Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What’s There to Eat? New York Noodle Pleasures

Last fall, a mother-daughter Columbus Day trip to the City began auspiciously with a 5 minute tunnel crossing that lent a feeling of optimism and set the automotive pace for the rest of the day! Who has a stick shift and can remember the last time they drove through the Holland Tunnel in 5th gear? I do remember a crossing in September that took three hours. We had plans to park and then take the subway or walk until we were ready to leave but traffic was so light that I decided at Astor Place to keep driving. We only hit one red light between there and the Museum of the City of New York at 103rd Street! Then we parked at a meter a few blocks away!

I had selected this museum because it is one of only a few open on Monday and I have been intrigued by their exhibitions advertised on NPR. It turned out to be a great choice. We explored “Legacy, “ an great show of beautiful Joel Meyerowitz photos of “wilderness in New York City Parks.” And truly these are wild and beautiful spots throughout the five boroughs. Incredible. From there we went upstairs to see an exhibition about the history of the seaport area that was well-done and then back down for the headline show. I even started Christmas shopping in the gift shop.

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Back to the car and downtown for a much-anticipated Ramen noodle lunch. Momofuko is closed on Monday and I had planned to try Ippudo but they had a 45 minute wait and the crowd was a bit too trendy looking for us anyway. By now it was 1 pm and Nora was starving and cranky as a result and starting to whine and be difficult. I had another noodle back-up several blocks east on 10th Street and it was perfect. Rai Rai Ken is the tiniest sliver of a restaurant with three stools and a small counter in the window and one long narrow counter along the side that seats twelve. All of the cooking takes place behind the counter and the food is simple, cheap and comes quickly. We shared a bowl of Miso Ramen Soup with noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, crispy garlic slices, scallions and shredded chicken. The broth was heavenly with the perfect amount of heat and spice for the cold fall day (and the draft from the open door) and fortunately for me, Nora occupied herself with the noodles and I devoured almost everything else. We both left satisfied.

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Since that fateful bowl of noodles with Nora I had been trying to get back to the city for another go. The planets aligned courtesy of the annual NJ Teacher’s Convention and a comp day from work. This time Thibault was my lunch date. Again, there was no traffic at the tunnel and we parked neatly in a spot on Perry Street in the West Village just as the Monday & Thursday a.m. street cleaner was pulling out – a beautiful thing! Thibault’s game plan for the day involved roaming the East Village and Soho. That was all fine with me as long as we got the noodles. I even chose them over the Kandinsky show which honestly, I now regret. We started the day by spontaneously meeting Elizabeth, who was able to pause briefly in her pre-wedding insanity for a cup of coffee on Jane Street. As we left for Ippudo, she warned us to be prepared to wait for a table but insisted that it would be well worth it. So off we went, fueled with her vivid and highly detailed descriptions of the delights that awaited us. After a brisk walk across town we arrived. At first I was concerned that they were closed. No one was outside and no one was inside at the bar. We walked in and were seated immediately. Harmonic convergence!

The hostess led us to the dining space in the back where we were greeted with a loud chorus of shouts from the line of cooks in the open kitchen, the first indication that this would be a meal and an experience. We soon learned that each and every diner was met with the same boisterous enthusiasm. We were seated at a large communal table for twelve that filled and emptied twice while we were there. I tend to shy away from these in general for the same reason that I don’t like B&B’s (and the reason that my husband loves them) and dread airplane travel. I am fine with brief, polite pleasantries but hate lengthy superficial small talk with strangers. I am more of an in-depth person. I needn’t have worried since these were New Yorkers and they were there for the food.

We ordered an iced green tea for Thibault and a glass of cold sake for me and had the Hirata Buns to start things off. These were simply heavenly. The bread was almost bizarrely light in the hand when picked up, and held a small amount of shredded pork moistened with a savory slightly, spicy sauce and a crunch of ice berg lettuce. I ate my bun in the slowest, smallest bites to make it last.

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For lunch, Thibault had the Hakata Classic Ramen, “the original tonkotsu soup noodles,” served with slices of Berkshire pork, kikurage (seaweed), red pickled ginger, menma (bamboo shoots), hard-boiled egg, and sprinkled generously with sesame seeds and scallions. I tried the Yokohama Ramen, a new dish with many of the same ingredients with the addition of nori (seaweed), cabbage, and fried garlic and without the egg and sesame seeds. Thibault’s broth was mild and miso-based. Mine was very rich and intensely pork-based and, had I realized, I surely would not have ordered it. I’m just not that into pork. But both were excellent and pure pleasure, and we drained our bowls. We left Ippudo warm and content, but while after lunch at Rai Rai Ken my thoughts returned endlessly to noodles, I find that now my thoughts turn more frequently to pork buns. They just blew me away.

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Late this winter, Dad and I spent a cold morning wandering through Chelsea galleries looking at art and working up good appetites. Still thinking about ramen and pork buns, I nonchalantly suggested we have some noodles at a place I wanted to try. We grabbed a cab and headed across town to Momofuko, the third stop in my noodle quest. I don’t think Dad minded. The food was unusual and excellent and so was the people-watching! We celebrated the day in NYC with glasses of sake (who knew how much there is to learn about sake?) and started lunch with a shared order of Sautéed Tuscan Kale served in an amazing, almost sweet, pork broth with slivers of fennel and pickled crosnes. Crosnes!! Also known as Chinese artichokes, they are crunchy, and a member of the mint family. They taste like Jerusalem artichokes and look like grubs. The last time I saw them was at a farmer’s market in France. Anyway, this little appetizer dish was a great start to lunch. Dad picked up a pair of chopsticks and dove in like a pro! The kale was followed by Steamed Pork Buns – soft, white mitts gently cradling sauced, glistening slabs of unctuous fatty pork with thin slices of fresh pickled cucumbers. Yummy.

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We both selected the Ginger Scallion Noodles for our main course. They came in bowls with lots of pickled shitake mushrooms and cucumbers, scallions, herbs and seaweed. I had assumed that all of the noodle dishes were “ramen” but in fact only one of the three offerings came with the fragrant broth I was anticipating, and it was being enjoyed by the people next to us. It was all good though, as the ginger noodles were delicious and thoroughly enjoyed by us both. We ended the meal with a tiny (by American standards) cup of banana bread soft serve ice cream!

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I have since returned twice more to Momofuko, and it is my favorite of the three for its inventiveness and the fabulous quality of the locally-sourced ingredients.

Rai Rai Ken: 214 East 10th Street, NYC between 1st & 2nd Avenue

Ippudo: 65 4th Avenue, NYC (212) 388-0088 www.ippudo.com

Momofuko Noodle Bar: 171 First Avenue, NYC http://www.momofuku.com/noodle/default.asp

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Costa Rican Escape: What’s There to Eat?

This winter we had the good fortune to spend one perfect week in paradise. Twelve of us, ages six and up, gathered in Costa Rica in celebration of Mom and Dad’s upcoming 50th wedding anniversary and Dad’s 75th birthday. The indefatigable and ever-optimistic Oscar was our guide for the week and Giovanni, our driver, was his trusty sidekick. Early on we learned about “pura vida,” the national expression and general attitude towards life. It seems to be used along the lines of “life is great” and really expressed the optimistic outlook of the “Ticos.” I even heard people greeting each other with “Pura vida!” instead of the usual “Buenas.” Oscar translated it with the obscure “hunky dory” which he pronounced honky. We had a lot of laughs over the appropriateness of his version when applied to our gringo tourist group.

December 2009 031We stayed in Manuel Antonio in beautiful octagonal “casas” built into a steep mountain slope leading down to the Pacific Ocean. I mentioned the part about good fortune, right?! When we arrived the first night and got out to unload the bus, an actual sloth was there to greet us, hanging on the railing of the nearest casa! Over the next three days we visited this peaceable, slow-moving creature and even patted it.

The best feature of these perfect dwellings was a large wrap-around veranda, more of an outdoor living room complete with dining area, grill (okay, it was a George Forman electric grill but I’m not complaining), comfy swivel chairs and foot stools, and a hot tub. When we were at home, most of our time was spent here reading, talking and gazing at the view, always watching for brightly-colored birds, sloths, iguanas and and listening to the sounds of the tropical forest. From this perch I also watched the sun rise each morning.

December 2009 110For me the landscape was almost primordial and when I imagine North America in the days when dinosaurs roamed New Jersey, this is how I picture it - huge, exotic versions of my houseplants on hormones, seductively-shaped bright and flashy and garish-anywhere-else flowers, over-sized leaves and an abundance of erotic fruits. Appropriately, the film Jurassic Park was shot in Costa Rica.

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We spent a lot of time at our little private beach at and explored other area beaches as well. The water was bath tub warm and very salty and buoyant with some serious waves. We also took full advantage of the activities offered to tourists including kayaking in the mangrove forest (where we saw roseate spoonbill, egrets, white-faced monkeys, poison dart frogs and tiger crabs), hiking the “sloth path” in the national forest, a strange night-time flashlight hike in (successful) search of noisy gladiator frogs and red-eyed tree frogs, crocodiles and the like, and of course the amazing zip-line canopy tour! December 2009 027 And we ate. Each casa had its own kitchen so many of our meals were taken at home. Breakfast for me was a cup of intense, aromatic CR coffee and a ridiculous amount of fresh, ripe papaya, mango, pineapple or passion fruit with a glass of a tropical fruit yogurt drink from “Super Joseth,” the local market up the road. I could eat that breakfast daily for life and never tire of it. Smelling the coffee brewing was just as good as drinking it. We also adopted the national dish of gallo pinto, black beans and rice. The Costa Rican version is spiced with cilantro, onions, garlic, salt, and doused with a local condiment called Salsa Lizano.

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For lunch and dinner out we opted for “tipico” over touristy as often as possible. I loved the food and it is such a healthy diet. The national dish is casado - rice, beans, plantain, meat, chicken or fish, a vegetable (beets or taro or potato) and a cabbage slaw – which is perfectly balanced and nourishing and delicious. Both meat and beans are cooked with generous amounts of fresh cilantro and lime juice which give them a wonderful depth of flavor that was new to me. Restaurants offer pitchers of fresh juices like star fruit, passion fruit and cas (a local relative of the guava). Nora became quite the connoisseur of passion fruit in its raw and juice forms and still thinks of it back home in el Norte.

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We had a great meal at Ronny’s Place located a mile or so up a narrow, pitted dirt road at the top of a mountain overlooking the Pacific. All of the restaurants in the area are open air with simply a roof but with no walls or windows. Most have long wooden tables and chairs. At Ronny’s I enjoyed tasty fish kebabs with rice and veggies and a bottle of Pilnser (as opposed to Pilsner), one of the brands of local beer. Dad had the local ceviche of sea bass that they serve with saltine crackers and hot sauce.

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Another excellent meal was at a roadside place outside of Quepos where we stopped after kayaking. No one minded that we were sweaty, dirty and wet. I ordered the sea bass casado which was dreamy! Nothing tastes better or is more satisfying than unpretentious, traditional, dishes, this time washed down with Imperial, the other local beer. Clara had a frosty glass of cas spiked with rum while the girls sampled more passion fruit juice. In fact, I discovered that my sister was quite the tropical blender drink maven, whipping up fresh fruit with local Centenario rum every night before dinner and having a late afternoon nip of papaya and rum poolside. Hey, she lives in Maine and probably needs to store up those taste memories to assist in getting through the long winter!

We shopped in the supermarkets and fruit and vegetable markets in Quepos for dinner ingredients and had a great feast our first night of grilled chorizo, steamed chayote, tomato & cucumber salad and rice. Earlier we had spotted clusters of ripe star fruit growing on a tree next to our casa – Jamie managed to harvest them without tumbling down the cliff and I prepared them as Oscar suggested – ends and ribs trimmed, chopped and tossed with salt and pepper. They were like no star fruit I have ever tasted – tart and flavorful. Clearly all efforts to export them to the US should cease immediately. The same goes for the coffee. It even smelled better in Costa Rica than it did when I brewed the same beans at home. More and more I am convinced that food tastes and memories involve much more than flavor.

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One day, returning from the supermarket in Quepos on the bus, I saw a man taking langoustines out of a cooler in the back of a pickup truck on the side of the road. After conferring briefly with Clara I asked our driver, Giovanni, to pull over. We left with 4 kilos of December 2009 148langoustines and shrimp for the surprise birthday dinner for Dad that night! They were delicious grilled on the veranda on the little GF. Dessert was the celebrated Tres Leches cake (heavy cream, evaporated milk and sweet condensed milk). Nascar hats and December 2009 150decorations from Maine added a festive American air to the evening.

We wound up an amazing week in paradise with a surprise New Year’s Eve anniversary dinner for Mom and Dad at the locally-renown El Avion, a restaurant built on a cliff over the sea literally over and around an intact Fairchild C-123 airplane. The cargo plane was used during the Iran Contra Affair of the 80's under the Reagan Administration, ole Ollie North and the CIA. The bar is in the body of the plane and tables are set up under the wings! As the sun set, we had more festive decorations, noise makers and a long series of little gifts for the guests of honor over dinner. Dessert was a special chocolate cake emblazoned with the words “Pura Vida, Honkey Dorey.” Perfect!

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Tres Leches Cake

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 9 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 9 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 (5 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup white sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk; beat well after each addition. In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until whites form stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter using a rubber spatula. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

4. In a small bowl, stir together the 2 cups heavy cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Pour the mixture over the cake until it wont absorb any more. You may have 1/3 to 1/4 left over. That's okay.

5. Combine the whipped cream and sugar, spread over soaked cake. Refrigerate cake until serving, Pour leftover milk mixture onto plates and swirl in jam if desired, before setting cake on the plates.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Eating out in New Orleans, over and over again

Elizabeth and Bryant’s destination wedding last month gave us the perfect excuse to visit New Orleans for the first time. I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. And the food blew me away.

Shortly after arriving at our hotel (International House Hotel http://ihhotel.com/), we met up with Mom and Dad, cousin Will, wife Martha, Hodge and the sweetest new addition to the family, baby Thea, and headed out in search of food. We walked a great distance through the French Quarter before landing at the French Market Restaurant and Bar (no website) at 1001 Decatur Street where we were seated outdoors on the second story porch in the welcome Southern sun. I jumped right in with some New Orleans oysters on the half shell along with a cup of gumbo. The oysters were incredibly fresh and enormous! I actually had to cut one in half because I wasn’t sure I could manage to eat it whole. The gumbo was fine but nothing mind-blowing. Sylvain had a muffaletta sandwich (http://www.gumbopages.com/food/samwiches/muff.html), ticking off one of his culinary goals for NOLA early on. Basically this is similar to N.J. Italian subs (mortadella, ham, Genoa salami, Mozzarella, Provolone) but with “olive salad” instead of our lettuce, tomato, onion, oil and vinegar. He loved it.

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I can’t remember the last time I had one, but I also ordered a Bloody Mary. I am a tomato juice drinker. I love V8. Always have. On the other hand, I have never been a big Bloody Mary drinker, and this one was unlike any other I’d had. Never have I seen so much black pepper in one place, and throughout the weekend shocking amounts of it continued to appear on my plate and in my glass. I’m talking about giant cracked peppercorns, not the finely ground stuff we use up North. There was also a generous amount of horseradish and Tabasco and spicy, pickled green beans stuck jauntily straight out of the cup. That Bloody Mary hit the spot dead on. I did not know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a theme. The weekend would be punctuated by “signature cocktails,” and clearly I had found mine.

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The Rehearsal Dinner was held at the Napoleon House, home of the Mayor of New Orleans in the early 1800’s. He offered the place to Napoleon in exile and created “L’apartement de l’Empereur” for the occasion. Of course we know that Napoleon never made it to New Orleans, and the lavish second floor apartment is where private parties are held. It is also where Sylvain discovered his now beloved Pimm’s Cup, the signature drink of the evening. I tried one, but with lemonade and 7up as ingredients, it was too sweet for me. Sylvain made up for that by downing them throughout the evening and talking about them incessantly when he wasn’t drinking them. According to the Napoleon House, Pimm’s was created in 1840 in England, and claims to be "made to James Pimm's original recipe, a closely guarded secret known only to six people."

Moving on, we enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres including crawfish in puff pastry, beef fillet, cheese in puff pastry, mini muffalettas, and crab cakes. For dinner we had pre-selected from a choice of three dishes (thank you Elizabeth for the descriptions). I had the “Pesce Don Giuseppe.” This was breaded, sautéed redfish topped with lump crabmeat and shrimp, finished with mushrooms and artichoke hearts in a lemon butter sauce – a traditional New Orleans fish preparation. Sylvain had the “Chicken Marengo” as I knew he would once I had read the description! Supposedly, Napoleon demanded a quick meal after his victory at The Battle of Marengo, and his chef was forced to work with meager, foraged results: a chicken (and some eggs), tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, olive oil, and crawfish. The chef cut up the chicken (with a saber, bien sûr), fried it in olive oil, made a sauce from the tomatoes, garlic and onions (plus a bit of cognac from Napoleon's flask), cooked the crawfish, fried the eggs and served them as a garnish, with some of the soldier's bread ration on the side. Napoleon reportedly liked the dish and (having won the battle) considered it lucky. The third dish was simply “Grilled Filet of Beef with Seasonal Vegetables” which looked tasty. Not surprisingly, Napoleons were served for dessert.

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After such a copious meal and those trick wine glasses that are never empty, we welcomed the walk back to the hotel. By now the streets were packed with the revelers who are attracted to New Orleans, Mardi Gras or no Mardi Gras. They even seemed to think it was Mardi Gras, dressed in colorful hats and beads, blowing noise makers. It was all very festive. We returned to the hotel, stopping first for one last Pimm’s Cup in the hotel bar before retiring for the night.

Since I don’t sleep much past 5 or 6 a.m., and Sylvain has risen early for work all of his life, we were up early and ready for a power walk and daylight exploration of New Orleans with Mom, another early riser. It was a beautiful morning and all of the streets were freshly washed and disinfected in preparation for the start of another day of revelry. Through open doors along the route we saw that most bars already had a patron or two by 8:30 a.m. Our destination was the Café du Monde, renowned for their beignets and the classic New Orleans chicory and coffee blend. We ordered two of each and were not disappointed! The beignets arrived, hot, perfect and sinful, a crisp, fried exterior with a light, almost cakey interior and a mild taste of buttermilk, with a crazy amount of confectioner’s sugar dumped on them that ended up all over us. There is something very sensual about eating in New Orleans, and this breakfast was exemplary – rich and finger-licking messy.

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Walking all morning helped us to justify an early lunch at the well-known and popular Acme Oyster House. We sat at the bar. I ordered an oyster po’ boy sandwich with a side of Tabasco mayonnaise and Sylvain had half a smoked sausage po’ boy with a cup of gumbo. I felt that we had to try the fried crawfish tails as well . I knew I would regret leaving New Orleans without having done so. It didn’t occur to me at the time to leave them for another visit. They were addictive but a bit overwhelmed by the batter and the intense “remoulade” served with them. But the po’ boy more than lived up to my expectations with a ton of fresh, fried oysters slathered with the spicy mayo cradled in the classic, soft loaf. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I ate the entire sandwich, washed down with the spiciest Bloody Mary ever (garnished with a massive pickled okra!). And it was worth it. My only regret is that it made my dress for the black tie evening somewhat more of a challenge to get into…

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The wedding was held at the 1826 Beauregard-Keyes House, built for wealthy auctioneer Joseph Le Carpentier and named for two of its former residents, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard and author Frances Parkinson Keyes. It was an intimate and beautiful setting. Judge Mary “K.K.” Norman a.k.a. “The Love Judge” (http://www.nola.com/living/index.ssf/2008/02/the_love_judge_valentines_day.html) officiated, intense bling peeking out from beneath her robes.

The bride was beyond stunning and the ceremony was very personal and a privilege to assist in. Elizabeth processed on Dad’s arm to the sounds of the wonderful Cool Bone playing La Vie En Rose. Following the service, the musicians and new bride and groom led the entire wedding party through the streets to the reception. This was an incredible experience as our wedding “parade” in black tie was joined by what in NOLA is called the “second line,” which includes anyone and everyone along the route. There were catcalls and applause. Some people danced and sang as we passed, others called out words of advice or caution to the groom, and still others joined in the procession which ended at Latrobe’s on Royal.

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What an incredible space and the food was excellent! The signature cocktail of this evening was the French 74, a potent combination of gin and Champagne. Passed hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail hour included deviled quail eggs, mini polenta rounds topped with baby shrimp, duck confit on a sweet potato chip, and a perfect fried oyster with horseradish in a paper cone. The traditional New Orleans dinner was heavenly but the servings were too generous to finish properly!

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Creole crawfish bisque finished with crawfish boulettesNOLA 117

Baby greens with poached figs, pistachios, grapes and feta in figNOLA 118 vinaigrette

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Southern pork trio: pork cassoulet with pork confit, roasted pork loin with rosemary & garlic, and pork crackling.

Beignets with chocolate sauceNOLA 124

Groom’s cake (red velvet with chocolate icing)

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I really did my best, but even Sylvain could not manage to finish every glorious course! At the end of the evening we said our goodbyes to Elizabeth and Bryant and joined the crowd on the sidewalk where sparklers were being distributed and Cool Bone was now playing. The sparklers were fired up and the happy bride and groom ran through the crowd and jumped into the waiting white Bentley, driving off into the night. It was a beautiful wedding and an unforgettable party!

The next day was Sunday, bringing our sojourn to an end. Not to be outdone by the Porter cousin clan who had dined at the famous Brennan’s the previous morning, Mom, Dad, Sylvain and I headed to brunch at the Court of Two Sisters at the suggestion of Willie at the hotel. He did not steer us wrong!

This is where the story becomes one of truly embarrassing excess. We sat in a beautiful outdoor courtyard and enjoyed a pitcher of Mimosas before partaking of the buffet. Out table was next to a statue of the two sisters themselves in their topless, nipple-pinching glory. A nice jazz band played and we were further entertained by the filming of a Travel Channel segment with Samantha Brown at a nearby table.


For my first “course” I sampled sea slaw (basically Cole slaw with crab – yummy), cold, steamed shrimp with the famous remoulade sauce, wonderful sweet potato salad, and generously peppered poached salmon.

NOLA 139 My second course included scrambled eggs from the grill, bananas Foster, Cajun cornbread stuffing, a crêpe, lean bacon and a slice of smoked Cajun sausage. My eyes were truly bigger than my stomach at this point and I could only taste what I had selected from the hot buffet. I should have skipped from the first course to the last as these were the most memorable.

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I wrapped things up with irresistible grapes in cream (red grapes tossed in sour cream), a slice of coconut cake and some fresh pineapple chunks. Phew!

After one last walk through the streets of the old French quarter, we returned to the hotel to finish packing, we grabbed a taxi to the airport. We dropped off Sylvain’s rented tux on our way there, signaling the return to a more mundane existence. But what a treat it was to step away from the day-to-day, dress up in party clothes and enter another world for a bit, and as a twosome, while sending two people off to make a new life for themselves.

Muffuletta Olive Salad Recipe

1-1/2 cups green olives, pitted
1/2 cup Calamata olives, pitted
1 cup Gardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery, Pepperoncini)
1 Tbsp. capers
3 each fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/8 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano or 2 tsp. dried
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup roasted red peppers
1 Tbsp. green onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Crush each olive on a cutting board with your hand. Combine all ingredients. Cover with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 1 – 1 1/2 Cups).

Put into a bowl or jar, cover and let the flavors marry for about one week.

Napoleon House Pimm’s Cup Recipe

Fill a tall 12 oz glass with ice and add 1 1/4 oz. Pimm's #1 and 3 oz lemonade. Then top off with 7up.
Garnish with cucumber.

French 75 Cocktail

Named after a WWI 75 millimeter howitzer cannon, the French 75 is supposedly the only cocktail invented in the United States during Prohibition to become a classic.

In a cocktail shaker, combine 3 oz. gin, 3 oz. lemon juice, 4 tsp. sugar, and 1-1/2 cup ice cubes and shake to chill. Strain cocktails into 2 wine or Champagne glasses and top off with 1 cup Champagne.

Acme Oyster House


Beauregard-Keyes House


Café du Monde


Cool Bone Jazz Band


Court of Two Sisters


Latrobe’s on Royal


Napoleon House


Monday, August 31, 2009

Estia’s Little Kitchen: Welcome Simplicity

For years Mom and Dad have talked about Estia’s Little Kitchen, an unassuming little spot on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike and a favorite of theirs. Some how we have never managed to get there in the nearly ten years since they opened. This time the planets aligned and the four of us made a last minute reservation for 7:30 p.m. On a Saturday night no less. And it was nice to spend time with Mom and Dad without the little darlings. Now that I think of it, it must have been even nicer for Mom and Dad no matter how much they love them.

Estia’s is basically a tiny two-room shack with a small bar and fish-themed artwork. Local ingredients abound and there is a strong Latin American influence on the dishes. We ordered a bottle of “Grapes of Roth” Riesling (that’s right) that Sylvain and I had sampled at the Sag Harbor farmers market earlier in the day (okay, it was about 9:30 a.m.).

For appetizers Dad and I had the Mexican Mussels which were steamed in a lightly spiced tomatillo broth and topped with narrow strips of fried tortillas – a surprising combination that worked really well. My mouth is actually watering at the memory! I am going to work on reproducing it. Sylvain had a Crabmeat Napoleon, interpreted with generous dollops of crabmeat and guacamole layered on three stories of large tortilla chips. Mom had the Ensalada de Casita in citrus vinaigrette which clearly was assembled from local veggies. I wish that our restaurants in New Jersey would get on the local foods bandwagon at least in the summer when we also have an incredible variety of seasonal produce available.

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Mom and I ordered the Striped Bass with Arugula as a main course served with large roasted yellow tomato halves, a sweet counter balance to the peppery arugula. Dad had sautéed ocean scallops served with pesto over home-made fettuccine and Sylvain ordered the Paella. Later I was thinking that it seemed like each dish had no more than three primary flavors, very simple and very pure.

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The dessert selection didn’t have much that appealed to me as most involved wheat which I must now avoid. I did feel that we should try the vanilla flan, hoping for the eggy, burnt sugar flavored authentic version that I enjoyed first in Brasil and then over the years in different countries. It was sweet and very tasty, but for me it seemed a bit dumbed-down for American palates, lacking the bite I was hoping for.

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In all, the food was simple and quite good with most dishes made from a minimum of ingredients, all of them incredibly fresh. The service was warm and the setting was wonderfully and refreshingly unpretentious all things considered!

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Estia’s Little Kitchen

1615 Sag Harbor Bridge Hampton Turnpike Sag Harbor NY - 2 miles West of Village
telephone: 631 725 1045



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Almond: Beautiful Food in Bridgehampton

It is only infrequently that we eat out over our summer vacation in Bridgehampton. Generally we try to avoid the crowds as much as possible and hole up at home where we enjoy wonderful meals gleaned from local farmers markets, farm stands and fish markets. I have written in the past about the growing local foods movement here (A Week in Bridgehampton), a great boon to those of us who come for the beauty of the spot and not the beautiful people.

But especially on vacation, a night out is a welcome break from cooking for twelve! One evening Mom and Dad offered to feed the kids so that Sylvain, Clara, Dan and I could enjoy dinner out. Almond has been around for years. In the 80’s it was The Woodshed and served basic seafood (I remember the steamed mussels and the soft shell crab) but was more known as a watering hole than for its food. Before that it was hippie central and actually called The Grotto of the Purple Grape, a name that really impressed me and conjured up imagined exotic grooviness that I was too young for. The 00’s incarnation strives more for French farmhouse than hashish den, and it tries only a tiny bit too hard. Out of respect for my late mother-in-law Jeanette, I must say that French dish towels do not napkins make and croque monsieur does not belong on a restaurant dinner menu. But these are minor details noticed by a Frenchman that have no bearing on the good food prepared with ingredients come from the rich array of local North and South Fork sources.

We started with glasses of rosé for the women and beers for the men and a round of appetizers. After much internal debate involving the charred squid, I ended up choosing the citrus-marinated sardine salad with hearts of palm and avocado. It was tasty, but based on the description I was expecting fresh sardines cured with lemon juice, a simple and perfect summer recipe that I love. At first I couldn’t understand why the fish wasn’t soft enough to pull apart with my fork and required a knife! The flavors were all good but I was a little disappointed. Clara ordered the charred squid salad that came with a tapenade crouton and other goodies that it was too dark to identify properly. Dan had a salad of mixed greens served with some nice-looking chèvre croutons and Sylvain had a Greek salad of all local ingredients topped with soft, caramelized red onions. He ate half of it before I could get a photo and never offered me even a small taste. I am operating on the assumption that it was good! Sharing food has long been a sore spot in our marriage but I acknowledge that we have made some good progress over the years.

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There were several tasty-sounding fish main courses on the menu to choose from. I ordered the Wild-Caught Grilled Shrimp - five large, meaty fellows skewered with woody rosemary stalks served over a salad of diced cucumbers and tomatoes, sylvetta greens (a relative of arugula I am told by chef Jason Weiner) and dried chickpeas drizzled with a dill yogurt sauce made from local goat’s milk. The shrimp were perfectly cooked with just the right flavor and heat from harissa. I was happy and as I looked around the table felt neither regrets about what was on my plate nor envy of other people’s choices. I love when that happens.

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Clara had the whole striped bass, a special. Striped bass is available locally this time of year and seems to be on every menu. It strikes a nice balance – delicate but meaty, flavorful but not oily- can handle a savory marinade and takes well to grilling. Dan can vouch for the quality of Almond’s traditional Steak Frites which by all appearances he thoroughly enjoyed. Pork or duck on a menu attract Sylvain with a powerful, apparently irresistible pull. He ordered the Pork Belly which, after much discussion, we agreed was a cut similar to bacon. I’ve never had it before, imaging more fat than lean, but it was good (I was permitted a nibble) and not at all what I expected, served with gorgeous, falling-apart tender roasted red onions.

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In a strange twist on the usual theme, Sylvain and Dan skipped dessert and Clara and I ordered Chocolate Pots de Crème. Our desserts arrived in cute Italian espresso cups. It turned out that they were not really pots de crème, which are baked in a bain marie and have the consistency of an intense custard. These were far lighter and had the texture of a mousse. I didn’t mind because they made for a less gluttonous end to the meal and they were delicious, topped with light whipped cream and sprinkled with chopped salted almonds. The flavors of deep chocolate, sweet cream and salty nuts worked beautifully together and the textures were just as pleasing. Fortunately I did not suffer through the watery, tired decaf as Clara had to, and enjoyed the perfect end to a very nice meal.

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