stylish peach-tinted liner stamped with the Burger Heights logo. I'd fetched a few napkins while skirting the ketchup and mustard dispensers (if only they'd had a good Dijon!) and returned to my spot at the Wadsworth-Avenue-facing counter which I'd reserved with my drink. I was satisfied with the appearance of my meal, and a fan of the "minimalist plating" with the burger tucked, snugly, at the far end of the tray. Now, perhaps: I should not be writing a review, because I'm not nearly into burgers as I once was. Yet, I cannot shuffle off the early signs of excitement over what appears to be a bona-fide food scene beginning to emerge in this once barren culinary wasteland...

a sign of hope

WHILE I was looking forward to a juicy, slightly bloodied medium-rare burger, my "Heights Burger" was cooked to a full medium. But, I wasn't going to complain (over a $5 burger); I was glad they'd at least tried to deliver my preference. While I had found the burger to be completely acceptable, it was the fries that I'd enjoyed more: nicely crisped on the outside and with perfectly tender insides (and well-seasoned too). At $7.90, I was beyond sufficiently sated

thick shakes at
Burger Heights

But of course, I had to ponder the dessert options. Placing my original order, I'd noticed a burger, fries and shake combo ($12.50), which had gotten me to considering a shake for dessert. Craning toward the menu from my counter stool, I noticed Italian gelato shakes (vanilla, chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, strawberry, mint chocolate chip, dulce de leche, pistachio and Nutella) and had known then and there that I'd be ending with a hazelnut gelato shake.

Within five minutes of placing my order, the lightly-colored thick shake was delivered to my spot at the counter (no order number required), along with a proper milkshake straw. At first taste: I could hardly believe I was in my own neighborhood--we don't have stuff this good up here! (But now, we do.) While the savory portion of my meal was not as memorable, I'd bring anyone (that was in the vicinity) here for a shake! 

For hangovers, however... this place would probably hit the spot.

Burger Heights, 177 Wadsworth Ave., Washington Heights (212) 951-1984

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Very Southern... Tradition (Part 2)

SATURDAY morning, David's father picked us both up at the Hotel Royal, from which we'd left for the three-hour drive to Orange Beach, Alabama. During summers past, David's family had always vacationed in Seagrove Beach, near Destin; but this year all the beachfront properties there were already taken, so David's father instead opted for a rental further west, just beyond the Florida/Alabama border.

the view from the rear deck
Yet, I was thrilled to be ending our (very southern) vacation in Truman Capote's childhood state, and craned my neck at the sights as we passed through Mobile (where Truman often traveled to as a child on weekends). read more »

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Very Southern... Tradition

first stop: Hotel Royal, French Quarter

A few weeks ago, a tradition continued. David and I boarded a Brooklyn-bound A train and were shuttled toward JFK Airport to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, in New Orleans and meet with David's family along the Gulf shores. It was our fourth trip together to NOLA, so there was no question of What should we do first?, we simply continued with our tried-and-true traditions.

carrying on with tradition, our first meal 
in NOLA was at Mother's in the CBD
For our stay in New Orleans, David and I booked a room at Hotel Royal--a renovated 1827 Creole townhouse at which we'd stayed during our honeymoon. Being one block from Bourbon Street and a short walk to Café Du Monde, Hotel Royal--simply put--is the ideal place for David and I whenever we're in NOLA. And we always request a room with a street-facing balcony; our room this year shared the same balcony as the room we'd stayed in just a year prior.

the view from our room  in 2013
... and the view in 2014
Pleasantly surprised that we were

allowed an early check-in (3 hours early!), unloaded of our luggage, David and I changed into more weather-appropriate clothing and headed to Mother's Restaurant in the central business district (the CBD) for "brunch." This time around, feeling like more of a 'seasoned' New Orleans-er, I started with a bloody Mary--Mother's "World Famous." I let David do (most of) the ordering... as long as he ordered me the oyster & shrimp po'boy!

While David chowed down on a turkey ferdi po'boy (turkey, ham, debris and gravy), seafood gumbo and turnip greens, I was reliving NOLA trips past with that unmistakably Gulf-waters tasting shrimp (comparably, Gulf shrimp can make all other shrimp taste as exciting as poached tilapia)! Almost instantly (or perhaps that afternoon--the French Quarter is so "intimate" that you can geotag a location whilst being on the other side of town), I posted on Twitter:

I've yet to taste one that can compare

AFTER about a four-hour nap (David and I opted for an early, 8 a. m. flight, as to have more daylight time on our first day in NOLA), David and I dressed ourselves in semi-casual "evening attire" for cocktails at the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's. Depending on whom you choose to collect your information from, the French 75 cocktail was first concocted at Arnaud's. Regardless, the French 75 Bar was recommended to me by a colleague, formerly of New Orleans; but when David and I had tried to visit the bar last year, it was closed for renovations. 

great minds think alike

Aside from visiting the French 75 Bar for a taste of their signature beverage (made with cognac, not gin), impressively topped off with real (Moët & Chandon) champagne, I was told by my friend that we must also order the soufflé potatoes.

soufflé potatoes at French 75 Bar

Handsome indeed, pommes soufflées are a classic French recipe and I'd tasted them years earlier on my first trip to "21." Yet, David and I lingered still for at least another drink while we enjoyed additional nibbly bits...

shrimp and andouille calas at French 75 Bar

Truly, it was the atmosphere of the French 75 Bar that did it for me--I'd remarked to David that if I were wealthy and retired (and lived in New Orleans) I could probably be found there nearly every day.

The following morning, after sleeping in thanks to a night of bourbon, gin and dancing along to the sounds of Treme Brass Band on Frenchmen Street, David and I finally enjoyed a beignets and café au lait breakfast at Café Du Monde (of which there are now several imitations throughout New Orleans--the original Café Du Monde is at 800 Decatur Street).

this year, David insisted we each get our own order

But while it is David who has perfected his order of beignets, it is I who have perfected the process of eating them (to a science):

  • Place your beignets at the center of the table
  • Do not inhale as you take a bite
  • And if you're wearing black (and didn't already spread a napkin across your lap), too bad for you

WHILE our second day in NOLA was dedicated to a trip uptown to Magazine Street, for lunch at Lily's Café--quite possibly the best Vietnamese food either of us have ever had--our third afternoon was reserved for lunch at the renowned Commander's Palace!

Located in the Garden District, David and I hopped on an upriver-bound bus (we'd learned from our trip to Magazine St., the day before, that there was work along the St. Charles Ave. streetcar line) for our early lunch appointment. Along an oak-tree-lined street in heart of the faubourg, lies the grand, iconic turquoise-and-white-striped two-storied building. Upon entering, David and I were quickly greeted with a warm, southern welcome by the lead hostess who'd asked, Whose name should I put the table under? She then scribbled some notes onto a rectangle of white paper and handed it to another hostess who'd led David and I into one of the several dining rooms. Upon settling in at our table, "The bird room," David had mentioned; it wasn't until later in our meal that I'd noticed the several faux birds perched upon tiny wooden dowels all along the perimeter of the dining room.

© Chuck Taggart - flickr

Although a close colleague of mine, Frances Bridges recommended, You have to go to Commander's Palace!, it was an article I'd happened upon in Food & Wine, several years ago, mentioning 25¢ martinis (yes, you read that right) that first piqued my interest. Upon researching the restaurant ahead of our trip, I'd learned that they also have a lunch prix fixe menu (which sounded just as enticing as the à la carte menu) for around $22... I decided that lunch at Commander's Palace was something that we simply could not miss!

Commander's Turtle Soup

After being taken in by the alluring surroundings (even unto the plates), David and I soon narrowed down our lunch selections. Once we'd confirmed with our server that the Commander's Turtle Soup (which takes "3 days to make") was an allowable option with our prix fixe menus, we decided that we'd each begin with a bowl. Throughout the dining room I had been noticing synchronized food drops (which greatly impressed me) and when our first course was served (by our server and the maître d'), David and I were given no less. Adding to the showmanship: once our bowls were placed before us, held within each was an unassuming, stout tin cup filled with turtle soup, which was then poured into the respective bowls; I'd wondered about what could have appeared as mere falderal, but my concluding guess was that it was so the edge of the soup could meet its bowl in a perfect, opaque line. If I'd not been impressed already, I was by then.

parmesan-crusted oyster salad

The second opportunity that Commander's had to impress me was when it was time for another drink. While David and I were enjoying the turtle soup au sherry, I had asked another front-of-house member for a wine list. After being given a moment to browse the selections, I selected a glass of Charles de Cazanove champagne, but added that I'd like to have it with my next course. Another moment later, our server returned and asked David if he would like another drink, but did not ask me. Whomever I had placed my order for champagne with, had seamlessly (and invisibly) communicated it to our server.

As our meal continued, so did the impressions: sipped water glasses were replaced with fresh, filled ones; the maître d' perpetually circled the room in search of the slightest imperfection (even impressing David: He noticed a clear toothpick on a white tablecloth!)... but it was my main course that kept me talking for days!

trying hard to save half for David

When my parmesan crusted oyster salad had arrived, I'd thought that it looked pleasant enough. But after the first few forkfuls, I soon realized that my entrée was delivering well past its comparatively 'austere' appearance. (This is one of those times that I wish I'd taken some notes on the menu, or at least snapped a shot of it!) The delightfully fresh oysters were fried to perfection in their herbed parmesan crusts; but it was when I'd gotten to tasting the vegetables of the dish that I'd become truly impressed! First of all: I don't remember the variety of lettuce that was in the salad, but I do believe that it's quite possible that I may never again taste a lettuce as sublimely divine as the one that was in this salad! And in addition to the pickled cucumber, pickled ever so judiciously; and the blue cheese, proving itself of markedly fine quality; I could not forget the portions of basil-marinated tomato that tasted distinctly of basil, without so much as a shard of a basil being present on the plate!

two gin martinis and one glass of champagne had
me wading in gastronomical pleasure

Yet, as lunch at Commander's Palace was at the top of my New Orleans short list, our last lunch in New Orleans was not to be outshone by open-handed service and veritably sublime veggies...

'Gulf brunch'

ON OUR FINAL DAY in NOLA, David and I ended up at "brunch" (it was the right time for it) at The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar. We--in a way--had ended up there "unwittingly," because while I had noticed the restaurant on every previous visit to New Orleans, I had always marked it off as a tourist trap--the same way New Yorkers avoid Bubba Gump in Times Square like the plague! But during our last visit, David and I would pass the restaurant daily and each time the most heady of cooking smells would waft through the air like one impenetrable, savory mass! By the third day, David remarked, "Anything that smells that good has to taste good." Then and there, I'd known we would end up there by the week's end.

how they do in the deep south

Again, David being the Louisiana native, I let him do the ordering (and let his nose do the hunting). After pointing out oysters on the half shell (I'd tried--in vain--to consume some on our last visit), David noticed the section on the menu, FROM OUR BOILING POT. "Now, that's what we've been smelling!" David's nose knew. After we'd ordered a duo of bloody Mary's, David placed an order for a half-dozen of oysters and two pounds of boiled, jumbo shrimp, as well as some boiled corn, potatoes and sausage. (Initially, David tried to order three pounds of shrimp, until our server'd mentioned, Well... people usually get one pound per person.)

our two-pound boat

The first dish to arrive was the local, Gulf oysters on the half shell. With a still muddy outer shell, this was not the kind of oyster to slide into your mouth, directly from its cup. Following David's example, I dislodged my first Gulf oyster from its shell, and transported it onto a singular saltine cracker: Is this how they eat them down here? Yes, was David's short response. Meatier, more toothsome--indeed--than the kind of oysters I'd been used to; and not as sweet... but with more of a "brackish waters" taste. With just three assigned to each of us, our oysters had disappeared as quickly as they had come.

from M.F.K. Fisher to Edward Behr,
seafood should taste of the sea

But in no time: our two pounds of shrimp had arrived, along with corn, potatoes and sausage. Checking in with David, You'll be mad if I don't peel these, right? (I have a gastronomical habit of eating shrimp with the shell and tail still attached). Again following suit, I removed the morsel from its shell, and placed the late crustacean directly into my mouth. Similar to what I'd experienced earlier in the week at Mother's, with my first bite, my mouth was flooded with that unmistakable Gulf-waters taste (seafood should taste of from where it comes)! 

DAVID AND I WERE GLAD that we'd found yet another not-to-be-missed place for future trips to NOLA... and on our final day, I was able to check off the last item on our short list: a performance at Preservation Hall. The next morning, David and I were up early for one last beignets-and-café-au-lait breakfast at Café Du Monde, before departing for a week-long stay on the Gulf shores of Alabama.

If anyone needs me, I'll be right here

To be continued...

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Margherita Made in Inwood

a Margherita is always the first test

IF you've been following this blog for long (you're still unemployed?), you probably know just how much I love sparkling wine... and a good Margherita pizza! Hence, I was thrilled when I'd learned that the latest restaurant to open in my neighborhood was serving an authentic-seeming pizza Margherita!

My first bite at Maranello Trattoria (no website as of yet) was about 2-3 weeks ago. With suspicions, David and I walked the few short blocks to the new eatery which currently has the closest semblance of a white-tablecloth, sit-down restaurant one can find in Inwood--save for New Leaf Restaurant. (Yes, I am a snob; and yes, I will judge you if your napkin is not in your lap at least by the time any sort of food arrives at the table.) David was not really eating, but I was; and I placed an order for a simple Margherita pizza to start. (After a short stint working for Neapolitan-inspired chef, Donatella Arpaia, I've concluded that a pizza Margherita is the true test of any self-proclaiming pizzaiolo; if Maranello's Margherita could pass muster, then I'd be willing to try one of their other pies.)

When my Margherita pizza had arrived I had my Canon S95 at the ready, but with a somewhat lackluster presentation, I instead reached for my fork. But at first bite I was humbled by a pie that tasted as pure as the volcanic-stone baked pies I'd enjoyed just a few years prior, working with chef Arpaia (there are strict guidelines one must follow in order to claim their pies "Neapolitan"). Pleased with the pie, I carried on with an order of arancini; yet, while I could tell that the arancini were, in fact, handmade, they also came across as a bit bland.

HOWEVER, living in New York City for more than half of my life now, pizza is in my blood (along with black coffee and my unlimited MetroCard). And following my late lunch/early dinner at Maranello, I was counting down the days to my return (being just three blocks away, how could I not be excited?).

fried calamari at Maranello

This afternoon I returned for "brunch" (even though it was 5 o'clock, it was my first meal of the day). Having just opened, I had free range of the entire dining room and opted for a Broadway-facing window seat. And since it was also my day off, I decided to start with a glass of prosecco. Following my order, I looked forward to Maranello's bread service which consists of your choice of fresh baguette or focaccia served with oil.

Again, I ordered a Margherita pizza which arrived much quicker than I'd expected it would and while its presentation appeared more photo-worthy than on my last visit, the product ultimately seemed a bit off. First, there seemed to be an out of place aroma... was that truffle oil that I was smelling? And just beneath the surface, the dough seemed to be a bit undercooked. Yet, the pizza still proved to be one of the decidedly better meals one could get in the neighborhood. And the service was pretty much on point and friendly. Finishing both the wine and the pizza, I decided to order one more item (as to not have to cook later). Examining the menu, I eventually narrowed down my selection to fried calamari, paired with a glass of the house rosé (decidedly drier than the prosecco).

As my 'reverse starter' was placed before me, I thought that it looked well enough; and it mimicked Maranello's theme of freshness, with circles of steam wafting upward. I was also glad to see a fair number of tentacles included on the plate, as well as two choices of dipping sauce (a cilantro-garlic aioli and a fresh mint marinara sauce). The squid itself tasted fresh and the batter was nice and crispy. But as for the flavor: the dish could have benefited greatly from a fresh squeeze of lemon, or at least from a bit more salt. However, the rosé kept me placated and in the end I benefited from knowing that next time, I'll simply stick with a Margherita pizza. Perhaps over the next few weeks, Maranello will iron out some of its kinks.

Maranello Trattoria, 1 Nagle St., Inwood (212) 544-7400

Thursday, May 1, 2014


click image for a full-size view

I'D realized a couple of weeks ago that the hashtag #gayfoodiecolumn had not (yet) been claimed on Instagram; I now unofficially own it and have been adding it to all of my postings of "THE DISH" (#THEDISH) on my Instagram profile. 

Oh yes... that's what's been taking up so much of my time over the past several months (THE DISH, not Instagram).

SINCE about November of last year, I've been writing a regular dining column aptly titled "THE DISH" for a bi-weekly, free listings magazine which is available throughout NYC and even extending unto Long Island and New Jersey. With 35,000 metro-ites reading my column every two weeks, my dream of making it as a (print) writer has well-nigh come true! But perhaps the most interesting thing that's happened through all of this is seeing how much one's writing can change when targeting a specific audience (and topic)--as well as trying to maintain consistency of product (think "non-vintage," all you wine nerds out there). There's a lot more people you need to please writing for a magazine, than you do writing for your own blog!

I've also learned quite a bit about the mechanics of publishing, as well as learning a great deal of patience (it can sometimes take three additional pages of content to add just one additional page in a magazine)! I will probably never forget the time when I'd submitted my second column to the magazine via e-mail--and it didn't appear in the following issue!--how I'd canceled all of my plans that evening because I was devastated thinking that the magazine had changed their minds about having me write for them! Needless to say, that was not the case and my article ran in an issue two weeks later.

Yet, I have been neglecting my blogging duties. But I am always on the lookout for new and worthy blogging material! My problem, however, is that I'm a bit of a creature of habit and once I've become fond of a particular bar/restaurant/bottle of wine... it can be rather hard to tear me away. And a blog all about brut bubbly and 2013 Provence rosés would probably not be the most interesting read. Unless that is what you want. Do you? 

Nah! Just invite me somewhere great that I haven't been to before... and now that I'm a real writer, the tab's on you! #sassygay

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Funky Red

DURING a recent trip to De Wine Spot, I came home with this "real funky" red (thanks to 'house sommelier,' Cynthia Araiza). Grateful of Ms. Araiza's wise recommendations, I was quite excited about trying this new vin de pays. I opened the bottle one night while David was cooking up a celery soup (whose version is decidedly different from mine), and at first taste I'd noted: wild tannins which attack on the tongue, but soon soften in the mouth. And on the nose: that woodsy, wet paper scent that often comes with drier, more aged reds.

WITH its big, soft tannins and unique nose, it really was quite a lovely wine. But what to pair it with? I don't know if celery soup was the best... I keep thinking of goat cheese. Is that even a goat on the label?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Undoing the Holiday

IT'S 2014 and alas, last year's holiday season has come and gone (including my birthday). But it didn't pass without more than a few hurrahs...

it takes more than bells and whistles to impress this New Yorker;
a recreated Scottish railway station c. 1940 will do

Three weeks after my birthday, on a Monday night, David (who was still in Ithaca on my birthday) took me out for an evening of birthday surprises which both started and ended at The McKittrick Hotel.

Our first stop was at The Heath, a recently opened restaurant spinoff [of Sleep No More]. As David and I loaded ourselves into an elevator, we had our first encounter with what would be an evening spent with actors; Are you checking into the hotel? When we stepped off the lift, we'd been transported to a 1939 Scottish railway station complete with a newsstand displaying vintage periodicals. After checking my coat in (with another actor), we were directed to the restaurant "across from platform 1." A few steps forward through a narrow corridor led us to the main entrance of the restaurant. The first thing I'd noticed upon peering in (aside from the 1930's garb that the entire staff was in firm accordance with), was the faux, recreated smoke of a smoky restaurant, which wafted slowly beneath low-hung lampshades.

Following the red-lipped hostess to a corner banquette at the front of the restaurant, David recommended the prix-fixe menu, "for those about to experience Sleep No More." (It was, then, clear what the rest of our evening would entail.) We decided on sharing our selections: mini pork pies and bitter greens; roast chicken and benne crusted cod; and Nutella icebox tart and bread and butter pudding. After starting our meal with a half-dozen oysters, which we'd added into the mix, our main appetizers arrived promptly thereafter. The pork pies, with their decidedly-spicy picalilli relish, were pleasing enough; but it was the salad of bitter greens with meyer lemon, red onion, pistachio and crumbled cheddar that was unbelievably good!

Following the salad (that I could eat everyday) was the succulent roast chicken with charred broccoli, apples, hazelnuts and boiled cider. Its presentation was lovely, and the tender, savory chicken was thoughtfully offset by slivers of sweet, cooked apple and whole, toasted hazelnuts. (The benne cod followed suit after the pork pies.) While David and I were still sipping sparkling rosé, our final course had arrived. Again, my plate was garnished with whole, toasted hazelnuts--an ingredient that chef R. L. King (previously of Hundred Acres) seems to be fond of--and my dish was as pleasing as its predecessor. In the end, I'd decided that this prix-fixe menu (and prix-fixe menus are something that I never opt for) is one that I could definitely revisit!

I always put my best foot forward at Christmas

THREE nights later, David and I were celebrating again; this time it was a pre-Christmas celebration, as he would be heading south the following morning to spend Christmas at his sister's house in San Antonio. As I headed home with a bottle of Bollinger champagne, picked up at PJ Wine earlier that day, David was preparing a(nother) surprise dinner. At home, he'd laid out a beautiful spread of several of my favorite foods, from black truffles to caviar; and the Bollinger champagne was excellent with deep, mature flavors and incredibly fine bubbles. It was certainly the best champagne I've had to date--I even prefer it to Dom Pérignon (2003) which is simply too "clean" for my taste...

Yet, with week after week of unbridled indulgence: come January 1st, I was yearning for something light and green. The solution: celery soup!

doing more cooking wouldn't be a bad resolution, either

I'd nearly forgotten just how much I love to cook, and that a vegetable soup is one of the easiest things that I know how to make--I don't even need a recipe! Thinking about the soup for several days, I knew that I wanted to keep it light, using primarily celerychicken stock and not much more than that. But after picking up what I'd thought was all the ingredients I'd need for the soup, I decided on adding some heavy cream (if only just a touch) as well.

chopped, seasoned and ready to boil

After chopping the celery (for even and quicker boiling), I threw it into a stock pot along with a quart of chicken stock and a healthy dose of salt, pepper and garlic powder (plus a dash of truffle salt as well). Covered, I brought the soup to a full boil; then reduced the heat for a low boil, keeping it covered and stirring occasionally. Once the celery became tender (about 20 minutes), I poured the whole lot into a blender (in two batches) over a low purée. Transferring the puréed broth to a smaller pot, I added a quick pour of heavy cream and adjusted the seasonings to taste, adding a bit of allspice and nutmeg (I wanted to mimic a wintry butternut squash soup).

holiday weight, consider yourself served!

That afternoon, David and I enjoyed the slightly creamy soup for lunch along with olive oil tortas and rye crispbread, paired with a French sauvignon blanc leftover from our wedding in August (yes, we still have wine leftover from the wedding).

I'm rarely one to reach for sauvignon blanc,
but it worked quite well with our soup

The vegetal notes in the Coteaux du Giennois were brought out quite strongly by the soup. And for once (we'd been trying to finish these bottles for months now!), the wine made perfect sense at one of our meals.

Just a few more days of this soup and my waistline will be prepped and ready for (my famous) pommes Maxim's!