Burrata brilliance

Let’s just get right into it cause every moment you spend reading about anything other than BURRATA SOFT SERVE is a moment of your life that you are not living right.

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Burrata in a whole new delicious form.

Slight exaggeration? Yea, maybe, but let’s go back to that and repeat after me: burrata soft serve. Cue the clouds parting and a choir of angels singing and blowing their trumpets and the one playing the harp actually busting strings, cause again: burrata soft serve.

On the off chance you don’t know what burrata is, it’s a milky, semi-soft Italian cheese, kind of like mozzarella’s slightly sexier, cooler cousin. It’s actually made from mozzarella, but it’s creamier and more spreadable on the inside. If you don’t have lactose allergies and have functioning taste buds, you know how awesome burrata is.

It’s completely wonderful on it’s own but at Dominique Ansel Kitchen you can revel in its deliciousness in an untraditional form: soft serve ice cream. Piled high into a beautiful swirl of creamy goodness with just a subtle hint of tanginess in place of a more common vanilla base flavor, but not as sour as plain yogurt, the soft serve comes in a thick, not too crunchy but almost cookie like cone, delicately drizzled with balsamic caramel and sprinkled with little sprigs of microbasil. I wasn’t sure whether the teeny basil leaves were decorative or not but I ate them with my big mouthfuls of creamy, cold soft serve and they were delicious, bright and peppery.

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I don’t normally like surprises, but strawberry confit? I’ll take that any day!

But then, just as I approached the bottom of the cone, that sweet container of the final remnants of ice cream, I was hit with one last surprise: strawberry confit. Several juicy, plump, roasted strawberries just sitting in their milky, sweet soft serve. It was like an encore at an already awesome concert or an after-the-credits hidden scene after a great movie.

Cause if you ask me, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to ice cream. Just keep it coming. I’m looking at you, burrata soft serve.

Just the excuse I was looking for…

I routinely look for any excuse to not eat at home. We’re out of olive oil? Let’s just eat out.  We have friends in from out of town? Let’s just eat out. It’s Friday? Saturday? SundayMondayTuesday? Let’s just eat out!

But one of my more justified reasons for eating out is NYC Restaurant Week, because really how can you not take advantage of three courses over lunch for $25 or three courses at dinner for $35? I certainly can’t, not in these trying economic times.

So last week, Flaneur and I set out in the name of Restaurant Week for lunch at David Burke Kitchen at the James Hotel in SoHo. And let me tell you, dear reader whoever you are, I will be using one of my many bullshit excuses to eat there again soon, cause it was good.

Asparagus and burrata salad… not sure how something topped with a giant ball of cheese is “salad” but hey, I am NOT complaining

To start things off, I ordered the asparagus and burrata salad, which wasn’t so much a salad as it was a beautiful stack of watermelon, yellow tomato, prosciutto, asparagus and creamy, milky burrata, with some drizzles of olive oil and sauces and a few juicy cherry tomatoes. Packed with colorful flavors, everything was clean and bright and delicious. A larger portion of this would make an amazing entree.

Tuna tartare tacos, so pretty and so delicious

The boy on the other hand, ordered the tuna tartare tacos, which would’ve given me major food envy, had my appetizer not been so damn good itself. Three crunchy taco shells were filled to the top with buttery, smooth avocado and tuna tartare and then topped with tobiko (flying fish roe, so I learned). Not only was this great tasting, but the color of the tobiko was one of the most beautiful jewel tones I’ve ever seen. I wanted to eat it and wear it all at the same time.

Softshell crab BLT: a pretty good way to get over mistrust of creepy crustaceans

For my entree, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and ordered the softshell crab BLT. Not that I don’t enjoy crab but I usually don’t like eating shellfish that still resemble the insects-of-the-sea that they are. (Whole lobster? Negative. Freaks me out.) But when it came out— the small crab hanging out belly up with all his little creepy legs in the air, sitting on top of a stack of toasted bread, tomato, chipotle mayo, and thick bacon— I knew I’d be ok. I chomped into it and forgot I ever had a problem with creepy crustaceans in the first place. To go with it was a tasty basket of fried vegetable chips.

Black sea bass with baby shrimp and spinach

Flaneur, who’s allergic to shellfish, ordered the black sea bass, which he somehow didn’t realize (even though it was plainly written on the menu) came loaded up with baby shrimp. (Guess whose mouth those ended up in?) But even sans shrimp, the sea bass was good, plump and clean under a bed of spinach and tomato with olive oil swirls and a thick, spicy mustard sauce.

Drunken brownie with mint-chocolate ice cream, bourbon caramel sauce and chocolate cherry lollipop

And then, my favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), dessert. Being the choco-whore that I am, I went with the drunken brownie, a fat, warm brownie topped with mint-chocolate ice cream and a cherry-chocolate lollipop. But really the kicker was when the waiter poured hot bourbon caramel sauce all around it on my plate. For a split second I wanted to ask him to pour it straight into my mouth but that probably wasn’t very lady-like.

Individual pie oozing with fat blueberries

The boy went with the fresh blueberry tartlet topped with a scoop of butter pecan ice cream. While I definitely loved mine more (chocolate fan through and through), the mountain of juicy, fat blueberries made this a pretty good second choice.

Thankfully, restaurant week is never just a week, so I might just have to go back there and check out dinner too. And if restaurant week is over, I’ll just have to pull out some other random excuse from my ever-full bag-o-BS excuses.

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Pizza perfection

Now that’s a pizza party!

After eating at Motorino in the East Village, I thought I had found the one. I would have to look for real Neapolitan pizza no more in New York. Motorino was the one for me, and that’s all I needed.

Then I found Kestè, a small, bustling pizzeria in the West Village, and now I know: I’m not a one-pizzeria kind of girl. In this city, my heart and stomach are divided between east and west, Motorino and Kestè.

Flaneur, Vanessa and I went on a recent Thursday and after a 45-minute wait (because they don’t take reservations) we shuffled through the busy restaurant to our table on the other side of the flour covered pizza-making area and hot ovens. In addition to the mouth-watering aroma of fresh-from-the-oven pizzas and the fact that the whole place was packed, with even more hungry people waiting outside, there was another sign that this was going to be a good spot, and something that I look for in situations like these: Italians. One of the girls next to us, the family a few tables down, the old couple outside, even our waiter.

White pizza with burrata and tomatoes

With ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, soppressata, and pecorino romano, everything on the menu sounded delicious and by the looks of the pizzas getting served all around us, these were the real deal. Because none of us could decide on just one pizza, we decided to each get a different one and share.

Not long after we ordered (thankfully), our pizzas showed up and we hungrily set about dividing them up. They looked beautiful, just as perfect as their most perfect Italian counterparts, and after the first bite I was just as in love as I had been in Italy.

Pizza del re: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, mushrooms and truffle

The first pizza I tried was one we decided on at the last minute when our waiter announced it as the special of the night. Although I don’t usually like white pizzas (meaning no sauce), when he said it had burrata, one of my favorite Italian cheeses made from mozzarella and cream, I was totally sold. Big, white blobs of the creamy cheese topped the thick, doughy crust. Little cherry tomatoes added a little color and a hint of that familiar taste to this amazing pizza. I almost felt like I was cheating on my love, Motorino. Kestè and I were getting into something serious here.

Kestè pizza: prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, gran cru and arugulaNext up, I tore a slice of the pizza del re (king’s pizza) which Flaneur and Vanessa had already started on and were ooohing and aaahhing about between mouthfuls. The same thick crust was covered with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto and one of my favorite ingredients of all time: truffle spread. I tend to like my pizzas more on the simple side, with just one or two ingredients but on the pizza del re, all the toppings worked together perfectly so that if even just one was missing it wouldn’t of been half as good. As soon as all those flavors hit my tongue and seemingly swirled around my head, I was hooked. As if the pizza itself weren’t delicious enough, it left a mix of truffle and olive oil on the plate, perfect for dragging pizza crust through.

Last on my Kestè tour de force was the pizzeria’s self-titled pie, a lush leafy pizza with arugula, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, and gran cru, a hard pecorino cheese. No ingredient dominated the other. The entire surface was done almost in layers instead of one single blanket of mixed parts. The arugula mixed with the thick cheese shavings contrasted nicely in their dry textures to the gooey cheese underneath and the soft chewiness of the dough.

When every last bit of pizza was done, I debated with myself. Could this be better than Motorino, what I had previously named the best pizza on this side of the pond? As I sat and reminisced about pizzas past, I decided, nope, not better, not less delicious, just perfectly equal in my pizza loving heart…and stomach.

*Photography by the multi-talented Vanessa Garcia. Woot woot.

When only Italian food will do

Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for Italy, specifically Florence, the city I called home for two years. I miss my Italian friends and my fellow American expatriate friends. I miss my old apartment and the street I lived on. I miss the espresso and of course, I miss the food. Always the food. With no vacation long enough to visit my old stomping grounds or enough money to even buy the ticket if I did  have the time, I get stuck going through old photo albums and reminiscing with the boyfriend about all the good times. (The funny thing about nostalgia is that it conveniently hides the bad memories too, but that’s a story for another day and a different post.)

So to get me out of my funk, I knew the thing to do was eat some good Italian food. My reasoning being that if I could have some good food, then really my two favorite things about Italy would both be here with me. (The other thing being the aforementioned boyfriend.)

When Flaneur mentioned that he had a sort-of relative (one of those people who’s not technically a relative but is more easily described as one) who worked at Morandi in the West Village I took it as a sign that it was where we should go. I figured it had two things working strongly in its favor: one, it was a Keith McNally restaurant and since everything he opens turns to restaurant gold it had to be good and two, no self-respecting Italian could possibly work at an Italian restaurant in America that wasn’t good, right? And as it always gives me great pleasure to say this: I was right.

The restaurant itself was rustic-casual with a lively, fun atmosphere and upbeat jazz pouring from the speakers and mixing with the chatter and clinking of dishes and glasses. The menu had lots to choose from and even several things that I hadn’t seen in months on any other menus.

One of the specific things I’ve been nostalgic for recently are fried artichokes so when I saw them on the menu I didn’t even think of starting off with anything else. I love most things that are fried but artichokes are some of my favorite and these did not disappoint. Fried to a nice warm brown, and sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice, they were light and crispy with an almost buttery after taste.

Carciofi alla giudea

Carciofi alla giudea

Flaneur got the burrata, which I was happy about because that would’ve been my go-to appetizer had the artichokes been missing from the menu. The creamy white ball of cheese came with three roasted cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, all of which quickly disappeared from the plate.

Burrata e pachini

For the entrée, I knew I wanted pasta. If a place can’t do pasta right then it shouldn’t have the claim to italian food, so I went with another one of my old favorites from when I lived abroad: pappardelle al cinghiale. The long, ribbon-like noodles and rich, meaty wild boar chunks were delicious, just as good as some of the best I’d had in Florence. With each forkful of the pasta and soft, juicy boar, I felt like I was catching up with an old friend.

Pappardelle al cinghiale

Although he thought about getting a second course (meat or fish), Flaneur took my route and went with a pasta dish: pici al limone. I was ready to be critical of these because pici (especially the ones I’ve eaten in Siena) are some of my most beloved noodles, but these left no room for skepticism or complaint. Simple and delicious, like the best italian pastas usually are, the thick, round spaghetti-like noodles were both tangy and cheesy under their blanket of parmesan cheese and lemon.

Pici al limone

As usual though, it was going to take the desserts to really seal the deal with me and steal my heart, and Morandi, with its dessert menu of vin santo and cantucci, budino di riso and other sweet treats, had pretty much won me over. I went with the frittelle di ricotta and sure enough, they were the perfect way to end the meal.  The five golfball sized ricotta fritters dusted in sparkly brown cinnamon sugar  were soft and warm, with moist, fluffy insides like little clouds of sugary perfection.

Frittelle di ricotta

Finally, because he loves pine nuts (and even kind of has a pinolo shaped head), Flaneur opted for the crostata di pinoli, a moist pine nut tart under a snowy layer of confectioner’s sugar, surrounded by a drizzle of spiced honey and topped with a dollop of creamy pear gelato (which was also, for the sake of continuity, shaped like a pine nut). The whole thing was subtle and light, with the gelato giving the warm cake below a nice cool creaminess.

Crostata di pinoli

So until I get a nice chunk of time and a great deal on a transatlantic flight, I think I’ve figured out the cure to the missing-Italy blues.  And based on my dinner at Morandi, I have to say, it seems to do the trick.

The lunch to top all lunches

Every lunch I have from now until God-knows-when will pale in comparison to the meal I had Monday. The deli sandwiches, microwaved leftovers and salads that usually constitute my lunch will forever live in the shadow of what I had yesterday. The lunch I ate is what I might have answered to the question, “What would you want to eat as your last meal?” It would be the answer to that question if I sat and fantasized about it and dreamed up a menu of the most incredible ingredients and amazing dishes. It was better than a daydreamed answer. It was real and it was lunch at a New York institution, the original home of the power lunch, the Four Seasons Restaurant.

Thanks in part to a piece featuring the restaurant’s managing partners written in the magazine I work for, and part because of friends in high places (i.e. my wonderful friend who works there), and part to an all around aligning of the planets or divine intervention on behalf of the food gods, my friend Joe and I had the great honor of being invited to lunch at the Four Seasons Restaurant.

I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, but neither pictures nor words could really do much in the way of doing this food any justice. It was just too good. But I’ll give it a shot.

While each item listed under appetizers sounded better than the next, I knew immediately what I would order when I laid eyes on it: burrata and roasted beets. Burrata is a creamy white Italian cheese made from a mix of mozzarella and cream. When I lived in Italy I ate it whenever possible but this was the first time I had had it since I moved here almost nine months ago. Along with the soft juicy pear halves and the roasted beets, it was a magical reunion to say the least.

Burrata with roasted beets and pears

Joe opted for the day’s special: Spanish ham with white asparagus, grilled peppers and hearts of palm. (It should go without saying that of course I had a bite.) A great mix of colors, flavors and tastes.

Spanish ham, white asparagus, peppers and hearts of palm

Next up in our line-up of mouth-watering eats were the entrees. I ordered the Nantucket Bay scallops with black truffle risotto. I’m usually not crazy about scallops but these were like nothing I’d ever had before. And the black truffle risotto was on par with the best risottos I ever had in Italy. Best of all, this wasn’t truffle oil or truffle essence, it was whole flakes of delicious black truffles, with an aroma so good it was almost hypnotizing.

Nantucket bay scallops with black truffle risotto

With some encouragement from me, Joe went for the bison filet with foie gras and black truffles. The meat, cooked to a perfect redish pink, was juicy and soft, and mixed with a bit of the foie gras and truffles, it really did almost melt in your mouth. Meat like this, while it’s not something I eat often, or ever really, is the kind of thing that keeps me from giving up meat. Passing up something so amazing would be like passing up sunshine.

Filet of bison with foie gras and perigord black truffle

My favorite part of most meals is dessert, and while it’s practically impossible to choose a favorite from such perfect dishes as the ones I had here, the chocolate soufflè I ordered (on my friend’s recommendation) was definitely a contender. A soft, warm chocolate cake came perched on top of a porcelain dessert cup along with a small bowl of  thick warm chocolate. When he placed it before me, the waiter used a spoon to push in the middle of the cake, which he then filled with heaping spoonfuls of hot, gooey chocolate. This is the stuff chocolate dreams are made of.

Chocolate soufflè

Joe’s dessert, while listed simply as cheesecake, was actually almost three desserts in one. The cheesecake itself, coated in a soft layer of chocolate, was smooth and creamy, almost like a custard. It also came with a little glass of chocolate mousse topped with a soft, almost-frothy whipped cream, and a round little heap of what tasted like hazelnut sorbet. A fantastic end to a fantastic meal.

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

A very sincere thank you to the Four Seasons Restaurant, to my friend there whose job and daily lunch options I envy more than anything else now, and to the food gods who decided to shine all their good graces down on me and grant me one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.