Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pizza Perfection!

My friends and I were in the mood for pizza, and after having read rave reviews in New York Magazine about Kesté Pizza and Vino ( on Bleecker, we decided to give it a try. I figured that since I am traveling to Italy next week, this would be the right time to gather the appropriate data for my firsthand comparison of Italian pizza to American pizza.

If you are looking to get a table right away for dinner, then I suggest you arrive by six or earlier. Our party arrived at around seven, and there was already a mob amassed out front. I do need to compliment their host, who seems to have finessed the skill of crowd pleasing in a short amount of time. He remembered my name from the moment he put me on the waiting list, until we had paid the check at the end of the meal, and graciously thanked us for coming. He would also bring out fresh pies, cut into slivers, to whet the appetites of the hungry hoards that gathered on line outside, eagerly awaiting their taste.

It took less than a half hour to get a table, and we sat toward the back, where you have an excellent view of the pizza maestro himself, Roberto Caporuscio, assembling his prestigious pies and popping them into the wood burning, bell-shaped, brick oven. All of the ingredients are so simple, vibrant, and unbelievably fresh. You are practically drooling from all the sights and aromas until your own pizza arrives.

My dining companions and I are relative purists when it comes to pizza, so we all opted for simple selections in which we could adequately enjoy each specific element. The pies are very thin crust, and are about one foot in diameter. (Yes, we each got our own pie, thank you very much!) We
ordered one Margherita pie, and two Regina Margherita pies. The only differences are that the regular Margherita is made with fresh mozzarella, and the Regina Margherita has grape tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Both pies are essentially crust, tomato sauce, cheese, basil and extra virgin olive oil. The simplicity and utmost quality of each ingredient on its own is what contributes to the wonderfulness of this pizza.

Any good pizza needs to start with a good crust. Any aficionado knows that a tasteless crust equates to a lame slice of pizza. And since pizza dough has so few ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, and water), choosing the right balance makes all the difference. These pizzas are very thin crust, and the dough is tasty, crisp, chewy, and slightly salted — all the defining qualities of an excellent pie. The crust has all those wonderful air pockets that are crisp on the surface, and slightly chewy and gummy inside, permeating throughout the dough.

Beyond the dough, the tomato sauce seems to be delightfully unaffected. The simplicity of the ingredients is what makes each element really stand out in the crowd. The sauce seems to be little more than a medley of crushed/pureed delicious, ripe tomatoes. And it is no surprise that the cheese is clean, fresh, sweet, and melted to perfection. The buffalo mozzarella is a bit more tart and tangy than the regular mozzarella, but you can’t go wrong with either. This pizza absolutely hits the spot. Complimenting it with a ½ carafe of wine is even better.

After leaving Kesté in our pizza induced coma, we wandered a block and half to L’Arte del Gelato (, which has some of the finest, mouth-watering gelato and sorbet in the borough of Manhattan. It probably deserves its own post – it is that delicious. It was the perfect cap to a wonderful Italian dinner, and my friends and I have full intentions of repeating this excursion once I return from Italia!

Kesté Pizza and Vino – 271 Bleecker, 10014

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomate

I believe that every once in a while, you need to treat yourself to a fine meal. In that frame of mind, my colleague, David, and I made lunch reservations at Rouge Tomate – a posh midtown restaurant focusing on delicious and healthy dishes made from local, nutritional ingredients. The restaurant follows the philosophy of S.P.E., which stands for Sanitas Per Escam in Latin, but symbolizes an “innovative approach toward well-being through balanced and optimal nutrition that maintains, strengthens, and protects the body.” So, what better place than this to treat ourselves to a delicious, body-cleansing experience?

We began our gastronomic adventure with the complimentary bread and dip they brought to the table. The dip is a spinach and garlic puree (pictured, right). It was a vibrant, rich green color, and it actually tasted equally as green, but not in a bad way. It was fresh and flavorful, and we felt good about eating it.

For our appetizer, we ordered the leek and potato flatbread with feta cheese, pine nuts, grapes and capers (pictured, left). We found this dish to be absolutely delicious. The bread was thin and crisp, but didn’t crumble easily when you bit into it – sturdier than we expected. And the combination of fried potatoes, leeks, feta, grapes, and pine nuts was sensational. All the flavors that melded together in our mouths were creative and fantastic. I’m not a caper fan, so I could have lived without that aspect, but the execution of this appetizer was spot on. It was almost like breakfast on flatbread, but better. And it got me thinking of other combinations I could come up with at home for a dish like this.

For the main dishes, David ordered the venison brochette a la plancha with bulgur wheat, dried fruit chutney, and minted yogurt raitta (pictured, right). The venison was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Wonderfully tender medallions of venison, and the side dishes added a very interesting middle eastern compliment to the dish. I would not have though to prepare venison in a style like this, but I guess that’s why I’m not an acclaimed chef.

I ordered the Heritage Breed chicken with autumn vegetable fricassee, quinoa, chestnut and cranberry (pictured, left). This home-style dish definitely had a comfort food element, but jazzed up in a healthful and trendy way. And the presentation was so lovely and colorful, which made it even more appetizing. The dish was really pleasant, and the chicken was juicy and tender. However, in retrospect, I can’t understand why I didn’t order the delicate squash agnolotti, which is supposedly similar to squash ravioli, with farm egg, watercress, and warm mushroom vinaigrette. I had asked the waitress about the dish, and she described the sauce as “pine-nut oil and maple syrup”. I can’t imagine that being bad – so I’ll have to try it the next time I decide to splurge on lunch.

We skipped the dessert this time around, though they all did sound delicious. Next time I go, you will get a review of their pasta, desserts, and wacky health smoothies (we saw some incredibly green drink getting whipped up at the bar and had to ask about it – it was supposedly a delicious vegetable puree. I think I’ll take their word for it). In the meantime, if you have some money and some time – the space was really open, airy and modern (picture, right), and the food was tasty and filling, but you left feeling good about what you just ate.

Rouge Tomate – 10 East 60th Street, 10022

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Turkish Delight

I have a particular affinity for Mediterranean cuisine. I think it is partly because, when done properly, it is comprised of some of the freshest tasting flavors using a minimal amount of ingredients. And I most often agree that less is more.

Beyoglu is a hopping, yet cozy Turkish restaurant located on the Upper East side, and I recently had the pleasure of dining there. My dining companion and I arrived at around 7:00 PM on a Friday, right before the huge crowds began to gather. We only had to wait about five minutes for a table, which was good compared to the wait time incurred by those as we were leaving. The only unfortunate thing is that this restaurant does not take r
eservations for small parties, so expect to wait when you go – but trust me when I say the wait is worth it.

We began our meal with the hummus appetizer and a shepherd salad. The hummus (pictured, right, with a bit of my entree in the background - and I apologize for the iPhone quality photo) comes with delicious, hot Turkish sesame seed bread. The bottom of the bread is really oven crispy and browned, and the inside is fluffy and light. The hummus w
as very good, and it contained a hint of cumin that upon tasting, made me ponder “hmmm, what is that?” It was an interesting addition to say the least. And the shepherd salad was fresh, crisp and wonderful, with a coarsely chopped array of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers in lemon and olive oil. It is always amazing to me how, for such a simple dish, it always tastes better at a restaurant than if I make it myself. And this was no exception. I think shepherd salad is one of my all time favorite salads - I truly enjoy its simplicity and freshness.

For my main course, I got the Doner kebab – vertically grilled thin sliced lamb and beef atop a rice pilaf and served with onions, grilled tomato and hot pepper, and crispy potato wedges. The meat was so juicy and flavorful! Even my dining companion, who ordered the daily special lamb kebab, found himself eating off my plate (even though his own meal was delicious) and muttering about how "mmmm, awesome" it was. The meat in my dish was expertly seasoned and thoroughly tasty. Also, the rice had a very nice buttery taste and consistency, and the potatoes were crispy and delightful. The only thing I could have lived without was the raw onions that are typically served with many kebab dishes at a multitude of Mediterranean restaurants. Raw onions just aren’t my thing.

Sadly, I cannot report on the desserts here, because I just had no room left after all that meat – but from what I could see, the baklava looked gooey and fabulous.

If you are looking for a fresh, flavorful, and fairly reasonably priced Turkish meal, Beyoglu is the place to go.

Beyoglu – 1431 Third Ave, 10028

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Food – Great Friends – Great Restaurant

After a bit of a restaurant hiatus (economic meltdown doesn’t really bode well for frequent restaurant visits), my fiancé and I went out with a bunch of our long-time friends for a semi-annual dinner and gabfest. Our friend chose a quaint French bistro in Chelsea as the meeting spot for all eight of us.

I know that eight young professionals at a dinner table can become a raucous group, but I will commend the restaurant for two things: seating us toward the back, separating us from the rest of the diners with a nice private curtain, and also for the service. The wait staff was very pleasant, and I know large groups can be tough to deal with sometimes.

What’s nice about group dining is that you have the opportunity to sample many of the dishes. And we didn’t realize that the portions at La Belle Vie would be so generous – especially for the prices. I think that comparatively to other restaurants, your dollar goes much further here (recession bonus)!

For appetizers, several of us got the French onion soup, and then we split the duck confit risotto. The soup had perfectly browned melted Swiss cheese on top, and was quite filling (eyes bigger than stomach syndrome). The duck risotto was – ducky! It was less creamy and meatier than I expected it to be. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, because I did. The flavor of the risotto was light and faintly cheesy, and the taste of duck and mushrooms were the stars of the show. Again, much more filling than I anticipated, especially since I was sharing it with three other people.

For the main dish, I opted to try something distinctly French – the Boeuf Bourguignon, which is beef cubes sautéed with red wine, vegetables, mashed potatoes. The plate was enormous. Even if I had skipped the apps, I still don’t think I could have finished this dish (pictured left). The beef was wonderfully tender, and you could really taste the red wine infused in the sauce. It was really delicious. The mashed potatoes were also good because they were not too salty, and served as a perfect subtle compliment to the super-flavorful sauce on the beef. And atop each of the three piles of mashed potatoes, a waffle potato chip was perched. Yum!

I also had the pleasure of sampling the Canard Rôti - crispy roasted half of duck with long grain wild rice, Grand Marnier sauce (pictured right). The surprising and delightful thing about this dish was the sweet, almost fruitiness of the sauce on the duck. But it wasn’t too sweet or offensive. It had just the right amount of zing. I also tried their fall-of-the-bone tender short ribs, which were also great, and enormous in portion (pictured left).

Since you can’t call yourself a French restaurant and not serve soufflé, we ordered ours at the same time we ordered our entrees so as to give the kitchen ample time to prepare the chocolate, praline, and Grand Marnier confections. We hoped that one of each flavor would be enough, but we should have known that just like everything else at this restaurant, the soufflés would be giant. Each one could easily feed three hungry people. They were all fluffy and light, which is how it should be. And the waiter brought over the soufflé, punctured it on top with a fork, and then poured in its respective sauce (see chocolate soufflé, in action, pictured right). The only disappointment I had was with the chocolate – it just did not have the richness that I would have expected. It was more of a subtle cocoa flavor that rich chocolaty goodness. But perhaps this worked to our advantage, since we were bursting at the seams at this point.

Also notable was the large selection of wine by the glass. I highly recommend the Montepulciano.

But of course, as good as the food was, the best part of the evening was being able to share it with good friends, to catch up and spend quality time together. And La Belle Vie was a great place to do just that.

La Belle Vie – 184 8th Avenue, 10011

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Charles - From Those Who Brought You the Waverly Inn

A friend of ours somehow managed to snag us reservations for four during the opening weekend of Charles. This restaurant is the creation of John DeLucie and John McAllister of Wavery Inn fame. And I foresee this place being successfully uber-trendy as well, with some comforting food to boot.

The restaurant is very small – it only seats about 60, and it currently still has newspapered windows, so when you arrive, you wonder if you have arrived at the right place. The ambiance inside is dark, cozy and intimate, and we appreciated the attentiveness and cordiality of the wait staff who were eager to please.

For our first course, we began with the Yukon Gold & Celeriac Soup with Roasted Hazelnuts & Cinnamon Oil. This was incredibly interesting with a very distinct flavor. I think the hazelnuts and cinnamon added a complex ethnic flavor to a soup that would otherwise be considered traditional comfort food. The soup was creamy, but not overwhelmingly so, and I found it to be delicious.

For the main dishes, I ordered the Braised Short Rib of Beef with Swiss Chard, Golden Raisins & Pine Nuts, while Ron ordered the Seared Duck Breast with Roasted Grapes & Escarole. My short ribs were exactly what I would have expected. Juicy and tender in a light beef gravy, sitting atop a bed of sautéed escarole. The raisins and pine nuts added nice, subtle hints of sweetness and nuttiness to the dish that complimented the beef very nicely. And the portion was very reasonable as well. When finished, you are full without being stuffed.

Ron’s seared duck was also fabulous. The dish was sweeter than I would have expected, but it worked very well, and the duck was cooked to perfection with a slightly crispy crust and very moist meat inside. As a side dish, we ordered the White Polenta with Aged Goat Cheese – and it did not disappoint. I loved this dish. The polenta was creamy and cheesy, but only subtly so. There was nothing overwhelming about it – I thought it was perfect.

Our dining companions ordered the Potato Gnocci with Squash, Spinach & Percorino Romano, and the Charles Burger with Gruyere, Roasted Cipolini Onions & Hand Cut Pomme Frites. They both seemed very pleased with their meals as well. The French fries in homemade “ketchup” were very nice. The ketchup tasted like a smoky marinara sauce, which made for a unique dipping experience.

If you can get reservations, I’d highly recommend checking this place out.

Charles – 234 West 4th Street, 10014

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cure for the Wintertime Blues

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

As the temperature begins to drop, this recipe is a great one, and one of my all time favorites. My fiancé also happens to love it, and I make it every time we have a craving for the perfect wintertime comfort food. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

One kosher chicken, cut up
6 carrots
6 celery stalks
2 parsnips
1 turnip
dill, bunch
parsley, bunch
1 large onion
(celery salt, optional)

In a large stock pot, place the chicken pieces (skin removed), and cover with water so that the chicken is completely covered, and there is an additional 1-2 inches of water above the chicken. Bring to a boil and allow the chicken to cook for about an hour on a medium-low heat. Skim off the fat while the chicken is cooking.

Meanwhile, cut into chunks 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, parsnips, turnip and onion, and wash and prepare bunches of dill and parsley.

After an hour, remove the chicken from the water and reserve, and add the rest of the ingredients, including salt, pepper and celery salt to the pot to cook on medium-low heat. Once the chicken pieces have cooled somewhat, remove the meat from the chicken and cut it into small pieces to reserve for the soup later. You can throw the bones back into the stock pot to cook with the vegetables to maximize the flavor of the broth. Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

In the meantime, chop the remaining carrots and celery into small pieces and reserve.

Once the vegetables have all softened completely, strain and reserve the broth, and discard all the cooking vegetables and chicken bones. Put the broth back in the pot, and add the fresh chopped carrots and celery and pieces of reserved chicken. Cook on medium-low heat, covered, for about a half hour.

In the meantime, in a separate pot, cook your favorite soup noodles (egg noodles preferred) according to the package so they are al dente. Then, strain and run the noodles under cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Reserve the noodles.

Once the carrots and celery in the soup are tender, and the broth seasoned with salt and pepper to your liking, the soup is ready to eat. Serve the soup with the noodles. I like to keep the soup and noodles separate until you are ready to serve so the noodles do not get soggy. Enjoy!

Serves about 8

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pita Joe - For the Schnitzel Lover in You

After having recently traveled to Israel and still experiencing falafel withdrawal pangs, I was excited to receive an invitation to the preview party for a brand new falafel and schnitzel joint in Union Square. The opening party provided a sampling of all the staple menu items from Pita Joe, including falafel, grilled chicken, schnitzel, with all the necessary accompanying salads and sides, and, of course, pita.

Most of the time, when I eat falafel, the inside of the falafel ball is mostly green. This falafel is not – they are the color I would expect a chick pea to be. But they are very flavorful. Most notable is the garlic flavor permeating throughout. I found them to be really good, and different than the typical falafel I’ve found in the city.

Truth be told, I am generally not a huge fan of schnitzel. For those of you who may not know, schnitzel (pictured) is essentially a breaded poultry cutlet, most often chicken. After years of attempting to make healthier choices, I have weaned myself off of breaded menu items and have lost my affection for many of them. But I figured I’d give it a shot anyway. The chicken cutlet is thinly sliced, and the breading is adequately seasoned without being overwhelmingly greasy. I enjoyed this far more than I expected.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the head chef of the restaurant, who is of the belief that his pitas are the best I have ever tasted. I told him this was a tall order to fill, and I’d need some evidence. He told me that he spent several days in Israel at a school studying the art of pita making. I wondered to myself where I might find such a pita university (PU?), and how I might sign up for coursework. He kindly sent me home with a bag of freshly baked pitas for my experiment. And after six trials (for consistency purposes, or course), I determined that he might be right. They were fluffy, with just the right amount of brown crispy spots, and a hint of sweetness. I ate them with ease and I am looking forward to my next visit to Pita Joe to alert the chef to my findings.

Pita Joe - 2 West 14th Street, 10011