A Sarcastic Appetite

Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of July 29
July 29, 2010, 7:40 am
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You know the drill: I’m here to canvass the food blogs so you don’t have to. Some highlights this week:

Grub Street checks out OliO, the new West Village pizza place featuring Employees Only cocktails. Everything’s adding up, including those 58 outdoor seats. Not that you’d want to sit outside in this hideous weather….

Andy and Jill at Wined & Dined check out Diablo Royale Este, and claim that their not-so-secret back garden is a delight – as is the Diablo Ricky, which is basically a scaled-down beergarita (not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing).

Food in Mouth heads over to DBGB and gives it a favorable review, which is a far cry from the beatdown it received from the boys at Immaculate Infatuation last July, right around when it first opened. Guess I’ll have to check it out for myself.

Gael Greene revisits La Fonda del Sol for dinner with five friends and is wowed from start to finish – and she was seated in that “semi-brooding” back dining room, no less. Now, don’t get too excited – the dinner was on the house, courtesy of a gift to Citymeals’ Annual Corporate Dineout. I don’t think they make that 8lb. octopus for just anyone.

Metromix takes a gander at a few burger-and-beer deals around town and sizes them up. Now I know where I’m spending my Sunday afternoon: at the Iron Horse, where every drink gets me a free burger.

The Siftster, meanwhile, mellows a bit and gives what’s probably his most well-written review to date. The Lion gets one star for being a louder, less pleasant and distressingly more inclusive version of Waverly Inn: “The bar is crowded beyond belief with Delta Taus and other frat packers, men in distressed jeans aspiring to six-pack abs, women skating on the thin ice of fashion and yapping into mobile phones.” Frat Packers! Adam Platt also reviews The Lion, meanwhile, and is far less amused. He gives the place zero stars and writes, “The Lion doesn’t have the polished menu of Minetta or the rarefied, clubby feel of the Waverly Inn. Is it worth fighting for that 5:30 table? Probably not.”

Lemon Cake
July 26, 2010, 8:00 pm
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That Ina, she does not mess around. Butter, sugar, and lemons create magical things together, and this cake is one of them. I may not eat anything else for the next three days.

Because not only does it have a stick of butter and a cup of sugar in the batter, but it also has two (2!) toppings: a syrup that gets poured on as the cake is tipped out onto the cooling rack, and a delicious glaze that gets poured over the cooled cake and hardens into sugary, lemony deliciousness. Lacking, in typical fashion, the requisite buttermilk, I instead made my own with heavy cream (since I, um, also didn’t have any skim milk) and lemon juice, and was delighted with the results. (Find out more here.)

The original recipe makes two loaf cakes, which seemed excessive…until I had a slice. Having only one loaf pan, I had to halve the recipe, though now I wish I could have tripled it.  Of course, some of the halved measurements are a little wonky. Just wing it; you’ll be fine. And just try to tell me you only had one slice when all was said and done.

Lemon Cake

Makes 1 loaf. Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa: Parties!

1 stick salted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 c. granulated sugar, divided

2 large eggs, at room temperature

zest of 3 large lemons

1 1/2 c. flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

about 1/2 c. lemon juice, divided

a heaping 1/3 c. buttermilk, at room temperature (or homemade “buttermilk”)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the glaze:

1 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted if you’re not as lazy as I am

1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. lemon juice (you should have some leftover from the 1/2 c. needed, above)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan, then line with parchment. Butter and flour the parchment.

Cream the butter and 1 c. of the sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another small bowl, combine 1/8 c. lemon juice (if you have a 1/4 c. measuring cup, just eyeball half of that) with the buttermilk and vanilla extract.

Alternate beating in the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour into the pan and smooth the top, then bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out just clean.

Meanwhile, warm 1/4 c. granulated sugar and 1/4 c. lemon juice in a small saucepan, until the sugar dissolves. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack nestled in a rimmed baking sheet. Poke a bunch of holes deep into the top of the cake with a toothpick, then pour the lemon juice and sugar syrup over the cake and onto the sides, and allow to cool completely.

For the glaze, whisk together the 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. of lemon juice with 1 c. confectioner’s sugar. If the mixture is too think, add a bit more lemon juice. Whisk until smooth, then pour over the cake and allow to drizzle down the sides. The glaze will harden as it cools. Serve with sweetened fruit, or jam, or just plain.

Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Spicy Pecans
July 25, 2010, 3:12 pm
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Surprise! It’s still hotter than a bunch of habaneros around here, which means someone, shockingly, is still a little cranky. Luckily our air conditioner is back in working order (after two dicey days), and today’s forecasted high of 89° sounds practically windswept compared to yesterday’s 100°, which mostly just forced me inside to drink. What does this mean for you? Well, today I was finally able to turn the oven on in what seems like ages to make this chicken salad with spicy pecans.

Despite my laziness and lack of ingredients, it was still pretty delicious. And with the air conditioner on full blast here, I could at least pretend to be chilly while doing it.

The recipe comes adapted from Sara Foster’s Fresh Every Day, and the changes I made were merely out of the “I don’t have this and am too lazy to go out again” school of thought, as opposed to the “As a seasoned cook, I believe these flavors will best complement one another” approach.

The spicy pecans are pretty assertive on their own, but their spice gets a little lost in the shuffle once the whole salad comes together. So if you want a real kick, don’t be afraid of upping the cayenne a bit. Add a diced rib or two of celery if you have it, and a few tablespoons of mango chutney (as the original recipe calls for).

I suppose I’ll have to make this again when I actually have all the ingredients, but the stripped down version was delicious too – especially on pumpernickel with some baby arugula and a little smear of mustard. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go eat the rest of those pecans.

Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Spicy Pecans

Serves 3. Adapted from Sara Foster’s Fresh Every Day

2 cooked chicken breast halves, diced

3 scallions, chopped finely

1 tart green apple, cored and chopped (peeled if desired)

juice of half a lemon

1 c. red seedless grapes, halved

2 tbsp. dijon mustard

2 tbsp. mango chutney (optional)

a scant 1/2 c. mayonnaise

1 c. Spicy Pecans (recipe follows)

lots of salt and freshly ground pepper

a handful each of basil and mint, slivered

Toss the chicken, scallions, and apple in a large bowl; drizzle the lemon juice over the apple chunks so they don’t brown. Add the grapes, mustard, mayo, mango chutney if you have it, and pecans, and toss to combine. Add lots of salt and freshly ground pepper; taste and correct the seasoning. Just before serving, sliver the basil and mint and toss to combine. Serve over baby arugula, or on dark bread with lettuce and more mustard.

Spicy Pecans

Makes 2 cups. You only need 1 cup for the salad, but you’ll eat the leftovers, don’t worry.

2 c. halved pecans

3 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 350º. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the pecans with the vanilla extract and olive oil. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining spices, then pour over the pecans and toss again to combine evenly. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet, in one layer, and bake about 15 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes or so to keep them from burning. Allow to cool completely before storing or using – otherwise the pecans get soft.

Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of July 22
July 22, 2010, 7:59 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m here to canvass the food blogs, so you don’t have to. A few highlights this week:

Fette Sau gets high marks from the boys at Immaculate Infatuation, and the whole program over there has me drooling. You can order growlers of beer and meat by the pound. Need I say more? Who’s up for a field trip?

The Siftster bestows 2 stars on Swedish stalwart Aquavit, now run by Marcus Jernmark following celeb-chef Marcus Samuelsson’s departure in May. This week, the Siftster keeps the bizarre to a minimum, except to say that the presentation of the arctic char “looks like a low-rider car.” Huh.

If you hadn’t heard, it’s Restaurant Week here, which means plenty of places are pulling out all the stops. It also means you should go out to eat, since restaurant visits are down 3% in the 12 months ending in May 2010. And Wined and Dined has the word on some places, like all of Daniel Boulud’s places, are extending the deal and adding new incentives until September.

I’m a little late on this one, but regardless: Batali’s Eataly, the ginormous marketplace set to open August 31 in Madison Square Park, will feature a rooftop beer garden. (It’ll open in the fall.)

Today is the last day of the Taste of Rock Center, which is going down in – wait- you guessed it, Rock Center. Bill’s Burger & Bar is offering a preview of what’s to come, and Magnolia has set up shop as well. It goes until 2:30, and you’d best get there early.

Oh, and in a shocking new twist, the temperature will hit about 95° on Saturday….which means Restaurant Girl’s recs for frozen treats will come in handy.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
July 20, 2010, 10:22 pm
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Oh, lemon poppy seed muffins. I baked you ages ago, back when the temperature hadn’t cracked 100 for, you know, like, three days in a row. It was practically winter back then, and some delicious muffins seemed just the thing. I had vague memories of loving these when I was younger, and was also maybe subconsciously looking to riff on this classic Seinfeld episode…..

Of course, I then baked them and promptly went away for the weekend, but the Nutritional Ninja assures me they were “positively” delicious. Yeah, I went there.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

From Sara Foster’s Fresh Every Day. Makes 12-18 muffins.

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 c. poppy seeds

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 stick butter, softened

3/4 c. sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk

zest and juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375º. Line a cupcake pan with liners. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mix the zest and lemon juice, the vanilla, and the buttermilk. Add to the egg mixture, alternating with the flour mixture, mixing by hand to combine. Stir just until no flour is visible, so as not to overmix.

Scoop the batter into the cups, about 1/2 c. in each. Bake, about 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out just clean. Allow to cool in the pan before popping them out.

Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of July 15
July 15, 2010, 8:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

You know the drill: I’m here to canvass the food blogs, so you don’t have to. Some highlights this week:

The Sifster reviews Má Pêche, the newest incarnation of David Chang’s Momofuku Empire, and writes the most bizarre things – but gives it two stars, of course. To wit: “Eating there is a little like visiting your formerly bohemian artist friend, whom you haven’t seen since he signed with Deitch and bought a double loft in TriBeCa.” Also: there’s a branch of the wildly popular Milk Bar in the lobby. Duly noted.

I love, love that the boys at Immaculate Infatuation have happily succumbed to Mad Men fever, reviewing the original location of P.J. Clarke’s and giving it a solid 7.5.

Eater NY went to the trouble of creating a hilarious map of restaurants to avoid: “12 First Date Non-Closer Restaurants.” Check, please?

Everyone and their mother has been reviewing the concretes at Shake Shack’s new Hell’s Kitchen location….and with good reason, since they’re all delicious.

Gael Greene is delighted with the “rebooted” Annisa, which recently reopened after an electrical fire devastated the place last summer. The new twist? Chef Anita Lo is not renewing her contract with the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, so she can focus more closely on the restaurant and a new cookbook.

Let’s see if I can write this with a straight face: Grub Street has the early word on a new dating site from the good people behind Just Salad, which seeks to match singletons based on – wait for it – their salad preferences. It’s called Salad Match. Nope. Not joking.

Pan-fried Chickpea Salad with Chicken & Almonds
July 12, 2010, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Surprise, surprise: someone overindulged this weekend and now needs like three months of diet dinners to compensate. What can I say? It was a little of this, a little of that, a sprinkling of this, and, well, you get the idea. According to the internets, chickpeas are very high in lots of helpful things like manganese, folate, and other vitamins and minerals which will surely help my detoxification. And since we’re now stuck in the 7th circle of hell, where temperatures are still, revoltingly, in the 90s, I needed yet another recipe that required no oven and little stovetop cooking time. This passed with flying colors.

I’ll admit, I’ve not always been the garbanzo bean’s Biggest Fan, but this “salad” – does it really count as a salad if it doesn’t have any lettuce? – might convert me. The yogurt dressing is creamy and still has a little kick from the curry, the almonds add the requisite crunch, and the chicken adds just enough heft so I won’t be rummaging around for a snack later.

Apparently chickpeas are even more delicious when you make them from scratch: soak the dried beans overnight, then cook them for 35-40 minutes. It’s not too difficult, and only requires a little planning. Maybe I’ll try that next time, when my head clears.

Pan-fried Chickpea Salad with Chicken & Almonds

Serves 4ish. Adapted from this recipe.

2 tbsp. butter

3 1/2 c. (from 2 15 oz. cans) cooked chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry

1 red onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

zest and juice of 1 lemon + juice of 1/2 lemon (divided)

about a cup of cooked chicken, diced (from 1/2 of a whole breast)

1/3 c. low-fat plain yogurt

1 1/2 tsp. curry powder

salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 c. cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, diced

1/4 c. toasted slivered almonds

Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the chickpeas and onions. Saute over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until heated through and slightly golden brown. Add the garlic, lemon zest, and juice of 1 lemon. Stir to combine for about a minute (don’t let the garlic burn) and add the chicken before turning off the heat. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in a measuring cup or small bowl, stir together the yogurt, curry powder, olive oil, juice of 1/2 a lemon, cilantro, salt and pepper. Taste and correct the seasoning. Pour over the chickpeas; add the chopped scallions and almonds. Stir and serve immediately.

Sidenote: I served this with rice pilaf and mixed the two together; it was delicious. But if you’re someone who’s rather picky about what he eats and has rules about foods touching other foods, well, you might not want to bother with that.

Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of July 8
July 8, 2010, 7:54 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Happy Thursday! I’m here to canvass the food blogs, so you don’t have to. Some highlights this week:

The Siftster is less than enthused about Kenmare, giving it a goose egg and writing, “It isn’t even really for dinner. It is a place to get fries and sliders, followed by a sugar rush, a place to drink vodka while waiting on a text. It’s like 11 p.m. You want to meet downstairs at Kenmare and do whatever?” The Sifster’s a character, that’s for sure.

The boys at Immaculate Infatuation are on the road, hitting up no less than The French Laundry in Yountville and Cochon in New Orleans – which had several dishes that were so amazing, Stang’s “going to comission paintings of them.” Nice.

Telepan, the UWS stalwart, is not only doing a special prix-fixe for upcoming restaurant week, but they’re also doing special picnic baskets for $21. The baskets include fried chicken and dessert – need I say more?

There’s a pricey ($135 a pop) dinner at Aldea coming up, done by Sean Brock of Charleston and hosted by the James Beard Foundation. It all goes down on July 18; more info here.

For the next couple of weeks leading up to Restaurant Week (July 12 -25), Wined & Dined’s focusing on the gems already serving prix-fixe-style dinners. First up: Supper’s Monday night “Simple Supper,” a steal at $15.95.

In the Kitchen with the Ninja
July 7, 2010, 7:25 pm
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I sauntered home one recent evening, after meeting a friend for drinks, to find the apartment smelling…interesting. Lo and behold, the Nutritional Ninja had cooked dinner for himself!

He gestured excitedly at the most recent issue of Bon Appétit and exclaimed something about peaches before revealing that, in fact, it didn’t taste very good. I thought the above photograph (his handiwork) said otherwise, so I decided to sit down with the Ninja and let him explain his recent adventure in the kitchen. The original recipe for “Grilled Chicken and Peaches with Chipotle-Peach Dressing” is here, though proceed at your own risk. Our conversation has been edited somewhat; the Ninja’s quite a talker.

So. You decided to cook something out of Bon Appétit. A little adventurous, perhaps? Explain yourself.

Well, it looked simple, and it said the cooking time was 30 minutes and I figured I could handle it….

Was it actually 30 minutes?

Uh, I don’t think so.

Were you thinking of that song by The Presidents of the United States of America?

Uh, no. I was thinking that this sounded like a delightful Southwestern little medley and all I needed were peaches, chiles, chicken, and 30 minutes. I was mistaken.

The recipe only calls for 9 ingredients, one of which is non-stick cooking spray. How did things go so horribly awry?

Do we even have non-stick cooking spray? [Ed. note: Um, yeah, we do.] I just figured olive oil would be ok. So I just started sauteeing the chicken, I combined all the ingredients, but then realized I had the wrong chiles. Also, later, when you make the sauce, you’re supposed to separate it into 2 bowls: one for basting the chicken and one for the actual sauce. I just basted from one bowl of sauce, which I think was a bad idea. [Ed. note: Wow.] But I didn’t die, so it’s ok.

Did you eat it anyway?

Of course! I had to! I slaved over this thing! But on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best thing I’ve ever had, it was maybe a 3.5.

Did you have to bribe yourself to eat it?

No way! I even ate the leftovers the next morning for breakfast! [Ed. note: Ew.] The chicken was pretty good when I put a lot of ranch dressing on top. What!? It’s Southwestern! The peaches, though, were disgusting.

This is grossing me out. Let’s talk about the photography – it looks good and kind of fooled me. Ever consider a career change?

I mean, I did go to art school…

Point taken. So now that you’re all up in my kitchen flexing your culinary muscle(s), what’s next? You cooking dinner tomorrow night or what?

Well, when you left me alone last weekend, I made lamb steaks, roasted beets, roasted figs, and spinach salad with yellow tomatoes. I even made my own dressing.

Wait, wait, wait, write this down. I want this to be known. Look, I don’t want to cook my own dinner. I like it when you cook dinner. But I figure I better learn how to start cooking. Also, I cook more organic food than you do, and I’m healthier than you are.

Now you’re just being annoying.

Whatever! Plus, all these sauces take a lot of time, and I don’t have time for that BS! So I just put dressing on it and call it a day. I mean, you could put ranch dressing on dog food and it would probably taste pretty good.

And there we have the number one reason why I’m the one in front of the stove. Stay tuned for the next installment of “In the Kitchen with the Ninja.”

Indonesian-Style Salad with Chicken
July 6, 2010, 8:50 pm
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Remember when I moaned about how hot it was a few weeks ago? Well, I was lying and I didn’t even know it. That was nothing. That was a dry run. The temperature hit 100º today at LaGuardia and JFK, and I think with the heat index it was closer to 106º. Honestly, it must have triggered something in my brain because I’ve gone haywire. I’m like a small child: I need to be fed, I need lots of sleep, and I can’t get too hot, otherwise I get cranky. Today I rocked all three. It was terrible.

Dinner tonight was obviously not going to involve any cooking. I found this recipe leafing through Food & Wine in an advertorial section, no less, but it’s really delightful. I made just a couple of changes: I used poached chicken we had lying around in lieu of the shrimp, and messed around with the dressing. Also, in the end, I, er, well….I heated the dressing on the stove instead of whizzing it in the blender. I think it’s much nicer that way, and thankfully I had an ice cold glass of wine to keep me cool for the 5 minutes the stove was on. Phew.

It turns out the salad is really nice, and just the thing for a horrendous night like tonight. It’s the usual vegetative suspects: romaine, scallions, shredded carrots, cucumber and bell pepper – but the warm, slightly spicy dressing does a number on it and I can’t get over how nice freshly chopped basil and cilantro elevates the whole thing. I can’t believe I just wrote “elevates” without being facetious. See? I told you this heat was making me bonkers.

Indonesian-Style Salad with Chicken

Serves 4ish. By F&W‘s Grace Parisi

1 large head of romaine, chopped

1 1/2 c. shredded carrots

1 bell pepper, diced

3 scallions, sliced

1 cucumber, seeded and diced

2 poached chicken breast halves, diced

about 1/2 c. of peanuts, toasted if you’d like

a handful of cilantro and basil each, chopped (don’t chop the basil until you’re ready to serve)

1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. regular creamy peanut butter

1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. unsweetened coconut milk

1 tbsp. Asian fish sauce

2 tsp. sriracha

juice of 1 1/2 limes

1 tsp. light brown sugar

lots of freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt

a few lime wedges for garnish

In a large bowl, combine the romaine, carrots, cucumber, scallions, bell pepper, peanuts, and chicken. In a small saucepan, whisk together the peanut butter, coconut milk, fish sauce, sriracha, lime juice, brown sugar, and salt and pepper. Whisk until combined and heated through; taste and adjust seasoning. Pour over salad; add cilantro and basil, toss to combine, and serve with lime wedges.