Tastes of the Week

Jan. 23 through Jan. 30, 2012 A week of big, bold, beautiful, bi-coastal tastes.

Lunch at Manzo with Lidia Bastianich. Just the two of us chatting for three hours about everything:  raising children; imparting wisdom to younger women who long to be in the food business; her career path and new tv shows; my career path and new projects; food, wine, friends, our hopes for the future.  It was my first time at Manzo (located on the main floor of Eataly on 5th Avenue in NY) and it was wonderful. The best "tartare" I have ever had; voluptuous sweetbreads; a lovely unusual pasta dish of tajarin (thin egg noodles) with a roasted meat jus; a roasted ribeye with succulent sauteed cavalo nero drenched in sticky meat juices; wines from the Bastianich vineyards, and a plate of freshly-cut blood oranges for dessert. We enjoyed a brief visit from Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli and her sister. Cecilia is Arthur Schwartz's business partner in their cooking school called Cooking at Seliano in southern Italy. Espressos all around. Ciao ciao and grazie mille to Lidia.

The BEST raw yogurt and sour cream from Triangle Farm and Health Foods in Aaronsburg, PA. This was a gift from a new friend who frequents the Park Slope Co-op and cares deeply about the quality and provenance of her food sources. The sour cream was indescribable and much more like French creme fraiche than anything we are used to in the states. I encourage you to find out more about them. I know I will. Am savoring every spoonful and am enjoying it tremendously with a dab of my homemade carrot marmalade. Thank you to Anne Weisen who brought these wonderful products to me.

Many great meals in Vancouver and one of them was world-class! A superb Thai meal cooked by Angus An who worked for the revered David Thompson at Nahm in London (the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant.) Angus' Vancouver restaurant is called Maenam:  there we had a Thai dinner party for four -- including fried oysters with "nahm jim" sauce made with green chilies (they call them scuds), garlic, coriander stem, galangal, fish sauce and lime juice; hot and sour mussel soup with holy basil; Muslim beef curry with Thai curry paste; a spicy salad of seared tuna, mint, cilantro, nuts, & chili; and of course, pad Thai (the ubiquitous noodle dish.)  Wish this restaurant existed right here in New York.

We had lunch at the sister restaurant to one of the world's most well-known Indian restaurants "Vij."  His smaller place is called Rangoli and it, too, is special.  Especially the "naan" pizza topped with roasted crickets!  I didn't touch it and neither did my daughter who ordered it. What possessed her?  But my husband thought it was awesome. He also enjoyed his lamb, chickpeas and potatoes in yogurt-date curry and our friend loved her goat and jackfruit in creamy curry with coconut cabbage salad, rice and naan. Endless glasses of credible (and authentic) chai made a chilly gray Vancouver day very welcoming.

Another meal was actually mine (!) and prepared at Vancouver's famous book store called Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks. At my cooking class with 18 wonderful students around the eating bar/open kitchen, we cooked a meal from Radically Simple tiny walnut-onion muffins to accompany a glass of prosecco; my jade soup with crab and dill (made with heaps of Dungeness crab from Vancouver instead of the usual lump crab I generally use -- it was fabulous); chicken ras el hanout with fresh tomato-ginger chutney sitting on a swirl of milk carrot and parsnip puree, next to a timbale of coconut-pistachio rice, a "pre-dessert" of whiskey-laced warm carrot marmalade served on silver spoons; and the "little black dress chocolate cake" strewn with fresh raspberries and dolloped with creme fraiche.  It was such an exercise in radical simplicity that the happy guests were stunned and a good time was had by all.

A lovely brunch overlooking one of Vancouver's most beautiful parks and lakes at The Boat House. Delicious eggs benedict atop a grilled cheese and lobster sandwich! Yes! A glass of terrific local BC pinot gris. 

But the most extraordinary meal of all -- perhaps the best, and most inventive I've had in years, was at Diva @ the Met (Metropolitan Hotel) in Vancouver.  More about the menu, the wine pairings and the chef later in the week.  But suffice it to say, it is deserving of at least 3 Michelin stars and the chef, Hamid Salimian is a gentle genius.

Not easy to leave Vancouver but I bring home a basket of taste memories to last a long while.

Where the Water Buffalo Roam

Early in the morning, seated by a sunny window of Tenuta Seliano, an agriturismo in southern Italy, one gets a whiff of the not-unpleasant perfume of water buffalo. It is indeed the milk of these handsome creatures that goes into the making of the most famous, most delicious, and most coveted mozzarella cheese in the world – mozzarella di bufala.  Yesterday, with the Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli, we visited her varied agricultural treasures spread across two large expanses of plains and fields.  What a contrast from the “ultra-glam” days along the Amalfi coast.  Here we were gathering eggs from the chicken coops, saying hello to the honking geese, feeding grass to the horses, running after the chickens and roosters (and discussing how “cockscombs” are used in southern Italian recipes), being greeted by an assortment of several dozen cats and dogs, and finally staring the water buffalo face-to-face and watching them be milked one-by-one.  The bufala patiently wait as though they were in line for the movies, looking forward to helping Cecilia provide the 1 and ½ tons of milk that are delivered daily to the local dairies.  They in turn transform the sweet, very full fat milk, into the superb mozzarella we can’t stop eating!  We brought several gallons of the milk back to Cecilia’s kitchen so that we could make our own very fresh cheese for breakfast the next day.  Not bad at all accompanied by sturdy bread and excellent homemade preserves.

We also drank some of the buffalo milk “neat.”  Simply poured from the big jug less than an hour after milking, we found it sweet, and less “lactate” than we expected. We also tasted the water buffalo milk in gelato (with pistachios) and in yogurt which was so rich that it came close to the ultra-suave texture of crème fraiche.

But alas, since this trip is not about food alone (!), we visited the remarkable ancient city of Paestum, which is thousands of years old and home to the best-conserved Greek temple after the Theseion in Athens.   We drove along the pine forest which runs parallel to the sandy beaches of the area and ended up, mid-day, back at Seliano, for an amazing lunch of braided fresh mozzarella, ethereal burrata, bufula milk ricotta, homemade pancetta and prosciutto, and a main course of candele (pasta) with a spicy onion and red pepper sauce cooked with neonata – tiny newborn fish – an extraordinary recipe from Calabria.   Dinner lasted until midnight.  Indeed, this is the place, where the water buffalo roam.