New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town….and is it ever! I have come to New York in order to participate in a splendid dinner being prepared at the James Beard House by the Culinary Guild of New England of which I am a member.
At the moment however I am on my way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my friend Lorraine. I am looking forward to viewing the museum’s current exhibit of the paintings collected by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, in their Paris apartment in the early years of the 20th century.
They as well as their brother Michael and his wife Sarah were important patrons of unknown artists of the time. Two hundred works of art were collected by the Steins. Their Saturday evening salons introduced visitors to such avant garde artists as Picasso, Matisse,.Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Cezanne, Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec. The styles of these artists were new and unknown to the majority of people who frequented the Steins’ soirees and visitors were frequently shocked by the freedom and the vivid splashes of color displayed in the paintings by the then unknown artists. At the Steins’ apartment paintings were hung on the walls from floor to ceiling. The museum has replicated this design in its placement of these works of art. The walls glow with the vivid reds, yellows and blues of these now famous artists. In several of the rooms displaying the paintings there are also huge blow-up photos in black and white of the Steins at table with friends or entertaining visitors. In the background of these huge photos on the walls of their apartment hang the paintings that we are viewing today.
After the exhibit we have dinner at Zak Pellagio’s Fatty Cue where the emphasis in the humble storefront is on pig, pig and more pig – much of it prepared in outrageous barbecue mode but with an emphasis on Asian flavors.. Delectable scents of ginger and garlic greet us upon entering the restaurant. This West Village establishment shows its individuality with our first course which is a salad of smokey ham, delectable cheeses, fresh greens and pretzel bread..We follow this with a fried soft shell crab tartine which is crackling, crispy and delicious. Wild striped bass follows with fried artichokes, black olive nam prik (a fiery Thai condiment) and marcona almonds. The beverage of choice is Gruener Veltliner (my favorite white wine) while dessert is an ice cream sundae with milk cake, almond brittle, condensed milk caramel and cashew butter.
The following day we eat a light breakfast at Eataly conveniently located on the street of our hotel This emporium of artisinal Italian foods was created by Mario Battali and Joe Bastianich. The former warehouse is a treasury of all things Italian with movie and travel posters of another age decorating the walls and adding to the ambiance of this market/restaurant. All around us are patrons drinking steaming cups of Lavazza coffee and cappuccino while munching on croissants and other pastries. This large industrial space is home to six different restaurants plus food stalls with vendors making and displaying fresh pastas, cheeses, salumi and artisinal breads. Red and white wines, local veggies and fresh fish are on offer. On the menus of the six in-house restaurants I see such luxuries as chestnut soup and wild flower honey panna cotta. The pastry shop displays mini tarts, biscotti and tortes. There are farmstead cheeses, house made dolci and craft beers as well as all sorts of prepared take out dinners.
Following our visit to Eataly we head for the Grammercy Park Hotel. Our visit here is simply to view the very modern murals painted by Jon Schnabel.. They are set among some very elaborate Victorian furnishings and seem rather incongruous to me..
For lunch we decide on Todd English’s Food Halls which are located in the Plaza Hotel. Todd has indeed been busy setting up his various stations of hand-made pastas and pizzas. Butternut Squash tortellini tempts me but in the end I decide on a simple flatbread pizza of roasted tomatoes, bufala mozzarella and fresh basil. Lorraine chooses a more adventurous flatbread of crispy eggplant, caramelized onion and tallegio all set amidst a crown of baby spinach salad. Oh! Did I mention the charcuterie stations?..or the hand made Asian dumplings being prepared before us? There is more…much more, but we must explore “Eloise”, a little shop for girls which is situated behind the food halls. The shop is resplendent in pink. There are pink walls, pink furnishings, pink party dresses as well as a tea room (in pink of course). In case you do not remember, Eloise is the mischievous little six-year old girl who lived on the top floor of the Plaza and who was the heroine in the 1950’s book series written by Kay Thompson. In the books Eloise travels internationally while she plays her role of “enfant terrible”, emerging unscathed from questionable situations.
After the Plaza we enjoy the elegance of the Carlisle Hotel where the bar is decorated with murals painted by Ludwig Bemelman, the creator of the children’s series “Madeline”. Bemelman lived at the Carlisle with his family for fifteen months while he created the whimsical scenes of Central Park on the bar walls. Here are displayed picnicking rabbits hobnobbing with other woodland creatures who frolic through snow drifts or tumble on icy skating ponds while sledding into dells and valleys of the park and thus creating a timeless memoir of this gracious landmark.
It’s time for a nap before our major celebration and the main reason why we have traveled to New York City, and that is “Portuguese Heritage Refined”. This sumptuous dinner with Portuguese and Spanish flavors sponsored by the Culinary Guild of New England is being held at the James Beard House. The James Beard House is the former townhouse of the late celebrated cookbook author and television personality. It is located in the heart of Greenwich Village and is a showcase for culinary artists.
The dinner has been prepared by Guida Ponte, a native of the Azores and Phyllis Kaplowitz, of Spanish and Italian origin, along with their team of talented chefs, Anthony Mancuso, Judy Mattera, Maryanne Muller and Jennifer Verrill. Upon entering the Beard House we are whisked into the restaurant-style kitchen where we are promptly greeted by Chefs Guida and Phyllis. Guida thrusts a shot of chilled Early Spring Gazpacho into my hand. There are three flavors of the gazpacho, one is herbal green, one is tomato red and a third is a vivid saffron yellow. Passed hors d’oeuvres served in the outdoor garden follow. We are offered shatteringly crisp gorditas while Medjool dates are served with goat cheese, Serrano ham and Rioja syrup. There are also cauliflower fritters with smoked paprika crust and honey aioli. Spanish beef carpaccio is presented with shaved Mahon cheese and balsamic black onion marmalade on potato tortas while Portuguese salt cod in potato cups is accompanied by garlic chips and preserved lemon cream. The accompanying beverage is a Cristalino Cava, a white sangria which lends a frizzy note to these sumptuous offerings.
Our “real” meal begins with an empanada melt. Potuguese-spiced seared tuna with little pearls of piquillo peppers is served in a Manchego (Spanish cheese) flan graced with empanada chips. The accompanying wine is a Martin Codax Burgans Albarino 2010 and is perfectly suited for this astonishing dish.
Next comes a zarzuelo (a Portuguese fish stew) of octopus, monkfish ,mussels and clams. It is presented with a Manzanilla olive macarreo in saffron tomato broth and is garnished with a Spanish Parmesan galeta,a flaky crispy foil for the zarzuela. The wine served is a Montaria Vinho Regional Alentejano 2010, which complements the fresh seafood with its breezy light flavors.
Seared maple duck shared with vanilla parsnip puree, fennel rice cake and swiss chard follows. It is served with a port reduction while the wine, Quinta Sa de Baixo Douro Palestra 2008 is perhaps my favorite, lending its herbal but earthy touches to the duck.
The next course is a beet ravioli with farm-picked greens,Valdeon cheese, orange gelee, pickled red onions, black pork belly migas (crispy pork shreds) and Spanish vinaigrette. The wine, La Cartuja priorat 2009 is perfect with the dish. Two types of Portuguese cornbread (a duo of Angel and Devil) follow. The devil (el Diablo) is made with spiced house-made chorizo while the angel (el Angel) melts in the mouth with its burnt membrillo (quince)butter . The wine, Monte Serra Vinho de Mesa Tinto is divine.
Following this a cake called Brazo de Gitano (or gypsy’s arm) concludes. It is a sponge cake roulade with sherry custard filling, almond praline, passion fruit sorbet and candied kumquats.The sweet Mistella Vall de Xalo Galardonanda Muscatel NV balances nicely with the dessert.
It is now Sunday. Lorraine and I meet with her two cousins, Simone and Macenzie and decide on brunch at Highpoint Bistro and Bar, I am still filled from the excesses of the previous night but do not say “No” to the petite munchkins-housemade- which arrive in a teeney tiney,miniscule supermarket wagon-gimmicky but cute. They are accompanied by a homemade quince jelly and in-spite of my lack of hunger I devour one of them. I also must have a very eye-opening bloody mary and a nibble of a few bacon, egg and cheese spring rolls while the rest of the party indulges in eggs benedict and avocado blt’s.
Following brunch we slide off to hear Evensong sung by the celebrated Men and Boys Choir at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. This Gothis-style church located on West 53rd Street is noted for its outstanding choral ensemble and its sacred music choir school. The service is lovely and quieting. After Evensong we adjourn to Gabrielle Hamilton’s restaurant, Prune. It is noted for its unique comfort food with an unconventional flair. I am still not hungry and can only pick at my trout roe with fennel and pernod herb butter. Razor clams with garlic and chili as well as roasted marrow bones on a parsley salad with sea salt look divine but I merely nibble on a few radishes served with brown bread and butter. An early night beckons.
The following day we make for Highline Park. Built on historic freight rail lines elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, the Highline meanders above the Meatpacking District and Chelsea Market. Here above the city, trains once connected to factories and warehouses. The city of New York has done a splendid job on the park by incorporating the native greenery which grew between the rails to create this spectacular park with comfortable benches for relaxing as well as splendid views of the city skyline and the Hudson River.
Following our jaunt through the park we decide to go to the Russian Tea Room for lunch. (We really need more food). Founded in 1927 by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet this exclusive enclave attracts artists, poets and intellectuals from all parts of the world with its elegant and colorful Russian decor and its red and gold opulence. The gold-hued faberge eggs are fascinating as are the gold plated samovars. Here forest green walls and wine red leather banquettes as well as gilded gold trim participate in adding glamour and sizzle to this elegant establishment. The Russian Tea Room is noted for its martinis so naturally I must indulge in an extra-dry Beefeater with twist. Since we will be dining (again) tonight, I order a simple salad of extra-large and tender prawns with arugula and lemon vinaigrette.
That evening we dine at Granduca which happens to be directly across from our hotel, the Wyndham Garden. Granduca is a rustic Sicilian trattoria and pizzeria with golden-hued walls and scenes of Sicilian landscapes as well as oversized puppets as decoration in the Sicilian tradition. Our delectable pizza arrives wafer thin and crackling and crispy from the wood-burning oven It is redolent of speck (smoked prosciutto) as well as freshly made buffala mozzarella. Following this we swoon over succulent fresh grilled sardines with a side dish of pureed garlicky eggplant. A squirt of fresh lemon is the only condiment needed for those savory and crispy sardines. However a little tire-mi-su for dessert is not to be rejected.
The following morning we return to Eataly. My eyes devour all the wonderful Italian products-artisinal breads, fresh made cheeses, dolci, salumi. I learn that the breads are made with organic stone-ground flour and baked in wood-burning ovens.The pasta is hand-crafted. There are piles of agnoletti, and tortallini all made with the highest semolina flour. We decide to have lunch at Birreria, one of the six restaurants in this superb warehouse of gastronomy. It is a beer garden rooftop brewery with retractable roof overlooking the city. Here three beers and unfiltered.unpasteurized cask ales are produced in the copper-clad brewing system. There is a pale ale made with thyme, an English-style beer made with chestnuts and a wheat beer made with pepper corns. Family style feasts are in order with not only Italian but German and Austrian touches. Grilled meats and house-made sausages, fresh mozzarella, rustic breads and gelato – all made in house are on offer. Since we are officially on our return home we order a simple branzino (fresh cod) grilled to succulence.
It’s over. Our glorious,glutinous and gastronomic feasting has ended. I still have a long list of restaurants I was unable to visit during this four day food frenzy. Let’s see. There is North End Grill, The Dutch, David Burke Kitchen…..well, I could go on and on. I’d best stop now and just savor the pleasurable moments of these feasting days. Back to the gym tomorrow. The next week may show some outstanding effects of my gastronomic binge but It was worth it and it sure was FUN!
About The Author: Isabel Chesak holds linguistic degrees in French and German, has lived in several European countries, but now calls Massachusetts home. She has written two cookbooks, taught cooking classes in Madrid, and is an enthusiastic traveler and cook.
Photo Credits: #1 Flickr:one2c900d, #2 Flickr:jcmedina, #3 FLickr:demoshelsinski, #4 FLickr:LaCittaVita, #5 Carlyle Hotel, #6 JamesBeardHouse.org, #7 Highpoint Bristo, #9 Flickr:adrencap, #10 wikipedia, #11 wikipedia, #12 Granduca