October 23 through October 30, 2011 First taste treat goes to the mushroom pizza I had last night at my high school reunion at Sue Schwartz and Howard Muchnick's beautiful apartment on East End Avenue. For take-out, it wasn't bad. Rather great, really. But maybe it was the wine, or the nostalgia, being with friends I haven't seen in 42 years. Friends from Fresh Meadows, Queens, New York --where I spent my childhood. Fresh Meadows is the subject of a marvelous new book called "Fresh Meadows" -- part of the "Images of America" series created by Arcadia Publishing. Written by Fred Cantor and Debra L. Davidson, it pays homage to what Paul Goldberger called "the quintessential suburban housing complex." Thirty years prior, Lewis Mumford hailed the community as "perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of large-scale community planning in this country." It was where I cooked at my mother's knee for almost 50 years.
And here's a vicarious taste experience. My husband and his best friend Bob Kern had lunch at Ciano this week. They loved it and thoroughly enjoyed the food, the focaccia gently warmed in the fireplace, and the human warmth of the maitre d' who chatted them up, poured their wine, and brought them more good bread. Three excellent dishes: a casserole of Tuscan beans, smoked fennel sausage and garlicky breadcrumbs; fusilli with broccoli rabe and sweet sausage in a creamy sauce of that broccoli; and a thick slab of roasted eggplant “Amatriciana” topped with cured pork cheek, tomato and pepperoncini. Super-star chef Shea Gallante is the man at the stove. Prix fixe lunch (for three courses) is an awesome $20.95. You just can't beat that.
That same day I was having lunch with my good friend Robin Adelson Shinder, executive director of the Children's Book Council and the Every Child A Reader national program. We had lunch at the newly opened Kibo restaurant on East 18th Street. Kibo is another flag in the kingdom of Steve Hanson's restaurant empire -- which include eateries such as Blue Water Grill, Atlantic Grill, Bill’s Burger Bar and Dos Caminos . Our waiter, David, was a rock star who was so professional at orchestrating our meal and sharing a bit about himself. He had just passed his bar exam (no, not a mixologist but to be an attorney) and his positive energy added lots of fun to the experience. We began with spicy, salt-licked fried shishito peppers, a refreshing japanese cucumber appetizer, and good-enough ramen noodles in a porky broth that needed a bit of the chili paste that accompanied it. The items from the robata grill were the real thrill, however, and I wish there were more of those on the menu! We had the filet (steak), chicken, and huge perfectly-cooked shrimp with a dab of kimchee aioli. I could easily put the chicken on the very top of my favorite tastes this year.
Desserts were Japanese-inspired, yet decidedly American, and very delicious. A green tea panna cotta with smoky almonds, and a wonderful pumpkin tofu cheesecake with bananas and salted caramel ice cream anchored by what looked like crushed malted milk balls. The consulting chef on this lovely, big project was, unexpectedly, one of the most respected chefs in the world, Joel Robuchon, who has more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world. Amazing, really. And while the essence of Robuchon is French, he does own a Japanese restaurant in Monaco, called Yoshi. There is a simple price-fixed lunch offered at the remarkable price of $14.95 for two courses. The front-of-the-house personnel, btw, are better-trained, and more charming, than most anywhere. At night, I hear, Kibo becomes an energized, public/private club with DJ and all, and lots of people popping champagne corks. I, myself, will stick to the affordable, thirst-quenching, chilled sake on draft, and go again for lunch.
Bargain breakfast at L'Express on Park Avenue South and 20th street. For almost 10 years now, I use this wonderful bustling French bistro as my "city office." I order a "tartine" -- which is nothing more than a 1-1/2 foot long slender slice of well-toasted baguette. Butter and orange marmalade (which you must ask for), on the side. It reminds me of the days in Paris when I stayed near the Sorbonne at the Hotel Pierwige for $9 a night. They too served well-toasted baguettes in the morning. Unlimited pour of very good coffee. See you there.
Late afternoon snack at abckitchen -- in the back parlour -- where they offer a limited menu and lots of interesting things to drink between regular meal times. Very nice to sip fresh mint tea (Moroccan-style), drink coconut water, share their famous roasted carrot salad, and nibble on cookies. It's like eating in a museum cafe; there is just no store like abc home in the whole wide world.
As promised, last Sunday, our pot luck dinner with friends, including Susy Davidson, exec. dir. of the Julia Child Foundation, at the home of Pat and John Duffy, included copious amounts of smoked salmon and sturgeon from Russ & Daughters, espresso-sized cups of chilled beet soup with creme fraiche and grated lemon, coffee-and-chipotle braised shortribs, a creamy potato gratin, roasted Brussels sprout with bacon, a yummy salad with toasted walnuts and pickled onions, and a beautiful apple tart in a shortbread crust, made by Debbie Freundlich (editor, with Susy of American Express's Briefing Magazine who just happens to be the mother-in-law of Julianne Moore.)
Wishing you good tastes this week.