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.
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.
Every dish was visually striking and there was an intensity of flavor in each bite. Here’s what we had:
ROASTED WITH TOMATO, BASIL & CORN CREAM
KING CRAB, MEYER LEMON & BLACK PEPPER
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Cauliflower / green peas / cumin / ginger
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.
I can’t promise success, but it’s worth the effort to make your own cheese.
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.
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
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.
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.
Those in the know know of David Chang, chef/owner of the New York based Momofuku mini-empire. So when one of his former sous chefs sets up his own shop in Kansas City, he and his restaurant are going to immediately be on everyone’s radar.
And so it was with me. I love Momofuku Saam Bar, the Noodle Bar and,of course, the chewy and ridiculously good compost cookies made by Chang’s pastry chef Christina Tosi (which, by the way, my son and daughter-in-law provided as party favors at their wedding–those cookies have a cult-like following.)
When I heard that the aforementioned former sous chef, Ryan Brazeal was coming to town, I “liked” his new restaurant on Facebook and started paying attention to the inevitable buzz that surrounded the opening of Novel. Novel is how Brazeal defines his food. To him, New American and Nouvelle are outdated terms. He’s doing American his way.
Brazeal has taken over a quaint little home on the Westside that for years housed Lil’s restaurant. Overlooking 17th Street from on high, several steps must be climbed to get first to the charming terrace and then into the restaurant. The building is just west of the 17th and Summit intersection that has become a hotbed of funky and interesting restaurants.
It was fun to watch as he posted pictures of the renovation and greeted area chefs who stopped by to welcome him back to town. Brazeal is a graduate of the culinary program at the Johnson County Community College and, in his mind, this was an inevitable return.
The renovation is smashing in a very rustic, cozy way. Reclaimed wood lines the walls and floors, and the large kitchen in back is completely open and spacious. Diners walk by an intimate bar in order to get to their table, whether it’s on the first floor or upstairs. Also upstairs is a private dining room that is sure to be popular during the holidays.
We were there on a hot day in July when the A/C was working very hard to keep up with the steamy temperatures. Though normally we would have bolted after dinner because of it, the intimate atmosphere and our particular companions kept us in our seats long after the dishes had been cleared.
Everything that comes out of the kitchen is worth a picture. The colors are vibrant, and the flavors of each ingredient are distinctive and intense. Each dish is really a feast for all of the senses and makes the statement that this is fare that is going to be uniquely Brazeal’s.
Here’s what we enjoyed:
Tomato Salad with heirloom tomatoes, pickled strawberries, crisp cucumber, fresh herbs, yuzu-ginger vinaigrette was clearly made from just picked vegetables and fruit. With the Asian dressing and an unlikely combination of strawberry and tomato, Brazeal wastes no time in making it clear that he’s all about local and seasonal, cooking with only the freshest ingredients that he can get from the farmers with whom he is developing relationships.
Chilled Corn soup –it was a special the night we dined at Novel, and was easily the best corn soup I’ve ever had. Made from fresh ears of corn, it was incredibly sweet, with a hint of spice to offset the natural sugars.
Fluke Crudo with salted avocado, lime, and jicama was a delight. Each bite was a revelation and the flavors married beautifully.
The Chicken Brick was also quite inventive. According to GM Richard Garcia, this is the process: Brazeal brines the meat and then it’s lightly pounded flat; both the light and dark meat are seasoned with porchetta seasoning (sage, thyme, rosemary, and fennel seed), the meat is then layered alternating light and dark meat, and topped with chicken skin forming what looks like a brick; the “brick” is then pressed, cut into portions and pan roasted to order; sauce for the dish is made from fennel, shallots, white wine, chicken bones, and finished to order with sherry vinegar and pickled mustard seeds. The four bricks are surrounded by a panzanella salad of sourdough, summer squash, upland cress, mustard seed. Its was moist, light, and bursting with flavor.
We also spied a huge rib pork chop with spicy pork belly ragu, rice spaetzle, and baby bok choy that the diner at the next table was attacking with relish.
One flourless torte with caramel and peanuts for our table of four was all we could handle, but we demolished it. That’s my kind of dessert.
The small menu is updated often to take advantage of what’s in season, and weekly specials are off menu.