Out with the old and in with the calories

Ok, hear me out. This time I have a good excuse for my latest disappearing act. My dear, sweet computer, my ol’ Italian girl with the keyboard that used to trip everybody up except me, finally gave up the fight and went peacefully in her sleep one night.

We had a good long run together, about 8 years, so I think I need some time alone, no? Blogging on my phone, however, is a nightmare and doing it at work isn’t really an option either at the moment, so there you have it: radio silence.

But don’t you worry, it’s been gluttonous business as usual here. Below, a look at the things I’ve been eating and drinking and just not writing about:

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The phenomenal leek bread pudding from Cassette‘s brunch menu wasn’t what I was expecting (since I didn’t really know what to expect) but it was damn good. Oh and the restaurant, in Greenpoint, is adorable. You should go.

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I hated it the first time I tried it but over the years, the Negroni has become one of my favorites. At Extra Fancy in Williamsburg, they have a frozen one. Clearly, I was in love.

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In all the years I’ve lived in New York so far, I had never been to Carnegie Deli so when I heard that the local institution was closing at the end of the year, I had to go. Not wanting to wait an hour and a half on the sidewalk for a table inside, Stas and I got our order to-go and ate it in the park. The Woody Allen (“lots corned beef and lotsa pastrami”), the most delicious knish I’ve had yet, a fat slice of banana cream pie and a thick wedge of the richest, most dense cheesecake I’ve ever eaten, and the two of us were done for.

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And lastly, a special shout out to the pretzel dog at my favorite bar in my old hood, the Rusty Knot. It’s nothing fancy, just a hot dog in the loving embrace of warm, salty dough, but dammit it fills my heart with all the feels every time. Or maybe that was the drinks. Who knows. It’s all delicious.

Pumped

While having dinner at the too-cool-for-my-own-good Pump Room at the swanky Public Chicago hotel, I came to a realization: I’d love to be one of those travelers that just seems to hang out all day, lounging around the lobby of their plush hotel, requesting 11am wake-up calls and then worrying only about when their in-room massage is scheduled or what time dinner is.

If I was one of those travelers, which time and money constraints keep me from being, I’d check in to a place like the Public, and just bask in the awesomeness of it all. More precisely, I would eat three square meals a day at The Pump Room, and sip cocktails in between (and during) meals in the uber chic bar or the stylish lobby. (This would also all take place during winter so I wouldn’t have to leave the hotel. )

Alas, I’m not that kind of traveler. But during an awesome dinner at the Pump Room during my recent jaunt with the beau, I pretended to be, at least for the duration of dinner. The Jean-Georges restaurant seems to have borrowed lots of menu items from another JG restaurant, the always-without-fail delicious ABC Kitchen in New York, which was more than fine by me since that pretty much guaranteed the food would be amazing. And it was.

Lessons in deliciousness: coating calamari in pretzel crumbs.

The boy and I started out with an order of pretzel dusted calamari, something I’d already had (and loved) at ABC. With both a tangy, sweet marinara sauce and a creamy, spicy mustard aioli, this was just more of a good thing. Every city in the world should have a place to get this dish.

It’s always a good time for flatbread, especially if it involves truffles.

And because I don’t believe in holding back while on vacation, we also got one of Pump Room’s whole wheat flatbreads, the one with black truffle, fontina and frisee salad. It was just the right amount of doughy, cheesy and truffley (yea, I know, not a real word).

Fried chicken on a bed of spinach, wait for it, in spicy butter. Mind blown, huh?

For the entree, I went with fried organic chicken cause really, is there anything harder to resist than good fried chicken? This one came with spinach and a velvety, fiery homemade hot sauce butter. Crunchy skin, tender, juicy meat, and spinach to make you understand Popeye a million times over. Heaven on a dish, no lie, people.

Short rib and pureed potatoes. YES please.

Flaneur ordered the glazed beef short rib with potato puree and a crunchy, cheddar garnish.The spicy peppers gave a tasty heat to the hearty, delicious meat. I’m never a huge fan of short ribs, but this could make a believer out of anyone.

Dessert

And finally, because I wouldn’t dare leave a restaurant like this without dessert, we split the creme fraiche cheesecake with blood orange sorbet, fennel crisps and kumquat marmalade. With its creamy consistency and fresh, clean fruity flavors, it was a nice, subtle note to end the dinner on. I could have eaten four more though, just for the record.

National Rice Pudding Day, yes, rice pudding

According to Serious Eats, today is National Rice Pudding Day. (Random, I know, but hey, we all have to get some recognition sometime.)

Up until about a year ago I would never have celebrated National Rice Pudding Day. I grew up being slightly grossed out by the lumpy, cold dessert, because like lentil soup, rice pudding was one of those things that my mom made all the time, even though I told her, and still have to remind her to this day, I didn’t like it. At all. I’ve always thought my mom’s cooking was mediocre at best, but rice pudding (and lentil soup, for that matter) always fell squarely in the “blegh, gross” category. My mom’s was sticky and goopy, with disconcerting whole cinnamon sticks.

Rice To Riches' cheesecake flavored rice pudding. Now, THAT'S my kind of rice pudding.

But some time last year I heard about Rice To Riches, a Nolita shop specializing in one thing only: rice pudding. Curious to see how a business could thrive selling something as random as rice pudding, I went to check it out. Unlike my mom’s milky colored variety, the rice puddings at RTR came in more than a dozen flavors and colors. There was a gold colored caramel, a chocolate flecked cookies and cream, a chocolatey hazelnut, an oatmeal-colored french toast. This was NOT my mom’s rice pudding.

I surprisingly liked it so much that first time, that I went again more recently and tried it again. And what do you know? I still wasn’t grossed out by it! In fact, I straight up liked it. I went for the cheesecake rice pudding (named “coast to coast cheesecake”) which was cool and creamy, with just enough texture to not be too smooth or slimy. The flavor was a creamier version of cheesecake filling (which, ahem, I could eat by the gallons) and best part— no surprise pieces of uncut cinnamon sticks! (God, I hated those.)

Rice To Riches was able to make me a rice pudding believer, even after a childhood of the goopy, icky stuff I had at home. So go ahead, have a happy rice pudding day! At a safe thousand plus miles away from my mom’s rice pudding, I know I certainly will.

Time flies when you’re eating cheesecake

Today marked the one year anniversary of me moving to New York. And fittingly enough, Flaneur and I also have Italian friends in town. So in order to celebrate both of these facts, I pulled a Marie Antoinette and said, “Let them eat cake! Cheesecake!”

Sure, there’s cheesecake in Italy, but it’s got nothing on New York cheesecake. When I lived in Florence, I was only ever able to find authentic cheesecake at one place in town, Sugar & Spice, a small American bakery near the Duomo. Italian cheesecake isn’t bad, it just isn’t quite cheesecake. It isn’t creamy and soft and there’s no buttery, graham cracker crust. It’s basically New York cheesecake’s Italian cousin, maybe even second cousin.

Good ol' plain NY cheesecake

So today we went to Eileen’s Special Cheesecake in Nolita and had a little lesson in what a real cheesecake should look and taste like. Although Eileen’s has cheesecakes in all sorts of flavors like Rocky Road, pumpkin and cappuccino and topped with fruit toppings like strawberries, pineapple and raspberries, all of us opted for the plain cheesecake— and it was good, really good.

Eileen’s boasts the title of “Best cheesecake in NY” and I have to say, agree. The cheesecake was buttery, creamy and smooth with a moist, crumbly soft crust. It was simple and sweet without being overbearingly sugary or tangy. The Italians were wide-eyed and quiet as they ate their real American cheesecake. Who am I kidding? So was I.

I couldn’t have picked a better dessert to commemorate a year in New York, than the city’s best dessert.

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.