Friday, April 06, 2007

NYC: The Food (For John) ...

The food. My God, the food.

Chicago is giving New York some serious competition for best food city in America, but I suspect New York will always win. It's simply a bigger city and the epicenter of the planet. And so the chefs flock, if only to cut their teeth before moving on to another town. Like Chicago.

On Saturday night, my cousins Patty and Barry made reservations at Five Points, just around the corner and down the block from the hotel.

The decor, as you can see, is lovely. The night we were there, the massive vases down the center of the restaurant's "wooden river" as Patty calls it (think of a very long wooden beam carved into a trough) were filled with flowering tree branches - dogwood, perhaps? The ceiling panels are woven into the pattern you see.

Oh, but I'm not here to talk about decor, am I, John? (My friend John, whom I saw on Tuesday, likes it when I write about food, so this post is dedicated to him.)

The menu was amazing. I have a very hard time deciding in restaurants. My friend Dennis once said, as I struggled with my decision, "Beth, you can come back another day and order something else." True, true. But when faced with so many tempting choices, it's hard to make up one's mind.

I started with a salad of baby greens and roasted beets with toasted almonds and a dried apricot chutney. I will eat roasted beets in any form. Go ahead, make a roasted beet shake for me. I'll drink it.

For my entree, I combined several elements on the menu, so I could choose more things, make fewer decisions. And so dinner was a combination of an appetizer and two sides: a triangle of polenta, lightly pan fried to give the edges just a bit of crispness to contrast the creamy interior, topped with a mound of roasted wild mushrooms and napped with a lovely fontina cream, and sides of roasted Brussels sprouts and exquisitely soft mashed potatoes. Let's not think about all the butter and cream.

All of which was delicious, but all of which pales, pales, pales in comparison to the dessert. I am a panna cotta devotee. If it's on the dessert menu, I order it. Consequently, I have had panna cotta in many places in my life. But none - none - have ever compared to the panna cotta at Five Points. Served on a plate drizzled with blood orange syrup, the texture of it is nearly indescribable. It was the most silken texture I've ever put on my tongue. Like silk wrapped in cashmere. It was simply the most decadent, luxurious dessert I've ever had.

When our server stopped by the table, I extended my compliments to the pastry chef. I've never done that before.

Sunday's "breakfast" was a muffin and latte at Dean & Deluca. Utterly forgettable. I didn't think it was possible to screw up anything containing the words "cappuccino" and "hazelnut," but D&D proved it possible. My muffin was leaden. And somewhat dry. And the frosting/glaze on the top of the muffin was dry and cracked when I pulled the muffin into bites. And where exactly was the hazelnut? I wasn't expecting nuts, but I was expecting the flavor of the nuts. All very sad.

Sunday's late lunch was pizza and salad at a cute place on 57th. Tasty, but not worthy of much exposition here. It was more of a snack to tide us over before dinner. In Brooklyn. At Rose Water.

It is a wee restaurant. Maybe 36 seats inside. The kitchen appears positively diminutive. But Patty, and Barry especially, are frequent diners there and know the chef, Ethan, well. When we arrived, Barry ducked his head into the kitchen to mention that they were entertaining family from Chicago (I was in New York with my parents, and this dinner was to celebrate my mom's 65th birthday) so the chef took every opportunity to send out special tastes and treats. Our first was a meze plate of hummus and celery root puree and baba ghanouj and white bean puree with feta and olives and freshly made wheat pita.

I had a baby greens salad. Simple and good. Light, which was important, as the entree promised to be a bit heavy, but a stunner.

But first, the chef sent out individual dishes of risotto for us. A saffron risotto with olives and roasted red peppers and Asiago cheese, was it?, plated with a drizzle of port wine reduction. And just enough. I love risotto, but the portions are always too large.

My entree was a braised short rib flanked by mustard spaetzle and fresh sauerkraut and topped - this is the stunner - with a horseradish dill creme fraiche. Outstanding. I don't often write about my companions' entrees, because I'd have to write a novella every time I discussed dinner, but my mother's cod is worth a mention. Not the cod so much as the sauce on which it sat. I won't even try to describe it here. Just get to Rose Water before the menu changes and order it. Really.

There were five of us for dinner and five desserts on the menu, making that decision rather straightforward. Mine was a coffee-poached pear with a small hazelnut cake (which tasted, happily, like hazelnuts!) and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. According to the menu, it should have been whipped creme fraiche, but why quibble? Ethan sent out dessert wine pairings for all of us. I had a tawny port.

Which brings us to Monday. Patty and Barry had to work, so we were on our own for the day.

At dinner at Rose Water, Barry had mentioned the quiche at Balthazar. Yes, we eat one meal and discuss the next. So, Monday morning, Balthazar it was. I ordered a bowl of cafe au lait and a mixed berry scone and the quiche which came with greens. Ah, salad for breakfast! The quiche was indeed fabulous. Caramelized onions and roasted red peppers and gruyere in the most delightful egg custard, perfectly cooked to just the right consistency, creamy yet set.

Lunch was rather inspired, if I do say so. I absolutely had to have an H&H bagel and I absolutely had to pop into Zabar's and Dad wanted to see Central Park, so I pulled together a picnic. We each picked our favorite bagel at H&H (sesame for me, always) and I grabbed a tub of veggie schmear. At Zabar's, I chose fruit salad and Black Forest ham and, the piece de resistance, an apricot cheese strudel. We found a pretty little pavillion in the park and noshed our hearts out. We ate half the strudel and I toted the other half back to the hotel for my mom and dad to have with their coffee in the morning. She invited me to their room to share.

Monday night, Patty made reservations at Cafe Bianco, a tiny little place she spied on Bleeker Street and looked up online. With good reviews from Zagat and other sources, we decided to give it a try. It is a very happy find.

I started with fried zucchini blossoms and garlic shrimp. Heaven. The blossoms were slit to lie flat and coated in the most delicate batter (think tempura). The shrimp were perfectly cooked.

My entree, in a moment of great departure and adventure for me, was the crispy salmon. I am not, not, not a salmon eater, but I ordered it in Dave's honor. Pan seared in a bit of butter and salt, I'm guessing, then finished in the oven, plated with crispy rosemary roasted potatoes and the most immense mound of garlic-sauteed spinach. (Dave, if you're reading, I ordered it medium and it was cooked perfectly.)

I tried the panna cotta for dessert. Not surprisingly, following the Five Points effort, it fell rather flat. Alas.

Tuesday, mom and I joked about going back to Balthazar for more quiche, but we got a late start. We met John at Rockefeller Center (John and I have one specific spot where we meet every time) and headed down to the cafe (with a view of the skating rink) for some coffee and a quick bite. I had a salad with hazelnuts and cheese I'd never heard of. It was like a Stilton if Stilton was a yellow cheese. In any event, it was good. And my mimosa was a happy accompaniment.

Of course, that nosh was just a precursor to our lunch at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central. I had the grilled sea scallops which came plated with steamed vegetables and potaotes. Not the most remarkable meal. But I nabbed a spoonful of John's bouillabaisse broth and that was pretty sensational. One of our servers, a handsome Italian man, was pleased when I ordered the lemon panna cotta for dessert, but it was easily the worst I've ever had. It was grainy, almost like ricotta cheese.

And lastly, before going to see the play (my entire reason for going to New York), we stopped into the restaurant next door for drinks and little bites. (The play clocks in at three hours, so I didn't think we'd be eating after.) The smoked prosciutto wrapped around something like fresh mozzarella and grilled was tasty, as were the rosemary-roasted potatoes. Of course, downing two glasses of Absolut Mandarin in the space of about 45 minutes would heighten pretty much any experience.

Breakfast the next morning at the airport was a bottle of orange juice and a Clif bar. And I think I'll eat sticks and twigs for a week to see if I can't lower my cholesterol a bit.

And yet, for all the amazing meals, I don't think I gained any weight.

Thank God New York is a walking city.


Anonymous John McC. said...

You didn't gain any weight? I just read it and gained 7 lbs.
And......if you go to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central and order anything other than pan roast oysters, Chincoteagues on the half shell, or Long Island Steamers it serves you right what you get....oh you midwesterners.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Says the man who ordered the bouillabaisse!

We discussed oysters, John. They're slimy, and you don't eat them so much as just swallow them. And you douse them in horseradish and Tabasco and lemon (to stun them?), so we don't much see the point.

Come to Chicago, love, and we'll get you a proper steak, we midwesterners.


3:11 PM  

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