Restaurants to Watch: Burger & Lobster and Tramonti Pizzeria

Here they are: Two New York dining spots heralding three of America’s most-revered things to eat: Burgers, lobster, pizza. As someone aching for simpler food these days, I find the casual, straightforward, ingredient-driven approach to the British-born Burger & Lobster, and the decidedly southern Italian Tramonti, refreshingly satisfying. Many thanks to food trends guru Michael Whiteman — a most affable dining companion and critic.

Burger & Lobster

London’s fabulously successful Burger & Lobster chain has just opened its second New York location, this time adjacent to Times Square. As you might surmise from its name, this restaurant venture is built are just two types of food: live lobsters of varying size, lobster rolls, and a roster of inventive hamburgers … with varying combinations of the two.

The basic deal is for $20 you can get a one-pound Canadian lobster, or a 10-oz hamburger with bacon, cheese and onions, or a lobster roll, all with excellent skinny fries and salad. At the other extreme, you might select a 14.5-pound lobster from one of numerous tanks right at the restaurant’s entrance; it is large enough to walk on a leash, costs $377, and comes with unlimited fries and salad. Their top-of-the-line $33 London Burger is topped with freshly-steamed lobster meat and truffle mayonnaise. Lobsters are expertly steamed or grilled and served with drawn butter or a most-addictive lemon-chive sauce. (You’ll want to dunk your fries in it, too.)

More modestly, we ordered a 1.5 pound lobster ($28), their standard burger, and a corn-meal crusted lobster roll with spicy remoulade, and can proclaim them all to be well worth the money. And since lobster rolls in this city’s self-service food halls cost around $20, the roll here is a deal. This is especially true for large families on-the-splurge who fill up their tables for not a lot of money, or for people seeking a pre-theater dinner that is gentler on the wallet than most other places.

People who just can’t decide may order a grand combination called The Tower – any two burgers, any two lobster rolls, two whole one pound lobsters, any three sauces, unlimited fries, unlimited salad and any four specialty cocktails or a bottle of Cava – presented on a two tiered tray. Desserts are served in trendy jars – fabulous chocolate mousse or strawberry “cheesecake,” and the wine list falls into the category of pretty good. There are great beers on draft.

The 160-seat restaurant is located mid-block on 43rd Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway next to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and you enter via a theatrical arcade of lobster traps. In addition to a cluster of these restaurants in London, there are Burger & Lobster franchises in Dubai, Bangkok, Kuwait, Stockholm and Jeddah, and we’ll probably have more in the US as well. It is, after all, a refreshingly satisfying place to go. Say hi to the brilliant Vladimir, the operating partner who is spearheading the U.S. expansion of B&L and other concepts, or to the terrific executive chef, Danny Lee, who has cooked in some of the best fish restaurants in town. (132 West 43 St., 917-565-9044)

Tramonti Ristorante Pizzeria

You’ve probably never heard about ‘ndunderi. Or re fiascone tomatoes. Or past’ e patane. Or melanzane al cioccolato. Except for the melanzane al cioccolato — a chocolate eggplant dessert that I wrote about several years ago — all these dishes are new to me, too.

They have two things in common: they’re ancient foods from the Amalfi area of Italy; and you can find them at the East Village pizzeria called Tramonti. New York is full of Italian restaurants calling themselves “authentic,” but the recently- opened Tramonti is the real thing.

First, I must tell you about the pizza. The dough incorporates millet, barley, rye and whole wheat — all traditional to the ancient mountain town of Tramonti from which this restaurant derives its name. It starts with a pinch of yeast and is left to rise for 48 hours, which accounts for its deep flavor and lightness of texture. This restaurant’s classic pizza marinara, topped with intense re fiascone tomatoes (see below), oregano, tiny slivers of garlic and olive oil was a revelation. Tramonti’s calzone was another stunner filled with some of that same tomato pulp, smoked provola, fresh mozzarella imported from Tramonti (of course) and hot soppressata (from a small producer in New Jersey); it tasted “Italian” in a manner that few restaurants here can muster.

The place is run by Chef Vittorio (Giovanni Vittorio Tagliafierro) and the food I’m describing was his everyday fare in Tramonti. His mother, grandmother and great-grandmother made ‘ndunderi from a recipe left behind by the Romans who established the town. They are large dumplings made of ricotta and flour, served in an intense sauce of those tomatoes and braised beef, topped with his amazingly creamy mozzarella. UNESCO says ‘ndunderi is one of the earliest forms of pasta.

Past’e patane consists of broken spaghetti cooked al dente with small bits of Idaho potatoes and then quickly sauteed with garlic, basil and olive oil. The potato’s starch subtly coats the pasta and adds body to the sauce it is served in. You may have it with a dollop of tomato sauce but it isn’t really necessary.

Re Fiascone reportedly were the original tomatoes on pizza margherita. Cultivated in the 1900s around Tramonti, they went into decline and only recently have been replanted in the area, the successful result of a crowd-funding effort. They are pulpy and intense, and Chef Vittorio exclusively imports vast quantities — no sugar, salt, herbs, or even olive oil are added.

And now for the chocolate eggplant dessert, found in many of the towns abutting Tramonti: I went hunting for it in 2011 near Ravello and finally found two versions in a small town on the coast, neither of which compare to what’s offered here. Theirs look like pancakes. Chef Vittorio’s consists of thin layers of fried eggplant that are sugared and spiced, separated by layers of ricotta, and then enrobed in bittersweet chocolate — as if it were a decadent square of lasagna. Melanzane al cioccolato originated in the Franciscan Convent de Polvica in Tramonti, spread to other religious orders and thence to local housewives. It often is spiked with concerto — an heady ancient liqueur originally made by local nuns but now concocted in various domestic versions. You might find some in Tramonti’s rendition of this dish.

Chef Vittorio, who has worked in New York’s most upscale pizzeria (including Mezzaluna) is a hearty raconteur and it doesn’t take much encouragement to launch him into the food history of his childhood, all of which rounds out a most delicious evening. (130 Saint Marks Place, 212-260-1441)

Mixed-up Menu Trends

JB Every month or so I look forward to receiving the "events publication" from the James Beard House in New York City. Part booklet, part magazine, not only is it a gastronomic "look-see" into the minds of chefs and what they're thinking, but also a good indication of what may be cropping up on menus in your own zip code. Keeping in mind that cooking at the Beard House requires a certain amount of performance art and culinary high-wire acts, the offerings are complex and sometimes over-the-top. Yet, I'm fascinated by the ingredients I've never heard of (yes, I just admitted that), grateful for a new technique or idea, and sometimes baffled by some of the crazy-mixed up combinations.

Nonetheless, a read of the menus to be cooked by myriad chefs from all over the country provides an "instagram" sweep of America's culinary landscape. There's almost a dinner every day at the Beard House, with chefs telling their stories through the narrative of the menu, somewhere in the USA.

First, the ingredients: You'll be seeing mutton, geoduck, banana leaves, lamb tongues, mantequilla enojada (I must look this up), beef heart, gizzards, lotus leaf, finger limes, lotus root, barberries, nettles, cara cara oranges, red verjus, headcheese, shimeji mushrooms, green strawberries, buttermilk, sugar cane, scrapple, lamb neck.

A few new ideas: There's "lambcetta" (I imagine that's a riff on pancetta but who knows), white barbecue sauce, cold fried chicken torchon, cider aspic, black sesame panna cotta with yuzu, sweet chestnut-filled ravioli with warm English custard, brisket bourguignon (with lamb belly confit and quinoa).

Some nice menu language: Foraged mushrooms of the moment, fresh-churned butter, Chocolate Study=Soft, Crunchy, and Nutty.

Most curious? Coffee malt crème and soda bread parfait with frozen parsnips.

I am struck by the lack of cheese in the dishes or their presence on the menus. Instead most menus were chock-full of mystery words and only a handful showed a kind of elegant restraint. It was refreshing to see the word "fumet."

What does it all mean? Some of the wanton (not wonton!) creativity that began in the 1970s was expressed on menus in language that read like shopping lists, where every ingredient in a dish was revealed. The trend continues today. And while it is a way for chefs to differentiate themselves from others, the menus have a sense of gastronomic sameness -- with little sense of place, identity or ethnicity. This is merely an observation and not a judgment for it is what we have come to expect of our chefs and their menus. "Wow me," we say. And for the most part, this is what the chefs are doing. Frozen parsnips, anyone?

If you're lucky enough to be in New York in March or April, or anytime really, you should try one of the Beard House dinners. You'll be dropping into a wondrous food community and share a bit of the past... and the future.

Cookbook Nirvana

conferenceNirvana – a place of bliss – is my word for a cookbook conference taking place in New York City next month.  If you are a lover of cookbooks, like I am -- a writer, or simply an avid user -- this may be just the weekend for you.   The conference promises a tantalizing array of panels (from “Give Us This Bread: Christianity in Cookbooks;”  “In the Night Kitchen: Why Write Cookbooks for Kids;” Trendspotting in the Food Space;” to “Publishers and Food Bloggers -- Creating a Productive Partnership”); distinguished guests (Amanda Hesser, Arthur Schwartz, Molly O’Neill, Mollie Katzen), and illuminating workshops (from “The Wild World of Self Publishing” to “The Way to Look: How To Do Research with Cookbooks”), all under one roof at the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue.   And if that is not enough to whet one’s appetite, I’m told that the food served at last year’s conference, thanks to chef Daniel Mowles, was very good indeed. But cookbook aficionados do not live by food alone and judging by the erudition of this year’s panelists, the real sustenance is about ideas, culinary history, process, and politics.

According to the conference organizers the event is an “eclectic gathering of those who publish, write, edit, agent, research, or simply buy and use cookbooks.”  In other words, there is something for everyone -- even collectors, who might enjoy a panel entitled “Cookbooks as Works of Art.”

Andrew Smith, the conference founder, charmingly takes “credit (or blame),” for launching the idea last year.  He teaches food history and professional food writing at the New School for Social Research in New York, and is the author and/or editor of 23 books.  His latest works include American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food, and Drinking History: 15 Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages.   And while he has never published an actual cookbook, Professor Smith uses them constantly in his own research and wanted to explore the vicissitudes of the field.  Because “cookbook publishing is changing so rapidly – self-publishing, printing on demand, blogging, online cookbooks, websites filled with recipes, and culinary apps,” Mr. Smith said that he didn’t understand what was underway – or where the genre was headed.  After talking with many cookbook writers and publishers, he concluded that no one else did either, “although many had insights and opinions.”   After last year’s triumphant conference, Mr. Smith felt his teaching and research methods had improved simply by attending the event and feeding off the vast culinary brain trust that had gathered.

To find out more about the conference, go to www.cookbookconf.com and save a place for yourself!  You’ll find me in the “Night Kitchen” – talking about the challenges of researching, writing and publishing books for children with moderator Laura Shapiro – one of the finest minds in the culinary world.

Why does this conference matter?  After all, we seem to have shifted from a cooking society to an eating society, so is there any real point to the annual tsunami of cookbooks being published?  My answer is without a doubt.  We are a nation obsessed with food, but the rules of the game are changing.

Tastes of the Week

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.

Why the Beard Awards Matter

A very good friend -- a force in the food world -- was watching television in the early evening hours of Monday, May 7th when she saw Beyoncé, on the red carpet in front of a bevy of paparazzi, being interviewed. "Wow," exclaimed my friend. The James Beard Awards have come a long way. Beyoncé?" We both laughed as she found out that the carpet beneath Beyoncé's feet actually paved the way to the high-society Costume Ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that same night. But at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall across town, there was a similar buzz as chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers and TV food stars had their own tomato red carpet to walk upon. At the end of that carpet? Hope, anticipation, excitement and desire to go home with a ribbon and medallion to mark one's importance in the food world hierarchy.

The beloved gastronome James Beard might have actually enjoyed the evening, smack in the center of New York's cultural hub, offering hospitality, as any great restaurant might, to the nominees and their fans who trekked great distances to be part of culinary history. This year marked the awards' 25th anniversary. Often called the Oscars of the food world, they were created to honor the memory of iconic cooking teacher and author James Beard, whose broad inquisitive face appears on the ribboned award. I know. I have four of them. It is a thrill to win. It is also impressive to be nominated as the food world expands at a pace commensurate with the rising tide of obesity (might be interesting to look at that).

If the first food revolution presaged the awards by a decade, the second coming is surely here. Whereas, once the culinary tide went from France to New York, then shifted from East to West, it now glides from Farm to Table. This younger generation, very much in evidence that night, are blogging their hearts out and are, perhaps, even more passionate than we were in the mid-70's. (That's the 1970's.) But to my way of thinking, it's not the glitter and fanfare that makes the James Beard Awards important, it is one of few institutions that helps bind, like forcemeat, the past to the present and provides a historical anchor to the future -- one that is often spinning out of control as younger chefs vie for fame and fortune, and in some cases, hone their rhetoric to be sharper than their knives. The older generation of chefs and restaurateurs, on the other hand, have chosen restraint and judgement as their path and watch in amazement (and perhaps amusement, as Beard would have done) at what some of the newly-initiated cooks are calling "cuisine." And that's where context and craft come into focus.

Last year I wrote about the awards and highlighted the ascension of women in the ranks. The piece was called "Women with Beards" (with an alluring jacket cover from the Italian singer Mina), for that's what stood out to me then. But as women have seamlessly woven themselves into the fabric of the industry at many levels (although there is still work to be done), the greater attraction for me now is the food COMMUNITY. It felt like that the other night. A great happening, based on fellowship and nourishment -- a large sangha of men and women devoted to an industry that has had its own coming of age -- complete with glamour and glitz.

Do yourself a favor and google the award winners -- from cookbook authors to satirical journalists, from TV stars to rising stars, from lifetime achievers to who's who-ers, from beloved old restaurants to best new restaurants. And there's a nice photo of Daniel Boulud and "friend." That friend is me. More fan than buddy, I will cherish the photo, always, as he represents all that is good in our industry.

Kudos to all the winners, to all the nominees, and to the James Beard Foundation for continuing to raise the bar higher and higher while keeping us all rooted in our culinary history.

A Chef Among Chefs

I've been around the New York restaurant scene for more than 30 years and few names come up with as much respect and affection as that of Floyd Cardoz. I couldn't believe I never met him until I went to North End Grill a few days ago to celebrate the birthday of a great friend. It was a girl's lunch out -- white wine (one from Greece and another from Austria), a torchon of foie gras with rhubarb-tangerine preserve and grilled brioche; soft-scrambled eggs with bacon and ramps, a salad of escarole, endive and radicchio tossed with blood oranges and Marcona almonds, linguine with flaked halibut, fava leaves and citrus gremolata. There were outstanding "Thrice-Fried Spiced Fries" peppered with mango powder, paprika and cumin, and, for dessert, an awesome butterscotch pot de crème with chocolate streusel and "single Maltmallows" (homemade marshmallows perfumed with scotch), and a sexy rendition of chocolate mousse coupled with candied macadamia nuts and black currant sorbet. So why am I telling you all this, other than to make your mouth water? It's because the menu tells the story of a chef's journey -- from the bold, iconic, three-star, Indian-inspired Tabla, to the new American-style grill recently opened in New York's Financial District, by Chef Cardoz and Danny Meyer. It isn't an easy act to follow -- your own -- and even harder when you know all eyes are upon you: Those of the most jaded New Yorkers, and maybe more importantly, those of your disciples, including some of the city's bold name chefs including Ben Pollinger from Oceana and Dan Kluger of abckitchen. This is a chef who is "totally present" to his new surroundings and his new-style cuisine: Nary a nod to the pantry he left behind except, perhaps, for that dusting of mango powder on those addictive fries.

I admire this move. It is risky and rewarding. It is not yet perfect but that's the magic of all of Danny Meyer's enterprises (Danny is the owner of Union Square Hospitality Group and the creator of Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Blue Smoke, Union Square Café, and Shake Shack, just to name a few). He and his chefs "work it" and work it until whatever it is they're doing becomes a "prime number" in the infinite realm of experiential dining.

Many chefs, like many artists, apply their creativity to a singular modality (a particular cuisine) that comes to define them. But today, the emphasis is on the craft of being a chef, allowing for expansion beyond one's own culture or culinary training. Floyd Cardoz began his life in India and graduated in biochemistry. He understands why food does what it does. He has worked in the best kitchens in India and Switzerland and spent five years in the celebrated kitchen of Gray Kunz's Lespinasse. Whether Floyd's "Cod Throats Meuniere" or his "Grilled Clam Pizza" become the next big thing doesn't really matter. Most important to him is the camaraderie, respect and competence he has bestowed upon each person who has ever worked for him. He is a "chef among chefs," they'll tell you, a true Top Chef Master.

Tastes of the Week

October 16 through October 23, 2011 This past week was an embarrassment of riches at the table. And while I really like eating home best, there is nothing quite like sharing an excellent meal with a friend. At lunch, three hours seems to be the golden rule for maximum pleasure. Dinner is nothing short of four. This is a luxury for me but one that I love. We have a little joke, my husband and me. When I call late at night to check in and say hi (or good-night as the case may be), his first question is always, "Have you ordered yet?" We always laugh. Yes, Michael, I reply. "I'm on the way home."

For a nice mid-afternoon Sunday lunch for my brother and a dear friend who is an eminent food writer for Newsday, I prepared a radically simple meal of Chilled Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche and Lemon Zest, and, my "go to" recipe for Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage and Gin, accompanied by a potato gratin. Dessert? A new one for me -- a lemon tart from Thomas Keller. I swapped walnuts for the pine nuts in the ethereal crust and it worked!  (Check out Radically Simple for my recipes and go to Epicurious for the Keller lemon tart.) I served the tart with a small cookie made from extra crust, topped with a tiny scoop of my lemon buttermilk ice cream (only 3 ingredients!)

A celebratory feast at the Taj Pierre Hotel in New York for the launch of a remarkable book "The Taj at Apollo Bunder." Hundreds of guests, thousands of orchids and festival lights to honor Diwali -- an important Hindu holiday. Amazing Indian and southeast Asian things to eat which I will describe at length in another post.

Dinner at Del Posto with my wonderful young cousin Josh Rovner who is the head of training in revenue management for Hilton. He loves to eat in four-star restaurants and we chose the crown jewel in the Bastianich-Batali kingdom. Here's the menu cooked by chef Mark Ladner:  Abalone Carpaccio with Grilled Asparagus & Young Ramps; Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Jalapeno & Minced Scallion: Yesterday's 100-layer Lasagne alla Piastra; Young Lamb alla Romana, Garlic Yogurt with Ceci & Swiss Chard Ragu; Sardinian Lamb & Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint & Saffron Potatoes; Sour Apricot & Toasted Cashew Coppettina, Sfera di Caprino with celery, fig agrodolce & celery sorbetto; Sunchoke crema with gelato al lievito. What can I say? Worth it. Unexpected visits from Lidia Bastianich and also Joe. Drank their wine.

Lunch at rooftop at Eataly at La Birreria on a very sunny but slightly chilly afternoon. Their space heaters really work but bring a sweater or a pashmina anyway. My favorite new lunch: Whole roasted Maiitake mushrooms with Pecorino Sardo crema, asparagus and peas;  a salad of chopped mixed kale, grapefruit, poppy seed frico with anchovy vinaigrette; and nubby, fatty, divine housemade cotechino with their signature coarsely-cut kraut. Doppio espresso.

Brunch at Barbounia with psychoanalyst friend (specializes in teenage girls -- very helpful because we have one!). This has got to be the hippest, happening brunch in town, especially on a Saturday. Everything looked so good! You can linger for four hours (like we did!) over a mountain of mezze but the green shakshuka, the 1-inch high pancakes, the gigantic fresh salads all looked fabulous. Please save room for the kadayifi dessert -- layered with warm cheese, rose water syrup and kulfi ice cream. Oh my gosh.

Village Zendo --  cocktail reception with lovely southeast Asian offerings by the Communal Table catering (nycommunaltable.blogspot.com) -- to learn about the efforts of Michael Daube, director of Citta -- an organization that builds schools, hospitals and orphanages in the poorest areas of the world including Nepal, India and Chiapas (citta.org).  Talks, slides and lovely photos of the children in Nepal waiting for a school to be built. Bought an ebulllient drawing by 8-year old Tenzin Thiley who looks like a happy, handsome kid.

Dinner at Paros -- a new Greek restaurant in Park Slope. Good place for a bottle of Greek wine (a new-to-me delicious dry red -- Naoussa Chrisohoou 2008) and a salad. Wonderful waiters, even Saturday night Greek music and a lovely singer. Read between the lines.

A late-afternoon coffee at Nespresso Boutique in Soho (92 Prince St.) -- a great place to crash with comfortable tables and chairs. Good espresso but the latte machiatto really looked fabulous.

Dinner tonight at the Duffy's -- with Susy Davidson, the executive director of the Julia Child Foundation, and a few wonderful friends -- old and new. It's a pot luck and we're all bringing something. More about that next week.

May your coming week be full of good taste (and tastes.)

Tastes of the Week

Sept 18 through Sept. 25 As the "social" season begins, there are lots of new restaurants opening in New York and some of them are very exciting: Two that come to mind are Saxon + Parole on the Bowery and Bleeker, and a vibrant new cevicheria called La Mar  located in the space that was once Tabla. La Mar is owned by the great Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, who has 12 locations around the world. As my globetrotting husband, international restaurant consultant, predicted several years ago, Peruvian food would become a major trend.

Fabulous crispy nuggets of fried fluke roe (amazing texture) and flavor.  The "special of the day" at La Mar.

Tiradito (Peru's version of sashimi) -- thinly sliced raw fish with a variety of sauces:  We tried "chifa" -- wild salmon belly and cilantro with passion fruit leche de tigre. I have a recipe for tiradito in my newest book, Radically Simple. See recipe below.

The best sampling of hams and cured pork products ever at Saxon + Parole. Also outstanding: portabello mushroom mousse with whiskey and truffle jelly, hand-cut salmon tartare with roasted peppers, capers & quail egg, whole roasted branzino, cauliflower & gruyere gratin.

At the gala benefit for SHARE at Abigail Kirsch's Pier 60, sampled some of the best bites from New York's great women chefs: especially loved the duck "filet mignon" with truffle mousse and balsamic reduction, Gabrielle Hamilton's crostini of Valdeon blue cheese (from Spain) topped with a shaved radish, celery and fennel salad, and Barbara Sibley's (La Palapa) salmon and mango ceviche toastaditas with hibiscus syrup & serrano oil.

A savory zucchini and gruyere muffin at Sweet Melissa's in Park Slope.

And a terrific lattice apple pie from Costco! Last time it had too much cinnamon; this time it is perfect. Tiradito (adapted from Radically Simple) Begin with thin slices of impeccably fresh raw fish and top with my tart elixir of a whole pureed lemon, olive oil, and garlic.

12 ounces raw halibut or red snapper, sliced paper thin 1 small lemon 1/2 cup olive oil 1 medium clove garlic 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives handful of tender mesclun, mache or pea shoots

Arrange the fish slices in a tight circle without overlapping in the center of 4 large plates. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt. With a small, sharp knife, cut the rind and pith from the lemon; quarter the flesh and remove the seeds. Process the lemon (including the rind and the), oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until very smooth. Spoon the dressing over the fish to coat completely. Sprinkle with chives and coarsely cracked black pepper.  Garnish plates with mesclun, mache or pea shoots. Serves 4

Cold SpaghettiOs and Tastes of the Week

The impending hurricane had us scurrying to a local supermarket in Jeffersonville, New York to gather some goods before we headed back to Park Slope. As suggested by camp officials, we brought our daughter home from French Woods one day early. "What to eat?" we asked ourselves, if we're to lose electricity during the storm. "Beans, "I said to my husband. "I'll make some beans."  "You can't," he replied, "nor can you make your morning coffee." (Our oven needs a jolt of electricity to work.)  "Wow, I thought."  Our daughter doesn't eat fish and we can't heat anything up, so what does one eat, I muttered, as we sauntered up and down the aisles.  I really had to laugh as we pulled baked beans off the shelf (cold? could be good!); canned corn, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, applesauce, mandarin oranges, and spaghettiOs.  Yes, we did. Other tastes of the week included:

Fabulous gelato at Grom in the New York's Greenwich Village:  espresso gelato and crema di Grom (with nubbins of corn biscuits and shaved chocolate).  A great marriage of flavors.  Luxurious texture.

Such a delicious feijoada and pernil (roast pork) -- washed down with a couple of glasses of pinot noir-like Zweigelt (from Austria) at Samba Cafe in Jeffersonville, New York.   More about that tomorrow!

Two wonderful salads at our daughter's camp! (French Woods for the Performing Arts.)  Roasted sweet potato and white bean salad (with a touch of vinegar and curry), and one of best couscous salads I've had.  Will try to get the recipe -- will feed 800!

A great seasonal summer tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, wood-fired olives, and a credible Pizza Margherita at the Park Slope hotspot, Franny's.

Robust, savory, yum cannelloni filled with lamb and some unknown (but knowable) pungent cheese at Tarallucci e Vino on East 18th Street in NY.

Good white-and-yellow corn on the cob from Key Food.  Really.

And...a great, rare burger at Slainte (Irish bar) on the Bowery.  Decent house red.  Cheap.  Good fries.

Speaking of Gelato

I saw an ad in the cab for the TV show Jeopardy yesterday with one of the questions relating to the origin of gelato -- the Italian frozen confection that I tasted for the first time in 1973 on my maiden voyage to Italy.  It said that the first gelato was fashioned from honey and shaved ices, but that idea is so reductive as to be suspect. For your reading pleasure, you may google the history of gelato and ponder the various theories, but what I'm pondering these days is why gelato isn't the way I remember.  We were on a bit of a quest for great gelato on our recent trip to Italy and experienced two extremes.  One of the gelatos we tried was commercial and sported neon colors of fruit flavors that one never encounters in nature, yet it had the sweet, dense, velvety texture I remembered.  The other gelato (the shop with the longest line in Naples) was "artiginale" and tasted so rich and creamy that it crossed the boundaries of gelato into premium rich, custardy ice cream.  I longed for the gelato that I once had in Sicily for breakfast, spooned into a morning brioche, and another that I had when I was a young lass in Florence studying cooking with Guiliano Bugialli.  It had tasted like nothing I ever had -- as memorable as my first sip of Chateau d'Yquem.   I remember the intensity of the fruit flavor, the bracing yet soft chill, the velvety, but slightly elastic mouthfeel.  It was probably the first time I experienced the taste of gianduja, too -- the brilliant marriage of hazelnut and chocolate. Just this week, I treated myself to a romp around the West Village (I just adore Bleeker Street these days -- the whole stretch, actually, from east to west) and found two very credible gelato palaces.  I will mention my favorite only.  Grom, located on the corner of Bleeker and Carmine, exceeded expectations.  Never mind that the adorable boy working behind the counter was from Venice and charming as all get out, and that he topped my cup of gelato with a bit more when I said it looked skimpy (I was hungry!), but he recommended two varieties that tasted like magic together.  One was their very robust espresso gelato and the other their "specialty" -- crema di Grom, made with cream, "corn biscuits" from the Langhe region and bits of shaved Teyuna chocolate from Columbia.  I also sampled their cassata (with bits of candied fruit) and their white fig gelato, which was divine.   Sitting outside at a little cafe table, with the sun shining brightly through my plastic gelato spoon, and Italian spoken all around me, I must say that my trip to Italy had a delightful hiccup.  Sad that Faicco's (the legendary pork store) was closed that day, I had a strange hankering for mortadella and buffalo mozzarella.

I don't know how to make gelato and so instead I offer you another kind of intense, velvety frozen confection from Radically Simple -- with a similiar mouthfeel and memorable flavor.

Chocolate-Chipotle Sorbetto A bit of chipotle smolders behind a chocolate chill.  It's very cool to serve a scoop of this in a glass with some cold milk poured around it.  Taste the mixture before you churn it -- you might want to add a bit more chipotle and salt to augment the smoky flavor.

3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup dark corn syrup 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle powder

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder and 1-1/2 cups water in a large saucepan.  Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil.  Boil 1 minute, whisking.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the chocolate, chipotle powder, 1/4 cup water and a large pinch of salt.  Stir until the chocoalte melts.  Pour the mixture into a blender and process 1 minute, until smooth.  Refrigerate the mixture until very cold.  Stir briskly and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.  Serves 6

Tastes of the Week

August 15  through August 21 A delicious, intense cafe cortado (espresso with milk foam) at the charming, tiny Italianesque coffee bar in Park Slope called Cafe Regular du Nord -- located on Berkeley off 7th Ave.   It is the only time I ever have milk in my coffee: I am a die-hard black coffee addict.  The cortado tastes like a special treat and better than dessert!

A wonderful salad of baby calamari and a sformata of polenta, gorgonzola and wild mushrooms at restaurant Da Andrea (across the street from the Quad Cinema where I saw Passione for the 2nd time!)  A glass of a good Montepulciano -- their house red wine.

An espresso upstairs at an adorable cafe called Adore (run by a Japanese man) whose customers are mostly Japanese.  A tiny secret on West 13th Street, where soups, sandwiches and other light food is also served.  It's a great place to hide, get hydrated, read, and stay cool.

Went to to uber-famous little pie shop in Brooklyn called Four & 20 Blackbirds.  The salty caramel apple pie and the strawberry-balsamic pie actually exceeded expectations. (3rd avenue and 7th street in Bklyn).

Not far from the pie shop, if you want some savory food before your pie, is Bar Tono which has style and good food.  Pizza looked good, so did my friend's burger, and my salad of wild arugula, roquefort, dried cranberries, and walnuts was delicious and ample.  (3rd avenue and 9th street in Bklyn).

Went to restaurant La Mangeoire on 2nd Avenue and 52nd street in Manhattan for the first time in over 30 years!   The 4-star chef Christian Delouvrier is cooking there!  Lovely stuffed sepia, calves liver with caramelized onions (you hardly find that any more!), Provencal vegetable tart, even chocolate mousse for dessert.  What a lovely trip down memory lane.  Gerard, the owner, is charming.

Another amazing coffee -- this time a "macchiato" -- an espresso with just a dab of steamed milk, on the rooftop of Eataly at the new Birreria.  A credible offering of paper-thin slices of coppa with good bread and olive oil, and excellent Prosecco poured from a magnum in a beautiful glass. Nice touch.

Great chorizos in dry sherry at Cafe Espagnol off 7th Avenue in NYC.  Such an institution, I've wanted to go for decades but finally did.  My husband and I shared a bottle of good Rioja and pork chops with peppers, onions and sausages (awash in an old-fashioned, finger-licking brown sauce).

A dish at home of succulent pork "tonnato" (it's usually made with veal) blanketed in a velvety sauce of tuna, olive oil, mayonnaise, white wine reduction, background perfume of garlic, rosemary and bay.  As a garnish, lots of capers and a unique touch of whole leaves of fried sage!  Really good!

Dinner with the Prince at Kyo Ya

Several months ago I helped get a job for the young friend of a man I hardly knew. The young man, a lawyer, turned chef, wanted a career in marketing and branding food concepts to the world. He wasn't sure whether to work for a large corporate public relations company or a boutique market research firm, and his fate, for a short time was in my hands. I like helping people get jobs, making the connection, watching them flourish -- as it had been done, once or twice in my past, for me. There was something special about this young man. He looked and acted like, well...a prince. Elegant as all get out, he had charm, experience, and could talk food as though it was his second language. He even dared correct me at the first breakfast we had with a colleague of mine, a PR guru, also keen on helping burgeoning stars become who they are.

The young man has been at his job three months now and has already created several big food ideas for his clients -- two of them quite brilliant, I might add. But acting like the Prince that he is, he decided to take me to dinner as a "thank you." So, two nights ago I was treated to a dinner sitting face-to-face with one of the city's great sushi masters at Kyo Ya -- located in a hidden gem of a dining room in the East Village. The Prince was at my side, as we sipped a very credible chilled sake, and watched the parade of some of the most exquisitely presented dishes I have ever seen. Sono, the sushi master, had laughing eyes and bewitching hands. He remembered the Prince from the last time he was there and began preparing a series of dishes for us. Watching Sono was watching "poetry in motion," with the grace and reverence one generally reserves for a prima ballerina or anyone who had confidently mastered his craft.

The succession of dishes delighted us, one after the other. The pressed salmon sushi exquisitely formed and presented like jewels. The just-made tofu sat in a broth that tasted so primal that it reminded me of how the great writer Lawrence Durrell described the taste of a black olive -- "a taste older than meat; older than wine. A taste as old as water." Much of the fish came directly from Japan (with a solemn nod to what had transpired there not so long ago), and reminded me of the vastness of the ocean and its inhabitants.

I had more sea urchin that humanly possible in one sitting, and the most extraordinary sheaths of fresh herring dabbed with sweet miso. There was a lidded custard, known as chawanmushi, loaded with snow crab, exotic mushrooms and a discreet cube or two of pork. In another lovely ceramic bowl, was an offering of more sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and slivers of seaweed in dashi broth. We relished every morsel and gesture. Even the salt played tricks on your tongue.

The experience brought to mind an old Japanese proverb that has informed my cooking for years. "That if you can capture the season on a plate, then you are the master." The Prince had made a very good choice, indeed.

Kyo Ya 94 East 7th Street, New York. 212-982-4140 (a 27 food rating from Zagat)

The Birthday Weekend

For those of you who remember the "scene" at Canastel's (on Park Ave South and 19th St.) in New York City, decades ago, there is an equally hip (now slightly older) crowd at Asellina.  Located in the Gansevoort Hotel on 29th and Park, the Saturday night boasted good-looking guys in sports coats, and gorgeous women wearing, truly, the highest heels and shortest skirts we've seen in awhile.  Despite the teeming hook-up vibes, there was something quite refreshing about it all.  Like the good old days, where those kinds of impulses were palpable and desirable and it made you remember what sex was once all about --because it wasn't the sex but the promise:  What was different about it all?  NO ONE was sitting with their iPhone -- chatting, texting or pretending to be otherwise engaged.  Everyone was on the prowl, looking or begging to be seen.  They were drinking, eating and talking!  No wonder I loved it.  It was so old-fashioned.  Some of the guests were from the cool hotel perched above where an indoor/outdoor pool is nestled on the roof next to their popular bar.

We wouldn't have experienced any of this if not for the 15th birthday of our daughter.  Our gift to her was an overnight in a New York hotel with a handful of her friends.  A teen-friendly place where there was a pool and a sense that you were someplace far away.  We loved telling our waitress that we had just arrived from...Brooklyn (!) with suitcases in tow.  Clearly we had come the shortest distance for such an adventure.  Despite the long wait to check into our room, the hotel staff was really accommodating and eager to please.  They outfitted the large room with a Wii for the girls to play with and encouraged their squealing and giggling at the pool.  Dinner (more about that) and a sleepless happy night amidst all those teens. In the morning we lit up a box of donuts, each with their own candle, and had a friendship circle in our pajamas sitting on the floor.  The girls drank organic lemonade and wished each other good things.  An afternoon movie, The Soul Surfer, proved that anything was possible. Not a bad message when you turn 15.  Happy birthday, Shayna.

But here's an unexpected nod to the food at Asellina.  It was delicious.  It didn't matter at the time; we were there and we needed someplace to eat.  But it was some of the cleanest, most authentically, Italian-tasting, unadorned, spot-on food we've had in awhile.  A great eggplant tortino with fresh ricotta and and cheese fonduta; top-notch meatballs with cannellini beans, culatello (prosciutto-like) and fontina, simple grilled calamari with sauteed asparagus and oven-dried tomatoes, and my husband's happy-making thick spaghetti with perfectly cooked clams and various bits of seafood.  Not a gratuitous piece of parsley in sight.  We imagined ourselves in Sardinia, sunny and warm, despite the teeming rain and chill in the air that evening.  The restaurant glowed with fireplaces and libidinous energy and promises of birthdays to come.

Electric Orange Juice

For years I've been hearing about the big, bountiful, beautiful breakfasts at Norma's:  the hotel dining room at the Parker-Meridien on West 57th Street in New York City.  And while the experience was extremely pleasant and the food very good, the most outstanding part of the story was the orange juice!  At first I thought it was a hustle.  At $9 a glass, what was the deal?   "Who wants juice?" our affable waiter sung out? (He looked a bit like Baryshnikov).  With the grace of a dancer, he began pouring electric-looking orange liquid into three of our four extremely tall glasses.  I declined, and chose instead to have juice for dessert -- more about that later.  After 30 minutes, the glasses were filled again, and 10 minutes later...again.  Quickly I calculated that I was now $54 into the check and we hadn't had anything yet to eat!  Uh-oh, "here he comes again."  I didn't want to seem ungracious (I was treating), but finally said, "Sir, uh, um, do you charge for each glass of juice?"   "Oh no," he said.  "Refills are free."  Instant relief for me, then curiousity.  Why would they do that?  The juice was extraordinary tasting.  It was though a crate of succulent Honeybells was squeezed into each glass.  While it was the hospitality-equivalent of the unlimited "sweet tea" you encounter in the South, this orange elixir had to cost them a fortune.   The food arrived...a PB&C Waffle 'Wich (a chocolate waffle with peanut butter and toffee crunch filling), Artychoked Benedict (with truffle porcini sauce), Super Cheesy French Toast (with caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon), and Normalita's Huevos Rancheros and...more juice. As I mentioned, I saved mine for dessert.  One of my most memorable desserts in history was experienced in Barcelona.  At a trendy neighborhood restaurant, chic customers order fresh orange juice for dessert, served in a wine glass and accompanied by a spoon.  How simple, yet brilliant, to end a meal in such a vibrant, palate-cleansing way.   It is especially memorable made with Honeybells (just coming up from Florida now) or with blood oranges.  I call their flavor "nature's Kool-Aid."  Either way, it's an inspired, one-ingredient dessert, that's hard to beat.

Although breakfast at Norma's is very expensive (there is even Foie Gras French Toast for $34 and The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata for $100), if you do as I did, dessert is free.  I drank the last glass of juice from one of my guests.

A Recipe for Electric Orange Juice

This recipe is one ingredient only.  Each large orange yields about 1/2 cup juice so plan accordingly.  Use navel oranges, Honeybells, or large blood oranges. (At this time of year, it's delicious to add the juice of two tangerines.)

8 large oranges

Cut oranges in half and juice.  Pour into wine glasses and serve with a spoon.  Serves 4

A Great New York Chef

I had such a wonderful meal with my family on Saturday night at Oceana! Amidst the holiday pageantry around Rockefeller Center, Oceana glowed like a jewel -- all decked out in boughs of holly and towering temples of exquisite seafood. It was my first time at Oceana's new location -- on 49th street, right off 6th avenue, in New York City. Once a three-star dining boutique in a small midtown location, Oceana has transformed itself into a bustling, contemporary restaurant focusing on the chef's passion for "fish gone global." I've been following Ben Pollinger around for years. He did stints at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, then spent serious time at Tabla, Union Square Cafe, and the revered Lespinasse. As chef at Oceana since 2006, Ben has received some wicked good praise, including a coveted Michelin star and New York Times stars. He's also one of the most normal chefs I know. In the spirit of full disclosure, Ben was a fraternity brother of my son Jeremy at Boston University. He is now the father of three and admits to only one small tattoo near his shoulder. I meant to ask him if it was the image of a fish, but I was too busy asking him about his food. When we owned and operated the Rainbow Room (from 1987 to 2000), we were among the first to serve towering shellfish extravaganzas, but Ben's version was definitely more adventurous. Nestled in ice between the briniest oysters imaginable, perfectly poached shrimp, steamed lobster, and a sea urchin scooped from its prickly shell, was the best, and most inventive, ceviche I ever had. Gently spiced with coconut milk, mustard seed, and I don't know what else, its perfume wafted memories of dining atop the Taj Hotel in Mumbai some some years ago. Perhaps it was Ben's experience at the esteemed restaurant Tabla that allowed him the courage to partner a tranche of taro-wrapped pompano with a neon green coconut-curry sauce; but it's his vast experience that made it work.

I could tell you much more about my meal, the nice wine list, and the mouthwatering "Chocolate Custard Brownie", but I think you should experience it all for yourself.

If you order the grilled sturgeon (with white kimchee, miso and shiitake mushrooms), as I did, make sure not to eat it all.   Bring the remainder home and try it cold the next day. It makes leftover filet mignon (another favorite) taste unremarkable.

Wish you could have been there.  As an homage to Ben, I offer him a radically simple fish recipe from...Radically Simple.  I hope he likes it.

Tiradito As is the case at Oceana, this dish relies on first-rate, super-fresh fish.  Tiradito is the Peruvian equivalent of sashimi -- except that tiradito is glossed with a dressing or briefly marinated in assertive pepper purees.  My version begins with ultra-thin slices of raw halibut or red snapper that gets bathed in a tart elixir of a whole pureed lemon, olive oil, and garlic.

12 ounces raw halibut or red snapper, sliced paper thin 1 small lemon 1/2 cup olive oil 1 medium clove garlic 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives Handful of tender mesclun or pea shoots

Arrange the fish in a tight circle without overlapping in the center of 4 large plates.  Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt.  With a small sharp knife, cut the rind and pith from the lemon; quarter the flesh and remove the seeds.  Process the lemon, including the rind, oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until very smooth. Spoon the dressing lightly over the fish to coat completely.  Sprinkle with chives and coarsely cracked pepper.  Garnish the plates with mesclun or pea shoots.  Serves 4