Elegant Italian

I’ve been waiting some time to visit Bowery Hotel’s Italian hot spot Gemma. But since they refuse to take reservations for less than six, and are always mobbed with eager foodies I just gave up. But when the opportunity arose to dine at Gemma during lunch, I knew it was meant to be.

Gemma’s decor is rustic but elegant. Glistening candelabra chandeliers hang from high ceilings surrounded by wooden tables and candles adorned with dripping wax. This dark but beautiful space comes alive at night when all of the candles are lit and the room is filled with chic diners. In the early afternoon Gemma was fairly quiet with few diners other than ourselves.

Gemma's MenuGemma’s menu is filled with wonderful Italian specialties such as Artichoke & Parmigiano Salad dressed with Truffle Vinaigrette, Papparadelle with Oxtail Ragu, and a vast selections of cheeses, charcuterie, and pizzettes. But having looked over their menu and read many reviews in preparation for my first goodbye lunch, I already knew I was ordering the Branzino Al Forno, which also happened to be the most expensive item on the menu. Oh, well!

My boss Andres suggested we begin our meal with the polenta fries and the calamari which were both delicious. The polenta fries were dusted with fresh parsley and served with a chipotle aioli that complimented the fries perfectly. And the calamari was cooked with garbonzo beans in a savory marinara sauce that I couldn’t stop eating.

Polenta Fries & Chipotle Aioli

Polenta Fries & Chipotle Aioli

Calamari with Garbanzo Beans sauteed in a Marinara Sauce

Calamari with Garbanzo Beans sauteed in a Marinara Sauce

For our main courses we ordered the Branzino, Goat Cheese Ravioli al Pomodoro,  Rigatoni, & a Margherita Pizza.

Gemma Branzino Al Forno; Roasted Mediterranean Sea bass on Cedar with sauteed green beans

Branzino Al Forno; Roasted Mediterranean Sea bass on Cedar with sauteed green beans

Goat Cheese Ravioli al Pomodoro

Goat Cheese Ravioli al Pomodoro

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza

Rigatoni; Procuitto Cotto, Peas, and Cream

Rigatoni; Procuitto Cotto, Peas, and Cream

All of the dishes, aside from the pizza were wonderful, especially the Goat Cheese Ravioli. The plump fresh tomatoes in the marinara sauce were phenomenal and were a great pairing for the goat cheese.

Gemma is a great place to go for both lunch and dinner and is probably worth the wait during peak evening hours. Definitely try the Goat Cheese Ravioli and the Artichoke salad which I unfortunately did not order this time around.

Advertisements

Porktacular!

Porchetta As my career at Nielsen comes to a close, I come to the realization that I will in fact be leaving the East Village lunch of luxury. I’m heading uptown with the suits where I can only hope expensed business lunches await my arrival. And though the 50’s have wonderful restaurants, I’m weary of their unaffordable and stuffy lunch options. So I’ve spent the last two weeks hopping here and there and thoroughly enjoying goodbye after goodbye lunch. Maybe I should change jobs more often?

Porchetta But all joking aside I’ve devoured some amazing meals, my favorite of the week being Porchetta. As a Jew raised to not eat pork, I’m pretty adverse to it being my meal’s main attraction. I’m totally cool with eating bacon, prosciutto, or even spare ribs. But ordering a pork chop at dinner is just going too far…until Porchetta!

Admittedly I had a few samplings of pulled pork at this year’s Choice Eats Awards, but I had never had a meal that was centered around pork. And since I’ll be starting a new chapter of my life in about a week, I decided that it was about time I Discovered Pork for myself.

Porchetta's Pork Roasts

Pork and more pork stared us in the face when we arrived at Porchetta. Porchetta makes 14 pork roasts every day that each take five hours to cook. Luckily they get their bread from the Sullivan Street Bakery, so they have one less thing to bake each day. Porchetta’s daily menu had only three main options:

  1. Porchetta, Sandwich
  2. Porchetta, Plate
  3. Mozzarella, Sandwich
Porchetta Sandwich

Porchetta Sandwich

I almost went for the Porchetta sandwich (along side Adam & Dave) when i saw the daily specials. With a mere 3 days left in the East Village,  I decided to try my luck on the Pork Ragu special. And was I glad I did!

Pork Ragu on Garlic Toast

Pork Ragu on Garlic Toast

This mouth watering ragu is one of the BEST I’ve ever tasted. The pork was succulent and moist; glistening on top of  a buttery toasted baguette. This harmonious pairing has a wonderful warming effect that warms the heart and soul. Porchetta’s Pork Ragu lifts the spirits. Oh how I love reminiscing about this sandwich! Adam and Dave were eyeing my pork ragu in hopes that I wouldn’t finish. Clearly they don’t know my appetite, as I nearly licked the bowl clean.

I only wish that I chose Porchetta as my last East Village meal. But even more reason for me to return…

Porchetta Store Window

Entertaining: DIY Pizza

Despite my bite sized kitchen, I love to entertain. And now that the weather is getting warmer, barbeques are a plenty and it’s nice to have an easy and affordable alternative, such as pizza!

You were probably thinking I’d say fruit salad, corn on the cob, or even pasta salad. But pizza, in summer… well, it’s genius! Pizza is another one of those foods that you’re quick to purchase because it’s quick, affordable, and delicious. And for someone whose looking to entertain, homemade pizza makes a greater  starter or main course and will most definitely impress your guests!

Pizza is an ideal food because of its versatility. Pizza can be vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, and will probably fall into a plethora of other categories that are important to health conscious, allergy-cautious, or religiously observant eaters. Pizzas are also very easy to make as they can be cooked in the oven on a sheet pan or pizza stone (which I highly recommend), a cast iron pan, or even on the grill (on a sheet pan).

To save time, I like to buy pre-made dough which you can pick up from a local pizzeria or at Trader Joe’s (which comes in white flour, whole wheat, or herb flavors for 99 cents). I also like to have some corn meal on hand which I spread at the bottom of the baking dish or pizza stone before cooking.

Grilled Pizza This past weekend I decided I’d try and grill my pizza on the barbeque. Though I’d seen recipes where the dough was cooked directly on the grill, I had a feeling that the dough would stick to the actual grill leaving me with very little to work with. Because I used a sheet pan to grill the entire pizza, from dough to cheese, the pizza didn’t retain the smokey flavor I was after. I guess next time I’ll have to try my luck by grilling the dough.

But whether you’re grilling pizza or baking it in the oven, you’re guests will taste and appreciate the homemade goodness of a DIY Pizza.

Margherita-Garlic Pizza

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package Pizza Dough
  • Extra Flour
  • Marinara Sauce (up to 4 cups)
  • Fresh Mozzarella (8 oz), thinly sliced
  • Chopped Jarred Garlic (1/8 cup)
  • Fresh Basil, chiffonade
  • Olive Oil

TOOLS

  • Rolling Pin
  • Pizza Stone (or Aluminum Sheet Pan/Baking Sheet)

PREPARATIONS

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees and begin heating your pizza stone until oven is completely pre-heated.
  2. Spread out about 1/4 cup flour on top of your countertop. Roll out pizza dough into one long rectangle that will fit on your pizza stone.
  3. Once the pizza stone is preheated, take it out of the oven and spread a light coat of corn meal on the bottom of the pizza stone.
  4. Lightly coat one side of the dough with olive oil and place that side facing down into the pizza stone. Then lightly coat the other side of the dough with olive oil and a few tablespoons of chopped garlic.
  5. Then spread anywhere from 2-4 cups of marinara sauce over the pizza dough and losely cover with the 8 oz of fresh mozzarella and basil.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is no longer gummy but crunchy and the cheese bubbly.
  7. Serve and enjoy!

Spring Greens at Vertigo

I don’t know about you, but after an indulgent Memorial Day weekend filled with barbeque and booze I need a rest from red meat. And with Spring in full effect, seasonal greens are the perfect antidote to get your body back in the swing of things. Sure, you can easily pick up some fresh arugula or mixed baby greens at the Union Square Market, but I have a feeling you’re still on your 3-day weekend high. So treat yourself and head over to Vertigo, for a delicious refreshing salad you probably couldn’t make yourself.

Last Friday I decided to take the day off and enjoy the first day of the summer season. I was meeting a friend for lunch in the Murray Hill area and figured that Vertigo would be a great choice, and especially because I had a two-for-one coupon.

In the summer time, Vertigo opens up its front window panes which allows for people watching and a nice breeze and often attracts quite a crowd during happy hour. But when we arrived around 2:30, the restaurant was fairly empty though there were a few diners finishing their lunches. Vertigo happens to have a great menu with assorted sandwiches, salads, fish, pasta, and small plates that they serve for both lunch and dinner. And since the salads of other Vertigo diners looked particularly good, both my friend Missy and I decided to see just how good they tasted.

Despite the fact that our drinks were nearly forgotten, the waitress having us repeat our orders (since she had not written them down), and Vertigo not accepting our lunch coupon, the salads were really tasty. Both Missy’s Southwestern Shrimp Salad and my Grilled Rare Tuna Nicoise Salad were incredibly fresh and presented beautifully. The shrimp and the Tuna were cooked perfectly and not overdone. Both salads were adorned with several ingredients and appeared as if each ingredient were precisely layered to enhance the overall flavor and texture of the salad. Given the awful service, I’m sure this wasn’t the case, but it’s nice to think they actually care about the presentation.

Vertigo Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Salad

Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Salad - romaine, avocado, corn, tomato, red onion, tortilla strips

Vertigo Grilled Rare Tuna Nicoise Salad

Grilled Rare Tuna Nicoise Salad - New Potatoes, Roast Peppers, String Beans and Caper Vinaigrette

So if you’re in the Murray Hill area and are watching your waist line, Vertigo is the perfect place to go for a refreshing salad with high quality ingredients. Their burgers and sandwiches are equally delicious, especially during their recession friendly happy hour, which is VERY popular. So get their early for a prime people-watching seat and a cool summer breeze. But if you’re looking to eat a quick meal then skip the service and get Vertigo to-go.

Texas Food Facts

Dr PepperThis week at work, I was tasked with creating a proposal for Texas Tourism. Boy, was that finger lickin’ fun! And you know what, it actually was because I found some really entertaining food bits that I never would have learned.

Did you know that Texas is as large as all of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois combined? A state this large MUST have some great food facts…

East Village Bahn Mi’s?

Num Pang Num Pang, outpost of Cambodian street food favorite Kampuchea is the latest in Bahn Mi sandwich purveyors and right in the heart of the East Village. After opening in late April, the shop appears to be swarmed daily with hungry lunchers looking for their latest fix.  But Num Pang goers beware, there’s not quite enough to go around…

I finally headed over to Num Pang this afternoon to see what all the fuss was all about. After reading numerous reviews claiming their sandwiches were overpriced (for their size), I decided there was only one way to find out. And what I found was is that they were fresh out of ALL of their specials by 1pm sharp! I mean, come on. The menu only has about four choices of sandwiches to begin with, so eliminating additional choices just doesn’t cut it.

After debating between the catfish and shrimp, I decided to go with the shrimp and though I didn’t regret my order, it wasn’t the most satisfying choice. The sandwich overall… okay. Though there were few ingredients the bread and sauce completely overwhelmed the shrimp. The shrimp played the part of celery in a chicken salad sandwich, a mere crunch adding texture to the bread. The ingredients alone…

  • The bread, very tasty and toasted to perfection
  • The shrimp, tender but without coconut flavor
  • The accouterments (cilantro, cucumber, carrot, mayo), refreshing

And the $2.50 blood orange lemonade… tart, refreshing, but wonderful not so much.

Num Pang Coconut Tiger Shrimp

Num Pang Grilled Skirt Steak

So the verdict on Num Pang… try the veal meatballs or the grilled skirt steak. Don’t order the overpriced homemade drinks.

But for a REAL Bahn Mi, head to Saigon Bakery or Baoguette. And please, do yourself a favor and order the Pastrami Pate at Baoguette.

Pizza, Brooklyn Style

Grimaldi'sAt this point in my life, it’s pretty embarrassing that before Sunday I’d never been to Grimaldi’s. I say “at this point” because

1) I’m a Foodie
2) I’m a New Yorker
3) Pizza is my roommate Sarah’s favorite food
4) My second favorite food is cheese

Though there are probably more Pizza places per block in the five boroughs than anywhere in the world (well maybe not Italy), Pizza is one of those foods that we can never have enough of. Thin crust, thick crust, marinara, white, sausage, veggie… the options are endless. And clearly if the perfect pizza already existed, a new pizza place wouldn’t be opening every other week, right?

So what makes Brooklyn pizza, or Grimaldi’s for that matter, better than pizza in Manhattan, well I’ll tell you…

Grimaldi's Pizza

According to Grimaldi’s, a great pizza is made with three things; fresh, quality ingredients, know-how, and a great oven. Once you’ve tasted Grimaldi’s pizza, you can attest to their fresh ingredients. Grimaldi’s original thin crust pizza is dressed beautifully with a slightly sweet marinara and topped with incredbly fresh mozzarella and basil. They also offer a choice of  16 toppings from their home smoked roasted peppers to sweet italian sausage. But as far as their know-how and great oven, you need to see it to believe it.

Grimaldi's

Grimaldi's

Grimaldi's

Grimaldi’s bakes anywhere from 300-400 pizzas every day and probably more on weekends. And how might you ask? Aside from their very capable staff they have a great coal fired brick oven that reaches a firey 850 degrees and pumps out pizzas in two minutes flat! Apparently, it’s the coal-fired oven that distinguishes Brooklyn pizza from Manhattan pizza, since coal-fired ovens aren’t permitted in Manhattan. But Serious Eats seems to have disproven this theory based on their coal-oven pizzeria map. So please, someone tell me how they are different?

But regardless of the Manhattan vs. Brooklyn Pizza battle, Grimaldi’s is a Landmark and a MUST TRY for tourists, New Yorkers, and anyone after a world-renowned pizza. After all, owner Patsy Grimaldi learned from the chef of America’s FIRST PIZZERIA, Gennaro Lombardi. (Lombardi’s is next on the list…I know I can’t believe I haven’t been there either!)

Grimaldi'sGrimaldi’s is certainly one of the best pizzerias for thin crust New York style pizza. Though I must admit that a standard slice of cheese pizza is more up my alley.