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

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Turkey Osso Buco

In addition to my restaurant and food reviews, I will be posting recipes that I have either made or tasted and loved, so that you can partake in the deliciousness as well, right from your own home. And you can submit your own favorite recipes for possible future posts on Your Omnivore!

Turkey Osso Buco with Parsley and Rosemary Gremolata

To give credit where it is due, I got this recipe from an episode of Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network. When I cooked it, I left out the Gremolata portion altogether, and I thought it was fantastic. I love this recipe, and it is especially great if you are entertaining, or if you want to have excellent leftovers for the next day. The turkey becomes so tender and flavorful in the recipe – you can cut it easily with a fork. Also, when I made the recipe, I used an entire boneless turkey breast only (skinless), cut into about 6 pieces. I served it on top of whole wheat pasta, and it came out great!

1/2 breast of turkey (cut into 3 pieces, preferably by the butcher)
2 turkey thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups reduce-sodium chicken broth
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
Pinch salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

For the Turkey Osso Bucco: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pat the turkey with paper towels to dry and ensure even browning. Season the turkey with salt and pepper. Dredge the turkey in the flour to coat.

In a heavy roasting pan large enough to fit the turkey in a single layer, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey and cook until brown on both sides, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the turkey to a plate and reserve.

In the same pan, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Season vegetables with salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Return the turkey to the pan. Add enough chicken broth to come 2/3 up the sides of the turkey. Add the herb sprigs, bay leaf, and cloves to the broth mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan tightly with foil and transfer to the oven. Braise until the turkey is fork-tender, turning the turkey after 1 hour.

Meanwhile, for the Gremolata: Combine the chopped parsley, lemon zest, garlic, minced rosemary, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Cover and reserve until serving the turkey.

To serve, transfer the turkey to shallow serving bowls. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the sauce over the meat. Sprinkle each piece of turkey with a large pinch of Gremolata. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

C’est Magnifique!

I have lived on the Upper East Side for over a year, and have passed this restaurant many times. Each time, I had a different excuse for not stopping in. “I don’t know… it’s late and the food seems heavy”, “I don’t know… it looks really expensive, let’s just do something cheap and local…”, “Meh…I don’t think I’m dressed the part… some other time, maybe”, etc. So finally, Ron and I decided to plan a date to L’Absinthe. And we did not regret it.

We sat at our table, and as we began to peruse the menu, the waiter brought us a plate with two hot parmesan encrusted biscuits. It was then that I knew that this was going to be a good night. Fluffy inside, and cheesy and crusty outside. Yum! They also brought fresh baguette bread and butter. I normally don’t comment on bread because usually it is nothing special, but this time, it was hot and super soft inside and the outside was crisp and flaking all over the table. Our table must have looked like a crumby disaster when we were done, but it was so worth it.

For our first course, we decided to share the Casserole of Fresh Peas (pictured - I apologize for the photo quality, as these were taken with an iPhone) which is a dish of pea dumplings (think soft pea gnocci), English peas, pea shoots, and pieces of chicken wings in a savory chicken broth base. This dish was so flavorful, and the chicken was incredibly tender and juicy. The dish is small to share, but it was a wonderful beginning to our meal. We nearly licked the plate clean, the broth was so good. At the same time, we also had our second helping of the fresh baguette.

For our main courses, Ron ordered the Orange Marinated and Glazed Black Cod (pictured) which came with corn cilantro pancakes and bok choy. His fish was really excellent. Very moist and flaky, and the citrus flavor was infused throughout the fish which gave it amazing flavor. According to the waitress, the fish is marinated in the orange marinade overnight so that it really soaks up all that citrus goodness. And the pancakes were very interesting. Ron has a severe distaste for cilantro, so that was the deal breaker for him, but I thought they were quite good.

For my dish, I ordered the Papillote of Salmon in Phyllo Dough with Vegetable Minestrone Couscous and arugula dressing (pictured). This was unusual for me, because I’ve never had salmon wrapped in fried phyllo before. It was a really unique combination and I enjoyed the amalgam of textures within this dish. The vegetable minestrone with large couscous pearls was delightful. Whatever type of stock the side dish was cooked in made it really savory (I wonder if it was similar to the broth in the casserole) and it was really tasty.

And if we weren’t piggy enough, we decided that we needed to see how the restaurant fared on the dessert front, if the meal was any indication. Ron ordered the Warm Crust Dark Chocolate Cake with Carmelized Bananas and Rum Sorbet (pictured), which was outrageous. The cake was decadent and chocolaty without being “too” rich. And we’ve never had rum sorbet before – so the cold creaminess with the hint of alcohol was surprising.

I ordered their special dessert of the day which was a mint soufflé with a warm vanilla sauce. The soufflé was very fluffy and light and the mint added a really distinct flavor. The desserts did not disappoint, and as a wonderful added bonus, we got a plate of homemade chocolate truffles (pictured) when we ordered tea or coffee. The truffles were delightfully cool, and melted in your mouth.

We thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate at this restaurant, and the service was pleasant and attentive as well – especially since we didn’t have a reservation. I would highly recommend L’Absinthe for your next romantic dinner, celebration, or anytime you just want a really delicious meal.

L’Absinthe; 227 E 67th St, 10065