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John’s Pizzeria

June 18, 2011
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I’ve already written a review of John’s Pizza, so I won’t repeat myself too much, but have to say it remains one of my favorite pizzas of all time (and once upon a time I even made an effort to try them all–even going so far as dragging friends to the original Totino’s Coney Island location).  There just isn’t anything like it anywhere else and the first bite reminds me why it’s so great–the paper thin crust, bright red tomato sauce nicely balanced with hot cheese that melts into it…absolute perfection in every bite and a place we come back to with almost every visit (and always the Bleecker location).

John's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

La Pizza & La Pasta @ Eataly

June 17, 2011
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LIFE is Too Short Not to EAT WELL

A trip to NYC would not be complete without a stop at Eataly-Batali’s new-ish Italian marketplace scattered with a few mini-restaurants.  At the end of a very long day, we decided to chill out and unwind at La Pizza/La Pasta.  This particular restaurant is tucked away right behind the pasta section, providing a little bit more peace and quiet for those who are turned off by the crowds here.  While it does get pretty busy and touristy, I still adore this place as well as their philosophy: “Life is too short not to eat well.”  I love browsing through all the isles of specialty foods, admiring their fresh seafood section and charcuterie…and of course their huge selection of fresh mushrooms!

We ordered a Neapolitan-style pizza to get things started.  Choosing the Salsicciotta, we couldn’t wait to see how the smoked provola cheese would go with the Neapolitan sausage, mushrooms, and fresh basil.  While not being the biggest fan of the pizza at Otto, I wasn’t sure what to really expect here but the smokiness of the cheese went superbly well with the sausage.  And while the crust was not perfectly thin and crispy, it wasn’t at all doughy or chewy and overall we were extremely pleased with it.

We also wanted to try out the pasta and went with the Pasta al Forno-al Ragu- a simple and traditional lasagne with Italian Ragu.  While I wished there was a tiny bit more sauce on the noodles here, the pasta was cooked al dente and the dish was seasoned nicely and solidly done.  Probably not the most memorable meal, but this was comfort food at its best.

While this time we didn’t visit the gelateria, the gelato here is some of the best and is definitely worth a try!  They also just opened a rooftop beer garden that would definitely be on my list of things to check out.

One of the highlights—the [expensive but impressive] mushroom section!!

Porcini Mushrooms--$55.00/lb!!!

Eataly on Urbanspoon

Bouchon Bakery

June 16, 2011

Since the whole winery hopping thing got in the way of restaurant hopping on our last trip to Napa, we couldn’t find enough time to make it to Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville.  I had completely forgotten that there was even a NYC location until we luckily stumbled upon it after a tourist stop at the observation deck at 30 Rock.  All that NYC walking had really tired us out and we were in major need of a caffeine and sugar fix and this was just the place for a quick recharge.  The coffee was nice and strong and the macarons were some of the most gorgeous that I’ve ever seen–really almost too beautiful to eat.  They were giant-almost the size of my whole palm, so we decided to split the pistachio flavored one.  There was not one crack in the shell and they had the nice little feet that I have many times failed to replicate when baking these myself.  Even better, there was just the right amount of crunch that gave way to a soft inside and a delicious buttercream filling–the overall effect being heavenly.  Now I just wish I knew their secret to creating this perfect little confection!

View from the top of 30 Rock.

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Jean-Georges

June 15, 2011

On our first full day in the city, we splurged on a luxurious lunch at Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel.  A two course meal at the world-renowned three Michelin star restaurant for $32 is well known to be the best deal in the city and one which my student budget could handle.  Arriving right around noon just as the restaurant opened we were seated at one of a few empty tables.  As we were greeted and lead to our table we could not help but notice just how much meticulous thought and effort is put into this dining experience.  The dining room itself is elegant and beautiful in a very simple and clean way and each table is dressed with a pretty little arrangement of fresh flowers.  After being seated, we spent a few minutes looking over the menu and deciding on drinks.  While I was looking forward to getting a homemade soda, I was lured over by their Rhubarb Elderflower sparkling wine cocktail and decided it would probably go better with their spring menu anyways (at least that’s my story).  As expected, it was absolutely delicious and if it wasn’t lunchtime I probably would have ordered a few more.

I also tried Ben’s Cucumber Martini made with gin, cucumber and mint, which he was a huge fan of.  It was considerably stronger so not ideally suited to my taste buds, but I adored the presentation with the hanging cucumber slices.  My sister, being a health-nut, ordered an Organic Avenue green juice which tasted just exactly like cucumber, celery and spinach that it was composed of.

After spending some time deciding on our orders, we were presented with three amouse-bouche, consisting of a mushroom cannelloni, a toast square topped with radish, and some refreshing carrot water.  Each one had a unique bright flavor and texture, revving up our appetites and hopes for what’s yet to come.

After reading stellar reviews of the Tuna Ribbons, I decided this was a must-get.  While my ribbons weren’t perfectly tucked in as I had seen in previous pictures, the combination of flavors here was incredible.  The ribbons sat on top of a healthy amount of creamy avocado in a ginger marinade and was garnished with spicy radish slices.  I couldn’t help but notice just how fresh the tuna was, and eating it as long strands, as opposed to slices or cubes that I’m used to, allowed for more surface area for picking up the sauce and avocado and added a whole new dimension to the dish.  I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of radishes and initially found myself picking them off.  Halfway through, I stopped myself and realized that I was eating at the restaurant of one of the world’s most celebrated chefs and that there was probably a reason for the addition of this ingredient.  Against my gut instinct, I added a slice of radish to my next forkful–and how glad I was for giving these a second chance.  Each following bite had a nice added element of crunch and a tiny bit of spice–flavors and textures that Im really glad I didn’t miss out on.

Next we tried the Black Sea Bass Sashimi with Green Chili, Pistachios and Mint.  Again, the fish was perfectly fresh and I loved the spicy green chili sauce.  The pistachios added a great crunch and the mint rounded out the flavors.

In contrast to the light seafood we started with, the Foie Gras Brulee with Pineapple-Mayer Lemon Jam was decadence at its extreme.  The foie itself was rich and the caramelized top was something I’d never dreamed would be so complimentary.  It was nice to finish each bite with a bit of the jam and start all over again with a cleansed palate, drawing out this magical experience as long as possible.

Now onto the larger dishes.  The Red Snapper was first, crusted with nuts and seeds and served with a sweet and sour jus.  Underneath the thick crust was a large filet of fish that easily flaked off, swimming in a most flavorful jus that was scooped up with a spoon so that not a drop of flavor was wasted.

The Lamb Chop was served with wild mushrooms bolognese, broccoli rabe and pecorino.  This dish had a robust mushroomy flavor, which is never a bad thing, and paired well with the lean piece of nicely cooked meat.

Last but not least were the Salt and Pepper Sweetbreads sitting on top of a bed of pea shoots in a sweet chili emulsion.  Since this was my first time having sweetbreads (which is essentially thymus glands), I cannot say how it compares to other preparations, but for me this was one of the more interesting dishes.  The individual lobes were breaded with a perfectly crunchy exterior but were extremely juicy, moist and tender on the inside.  It definitely had a unique flavor, which reminded me a little bit of blood sausage, except much more refined and delicate.  The chili emulsion and pea shoots were a great addition and definitely balanced out the flavors of the sweetbreads here.

Having made the chocolate molten magic cake that Jean George made famous, I knew we had to try the real thing, so we supplemented our lunch with the Chocolate themed dessert, consisting of the Jean Georges’ chocolate cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Creamy Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ganache, Banana, Milk Skin, and Dried Cherry.  The two peanut butter fanatics I was dining with demolished the peanut butter portion of the dessert and I was left to a few bites of the chocolate cake, which was not as full of molten chocolate as the version I made.  Im sure this was due to the miniature size of this dessert and it was still delicious, even if not exploding with a rich flowing chocolate lava.  The complimentary petit fours, marshmallows and macarons were a fabulous finishing touch.  The light and airy lavender macarons were the clear highlight here and a wonderful way to end this meal.  Overall, the impeccable service, outstanding food and beautiful presentation made this a meal that we will not soon forget.

Jean-Georges on Urbanspoon

Balthazar

June 13, 2011

There were many highlights of our recent trip to NYC–with food obviously being one of them.  The first of our many wonderful meals was at Balthazar in SoHo.  While bordering on having too much of a touristy feel to it, Balthazar is such a downtown classic that it was worthy of one of our few nights in the city.  Bustling and busy, this place has the feel of a real French brasserie and serves mostly a traditional bistro menu.

We started off the evening with the Chicken liver and Foie gras Mousse, served with red onion confit and grilled country bread.  This was surprisingly decadent–incredibly creamy, buttery and rich and the onion confit was a great touch and further enhanced the flavors.  Definitely a huge fan and this seems like something I can actually pull off making out of the Balthazar cookbook.

The Seafood Ceviche was up next with an assortment of seafood served inside of some red cabbage leaves, reflecting the freshness and lightness of the dish.  Even though we were missing out on the raw bar, this dish gave us little sampling of their seafood menu and left us looking forward to one of the large seafood towers we’ll one day be back for.

Now on to my favorite of the night–the duck confit, served with wild mushrooms, crispy potatoes and frisee salad.  This was one of those eye-rolling good and forever memorable dishes that is making my mouth water as I reminisce.  I could not believe it was possible for the meat to be so falling off the bone tender and flavorful yet the skin to be so crispy at the same time AND then on top of all that the addition of the mushrooms made this dish the soul mate to my palette.  If that wasn’t enough the potatoes soaked up the remaining fat drippings, making sure not a bit was wasted.

Also tasted that night was the Grilled Lamb T-bones with lavender baste, coco beans, merguez and mirepoix-one of the dishes recommended by our waiter.  The lamb was flavored pretty simply and while cooked well, the dish as a whole was a bit unremarkable.

While I was too enamored with my duck confit to try the salmon, it got great reviews and looked gorgeous with its spring-time accompaniments.

Since we had alternate dessert plans we skipped the many tempting options offered here.  Overall this was a fabulous meal that did a great job of welcoming us to a few days of culinary bliss in this amazing city.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Pasta Primavera with Homemade Pomodoro Sauce

May 27, 2011

With Memorial Day and the St. Louis summer being just around the corner, I made this pasta primavera dish as an attempt and a plea to keep springtime around for as long as possible.  I absolutely am not ready for the heat and humidity that comes each year and would do pretty much anything to have this cooler weather stick around just a little bit longer…minus the crazy tornadoes and downpours of course.  And this isn’t just any boring old pasta and sauce recipe.  I found it in an article about runner and chef Joe Bastianich in Runner’s World last year, where he shares a recipe for homemade Pomodoro sauce and uses it as a base in the remaining recipes.  While I had not known that Bastianich was a runner, I was well aware of his Babbo, Otto, Del Posto, and Eataly fame and knew that any recipe good enough for him to share was good enough for me to eat.  I have to say the Pomodoro sauce recipe (or I should say my Arrabiata version) made all the difference in the final outcome and reinvented pasta for me.  And the primavera portion was even easier–it just took some broiling of fresh springtime vegetables and dinner was served!  I made lots of extra sauce so still have a few batches left in the freezer and can’t wait to try out his seafood and eggplant dishes next time.

Have a great holiday weekend everyone!! Appropriately we’re off to the east coast and already have an Eataly stop worked into our schedule!

Pomodoro Sauce

from Runner’s World

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 16-ounce cans of peeled, whole Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Sicilian oregano (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional for Arrabiata version)

1) Heat oil in a saucepan over medium. Add garlic and saute until golden brown, about three minutes.

2) While garlic browns, pour tomatoes into a bowl. Squeeze with your hands to break them up. Add tomatoes and their juice to the saucepan.

3) Add oregano (if using), salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using). Simmer on low for 45 minutes.

4) Add a little water if needed to keep sauce from becoming too thick (it should be bright red; if it turns brick red, it’s too thick).

Makes six one-cup servings.

Pasta Primavera

  • Pomodoro sauce
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices, or diced (I skipped this, substituting with asparagus)
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 pound pasta of choice

1) Put a large pot of heavily salted water on high heat to boil and add pasta.  Simmer pomodoro in a saucepan on low.

2) Meanwhile, place the onion, zucchini/asparagus, yellow pepper, and mushrooms on a 9×13 baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle with the oil and toss lightly.

3) Broil at 400° F until almost tender (about 10 minutes, turning vegetables halfway through).

4) Add cherry tomatoes and peas to the pan, and broil for two more minutes. Set vegetables aside.

5) Two minutes before pasta is cooked, remove it from water and add to the pomodoro sauce, along with a little pasta water if needed to keep sauce liquid.

6) Stir and simmer over low heat until pasta is tender.

7) Add the vegetables and gently stir. Season with salt and pepper. Serves six.

Chicken and Artichokes in a Mushroom White Wine Sauce

May 24, 2011

This is just one of those great quick go-to weeknight recipes that brings together the classic flavors of mushrooms and artichokes–which happens to be one of my favorite combinations so it’s no surprise it’s made its way here.  The white wine sauce that hold this dish together is pretty subtle so there’s definitely room for more seasoning if you’d like–or you could do what I did and just sneak in an extra handful of mushrooms to make it even better.  Sadly, I forgot to buy some parsley, so didn’t add it but I suspect some fresh herbs would really add a lot here.

Chicken and Artichokes in a White Wine Sauce

from Annie’s Eats

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. herbes de provence (or a combination of other dried herbs such as basil, parsley, oregano, thyme)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (2 chicken breasts total)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 (14 oz.) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • Minced fresh parsley, for serving


1) In a shallow dish, combine the flour, dried herbs, salt and pepper and stir with a fork to blend.  Reserve 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture.

2) Coat the chicken breast halves in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess.

3) Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken to the pan and cook until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.  Remove the chicken to a plate; cover and keep warm.

4) Add the butter to the pan and warm until melted.  Add the mushrooms and artichokes to the pan and cook until most of the liquid is released from the mushrooms and the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

5) Combine the white wine, chicken broth, and reserved tablespoon of flour; whisk until smooth.  Add the mixture to the skillet, cooking until it is warm and slightly thickened.

6) Return the chicken to the pan to warm through and cover with sauce.  Serve the chicken with sauce spooned over the top, and garnish with grated Parmesan and fresh parsley as desired.