Restaurant Review – Lupa

In my experience, Mario Batali never gets it wrong. (I’m talking food here, not orange crocs) His restaurants are all successful and consistently crowded, and for very good reason. The food is delicious!

This past weekend I went to Lupa in the West Village and had a wonderful time. The food was incredible, the company enjoyable and I loved the look and feel of the restaurant. Dining in NYC can be a crowded experience at the best of times, but the room and our table in particular was  pretty spacious. That was a rare treat in and of itself!

As you might be aware, an Italian dinner is made up of a few courses: Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, and Dolci. We decided to go for the full experience and ordered a dish for every course.

First came the Antipasti: We ordered the Clams and Fregola, and house-made Coppa Cotta (cured and cooked pork).

The clams and fregola were surprisingly fresh and vibrant from the basil and citrus juice, and paired well with my Chardonnay. I learned of the Sardinian pasta, fregola, through an episode of ‘Everyday Italian’ with Giada de Laurentiis and have been a fan every since. It’s really not an easy pasta to find, but is very unique and delicious. I bought it once in Little Italy, and would encourage you to try it if you ever find it at the market.

The house-made Coppa Cotta that we devoured was insanely good. It was slightly spicy, very meaty, and made with pork shoulder. We felt clever making open-faced sandwiches with it, and the complimentary Focaccia.

The next course was pasta, and we ordered the Cacio & Pepe, a traditional Roman pasta dish, and the Ricotta Gnocchi.

The Cacio & Pepe was made with only bavette pasta, pecorino and black pepper. So simple, yet so good. When a dish is so perfectly executed, you don’t need many ingredients to make it shine. It was creamy, salty, peppery, and somehow silky. It was just delicious and there wasn’t a stray noodle to be found when I was done with it.

The Ricotta Gnocchi came with sausage and fennel. It was classic, comforting and rich. Just what a good gnocchi dish should be.

Finally, came the third course. What I typically think of as the meat course, though I actually ordered fish this time.

We had the Pollo alla Diavola and the market fish of the day, Sea Bass, that came with sunchokes, broccolini, and grapefruit. I understand that ‘alla Diavolo’  means ‘Devil style’, and while this was definitely devilishly tasty, I didn’t find it all that spicy. The crunchy, crispy crust of the chicken was perfection and the au jus that the waiter poured over top kept the chicken moist and was divine when sopped up by the crispy bread underneath. A definite must-try.

The sea bass was one of the best executions of the fish that I’ve seen. The crispy skin kept the white flesh underneath tender, moist and flavorful. This was my first sunchoke experience, and was a bit put off initially because the first one I tried was underdone and still slightly raw tasting. The rest though, were roasted to perfection – caramelized and sweet. I didn’t think the grapefruit added much, but it didn’t hurt either.

The only thing I would change, would be the fact that the ‘sunchoke, broccolini, grapefruit’ accompaniments are always companion to the fish of the day, however, the fish changes daily. I think it would benefit them to cater the sides to the particular fish they’re offering. I’m sure there are some sides that pair better with one fish than another.

Lastly, of course, came dessert. We were a little hesitant to order anything since I had pots of creme just waiting to be brulee’ed at home, but we couldn’t resist just one shared finale to our meal.

We went with the Olive Oil Torta with Rhubarb. It’s hard to describe how much I enjoyed this dessert, so I’ll just do my best and hope I do it justice.

The torta itself was steaming hot from the oven, moist enough that I am almost certain they injected some sort of olive oil simple syrup into the cake at some point, and perfectly sweet. The rhubarb compote was jammy, tart, and reminded me of my late grandmother’s rhubarb pie filling. When a dish can bring you back to a point in your past, it’s a really special moment, and yet another reason why sharing food is such a precious art.

Lupa is now pegged as a favorite spot of mine here in New York and I will be going back often. Enjoy!


Restaurant Review – Café Habana

Whenever I’m with my friend Cristina, we end up at the hippest joints.

(That dated description should give you a hint that Cristina is the mastermind behind frequenting these trendy spots.)

On a recent week night, as we were ambling through Nolita, she realized we were in close proximity to a popular restaurant that consistently has a wait time of around an hour. Any place with a perpetually extended waiting period has to be good right?

Not being in a rush, we decided to stick around and see what all of the fuss was about. Luckily, we were seated much earlier than expected due to a ‘Cristina’ mix-up which we conveniently did not announce …

As we dashed to our seats before anyone could throw us ‘fake Cristina’s’ out, we realized how ridiculously crowded this place was. It looked snug from the outside looking in, but once inside I felt like I was in a real-life game of human Tetris! The number of tables and chairs crammed into this tight space has got to be in violation of some fire escape code, but it did make the cafe seem more like a party and further amplified the fact that Habana has more customers than space to serve them. Not a bad problem to have.

The first thing we ordered were margaritas and the grilled ‘crack’ corn we had heard so much about.

Served with chili pepper, lime, and cotija cheese, this ‘Mexican-style’ corn did not disappoint. I now completely understand why this simple ear of corn has a cult following of fans, and can even count myself in as a new member.

For our next course, we decided to order two entrees but share them between us, and went with the Cuban sandwich and the Tlacoyo de Tres Marias. The Cuban was incredibly delicious, stacked high with roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and some sort of delicious pepper aioli. I would definitely order this again.

The Tres Marias was a corn masa ‘boat’ stuffed with goat cheese, black beans and sundried tomatoes, served along with buttery rice and beans. Out of this world good and beautiful too!

Throughout our meal we had carried on a casual conversation with the French guys at the table next door. Because we were all so crammed in, it really felt like we were all dining together anyway. They allowed me to take a picture of their Grilled Steak and Corn Salad and Bacon Cheeseburger. I wouldn’t think to order a cheeseburger at a Cuban joint, since there are so many more authentic and delicious things to try, but I have to admit that it looked pretty good. The grass-fed skirt steak on the salad looked cooked to perfection as well and I was told the mustard dressing balanced it well.

Café Habana is a great restaurant in a great neighborhood, and if you can handle the noisy and tight quarters, then I would highly recommend you to try it for yourself!

The Castello Plan – Brunch

Deep in the heart of Brooklyn is a little place called, The Castello Plan. It’s not located in the typical ‘hipster hood’ of Billyburg but the vibe is similar, though different in an important way. They don’t try so hard!

The thoughtful decor and wonderful food really delighted us at Castello’s. From the tulip-topped wooden tables and raw-sugar-cube- warm-cream coffee, to details we probably won’t notice until our second visit. Everything made the place special and unique.

I also really enjoyed the culinary combinations they chose. My sandwich, the ‘Ditmas Sandwich’, was a balanced and harmonious example of a perfectly executed sandwich. It wasn’t excessive or confusing, but simple and straightforward. Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, cucumbers, walnuts, tomato, and sherry vinegar all came together in a perfect portion on an olive oil baguette. I asked our waiter if they made their bread in house, because it was so fresh and unique – it tasted sort of like a baguette/croissant hybrid. He told me they’re delivered daily from Balthazar. A place that’s dangerously close to my office …

My friend ordered the ‘Veggie Sandwich’, which consisted of roasted beets, goat cheese, sunflower seeds and pickles.  Again all piled neatly atop that deliciously flaky olive oil baguette. I really appreciated how every sandwich, each in their own way, played with different textures. Crunchy nuts and seeds, creamy cheese, salty and delicate ham … all good ideas in my book.

The only thing that would keep me from returning to The Castello Plan is the location. If I venture this far into Brooklyn again, you can be sure this will be first stop on my list.

Orange, Olive Oil and Chocolate Cake

Last week I was on vacation in Naples, Florida.

Sun, sand, copious amounts of seafood, and lots of cooking.

Every year we buy or make a key lime pie and have it for dessert at least twice during the week. Not being a huge fan of key lime pie myself (gasp!), I wanted to do something different this year. A dessert with a primary ingredient of sweetened condensed milk just doesn’t impress me. Go ahead, you can call me a snob.

I wanted to make something this year that really celebrated one of Florida’s greatest assets – the orange. So I did some research and found an incredible Olive Oil Orange cake recipe. The blogger I borrowed it from had just returned from a trip to Naples, Italy, and was inspired by the citrus fruit there as well. This cake uses an entire orange, rind and all, so it seemed a perfect match for my intentions.  I also really love olive oil in desserts. In fact, I started swapping out butter for olive oil in many of my cookies and cakes long before I realized other people were doing it too!

This recipe is really quite simple, just a bit time consuming in the beginning, but absolutely worth the extra effort. I halved the cake recipe, as there were only 5 of us and we were leaving very soon, so the recipe below will actually make a cake twice the size of mine. I did not, however, halve the frosting recipe. One of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time …

Totally beautiful and delicious dessert. Please let me know how you like it when (not if) you make it. :)

I realize the picture quality isn’t the best, but still, how good does that ganache look cascading down the sides of the orange cake?

Orange-Olive Oil and Chocolate Cake, with flaked salt
Makes one 8 x 3-inch round cake
Recipe courtesy of Desserts for Breakfast

For cake:

  • 2 medium-sized oranges
  • 2 1/3 cups (467 gr) sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (350 gr) flour
  • 2 tspn baking powder
  • 1 tspn baking soda
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • 2 tspn orange blossom water
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 Tbspn extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbspn fresh orange juice

For frosting:

  • 5 oz (142 gr) unsweetened chocolate
  • 8 Tbspn butter
  • 1 cup + 1 Tbspn (215 gr) sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • flaked finishing salt
  1. Make the cake. In a pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Trim 1/2-inch from the tops and bottoms of each orange. Once the water is at a boil, submerge the oranges and cook briefly, about 1 minute. Drain the oranges, discard the water, and repeat the boiling, cooking, and draining two more times.
  3. Combine the blanched oranges, 1 cup (200 gr) sugar, and 4 cups water over medium heat. Cook for about 30 minutes while stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves and the orange rinds are fork-tender. Let cool until room temperature.
  4. Drain the oranges and remove the seeds. Reserving the cooking liquid for glaze.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 8 x 3-inch cake pan and set aside.
  6. In a bowl, mix to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  7. In a food processor, blend the cooked oranges (including rind) until a chunky puree.
  8. Add the remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, 1 tspn orange blossom water, and flour mixture. Process for 2 minutes until well-incorporated.
  9. Gradually drizzle in the olive oil and process until incorporated.
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out cleanly. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
  11. Meanwhile, mix to combine 2 Tbspn of cooking liquid, 1 tspn orange blossom water, and orange juice.  Remove the cake from the pan. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork and brush the liquid on the cake.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.
  12. Make the frosting. Chop the chocolate and butter and set aside.
  13. In a saucepan, bring the sugar and heavy cream to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6 minutes. Do not let the saucepan overflow.
  14. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and butter until melted.
  15. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let the frosting cool completely, whisking occasionally during cooling. Once completely cool at room temperature, the frosting will be spreadable.
  16. Sprinkle the frosted cake with finishing salt.

Bourbon-Butterscotch Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Did you read the title? Then you should be salivating already. Being a dark chocolate lover, I have to remind myself that there are so many other desserts out there to try. My brother is good inspiration for this because he thinks much more outside the chocolate box than I do. He went to a restaurant in L.A. recently and mentioned that a hot item on their dessert menu was the Bourbon-Butterscotch Pudding. He had me at ‘dessert’, but really got my full attention and lips smacking at ‘pudding’.

Butterscotch is the bomb. Unless I’m mistaken, the only real difference between butterscotch and caramel is the use of brown and white sugar, respectively. But what a difference it makes! Brown sugar has that warm, deep flavor that I always love in the colder months. Butterscotch also reminds me of Scotland, which reminds me of plaid print patterns, which reminds me of Notre Dame, which reminds me of ND football games with my family. Good times.

I found an awesome recipe on a great little blog, ‘Cozy Kitchen’. It was just what I was looking for, and even included some tasty extras like whipped cream and salty peanuts. Not one to leave well enough alone, I followed CK’s lead and whipped myself some cream, roasted some nuts, and even melted some dark chocolate for a good measure drizzle.

I halved the recipe below so that things didn’t get too out of control at my apartment and it was just the right amount. Ith gu leòir!

Bourbon-Butterscotch Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Roasted Salted Peanuts

Image and Recipe adapted from ‘A Cozy Kitchen

Pudding:
4 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 cup packed dark brown
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2½ cups whole milk
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the dark brown sugar and salt, then stir until the sugar is well-moistened. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth (there should be no visible pills of cornstarch), then whisk in the eggs. Gradually pour the remaining milk into the melted brown sugar, whisking constantly, then whisk in the cornstarch mixture as well.

Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Once it begins to bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook for one minute, whisking non-stop, until the pudding thickens to the consistency of hot fudge sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the bourbon and vanilla.

If slightly-curdled looking, blend in a blender or food processor. Or you can run it through a sieve. Pour into 4-6 serving glasses or custard cups, cover the pudding directly with plastic wrap (this will prevent the dreaded pudding ‘skin’), and chill thoroughly, at least four hours, before serving.

Caramel Sauce:

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature

In a medium pot, over medium high heat, cook the sugar and water until it turns a dark, deep caramel. Watch it the entire time. Do not walk away! It takes about 8 minutes. Add the butter cubes and stir.

Next, turn off the heat and pour in the heavy cream and whisk. The caramel shouldn’t seize up since it’s room temperature. If it does, simply turn the flame on medium and cook, whisking until smooth.

Toasted Salted Peanuts:
1 cup of peanuts
1 tablespoon of coarse Kosher salt

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Spread out peanuts onto a small baking sheet. Sprinkle them with kosher salt. And bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.

To assemble:

Top each ramekin of cooled pudding with a few tablespoons of caramel sauce. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle on a few toasted salted peanuts.

Yields about 4-6 jars of pudding

Los Angeles Guest Post: Mozza 2go

Special thanks to Eddie Perino for contributing to this blog.


In my car, stuck in Los Angeles traffic. Midday. The lunch rush. The violent whistling of the Santa Ana winds were no match to the even angrier growls of my empty stomach. I needed something special to calm the beast.

“Tacos?” I asked him.

“Gggrrkkkkrrrllluh!” he unhappily replied.

I vollied back. “How about some Thai?”

“GGGRRKKKKRRRLLLUH!”

Wrong again.

“Alright, why don’t you tell me what you want this time.” I posited.

Suddenly, my foot pressed hard on the accelerator and I found myself weaving in and out of traffic on the 101. Where we were headed, I had no idea. My stomach was the conductor. The rest of my body was merely the steam necessary to propel him to a delicious end.

We exited the highway and quickly made our way to the intersection of Highland and Melrose.

There it was, as if the clouds had parted and revealed it so clearly before us.

Mario Batali’s restaurant: Mozza 2 Go.

Back in control now, I parked my vehicle and power-walked inside. Quickly (but not carelessly) scanned the menu. It was a day for pizza. Yes, sir. I decided on the ‘Spider Pig’. An ‘off the menu’ special that day which combined paprika salami, fennel sausage, tomato, mozzarella, and nduja – a soft-style salami with the texture of chorizo. A meat lovers delight.

Yes, this sounded just right. And my stomach finally agreed with a content purr of satisfaction.

I placed my order and paid the cashier before looking around for a place to sit, but then realized this is Mozza…2 GO.

So I went.

To my car.

 

It was appropriately packaged like the special present that it was. (It was 20 dollars after all…) I broke the sticker seal and slowly lifted the lid to reveal …

A calm came over me. The initial smell wrapped it’s arms around my nose, like a soft embrace. I admired the slight char around the edges of the crispy crust. The branding of a wood fired oven. Patches of bubbling cheese. Nooks of rich sauce. Disks of pepperoni. This was artisan pizza.

 

I took my first bite with pleasure. The crust was chewy and tender. The sauce was richly concentrated tomato and the cheese was divine. Little salty speedbumps of meat kissed my tongue with passion. As quickly as I began, that quickly it was over.

I sat and stared at the empty box and wished time travel was possible.

I will be back, but next time…I will eat slower.

Chocolate-Espresso Mini Soufflés

Usually on a cold, winter weekend like this past one, I will get an overwhelming craving for something deep, dark, dense, and chocolately to indulge in while giggling over ‘The Big Bang Theory‘. The feeling is comparable to a pregnant woman on the hunt for pickles and milk. Tell me I’m not alone.

For these instances, I have a few staple recipes that require minimal ingredients, and are a perfect portion for two. (or one, who will refrigerate the surplus and eat later that night…)

This recipe is one of those staples that I keep at the ready for those chocolate emergency situations. It’s totally delicious, practically foolproof, and who doesn’t have chocolate, butter, and an egg on-hand?

Please, make this immediately and let me know how much you enjoy it. K?

Chocolate-Espresso Mini Soufflés

Recipe compliments of ‘Fine Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces; more for the ramekins
  • Granulated sugar, for dusting
  • 1 tbsp dark rum, brandy, or water (I had one of those handy airplane-sized brandy bottles)
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee granules
  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 large egg, separated and at room temperature
  • 1 oz (1/4 cup) confectioners sugar

Directions

Lightly butter two 6-oz. ramekins and dust with granulated sugar, tapping out excess. Set the ramekins on a small baking sheet.

Stir together the liquor or water and the espresso powder. Set aside and stir occasionally until the coffee is dissolved. Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium metal bowl over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave. Remove from the heat and whisk until glossy and smooth. Stir in the coffee mixture and the salt. Whisk in the egg yolk. Add about one-third of the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until well blended and smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg white with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until it’s very foamy and they’re just beginning to hold soft peaks. Increase the speed to high and gradually sprinkle in the remaining confectioners’ sugar. Continue beating until the peaks are firm and glossy. Spoon about one-quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture and whisk until blended. Add the remaining whites and gently fold them in until just blended. Pour evenly into prepared ramekins (the mixture will almost completely fill the ramekins). Place ramekins in refrigerator and chill for about 30 minutes, and then cover in plastic and return to the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Alternatively, after the initial chilling, you can cover and freeze for up to two weeks.

Heat the oven to 400°F. Unwrap the ramekins, set them on a baking sheet, and bake until they’re puffed and risen about 1 inch above the ramekin, 15 minutes. The top will still be slightly sunken in the center; consider it a place to pop in a few berries or a dollop of whipped cream. Remove the soufflés from the oven and serve immediately.

Mille-Feuille Bakery Cafe – West Village NYC

I’m a huge proponent of trying foods in a variety of interpretations. Every culture has their own delicious translation of well-known fares. Take savory-filled pies for example. In India they’re called samosas and are usually fried and filled with potatoes, onions, peas and spices. In Italy, calzones are baked with meat, tomato sauce and cheese. In Spanish cultures, empanadas can be stuffed with a multitude of things from chicken and rice, to cheese and eggs.  Every variety is special and tasty in its own way and I’m open to trying them all.

I can’t say I have a favorite cuisine, as I truly love something (or many things) in every one. The exception to this statement, is desserts. Which I, hands down, favor French over anything else.

(My Italian grandparents are rolling in their graves…)

My Twitter profile description states that I am ‘on a never-ending quest to find NYC’s greatest croissant’. This is the still the case, though I do have some serious candidates in mind now. But until I find that shining beacon of buttery-layered glory, I like to take a break now and again and give a few other French delicacies some love and attention.

I found a cafe near my office that has a great lunch special: $9.99 for a cafe sandwich and 4 macaron’s of your choice. :::swoon:::

This place, Mille-Feuille Bakery and Cafe, just happens to have quite amazing macaron’s. And the sandwich was pretty good too. $10 is sadly pretty typical for lunch in NYC, but to get a bonus pack of macaron’s is like my dream come true. Seriously, I’ve had dreams about macaron’s.

The cafe sandwich I ordered, the ‘Le Nicois’, might look sort of ordinary but it was definitely extra. Ordinary that is.

Served on rosemary olive oil bread (sort of a foccacia-French hybrid), the tender white tuna was really the star. It was further highlighted with accompaniments of the typical Nicois variety: kalamata olives, capers, parsley, red onions, red peppers, hard boiled eggs, olive oil and one surprise condiment – creme fraiche. The creme fraiche did an amazing job of bringing the whole sandwich together and really gave it a dreamy and luxurious quality.

The macaron’s I chose to cap off my meal were: rose, coconut, chocolate, and pistachio.

The rose macaron had the most delicate of flavors, in fact I almost missed it entirely and was about to write it off as a vanilla buttercream tinted pink. But upon further concentration, I noticed the sweet floral quality, which was more of an aroma than a taste, in the back of my mouth. Very interesting.

The chocolate had a nice, albeit expected flavor. The coconut I offered to my office-mate, so I’ll report back on that one next time. The pistachio though – oh my sweet, delicious pistachio. This little nugget of airy, green-dyed, sweet goodness packed a punch of flavor that I was not expecting. True, it was a little heartier to the palate than the traditional French macaron (which is supposed to collapse in your mouth upon contact). But that variation definitely did not make it any worse, just different. And holy buttercream, was this one good and different.

After this lunch experience, I’ve decided that I might just have to pick up another quest to explore in parallel to my croissant-seeking one. That of finding the greatest French macaron in New York City. A lofty goal, but I think I’m up for the challenge. ;) Especially when the New York Times gave me a such a great head start!

:::Lord of the Rings quest music cues in:::

Saturday Brunch at Sarabeth’s Central Park

Spontaneously I stopped for brunch at Sarabeth’s while I was running some errands last weekend. I was hungry, near Central Park and have always heard about this spot for brunch but had somehow never been. I decided there is no time like the present and promptly walked in.

The restaurant was busy and the atmosphere ok, but not overall that impressive. It looks much cuter in the picture from their website above than it actually does in person. I sat at the bar, so I got to witness the bloody Mary stains on the cabinets and floor. (sigh) The bartender was very nice and gave me a very satisfactory soy cappuccino. Unfortunately that was about the only good thing I consumed while there.

I ordered the Farmer’s Omelette, which was studded with leeks, ham, potato, and gruyere and was not at all impressed. Admittedly it’s partly my fault, I know better than to order an omelette and expect the world. But honestly there wasn’t much else I wanted on the menu, and thought for almost $16 I’d get a decent omelette. Silly me …

The best part of the meal was the raspberry preserves, and I’m not trying to knock jam because I know it’s not always easy to find a good spread for your scone. I just think the quality of my jam should match the rest of my meal and in this case, it really didn’t. It wasn’t a bad meal, just nothing I’d repeat. The end.