Tastes of the Week

December 13 through December 19th, 2011

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. With a jolt of electricity in the air, and a frosty chill too, my body and spirit began to crave lustier fare this week, including some wintery dishes from France, Italy and Poland!

At the trendy, tiny Buvette in Greenwich Village, one supped on “small plates” offered no where else in the city. This is the personal food of chef Jody Williams, reflected in the vim, vigor and professionalism of the staff who are clearly jazzed to be working there.

Accompanying our jammy red wine from Sicily and an alluring French cabernet, a dear friend and I (on the eve of her birthday), shared shredded oxtails on toast (the French equivalent of ropa vieja), creamy aligot – a peasanty French recipe made from cantal cheese and potato; wonderful onion focaccia, a voluptuous cauliflower gratin with a burnished copperedcheese crust, a thick soppy porridge of tiny lentils and kale, and the most amazing “sticks” of salsify cooked in red wine and honey which we decided could suffice as dessert. Although not sweet, it satisfied the urge for an uplifting taste of something supernal at the end of one’s meal, and it proved to be the perfect foil for the last dregs of our own red wine. It’s a bit of Left Bank in our very own city.

At Bell’s Mansion in Stanhope, New Jersey, my best friend Arthur Schwartz (the food maven) and I did a holiday book signing this week at the invitation of Jack and Maria Kaczynski, the affable, generous owners of this beautiful restaurant, garden and orchard. It may be one of the best examples of the newest trend of “hyper-locavorism” – where chefs and owners are not only buying local ingredients but growing their own vegetables, planting their own fruit trees, and in the case of Bells Mansion, smoking their own kielbasa, tuna, and salmon, and pan-frying thousands of homemade pierogies to order. They are simply the best we’ve ever had. Due to the oncoming winter season, and our endless curiosity, Maria prepared two authentically Polish dishes for us. One was zurek (also known as white borscht), thickened with “sour starter” and made with a lusty pork broth, fresh marjoram, and some of that divine smoked kielbasa. We were also feted with kapusniak – another voluptuous soup – this one made from meltingly-tender smoked pork ribs and sauerkraut. The mesmerizing flavors of Italian, new American, and Polish delicacies befit the lovely holiday decorations in the mansion’s historic rooms. You might consider it for Christmas Eve or any time during the holiday week.

Another place to experience the holidays – this time in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is at the hyper-trendy Brooklyn Winery – yes, a real winery where you can even make your own wine. More fun than a barrel of monkeys, you can become an oenologist in just a few months under the tutelage of the owner Brian Leventhal, and the winemaker Conor McCormack­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ who once worked at California’s esteemed Rutherford Hill Winery and at San Francisco’s successful wine-making playground Crash Pad. Also impressive was the food I wolfed down at a holiday party: I couldn’t get enough of the spice-crusted shrimp with saffron aioli, the great array of salumi, the best eggplant salad I’ve ever had, and fabulous meatballs made with lamb, pork belly and feta cheese.  The chef Brian Pierce (by way of Williamsburg “Radish” restaurant), is certainly a player.

But today brought a taste of warm sunshine, as I sipped fresh pineapple juice over ice at Club Med’s Sandpiper Resort in Florida. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.