Cavatappo Revisited due to an Overflowing Vino 313

With Marc still in town, I made a last minute decision to go for drinks last night. I figured the recently opened Vino 313 would be the perfect place for a nice glass of wine accompanied by a serene setting. To my suprise and dissappointment, the place was completely packed and anything but serene. And the fact that it was so crowded made the space a lot less appealing. I’ve certainly seen people in Vino 313 in passing but it had never appeared this crowded. Clearly Murray Hill was begging for more wine bars.

Since Cavatappo was only a few blocks away, I decided to give it a second try. Though it being 9:30pm on a Thursday night, I anticipated we’d encounter the same problem. Lucky for us,
Cavatappo was able to accomodate our small party of two with prime seating right in the center. Marc immediately began perusing the wine menu for anything from Spain or France. Being born and well traveled in Europe I thought it was safe to let Marc choose the wine. We settled on a carafe of the 2003 Château Steval, Bordeaux. Since I don’t usually drink French wines it was definitely a new flavor for me. The Chateau Steval was a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are two reds I don’t often drink. But its smooth nature was very pleasant which made it easy to drink. I’ve yet to try a wine at Cavatappo I don’t like.

We’d also ordered a plate of classic bruchetta of tomatoes, basil, and garlic, to accompany the wine. And I must admit, this is the one thing I did not like. The pizzas, salads, and antipasto have all been wonderful but it was actually difficult to get the bruchetta down. The marinated tomatoes were standard of a traditional bruschetta but the toast underneath it was very hard, almost as if it had been sitting there for quite some time. I like a slightly toasted french bread underneath my bruschetta. And because the bread was so firm, it was slightly painful to eat. But other than this slight mishap, the nite was enjoyable.

I happen to love Cavatappo. Between its prime location (5 blocks from my apt) , tasty small plates, and reasonably priced wine it really is the perfect neighboord spot. Although it was not too crowded on a Thursday night I have walked by many times when its been mobbed, especially on the weekends. So if you can make it into Cavatappo before the rush, consider yourself in store for a great experience.

CAVATAPPO
347 Third Avenue
(Between 25th & 26th Streets)

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Yama 49

Last night I had the priviledge of entertaining my friend Marc who is in from Switzerland along with some of his friends. Lucky for me I was introduced to a very interesting group of professionals all involved in the development of peace through sports. Since we began the night at Pig & Whistle, which I must add had a horrible beer selection (on tap), I suggested we walk a few short blocks to Yama (49) for dinner.

I was first turned on to Yama by my Wisconsin friends, though I was not too impressed on my first visit. But after dining at Yama many times, I’ve developed a great appreciation for this seemingly hidden neighborhood gem.

The more times I went, the more I enjoyed it and not only because of the company. Usually I dine at Yama while catching up with my Wisconsin friends who I haven’t seen in a while and not really paying as much attention to my sushi as I normally would. But my last few dinners at Yama have been phenomenal.

As you’ll see in this picture of the sushi we ordered last night, the presentation is wonderful. And each morsel from a piece of ikura or tobiko to the beautifully shiny salmon, both appeared and tasted incredibly fresh. Yama takes great care in creating their roles from the perfectly sliced cucumber surrounding the “I Like Eel” roll to the drizzling of the spicy mayonnaise.

It only seemed right to share this wonderful sushi haven with friends that wouldn’t have come across such mouthwatering sushi as Yama. And since everyone seemed to trust my palette, I was chosen to order for the table, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Because I LOVE to share, I ordered a bunch of their “special rolls” for all of us to indulge in. I decided upon a variety of rolls including eel, scallop, tuna, and salmon which were all quite yummy. I had requested they serve the sushi with a side of their famous carrot ginger dressing. I have to say that Yama has THE BEST ginger dressing in all of Manhattan and though my friends visiting wouldn’t know how it compares to the rest of New York’s offerings, they had to agree. I believe the large amount of oil Yama use’s in creating it is what makes the dressing just that good.

The ambiance at Yama is a nice compliment to their delectable sushi. Its darkly designed interior contrasts nicely with the irridescently white sushi bar where “cute old men” as my friend called it, slice Yama’s fresh fish. Yama’s zen-like interior is a refreshing alternative to the other pub-style and Italian eateries that flood the east 50’s.

So, if you’re looking to impress visitors or are craving an obnoxiously large sushi roll, head to Yama 49 (the best of the three).

YAMA

308 East 49th Street

(Between 2nd & 1st Avenues)

Recession Specials

I must say I’m a bit of a recessionista if I do say so myself. And though a New York Times article
deems recessionistas as mere “style mavens on a budget”, I believe it applies to any genre, and especially when it comes in eating in Manhattan.

New York City is a playground for foodies or really anyone that enjoys a satisfying meal with pretty decent service to boot. But harsh times call for harsh measures, though maybe not this time around… As we’re beginning to see, restaurants are not recession proof and in order to fill their quotas they’ve begun to offer somewhat affordable prix-fixed weekday meals to diners looking to get the best bang for their buck. Alhough the prix-fixed menus might not offer up the creme de la creme, these deals allow even the slightly poverty stricken (I use this term lightly) New Yorkers to continue to uphold their gluttonous lifestyles.

Due to the horrible chain effect the recession is causing, you will see a change in what restaurants are serving. More and more chefs are drawn to the local food movement, slightly altering the produce that is offered in even our favorite restaurants. Chefs are using less expensive ingredients and even serving smaller portions in order to recoup their expenses. It’s a tough world out there.

But though Restaurant Week may be coming to an end, you’ll notice that a lot of restaurants will be extending their $24.07 lunch and $35 dinner offerings through February or later. Lucky for us NY Mag has published The Definitive Guide to Recession Specials. And another recessionista helps us take advantage of even more of New York’s finest deals with her frequently updated list of best bets.

My Recession Special dinner recommendations are:

Nougatine, $35 three-course dinner before 6:30 p.m. and after 10 p.m
Apiary, $35 three-course Sunday dinner, featuring options like pan-seared halibut with broccolini and spicy eggplant, and pumpkin crème brûlée
Dovetail, $38 three-course Sunday supper, featuring dishes like sweetbreads and duck goulash

Though I have not yet visited these fine establishments, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Shabbat, A Dinner with Friends

Shabbat is usually something I don’t “practice” often, but on occassion I’ll host or take part in a Shabbat dinner. According to Jewish tradition, Shabbat is the day of rest. Starting at sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday, it is custom to relax and spend time with family and friends, while doing our best not to use electricity or exert any energy. Since I consider myself more traditional, my observance of Shabbat pretty much consists of a home cooked meal shared with friends on a Friday night. Though I try not to use my phone during dinner, I am quite guilty of using the television, computer, and any other electrial equipment or appliance I normally would.

But regardless of my degree of observance, my Shabbat dinners revolve around the original principles of Shabbat; good company, cuisine, and conversation. Well, maybe Shabbat didn’t stress the importance of food, but it is a very important part of Jewish get togethers, as all of us can attest to. Thankfully Birthright Israel, an organization founded to strengthen the connection between Israel and Jewish communities around the world, was able to sponsor my Shabbat. And for that reason alone, I was sure to make it a special one.

A Shabbat wouldn’t be a Shabbat without two very important things; Challah and wine. The Challah was luckily brought over from Tal’s Bagels by a friend of mine. And since our Shabbat dinner was on a $25/pp budget, I stocked up on some reasonably priced bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s. Since I decided to serve a rack of lamb I picked up a variety of reds such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz which pair up very nicely. And for those who prefer white I went with Fetzer’s Sauvignon Blanc and Robert Mondavi’s Chardonnay. Any of these wines go well with the menu I’d prepared:
Starters
  • Hummus & Babaganoush served with warmed pita and baby carrots
  • Kalamata Olive and Bulgarian Cheese Bites
  • Arugula salad prepared with pear, goat cheese, pine nuts and dried cranberries in a honey balsamic vinaigrette

Main Course

  • Rosemary & Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallots
Dessert
  • Homemade Brownies (with and without nuts)

I must admit that preparing for this dinner definitely took some time. And because I was hosting the Shabbat dinner at someone else’s apartment, the preparation was a bit more complicated. The preparations were as follows:

1 Day Ahead
  • Cook the Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Bake the Brownies
  • Cut and trim the Brussels Sprouts
  • Slice and dice the Shallots

* You may bake the brownies two days in advance, if needed

Day Of

  • Dice the Rosemary
  • Make the homemade Breadcrumbs
  • Dress, sear, & cook the Rack of Lamb
  • Bake the Brussels Sprouts
  • Put the salad components together
  • Make the dressing & dress the Salad

Needless to say, we had a phenomenal dinner and a wonderful time spending a Friday night without any distractions, except maybe the wine… So if you’re Jewish, or if you’re not, sometimes it’s just nice to relax with friends over a nice home cooked meal. But if you are Jewish, definitely check out Birthright Israel’s site so you can have your Shabbat meal sponsored! And please know that non-hebrews are very welcome at my Shabbat gatherings!

And stay tuned for the recipes to all of these delicious dishes!

The Art of Entertaining

I believe that entertaining is a true skill that is best acquired through practice. In my 25 years on earth 4 years of which I spent in college at the University of Wisconsin and 3 + years living in New York City, I have done my fair share of entertaining. From my first attempt at homemade gnocchi in my junior year to my latest rack of lamb triumph at a Shabbat dinner, I’ve certainly come a long way. My friends know that I am more likely to invite them over for a home cooked meal than trying out a new restaurant. And this is just how much I love to entertain.

Entertaining guests involves being personable and efficient. When entertaining guests you are to be selfless, you are there merely for their pleasure since they are your guests. It is important to take great care in greeting your guests and show your appreciation for their participation. But in order to be able to care for your guests, efficiency is key. You must be sure to prepare what you are serving in advance so that you are able to mingle and enjoy yourself. After all, this is your party.

Without one or either of those traits or skills, you have no future as an entertainer. And, I would think a lot of people chose not to entertain because of how much work it involves and these three fears…

Top Three Fears of Entertaining

  1. Money. How can I throw a party without it costing me a fortune?
  2. Food. Where will I find the time or the space to prepare the food?
  3. Time. How can I manage to entertain my guests while trying to serve the food?

Though these are common fears when making the decision whether or not to entertain, I have a few tips that can help you through what can often be a stressful time. The goal is to make entertaining not only appear but actually become simple and seamless.

Tips for Stress-Free Entertaining

  1. Keep it Simple. Guests will be impressed by even the slightest of efforts. If you have a small kitchen or a limited budget, try to pick dishes that require little prep time and ingredients.
  2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Be sure to review your recipes a week before your engagement. It is important to prepare a portion of your recipes in advance so that you are not rushed the day of.
  3. Serve Yourself. Instead of individually serving your guests, set up your party buffet style on stylish eco-friendly and low cost dishware.
  4. Practice Makes Perfect. The more you entertain, the more organized you will become. Practice making an easy two course meal (salad and main course) for friends and take it from there.

The Perfect Brownie

What makes a good brownie? Do you like a brownie that’s more cake-like or do you prefer the chewier fudgy kind? There are so many different types of brownies it’s hard to say which exactly is the perfect brownie, though I’m here to find out!

Brownies seem to be the perfect dessert in every way except maybe on the waist line. Brownies make for a rich chocolatey finish to a great meal. And for this reason alone I am intent on mastering the brownie. But you might be thinking, where do I start?

The first thing I did was search through dozens of brownie recipes both online and in my cookbooks. And I learned a few important techniques in brownie perfection:

  1. Use room temperature ingredients. Apparently the temperature of your butter and eggs reflects on the texture of your brownie.
  2. Let your chocolate mixture cool before mixing into the batter. If you’re using real chocolate, rather than cocoa powder, let the chocolate and butter mixture cool before combining it with the remaining ingredients. This small but important step yields a consistent result.
  3. Check the amount of flour used in your brownie recipe. Less flour produces a chewier brownie, more flour yields a cakier brownie.
  4. Only use the type of chocolate the recipe calls for. Some recipes call for cocoa powder, while others call for actual chocolate. While you can often swap bittersweet chocolate for dark as well as other variations, it is not recommended to use cocoa powder if the recipe calls for chocolate.

In the last week I tried out two distinctly different recipes, one using dutch process cocoa powder and the other using a mix of dark and bittersweet chocolate. Which do you think came out better? Well, the truth is that it’s all in the eye of the beholder. While the cocoa powder brownies were incredibly rich, being that dutch process cocoa is the best chocolate you can use, the brownies made of melted chocolate were chewier giving them a completely different taste. I happened to prefer the dutch process brownies because of their rich complex flavor, or maybe because they were concepted by the famous Nick Malgeri. But feel free to try out the recipes and decide for yourself.

Nick’s Supernatural Brownies (Melted Chocolate)

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder Recipe, To be posted…

Just remember, a real brownie is made with nuts! Though I usually bake half of the batter without nuts to satisfy everyone’s cravings, even if I disagree with them.

Brownies on Foodista

Winter Restaurant Week 2009

Restaurant Week is something I used to look forward to season after season. Though I’m sure most of you have found that the prix-fixed $25 lunches and $35 dinners have gone downhill since the week’s inception. The majority of restaurants included in Restaurant Week usually do not serve the same items as on their regular menu, have very few choices available, and occassionaly serve their dishes in smaller portions. But despite Restaurant Week’s downfalls, it does allow the public to experience a meal that they may have not had otherwise.

Though this winter is the first time some of the restaurants have opened up this offering to Sunday night dinners. Winter Restaurant week is being held January 18th – 23rd and January 25th – 30th. Typically, Restaurant Week is held twice a year for two consecutive work weeks, in the winter and in the spring. But due to the current state of the economy it’s been more common for restaurants to extend their Restaurant Week offerings or temporarily offer a prix-fixed $35 dinner option on weeknights.

When choosing restaurants (for myself or groups) that participate in Restaurant Week I usually follow a few guidelines:

  1. Book your reservations on Open Table immediately. Participating restaurants book up fast. Open Table allows you to cancel a reservation up to 24 hours in advance.
  2. Check the Restaurant Week menus in advance. It’s common for Restaurant Week participants to serve unlikely or unpopular food pairings.
  3. Read up on the more expensive restaurant choices. You may as well get the best bang for your buck.

My recommendation’s for Winter Restaurant Week 2009 are:

Lunch:
– Butter
– Grammercy Tavern
– Norma’s
– Tamarind

Dinner:
– Apiary (NEW)
– Calle Ocho
– Chinatown Brasserie
– Jojo
– Periyali
– Telepan
– Mesa Grill