Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    When The Living is Lazy

    Summer's got me feeling lazy. Alex Witchel of The New York Times feels the same way. I tend to eat differently in the warmer months (note to self: move to temperate clime when you get older and your metabolism slows more).

    One thing I have to have every summer is a plate full of heirloom tomatoes, sliced, slightly salted, and doused with truffle oil (even though truffle oil, it turns out, isn't really truffle oil -- whatever it is or isn't still makes me moan).

    A summer-perfect dessert is aged balsamic vinegar over strawberries and vanilla gelato with a toss of salt, like that I had at Bar Veloce recently. Sweet and juicy meets liquid tart, which meets creamy vanilla, then all the juices mingle and seep down into the bottom of the bowl and I pour a dash of muscato right into the bowl and drink it all together. It's a grown up version of a hot fudge sundae. This is good with truffle oil too, but then, isn't everything? (Down on the left is my friend Liz with the sundae and also a Nutella sandwich that came with even more gelato; on the right I'm having a reflective moment with the wine bottle.)

    My one attempt at making watermelon martinis a few years ago didn't go over so well, something about not enough juice and too much pulp, but I should try again.

    I love Atlas Cafe's frozen yogurt, though I'm neither convinced that it's yogurt, nor sure it's low-fat. They press the yogurt through this anvil-like contraption that does a real good job swirling it with toppings. I've been getting York Peppermint Patties mixed in.

    Even cake can seem too heavy in the summer, but not the Sacher-Torte that Dana brought me back from Vienna. Yes, she carried that beautifully boxed and wrapped cake all the way from the Hotel Sacher back to New York for me! Dense and dry (somehow in a good way), the chocolate cake is layered with apricot jam and topped with dark chocolate icing.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Nuts and Notes

    Since Trader Joe's opened in NYC last year, I've been addicted to their Thai Lime and Chili Peanuts. Through tears and yowls, I've accustomed my tastebuds to the chilies' heat, and also figured out the trick to eating the nuts without wailing in pain (though sometimes I'm too lazy to follow my own instructions):

    1. Fill small or medium sized bowl with nuts.
    2. With knife, cut the chilies into small pieces on cutting board or paper towel, return to bowl, and push to one side.
    3. Eat nuts, lemongrass and lime, avoiding the chilies.
    4. When your mouth is finely coated in peanut goodness, you may find that it's slightly numb (the chili seeds that you've mistakenly ingested add to this phenomenon). At this time, eat a small piece of chili.
    5. If you aren't too fired up, take another piece of chili and a handful of the rest of the bowl's contents.
    6. Repeat. Refill. Wash hands when you're finished, or before touching your eyes, etc.

    On a semi-Trader's related note, my amazing Pilates instructor, deeAnn Nelson, was a professional dancer with the Brooklyn troupe STREB. During a performance in May, she fractured her spine and is now enduring an intense course of rehab. I recently attended a benefit dance performance for her, excerpts from which you will soon be able to see at www.deeannnelson.com. At the show, I bought 5 raffle tickets, hoping I'd win the case of wine from Trader Joe's -- and I did! There's barely enough room in my kitchen for 12 bottles of wine, but somehow I think I'll manage! When it's all been drunk, I'll report back with tasting notes on the case, which included reds, whites, a rosé, muscat, and prosecco.

    Sunday, July 01, 2007


    In the summer, I can never eat enough gazpacho. Whether it's chunky, pureed, served with a dollop of sour cream, loaded with cilantro, spicy, or mild, I want it every day, multiple times a day. Along with the taste and variation, I like that it's a refreshing, light meal, though sometimes I crumble in some baguette or cornbread to make it heartier.

    My all time favorite gazpacho is served at G&M Cafe in Charleston. I've been eating there since high school, and even though I only manage to go once a year or so now, I think about it often this time of year. These days I prefer my gazpacho a little spicier than G&M's, but for the familiarity and comfort level factors, theirs is still my number one. It has a superb, small chunkiness that's made slightly creamy by a dollop of sour cream, and it's chock full of peppers and tomatoes. I like to order a toasted, open-faced croissant with goat cheese and olive paste with it, and alternate bites of each -- the slight tartness of the spreads gives the soup a greater flavor depth.

    Around the corner from my apartment, I recently tried The Mermaid Inn's honeydew and cucumber gazpacho with Maine lobster. There was a handsome sprinkling of cilantro, which, with the cucumber, countered the honeydew's sweetness. The soup was velvety, while the generous pieces of lobster were salty and juicy. It's served as an appetizer for $10, a lot for soup, but a pittance for soup with lobster.

    I've also been enjoying the gazpacho at Ruben's Empanadas.

    *** *** ***
    One of the best meals I've recently had was a splurge at E.U. Yet another of New York's gastropubs (E.U. stands for European Union), it's not really pubby looking (there's exposed brick, porcelain fixtures, a lovely skylight, and a raw bar), but they do have a nice beer selection. Jon and I shared the tasting flight of five handcrafted artisanal beers, which come to the table on a butcher block. Surprisingly, the best was an apple-flavored Gouden Caralous. We also shared a charcuterie plate piled with cheese and juicy chunks of chorizo. Jon ordered the chicken and dumplings with brussel sprout fondue and chestnut gnocchi. It's gotten rave reviews but the small bite I had was a bit too chewy.

    I ordered the poached wild striped bass with endive marmalotta, shiitake mushrooms, and pistachio vinaigrette. Perfect for a night where Spring was in the air but hadn't yet settled in for the season, the dish found the fine balance between a light and old world, overly heavy preparation. The fish was very fresh, juicy, and clean tasting, and the endive marmalotta was rapturous. If I'm remembering right, the waiter said that a marmalotta preparation means that the endive was cooked with chicory, giving it a sweet, mildly coffee-like flavor. Each ingredient in the bowl was allowed to shine in a complementing manner, and each forkful was a slight surprise. I often find that I either don't see or taste some of the ingredients that are listed on the menu in an entree's description, but that was not the case at E.U.

    We had no choice but to order the stick toffee pudding for dessert, which is served in cake form (I prefer Bar Americain's parfait version), with buttermilk ice cream on the side. After, we pond-hopped to the couch for the rest of the night.

    *** *** ***
    I'm in love with New York Magazine's Grub Street blog, in part for "The Annotated Dish," which shows a sumptuous photo of say, Per Se's Summer Steak Salad, with arrows pointing to each ingredient. You can mouse over the arrows for descriptions from chefs like Jonathan Benno: "We use a trio of radishes: red radish, icicle radish, and French-breakfast radish. We sous-vide them with sesame oil, rice-wine vinegar, crushed lemongrass, chile, ginger, and coriander seed at 83 degrees Celsius."

    On another food blog-related note, a few weeks ago at the end of a friend's fabulous wedding weekend, a wine-smart friend tried to engage me in a conversation about how foodies aren't usually all that wine-savvy. I agreed but had reached the end of my social graces for the weekend and could say no more. A bit more refreshed the next day, I emailed my friend Francis Lam, a contributing editor at Gourmet, to see what he had to say on the subject. See his thoughts here, on the magazine's blog.