Junoon – Home to the Hottest and Possibly Best Chef in NYC

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: 
I LOVE Indian food
The flavor combinations are so complex, the ingredients so foreign and the culture behind the food is fascinating to me. 
 Junoon has been highly acclaimed for its haute Indian cuisine, helmed by  Vikas Khanna, who Eater deemed the hottest chef in NYC,
Hot, shcmot…give me some great aloo gobi, then we can talk. 
 The restaurant is a mix of dark modern elegance and opulent Indian touches. The bar is more about gilded decorations and the dining room is more about muted colors where we could focus on the food. 
 As we got our drinks, we mainly focused on these gougeres – a decidedly elegant and unlikely touch for a South Asian restaurant. Puffy, crispy but not hard shells surrounded a creamy, doughy interior that tasted like Gruyere air. It was that light and rich at the same time. An excellent example of a gougere. 
Sparkling Saffron – Champagne Infused with Saffron. 
This may be my favorite champagne cocktail I have ever had. The champagne was sort of yeasty and toasty, and the saffron gave it an earthy yet heady fragrance that enveloped my nose and throat. Not unlike truffles, saffron is a powerful and deep flavor, where only a little makes a huge change in a dish. Here, it brought out the savory, wheaty notes of the champagne. 
Tandoori Broccoli.
The best broccoli I have had since Amaya, hands down. Less charred than its British counterpart, with tender but not soft stalks, it was cloaked in a ginger-y tomato and onion sauce, and served with a bracingly fresh cilantro sauce on the side. It was fresh but filling – something that can hardly be said for most vegetables. 
 Piri-Piri Shrimp with Avocado, Jicama and Myer Lemon Vinaigrette.
These plump, moist shrimp were coated in a fiery, tart, sweet sauce that was so addictive, I would bet my life there was crack cocaine in there. The flavors were well balanced – burning first at the front of my lips, then a bit sweet on the tongue, then a clear high note that had to be vinegar…I won’t pretend to know how this was made. I will just tell you that if you have any inclination towards powerful, high octane food, this is a must get. Here, even buttery avocado was an afterthought. The shrimp were so outstanding, I just wanted to eat them and them alone. 
 Star Anise Sea Scallop with Cracked White Peppercorn, Cinnamon and Roasted Yellow Pepper Chutney. The scallop had a crust that I had not seen before on fish. It was a spice crust, like one you might see on a steak. A more clumsy chef might have overseasoned the buttery shellfish, but Khanna was careful to grind the spices finely so they did not assault the tastebuds. The peppercorn, star anise and cinnamon created a biting-sweet-spicy effect that was cohesive with the scallops’ rich flavor and the tropical sweetness of the chutney. 
 Mint Paratha.
Though we usually order naan, our enthusiastic and congenial server convinced us to order this paratha instead. Fluffier and lighter than naan, it was almost like an Indian puff pastry, with layer upon layer of flaky, buttery dough that was spackled with shards of fresh, herbaceous mint. It was warm, delicate and a total departure from wheaty, hearty naan.
Starting from upper left hand corner: Lobster Tandoori, Dahe Wale Lamb Chops, Paneer Akbari, Murg Makhani Kebab.
Lobster Tandoori-Huge and succulent chunks of lobster bathed in a tangy, pungent sauce that was similar to tikka masala in its richness and its mildness. It was spicy with cumin and sweet with fennel, but there was no heat to speak of. Just the spices and tartness from lemon. 
Dahe Wale Lamb Chops-Cooked in the tandoor, like the lobster, this had an entirely different texture. Still juicy, but with a charred crust that bordered on bitter, contrasting pleasantly with the sweet grassiness of the lamb. At it’s best, lamb is has a lightly gamy, grassy taste, and that’s just what this lamb had. The yogurt marinade made the lamb soft, while cooking it on the bone retained that full on meaty flavor. Ginger, cardamom and other spices contributed to the rub that did not take away from the lamb, but rather made it taste lamb-ier
Paneer Akbari – This homemade cheese was similar to Greek halloumi cheese – firm and extremely mild, ready to take on other flavors. This fully absorbed the flavors of the sauce – the aromatic, warming garam masala, the fatty, meaty cashews, the smooth cream rounding out the sauce’s edges…it was my favorite dish of the night. Rich, spicy, creamy, hearty…it was almost good enough to make me become a vegetarian!
Murg Makhanphal Kebab-Extremely moist, with that fragrant garam masala, fresh cilantro and spicy hit of ginger. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter. It just hit all the points on my tongue.
Don’t miss the raita. Smooth, cool, creamy with the fragrance of rose and the fruitiness of pomegranate seeds, it takes the intense fire out of the dishes and adds a mild component to an otherwise aggressively flavored meal.
At this point, our awesome server (who was both knowledgeable and friendly) brought out Chef Khanna
We also had the pleasure of meeting pastry chef Angie Lee, who was sunshine to Khanna’s moon. Bubbly and direct, she shared how thrilled she was about opening up people’s minds about Indian desserts. She noted that her desserts were Indian inspired, versus strictly Indian, and was so enthusiastic that she absolutely made us order dessert – the best I have had in NYC.
 Passion Fruit Bombe with Katafai Nest and Coriander-Basil Seeds.
It was a bombe only in the explosion of flavor it delivered, because this sort of semifreddo was incredibly rich but so light it almost floated away. There was a smooth sort of shell around the mousse-like center – frozen but not firm. It was almost like liquid in suspended motion. Quite amazing, really. Incredibly creamy, but with the tartness of the passion fruit that kept it from being heavy or stodgy. The coriander-basil seeds were subtle bursts of earthiness that grounded the totally ethereal dessert and the kataifi added texture in the form of crunchy fried dough. This was everything that a good dessert is – sweet, fulfilling, rich but not heavy and well portioned. At first glance it seemed huge, but, sooner than not…the dish was cleaned. 
As we enjoyed homemade fruit gelees and dark chocolates filled with intense pistachio ganache, I reflected upon the meal. It was certainly not cheap, but was far from what I consider expensive. It was not traditional, but there is no doubting that it was an Indian creation. The flavors were all ones I have had before, but they were produced in new combinations and with different techniques. It was what I was expecting and yet…how could I expect all of this? Junoon is a thoughtful, heartfelt restaurant that has a personal touch that escapes so many hip New York establishments. The food is refined but packed with the flavors that you know and love in Indian cooking. This may be home to the hottest chef in New York, but it is also home to one of the best chefs in New York. 
And yes…okay…he is also really freakin hot. 
Junoon on Urbanspoon

Kuma Inn – The Pioneer in Asian Tapas Still Delivers

What’s the last time you went out to dinner and felt like you might be entering an opium den? 
 For me, it was last week when I headed to Kuma Inn for dinner. It’s been around since 2003, but back then, Kuma Inn was one of the only places doing the small plates Asian menu that is seen at so many restaurants today. It is a stalwart on the Lower East Side dining scene, and has been able to stick around in a place where restaurants close almost as fast as they open. 
 See how dark this picture is? Put on sunglasses and look at it again. Now you know how incredibly eerie it is, walking up these decrepit stairs to a tiny, candle-lit, casual dining room. 
 The restaurant is small, and though it isn’t cramped, it is definitely cozy. I wouldn’t mind coming on a date here, especially considering that in the casual atmosphere you can BYOB. I chose champagne, because…really…why not?
 Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Rice Noodle Crisp.
Silky pieces of fatty tuna blended with sweet and tart apples, made soft from maceration in salty soy sauce and scallion oil. Crisp pieces of scallion enlivened the mild fish and the rice crisp on top added a crunchy texture and vaguely nutty taste that broke up the texture of the tartare. It’s easy to see why this is a signature dish – it is totally harmonious and exciting to the palate. 
 Steamed Edamame with Thai Basil-Lime Oil.
Normally I would never order edamame-what a waste! Thank heaven I capitulated to this request from one of my table mates, because this was totally delicious! Tender beans, coated in a slick of sour, fragrant, slightly spicy oil were so addictive that I couldn’t stop eating them. 
 Sauteed Chinese Sausage with Thai Chile-Lime Sauce.
This was the STUFF. The sausage was reminiscent of maple glazed bacon – sweet, sticky, crunchy, but with spices like star anise, ginger and pepper coming through to cut the sweetness of the glaze and the fatty pork. The sauce on the side was nothing sort of incendiary, and its bright, tangy flavors tasted Thai to me. Once again, this cut through the sweetness and brought all the background flavors to the forefront.
 BBQ Pork Buns.
This was a special that is – apparently – on the menu all the time, and with good reason. Unlike Danji’s unctuous pork belly buns, these are made with slightly leaner, though no less moist, meat. Charbroiled edges and soft, robust tasting meat melded with the soft rice buns, sweet hoisin sauce and crunchy, herbaceous daikon relish. Not mindblowing, but an interesting interpretation of pork buns for those of you who don’t like a fatty mouthfeel.

Wait a minute…

Does anyone really NOT like a fatty mouthfeel?
 Sauteed Market Mushrooms with Bamboo Shoots.
Like the edamame, I was ready to give these a pass, but they turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the night. The assorted mushrooms were hearty and full of that beefy, rich, umami taste that only mushrooms have. They were in a sweet and savory broth that tasted not unlike the flavor of the pork kakuni at Sakagura. Not at all spicy, just salty, meaty, tangy and incredibly satisfying. Kind of like a pork broth melded with teriyaki sauce. 
Please tell me there was pork in the mushrooms. That would explain my love of this dish. 
Mussels in Kaffir-Lime Lemongrass Coconut Curry. 
Juicy, meaty mussels melded with sweet coconut, fragrant kaffir lime and spicy curry. The curry was not hot spicy, but aromatic spicy. It enhanced the subtle coconut flavor and the tart lime perfectly. The mussels’ natural salinity played off the earthiness of the curry powder, and the lemongrass provided a heady, intoxicating aroma that gave the whole dish a high, hazy note. 
Let’s be frank…by the end of the meal, we were begging for spoons to scoop up the rich broth. 
Chopsticks be damned.
For a tiny room, seemingly cooled only by freestanding fans, this place served some great food. The service was speedy, the price was right and the BYOB was a total win. Though none of the food was something I haven’t had before, it was all incredibly well prepared, in excellent portions and exhibited flavors that were exciting and vibrant. 
And hey…now I can say I have eaten dinner in somewhere that, at first glance, did look like an opium den.
 Kuma Inn on Urbanspoon

Bob’s Fish Market, Shelter Island

A few weekends ago, I went to Shelter Island, which is an island off the coast of the Hamptons. When I hear Hamptons, I tend to think popped collars, Rolexes, and tennis courts the size of Rhode Island. 
Needless to say, I brought my Target bathing suit, and was prepared to feel inadequate the whole weekend.
What I found, instead, was a delightful island that was more about enjoying life than showing off wealth. Beaches were not to crowded, people were not at all snobby and the food – while it could be expensive and sceney – could also be local and affordable.
Enter: Bob’s Fish Market.
Extremely casual decor, with a BYOB policy and servers who had no problem telling you to “hold yer horses, the food is comin’ as fast as we can make it. Yer gonna love it”? Check. 
 Campy decor featuring fishing nets and paintings of lighthouses that someone’s grandmother probably painted in the 1960′s? Check.
 A list of daily specials that were caught within a few miles of the island? Check.
Pristinely clean fish market attached to the restaurant, so you know you are getting the freshest possible seafood? Check.
Free trashy romance novels that your mom would never let you read?! DOUBLE CHECK!
 Our meal began with bread. Nothing great, nothing awful. A good crust, a pleasant texture, but lacking the tangy punch of sourdough or the fragrance of rye bread that I like with my seafood. And the butter was from a packet. So far…not my fave.
 Then the mussels came. Plump, juicy little mussels steamed simply in white wine and garlic. Every SINGLE mussel was open, and every single one was meaty and fresh, bursting with the salty sweetness that makes shellfish so divine. A squirt of lemon brought a brightness to the dish, and the simple broth was so delicious – sort of like a cream-less chowder – that all of us gals fought over it with hunks of bread for dipping. 
Crab balls. We almost went with the crabcakes, but our authoritative and kind server told us that they don’t make them in house, and to go with the balls instead. And she did not lead us astray. A stiff, but not hard, breadcrumbed outside hid a creamy, unctuous crab filling, with lumps of meat and a slight kick from bell pepper. Complimented by homemade tartar sauce, it was one of the best bites of the night. 
Balls win, every time. 
That’s what she said. 
Fried Calamari. Sure, you have had it a million times. And most of the time, it is probably pretty good. But this…this was GREAT. We are talking crispy, oily tentacles, tender, mild rings and a homemade tomato aioli that was garlicky enough to make your hair stand up on end. These are a must get. 
For my main dish, I got one of the fresh fish of the day – striped bass. Striped bass is one of my favorite fish – thin, flaky, very mild and although it has a soft texture, it is never mushy if cooked properly. It is one of te few fish that I do not like rare in the center, and this was properly flaky all the way through. Seasoned with zesty paprika, it needed only a sprinkle of lemon to be perfect – for someone who loves fish. If you don’t love fish, they I always say get it fried. The best way to get anyone to like ANYTHING is definitely to fry it. The tangy, crunchy coleslaw served as a creamy counterpoint and the sweet potato fries were among the best i have had. Thick and waffle-cut, they were seasoned with onion and garlic powder and wanted only for a bit of that garlicky tomato aioli to complete them. 
This is a gem of a restaurant. Incredibly inexpensive, with good(if somewhat brusque) service and a fresh menu. It was BYOB and packed to the rafters – so make sure you call for reservations!
And it taught me once and for all, that you can’t judge the Hamptons without actually going to the Hamptons. 

Light Lemon Pasta Salad

Picnic (N): A meal that is taken out of doors by Gentiles, regardless of heat or flies.
I do not like picnics. I like air conditioning. Cable TV. Not looking at bugs.
And I REALLY like not having to over think what I can eat out of doors.
Picnics mean few utensils, food that can be served room temperature, and for Pete’s sake, NO MAYONNAISE. That stuff spoils faster than the kids on Toddlers and Tiaras.
That’s when you need something light but filling that travels well and has no dairy in it.
Enter: Lemon Pasta Salad.
INGREDIENTS:
2 Lbs. Corkscrew or other pasta shape
4 Tbls. Lemon Zest
3 Cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups olive oil
1 large bunch basil, leaves removed from stems and cleaned
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups pine nuts
salt to taste
1)Boil that pasta. Remember that pasta takes awhile when it is in shapes, so let it boil until it is just barely less than al dente. That means that it should be a little chewy, not to say crunchy, because it will continue to cook after you take it off the heat. 2 lbs will probably take about 12 minutes.
 In the meanwhile…
 3)Zest your lemons either with a zester or a microplane, and put it in a small dish.. Remember that you only want the yellow part of the skin, NOT the bitter white pith. Also, do this BEFORE you juice your lemons. Zesting a cut lemon may result in accidentally zesting the skin off of your thumb.
So I hear, I mean…
4) Post zesting, juice your lemons
 Either with a fork or with a juicer. Make sure no seeds get into the lemon juice bowl.
5)By now the pasta should be done! Drain most of it BUT retain about 1/2 a cup of water right in the pot. This cooking water holds a lot of the starches that the pasta released during boiling, and will make the sauce thicker and stay on the pasta better.
6)Dump in the lemon juice
7)Dump in the lemon zest
As you stir the pasta, the scent of the lemon will hit you like a ton of lemon trees. The steam mixing with the lemon zest makes the whole pot smell like a Sicilian lemon grove – tart, fresh, bright. The reason you want the pasta warm when you pour the juice in is so that it can absorb all the lemon juices and the starchy pasta water, infusing each noodle with the flavor.
 8)Now you add the oil
9)And the salt. Mix well.
10)Now you have to transfer the pasta to a bowl and let it cool for awhile – till it is at least room temperature.
11)When the pasta is cool, take your pine nuts and toss them in the salad.
Pine nuts have a very buttery, fatty taste and a yielding texture. They remind me of slivered almonds, but with an even richer mouthfeel. They are delicious in cookies, or in a bright dish, like this one, to add some heft and fat content.
12)Parmesan cheese time!
I know I said no dairy, but this probably won’t spoil – I haven’t ever heard of someone getting food poisoning form slightly warm Parmesan cheese. If you are really worried, then you can always add the Parm at the picnic spot right before you serve it.
Or leave it out. Only do that if you want me to REALLY dislike you.
13)Add basil
14) Stir
15)Enjoy. This pasta is so light, bright and fragrant that it is impossible not to smile when eating it. The basil adds a grassy taste that echoes the herby lemon zest. The sauce is less of a coat and more of a light summer cardigan – it just BARELY dresses the pasta, letting the taste and texture of the noodles shine through the tart lemon taste. The pine nuts are a welcome crunchy bite amidst the soft, but not mushy noodles and the tiny strands of lemon zest. This is so good, it actually makes picnicking worthwhile.
Though, let’s be honest…I ate this at home.
And yeah…I watched Toddlers and Tiaras while I ate it.

Alice’s Tea Cup, for the Little Girl in You

When I was a little girl, I would have loved coming to Alice’s Tea Cup. Fairy wings on the wall, mismatched tea sets and sweet servers whose only desire, it seems, is to help you choose which color of tea will be prettiest with your party dress. 
 Hell, I know a lot of little boys who would have loved that too.
I was a Musical Theatre major, remember?
 And it is kind of hard not to like teapots with cute little animal figurines on them.
 There are literally HUNDREDS of teas and blends you can try. We are talking black teas, green teas, white teas, tea blends…I always thought tea kinda tasted like hot bathwater. I got the Christmas Blend, which tasted like cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y…bathwater. What can I say? I’m just not a tea person. 
My sister, who is a tea person, loved her iced passion fruit tea.
 Now THIS was the reason that I came. For 2 people for $37, you get 2 pots of tea, 3 scones the size of a small country with whipped cream and jam, 6 finger sandwiches and a plate of dessert offerings for the day.
That is a lot of food, people. And you can order it from 11 AM in the morning. My kind of brunch, indeed.
There is so much food and so many ways to customize this that it is nearly impossible not to enjoy your meal. 
Roasted Cumin Carrot Sandwich. Thin ribbons of carrots were roasted so their sugars caramelized but the vegetable still retained a bit of texture – no baby food here. The carrots’ natural sweetness melded well with the smoky spice of the cumin and the mild cream cheese spread. It was a simple sandwich that was elevated by the unusual pairing of ingredients (cumin and cream cheese?) and the truly awesome bread. All the baked goods here are house made, and this tangy, airy bread dotted with hearty seeds was a fantastic addition to the sandwich. 
They also have a great classic egg salad sandwich – creamy, fragrant with dill and peppery with watercress. Not too mushy, with ample chunks of smooth white and luscious yolk. 
Though there was a great pumpkin scone that was sweet, spicy with cinnamon and tasted like pumpkin pie gone rogue, my favorite scone of the day was the ham and cheese. Sharp, tangy cheddar mixed with salty bits of Southern ham and scallions. The scones were dense but not brick-like. I could really work my way through one without feeling like I was at war with a zeppelin in my stomach. That is why these large scones work well – they are delicate instead of leaden.
By the time you get to dessert, you might feel kind of full. That’s okay, because the lemon tart was a bit too sweet and runny for my tastes.
I like them tart and firm. 
Like I like my men.
Too bad I didn’t save room for this mocha cake.
But that is really my only complaint for Alice’s Tea Cup. It was delicious, it was well priced and it was well served. Consider yourself warned that there are plenty of families with small children here, the room is a bit warm for the summertime, and there is estrogen here. 
A lot of estrogen. 
My dad would kill himself. 
But, even though I’m not a little girl…I still love coming to Alice’s Tea Cup.
Alice's Tea Cup on Urbanspoon

Classic Lasagna

Who couldn’t like lasagna? Starchy noodles, zesty sauce, creamy cheese and fresh herbs. It’s basically joy in a baking dish. The only problem is that it takes forever – and I don’t really see that as a problem! It just means that you have to plan ahead. Choose a weekend when you have the whole day free, pour yourself a glass of wine while you cook, turn on the showtunes(or whatever normal people listen to), and ENJOY the process. Or, you can invite your mom over to help you cook.
Gotta love that free labor.

INGREDIENTS:
1 bunch celery, cleaned and diced.
1 bunch carrots, peeled and diced
2 sweet onions, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
2 porcini mushrooms diced (These are expensive but add the most amazing hit of flavor to the sauce)
1/4 cup Olive Oil
3 cans peeled tomatoes
1 cup red wine
2 dried bay leaves
1.5 packages Lasagna noodles (or however many fit in your large pan)
3 lbs meatloaf mix (veal, beef and pork mix)
Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1 lb. Ricotta Cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/3 cup whole milk or cream
1/4 lb chunk porchetta(optional)

1 Stick Butter
1 Cup flour
chicken stock to taste (about 2 cups)
Salt
Pepper

Whew…it looks intimidating, I know.
Most things worth wile do.
So pour yourself that booze and let’s get cooking!

First things first – throw all of the diced veggies in a large oiled stockpot on high heat. You want the veggies to gently caramelize and soften. The mushrooms add SO much heft and flavor to the sauce. You are really going to be glad you splurged for the pricey ones. Cook the veggies until the onions turn translucent and the carrots get soft. If the garlic starts to turn brown or smell a little bitter, turn the heat down.

 Now add the meat! It is important to use the 3 types of meat. The beef has that unmistakable funky flavor, the veal is grassy and mild and the pork is sweet and fatty. You really need the trifecta of meat.

 Cook the meat until it is mostly cooked through and crumbly, breaking it up with your spatula. Don’t cook it TOO long – just until most of it looks cooked through, not pebbly or hard.

 Now it is time to add the bay leaves.

And also the Worcestershire sauce. Now you just let that mixture sit while you turn your attention to the red part of this sauce.

Now, pour the tomatoes and all their juices into a large bowl. There will still be some juice, and maybe even tomato pieces clinging to the jar. What to do, what to do…
Hey, I know!

Pour wine into cans.

Stir with spatula, getting all the tomatoey goodness down from the sides of the cans.

 Pour wine mixture from one can to another, and repeat until all the cans have been wine-swished.

 Then, pour the winey tomato juice mixture into the tomatoes.

 Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher or your (cleaned!) hands,

 Until the pieces are broken but not mashed. They will disintegrate further as they cook.

 Time to add the tomatoes to the sauce. I used 3 cans worth, but you may want to add the tomatoes step by step, according to if you like your sauce more meaty(traditional) or more tomatoey(better than traditional).

 Time to add a pinch of sugar and let the whole thing cook for about 40 minutes while you turn your attention elsewhere. The sugar really rounds out the sauce, making the meat taste heartier and the tomatoes taste fresher and less acidic.

Now, time for the basil (which you can wash by submerging the leaves in a deep cup or bowl, swishing the leaves around with your hands and letting the dirt fall to the bottom).

 Gather the half of the leaves in a small stack

 roll the stack like you are rolling a cigarette, till it is in a log.

 Chop.

 You have just chiffonaded basil. Mazel tov.

 Now you want to add the basil and the ricotta to a bowl. People say that ricotta is like Italian cottage cheese, which is kind of like me saying that I am the Jewish Jessica Alba. The two things are just unrelated.

 Ricotta is creamy like goat cheese, mild like mozzarella and it melts like cream cheese. Mixing it with basil breaks up the richness and reinforces the grassy, lighter notes of this heavenly cheese.
Just try not to eat too much of it before you cook with it. With your fingers. Out of the jar.
It’s so, SO good…
Now, set the cheese aside, and get started on the bechamel.

Bechamel is the white sauce that you find in lasagna, and it looks like Alfredo sauce. However – shocker – it doesn’t need to have any cream to enrich it! Or eggs! It is made by making a roux(a mixture of flour and some fat), heating it and loosening it with some sort of broth. I like using chicken stock and then adding taste and thickness with cheese. That makes it more like a Mornay sauce, but I still call it bechamel.
My blog, my rules.

 First, melt your butter over medium-low heat. You want it to be just melted, not foaming or browning.

 Next, add in your flour, bit by bit…

 And whisk away! Pretty soon, the mixture should form a ball in the pan, like a dough. That is when you…

 add the chicken stock! Keep whisking and eventually…

Your sauce will look like this. If you add too much stock and it gets too loose, add some flour. If it’s too thick, pour in some more stock. It’s all fixable and moveable. 

 Time to toss in the cheese,

 and the salt and pepper.

 When the bechamel is thick enough to stay on the spoon for a few seconds when you hold the spoon sideways, turn the heat down almost all the way and move onto the next step. If it seizes up too much in the time, you can turn the heat on higher or add some more stock to loosen the sauce.

Now time for the pasta. Don’t use the no boil noodles – those make the lasagna like a brick. Just so leaden, absorbing all the sauce…definitely a party pooper. Use the traditional stuff.

 And don’t forget…they have to boil for awhile because they are so long and thick!
That’s what she said.

By now, the sauce should look like this, with small pieces of meat and gently melting celery and onions. Give the sauce a taste. Add more salt if it needs more, more pepper if it is too bland, and don’t worry if the sauce tastes a bit one note and bright.

 That is where the splash of cream comes in :) Tomatoes and creams are a match made in heaven.

 After you add the cream, dice up that porchetta.This is optional, but A little bit of rosemary laden, garlic rubbed fatty skinned pork never hurt anyone.
Except maybe my rabbi…sorry, rabbi.

 Toss it in. It’s already cooked, so you just want it to heat through.

When the lasagna noodles are done and drained, you are ready to assemble! Preheat the oven to 350 and follow these steps in a foil lined pan:

 1)Sauce

 2)Noodles

 3)Sauce

 4)Basil leaves that you reserved earlier

 5)Dollops of Bechamel

 6)Dollops of Ricotta between the bechamel

 7)Repeat…

 until all the ingredients are used up.

 Finish by pouring bechamel over the top. You will definitely need to add some heat and liquid to make it a pourable substance and sprinkle some cheese over the final dish, but it will create a more attractive finished product.
And really…isn’t attractiveness what it is all about?

 After about 15 minutes in the oven, the Parmesan will be browned, the bechamel will be bubbly and the scent will be all encompassing.

 The taste is exactly what you want in a lasagna. The noodles are thick but not mushy – they are chewy and the ridges are perfect for catching the two sauces. The bechamel is cheesy, peppery and rich, tempering the brightness of the bolognese. The bolognese itself is a rich composite of meat, vegetables, seasonings and mushrooms. I am telling you, the mushrooms add an incredibly deep earthiness and funk to the sauce. It echoes the pungent taste of the Worcestershire and the richness of the meat. The ricotta is a gooey, creamy component and the basil adds fresh herby punches throughout the dish. The Parmesan on top adds a salty, crispy crust and the dish…

 well, as a whole it is just awesome. Meat, cheese, sauce, carbs.

And in the 47 hours you took to make it, it will be gobbled up in about 15 minutes.
Totally worth it. 

Trophy Summer Tuesdays with Nate Smith

When McKenzie and Sarah wrangled me into Brooklyn for dinner, I had my doubts. I mean, we were schlepping to Williamsburg for dinner at a bar? 
They were touting Trophy Summer Tuesdays, held at Trophy Bar’s outside patio. Every Tuesday evening this summer, chef Nate Smith(formerly of The Spotted Pig) makes a different sandwich, side and pie for $17.
When I got to Trophy, I was immediately impressed. It had the low key, unpretentious vibe I love and a wonderful cocktail list.
When we ventured to the backyard, we were greeted with plenty of seating and a relaxed crowd that was part young people drinking beers and part families letting their kids run around the space while they enjoyed beers.
Lots of beers here. Always a good thing.
Cabbage Salad. Shreds of white cabbage, celery carrots and cucumbers were dressed in a sweet and spicy vinaigrette that had a kick from thinly sliced Serrano chiles. It had a slightly Asian taste from the cilantro and rice wine vinegar.  Fresh, crunchy and zesty, it was the perfect accompaniment to…
Vietnamese Chicken Sandwiches. Damn. These sandwiches redefined chicken for me. This chicken was so tender, flavorful and sweet that I could have sworn that it was pork. I tasted soy and sugar in the marinade, but beyond that…I was lost. It was a little tangy, a little spicy and only salty enough to bring out the natural flavor of the meat. And it as dark meat – the much maligned part of that bird. Dark meat is moist, robustly flavored and kicks dry and generally sawdust-y white meat’s ass. Placed on a soft, squishy bun with a hit of Sriracha, a leaf of butter lettuce and a gloriously crisp shard of fried chicken skin, this was everything I want in a sandwich. Satisfying but not heavy, flavorful but not salty and left me with enough room for this:
Peach Pie. Flaky, buttery crust topped with crunchy gains of sugar. Soft peaches, tasting both fresh with summer and slow cooked the way that your Southern Grandma would have cooked them, The juices mingled with warming cinnamon, creating a gelatinous pool of pure peach essence that softened the bottom crust, rendering it soft but not soggy. It only wanted for a scoop of really rich vanilla ice cream. 
And that was all this was missing – the vanilla ice cream. There was booze. There was food. There was the charming and talented Nate Smith (unpictured) making the rounds and chatting with patrons in between assembling totally delicious sandwiches. There was the chance that I would be returning next week to try the new sandwich. 
Hell, that isn’t a chance. That’s a fact. 

Flank Steak vs. Skirt Steak – The Beefy Duel

You are probably a schmuck. Admit it. You don’t know enough about steaks. I will start – I know bupkis about the stuff! I know that filet mignon is tender, prime rib is fatty and…um…I like it very rare. That’s it. Until recently, I thought that flank steak and skirt steak were the same thing. Clearly, I was a moron. 
On the left side, you have skirt steak. It comes from the diaphragm of the cow and is best served quite rare, because it gets tough very quickly if cooked too long. It is pretty lean, so there isn’t a lot of fat to keep it from getting all fibrous and chewy as the heat blasts it. It is also called hanger steak, and if you order steak frites in France, this is likely the cut of steak you will get.
On the right side is flank steak – if it was thicker, it would be called London Broil. It has even less fat than skirt steak, and is consequently a little more tender. The less fatty the meat, the more tender. That’s why you need different types of steaks…sometimes you want fatty flavor, sometimes you want buttery texture. 
It’s all a trade off, folks.
I tossed both of the steaks in a Ziploc bag filled with a marinade that was made of:
2 parts Worcestershire sauce
1 part ketchup
Healthy pinch of brown sugar. 
This is my standard “American” marinated that I do for these thinner, cheaper cuts of steak. While strip or Spencer steak might not need marinades, a little salt and sugar go a long way in bringing out the deep, meaty flavors of thin cuts of these thin cuts of beef.
After the steaks marinated for about 35 minutes in the fridge, I took them out and let them come to room temperature. This is a VERY important step. If you cook steak that is cold from the fridge, the outside of the steak will burn while the inside will stay cold and raw. I like raw but not cold…cold is just rude. 
After about 3 minutes per side, the skirt steak was ready to come out. You know when it is done when the steak is a bit resistant to your touch, but not bouncy…you do NOT want bouncy meat.
We let it rest for a few minutes so the juices would redistribute, but we probably should have left it for a bit longer…the juices sadly ran all over the plate. Don’t worry, I sopped them up with some bread. 
And after 4 minutes a side, the flank steak was good to go. 
I sliced both steaks against the grain. That means that if the lines in the steak were running right to left, you want to cut up and down. That ensures a tender piece of beef. 
On the left side you have flank steak, on the right side, skirt. They were both slightly overcooked – I adjusted the cooking times for you already. 
I preferred the flank steak – it was easier to cook rare and had a very hearty, vibrant, beefy taste. I loved it as was, and it would be great next to some polenta. The skirt steak had more nuanced flavors and textures, with the fat caramelizing and adding crispy edges and a slightly sweet taste to the meat. This would be so delicious in tacos or on a sandwich with melted blue cheese and sauteed onions. The anchovy-garlicky taste of the Worcestershire sauce melded with the sweetness of the ketchup and the sugar, letting the true tastes of both meat stand out. 
The truth is…as much as I crave fat, I just love the taste of BEEF. Here, flank steak wins the day.
So, now I know not just that I LIKE steak, but what KIND of steak I like. I feel far superior to most other schmucks out there now. 
And once you know what kind of steak you like, so will you!

Flank Steak vs. Skirt Steak: The Beefy Duel

You are probably a schmuck. Admit it. You don’t know enough about steaks. I will start – I know bupkis about the stuff! I know that filet mignon is tender, prime rib is fatty and…um…I like it very rare. That’s it. Until recently, I thought that flank steak and skirt steak were the same thing. Clearly, I was a moron.

On the left side, you have skirt steak. It comes from the diaphragm of the cow and is best served quite rare, because it gets tough very quickly if cooked too long. Once you trim it, there is still some fat, but not enough to keep it from getting all fibrous and chewy as the heat blasts it. It is also called hanger steak, and if you order steak frites in France, this is likely the cut of steak you will get.

On the right side is flank steak – if it was thicker, it would be called London Broil. It has even less fat than skirt steak, and is consequently a little more tender. The less fatty the meat, the more tender. That’s why you need different types of steaks…sometimes you want fatty flavor, sometimes you want buttery texture.

It’s all a trade off, folks.

I tossed both of the steaks in a Ziploc bag filled with a marinade that was made of:

2 parts Worcestershire sauce

1 part ketchup

Healthy pinch of brown sugar.

This is my standard “American” marinated that I do for these thinner, cheaper cuts of steak. While strip or Spencer steak might not need marinades, a little salt and sugar go a long way in bringing out the deep, meaty flavors of thin cuts of these thin cuts of beef.

After the steaks marinated for about 35 minutes in the fridge, I took them out and let them come to room temperature. This is a VERY important step. If you cook steak that is cold from the fridge, the outside of the steak will burn while the inside will stay cold and raw. I like raw but not cold…cold is just rude.

After about 3 minutes per side, the skirt steak was ready to come out. You know when it is done when the steak is a bit resistant to your touch, but not bouncy…you do NOT want bouncy meat.

We let it rest for a few minutes so the juices would redistribute, but we probably should have left it for a bit longer…the juices sadly ran all over the plate. Don’t worry, I sopped them up with some bread.

And after 4 minutes a side, the flank steak was good to go.

I sliced both steaks against the grain. That means that if the lines in the steak were running right to left, you want to cut up and down. That ensures a tender piece of beef.

On the left side you have flank steak, on the right side, skirt. They were both slightly overcooked – I adjusted the cooking times for you already.

I preferred the flank steak – it was easier to cook rare and had a very hearty, vibrant, beefy taste. I loved it as was, and it would be great next to some polenta. The skirt steak had more nuanced flavors and textures, with the fat caramelizing and adding crispy edges and a slightly sweet taste to the meat. This would be so delicious in tacos or on a sandwich with melted blue cheese and sauteed onions. The anchovy-garlicky taste of the Worcestershire sauce melded with the sweetness of the ketchup and the sugar, letting the true tastes of both meat stand out.

The truth is…as much as I crave fat, I just love the taste of BEEF. Here, flank steak wins the day.

So, now I know not just that I LIKE steak, but what KIND of steak I like. I feel far superior to most other schmucks out there now.

And once you know what kind of steak you like, so will you!

Recette’s Tasting Menu was Worth The Wait

When my best friend visited Recette earlier this year, he told me I HAD to go. So I put it at the top of my list – but then it got moved down. Other restaurants opened, weather was bad, I felt like Mexican food…there were a million reasons I never got there. When my other best friend came to visit NYC, I couldn’t ignore Recette any more. I had a reason to go, and I was READY.

We walked into the diminutive space and noticed it was PACKED. So packed in fact, that we had to wait 15 minutes for our reservation. Now, we were relaxed and enjoying ourselves, but I could see how this might really annoy someone. In fact, on another night, I would be that person. I am REALLY a stickler for being seated on time.

This seemed to be the MO of the place, though, and people just took it in stride, sitting at the tiny bar or chatting in the ante chamber of the restaurant. So, we relaxed and were seated by 8:15

Hamachi Crudo with Harissa Mayonnaise and Sea Bean. This amuse bouche was spicy with the harissa, tangy with the citrus marinade and altogether lovely. It was a nice riff on a classic – I have had buttery hamachi before, but never with harissa, which gave a smoky heat to the crudo. The sea bean brought out the saltiness of the fish and was a crucial element. Well thought out and tasty.

Recette specializes in small plates, so we went with the server’s recommendation – the tasting menu. It was $75 for 5 courses, which averages out to about $15 a plate. This is in no way cheap, but this was a special occasion meal, so we decided to go for it.

It was Jessica’s first tasting menu, and I can’t TELL you how much joy it brought me to share this experience with her! Each time that a new dish came, she clapped with joy and listened intently as the server explained what was placed on the table. She couldn’t believe the multiple plates that kept coming to our table, and loved how the small servings let her try more and more items. It reminded me why I love eating – that it fosters conversation and community, and is an experience not only for the mouth but for the mind and the soul.

Heirloom Tomato, Peekytoe Crab, Hearts of Palm, Tarragon, Aged Balsamic. The heirlooms are just starting to get sweet and juicy, and using them with tender crab that mirrored their sweetness and softness was a delicious move. Hearts of palm were toothsome and absorbed the tangy-sweet balsamic vinegar, and the tumble of frisee worked with licoricy tarragon to pull out the meaty texture and rich flavor of the crab. No one component was the star here, rather, it was the mixture of all ingredients that made the dish memorable. 
 
Roasted Foie Gras with Peppercorn Biscuit and Spiced Honey. Okay, we did a supplement here. A $20 one. But it was Jessica’s first foie gras. Her FIRST foie gras! As she put it in her mouth, she actually covered her hand with her heart and gasped.

I assume that is because the dish was delicious, not because she could actually feel the fat automatically closing her arteries.

Crispy, salt flecked crust gave way to an almost liquidy center that was the very essence of organ meat: liver-y, iron-y, funky, delicious-y. The spice-infused honey was a worthy counterpoint to the fatty meat, though a bit of stone fruit or even some endive would not have been amiss to cut through the richness here. The biscuit was dense, crumbly and spicy with pepper – perfect for sopping up the sticky, zesty honey.

Ocean Trout, Spaetzle, Cockles, Hummus, Cilantro Pistou, Pickled Onion. This was a good, if not great dish. The fish was cooked perfectly – seared on the outside but medium rare and silky within. The hummus was more of a sauce than a dip, but was a bit too heavy and cloying for the delicate fish, as were the rather aggressively tangy onions. The cilantro pistou on the other hand, was an excellent pairing – light, fragrant and bright next to the deliciously crispy spaetzle. This was a rather salty dish – it was flavorful, but had me dry mouthed for hours afterwards.
That’s what she said.

Berkshire Pork Belly, Rock Shrimp, Turnips, Romesco, Sherry Caramel. This is it. Come here for this. The best pork dish I have had in New York City. Crispy layers of fat gave way to the melting fat underneath and tender, pull apart with your fork layers of pork. Lacquered in the sweet and sour umami taste of the sherry caramel, it was topped with the most perfectly cooked popcorn shrimp I have enjoyed since Danji. Shrimp and pork are an ultimate combo – all of us non-kosher Jews can agree upon that. The simply boiled turnip added a vegetal crunch to the crispy-soft pork and the romesco alongside…well, I’ll be honest. I don’t remember the romesco. 
I was in love with a pork belly.
And it was such a generous portion, I couldn’t even eat it all. 
Damn it. 

Our palate cleanser was a Red Wine Poached Plum with Greek Yogurt and Pistachios. Jessica thought it tasted “like Christmas,” and she was spot on. This had the spicy, jammy notes of a great mulled wine, with the sweet plum and fatty pistachios playing off of the complexities of the spices. The tart yogurt kept the dish from being cloyingly sweet, and it prepped our tastebuds for…
Smores”: Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Toasted Marshmallow, Spicy Cajeta Caramel. 
If all s’morescajeta(goat’s milk caramel that was at first impossibly sweet and buttery, then with a light burn that made the rest of the dish taste sweeter than ever), and a very dark, very chocolaty wafer. A high end variation on a well loved classic.  


And that was the way this meal worked – there were many dishes that I have seen before, all done slightly differently and suually to excellent effect. The service was a bit harried, and the tables were definitely cramped – this is a place for friends or for long-term romantic interests, not a first date. You are really crammed in there. But you know why you are crammed in there? Because the food is great. And for how much food you get, and the quality of the ingredients, it is a great value. 


Recette was really worth the wait. 
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