May 14 thru May 21, 2012 Okay, it's really true that I had one of the best meals ever, in a casual, non-fussy way, last week at Il Buco Alimentari on Great Jones Street. Despite my skepticism over the hypnotic-glowing review in the NY Times, I came away with similar feelings. I was seduced by the food and by the very essence of the room and its intention. I don't know anything about the chef but he has a lot to be proud of. It felt as though I was in Italy, in some magical place with a cuisine of its very own. Grilled succulent octopus with fresh green almonds, candied kumquats, and farro with a drizzle of some yogurty sauce. Who cooks, or thinks, or executes like that? A triumph. As were the hip "fish sticks" (I just made myself lol) of salt cod, re-moistened to perfection, batter-fried and served with a lemony aioli. Note: I just found out that the "salt cod" is actually "house salted cod" which made the texture so remarkable and alluring. (It's important to do your homework.) Having lunch with Shelley Boris, who owns a sleek catering company in Garrison, New York, and who also is chef of the Garrison Institute, and who has cooked for the Dalai Lama, and was the exec. chef at Dean & Deluca in its heyday, made lunch especially fun. We both thought the tiny crispy artichokes with preserved lemons & parsley looked like a small bouquet of antique flowers; and that the homemade ricotta with sugar snaps, pine nut granola (!), and mint was pristine and "lactate" and the essence of spring. A few drops of acidity would have helped. The spaghetti with bottarga was unctuous in a good way and everything washed down very nicely with a large carafe of rose from Channing Daughters Winery from Bridgehampton. A very pleasant surprise and it went extremely well with the dish that everyone is talking about! A sublime sandwich on crusty homemade bread filled with roast porchetta, arugula and salsa verde. Its herbal, porky juices drip down (or up) your arm. Wonderful sorbetti and gelati, but an exquisite panna cotta with 10-year aged balsamico really stole the show. Years ago I had a version as good -- but not since -- and I wrote about it for the New York Times. It was made by Meredith Kurtzman who was the pastry chef at Esca at the time. She has been at Otto for some time now. And what about the chef? Justin Smillie. Definitely a guy to watch. He worked at Barbuto and the Standard Grill which explains some of his cooking majesty -- simple, sophisticated, sensational -- but there is definitely a style to call his own.
I like to eat lunch with friends. And so there were two more this week to enjoy. One was at Jeanne & Gaston on 14th street between 7th and 8th avenues. Created by the chef who owns Madison Bistro, this new boîte is really attractive, as are the Europeans who go for lunch. I hear it's really hopping at night when the big garden is illuminated and beautiful. The place had a real French vibe although the undefinable pastry of the Alsatian Tarte Flambée turned out to be a tortilla. But who cares? Spread with good creme fraiche, slivers of sweet onion and blanched bacon, it tasted delicious after a good crisping in a hot oven. It made for an ample lunch and was only $12 -- lovely with a glass of wine. My friend's camembert omelet, served with mixed greens and great french fries was only $15. There is a lovely story, and photos, about the chef's (Claude Godard's) grandfather who was a respected chef himself in France. A nice find.
And, as always, a lovely spinach, beet and bucheron salad at Marseille.
Lunch makes dinner improbable some days. Enjoy your tastes of the week.