Same same but different

You ever run into an old flame and things are just so different from how they once were that it kind of makes you feel a whole bunch of things? Maybe a little sad, relieved perhaps, mostly nostalgic?

You think about the good times, and remember how sweet they really were at their height, but then you snap back to the present and maybe you notice the former flame’s lost some hair, put on some weight, looks tired or just different. Maybe it’s you, maybe you’ve changed. Either way, it’s not the same and even if the experience of seeing that person is pleasant enough, and you’re ok where you both are in life now, you can’t help but miss how things once were.

IMG_6839Yea, well, that was the experience I had with one of the great loves of my life this week: a sandwich from Antico Noè. When I lived in Florence, Italy, what really does feel like a whole different lifetime ago, I went to Noè more than anywhere else. I tried different things a couple of times but for the most part I got the same panino every time: the # 4, stuffed chicken with prosciutto, mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms and rosé sauce. It was warmed up briefly in a press, wrapped in a couple of napkins and handed over to me by the same hunky Florentine who seemed to never have a day away from the shop.

A few years ago, Antico Noè opened a shop in midtown Manhattan of all places. (Apparently, some enterprising, panini loving Americans bought the rights to  use their name here and promised to keep it as close to the original as possible.) I’ve been a couple of times since they originally opened and always had a decent enough sandwich. This past week, I found myself in midtown and actually on the same street as Noè, so I thought I’d drop in for lunch.

Feeling ever nostalgic and wanting to recapture the magic, I ordered my usual, the # 4. Staring at a mural of Florence and the same painted logo from the original shop while an Italian pop ballad played in the empty shop (I was there later in the afternoon, after the lunch rush), I ate my sandwich alone.

IMG_6840It wasn’t bad, by any means. The bread was warm and had been pressed down just right to squeeze everything together and make it easy to eat. The mozzarella, warm and melted, oozed out in long strands. The mushrooms gave their earthy, subtle flavor and weren’t slimy or wet as the sautéed kind sometimes are. The meat was alright, flavorful enough and a nice contrast to the other ingredients, though anywhere else I probably wouldn’t have ordered stuffed chicken. The rosé sauce, my favorite, was tangy and creamy.

IMG_6841And yet… it wasn’t the same. As far as lunches go, I was satisfied yes, but I wasn’t raving. If I had friends visiting from out of town, I wouldn’t insist that they eat there, they way I do with every single person who’s ever asked me where they should eat in Florence over the last ten years. The ingredients were the same they use in Florence, but not the exact kind I’m sure. I doubt it was the exact type of mozzarella, or the same sauce, and the bread was baked here, not there, which has to make a difference. In fact, I had my sandwich on whole grain, which way back when in Florence, wasn’t even an option.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t even the sandwich. Maybe it was the fact that I was in midtown Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers and stressed office employees, I myself being one. Maybe the sandwich just tastes better in a city that’s looked the same since before the Renaissance, when you’re in your early 20s and worried mostly about where you’ll go out that night or where to travel next weekend. It’s likely that it was both.

I’m sure New York’s Noè outpost does just fine. I’ve been there during the lunch rush and business seemed to be thriving. Lots of framed articles and media mentions line the wall when you walk in, and I’m sure Instagram has no shortage of dedications from people who studied abroad and then came back to try and relive their Florentine lunches.

But for me it felt too different. Not bad, not good, just different. And since I’d like to keep the memory of that sandwich I loved so very much all those years ago exactly as it was, I think I’ll just hold out on Noè and the # 4 till the next time I’m back in Florence, whenever that might be.

Advertisements

I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

IMG_3516

All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

IMG_3414

It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

Happy holidays and lots of panettone!

IMG_0578

I walked out of an appointment in the Flatiron District earlier this week with time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Looking down the street, I wondered if there wasn’t somewhere I could do some Christmas shopping for a couple of people still on my list.

That’s when I saw it: Eataly, the enormous food-hall-meets-gourmet-market of all things Italian.

The scream-thought in my head was immediate: PANETTONE!

I’d been craving one of those great big, beautiful Italian holiday breads since the first hints of the season (so pretty much, October) and now was my chance.

Every time I go to Eataly, I’m quite literally a kid in a candy shop. My heart races. My eyes dart from one awesome thing to the other. I want to touch everything. (And I do.)

This time though, I beelined straight for the long, colorful panettone display, some packaged in chic hat boxes with beautiful fonts, the rest wrapped in stylish paper and large bows, like the adult version of child me’s dream gift spread.

IMG_0581Panettone, traditionally from Milan but now sold throughout Italy and the world, is a large, sweet loaf usually made with raisins and other candied fruit. It has a soft, airy texture good for pulling apart, and resembles a muffin the size of your head, with a top covered in powdered sugar, candied fruit, almond slivers or similar toppings.

My fingers trailed over the different dazzling wrapping papers, lifting and turning over tags so I could read what made each one different. At Eataly, traditional panettone was just one option. There were some with white chocolate and others with currants and berries, some with lemon and orange zest, others infused with amaretto and peaches, each one more beautiful and delicious-sounding than the last.

But it was the panettone wrapped in electric green with a thick brown ribbon that caught my eye.  A photo on the tag showed the large, familiar loaf covered in a dark chocolate shell studded with Sicilian pistachios. Inside the cake itself, swirls of pistachio cream.

As I continued to move through the store, my prized panettone tucked under my arm like a basketball, dinner plans dissolved, and I happily went home to unwrap my present instead.

IMG_0584

It was just as gorgeous as I’d hoped. The pistachios, a softer shade of the bright green wrapping paper, covered the dark, smooth shell of chocolate perfectly coating the entire doughy dome. When I slowly pushed a serrated knife into the panettone, the shell made a deliciously satisfying crack before giving way to the fluffy, yellow cake inside.

IMG_0601

Ugh, it was so good. Close your eyes and mmmmm out loud type good. The bread was sweet and light, and the pistachio cream added a delicious contrast in textures and flavors to the crunch of the buttery, salty pistachios and the rich, almost espresso like flavor of the dark chocolate.

How I managed to stop myself after just one slice I’m not entirely sure. but if there’s even so much as a crumb or chocolate bit or loose pistachio left by the time this weekend starts, it’ll be nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

The winning cookie

In college, my roommates and I would often sit around, usually under the influence of something or other, and ask ourselves some really hard-hitting, soul-searching questions.

“You guys, what would you do if there was a gorilla running around outside right now?” Or the time we went camping and someone asked, “What if an axe wielding murderer ran out of the woods and started chasing us?” And then there was the one that really made me pause, look inward and reflect on what kind of person I was, “What one specific food would you choose for an all-you-can-eat contest?”

image

This rosemary shortbread’s a golden beaut of a cookie, no?

Ask me today and my answer would be the rosemary shortbread cookies at Lilia. I’m fairly confident that I could eat a horrifying amount of those cookies, an amount that would not win me any friends and certainly not any boyfriends, but dammit, it would crush my competition and win me that contest!

Shortbread doesn’t even do it for me, not with its usual dry, crumbly texture  and bland flavor. But this cookie, this gloriously sweet and buttery, rosemary flecked and sea salt sprinkled, palm-sized cookie, wasn’t dry or tough like its brethren. It still retained some of the coarseness that would make it ideal for dipping in a hot cup of tea while also being subtly soft, the kind of cookie that dissolves into pure deliciousness when it hits your tongue.

Not too sweet, nor too savory, just absolutely perfect in flavor and consistency, I’m pretty sure me and Lilia’s rosemary shortbread are gonna be a winning team.

Good to the bone and straight to The Marrow

Even though I’ll still only be a subway (or two) rides away from the West Village, these are the last few days that I’ll actually be a resident of the neighborhood where I’ve spent the last two eventful years. I’ve had some great times and some not so great times here, everything from career changes to heartbreak, to the many friends who’ve crashed on my couch to getting both locked out and locked in my apartment, to laughing to crying and to everything in between. As a final hurrah and farewell, I decided to have one last big meal out in the neighborhood (though I don’t doubt I’ll be back for more soon enough) at The Marrow, Harold Dieterle’s new restaurant.

Paying homage to both the German and Italian parts of his family, Harold Dieterle has another awesome restaurant on his hands (I’m a big Kin Shop fan) that instead of mixing the two cuisines, features them separately on the menu, like different branches of a family tree. Below, how my friend Stas and I celebrated my move across the East River with one more great meal in the West Village.

something

Bone Marrow… c’mon, you know we had to

First out was the restaurant’s namesake, the bone marrow, from the Famiglia Chiarelli branch of the starters section. One giant bone halved and filled with a hearty mix of sea urchin, fried potatoes and meyer lemon aioli, with crunchy toast to spread it all on. The sea urchin was not what I was expecting, with a creamy consistency and sort of neutral flavor.

something

Prosciutto wrapped dates

From the meat plates portion of the menu, we picked the dangerously tasty prosciutto wrapped dates with gorgonzola. Plump, tender and crazy flavorful, I could, no lie, throw back a dozen of these. Seriously, these guys could get me in a lot of trouble.

something

Duck schnitzel

Moving on to main courses, we first picked from the Familie Dieterle branch and ordered the pan-friend duck schnitzel with a nutty spaetzle of hazelnuts and quark (a dairy product of sorts) with cucumbers and stewed wolfberries, which looked kind of like small red beans but tasted like sweet, cooked raisins. (I love beans and raisins so I was totally on board.)

something

Stone Bass “Vitello tonnato”

Then crossing back over to the Italian side of the menu, we chose the sautéed stone bass with fingerling potatoes, cippolini onions, briny olives, a creamy tuna belly sauce and what turned out to be my favorite part of the dish, juicy, fried sweetbreads. Usually I feel just lukewarm about sweetbreads but these were tender and delicious, with a nice breaded coating.

write something

Chocolate budino

Finally, we were faced with a difficult decision: dessert. Everything sounded great, and while the waiter tried pretty hard to sell us on the ginger stout cake (he said it was far and away the most popular dessert), we were both in a chocolate mood and went with the budino with hazelnut brittle and mascarpone. Chocolate pudding can do no wrong in my eyes and this one, with it’s dense creaminess, was just about perfect. This is in no way a complaint, but the thing to note about this dessert is that it’s a pretty hearty serving of chocolate. The two of us, ardent chocoholics, split this and felt pretty satisfied with the amount we each got. (No fighting necessary.)

Like so many other meals I’ve had in the West Village, I walked out happy and stuffed. Which is basically how I’ll be leaving the West Village in general, happy and stuffed full of memories. Brooklyn, here I come.

I’ll have “Every Thing On It”

(Photo courtesy of Amazon)

Growing up, Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite writers, and even now when I see his books, especially his collections of poetry like A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, I always stop and pick them up. Shel died in 1999, but his family just released a new book with 145 previously unpublished poems and drawings called Every Thing On It.

If there was any doubt in my mind that this collection would be great, and of course there wasn’t, the poem below would have changed my mind. His writing spoke to me as a kid, and clearly, still does today.

Italian Food

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Read more about it on NPR.

Arrivederci

My boyfriend is leaving. Back to Italy he goes and with him the home-cooked meals he whipped up in our miniature kitchen.

Mushroom risotto... mmm mmm mmm

While I wholeheartedly love eating, the chances that I’ll put the time and effort into making mushroom risotto, home made pesto or spaghetti alla carbonara for one… well, they’re slim to none.

Enjoying it while it lasts and bracing for the onslaught of Lean Cuisines in my near future…