Sunday, August 24, 2008

Eata Vita

Last week I visited Dolce Vita in Manhattan’s Little Italy. It's not often you get a new restaurant opening in that area. This place has gotten a bit of press lately because of their neighbors aren't playing very nice and trying to force out the new kid on the block. So much for Italian hospitality.

Little Italy isn’t my first choice for Italian food. Getting solicited by a hostesses begging me to come in is normally not the way I like to start my meal. Most of the restaurants are usually no better than the Olive Garden, vegetables and pasta are overcooked and nothing is typically fresh. On top of that it's the same boring food, I don't even need to see a menu to know that I can get some fill-in the-blank parmigiana.

But I put all that aside because I thought I’d support my Italian brethren by checking out what they had to offer, plus my dad missed my birthday and promised to pay.

The setting is small but comfortable. Simple table settings with not a lot of frills made it feel very contemporary. The John Legend album playing was better than some Italian opera but not much better. Lacking a liquor license is hurting this place but they’ve made up the difference by offering to go out and buy wine or beer for us.

After reading Preston’s post about mussels I had a hankering for seafood. For an appetizer we split orders of sage fried calamari with a balsamic and orange juice reduction and mussels sautéed in a white wine butter sauce and served with toast points.

All the fish was quite fresh and cooked well. The mussels could have been a bit larger in size, especially for this time of summer but they packed a nice taste.
Calamari was fried well but the reduction on top was too understated and didn’t stand out well.

Both dishes seemed like they sat for a bit and judging that we were the only ones in the place I’m wondering what the chef was doing back there that we couldn’t get a hot plate of mussels.

The place bragged about having homemade pasta using organic ingredients so of course we had to taste some. My dad went right for the homemade pasta ala puttanesca, he’s such the classic. Besides the usual olives, capers, and sauce they spin-it up and add mussels, clams, and shrimp to the dish. I always chuckle when I see this dish on a menu because the name literally translates to "pasta the way a whore would make it", generally it's believed that in Roman times, prostitutes would serve this dish to entice customers, plus it was easy to prepare.

I tried the homemade ravioli. Two large sheets barely contained filling. Cooked nearly to al dente but might have needed another few minutes in the water. Definitely not enough filling to get a satisfying taste of much of anything.

One very redeeming quality of this place was the dessert. They only had one to offer and that a tirimissu. I figured if that's all they were offering it had better be good. Oh my it was! it was made from scratch by the owner's wife when we ordered it.
Very light, creamy and not too much liquor. It's by far some of the best I've ever had.

In the end, I probably won't go back to this place. Just wasn't all that psyched in the end about my meal. But I grabbed a delivery menu just in case anyone at work wants a try!

Summer Salad Simplicity

I was fortunate enough to score a fresh tomato from my dad's garden. This thing was as big as a baby's head. It needed a day or two on the windowsill to redden but it was worth the wait. My dad was thoughtful enough to also include some of his greek basil and a large chunk of dried cornbread that he baked.

This is definitely some of my summer comfort food. I'll usually eat some variation of this dish a few times a week. It makes for a great side to a steak or alone with a large hunk of bread!

Kept this one real simple. Sliced the tomato and rough chopped the basil. Couple of pinches of kosher salt and a light coating of extra virgin olive oil. Crumbled up the cornbread after it soaked briefly in some water. Had some good calamata olives leftover and in those went as well.

The biggest trick to this dish is to let it sit for 15-20 minutes and let the salt start to break down the tomato juices which will get absorbed into the cornbread.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Harlem Invader

Ok, ok, I know I don't live in Brooklyn but after meeting me you'd swear I invented the place. I grew up in south Brooklyn where I wear the shiny badge of knowing how to appreciate what it means to visit a butcher or haggle at a fruit market. I know good Italian food when I see it, and cooking the traditional classics is always my go-to. I can proudly say my education comes from tugging at my Nonna's apron and usually getting the splatter of hot sauce on my face.

Now I hold court in Harlem, where I've been for around two years. This is a place whose culinary cuisine has at times been stereotyped but after a little searching and digging there are some real gems in the community.
So now I got to get to shopping so I can share some of my uptown flavor mixed with a bit of old school charm.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Squid and the Kid

“Dad, can we get some calamari? And can you make the way you do with the stuffing?” Are the wonderful words that fell out of my son’s mouth while we were at our small, local Carroll Gardens farmers market. I mean, how good is that?

“You want some mussels too?”


It is with great pleasure I am able to feed my son. From an early age he has been rather adventurous with food. Loves fried oysters. Although it was quite a hoot watching him try a raw one, that didn’t go over so well. Everyone sitting at the Oyster Bar counter seats in Grand Central got quite a kick out if too. Sushi, he’s more than good with it, and will badger us for days to get some. As long as it is not a green leaf or peanut butter and jelly, we can usually get him to try it. And the kid is picky. He knows what is good and won’t take anything less.

Of course, this does bite us in the ass. He has refused to eat pasta at his friend’s house, his friend’s mother being a very good cook, but she just happened to overcook it. Even after the fatherly talk about why you politely eat something at someone else’s house without an attitude. He just refused to eat the overcooked pasta. The mom ended up making him a breaded chicken cutlet that he deemed superb. He will only consume the mozzarella from Caputo’s on Court St. Granted it is the best in the neighborhood. Olives have to come from there too. When I cook something that is not quite up to par, he has no qualms telling so. And why…

So I made him the stuffed calamari. Just a simple bread crumb, oil, garlic and parsley stuffing. Broil it for 10 minutes, turning to brown on each side. Although my broiler sucks and I’ll pan fry it next time. We got an extra big bag of the mussels from the fish guy, something about the captain of the boat not having it together that morning after a late night at a wedding and “did I just want the rest of them?” I steamed them in water, sherry, garlic, green scallion tops and butter. Steamed a few ears of that nice bi-color corn I got on my trip to the Union Square market.

The kid was happy dunking the mussels in the pot liquor and butter. He inhaled two of the stuffed calamari and his mom made him eat a half an ear of corn so after he only took a few bites and said he was full. Moms do that.

I always ask him how the meal was. “Pretty good dad.” I guess I’ll settle for that and try better next time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Had some real nice ol' bacon. Getting time I had to use after defrosting. Thick cut. If you know where to look in the Fairway in Brooklyn, it is really extremely cheap. Like $3.00 a pound. It's left over from the whole smoked, cured, pork belly they sell. It's back in the packaged meat section, near the expensive bacon, far right hand side. It's not bad, (although after having some from a butcher in Allentown, PA, from the farmer's market at the fairgrounds, it don't reeeeealy compare. Hard to beat the PA Dutch for good smoked, cured meat.) Real thick, almost like a slab of real meat compared to the thin crap one usually has to cook with.
My Boy wanted eggs, a frittata to be exact. I'm blessed with a kid who likes food. Bacon, scallions. nice fresh eggs from my local farmer Market in Carroll Gardens. I added some Heirloom Tomatoes to mine, he is not real keen on cooked tomatoes unless it's sauce. Yeah, yeah how many times can we mention those damn tomatoes on this blog. Well hell, it's August, they're here and mostly rather great! A nice breakfast with my little man while the wife away. Big chunks bacon, didn't cook the scallion, just chucked in with the egg. The heat on the Toms on mine just really rounded it out, got to work on that kid. The whole meal just searching to for that perfect bite, with all of it coming together. Can't have it every-time I guess. But once you find it......

So this was a strange combo lunch of soppresatta, Sweet Emotion cheese, heirloom tomatoes, basil, sweet corn and scallops.

It was all from the Union Square market except the soppresatta from Emily's on Graham and cheese from Saxelby's in Essex st. Market. Ann there kicks ass. Oh, and new fave cheese, Trefoil. follow the link for Saxelby's writeup of it... personally if it were reasonable i would roll around in it for a day.

So the lunch was a total throw together, but since I was eating alone I went for it all on one plate. Everythign worked well with eachother so no flavor issues, just a bit crowded. but next time i'd def do it for dinner, and split it into a couple courses...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Well, well well…nothing like a rather overwhelming trip to the Union Square Farmer’s Market to start a day. Defiantly need to be caffeinated next time. As you can imagine it is ALL in season and the booths are more than chock full delectables. All that fruit and veggies, it’s all there. I bought apricots because they looked and smelled so damn good. I don’t think I’ve ever bought apricots that weren’t part of a spreadable in a jar. My partner in crime on this blog, Cliff, and I got to float on through looking, touching and smelling. (Which Cliff usually reserves for the lady folk, but he of was making an exception on this morning.) Our mission was Tomatoes, heirloom Tomatoes. We scoped out them all, found a great price, $3.50 a pound, and did our damage. A baguette later purchased and we had lunch. Good bread, the toms and a little salt. Done, done, done…

We were good, didn’t go crazy. Didn’t over buy what we couldn’t reasonably use. My family sponged a neighbors CSA box when they told us we should take their share, because they were away. I had plenty at home already, just needed to round it all out. Some real, real nice small skinny little eggplants to go with the white eggplants I had at home. A nice big bunch of insanely nice parsley, scallions with looooong greens attached. Some this and that and just a little bit of the other thing.

Last night I got to make a real nice sauce with corn, the eggplants, squash and some real ripe plum tomatoes. I pulled out my magic pot, (a 7 ¼ quart Le Creuset dutch oven I had to beg my mother to get me for Christmas, and what remains the most expensive thing that I get to cook with,) and browned the corn just a bit with a little crushed garlic, added the squash, a little wine to steam it in a bit, the eggplant and let that cook down a few minutes. I made a little hot spot and chucked in some minced garlic and shallots and let it move over to translucent before mixing in and then adding the five seeded, peeled tomatoes. Put the pasta in the water, when that was done within an inch of its life, that hit the magic pot with a little pasta water.

Just fresh, fresh. My kid wasn’t too enthralled, not a big eggplant fan. He “doesn’t like the texture.” Damn NYC kid. But the wife liked it. And that is enough for me…

Number One

Hey, hey Cliff. What do ya think this here blog should be?  I got the first post btw!! What do you think, should it be a eat'in, cook'in, drink'in and maybe a little restaurant'in sort of extravaganza?
Ok first real food type post coming in a bit...