23 May 2009

Declaration on How To Eat Avocados

Wherefore: I love recipes that set us free to be our own creative geniuses in the kitchen.

Whereas: Organic avocados at Whole Foods come in a bag of 4 for $4

Whereas: Guacamole should not be a beautiful mystery strictly confined to Mexican restaurants

I do hereby resolve: All that is needed to make avocados go from good to spectacular is

1) salt
2) acid
3) onion

Therefore these truths becomes self evident:

- Classic Mexican: salt, lime, chopped white or yellow onion
- Italian Iconolast: salt, lemon, chopped garlic (which is a member of the onion family, Alliaceae)
- French Flair: salt, sherry (or red wine) vinegar, finely sliced shallots

10 May 2009

James Beard Foundation Awards 2009

Attending the JBF Awards was a dream come true, and I've been walking around in a trance ever since. Still, I was determined to pay homage to the experience, better late than never.

May 4 saw the peacock's plummage of the food world arrive at Lincoln Center. It was fun, slightly glamorous, and the odor of desperation permeated the awards hall like crushed garlic from a kitchen. JBF President Susan Ungaro hammered home a message to resounding applause:

"We are going to cook, dine and drink our way out of these tough times"

Here, here for more hedonistic pleasures in our lives!

My hosts for the evening were the thoroughly charming Mireille Guiliano of French Women Don't Get Fat, and Dr. Edward Guiliano, President of the New York Institute of Technology. They met in Istanbul, which is why I know their love is the enduring kind. All couples I know whose stories revolve around Istanbul remain happily in love even decades after the fact, celebrating anniversaries in the high double digits with fountains spouting champagne. But fill me with as much good wine as they did and I'll make grand proclamations for your love too...

A predictable hour late after a long awards ceremony, the magic of the food at the VIP dinner had evaporated under too many heat lamps, but there were some notable exceptions.

The cheese course was truly extraordinary for its quality and gutsy simplicity. No crackers, no fruit or other accoutrements to distract from the bliss of complex flavors that can be coaxed from simple dairy. Thank you bacteria!

Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farm,

Laurier from Vermont Butter & Cheese (my favorite, a chalky goat named for its laurel leaf wrapping),

Blanca Bianca from Mozzarella Company, and

Kirkham's Lancashire from Rocca Family Vineyards.

Debbie Gold's (The American Restaurant, Kansas City, MO) cured bone marrow on mustard croutons with parsley and ramps punched up the flavor, as did Lidia Bastianich's (no introduction necessary I presume) herb crumb encrusted veal cheeks with spring begetables and quinoa salad. Looking back, it makes sense that the only dishes whose flavor survived the evening's delays were those with plenty of fat.

Best blow-by-blow account of the evening can be found on New York Magazine's website's Grub Street.

As a Barnard woman and youngun to the food world, I appreciated this year's theme honoring women in the culinary scene, be they chefs, writers, bartenders, artisans, or sommeliers. Let's hear it for women not only surviving but redefining a man's world - requisite jokes about a woman's place being in the kitchen and all.

06 May 2009

Not a very good photo

Not a very good photo (this is the end of my 4-year-old digital point and shooter), but this is the magnificent pici with fennel and cinnamon sausage and caramelized brussel sprouts. Falai's pasta is all made in-house, and these pici had the most delightful springy, light yet simultaneously dense texture.

Best Burger in NYC

Today's New York Times highlighted a group of men in New York City dedicated to discovering and rating the city's best burgers.

I applaud their efforts, but should point out that they missed the beauty of a homemade burger. Having eaten at Peter Luger (their #1), Burger Joint (#6), and Genesis (#8), I can say unequivocally that my boyfriend's Marcus' burgers are the best, and I am proud to have played the crucial role of meat purchaser.

The best burger of my life (pictured) was made of a combination of ground pork, veal, and grass-fed beef bought at the meat counter in Grand Central (Ceriello Fine Foods). Marcus mixed this with an egg or 2, a sizeable grated onion, a bit of panko bread crumbs, and salt and pepper. These were cooked to perfection on top of the stove, and finished under our oven's broiler to melt a good chunk of New York State-sourced cheddar. On top of that went a slice of thick-sliced bacon from our butcher at Eli Zabar, a good slice of tomato, and beautiful lettuce. I forget what sauces we used... Was it a homemade mayonnaise or the reduced-fat stuff lurking in the fridge? A bit of mustard. Perhaps some ketchup or Pio Pio's addictive green sauce. All this on Eli Zabar's brioche hamburger buns, toasted. Despite all this luxurious shopping, we still paid less per burger than the typical $10+ charged in restaurants.

Served alongside was a coleslaw of red and savoy cabbage and carrot, sauced with that magical verdant liquid from Pio Pio again (couldn't resist, not strictly necessary), vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, crushed garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. Not bad at all, especially on a warm day.

01 May 2009

Falai: Best of NYC

Falai serves the top Italian food in NYC, so extraordinary that it would hold its own as a top restaurant even back in Rome (hometown to its chef and waitstaff - and me).

The only problem remains its out-of-the-way location in the Lower East Side at 68 Clinton Street (although it is an interesting, gentrified yet gritty neighborhood).

Three visits over as many years reveal consistent high quality, seasonal, imaginative dishes. Exceptional service reminds me of my old haunts in Rome where waiters approached their job as a profession if not a calling. Their wine list is excellent too, full of small Italian producers focusing on region-specific grapes and sustainable agricultural practices.

Best flavor combinations of the night:

Fennel and cinnamon sausage with pici.

Granny Smitch apple, curried potato, squid ink black rice with olive oil and herb-marinated baby octopus tentacles.

An omniverous wine (mostly verdant, bits of animal, and slightly mettalic) from Puglia. Very smooth and well-balanced, it actually reminded me more of a French wine than Italian.

Cacc'e Mmitte di Lucera of Alberto Longo 2005

It's a blend of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and a white variety, Bombino Bianco