The NoMad Hotel Dining Room–New York City

Anyone who reads my blog or listens to me on the KCUR Food Critics show knows that my husband doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on “fancy” restaurant meals. So it was with some trepidation that I booked a table at The NoMad hotel in New York to celebrate my son’s birthday last month. I had heard it was a beautiful space and, since we hadn’t been to Eleven Madison Park where owner/chef Daniel Humm made his name, I figured this would be a way to experience Humm’s cuisine on a less formal scale. Not inexpensive by any stretch, but less so than the $195 multi-course meal at EMP.

The dining area is divided into 4 very distinct rooms–The Atrium (the largest and loudest), the Library (a gorgeous bar that serves light snacks), the Parlour (smaller than the atrium but still humming), and the Fireplace (the smallest and quietest). Each room is gorgeous, but I asked for a quiet room in advance because I wanted to be able to have real conversation rather than having to shout across the table. We lucked out and got a table in the five table Fireplace room. I don’t  know if they have a real fire in the winter, but this was summer and the fireplace was filled with candles to create a lovely glow.

Corn with corn cream--The Nomad

My husband was so impressed with the service throughout the evening that he didn’t complain about the hefty bill. Everyone who came by our table (and there were many) had been beautifully trained to provide smooth, knowledgeable and friendly service, not a surprise really since Eleven Madison Park was originally a Danny Meyer restaurant, so Daniel Humm learned hospitality at the knee of a master. But it did elevate the evening beyond the enjoyment of a good meal.

Fluke--The Nomad

Every dish was visually striking and there was an intensity of flavor in each bite. Here’s what we had:

CORN
ROASTED WITH TOMATO, BASIL & CORN CREAM

FLUKE
MARINATED WITH TOMATO-DASHI & LEMON VERBENAP1020068

LAMB
GLAZED WITH ROMAINE, CUMIN & YOGURT Crab and Meyer lemon pasta---The Nomad

TAGLIATELLE
KING CRAB, MEYER LEMON & BLACK PEPPER

SUCKLING PIG
CONFIT WITH PEACHES, ARUGULA & BACON MARMALADESuckling Pig with Peaches and Arugula--The Nomad

CHICKEN
WHOLE-ROASTED FOR TWO: FOIE GRAS, BLACK TRUFFLE, BRIOCHE Roast chicken for two--The NomadChicken breast with truffled mashed potatoes--The Nomad

CHOCOLATEThigh and vegetables--The Nomad
MALTED GANACHE WITH CHOCOLATE FONDANT & MALT ICE CREAMChocolate---The Nomad

STRAWBERRIES
POACHED WITH ANGEL FOOD CAKE, RICOTTA & ANISE HYSSOPStrawberry with angel food cake, ricotta and anise--The Nomad

 

The chicken is the specialty of the house, and is based on a similar dish served at Eleven Madison Park. The entire bird is presented at the table with a flourish, and then taken back to the kitchen where the breast is plated for two, and served with a fricassee of  thigh meat, mushrooms and shallots that is presented on the side in a cast iron vessel. The chicken’s stuffing of foie gras, truffles and brioche transforms what could be a very pedestrian dish into an incredibly rich indulgence.

What we all noticed is that the menu description of each dish paled in comparison to what we ate. To say I ate a bowl of corn doesn’t begin to express the nuances of the dish, either in the  preparation or the presentation, and so it was with everything we experienced that evening.

The NoMad is a treat for all the senses. Without question it was a lovely spot to celebrate a special occasion.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona, Italy

Okay, there’s probably no point in my writing up this restaurant since it’s on the coast of Italy. But I was fortunate enough to dine there last spring, and it was so memorable I had to share just in case any of you find yourself in the area. P1010602P1010601the door to La Pineta

La Pineta is one of the  finest seafood restaurants in Italy, and sports a Michelin star. If you do go, don’t curse me when you first lay eyes on it. The unassuming restaurant is attached to a beach shack, and you have to pass that and the shack’s casual patio before you get to the door of La Pineta, inconspicuously marked with a small sign. But once you enter, you’ll find yourself in a lovely dining room with white table clothes and a nautical decor. It overlooks the beach and is so close to the water that it almost feels like you’re on a cruise ship.La Pineta

Owner and chef Luciano Zazzeri is very hands on. In fact, he takes everyone’s order, patiently answering every question lobbed at him. And he came over to the table after our meal to make sure we were pleased with our lunch. Chef Luciano Zazzeri--La Pineta

Once the order was taken, we received a complimentary glass of bubbly and an amuse bouche that was similar to paella. Looking around the room, I noticed that diners were served pink or white depending on what they would be eating.

Everything we ate was extremely fresh, simply prepared, and mouthwatering. From the crudo and the seafood pastas to the special fish soup called Cacciucco, every bite was perfection. Take a look—Amuse-bouche--La PinetaCrudo--La PinetaRisotto--La PinetaGrilled seafood--La PinetaPasta with Octopus--La PinetaCacciucco--La PinetaSeafood gnocchi--La PinetaApple cake--La Pineta

Definitely a highlight of our trip, and one of the few times we had fruits of the sea while we were in meat-loving Tuscany.

Pigwich

Despite recent pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Chef Alex Pope is not about to rest on his laurels. Last month he rolled out a new food truck called Pigwich, that will be permanently parked behind his Local Pig butcher shop. Located in a secluded part of the East Bottoms, you would not think this is a hot destination…but you would be wrong.Pigwich

Since opening a year ago, the Local Pig has attracted carnivores in droves; it’s rare for there not to be a line to buy cuts of beef, pork, duck, rabbit, lamb or chicken, as well as eggs, a wide range of homemade sausages, and even tamales. All meats are hormone, steroid and antibiotic free, the quality of which is reflected in every bite. Purchases are attractively boxed and come with cooking instructions if requested.P1010205

Now Pope has parlayed this success into a sandwich shop on wheels (or a pedestal to be more precise), putting his mouth-watering products between slices of fabulous bread in innovative and delicious ways. Staples on the menu include a double cheeseburger (the truffle aioli kills it), cheesesteak, a Banh Mi with Thai meatballs, and even falafel for non-meat eaters. Daily specials run the gamut from a pastrami reuben and porchetta to a cuban sandwich.P1010208P1010207P1010209

Courtyard seating is available for those who can’t wait to dig into one of Pope’s luxurious creations, or who just want to enjoy some fresh air before hightailing it back to the office.
Pigwich on Urbanspoon

Rasika–Washington, DC

Often touted as the best Indian restaurant in America, getting a table at Rasika is now a little easier thanks to a second location in the West End. We went to the original, which may not be as chic and modern as the newer spot, but the menu is almost identical at both so we were happy. Having been years ago and remembering it as one of the best Indian meals I’d ever had, I was excited to go back. While it may not have exceeded my lofty expectations, I loved most of the dishes we ordered.

Malai Palak--Rasika

Here was the line up.paneer shashlik--Rasika

paneer shashlikP1010133 P1010132 P1010131 P1010130P1010128

Marinated cottage cheese / onions / peppers

Spinach / garlic / green chili / onion

Duroc pork chop with Vindaloo / Peri-Peri masala / spiced potatoes

Chicken Green Masala

Chicken / mint / coriander / ground spices

Gobhi Mattar

Cauliflower / green peas / cumin / ginger

Lobster Pulao

Bell Pepper / cumin / mango kadi

We also sampled naan in almost every flavor, including onion and sage, garlic, and chile and olive oil.

My son’s favorite dish on the menu is the spinach and, while it may not sound exciting, after trying it, I had to agree. It was crispy, and bursting with a complexity of flavors that belie the description. The paneer dish, which one usually finds floating in creamed spinach, held its own as a kabob, and I could have made a meal out of the cauliflower. I was a bit disappointed in the pork chop because though the sauce was spicy, it didn’t sing to me. The green masala was lighter than the typical red version since it didn’t contain cream, but if you don’t love coriander, this is not the dish for you. The lobster pulao was similar to a biryani rice dish, so I loved that.

It’s a hopping place and is quite loud, but we had a prime window table making it easier to converse.

If you like Indian and you’re going to DC, call well in advance to try to snag a table.

Rasika

Rasika on Urbanspoon

Greek Salad

A Greek salad would go beautifully with chicken, beef or fish, and features ingredients that are plentiful in farmers’ markets around the area. Not only is it still peak tomato season, but cucumbers are available by the bushel as well.

Greek salad

Most greek salads don’t call for any lettuce, but my sister made one last month with a touch of arugula, giving it a bit more heft and adding a nice bite.Greek salad

I don’t follow a recipe but a traditional Greek salad has chopped cucumbers, tomatoes (if you find cherry tomatoes, halving them is best), Kalamata olives, sliced or diced red onion, chunks of red, orange and green peppers (the more colors the more visually appealing), and feta. If you’re feeling adventurous you could add roasted red pepper (mild or piquillo), quartered artichoke hearts and fresh oregano. (In the picture you can see I skipped the peppers, but only because I was long on tomatoes and cukes.)

This dressing is from Bobby Flay. Just whisk the ingredients together or throw everything into a jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the vegetables, and arugula if desired, toss and serve.

For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef’s knife
1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper

The Butcher of Panzano

If you are in Tuscany, make whatever detour necessary to get to Panzano. A tiny town in the middle of Chianti, it’s home to a world-renowned butcher–Dario Cecchini.Dario, the butcher of Panzano

Dario ought to be in the movies. He’s a huge presence; full of charisma and warmth, holding court as he does from behind the counter. Walking into the shop, a staff member immediately greets customers and offers up a glass of house Chianti. He then points to a long table laden with a lovely spread of antipasto–cheese, lardo on toast, salami and fettunata (grilled bread drenched in olive oil.) It may have been 10 am when we visited, but we happily sampled their offerings.P1010554Porchetta with red pepper jam--Panzano

I had read quite a bit about Dario before our trip. He’s been featured in several national magazines and the New York Times. He’d also participated in a special dinner at Michael Smith a few years ago, and Michael suggested I look him up and use his name. The minute I mentioned Michael’s name, Dario broke out into a huge grin and yelled that his wife should come out to say hello. He urged us to eat, eat, eat, and quickly cut up some chunks of the most gorgeous porchetta I’ve ever seen. He spooned some red pepper jam onto a plate, stuck toothpicks in the bite-sized pieces of pork and gestured to us to please sample it. It tasted as good as it looked, which isn’t always the case with porchetta. This was moist, tender, meaty and, except for the outer ring, not at all fatty. The jam, which I’d had before because my nephew brought me a jar after visiting Dario a couple of years ago, was the perfect condiment.

We bought a hunk of porchetta to take back to our rental house and, of course, a jar of that pepper jam. Dario asked us to stay for lunch at his restaurant next door, but since it’s an all meat affair (he does run a butcher shop after all) and we had too many non-meat eaters in the group, we regretfully declined. It undoubtedly would have been a lively experience and I’m sorry we didn’t stay no matter the fare.Dario's butcher shop--Panzano

There are actually two butchers in Panzano. The other one is in the old section of town, but ask anyone for Dario’s shop and they can direct you to his doorstep. It’s one of those memorable experiences you won’t want to miss.

Candied Jalapenos

Last spring I went to the Final Cut at Hollywood Casino and was served a cheese plate with candied jalapenos. I had never had this treat before and thought they were fabulous. Sweet, hot and an ideal match for the cheese. So I decided when summer came around I would try making them with the scads of jalapenos that we always have in our garden. I scoured the internet until I found a recipe that appealed to me. Some added too many spices but this one was just right.Poblanos and Jalapenos

P1010968

It was simple to make but required a ton of jalapenos to produce a very small batch–30 in fact, for just 2 pints!

I would urge you to wear gloves while slicing the jalapenos: I never do and always wind up sticking a finger in my eye at some point and getting a very uncomfortable burn. Once you add the jalapeno slices to the sugar/vinegar mixture, watch them carefully so they don’t get overcooked. I took mine off the heat as soon as the bright green color was gone. P1010969P1010972

The recipe suggests adding cayenne pepper, but I used the seeds from the jalapeno, and that made it plenty hot…and I like heat.P1010977

I don’t can my produce due to concern that I may poison someone someday, but I have had good luck freezing jams, and I expect that these jars will be fine when thawed as well. P1010980

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/05/candied-jalapenos.html