Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pasta with Ramps, Pea Shoots, and Poached Eggs

An early sign that Spring is here is the arrival of pea shoots in New York's farmers markets. The delicate greens have such a wonderful fresh taste with a hint of sweetness; and suddenly the dull salads of winter have new life.

Next to arrive are the ramps, the prized young wild leeks that are available only for a short time in Spring. Their taste resembles a cross between garlic and scallion, with leaves that are mild enough to be eaten raw when chopped up into a salad.

This year I incorporated both of those Spring staples in a simple pasta. I sauteed the more potent bulbs and stems of the ramps, letting the ramp leaves and pea shoots cook only with the steam heat of the pasta. Some good parmigiano reggiano and a runny poached egg formed a delicate sauce, letting the fresh taste of Spring produce shine through.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Foods of Tulum Mexico Part IV: Beach Front Dining

El Pez's shrimp tacos topped with a sweet and spicy mango salsa, with a streak of habanero sauce
I recently embarked on a relaxing and flavorful vacation to Tulum in Mexico. Here is the fourth entry in our Beyond the Five Boroughs feature on Tulum: a review of the excellent food you can enjoy while relaxing on the beach.  The first post explored Tulum's surprisingly authentic Italian restaurants, while the second one covered Mexican street food, and the third one covered Hartwood, Tulum's best reataurant.  Later posts will explore Tulum's many other fine dining establishments.

Before going to many of the fine dining restaurants flanking Tulum's beach road or exploring the local bites in town, I did what most weary travelers do when arriving in Tulum: head for the beach.  

Unlike other areas in the Riveria Maya (cough, Cancun), there are no built up beach front high rises to ruin the atmosphere, only small, eco-friendly boutique hotels, that seamlessly blend in with the environment. 

Relaxation began immediately.

The ceviche mixto at El Pez

Until I got hungry. Fortunately, the restaurant at El Pez, where we were staying, quickly brought out superb shrimp tacos topped with a sweet and spicy mango salsa, and with a streak of habanero sauce on the side. We also enjoyed a delectable mixed seafood ceviche, with plentiful fresh shrimp, fish, and octopus mixed with citrus, corn, avocado and chilis, and served with homemade tortilla chips. 

Ceviche is the Central and South American version of Italian crudo: raw fish cured in citrus and spiced with chilis (though the shrimp and octopus were fully cooked). It's even better when combined with creamy avocado and paired with something crunchy, like the homemade tortilla chips.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Porterhouse in a Fine Dining Setting at Angus Club Steakhouse

A meal at Angus Club: thick-cut poterhouse steak, hash browns, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and peas & onions.
"So do you just drop a giant porterhouse on the table?"

I was in the lower level of the new Angus Club Steakhouse, where co-owner Margent Maslinka was giving us a tour. We had stopped at the Chef's Room, a beautiful and intimate private dining space for ten with a custom-made round oak table and imported leather chairs. It looked like the setting for an elaborate fine dining meal.

"Pretty much," he said, grinning.

The first-floor dining room (photo courtesy of Angus Club)
For me, the scene perfectly captured the Angus Club concept. The setting has an intimate fine-dining feel to it: the tables are spaced apart, the service is polished, and the the decor is elegant and sophisticated. One might expect to be served a parade of dainty high-end dishes.

Instead, Executive Chef Edward Avduli not-so-daintily serves up massive porterhouse steaks on sizzling-hot platters, ample dishes of buttery hash browns and classic steakhouse creamed spinach.

The result is a restaurant that, in my view, should be more appealing than most of its peers, both to a diner looking for a special meal and to the Midtown business community, which I expect will make up much of its clientele. It has the chops to impress the steak-lover (excuse the pun) and the elegance suitable to entertaining clients or a date.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Burnt Eggplant & Moghrabieh Soup

We have long taken advantage of Atlantic Avenue's plentiful collection of Middle Eastern shops for our recipes. That is why we were delighted to finally start making recipes from the critically acclaimed cookbook, Jerusalem.

There is no vegetable more prevalent in great Middle Eastern cooking than the eggplant (make our smoky baba ghanoush and you'll understand why). And there is no better accompanying grain than moghrabieh. Moghra-wha? Perhaps deriving its name from Maghreb, the Arab region in North Africa, moghrabieh is extra large couscous. It provides great heftiness to the smoky eggplant soup base.

The key, just like we did with our baba ghanoush, is to burn the eggplants directly on an open fire. Charcoal is best, but you can do it easily right on the stove top (or, less messily, in the broiler). This dish can versatilely serve as an appetizer to any Middle Eastern meal or as a meal all to itself.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Za'atar-Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki

A trip to the Middle Eastern stores on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue yielded a large bag of za'atar, a traditional spice blend of thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac. Sumac is an essential ingredient in Middle-Eastern cooking with a bright red color and a mild fruity-tart flavor, which perfectly matches the lemony undertones of the thyme. The sesame seeds add a nice earthiness and crunch.

Za'atar is an extremely versatile ingredient with many culinary uses, like sprinkling on vegetables and dips, seasoning soups, baking onto pita breads, and roasting with chicken. With so much built-in flavor, it makes a great secret weapon for weeknight meals.

Paired with salmon, the za'atar forms a crust that locks in the juices of the fish and gives it that perfect crispy exterior. The seasoning nicely compliments the salmon's flavor without overpowering it. I serve it with a garlicky tzatziki sauce and some extra fresh dill on top.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Foods of Tulum Mexico Part III: Primal Fine Dining at Hartwood, Tulum's Best Restaurant

Hartwood house speciality - costillas al agave (ribs with a sticky agave barbecue sauce)

I recently embarked on a relaxing and flavorful vacation to Tulum in Mexico. Here is the third entry in our Beyond the Five Boroughs feature on Tulum: a review of Hartwood, Tulum's best and most critically acclaimed restaurant. The first post explored Tulum's surprisingly authentic Italian restaurants, while the second one covered Mexican street food. Later posts will explore beach front dining and Tulum's many other fine dining establishments.

Setting up for dinner service
As it turns out, the best restaurant on my escape from New York was owned by two New Yorkers. The chef, Eric Werner, is formerly of Peasant and Brooklyn's Vinegar Hill House. Werner's wife, Mya Henry, runs the front of the house.

The daily changing menu board (prices in pesos!)
At Hartwood, Werner has created what could only be described as primal fine dining. All of the dishes are cooked in either the massive, roaring 900-degree wood fire oven in the center of the open kitchen, or in a nearby 600-degree grill. (The prep work is done with knives and a blender – powered by a small generator.)

The primal, bold flavors from wood fire at high heat make the dishes seem like they've been made for generations in the Mayan riviera. Contributing to the primative experience, the wooden tables in the open air dining area are lit only with small twinkling oil lamps, creating a transporting feel.

The primal feel – and taste – is further enhanced by the use of large portioned, unbutchered proteins, and whole fish, vegetables, and fruit. Everything would be recognizable to our ancestors; it's just so much better.

The dishes aren't exactly Mexican, but do make exquisite use of local ingredients, as a recent glowing New York Times profile described.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Foods of Tulum Mexico Part II: Mexican Street Food

A "small" order of shrimp ceviche at El Camello Jr.
I recently embarked on a relaxing and flavorful vacation to Tulum in Mexico. Here is the second entry in our Beyond the Five Boroughs feature on Tulum, featuring Tulum's fresh take on Mexican street food and other traditional Mexican dishes, like tacos and ceviches. The first post explored Tulum's surprisingly authentic Italian restaurants. The third post covered Hartwood, Tulum's best restaurant.  Later posts will explore beach front dining and Tulum's many other fine dining establishments.

Most of Tulum's superb collection of high quality restaurants are located along the beach road, which makes it all too easy to enjoy all your meals a quick stroll from the beach.  If you have a car, which we recommend, take a short drive past the checkpoint with friendly men with friendly automatic weapons, and explore Tulum Town, about a 20 minute drive from the beach. 

A selection of Antijitos at La Chiapaneca
The food is not as good as some of the outstanding restaurants on the beach road, but, naturally, the prices drop considerably. And you can sample the cuisine that locals and adventurous travelers alike can enjoy together. 

Two spots that should not be missed are El Camello Jr., a raucous local seafood shop and restaurant, and Antojitos La Chiapaneca, a taqueria serving phenomenally inexpensive al pastor tacos. Or try them both in the same meal for a little surf 'n turf  they're certainly cheap enough.