Buffalo Wing Zucchini Sticks

I grew up loving vegetables. Curried lentils, fresh salads, creamed cauliflower, homemade pasta sauce…any way you could eat a veggie, I ate it.

However, not all people are like that. When you have someone who does not like vegetables, I wouldn’t suggest making them boiled broccoli then forcing them to eat it.

Unless you are into that sort of sadism

I suggest you make the veggies as appealing as possible, through whatever means necessary.

In this case, of course, the means would be breadcrumbs and hot sauce.

These baked zucchini sticks are inspired by buffalo wings, and are very easy to prepare. Because they are baked instead of fried, they do not crisp up, but rather become soft and sweet in the oven, covered with a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs. It’s basically homemade bar food, and who doesn’t like that?

Buffalo Wing Zucchini Sticks

Ingredients:

1 zucchini, washed and cut into 3 inch fingers

1/4 cup mayonnaise

buffalo wing sauce to taste (I used about 3 tbsp.)

1 tsp. each granulated garlic and onion, or to taste

1.5 cups panko bread crumbs, in a bowl

1. Combine the mayonnaise, buffalo sauce, and spices in a bowl. Mix together and taste. It will get slightly hotter as it cooks, but not much. You really want a good punch of heat here, so add more hot sauce if needed. Also, preheat your oven to 400F.

2. Take each zucchini slice, dunk it in the mayo mixture…

then in the breadcrumbs. Be sure to really pack those breadcrumbs on there. The panko will turn a Pepto Bismol pink from the hot sauce by the time you dunk your last stick, but hey…that’s life.

3. Put your sticks on a tinfoiled sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the largest zucchini finger is tender when stuck with a knife.

By the time that some breadcrumbs are pretty dark brown and the irresistible, unmistakable scent of hot wings fills your kitchen, the zucchini is done.

4. Serve immediately.

These are extremely tasty. Spicy, crunchy on the outside, and tender on the inside. The zucchini stays moist, thanks to the oil in the mayo, but does not become soggy like it can when drizzled with olive oil. These little sticks are spicy, garlicky, and guaranteed to please. They don’t keep their shape too well, so my favorite way to eat them is with a knife and fork, drizzled with blue cheese dressing and more buffalo sauce.

Breadcrumbs and hot sauce – converting vegetable haters one at a time.

Clean Out the Fridge Quinoa Salad

This recipe is a clean out the fridge one…you know, the type where you went crazy at the farmers market, spent $60 on gorgeous tomatoes, scallions, peppers, zucchini, and then ate out for the next 2 days. This is where you get to throw all of those veggies together into a dish that is so delicious that no one will ever guess that it is a last-ditch attempt to save the contents of the fridge. Instead of using pasta, quinoa is a high fiber, protein filled grain that is not only healthier but..dare I say it…delicious? The beauty of this is that it can be made ahead of time, served cold, and has a million variations. This is a jumping off point – think of this as a guideline, not a hard-and-fast recipe.

Clean Out The Fridge Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1.5 cups your favorite vinaigrette

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bunch scallions, chopped

3 peppers, diced

1. Combine the quinoa and broth in a large pot, and set over high heat. When it boils, turn the heat down to medium high, let it boil for 20 minutes or until the quinoa is al dente, then turn off the heat. THEN, cover for at least 10 minutes or until the little white tails appear. That is a very important part of the cooking process…that means that the quinoa is really tender. I have never actually overcooked quinoa, but undercooked quinoa is akin to eating gravel. Take that as a warning.

2. After it is fully cooked, spread the quinoa out on a tinfoiled pan to help it cool quickly.

3. In the meantime, mix the other ingredients together in a large bowl.

3. When the quinoa has cooled to just above room temperature, add it to the bowl with the vegetables. Combine until well incorporated. You don’t want the quinoa to be totally cool because some heat helps it absorb the dressing.

4. Let chill for at least 1 hour or up to overnight and serve.

So fresh and bright. After it has sat for a few hours, the flavors all marry and meld into one symphony of taste. The juicy tomatoes, sweet peppers, sharp scallions, and bright vinaigrette all combine with the wheaty taste of the quinoa. If the dressing is seasoned properly, it won’t even need any additional seasonings or spices! It is filling but not at all hearty or heavy –  light enough to bring to a picnic but elegant enough to serve as a first course at a dinner party.

And no one has to know you were cleaning out the fridge. Unless, of course, they read this blog.

My 4 Favorite Cheeses

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I would rather give up chocolate than give up cheese, because that is just ridiculous.

I would rather give up cable than give up cheese.

I would rather shave my head than give up cheese.

I would certainly rather give up running water than give up cheese.

Frankly, I love me some cheese. For a more thorough primer, check out this article, but for some of my favorites:

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Pecorino Romano

Anything parm can do, pec can do better. This cheese is salty, sharp, and has those delightful calcium crystals that crunch to release a burst of umami flavor upon your tongue. This sheep’s milk cheese is also a little funkier than its more common cousin, and a little goes a long way. I like to use it in place of salt in Italian dishes like soup, pasta sauce, and even to season steak. It is also delicious cut into chunks and served with candied nuts, pears, and balsamic glaze for dessert.

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Cotswold

This delightfully allium-flavored cheese is a reminder that onions make anything better. A rather sharp cheddar with a creamy, Muenster like texture is infused with slim rounds of chives. The effect is bright on sharp, a cheese for people who like in your face flavors.  This cheese does not melt well, as the chives react badly and give off a sulfurous smell when warmed. Best in cold dishes, this is an idea sandwich cheese. It pairs well with tangy Dijon mustard, maple turnkey, and a proper baguette. It is also strong enough to stand on its own on a cheese plate, the only necessary accompaniment being crackers.

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Gorgonzola Dolce

Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you. The docile, gentle sister of the outwardly funky gorgonzola, the best gorgonzola dolce is sold by weight and must be eaten by the spoonful, because it simply won’t retain its shape. Even the stuff that is not quite the best is a far cry from your standard blue cheese – creamy in texture and powerful without being offensive in taste, this stuff is like blue cheese light. It is wonderful when slathered with honey and eaten atop ciabatta, but is equally delicious dolloped over a baked potato, allowing the warmth of the spud to gently melt and disperse the umami-licious cheese. Here, a little goes a long way, and it is best served at room temperature or warm.

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Brillat Savarin

The high priestess of triple-creme cheeses. The belle of the ball. The cheese that is so rich and fatty that it refuses to hold any shape, even when refrigerated. heh cheese that is so pure that it tastes only of cream and true love. The cheese that makes brie look like Kraft singles. The cheese that is mind-blowing. The cheese that needs no accompaniment whatsoever – just your fingers (though a drizzle of truffle honey or a plump, sticky date never hurt anyone). The cheese that,no matter the price, must be purchased when it can be found (which is rare). The cheese about which love stories have been written.

Too far?

Perhaps.

But I would rather go too far than give up cheese.

Gluten Free Ginger-Miso Salmon

When you are cooking for people who are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, and kosher, you can view it in one of 2 ways:

1. Throw up your hands and order out for Kosher vegetarian Chinese (I can’t even type that without retching in my own mouth)

or

2. Rise to the occasion and make those eating restrictions a delightful challenge.

I am a delightful person (don’t listen to my boyfriend), so I chose option 2.

Asian inspired food is a natural for gluten and dairy free people, and if you choose the protein carefully, it can be kosher. It is flavorful but customizable enough that it appeals to many tastes. It lends itself to an array of interesting side dishes and can often be cooked ahead of time or a la minute.

It is, in other words, ideal for a myriad of eaters, all regardless of issues and restrictions.

This is different from other Asian dishes I cook in that it isn’t spicy and does not include fresh garlic. This is a muted dish, spiced up with fresh ginger and scallions instead of chiles and pungent herbs. Cook this ahead of time and serve room temperature or (and yes I did this) just heat it up in the microwave.

Ginger-Miso-Mayo Salmon

Ingredients:

4 8 oz. salmon fillets (ask for them to be cut from the center so they are almost the same thickness all the way through)

1/2 cup Miso Mayo or 1.5 tbs. miso paste mixed with 1 cup mayo (be sure that the miso is gluten-free – that’s why I choose to go the store-bought route for this)

1 bunch scallions, chopped

3 tsp. fresh minced ginger

2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

dash of soy

dash of hot chile sesame oil, or to taste

1. Mix all ingredients except salmon in a large bowl. Taste for seasonings – if it needs more salt, add soy. More acidity or sweetness, try the rice wine vinegar. It won’t be a punchy, loud sauce, but should be very savory.

2. Put the salmon in the sauce, coat the salmon evenly, and leave it in the bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.

3. When the salmon is done marinating, put it in the oven (set to broil), skin side down, and cook it for about 7 minutes, or until it flakes and is almost opaque in the center of the thickest part of the fish.

4. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

This is a major hit, whether your guests have food restrictions or not. The salmon, naturally fatty, is protected from the oven’s heat by its mayonnaise coating, keeping it lush and moist even if slightly overcooked. The scallions are clean and sharp and the ginger brings enough heat to enliven the sauce without really being spicy. The sauce is savory, thick, and somewhat sweet, caramelizing at the edges of the fish. Broiling the salmon results in crisp, salty skin that is the indulgence of anyone who knows that the good stuff is the fatty stuff. Save the leftover marinade, add a little soy, water, and rice wine vinegar, and boil it down to make a wonderful sauce.  Served with rice and an Asian inspired salad, this is an elegant and delicious meal.

Never be tempted to order vegetarian Kosher Chinese again.

Tasty Round Up

This is one of those round up posts where I mention a few of my favorite dishes in and around NYC. They are dishes from restaurants, from food stands, and from food trucks – enough for a quick mention, just not enough for a full review. Without further ado:

People’s Pops

This gourmet shave ice and popsicle store has a location in Chelsea Market and on the Highline. The popsicles are made daily with natural ingredients. The fanciful flavors, like peach-basil, are made using farmers market fruits and vegetables. Though the popsicles are delicious, my favorite thing to get is the shave ice. Order one and watch the staff deftly shave ice by hand from a  huge block of ice. Then, it is densely packed into a paper cup, covered with a homemade syrup (the rhubarb is sweet, light, and extremely fresh tasting), and delivered to you. The combination of hard ice crystals, fluffy snow, and fresh fruit can’t be beat. Just hurry to eat it before it melts!

Tia Pol

Head to this tiny Chelsea restaurant, barely wider than a broom closet, for traditional Spanish tapas. Sit at the long, narrow bar and order crispy patatas bravas with a garlicky aioli, creamy fava bean bruschetta, and a glass of dry cava. Don’t  miss the shisito peppers, cooked here with less oil than most places. This results in a smoky, charred exterior, speckled with salt,that yields to a soft, juicy skin. The exciting part of eating shisito peppers is that you never know how hot they are – some are as sweet as bell peppers, and some leave you sweating. It’s gustatory Russian Roulette!

The Sunroom

Though there were hits and misses, especially in the service department, this smoked salmon pizette was excellent. Fluffy pita bread, sturdy but still airy, is slathered with tangy creme fraiche and draped with silky, pleasantly salty smoked salmon. Best of all, it is topped with a bevy of fresh herbs, vegetables, and spices- tarragon, dill, chervil, the crunch of capers, thinly sliced baby radishes, and a heavy dose of coarsely ground peppers. The seemingly excessive greenery is actually just enough – it anchors the salmon, making it meatier and more substantial. It melds sea and land, providing grassy, herbal notes. This might not be a complicated recipe, but it is varied and multilayered.

Taboon

This upscale big sister to Taboonette serves an upscale Middleterranean inspired menu for dinner, including dishes like whole roasted fish, seared foie gras, and cinnamon spiced Kibbeh. As delicious as the savory dishes are, the Silan sundae is the standout of the menu. Creamy vanilla ice cream is layered with sticky-sweet date honey, slightly salty pistachios,  crunchy Rice Crispies, and a cloud of shredded halvah. The texture of cotton candy combined with the nutty flavor of Butterfinger completes this dish, making it visually whimsical and tastes quite complex. Don’t fill up on the addictive house made bread – be sure to save room for this decadent dessert.

Taboon on Urbanspoon

Ratatouille Gratin

This time of year has juicy tomatoes, sweet zucchini, and almost every herb on the planet overflowing at the farmers market. For those of us on the East Coast, this is a time of frenzy – we have to grab these fresh vegetables while we can! Soon we will be thrown into months of butternut squash and apples with nary an heirloom tomato to be seen! To make the most of the delicious and inexpensive veggies that abound, take a cue from Julia Child. Sure, I switched it up a little – I  used panko instead of plain breadcrumbs, added onions and mushrooms,a nd of course topped it off with goat cheese (because really…what doesn’t goat cheese improve?) But Julia had most of it down pat (like I have any authority to give Julia Child credit), and this is deconstructed ratatouille that showcases the best of summer’s bounty.

Ratatouille Gratin

Ingredients:

1 yellow or green zucchini, cut into rounds

1/2 onion, cut into half moons

3 tomatoes, sliced

1 eggplant, cut into rounds

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

4 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

2 sprigs each rosemary and thyme, chopped

1/2 log goat cheese (plain or flavored)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F and lightly oil the sheet pan with half of the oil. Lay the eggplant over the pan so each disc touches the oil, then flip them over oil side up.

Add the onions and put in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the onions start to brown and the eggplant is slightly shriveled and starts to “melt.” After you take them out, put the heat down to 350F and keep the oven on.

2. When the eggplant has cooled enough to handle, oil the pan with 1 tbsp. of oil, all the way up the sides of the pan. Then, layer in the vegetables.

Tomato, squash, eggplant, onions, mushrooms. Lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t worry if you run out of some vegetables, or have to squeeze some odd rows in there. Just layer it as you can, making sure to squish the veggies in there, since they will shrink as they cook.

3. Sprinkle breadcrumbs, herbs, and remaining olive oil over the casserole, then put it in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are browned and the juices from the veggies are bubbling. If the breadcrumbs start to over toast or refuse to brown, add a bit more olive oil for lubrication.

4. Spoon a serving, top with a dollop of goat cheese and serve immediately.

This is late summer on a plate. Juicy, warm, fresh but also creamy and crunchy. The vegetables all meld together beautifully, each one accenting the other’s flavor while still retaining its own taste. The sweet zucchini, fragrant tomatoes, savory onions, meaty mushrooms, and luscious eggplant come together in a stew/gratin hybrid. Soft in the center, while delightfully crisp and crunchy on top, with sugars caramelizing around the edges of the pan. The fresh herbs are fragrant and woodsy, echoing the creamy, grassy goat cheese. That cheese is a very important part of the dish – it starts to melt as soon as it hits the hot gratin, becoming soft and rich against the vibrant, acidic juices of the tomatoes.

This is delicious served with polenta or as a side to flank steak. So make it while you can, before it’s all you can eat pumpkin for, like, 8 months.

A Surprising Dinner at Michael Mina’s Seablue

When it comes to food, it is hard to surprise me. I have eaten many different types of food at many different establishments. I cook. I read about food. I live and breathe it. You may impress me, but you will very rarely totally shock me.

Dinner at Chef Michael Mina’s SeaBlue was one of those rare occasions.

The restaurant, located on the casino floor of the Borgata, is this celebrated West Coast chef’s only East Coast establishment. Known for his decadent lobster pot pie, this restaurant draws inspiration from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors, using the fresh fish and produce from the Garden State. The restaurant is large and casual, but upscale enough for a nice dinner with wine. Be prepared that the restaurant is rather loud, but the noise comes off as a fun atmosphere, not too raucous for a couple of people enjoying their food.

Poached Maine Lobster with Gelee, Avocado Mousse, and Piment d’Espelette Mascarpone with American Caviar

Delicately poached lobster, tender and buttery, sitting atop a lightly acidic gelee. The avocado mouse is creamy and slightly peppery, accentuating the lobster’s sweetness. Best of all, the Mascarpone is rich and surprisingly spicy. The piment d’espelette has a slow, bright burn that works well with the delightfully sticky caviar, bursting with brine and salt. These ingredients all seem too rich, too flavorful, and not congruent, but they work. The result is a dish that is complex but harmonious.

Octopus Tagine with Preserved Lemons, Chickpeas, and Spicy Fava Bean Falafael

When asked how difficult it was to make the octopus, Chef Mina said in an offhanded way “Oh it’s a cinch. Just boil it for 4 hours before you pop it in the tagine.” This matter of fact approach he takes to even the most arduous tasks results in intensely flavorful and well thought out food, like this octopus. Except for Periyali, I have never had such succulent, sweet octopus. The tagine renders it tender enough to cut with a fork. The chickpeas, onions, and other vegetables in the mix have the signature spicy-sweet warmth of Moroccan food from harissa, cinnamon, and a touch of smoke (perhaps cumin?). The chickpeas are hearty and al dente, and the preserved lemon are tart, adding brightness to the long cooked dish. The falafel is otherworldly wonderful. Grassy and fresh with fava beans ,they have a rather intense heat that builds as you swipe it through the harissa flecked aioli. Eventually, the burn prickles through to the front of your mouth, not too hot, but more than just a little spicy. This won over several ocotphobes at the table, and was a huge winner of the night.

Loup de Mer with Zucchini Pistou, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Zucchini Fritters

Similar to branzino, loup de mer can be dry and rather fishy if not cooked very gently and carefully. Luckily, this was cooked very gently. The flesh is extremely moist, flaking off easily with the fork. Unfortunately, the skin is not crispy, which means that one of the best textural contrasts on a piece of fish is missed here. However, the zucchini pistou is earthy and fresh, the fritters are crisp outside and moist within, and the heirloom tomatoes add sweetness and acidity. New Jersey vegetables are showcased ideally here, accented with herbs and spices but mostly left alone to shine in their natural states.

Wagyu Beef 2 Ways – Seared Tenderloin over Oxtail Ragout and Roasted Romaine and Braised Belly over Aligot with Chaneterrelles and Bone Marrow

Wagyu beef is some of the most tender, most marbled, most delicate and luxurious beef in the world. Here, it is served 2 ways to showcase its versatility. The seared loin is cooked to medium rare, with a salty charred crust and a dark rosy interior. Soft but not mushy, with a light minerally taste that is in between beef and veal. There is nothing robust or abrasive about this taste, it is all about the depth and complexity – earthy and at the same time almost bright in its beefiness. Served over jammy oxtail ragout and a side of bok choy-like romaine, it somehow manages to avoid being a total gut bomb.  The Wagyu belly makes short ribs look like chicken breast – thick cut and tender, interspersed with globes of opalescent fat.  The aligot it is served with is the world’s cheeseiest  mashed potato – stretchy and thick enough to eat with a fork. The marrow is the piece de resistance – buttery, beefy, soft, goodness. All it needs is a piece of bread to make it complete.

I used the term “surprising” several times in this review. That is because this meal was, more than delicious, more than excellently served, more than fairly priced, was surprising. I have never had octopus cooked in a tagine. Mascarpone flavored with Southern French chiles and topped with caviar. Wagyu beef belly. Where does Mina get these ideas? Who does he experiment with? Though I don’t know the answers to these questions, I do know the not-to-miss restaurant in Atlantic City. Without a doubt, it is SeaBlue. The restaurant is a treasure chest of culinary surprises. 

*Disclaimer: The restaurants PR firm piad for my meal and stay. I was not required to write a review, and my thoughts and opinions are my own.*

Seablue on Urbanspoon

Fornelletto – Elegant Italian in The Borgata Casino Resort

When I was given the chance to dine at Forneletto, the Italian restaurant in Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino and Resort, I expected some pretty good Italian food. After all, Chef Stephen Kalt has helmed restaurants from New York all the way to Las Vegas. He even deigned to be at this press meal, so if he didn’t deliver, he could expect some pretty harsh criticism right to his face.

No wonder he was so brave to eat with us. He had nothing to worry about.

Fornelletto is a dark, bustling restaurant with many rooms. It is upscale but relaxed, the sort of place that is perfect for a rehearsal dinner or a large birthday celebration.

Fritto Misto with Prosecco Battered Sardines, Calamari, and Artichokes

Fritto Misto is easy to get wrong, with greasy or leaden batter or sub par fish. This escaped all those pitfalls. The sardines are flaky and moist, with a briny, fresh taste. The batter is crisp and very dry, contrasting with the flaky fish. The fish can be eaten whole, the bones so soft and small that they disappear upon contact with your tongue. The calamari is tender and the artichokes are meaty, crunchy without and almost fluffy within. The lemon aioli served alongside brightens up the batter, smooth and creamy.

Endive, Fennel, and Red Onion Salad with Anchovy Dressing

The ideal follow-up to a fried appetizer, because it is crisp and acidic, reawakening the palate. Thinly shaved fennel, bitter endive, and sharp red onion in a pungent, garlicky dressing that is akin to a very bright Caesar vinaigrette. The fennel adds just the right tough of sweetness to keep this from being a salt or umami overload. This is refreshing and clean – the perfect gateway from here to fattier, heartier dishes.

Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata, and Basil

You know how much I love burrata, right? Well…I still love it. Here, it is just cut, served with sweet and earthy New Jersey Tomatoes (the best in the world), and topped with salt, some diced shallots, and basil. A drizzle of olive oil to enhance the burrata’s creamy, rich texture and taste and the dish is complete. The tomatoes’ acidity cuts through the fat of the dish and the basil adds an almost peppery note. Nothing new here, but when the ingredients are this perfect, why would you mess with it?

As a quick note, this is one of Kalt’s strongest attributes as a chef. He chooses the best ingredients possible then does very little to them, to ensure that they shine on their own. His success lies in his excellent palate and his restraint as a chef – he never gilds the lily.

Brooklyn Pizza with Meatballs, San Marzano Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella

Crust is usually what makes a pizza. Here it is the meatball. The meatball of my dreams. Intensely meaty, with robust beefy flavor and the unmistakable sweet backnote of pork. The meatball is so powerful that it easily takes center stage, with the mild tomato sauce, rather undercharred crust, and delightfully greasy mozzarella taking the backseat. This pizza is the ideal balance between low brown indulgence and high-end artisan product.

Trio of Pasta with Ravioli Del Plin, Potato Gnocchi, and Paccheri with Tripe

The coup of the night. The pastas are excellent. The ravioli, filled with artichokes, peas, and Montasio cheese are bright within their creaminess, grassy from the peas. The gnocchi are rich but fluffy, not heavy. The parmesan cream is sharp and nutty at the same time, rich but not unctuous or greasy. This is almost the alfredo of the gnocchi world. The surprise of the night was the tripe. I have never had it before, and this is the ideal way to introduce a tripe virgin to the food. Cooked until tender and falling apart, it was unrecognizable from the delightfully chewy tubes of paccheri noodles. The tripe has a mild, slightly minerally taste that is akin to the deep taste of chicken liver, with a texture more akin to shortribs. Comforting and hearty in a vibrant, bright pomodoro sauce with salty proscuitto, this is a winner. All the pastas are sensational – clearly Kalt’s forte and not to be missed.

Including an incredibly corn gelato, which is the essence of sweet, sunny corn with the most buttery, sweet butterscotch sauce, this was a wonderful meal. The prices here are not cheap, but they are far more reasonable than they would be in Las Vegas or NYC. The care taken with choosing the ingredients is obvious, as is the excellent technique of the cooking itself. Kalt laid himself open to criticism and received none.

Except for the fact that I only go tone meatball on my pizza. Still not over that disappointment.

 *Disclaimer: The PR team paid for my meal and stay. I was not required to write about these experiences and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Fornaletto on Urbanspoon

Nook – A Haven of Home Cooking in Hell’s Kitchen

Service is paramount in any dining experience. It makes up for a multitude of sins, and often makes me return to a restaurant to see if the food has improved.

This experience was the opposite of that: the service was mediocre at best, but the food was so wonderful that I don’t think I can resist going back.

Nook is a tiny, un-air conditioned restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. By tiny, I mean TINY – you can almost touch both walls of the restaurant by standing with arms akimbo. It is very casual, BYOB only, and the sole server the day of our lunch was also the main chef, cashier, and host. Let’s get the bad out of the way first:

Your meal will take forever. You will get a carafe of water and a menu, and then you will wait. Almost interminably. Then, when you finally order, don’t expect to get your soda right away. That won’t happen until after your food arrives, almost half an hour after you finally got to order. You might get crabby, but if you peek into the narrow kitchen, you will see why it takes so long. There are eggplants being sliced and grilled a la minute. Fries being cooked to order. Steaks being cut off the tenderloin and grilled to order. Every single thing is made fresh and with utmost care.

 Smoked turkey breast with tomato, cucumbers and spicy beet relish on a baguette, served with fries

Whether this turkey is homemade or outsourced is irrelevant. The point is that it is unlike any sandwich turkey I have had before. It is extremely juicy and tender, with a smoky, candied exterior that is so sweet that it seems more like ham than turkey. It is light enough to balance with the peeled cucumbers but earthy enough to stand up to the tart homemade beet relish. The baguette has a thin, sharp crust that surrounds a slightly tangy, bouncy interior crumb. The fries merit special mention. Fried to order from what seem like fresh potatoes, they are crunchy, rosemary flecked, and flecked with fragrant rosemary.

Grilled Vegetable Salad with eggplant, red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, and goat cheese over mixed greens with a balsamic reduction dressing

This is a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The eggplant is sweet, almost fatty in its richness. The zucchini is firm and charred, with a slightly yielding interior. The yellow squash is sugary and the roasted peppers are soft and intense. The goat cheese is mild and melts into creamy warmth that blankets the vibrant vegetables. The deep, umami-laden balsamic glaze brings depth to the salad, and a few scattered scallions brighten and sharpen the flavors. This is not a technically or flavor-wise complex salad, but it is one that is made with as much care as you would take to make it for yourself. That makes it special.

The care taken with the food is what makes this whole restaurant special. Though the service is abysmally slow, it isn’t because you are being ignored, it is because the chef is doing everything by himself. That is how he keeps the prices low and the quality high. And the quality really is very high. The menu is not especially inventive or large, it is just prepared expertly. This is highly recommended for a lazy lunch or brunch. Just be sure to bring cash (the restaurant is cash only) and have plenty of time.

It is well worth the wait.

Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Schmackary’s – The Finest Cookies in Hell’s Kitchen

There’s a new sherif in town and he doesn’t brandish any weapons or uphold any laws.

He is a cute little boy eating a cookie.

This Norman Rockwell-esque fella is the spokesman for Schmackary’s, makers of some of the best cookies in the city, let alone Hell’s Kitchen.

Schmackary’s is a full-fledged bakery with bars, muffins, coffee, and the like, but what you come here for are the cookies. If you buy them a day old, they are very cheap, but it’s worth it to shell out the extra $2 for the fresh ones. The shop is very sweet and nostalgic, with a cold case full of artisanal sodas and a counter with cookies displayed.

Classic Chocolate Chip

Soft. Melting semisweet chips against a sweet, brow-sugar based cookie. A thin layer of crispness to contrast with the fine crumbed, pleasantly gooey middle. A bit too sweet for my taste, but my sister was a fan.

Carrot Cake Cookie

The perfect carrot cake in cookie form. Moist. Sweet and spicy with cinnamon. Filled with juicy raisins and topped with creamy, tangy, sweet cream cheese icing. My second favorite cookie in the city (ain’t no one topping Levain).

Double Chocolate Cookie

Dark, rich chocolate with Oreos crunched throughout the batter. A sweet, marshmallow-buttercream frosting on top. Like a gigantic Oreo with a more fudgy cookie. The most decadent of the trio, and a chocoholic’s dream.

Just a stone’s throw from the Theater District and offering gluten free options, Schmackary’s is a winner all around.

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