Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living Large

Central Park cab
There are no recipes in this blog post. Other than the shot above, you'll find no original photos here. I did no cooking over the Easter weekend, but I ate like a dying man. My 5-day break was a tour de force of New York City dining for me and two visiting friends, Gregg & Jimmy. Gregg's been teaching business journalism in China for the past two years, and poor Jimmy has kept the home fires burning in Miami, FLA.  The two converged here, and I played tour guide. What a time!
775 Washington Street @ W. 12th
New York, NY
(212) 924-9700
I stumbled upon Barbuto back in 2004 while bar hopping cat sitting for a writer friend who lives just around the corner. It was late spring, and I was drawn to the flung-open garage door "walls" and the sidewalk cafe feel to the place. The amazing food, wine list and service have kept me coming back ever since. So, after a couple of cocktails in Chelsea Thursday evening, I convinced G&J that the 10-minute walk to the Village would be amply rewarded.
Creamy Porcini mushroom Soup
Baby Asparagus & Herbed Fava Bean Vermicelli
Beef & Pork Ragu Penne
Fire Roasted JW Chicken with Salsa Verde
Hampshire Pork Chop with Red Cabbage & Golden Raisins
Grilled Skirt Steak, Roasted Cipollini & Chilies
With several signature dishes on the menu, Barbuto still offers seasonal specialties as well. The vermicelli featured the first tender asparagus of the spring, julienned and perfectly blanched before being added to the delicate buttery sauce. We shared the other starters and every one got a forkful or two of each entree. The soup was deliciously complex but not overly rich at all. Barbuto is famous for it's wood-fired brick oven and the perfect roast chicken that comes out of it. Two write ups in the NY Times have made special note of the dish. It is wonderful. I absolutely loved the cabbage and raisins accompanying my pork chop. A brilliant twist on the apple side one usually associates with chops. Well, the oohs and ahhs made it pretty obvious that Barbuto had hit a home run with us. The hostess came by to remark that we ate like no one else in the restaurant (we swapped plates), and she just loved that. I'm sure the message got back to the chef that he had pleased at least one table.
Loeb Boathouse
E 72nd Street @ Park Drive North
New York, NY
(212) 517-2233
The next night Gregg & Jimmy had theatre tickets for All About Me, the unfortunate Dame Edna/Michael Feinstein collaboration, so we met up early in the day at MOMA for the spectacular Monet's Water Lilies exhibit: massive, fluid canvasses whose water and plants seemed to move on ancient breezes. New surprises kept popping up as one inspected the masterful brushwork. I could have spent the entire day there, but our sweet Jimmy has a strict feeding schedule and the fine weather just begged for a midday glass of chilled white wine. And where better to take advantage of a mild spring afternoon and absorb New York City? Why, the Central Park Boathouse!
Cream of Eggplant Soup
Chilled Watermelon Salad, mountain gorgonzola, celery and mint
Twin Boathouse Burgers, house made tater tots, pickles & condiments
Grilled Shrimp, roasted poblano grits, pancetta and celery hearts
When I moved to New York in 1999, the Boathouse was one of my first destinations. I was commanded to go there and view The Book by my old college rowing partner Whogus. The Book is a loose leaf binder of daily bird counts in the park. It is featured prominently in "Red-Tails in Love", Marie Winn's engrossing chronicle of a mating pair of Red-tail hawks in Central Park. There happens to be a very nice bar and restaurant in the boathouse overlooking the Lake. It's perfect for sipping wine and people watching. In the past few years, the kitchen and interiors have under gone a major overhaul. The dishes now befit this venerable New York institution. G&J's burgers (sliders, really) were expertly seasoned with just a hint of spice, and perfectly medium-rare. Shrimp and grits are a southern classic. Here they were jazzed up with poblano chilies, pancetta and celery hearts. Comforting. We hung around for an extra glass or two of Pinot Grigio before G&J headed down town to change for the theater. I walked through the park to the Time-Warner building and some conspicuous consumption at Williams-Sonoma and Runners World.
Freeman Alley off Rivington Street
New York, NY
(212) 420-0012
Freemans was one of those word of mouth discoveries. One of my rowers told me about it shortly after it opened in 2004 and we wandered around SOHO one night looking for Freeman Alley. It was worth the effort. I hadn't been back in years, but knew this was the kind of hearty meat-n-potatoes joint Jimmy was gonna love.
Grilled Sardines, fennel, treviso, citrus, crushed olives
Hampshire Pork Shoulder Steak, grilled, honey-glazed asparagus
Seared Filet Mignon, roasted onion, mashed potatoes,
horseradish cream
When I was kid my dad would sometimes relax on Sundays watching black & white westerns on television and snacking on sardines and saltine crackers. I loved those afternoons. Freemans sardines were nothing like the canned fish we ate way back then. These were huge, and whole, and beautifully grilled. I should eat more fish. Hearty was served up in spades and our waiter paired the food expertly with an excellent Rhône wine. This is restaurant you take your dad or father-in-law to when you want to make a favorable impression. This what American cuisine ought to be all about (step aside Bobby Flay).
I love showing off my town, and Gregg and Jimmy are two of my favorite tourists. I was at their complete disposal through Sunday... And then I caught a bone-rattling cough and spent the next week in bed. Like I said, good times!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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