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