Happy food in hot times

During the last couple of days of this miserable, seemingly endless NYC heat wave, I’ve fantasized about booking a one way ticket to the polar ice caps, wondered what it’d be like to fill my tub with ice and pack myself in it, and come dangerously close to throwing in the towel and moving to San Francisco, whose siren call I hear in my dreams: “Angie, it’s 61° degrees in mid July. What are you doing? You should be here.”

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Go ahead ice cream sandwich, make it all better

But alas, I’m doing none of those things. (Not yet anyway.) Instead, I’m toughing it out. I’m hanging in there, pushing through my yearly bout of the sticky, sweaty, cranky summertime blues, and getting me through it is my Prozac of food, ice cream.

Earlier this week at Dean & Deluca while daydreaming about nestling in between gourmet pints of ice cream, I spotted something I knew would help ease the subway ride home: an ice cream sandwich from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Not just any ol’ cookie and ice cream combo (though I do love those simple versions), Jeni’s was a decadent, borderline magical sounding creation of juniper ice cream swirled with lemon curd in between giant lemon-yellow almond macaroons. Sold.

photo(6)Descending into what never ceases to feel like the innermost rings of hell, my subterranean nightmare of steamy, stagnant air, and pungent waves of other people’s BO, I actually managed to momentarily put it all aside as I chomped into my palm-sized ice cream sandwich. The macaroon, all lightly crispy on the outside and almondy sweet and chewy in the middle, was a perfect holder for the creamy, bright, zesty ice cream inside. Each bite was a swirl of clean, cool flavors in my mouth and a delicious and refreshing way to pass the minutes as I waited on the sweltering platform.

I may spend the rest of summer crossing off the days left on the calendar till autumn arrives, but as long as I have cold treats like this crazy good ice cream sandwich in my other hand, well, I might just make it to see those long awaited cooler days.

A light wallet and a happy stomach

Even though it’s impossible to forget, this city constantly reminds me what a ridiculous place it is. Where else would you pay $45 for two vodka Red Bulls (ahem, The Box, I’m looking at you)? And where else would paying just slightly under $2,000 a month for a STUDIO apartment be considered a good deal? And where, please tell me, would it be reasonable to pay $79 for a roasted chicken?

Sigh. Here in New York. But you know what, I’ll keep paying for all of these outrageous things because there’s no where else I’d rather be. (Well, except London, where I’d relocate at the drop of a dime if possible. No joke. London, call me. We could be so good together.)

I was skeptical right from the get-go of the $79 roasted chicken on the menu at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant. I mean, really, $79? Do you know how many whole, organic, happy, well-adjusted, all-natural-diet fed, shipped straight-from-some-idyllic-farm-where-they-ran-around-living-in-perfect-poultry-bliss chickens I can buy for $79? Yet everyone raaaaaved about the new restaurant, said how beautiful it was and how amazing the food was and what an incredible job Chef Daniel Humm (previously of Eleven Madison Park…another pricey food mecca in the city) was doing there. So I said fine, like I say fine to the pricey drinks and to the ludicrous rent I pay, and went to see what the fuss was about.

And well, I get it. The restaurant is beautiful, the scene is stylish and cool, the food is delicious, and the chicken? The chicken will make you wonder whether you might possibly ever eat such a ridiculously good, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-in-food-ecstasy, wonderful and oh so succulent bird again.

My humble, fat kid opinion? This place is worth the hype. Yes, it is stupid expensive but it’s gooood. And as I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer in occasionally treating myself to something nice. Not usually to a $79 chicken, but this time yes. Below, my dinner with coworkers at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant.

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

From the tapas style “snacks” portion of the menu we started with the butter-dipped radishes and fleur de sel. Like chocolate dipped strawberries, each little radish was coated in a thin butter shell, which really did a lot to make these not feel like rabbit food. Clean, crunchy and bright, I was a fan.

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Also from the “snacks” section, was the recommended beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish. The beef tartare itself was delicious, creamy and flavorful with a subtle tangy hint and the little toasts that came with it were perfect bread specimens if you ask me, toasty and crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.

Bread

Bread to beat all bread baskets

Next our waiter brought out a loaf of some of the craziest looking bread I’ve ever seen. It had a greenish-purplish color to it and looked like it might’ve been picked up off the floor in some enchanted forest, the kind where you could do that and find delicious bread. There were bits of rosemary, thyme and other herbs baked into and on the bread and the consistency itself was soft and doughy.

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

And then, the $79 chicken. Not that it softens the blow much, but I’ll mention that this dish is meant for two. After much deliberation, my coworker and I decided that as much as we hated to pay about $40 for chicken, we really just needed to know what this was about. So here’s how it works: the waiter brings out this beautiful, almost-glowing whole roasted chicken in a pan, with what looks like a whole bouquet of aromatic herbs sticking out of one end. They show you the chicken, you ooh and ahh, and then they take it away for a moment.

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

What they do is they take apart the chicken and bring it back served two ways. First, on separate plates, two  large pieces of juicy, tender chicken with the most perfect, just-right crunchy skin, served on a bed of rich, hearty lentils and plump, soft Brussels sprouts. Underneath the chicken breast, warm black truffle laced stuffing of brioche and foie gras. I mean, really, this chicken was fancy. Everything was just… perfect. Delicious, decadent and absolutely perfect.

Part 2: Chicken’s dark meat served with mushrooms and truffles in a creamy, butter sauce

Then, in a smaller, sort of cast-iron dish was the chicken’s dark meat, served in a rich, buttery sauce of mushrooms and truffles.  Again, totally over the top and decadent but so, so, SO good. I could easily have eaten this whole $79 chicken production by myself it was so fantastic.

Carrots

Slow-roasted carrots with cumin, wheatberries and crispy duck skin

To accompany the chicken, the waiter recommended we get a vegetable, so again taking a cue from our pricey poultry, we ordered the $20 carrots. (Pause to freak out and consider the excessive amount of carrots you could buy for this amount at the market. Ok, now stop.) These fancy roasted carrots were long, elegant, stylish things, all glazed and dressed up with cumin and crispy duck skin for a completely new and so much better carrot experience than I’ve ever had.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey dessert

And finally for dessert we shared the much lauded milk and honey, a plate of ice cream, brittle and shortbread that won points for color, flavor, texture and consistency in my book. The ice cream was milky and thick, the brittle and shortbread crunchy and buttery in a caramel, toffee way (even though one coworker said she was stabbed in the mouth by a particular shard of brittle) and the dehydrated milk flakes were crisp and airy, like pieces of sugary meringue.

Compliments of the pastry chef

Compliments of the pastry chef

But just when we thought it was all over and we could leave with lighter wallets and heavier, happier stomachs, out came one more thing: an assortment of sweet treats from the pastry chef. There were macarons, fruit gelees  and what turned out to be my favorite, lapsang souchong truffles. They were smokey, rich and chocolatey and if I had a dozen of them in front of me, I’d probably go through all of them.

So yes, like so many other things in this absurd city, dinner was expensive. But you know what? Like this crazy, sucking-my-bank-account-dry city, it was awesome.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

Lessons in fancy self-indulgence

Who better to turn to for some fancy indulgence than zee French??

I’m a firm believer that every now and then a girl’s gotta treat herself to something nice. Don’t wait for someone else to spoil you, is how I see it. Go on and do it yourself. Indulge! Pamper! Splurge!

When I was reminded about Tuesday’s grand opening of the New York location of famous, fancy French macaron shop (ooh la la, alliteration!) Ladurée, I knew the time for a little something nice was now. Yes, for what I ended up spending on these Parisian confections I could have had my hair professionally blow-dried, added something new to my wardrobe, or treated a friend to a nice lunch, but spoiling yourself isn’t about being practical or rational. So I was neither.

A little bit of gay ol' Paree in New York

Because I tend to falter in the face of decision-making I went with one of every flavor they had available, which in the late afternoon when I was there was 15, after having sold out of a few others. The shop itself was to me a cross between a dainty doll house and a jewelry box, elegant and pastel hued, one of those places where I have to be hyper-conscious of my every move to avoid knocking anything over and breaking it (like a display of elaborate gift boxes or a Berkin-clad housewife in Chanel ballet slippers).

In a rainbow of soft, pretty colors, the meringue-like treats were a sweet sight in their small box. Each one, varying in flavor from raspberry to salted caramel and butter to almond, and pistachio among others, was delicate and light, a slight sugary crispness to the outside, and a burst of flavor from the sometimes jammy, sometimes creamy filling inside.

They were pricey little things but for the next couple of days when I open my otherwise barren fridge, I’ll only think about how tasty they are and just how fun it is to occasionally be treated to something nice .

Trying to beat the heat

People, I kid you not, the past two days in New York have been miserable, disgusting and infernally hot. Hair-matted-to-the-back-of-my-neck, sweat-trickling-down-uncomfortable-parts-of-my-body, clothes-clinging-in-unflattering-ways, face-shining-like-I-dipped-it-in-olive-oil kind of weather. Not kidding. I wanted to die.

And it’s not even summer yet! The official change of seasons is still more than a week away, and I’m already itching for it to be over (literally, this heat makes me itchy…and bitchy). To cope with the nasty weather I turned to a reliable cooling treat: ice cream sandwiches.

Coconut macaron with coconut and mango sorbet sandwich

Because I was in SoHo, where I now work, I hopped on over to nearby Francois Payard. I’d never been to the cute little patisserie before but when I read in a recent NYmag.com feature that they had some tasty little ice cream sandwiches, I was sold sold SOLD.

Brownie and vanilla bean ice cream sandwich

Instead of regular cookies, Payard, known for their fancy french pastries, uses rectangular cut macarons. Flaneur, who I asked to meet me (since an ice cream sandwich would never have survived the walk home), went the classic route and got the vanilla bean ice cream and chewy brownie combo, while I went with the slightly more tropical themed coconut and mango sorbet between coconut macarons. Flaneur’s was good, the creamy cold vanilla ice cream perfectly complementing the chewy chocolate brownie, but mine was exactly what I needed to pause my heat-related bitching. The macarons were subtle in flavor and had the classic, crispy airiness they’re known for while the fruity, frosty sorbet was refreshing and sweet.

Summer might not technically be here yet, but when it shows up, I’ll be ready— with ice cream sandwich in hand.

François Payard Bakery on Urbanspoon

Suites and Sweets

The biggest perk of my job is that I get to attend lots of cool lunches, gatherings and soirées. Last night, for example, I went to an event at The Palace Hotel. The Dorchester Collection, a group of luxury hotels in Europe and the US, was hosting a special reception to showcase some of their glitziest suites in Milan, Beverly Hills, Paris and London. As a play on the word suite, they also highlighted the mouthwatering work of their pastry chefs.

Everything was beautiful, each creation a bite-sized edible work of art. But more than that, everything, both the savory and the sweet, was delicious.

Carrot and saffron marshmallow

Chocolate lollipops with marzipan roses from the Hotel Plaza Athènèe, Paris

Cassata siciliana from Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

Pumpernickel with Gruyère and salmon roe

Meringue tart with orange center from The Beverly Hills Hotel

Macarons from Le Meurice, Paris

Now if only my job only involved stuff like this. Wouldn’t that be sweet?