Wedge Salad, Updated

This is a simple meal. It can be tossed together in less than 15 minutes, and hits all the flavor components one needs…well, ever.
Take a package of bacon and lay it it on a tray.
Bake it at 350 degrees until the bacon is crispy – about 5 minutes. Please note that the bacon MUST be crispy…no limp, fatty pieces will do here.
When the bacon is brown on the edges, but still a light pink in the middle, take it out and put it on a plate between layers of paper towels to soak up any unwanted grease.

While the bacon cools, take a head of iceberg lettuce that is tightly closed and heavy for its size, and whack it on your counter.
Then pull out the core – it should pop right out after you whack it…

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!
What, like I wasn’t going to say that?

Remove the outer, darker leaves, and chop the rest up into shreds.
Toss in some quartered cherry tomatoes (big slices just don’t work here…need the smaller tomatoes)
And a couple of sliced avocados – no brown, fibery ones, please. We just scooped those ugly parts out and didn’t serve them.
And, I mean, you can throw on some finely diced Vidalia onion if the onion is so sweet it is like an apple. Anything more pungent just won’t work here.
Then you chop up the bacon into small but not tiny pieces, and…
Before you toss it on the salad, you might want to eat a piece of extra crispy bacon with some fresh pineapple. The salty, sweet, tart, meaty flavor is pretty freakin awesome.
And top it all with Blue Cheese Dressing.

This is a perfect combination of flavors. Crispy lettuce, salty bacon, sweet tomatoes, smooth avocado and pungent Blue Cheese. The onion adds JUST a hint of bite that makes the tomatoes seem even sweeter. Don’t use spinach here, or pancetta. Don’t use imported San Marzano Tomatoes or avocado foam. Don’t embarrass it by adding a Roquefort Vinaigrette. Just keep it simple.
Did a recipe this simple need its own post? Perhaps not.
But it sure as hell deserved it.

Philly Food Giveaway Winner!

Okay, just in time for the holiday weekend, the big winner is…
MARY!
Mary, please send me your address so I can send you your sweets!
Everyone, thank you so much for entering! There will definitely be more giveaways in the Fritos and Foie Gras future!!
Now, have a fun and relaxing holiday weekend…unless you don’t deserve it…in which case…
Bake some cookies and send them to me!

Pranna and Community Food and Juice: A Tale of Two Restaurants

As much as I hate to admit it, I am occasionally swayed to like or dislike restaurant for reasons other than its food. The service, the decor and most importantly, the PRICE all way in on how much I enjoy a dining experience. Now, this is not to say that I am cheap – no siree, not at all! I can roll with the best of them! But when I feel like my money has been taken without getting a worthy product or experience in return…well, I’m sure you get the picture.
Of course, on the other hand, if I feel like I have paid a price and gotten a wonderful experience, even if the food wasn’t the greatest, I am okay with that too! 2 recent dining excursions are perfect examples of my feelings:

Community Food and Juice is a restaurant that I would have bet MONEY I was going to love. Locally grown and produced food. Seasonal menu. Low prices, considering the menu options AND they served booze?
This place had me written all over it!
There was a hopping bar area and the restaurant itself was spacious, casual and modern..
Sweet Potato Fries. Okay, these were pretty fantastic. Thick cut steak fries, liberally salted and sprinkled with parsley, these perfectly walked the line between sweet and savory. Dipped in the restaurant’s homemade ketchup, they were crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and had that sugary taste that makes sweet potatoes gifts from the heavens. These were delish and totally worth the price.
Green Goddess Salad with Boston and Bibb lettuce, Spinach, Cremini Mushrooms, Cucumbers, Chives, Sourdough Croutons, Creamy Basil-Dill Dressing. This salad sounded RIGHT up my alley. And it was…soooo not up any alley of mine. The vegetables were fresh, but that was about all I could say. The mushrooms were raw, and it was my fault for not asking how they were served. I am just NOT a fan of raw mushrooms, and whereas I had envisioned a pile of umami-licious sauteed mushrooms gently wilting the crisp lettuces, that was not what I got. I got a plate of crudites. With an insipid dressing that tasted only vaguely of dill and not at all of basil. The croutons were great – clearly just toasted and crunchy with a bit of give in the middle.  But the salad as a whole…was bleh.
Which is kind of what I could say for the food I tried here. It was okay, but not great. And all of a sudden,t he prices that seemed so reasonable when read the menu, seemed exorbitantly high. Paired with service that was a bit haphazard, this was just NOT the meal that I wanted it to be.
I felt a little cheated.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Pranna. I went here for a media preview, and from the moment I walked into the swanky nightclub-cum-restaurant I felt a little out of place. The cuisine is South Asian inspired fusion, and there is a $28 brunch menu that includes 3 drinks (Screwdriver, Bellini, Mimosa or Bloody Mary – feel free to mix and match) and an entree before a DJ comes in at 2 pm and the whole place turns into a massive party
I’m, like, REALLY not cool enough to come here.
The spacious lobby and bar area gave way to a light filled room with a streamlined look and whimsical chandeliers.
And the food was just what I hoped it would be: Good. Well scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, fresh greens tossed in a peppery, vinegary dressing. And, oh yeah – the best breakfast potatoes I have had in Manhattan. Creamy and soft potatoes mixed with tender cauliflower, tangy tomatoes, sweet caramelized onions and a hit of pungent curry powder for an unexpectedly delicious side dish. This was so flavorful and surprising that it really made me consider Pranna’s chef in a different light. I did order a kind of boring dish, and he managed to make it interesting and delicious. Score one for him.
Still, the service was quite slow, and the food was not worth $30…but oh wait.
The 3 Drinks.
Champagne served in WINE glasses – easily 3X the pour of any other boozy brunch in town. when I thought that my Bellini was too fruity, the cocktail waitress could not have been more apologetic and poured me a fresh one with only a slight bit of sweet peach puree in a glass that was mostly minerally, fizzy, tipsy-inducing champagne. My glass was never allowed to go empty, and the champagne they used was delicious – definitely not the cheap crapola that I’m sure I would buy if making Bellinis for myself.
Was this the best meal I have ever had? No. The service was slow and I would have liked a bread basket at the start of the meal. But was it worth the money? YES!
And that’s the moral of the story here. One interesting side dish and a few included drinks makes me overlook some less than favorable aspects. A few forgettable dishes and some overpriced veggies make me forget the delicious sweet potato fries and excellent atmosphere.
What sways you about a restaurant other than its food?

Mushroom Risotto for Any Season

Remember all those posts I did about great summer food? And how I love to eat seasonally?
IGNORE THEM.
For today at least.
Because today is an ode to everything that is fatty, carby, creamy and decidedly winter-y. 
Hello, risotto.
Risotto is basically savory rice pudding. It is made with arborio rice, which is a type of Italian rice that releases starches when it is mixed with liquid that makes it amazingly creamy and rich without adding any cream or eggs! It really tastes like you enriched it, but…you didn’t! Well, there might be a LITTLE butter in there…
 But you start with an olive oiled deep stockpot. Use regular here, no use to waste the pricey extra virgin stuff. 
 Spring shallots are in season now. I find them INCREDIBLY sweet and mild – no crying here! They are almost sugary, and add a really nice element to the heartiness of the rest of the risotto. Of course, regular shallots or even a sweet yellow onion would work well here. 
 Chop up 2 of them,
 and toss them in the pot!
Now throw all the contents of your standard sized box/bag of arborio rice in there. It might not seem like a lot, but this thing grows like it’s on steroids…trust me.
If you have a pat of truffle butter in the fridge, might want to add a tablespoon of that, too. Truffle butter is just what it sounds like – sweet butter with flecks of intoxicating, earthy truffle in it. There is no substitute for the flavor of truffles, and truffle flavor is one (mildly) less expensive way to enjoy these fabulous fungi. Of course, regular butter works too.
Now you want to toss the rice around in the pan while the butter melts, making sure that each grain gets coated in fat. This is an important step, and really brings out the savory taste of the rice. Let it cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the rice looks lightly brown in some spots of the grain, and there is a toasty smell.
And here are our other starring ingredients: Enokis, morels, chanterelles and thyme. Use any mushrooms you like, but morels are really as close to whole truffles as us plebeians get. Soft in texture, deep and woodsy in taste, it is umami personified. The chanterelles have a buttier, lighter taste to me, and the enokis are there mostly for texture. The thyme echos the mushrooms woodsy tastes and fresh herbs jsut make anything better.
Now you toss in those ingredients – and by this time, the rice should be toasted, and…
Start pouring in warm chicken stock. The back of the box/bag will tell you how much liquid you need (although I needed a LOT more than it said we would).You have to do this slowly, and stir CONSTANTLY so that the risotto has time to absorb all the liquid and release its creamy starches before you bombard it with more liquid. If you don’t stir it, the risotto will totally burn, and/or cook unevenly. Nothing worse than risotto that is partially overcooked and partially hard and crunchy.
Sadly, I know this from experience. 
So you just want to ladle in the warm stock, ladleful by ladleful,
stirring,
and stirring. 
If you run out of chicken stock because you needed TWICE the amount of liquid that the recipe on the back of the bag said you would, don’t worry…just toss some wine in there. This was a light pinot grigio that I really thought worked well with the heaviness of the dish. 
And over about 30 minutes, the rice will plump and absorb the liquid, 
becoming thick and soft. 
While the risotto is soft but not mushy, you want to turn off the heat, add about a cupful of of grated Parmigiano Regianno (although Pecorino would be AWESOME here too).
And the zest of one lemon. Just zest it right into the pot. This is REALLY a surprise ingredient that you don’t taste alone, but that elevates the entire dish. 
If you have never had risotto, you are in for a treat. Hell, even if you HAVE had it you are in for a treat! Risotto is one of those things that should be served piping hot, and it can’t get much hotter than from being straight from your own stove. The rice is creamy but toothsome, tender but not mushy. The mushrooms are so hearty that they are almost meaty, and the lemon zest adds freshness while the thyme makes the mushrooms even earthier. The truffle butter adds a hearty, heady taste – a little goes a long way – and if you have a little truffle oil to add to the finished product, that pushes it over the TOP in the delicious category. This is creamy, hearty, rich and really just freakin decadent. If you have any leftovers, you can make some super delicious arrancini.
But don’t worry…you won’t have any leftovers.

Seared Scallops and Roe

Summer isn’t just about softshell crabs…oh no. It is also about eating food that is light enough to allow you to consume massive amounts of strawberry shortcake and margaritas.
Some people say those don’t go together, but my blog. My rules. 
Scallops are a perfect summer food. They are light but rich, can be fried, baked, broiled or steamed, taste equally good for brunch and a midnight snack and are the perfect vehicle for butter. 
If you are lucky enough to get scallops with the roe still attached, GET THEM! This pink sack is the flavor jackpot. It has a firm but slightly creamy texture – like a very firm sweetbread. The flavor is even more mild than a scallop, with positively no oceanic note. It is just the slightest bit iron-y, but with no offal taste. Trust me…get the roe. It is the dark meat to the scallop’s white meat: rich and decadent.
Like I like my men.
You do have to separate the roe from the scallop before you cook it, to take out the digestive tract. Just pull the roe away from the white scallop meat, and it should separate easily. Then take off the little black string from the roe, and toss it.
 Voila! Now you just toss a little salt on the scallops (at least, I do),
 and throw them in an oiled pan on medium high heat. Then, DON’T TOUCH THEM! You want to let the scallops and roe cook almost all the way through before you flip them. You can see if they are ready to flip by the way that the scallop’s color turns from translucent to opaque, from the bottom of the scallop up to the top. You want it to be almost totally opaque, all the way up to the top, before you flip it. Also, if you try to flip it and it sticks, it isn’t ready to go yet. 
The scallops should be lightly golden with a few brown bits when you flip them, and the roe should be opaque and a bit firm. The glory of waiting to flip them is that the other side needs to cook for only a few seconds – just enough to warm and crisp the top, really. Then, you…
 Squeeze a few drops of lemon over the pan…
and devour these suckers. Serve them over pasta, with a Caesar salad, or-my FAVORITE way-on a sourdough roll with a healthy dollop of tartar sauce. Sweet, mild, buttery with just a HINT of seafood flavor, scallops are some of the ocean has to offer. The roe adds a minerally depth and tastes AMAZING when mashed up and added to the tartar sauce – really adds that meaty hit of umami. 
And, because these are light, you will definitely have room for that strawberry shortcake.
And yes, even if you eat it with the mayo, it is light. 
My blog, my rules.

NYOysterLovers Meetup at DBGB

Sorry, previous best friends. 
You all are OUT. Because I am now BFFs with the people in NYOysterLovers. It is a Meetup group that is solely comprised of people who love these briny bivalves. I love oysters, but don’t know a damn thing about them. Or, I didn’t till I came to an awesome meal put together by the organizers of the group.
 Chef Jim Leiken of DBGB put together a 4 course oyster-stravaganza, featuring different types of oysters, all cooked, which was another different prep for me. Sure, I have had fried oysters and oyster stew, but usually I eat them raw. This was new and thrilling and…well, let’s just get into it, shall we?
 Shigoku Oysters in a Lemongrass Veloute and Hackleback Caviar. These west coast oysters were small, and by far the most similar tasting course to the raw oysters I usually enjoy. Clean, briny, a bit acidic and the perfect counterpoint to the salty caviar, herbal and creamy veloute and creamy, sweet leeks. The lemongrass was an amazing counterpart to the oysters, giving them an earthy backdrop. The oysters were airy and small, perfect for beginners. Chef Leiken told us this was straight off the menu from his days at http://www.danielnyc.com/Daniel, and his classical French technique with Asian sensibility positively shone here. 
Wild Maine Belon Oyster with Black Bean Sauce and Ramps. There are only 5,000 a year of these French oysters harvested in Maine – that’s right – only 5,000. That is how rare they are, and, honestly, how delicious. The only way to desire this would be minerally. It is SO clean yet solid, a bit denser than other oysters and has that rich, iron-y taste that only liver usually has. This is an oyster for oyster or offal lovers – it is assertive and incredibly delicious. Served with salty black bean sauce and pungent ramps, I really couldn’t have imagined a more delicious bite of seafood. At once familiar yet incredibly new and foreign, it was a slap in the face to any other oyster, and the star of the night.
Nini-Moto Oyster and Sweetbread Vol-Au-Vent with Crayfish, Chicken Oysters, Mousseron Spring Peas and Sauce Americaine. This, while incredibly rich and perhaps to the liking of someone who did not love oysters, was my least favorite dish of the night. I thought that the taste of the oyster was unpleasantly muddy tasting and overtaken by the buttery crawfish and creamy sweetbreads. The peas were delicious, as was the sauce – in fact, it was all delicious – but was more about the cooking technique than the actual taste of the oyster.  The puff pastry was a little soggy and tough on the bottom, but, them – isn’t puff pastry always that way? This was not the biggest winner for me, although the sweetbreads were totally amazing tasting – meaty yet light, and without a trace of the off-taste that offal can tend to have.
Whole Roasted Peking Duck with Pacific Oyster and Sourdough Stuffing and Local Asparagus. 
This BLEW MY MIND! The oysters here were denser, meatier, and almost fattier tasting than the other oysters. They seemed more buttery and substantial than their East cast counterparts, or even other West coast oysters. Pairing them with the slightly duck was perfect and made them seem meatier while bringing out the duck’s more salty, oceanic notes. The breast of the duck was a perfect, juicy medium and the confited leg was sticky-sweet and rich. The stuffing itself was perfectly moist, like slightly stale bread that one dips in the drippings of a pan of chicken fond. The asparagus was an incredibly fresh note, a burst of spring on a rather heavy plate – can’t beat local asparagus. 
In fact, you really can’t beat the NYOysterLovers Meetup! Julie, who runs the group, was sweet and passionate, and everyone there was an avid oyster lover who shared their knowledge and favorite oyster restaurants in the city. Chef Leiken was incredibly kind and knowledgeable as he came to the table to explain every course, and the service was nothing short of exceptional. I would come back to DBGB anytime to experience the normal menu – because, let’s face it, this meal was anything but normal!

Quick and Easy Soft Shell Crabs

It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year. The weather is becoming warmer, the flowers are in full bloom and it is the right time for some of my favorite seafood in the world…
Soft-shell crabs. Though you can get these year round at restaurants, their season is REALLY late spring. This is when they are fresh, incredibly sweet and mild flavored. You want to get them from a reputable fishmonger or grocery store. There should be absolutely no smell, and if they are live when you buy them, that is even better. Ask to get them packed on ice, if possible, and ask them to be cleaned before you take them home. That way, all you have to do is cook and eat them!!

The flavor is like lump crab, but there is this irresistible crispy texture when they are sauteed. You just eat the entire thing, and it is so crunchy, creamy, fresh, meaty…if you like crab or lobster, you will LOVE softshell crab! It is one of the easiest seafoods to enjoy, thanks to its mild flavor and fantastic texture. I could eat about 4 of these at one time…

But wait, I am getting ahead of myself. 
First, lets prepare the accoutrements:
All you need is fennel, a sweet onion and a head of red cabbage. Or you could use green cabbage if you have that in the house. You could sub in celery root for fennel. Use a shallot instead of an onion if you want. As always, here at Fritos and Foie Gras, this is a jumping off point, not a steadfast rule.
 Using just the bulb of the fennel, cut it in half so you have a flat side, 
 then chop it into matchsticks. Save the fronds if you want, and throw the licoricy strands into salads or to cook with fish or chicken. 
 Now you peel off the waxy, outer layers of the cabbage – you don’t want those pathetic wilted things. 
THIS is what your cabbage should look like. Cut in half, then into thin shreds, 
dice that onion, 
 And toss all the veggies in a big bowl. 
 Here is a VERY important part. The herbs. Herbs MAKE this slaw – without it, you might as well throw some decaying slivers of iceberg lettuce in some Miracle Whip and call it a day. The herbs make this slaw bright, layered with flavor and make it taste WAY harder to make than it actually is. And, isn’t that what it’s all about? Convincing our friends and family that we are better than them and they could never do this?
Chives, dill and tarragon. Chervil would be great here too. Mince a good 2 tablespoons of each and toss them in the salad bowl. 
Now onto the dressing:
 Roll a lemon on the counter, putting a LOT of pressure on it. This really gets the juices flowing.
THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!
Sorry, REALLY tried to resist that one, but I just couldn’t
Wait…it’s my blog…I’m not sorry at all. I crack myself up!
 Squeeze the juice of the whole lemon into a small bowl.
 Now add a 1.5 cups of mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar and 1/3 of a jar of capers(without the brine).
Add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard(or whatever mustard you like).
 And a couple of teaspoons of sugar (to round things out – lots of acid in there).
 Now, you pour the dressing on the veggies, mix it up and let it sit while you cook the softshells.  The flavors will really marry and change over then next hour or so. Be sure that if you are not eating immediately, you put it in the fridge.
 Of course, you should take a little taste now. Chef’s treat, dontcha know.
Now for the CRABS!!!
First, heat up about 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium high/high. You want that pan HOT so that the crabs cook quickly and don’t absorb excess oil while they cook, making them greasy and sodden.
 Now you want enough flour in which you can dredge the crabs and a seafood seasoning/house seasoning/seasoned salt with which to flavor the flour. Feel free to make your own with salt, pepper, paprika, celery salt and/or anything else you like. Not too much here- you want a light flavor that accents the taste of the crab, not that covers it. 
 Now, just toss the crabs in the flour mixture, 
 shake off the excess, 
 and plop those babies in the oil! Be sure to be careful when you put them in the oil, because there may be some splattering. These crabs cook rather quickly – you don’t need to cook them for more than about 4 minutes per side. You know to flip them when the legs turn orange and they feel hard on the side on which they were cooked.
 Excuse me, that was me drooling on my keyboard.
 Drain them on a paper towel – they gain a lovely, orangey color after they come out of the pan. 
 Then, you just make yourself a plat of the coleslaw, plop a crab on top, maybe squeeze a touch of lemon on the crab and…
Enjoy a hell of a meal. Crispy, salty, slightly spicy crust gives way to unbelievably mild, tender crabmeat. The legs are crispy, the body is buttery, and the overall taste is fresh and incredibly satisfying. The slaw cuts right through the rich meat and fried exterior, with the fennel and tarragon adding a hint of sweetness, the chives and onion adding some bracing freshness and the mayonnaise dressing is the creamy element that really pulls everything together. With a slice of sourdough bread, this just yells “SUMMER IS COMING.”
And with a meal like this, you know why it is the most wonderful time of the year. 

ABC Kitchen – An Earth Shaking Meal

I have been around for some pretty earth-shaking experiences. The internet boom. The first cloned animal. The phenomenon that was Beverly Hills 90210.  And I am lucky to say that I dined at ABC Kitchen the night that it won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant. It was an incredible coincidence that I dined there that night, and one for which I am so grateful. The exuberance of the staff, the joy that resonated around the dining room, the applause that kept bursting forth from different tables…
Of course, the night didn’t start like that. It started like any old night out. 
 ABC Kitchen is Jean-Georges‘ ode to the locavore movement. Everything here is local, seasonal and/or organic, and the restaurant has been getting rave reviews since it opened in 2010. The space is deceptively large, and opens up from a bustling bar area in the front…
To a large, romantic, casual dining space. The decor is straight out of an Anthropologie catalogue – light wood, mix-and-match floral plates and low lighting. Romantic enough for her, not too girly for him…this is a great date spot. 
And this gorgeous display of vegetables is what I want for my wedding. Flowers be damned, how about a centerpiece you can eat? On that note, I might just do Krispy Kremes as my centerpieces for my wedding…
ANYWAY…
We started with the Warm Mozzarella with salt, pepper and olive oil. 
This was a standout for me. I have had mozzarella before – delicious mozz – but never so fresh that it was still warm. This added a whole new dimension to the cheese for me. It had the mild, creamy taste of  room temperature buffalo mozzarella with the stretchy, melty texture of mozzarella on a pizza – it was totally out of this world! The vegetal olive oil, spicy pepper and touch of salt brought out the sweeter notes of the mozzarella. Spreading this cheese over the charred bread was one of the greatest things to happen to my week. 
 Sugarsnap Pea Salad with Parmesan Dressing and Herbs. I was thinking it would be a slightly limp, sorta sweet plate of vegetables with a Creamy Caesar dressing. I was wrong…how does this happen to me so much? This salad was unexpected on every level. Crunchy, slightly bitter endive matched perfectly with the peas that were-true to their name-sugary sweet. Licorice-y chervil added another layer of the flavor with the light vinaigrette that was surprisingly pungent. Not salty, but with a punchy and almost meaty flavor. It added depth and rounded out this light and vibrant salad. I could have eaten the whole thing. But then I might not have had room for…
The Crab Toast with Lemon Aioli. What can I say about it other than…it was just what you want it to be. The world’s best crab salad on tangy sourdough bread with great hole structure and a sturdy (but not overly hard) crust. Crab that walked the line between sweet and briny, that was light but meaty, tasting of the ocean but not fishy. The herbs grounded the crab and added an earthy dimension to the toast. The aioli was creamy, luxuriously fatty but not greasy and the spritz of lemon on the side gave a bright and zingy note. This was just perfection. 
 Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Shitakes and Goat Cheese. Clearly, I did not order this. Quinoa doesn’t really tend to do it for me. Until now. This quinoa didn’t have the hard texture of raspberry seed or the taste of hay. It was soft, like couscous, and infused with a tart dressing that tasted of citrus and olives. The shitakes were tender but still toothsome, and complimented the irony taste of the spinach, slightly wilted under the gentle heat of the shrooms. The goat cheese was grassy, creamy and tasted even richer than usual next to the sparseness of the quinoa and the spinach. This salad really impressed – I even had seconds.
Scallop Crudo with Apples and Black Pepper. Surprisingly delicious! I say surprisingly because raw scallops are so delicate that I tend to like them with very little adornment, so I can enjoy the natural sweetness of the scallop. But the tart apples and mild heat of the black pepper really brought out the saltier, more oceanic notes of the scallop. It was perfectly sweet, meaty, tart and spicy. 
 Fresh Ricotta, Prosciutto and Date Whole Wheat Pizza. My favorite dish of the night. The toppings were so cohesive – milky ricotta, sweet and soft dates, salty, fatty prosciutto and cruncy, slightly bitter radicchio. It just hit all the spots on the tongue.
That’s what she said. 
 The crust was also excellent, with some nice char on the bottom. More a pillowy flatbread than a thin crust pizza, this was a shockingly good pizza for a non-pizzeria restaurant. I would ABSOLUTELY order another pizza here…or maybe just get this one again. It was that delish. 
 Asparagus wrapped in fontina and prosciutto. Fresh, melty, fatty, salty. If you don’t like any of those adjectives, please leave this blog immediately. We have no more to say to each other. This was a simple dish prepared perfectly. 
 Cavatelli with Pecorino, Guanciale, Ramps  and Spring Vegetables. This homemade pasta was chewy yet light, with a buttery sauce that was smokey front the guanciale and slightly pungent from the Pecorino. The vegetables included peas that were as sweet and earthy as could be. This was the only dish of the night that was perhaps a bit too salty – the combination of the guanciale and the Pecorino was too overpowering for the delicate vegetables, totally obscuring the taste of the ramps. But that misstep was quickly forgiven in light of the next dish…
 Suckling Pig with Apples, Pommes Puree and simply grilled ramps. Now THIS is how ramps should taste! Mild onion flavor crossed with caramelized sugars and delightfully charred ends. Like a chive mixed with roasted garlic – sweet, a little biting and a little smoky. Paired with suckling pig, it cut right through the fatty, tender meat and the crisp, crackling skin with its sweet smear of apples. The pommes puree had to have been mostly butter with a few potatoes thrown in, and was oddly light next to the earthy meat of the suckling pig. Pork is awesome. Ramps are awesome. Butter is AWESOME. This dish…awesome.
 This was that incredible moment when people realized that the restaurant had won the award. This picture cannot capture the unbridled thrill and palpable energy that rippled throughout the restaurant as the staff crowded around the computer screen to read about the award they had just collectively won. It was just this pure moment of “we did it!” that was infectious and made me so happy to be here. Everyone there really felt ownership in the restaurant. They all believed in the food, in the mission, in Jean-Georges himself. And, oh yeah, Jean-Georges himself walked in a little later. I almost peed my pants, but don’t worry, guys…I held it together.
We got a few delicious desserts, but the BEST one by FAR was the Sundae with Salted Caramel Ice Cream,  Candied Peanuts and Popcorn, Whipped Cream and Hot Fudge. This was…a freakin amazing dessert. The ice cream was as rich as gelato, but with that dense richness of ice cream. It tasted more of toffee than caramel – sweet and buttery, with just a HINT of salt at the end of the taste, making it taste even sweeter. The chocolate sauce added a bitter edge, and the peanuts were a crunchy, buttery-sweet delight. The popcorn was a surprising textural componant and the whipped cream was…well, whipped cream is just heaven. It always is, isn’t it?
 At this point, Sous-Chef Ross Mendoza came out (he knew a member of our party), and hearing him talk about winning the award, about fine tuning recipes for the restaurant, about the food itself was really inspiring and endearing. He clearly cares about cooking and giving diners a wonderful experience, and that is what this whole restaurant aims to do. And does. I can’t say that the mood will ever be as ebullient and joyful as it was the night that I was there, but if the prices were as reasonable (most entrees were around $25), the service as efficient and helpful and the food as UNBELIEVABLY delicious, then you will be in for a special dining experience.
And a meal as great as this is definitely earth-shaking.
ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Philadelphia Food Giveaway and Music Video!

Alright, enough with the niceties, people! Let’s just jump right into this post: 
The Philadelphia Tourism Council sent me this AWESOME package of locally made and grown foods to try! I mean, a package of Tastykakes this ain’t. These are foods and products from artisans who use organic, natural and/or local ingredients to make food the way that it should taste: simple and showcasing the perfection of its raw ingredients. 
 The pasta from Severino and Stepped in What tomato sauce, which is made with sustainable farming practices. 
 The rigatoni were exemplary – once again reminding me how you get what you pay for. This was nothing like the limp, overly doughy pasta I often buy for $1 on clearance. This was hearty but not doughy, tender but not gluey, and actually TASTED like something. It was really pretty great on its own, even before the sauce.
 Which was not like a standard tomato sauce. Far sweeter and purely tomato tasting than regular sauce, I personally missed the zip of oregano and spice of red pepper flakes. For me, it was just too sweet, bordering on ketchup-y. But my mother, who has a much bigger sweet tooth than I, LOVED this and inhaled it!
 This Maidenhead Cheese, from Cherry Grove farm was much more up my alley. Nutty and slightly creamy, like Gouda, it also had the tang of cheddar. Really perfect paired with pears and honey mustard on a sandwich or served with candied apricots and cherries for dessert.
Or just eaten plain…Whatevs. 
The best part of this package was that it is the subject of my first Fritos and Foie Gras Giveaway! Just leave a comment below and you could be the lucky recipient of:
1 jar Tait Farm Blackberry Jam AND
1 bar John &Kira’s Mighty Mint Urban Garden Chocolate Bar
I hope you all appreciate that I did NOT eat that chocolate bar even though I LOVE mint and chocolate. What can I say, I’m a giver.
So, leave a comment! The winner will be announced next week!
Also…here is my personal thanks to the Philadelphia Tourism Board, via a little someone I like to call Miss Katy Perry:

Hundred Acres – Can I even Eat One More Ramp?

Seasonality is huge. I mean, I am into it. I dig it. Eat local, eat seasonal and it tastes the best. 
BUT…
When EVERY RESTAURANT in New York is cooking with ramps, ricotta and peas, there are bound to be comparisons. Can a restaurant that is merely very good hold up next to one that is excellent, when they are cooking similar dishes at similar price points?
 Hundred Acres is run by the same people who run Cookshop, one of my all time faves
 The large dining space was comfortable and romantic with candlelight, a large bar area and windows looking out on the West Village.
 I ordered the Sparkling Acres cocktail, made with prosecco, aperol and citrus. This is perfect for someone who doesn’t love sugary drinks – and I don’t. Minerally from the prosecco, a bit bitter from the aperol and tangy from the citrus, this was a truly perfect cocktail. It set the tone for a light and fresh menu. Enough alcohol to get buzzed, not so much that I took my top off.
That’s what she said.
 The bread basket was kind of meh. I found the white bread rather plain and cottony and the cornbread dense and too sweet. But then, I am not a huge cornbread fan – my tablemates loved it. 
 Black kale, Breadcrumbs, Anchovy-Lemon Dressing, Pecorino. Now here is where it gets good. Large – though not whole – pieces of kale were tossed in a pungent, sharp, tangy dressing. Not fishy or bitter at all, the dressing was the definition of umami – light but almost meaty tasting, and incredibly rich next to the kale. The kale was much more tender than what I am used to, and wilted slightly in the acidic dressing. The pecorino, which I usually find sharp, tasted incredibly creamy with the roughage and the sharp dressing. It was really an awesome salad, and one that I would recommend to anyone who likes Caesars.
And if you don’t like Caesars…what is WRONG with you?
 Vermont Burrata, Spring Peas, Meyer Lemon, Mint, Fresh Horseradish, Bird’s Food Crackers. This was very good, but not what I would call amazing. There was a lot of sweetness here – sweet burratta, sweet peas, sweet lemon (it was a bit candied, and Meyer lemon is incredibly sweet to begin with), and the horseradish was nowhere to be found. The buratta was creamy and fresh, but the whole dish was a bit one note.
Ramps, Asiago and Greens Flatbread. This was a very crisp cracker – definitely not like a pizza. It was actually a great cracker-floury, crispy and with charred edges. The toppings themselves lacked a bit. The ramps were sweet, but I like them a little less cooked. I think that cooking them until they are limp, although it adds to their sweetness, takes away from that oniony-bite that makes ramps what they are. The asiago cheese added a nice hit of sharpness, but this was a bit lackluster.
Semolina Macaroni with Ricotta, Pepper and Fava beans. Now, I thought this was fantastic. The pasta was smooth but incredibly hearty and with an outstanding corny taste. Just that hearty, slightly sweet taste of corn, that is so unexpected in pasta. The ricotta was fresh and creamy, melting luxuriously the moment it toughed your mouth. It just tasted rich and indulgent, with the fava beans adding freshness and the fresh cracked pepper adding textural contrast and a bit of fiery taste. 
Spring Stew of Tilefish, Mussels, Clams, Shrimp, South Carolina Gold Rice, Spinach, Fennel-Tomato Broth, Orange Aioli. This was just a really great seafood stew – nothing more, nothing less. The fish was moist and delicate tasting, the mussels were soft, the clams were briny and the shrimp were firm yet sweet with their oceanic taste. The rice was plump from absorbing the light, fennel infused tomatoey broth, and the aioli was creamy and just a bit tart from the orange. The greens added an earthy background to the briny, fresh soup, adding another layer of flavor. This was really a great dish – not too salty, too heavy or too light. The only thing was…well, I could make it at home.
The bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream – now this I could NOT make at home. This was like a slice of Starbucks pound cake on steroids -and that is a compliment of the HIGHEST degree! It was moist, dense and tightly crumbed, with butter and sugar flavor seeping though every bite like a modified monkey bread. The salted caramel ice cream added not only salt, but a burnt edge to the caramel that made the cake taste even sweeter. Because that is really what it was…not a dry pudding, but a moist cake. Awesome. Get this.
So, what was my opinion of this meal? Nice atmosphere, great service, but the food was…good. Not great. Not outstanding. The dessert was great but the meal as a whole was not. It was very good, don’t et me wrong, but for the price point it was not up to Cookshop’s or Union Square Cafe’s standards. And, when the restaurants are all using the same ingredients and claiming to be the same type of retaurant, it should be. That said, I would TOTALLY stop int here for a drink and a snack. A whole meal – perhaps not. But sometimes all you want is a drink and a slice of bread pudding.
Because, after all, how many ramps can one gal eat?
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