Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

A Night Out at Babbo, Pt. II

March 19, 2008

Preface:
A Night Out at Babbo
California Soul: Osteria Mozza (LA)

To celebrate Christi’s bday the other night, we went to Babbo. I would be too embarrassed to blog this–regularly patronizing such the hype machine that Batali is–but the food was just too good not to share with you.

We walked in without a reservation- figured we would get there around 6:30 and take our chances. The guy at the front, who was there the last time I went, is a gentile fellow, and told us to wait for seats at the bar. Fine. We ordered drinks, we waited. “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” blasted in the background. Oh, Mario and his music. We loved the Mode though. Violator!

It’s really cramped when you walk in, between the bar and the dining room. Servers taking orders, delivering food. Some drunk asshole totally fell into Christi. It was kinda funny. Anyway, standing there in the middle of all this commotion is not fun. But you gotta suck it up for the ultimate prize.

Just about an hour later, we actually got a TABLE! Right by the bar, tucked into a corner. It was romantic. The world doesn’t need another Babbo review (or a second one from me- you’re over it), but just let me show you the pics.

Babbo salumi: assorted meats cured in-house. Marinated onions (sweet) and olives. This was better than the Armandino salumi I got last time. Christi liked the veal (?) tongue. The “fatback” pictured below, is just cured pork fat! Like white sheets blowing in the wind. It was super intense- like nothing I have ever tasted. It was good with the onions.

Grilled octopus with “Borlotti Marinati”: this was pretty awesome. Better than what I had at Mozza. Drizzled with this limoncello vinagrette, and sprinkled with some candied orange rind or something, on a bed of white beans. SO GOOD. It was too “oceany” for Christi though. I loved the tentacles.

Our server was super great- Travis. Props to this guy. He totally arranged the order of our dishes and suggested good, cheap wines. We asked him for his recommendation of a pasta, and he suggested the black pasta. BINGO. This was definitely my highlight of the meal. (At this point I was pretty boozy, and abandoned my camera inhibitions and started shooting with flash. Tacky!). They are also nice about splitting the orders for you.

Black spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami calabrese and green chile: I have nothing to say except GET THIS DISH.

Mint love letters: just as good as the first time. Surprisingly hearty. A good way to end a meal.
When all is over, this is my side of the table, vs. Christi’s side. Basically, you can’t take me anywhere.

But then, this guy comes and magically puts a napkin over the table to make all my spills disappear.

So it’s official- I am obsessed with Mario Batali’s food. All the hype… well, it’s all true. Batali is an ace. Classic and straightforward. Consistent. Casual and reasonably affordable considering it’s a white table cloth joint. Our meal, all of this, plus 2 quarter things of wine, 2 glasses of sparkling wine, and a bottle of fizzy water was $140 total. You could spend as much at Lupa, his even more casual joint around the corner (I am not a fan of Lupa). You would no doubt spend even more in the shithole tourist traps in Little Italy.

As someone who spends her entire income on eating in NY (after rent), I’m telling you: surrender to the hype. Splurge a little. Wait an hour for a table.

Babbo
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011

Get Directions
T: 212.777.0303

California Soul: Osteria Mozza (LA)

March 4, 2008


I’m sorta embarrassed to admit it, but seems that I have a Mario Batali obsession. But let me preface this entry by saying that we weren’t even supposed to go to Mozza- we had reservations at Campanile, but my flight got in too late so we had to cancel. Sara said they were being buttholes about canceling- we’re not down with that.

So in the past 6 months, I’ve been to Lupa, Babbo, and I made it to his newest LA haunt, Osteria Mozza with Sara last week. It was, I have to say, a very good meal. I would put Mozza between Lupa and Babbo– it’s more casual than Babbo, in both the atmosphere and the food, and I’m keeping Babbo at the top since it’s the original (need to respect that). That said, we had a well-rounded, well-proportioned meal, and excellent martinis.

Amuse-bouche on the house: ricotta and tapenade bruchetta with slivers of basil. The ricotta was delish.

Had no fucking clue this was going to be a bruschetta, as the mozzarella menu (yes, they have a mozzarella bar!) just said “burrata, bacon and escarole”. They conveniently left out “on bread”, which made this a bit heavy. And the burrata was so creamy and mouthmelting that all the other stuff was a bit excessive. But that’s carmelized onions on top- can’t say no to that.

Dish of the night: Grilled octopus with chives and potatoes. The octopus… so soft… no chewing involved! And the char from the grill- so perfect! And the potats… it all went together so well.
Presentation wise, the dish kinda looks like the sweetbreads I had at Babbo, doesn’t it?

Here it is deconstructed:

Francobolli di Brasato: stamp-shaped ravioli filled with braised beef and thyme. This was absolutely delicious- the beef was super tender, almost mushy (in a good way), and the sauce was soupy, almost gelatinous, like bone marrow almost.

Sara got the mezzaluna ravioli filled with pumpkin. The pic was too bad so I won’t post it, but it was so sweet with its hints of cinnamon and spices.

Interior shots: high ceilings, classic fixtures, a long bar for eating and drinking:

One side of the dining room, with walls filled with wine.

The restaurant is on a pretty busy intersection on Melrose, so the windows overlook a gas station and a shopping center across the street. No romance here. Sorta wished they frosted the windows, but I guess they’re just keeping it real.

I think that Mozza is a nice addition to the LA food scene, in that they’ve established their brand here that’s unique to LA- with the huge space, and partnership with La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton. Can’t get that in NY, that’s for sure.

For nicer pictures, please visit Eat, Drink and Be Merry‘s post on Mozza.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave.
LA, CA
323.297.0100

Mangiamo 2007: A Night in Assisi

February 11, 2008

Ok, I know this is ridiculous– even though it’s been months since I went to Italy, I still feel the need to finish blogging my fantastic eats (my computer with all my Italy pics died a few months ago, but we’re back!).

Probably one of my best meals ever in 2007 was in Assisi, at a little place called Taverna dei Consoli. I went on a pilgrimage to Assisi to see the Giottos in the Cathedral (mindblowing), and found this place tucked behind the main Piazza.

I went for dinner, then lunch the next day. Why fuck with a good thing? The night I went, the place was pretty empty, and they were about to shut down but took me in any way. Both chefs and waiter eagerly came to talk about why their food is the best in Assisi.

Fresh house-made pasta with tomatoes and artichokes. Fresh pasta really makes a difference!:

Pork chop with prune reduction- this was THE BEST. Tangy, vinegary and perfectly cooked. The meat was so tender! No joke people, I still remember this, 4 months later :

Next day lunch- I sat on the terrace overlooking the Piazza. It was a romantic lunch by myself:
Fresh pasta with mushrooms.

One of the chefs. He loved talking to customers!
Love for St. Francis- the Bay Area’s patron saint!

Next time you’re in Italia, don’t just make a pilgrimage to Assisi for St. Francis (or the Giottos, or Cimabues)- make one for the pasta.

Tavola dei Consoli
Vc. Fortezza 1
06081 – Assisi (PG)
Tel: (+39) 075 812516

A Night Out at Babbo

January 12, 2008

This post is dedicated to my lady Christi.

So this post defies my rule of “not writing about a restaurant unless I’ve been to it at least twice” (traveling not included), but this reservation was too hard to get, and this place being so acclaimed and all, I figure that this meal can be exempt from my rule.

Babbo only takes reservations one month in advance, to the numerical date (this is much easier to figure out than Gramercy Tavern’s silly 28 days). To make a long story very short, I spent about 2 hours of my life making this reservation for Christmas Eve (lots of calling/ hanging up/ redialing– an all out warzone). But I scored a table at 7:45pm! UNBELIEVABLE!!!

So anyhow, Matt and I were VERY excited about this. We both even started reading Heat to prepare for the meal. We had endless discussions about whether we would get the pasta tasting or the regular tasting meal. Blah blah blah- this is about the only thing we talked about for a week.

We walked in, and the place was PACKED. The restaurant is actually set up really awkwardly, but that may have had to do with the gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of the restaurant. Tis was the season. Oh, and who is that in the corner booth? Only Jake Gyllenhaal and the entire fam– Maggie, baby, Peter, mom, dad, and some other people who don’t matter.

Ok so they made us wait almost 30 minutes for a table to open up– I swear they were letting in A-listers in before us, despite their “fairness” mantra. Bullshit. By the time we got a table upstairs (MUCH airier and nicer than downstairs), we were starving and kinda drunk.


So these pics aren’t so great, but they will have to do- I’m no Erin Gleeson, ok??? After all of the hype about the tasting menu, we decided to go a la carte so we could sample their more signature dishes (that we read about in Heat– roll eyes here). Honestly, we got a bottle of wine and I don’t really remember anything towards the end of the meal. Bad food blogger!

ANTIPASTI
Armandino’s Salumi– maybe this is from Batali’s dad’s place in Seattle. The more pricier of the two salumi plates on the menu. Prosciutto and salami- both mouthmelting.


Lobster claws with chives and fennel– This was on the tasting menu but we were able to order it a la carte. Huge chunks of lobster meat, complimented by a nice crunch of the fennel. The chives gave the combination a nice garlic-y kick.

PRIMO
Mint Love Letters: These are worth the hype- they are divine. Mint, pea and sausage stuffed raviolis- what a great idea!


Chianti Stained Papardelle: These I think were Matt’s favorite- with wild boar ragu. I can not emphasize enough how delicious the pasta at Babbo is– really like what you would eat in Italy. These super thick noodles were perfectly al dente, and as the dish’s title suggests, just lightly coated with the sauce. As Buford observed in Heat, it’s all about the pasta, less about the sauce here. Right on.

SECONDI
Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads: OMG this is by far my favorite, and most memorable dish of the entire meal– just thinking about it stimulates my saliva glands. FAT pieces of sweet breads lightly battered and fried, then glazed with vinegar and tossed with onions and duck bacon. Jesus this was just amazing- the vinegar cut through any sort of gamey-ness of the sweetbreads and just left you with a pillowy cotton-like texture in your mouth.


Eel Livornese: This was on the special menu, and entirely forgettable. The eels are stewed with tomato sauce- it would be more of a comfort dish I think in Italy. But it was an interesting way to cook eel- there were even bones in it still (very spiky suckers). My mom thinks this is a certain kind of eel that you eat when they are still babies, as opposed to how you would eat it in Japan.

DOLCI
At this point I have no recollection of these desserts, which could mean that I was: a) too drunk or b) the dishes were not up to snuff

Saffron Panna Cotta: with Quince, Pink Peppercorn and Quince Sorbetto


Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo???


Petit fours on the house??


Overall, I would say that Babbo definitely lives up to the hype, and a great spot for a special occasion, or if you just have an inkling for some good pasta. It’s a good balance between casualness and seriousness–my two biggest complaints is that the Radiohead was too loud and self-conscious to be natural, and our waiter was a robotic prick.

Needless to say, I will definitely go back.

Babbo
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011

Get Directions
(212) 777-0303

We Heart Cesare

August 15, 2007

Okay, I’m sensitive. I’ve been that girl crying on the subway, I’ve cried at work (multiple times), commercials, movies-even once during City Slickers, but I think a couple weeks ago marked the first time that simply great food brought tears to my eyes.

Erin, being the amazing food photographer and captivating individual that she is, was invited by chef Cesare Casella to dine at his west village homage to his native Tuscany, Maremma. not sure what we were in for, Kayoko and I tagged along.

When we arrived, Cesare greeted us personally, and sent out some prosecco–how sweet, he’ll probably throw in a free dessert, too.

Um, not exactly. Instead, the waitress took our menus and told us Cesare would be preparing a special meal for us. We cringed as we told her two of us were vegetarian. Knowing the chefs I’ve worked with, I was shocked that this did not seem to phase (or anger) Cesare at all.

Grilled prawns with asparagus
French fries with garlic and herbs

Throughout the meal, he came out periodically, with fresh herbs hanging out of his front pocket, to grin, fill up our wine glasses, and answer our naive questions about each amazing creation.

6 dishes, 2 bottles of wine, 3 desserts, and an after-dinner drink later, I just became overwhelmed with gratitude for cesare’s generosity, talent, and appreciation for wholesome, fresh, flavorful food–it just occured to me that it’s food like this that makes me feel really alive, and i felt so lucky that Erin invited us to share this with her.

Cue the tears.

You probably don’t need to bring tissue, but you HAVE to go check this place out-it’s unlike any place i’ve been in nyc. The chard dumplings were my favorite!

Maremma
228 W 10th St
Btwn. Bleeker and Hudson Streets
New York, NY 10014
(212) 645-0200

The Manifold Path to Lasagne Enlightenment

May 17, 2007

It all started with this recipe in 101cookbooks, which I love, but whose hype I had never succumbed to until one day last weekend, when I decided to make Aya a bon voyage lasagne (my girl loves her some lasagne) before her trip to Wiener-ville.

It’s a masochistic lasagne, a fact we learned later in the making of it, and perfect for me, as I tend to believe that pain is what makes pleasure possible, heightens it in the right mindset even. Of course, much of the pain I brought onto myself (and poor Aya, who was assisting me in this endeavor) as I ignored with impunity one critical direction, which I will tell you soon enough.

“This isn’t a lasagne path for the faint-hearted. Making a dish of this magnitude takes commitment and patience – and time. Plenty of it.”

See, it wasn’t just a recipe for lasagne. No, dear readers. This was a lasagne path.

It began with a question: How thin can the pasta be for lasagne? Clearly it has to be sturdy enough to hold the sauce and the cheese, but if you think about it, it’s not really holding anything. The truth is, those thick, bulky slabs we are used to in the archetypal lasagne are that thick to save the ordinary cook his sanity. Sure it’s easier when the pasta’s thicker. Easier to boil, easier to handle, fewer layers to build.

But what if you rolled out each sheet of pasta in a pasta machine, thin as a ribbon, as thin as angel hair before its filamentation? Then each bite would be light and fluffy, giving the sauce a chance to shine against the fat white cheeses. Imagine that! A light lasagne!

(Miss Heidi recommended buying the pasta fresh instead of making it yourself, and I agree. I also now would reiterate her point that it be freshly made, since the older it is, the drier and more crumbly and hard it becomes. Cracks will form and grow into massive fissures that will tear many otherwise beautiful pieces to shreds during the boiling and construction phase.)

My mistake? Ignoring this little hint: “I go to the 8 setting, one shy of the very thinnest setting.” See, my pasta machine doesn’t go to 9. It goes to 6, and, well, 5 sounds a long way from 8, so I decided to do one more pass to make it the thinnest it could possibly be. “The sheets should almost be translucent,” she continues. Translucent, yes…even more reason to put it through at the thinnest setting. Right?

Ooh, translucent (and already tearing)

A lavishly buttered dish and the first layer of sauce


Butter the dish, and ye shall be rewarded.
You can’t make too much sauce.
San Marzano tomatoes. Period.

The scene of a terrible battle, where so many were lost

Cut the strips into manageable rectangles roughly 4-inches in length.”
D’oh. Oh well…

The final creation

Trust me. It’s surprisingly light.


At the intersection of Cheese Grove and Tomato Lane.

Fat cutters
Baby arugula with shave parmesan and red onions, Basalmic and olive oil


Wait, are you blogging this?


Oh. Mygod. It’s, like, so surprisingly light!

$100/ 2 Weeks/ NYC: Day 3,4 & 5

March 28, 2007

$100/ 2 Weeks/ NYC: Prologue
$100/ 2 Weeks/ NYC: Day 1 & 2

Sunday 3/25

Total Spent: $2.50

LUNCH –> $0

everyone, meet Ruby, Ruby, everyone.

i bought Ruby as a christmas gift to myself just this past December– she is a 3 quart Le Creuset dutch oven, in a deep emerald green. i named her after my favorite jazz composition by Thelonious Monk, “Ruby, My Dear”. she is gorgeous, i adore her, and i try to appease her by cooking at least one big dish with her every weekend, so that i also have enough left over for lunch during the week.

this week, i made pasta alla puttanesca.

i was introduced to puttanesca in italy, and often crave it. its origins lie in Napoli (named after local prostitutes, says wiki), and it is a simple sauce of capers, olives, garlic and anchovies. i remember i had been wandering around the grocery store a few months back, trying to figure out what to cook. i randomly found the recipe on the back of a can of italian pureed tomatoes (shown above–honestly, don’t ignore these random recipes, sometimes you’ll find something worth cooking), and bought the ingredients right then and there- all very cheap. i somehow never got around to cooking it though, so everything was just lying around my place, calling for me, begging me to cook with them. the time had come!

let me first apologize- it seems as though i have accidentally thrown away the can with the recipe. i am a horrible food reporter. so i’m just going to link you to Emeril’s recipe (i know i always reference him, but honestly, i find his recipes to be really simple, straightforward, and accessible, he’s not about the fancypants stuff. i like that). this dish is incredibly easy. the hardest part was pitting the kalamata olives. really.

a few adjustments i made to the recipe:
– i did not have an onion, so i put in extra garlic
– watch out when you add the salt- the capers and anchovies are already quite salty, so don’t overdo it
– i didn’t have basil so i added bay leaves
– as an afterthought, i could have added some red wine i had in the fridge- but then again, the capers have enough acidity to them so maybe it wouldn’t have made much of a difference
– anchovies are completely optional- don’t put it in if it’s not your thing (although i hope it’s your thing)
– i only had a box of linguine, so used that instead of penne

altogether, prep time plus cook time was about 45 minutes to an hour. you want to simmer the sauce for at least 30 minutes on low low heat, covered. when done, dump drained pasta into the sauce and mix till each strand is completely coated. i needed some cheesiness, so i shredded some parmigiano on top. not sure if the italians would have approved of this. chopped fresh parsley would have been good to sprinkle on the top as well, but i didn’t have any off hand.

i was a bit skeptical while cooking this, but it turned out quite good, i think. i love this dish for it’s saltiness, with the tarty tang from the capers. the anchovies are incredibly subtle, almost perfumy, and really brings the sauce to life. they didn’t name it after prostitutes for nothing! i have been watching a ridiculous number of Shohei Imamura films lately at BAM–according to him, all women are destined to prostitute themselves at some point. hooray for puttanesca! this one’s for the Insect Woman!

TEA TIME –>$2.50
met up with Alda in Soho for a cup of coffee. but where the hell do you go in Soho for coffee that isn’t overpriced, or isn’t Starbucks? turns out that pastry chef Iacopo Falai opened up a casual little place on Lafayette and Prince, Cafe Falai. i have been to fancy Falai restaurant in the Lower East Side, but wasn’t too impressed- “contemporary” italian. eh. but i do remember the inventive, peculiar desserts, i’ll give him that.

the original Cafe Falai is right across from Falai, so this would be Cafe Falai #2 in Soho. it’s a bustling little place with a small bar and about a dozen or so tables- serving coffee, exquisite cakes and pastries, and brunch/ light munchies. not really my scene, but our cafe au laits hit the spot, and at a $1.50, it may just be the best deal in Soho.

DINNER –>$0
had this work party to go to at Josephina’s restaurant on the Upper West Side. i was really not looking forward to having to schmooze all night, but i knew there would be a buffet and an open bar. SCORE.

when i got to the party, the buffet line was so looooong, so i kept putting it off. by the time any of us were hungry, they had taken away all the food!!!! UGH- we are such amateurs!!! take a look at the cheese board- these people are animals!!!

it’s so sad too cause this was my chance to eat a “nicer” meal during $100/2 wks/NYC. sigh. needless to say, i was starving and only had one pathetic piece of ciabatta bread. we were able to catch some of the dessert action, but Troy Division can tell you about that.

about the food, Kyoko, film historian extraordinaire, said, “The food there was so-so (grilled salmon, pasta with tomato sauce, and I forgot the rest), but desserts were good (very soft chocolate cakes, fruit, creme brulee, etc.).”

so turns out i didn’t miss out on much in the food department. regardless, i had multiple (free) drinks on an empty stomach and was a bit tipsy by the end of the night. you know you’ve been at a party for too long when the open bar turns into a cash bar.

***

Monday 3/26
Total Spent: $34

LUNCH–> $0
Fumiko brought a leftovers that Jorge made (Fumiko and i have a regular lunch club together- probably for over a year now, we take turns bringing leftovers for lunch. we text each other in the morning to see who is bringing what. it’s really cute. people at work think we are sisters). he created this recipe of chicken stewed with cauliflower, preserved lemons and olives. it was very good. good work Jorge!

DINNER –> $27

ok, this is where my lack of discipline becomes overly apparent and shameful (and is how i got myself into this $100/ 2 weeks/ NYC predicament in the first place). when i have money, i blow it. over a quarter of it. on Blue Ribbon Sushi. but really, i just can’t NOT go to Blue Ribbon Sushi during Brooklyn Restaurant Week (3 courses, $21!)- they have this sushi/sashimi combo as one of the choices, which has never ever let me down. Blue Ribbon is probably one of my favorite sushi spots in the city.

i am a true glutton, so i said YES. i ordered. i ate. i threw down $27. do i regret it? hell no! Troy Division will be telling you more about the meal, so stay tuned.

GROCERIES–>$7
Associated Supermarket
Park Slope, Brooklyn

after having spent $27 on dinner and feeling slightly guilty about it, i decided to really try hard to be strict at the grocery store. advice: don’t ever skimp on yogurt, no matter how poor you are. my absolute favorite is the Stonyfield Farms french vanilla (cream on the top- ooh la la!), but in a moment of overwhelming discipline, went for the cheapest stuff on the shelf instead. i used to actually get this when i lived in Sunset Park and there were no good grocery stores around- and i don’t remember it being this bad. i don’t even want to talk about it- the fact that i’ll be eating this for the rest of the week upsets me. it’s out: i am a yogurt snob.

***

Tuesday 3/27
Total Spent: $0.50

BREAKFAST –> $0.50
a banana and tangerine from my fruit stand man. he always gives me a discount, he’s great.

LUNCH–> $0
leftover pasta puttanesca, and i munched on Aya’s awesome grilled asparagus, rice and tomato/egg dish. yum!

DINNER–>$0
came home “early”, at 8:30pm, planning to cook up some chicken that i had defrosted over the weekend. but god, it’s so damn HARD to want to cook after work!!! i ended up just steaming broccoli and making my tuna broccoli dish. it’s about all the energy i could muster to feed myself. i have however, managed to marinate the chicken, but it will need to wait to be cooked another day (gotta do it before it goes bad!!!).

***
COMBINED TOTAL:
$2.50 + $34 + $0.50= $37 + $10 (Day 1&2) = $47

LEFT FOR 9 DAYS:
$100 – $47 = $53

…i’m so royally screwed.

*k*

footnote: to answer Jeni’s question: yes, all this INCLUDES tax and tip. everyone, please pray for me.

Little Frankie’s Seeking DJ

March 6, 2007

At Judson’s invitation, Alanna and I went to his favorite NY restaurant, Little Frankie’s (First Ave. btw 1 & 2 st.) last night and I learned two lessons: names are deceptive and size does not matter. Yes, Little Frankie’s is related to Frank, on Second Ave., that Italian joint that is ALWAYS over-crowded with total trendsters; however, I could swear that a.) Little Frankie’s seemed truly larger than Frank, and b.) Little F is better than [implied big] Frank. They both got the cozy decor going on, but LF felt more welcoming with a more fluid layout. I can’t tell a shitty wine from a super-expensive kind, but both Alanna and Judson seemed to enjoy the bottle of red we got (and the effervescent Moscato dessert wine). We started off with the Pear & Gorgonzola Salad with walnuts, which was exactly as good as it sounded, and the mussels, that lay in a garlic/wine/tomato broth — yummy!!! Half a bite of Alanna’s spinach-ricotta ravioli was quite good, but she complained that the spinach was too fresh. Judson’s pizza with “baby meatballs” that looked like deer turds was good. I ordered the oven-baked Rigatoni al Forno, which came out bubbling hot. The eggplant was delicious though it almost burned my tongue off. My favorite tiramisu for dessert did not disappoint. My only real complaint would be the music that was playing in the dining area. It was some kind of post-Sound Garden grunge-y rock; like an angrier artless Fugazi. blech.

In the warmer months they have a little open garden which looks nice – though according to Judson infested with mosquitos, unfortunately. Anyway it was cute and yummy, all told, though not mind-blowing. Our waiter was super sweet though! The best part of the evening was playing “Fuck, Chuck or Marry” with A & J where you name 3 celebs and decide which verb you would enact on which star (and you have to use all 3, and you have to make the choices really difficult and morally questionable). Try it out! The best round was Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck and Michael Stipe. ewwwww