Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

Sao Mai on Urbanspoon

What’s On… 2nd Avenue? (between 77th and 78th Street)

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

What’s On… 2nd Avenue? (between 77th and 78th Street)
Yorkville, Upper East Side

2nd Avenue gets a bad rap these days, with construction of the 2nd Ave subway underway those who don’t live up in Yorkville would rather stay away.  Keep the small businesses alive in their time of need and make the trek, there are still some great food finds to be visited.  While you’re in Yorkville, stay a while – visit the beautiful Gracie Mansion for a tour or relax in Carl Schurz Park, overlooking the Hell Gate section of the East River.

1481 2nd Avenue – Lenny’s
This NYC lunch chain serves a wide variety of sandwiches for any taste, making Lenny’s a solid choice for a workweek lunch.   Be prepared for a wait during busy lunch hours, and keep an eye on whomever’s making your sandwich – with so many options they’re bound to make a mistake on yours.

1483 2nd Avenue – Vero
This wine and Panini bar is best known around the neighborhood for their Monday special featuring a free Panini with purchase of a drink, but the other menu selections are solid choices for any other day of the week.  Be sure to try a glass of one of their specialty sangrias – they’re not only delicious, but may help you stomach the vivacious (read: loud) atmosphere inside the tiny space.
*If you like this uptown location but the trek is a bit much – try their Midtown location at 2nd Ave and 53rd Street

Vero on Urbanspoon
1484 2nd Avenue – Al Forno Pizzeria
Pizza is the way to go at this family friendly Italian.  Although gourmet pies aren’t what they’re after, Al Forno serves a solid pie cooked in the brick oven on premise. The friendly, neighborhood atmosphere paired with reliable pizza is what gives this place 2 thumbs up with the locals – and that’s all that really matters for business!

Al Forno Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

1485 2nd Avenue - Brother Jimmy’s
It’s “Bro J’s”, fondly to the regulars who pack the place most nights, but don’t expect much class at this UES location of NYC BBQ chain Brother Jimmy’s where the liquor runs freely until you get kicked out cause you’re causing a scene.  The food will do in a pinch, but it’s not the food that brings most back for a rowdy good time.

Brother Jimmy's BBQ on Urbanspoon

1486 2nd Avenue – Uva
Uva is the perfect first date spot if you’re looking to romance your date over fine Italian wine and food. Most menu items pay homage to the motherland (Italy, of course), using either homemade or imported direct from the source ingredients. The bruschetta is a can’t miss, just don’t get caught sharing a plate with someone other than the date you took to Uva last week!

Uva on Urbanspoon

Pastrami on Rye at Sable’s

 1489 2nd Avenue – Sable’s
It’s all about the smoked fish at Sable’s.  You can’t go wrong with the smoked salmon, or the lobster salad, a sweeter version than found on your classic lobster roll.  Pricing beats the competition from the Upper West Side or the Lower East Side, so most find the trek up to Sable’s worth every stop on the 6 train.

Sable's on Urbanspoon

1490 2nd Avenue – Doc Watson’s
Head to Doc Watson’s for brunch or to catch a weekend afternoon game.  Burgers or eggs benedict are always a safe bet here; otherwise it’s just standard pub fare.  The evening crowd can get a little fratty, so unless you want to get up close and personal with the polo team stick to the day shift!

Doc Watson's on Urbanspoon

1491 2nd Avenue – MXCO
When you’re in the neighborhood and craving Mexican, MXco is a solid choice, every time.  Service that makes you feel like you’re at you’re abuela’s and margaritas that will knock you flat keep the neighbors coming back but most agree that portion sizes aren’t in line with pricing.
*Try the braised short rib taco!

 
MXco on Urbanspoon

1492 2nd Avenue – Vermicelli
Vermicelli is a favorite with the locals, for comforting Vietnamese dishes at comfortable prices. Try the chicken with ginger and scallions in honey sauce (Ga Xao Gung), a favorite at Vermicelli or the grilled pork chop (Suon Nuong), a house specialty in many restaurants featuring Saigon food.

Vermicelli on Urbanspoon

1494 2nd Avenue – Lusardi’s
Lusardi’s has been a neighborhood staple since it first opened in 1982 and regulars have been visiting ever since.  Worthy of a special occasion, Lusardi’s service is top notch with prices to match.  While the menu options aren’t there to wow you, Owners Luigi and Mauro Lusardi have been at it for 30 years and they stick to what they know works.  An extensive Italian wine list rounds out the meal, but not before setting you back a few $$.

Lusardi's on Urbanspoon

1496 2nd Avenue – Bocca East
With a slightly more updated menu than Lusardi’s next door, Bocca East appeals to the younger set of UES patrons with a clean, wine cellar esque design sense and even a late night menu.  Best for some wine tasting from their considerable list paired with a few select antipasti, Bocca East will impress almost any date.

Where New Yorkers Experience the Heart and Mole of Mexico – Review of Mole

BY CRAIG CAVALLO

Mole
1735 Second Avenue (between 89th and 90th)
Upper East Side
 (212) 289-8226 molenyc.com

New York City is a melting pot.  Its inhabitants come from all corners of the world.  As travelers move here to make the city their home, their culture is the first thing that gets unpacked when they arrive.  Suitcases are unzipped and it escapes into the air, becoming part of what we as New Yorkers breathe.  The city’s borders are the minister, or clergy, or rabbi that marries us and joins us in holy matrimony.  It is sometimes the case that two travelers from different places find each other and find love.  The next step is generally to get married.  When the couple shares a passion for food, as is the case with Nick Cervera and Guadalupe Elizalde, after you get married, you open a Mexican restaurant.


Nick and Guadalupe are the owners of the Mole restaurants.  With locations established on the Lower East Side (205 Allen Street), the West Village (57 Jane Street), and Williamsburg, Brooklyn (178 Kent Avenue), the opening of the Upper East Side location in March, at 1735 2nd Avenue, marks their fourth endeavor.  Before it was transformed into a Mole, the Upper East Side 1735 address was the home to a print shop.  At a recent tasting, Nick sat at the table before dinner ensued and spoke proudly of the work he put forth to make the interior what it is today; a comfortable, rustic, yet elegant display of Mexican-meets-New York heritage.  Original exposed brick is decorated with black and white photos Nick took himself on his visits to Mexico, Guadalupe’s native country.  The 17-foot long bar is made from 200-year old reclaimed wood and custom made Mexican tiles.  It stands a bit off to the side, almost separate from the dining room.  This is an intentional move designed to keep refugees from Brother Jimmys from stumbling in and ordering shots of Jose Cuervo after the Jets or Yankees suffer a loss.

Guadalupe cooks traditional fare at Mole and she is guided by original family recipes.  There is a caldo on the menu, Caldo Tlalpeno.  Variations of caldo (meaning “soup” or “broth”) exist in most Spanish speaking countries.  At Mole, their caldo takes its name from a town about an hour and a half south of Mexico City.  Nick mentioned that, driving between these two cities, roadside stands dot the road and sell this caldo along the way.  Shredded chicken and mushrooms are the only thing keeping this clear, “mountainside” broth company.  Chopped raw onions, cilantro, and lime accompany the soup, should you feel so inclined to disrupt the intense, deep, rich, clean spice that manages to hide in the deceiving broth.

You will find huitlacoche on the menu.  Huitlacoche is a wild, naturally occurring corn fungus.  During exceptionally rainy seasons, rain water can penetrate the husks that are supposed to protect corn from the elements and result in the growth of huitlacoche.  Due to its rarity and inability to be harvested, the fungus is often referred to as the Mexican truffle.  The ingredient is truly unique to Mexican cooking and Mole uses it with an ancestral understanding

Taquitos de Barbacoa are prepared at Mole “Relinas style,” a name used in devotion to Lupe’s dad, who would make the dish in Guadalupe’s youth by burying the meat used to fill the taquitos in cactus leaf and cooking it in the soil on his ranch for 12 hours.

Enchilada de Pato en Mole Poblano is the piece de resistance.  The dish features duck confit, done here “carnitas style,” referring to the technique of cooking an animal in its own fat.  The cooking method is commonly applied to pork, resulting in carnitas tacos.  The sauce, Mole Poblano, is something like Mexican marinara, or Central America’s bechamel.  It has taken on many forms and colors since nuns created it in the 16th century for the visiting archbishop.  For use at the Mole restaurants, it is made in Mexico by Guadalupe’s mom and then flown here.  It is intensely rich, dark and sweet from the inclusion of chocolate, both smoky and spicy from dried chilies, and made more complex, and texturally whimsical, with the addition of sesame seeds.

Though it is not an option listed on the menu, Nick is happy to pair each course with a different spirit, a move inspired by the philosophy practiced and popularized at places like Gramercy Tavern and Le Bernardin, and one that is rarely ever applied to Mexican cuisine.  It provides Nick the chance to showcase the diversity of the 100 plus tequilas and mezcals Mole has on hand along with his understanding of his wife’s food.

As Mole continues to expand, Nick and Guadalupe keep a few Mexican-American standbys on the menu to appease their ever reaching clientele.  You get the sense that fajitas are thrown onto the menu only to prevent the uninformed argument that, “Wait, you’re a Mexican restaurant and you don’t have fajitas on the menu?!”  Like other Mexican haunts throughout the city, the guacamole is made table-side, but something about it seems less gimmicky when it’s done for you here.

The different locations of Mole itself are a reflection of the owners’ marriage.  Their chain of restaurants is an extension of their home, a home whose doors are kept open for you seven days a week.  Guadalupe came out from the kitchen at the end of the meal and introduced herself simply as Lupe.  As she leaned down over our table, her smile seemed to say, “I’m just Lupe, and this is just the food I’ve been eating since I was a kid.”

Móle on Urbanspoon

Chef gives ‘off the cuff’ lecture on his love for Italian cooking – Event at 92Y Tribeca

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Rons Suhanosky's Spread

Chef Ron Suhanosky eats pasta with tomato sauce almost every day.

Suhanosky, who opened Sfoglia on the Upper East Side and in Nantucket with his wife, released his second cookbook, The Italian Table, this past fall.

In a lecture Thursday at 92Y Tribeca, he discussed his love for Italian food and gave some cooking advice.

After working for years in New York City restaurants, including River Cafe and Il Buco, Suhanosky wanted to return to his passion for down-home Italian food. Inspired by his travels in Italy, he realized it was time to be “more off the cuff,” he said.

Last month he opened Nonna’s Table, 163 E. 92nd St. which offers specialty foods, cooking classes and private dinners. His mother provides the pastries.

Rather than working tirelessly over restaurant recipes, Suhanosky now wakes up in the morning and decides what he feels like cooking for his customers. What he likes, customers will like, he said. It’s all about using the ingredients properly.

“The simpler food is, the more Italian it is, in my mind,” he said.

But one of his favorite melt-in-your mouth delights isn’t from Italy — it’s from Mars.

A bowl of perfectly cooked al dente pasta, fresh tomato sauce, and a bag of peanut M&M’s are the keys to this chef’s heart.

For information on booking a cooking class or private dinner, call 212-831-9200.

Embracing Evolution and Ever True to His Passion – Upclose with Pino Luongo on His Latest Venture: Morso

BY ELENA MANCINI

Pino Luongo

Often referred to  as the Dark Prince of Italian fine dining in the restaurant world, Pino Luongo pioneered authentic Tuscan flavors in the US with smash hit restaurants including Il Cantinori, Le Madri, Coco Pazzo, Il Toscanaccio and Centolire, to just name a few. He’s been widely recognized for setting the standards for the modern Italian restaurant scene in New York and across the U.S. And he’s witnessed more than his fair-share of knocks from the forces of the real estate economy. His maverick style, uncompromising standards and outspoken manner have garnered both accolades and virulent animosity from the critics and his peers. He’s influenced, inspired and spurned many an emerging chef, most famous among them: Anthony Bourdain. He’s also disparaged and alienated a few of them as well.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Luongo in person on the occasion of the launch of his latest culinary venture, Morso, a restaurant located on the southern perimeter of the Queensboro Bridge championing Italian regional flavors with a Mediterranean twist. Its Executive Chef is Tim Ryan, whose previous stints include serving as the President of Culinary Institute of America and chefing at Four Seasons, Bouley and Picholine.

Luongo is an eloquent and engaging conversationalist. His speech is richly accented with the cadence and sonority of his native tongue, and peppered with New York colloquialisms. His responses are generous, on-point and appropriately emphatic. Luongo’s words are firmly in-synch with his gestures and facial expressions and betray his previous career as an actor in Italy, a decade or so before establishing himself as a renowned restaurateur in the U.S. Such biographical details can be had about Luongo  from his compulsively readable memoir, Dirty Dishes. The book reflects the tour-de-force impact that Luongo has had on Italian restaurants in the US in a gripping conversational style that alternates between Luongo’s narration and that of its writer, Andrew Friedman.

Asked about his inspiration for Morso (morsel, or bite in Italian), Luongo explains that he’s always been “a lover of Mediterranean cuisine and ingredient-driven cuisines.” He had developed the concept from the desire to offer an ambitious menu structured by groups of ingredients or products that would allow for smaller portions to feature a greater variety of flavors.

Morso’s menu in fact is divided into categories such as: Vegetables, Legumes and Grains, Eggs and Cheese, Duck, Rabbit and Chicken, Beef and Veal, and Fish and Seafood. Items come in two portion sizes and corresponding pricing: “morso” (3/4 of a full size) and “tutto” (full size). Prices are reasonable with morso-sized items firmly beneath the $20 range and the majority of the tutto portions less than $30.

Asked about his choice to partner with Chef Ryan, Luongo states that it was the result of a half-year search. He cites Ryans’ sensitivity toward Mediterranean cuisine, his maturity and lack of an ego as his main rationale for selecting him. For a review of the dishes sampled, see below.

I asked Luongo to talk to me about the Italian restaurant landscape when he first arrived in New York in 1980 and about his greatest challenges in executing his culinary vision and philosophy here. Luongo describes the Italian scene as mostly populated by restaurants that predominately  featured staple items of Italian-American cuisine such as scungilli, and meats prepared scarpariello- and scallopine-style. These were items that were alien to the Tuscan-born Luongo. The stark absence of the foods with which he was brought up in New York restaurants, awakened him to his mission as a restaurateur: to champion the regional-local ingredients that constitute the backbone of Italian cuisine. His vision was “to take away the idea of the Italian restaurant with “the flask with the candle.”

Luongo explains that at the time that he arrived to New York, Italian food had no reputation for being a restaurant cuisine. Italian cuisine was identified with the food served on 1960s Italian cruise ships. French food enjoyed undisputed primacy as the cuisine of restaurants. In contrast, the essence of Italian cuisine lies with regional, local ingredients. Therein lay the major challenge for Luongo in the 1980s when he came to the restaurant scene with Il Cantinori. Ingredients that are now considered standard fixtures in Italian menus were extremely difficult to attain. Luongo recounts that items that are readily taken for granted today such as branzino, sardines, red chicory Trevigiano and Arborio rice and that were essential to the flavors and dining experience  that he was pioneering here were rare to come by and required a great deal of red tape to procure from Italy. It was more the rule and not the exception, and he recalls that crates of porcini mushrooms would get stuck at customs if they were labeled “porcini.” Whereas if they were labeled “bolletus,” they would often get through. Luongo rightfully reminds us that cooking with extra-virgin olive oil was far from common practice in those days. Today, the challenge of trying to incorporate some of his favorite ingredients from his homeland, such as sweet breads, ribollite, rabbit and chicken liver into his menu persists because palates are not accustomed to these flavors and textures, and the whole Walt Disney factor that perpetuates the resistance to rabbit. Italian and American palates don’t compare. The food of one’s childhood has a profound influence on the flavors which one will pursue. It makes a big difference whether you grow up with burgers or soups.

Ultimately, Luongo states, Italian cuisine is “a cuisine of ingredients, seasonality and straightforwardness. From there one can begin to fantasize and elaborate on it and make it more rich and generous.” As for his own approach to food, he pursues taste and bold flavors. The art of professional cooking in his view requires “discipline, knowledge, passion, technique of cooking and the ability to evolve over time and expand.” Often times, Italian food can be bland. The challenge is to maximize the flavor from each ingredient. The key lies in how ingredients are treated. Knowing how to treat an artichoke, for instance, is essential.

Luongo also recalls the predominant style in more refined and upscale Italian restaurants during his early years in the States. Wait staffs were clad like penguins, he recounts. Restaurants were extremely classic and stuffy. In contrast, Luongo’s ideal is informal, but not too casual, in essence the style of the modern Italian trattoria. Luongo also stresses the importance of the training and presentation of wait staffs. He is adamant about their training and the knowledge of the menu. Ultimately, “they are your ambassadors, and the ones that represent your food.” Luongo is also infamous for his rigorous attention toward hospitality details and low-tolerance approach toward service staffs. Far from a stranger to the service aspect of restaurant business, Luongo’s first job in hospitality was as a bus boy at his uncle’s restaurant on the Tuscan seaside and later as a bus boy at Da Silvano in Greenwich Village. His memoir suggests that his sensibilities for creating a seamless dining experience for patrons were acquired during these experiences coupled with his highly attuned theatrical eye.

During our chat, I turn to the question of his relationship to the critics and whether his penchant for speaking his mind has cut both ways for him. “Absolutely,” he asserts. It’s often served to his detriment. When asked whether he wishes he could retract anything he’s said, “no,” he asserts. “I am who I am.” A critic he genuinely admires is Bryan Miller. While acknowledging that Miller was more oriented toward French cuisine, and has not always reviewed Luongo’s restaurants favorably, Luongo admires his professionalism. Too often, Luongo maintains, the critics focus on things that are irrelevant to the experience of dining, such as the personality of the chef or the bathroom decor, as occurred with a review that he once received.

Admittedly, Luongo offers, the job of the critic is a difficult one. He or she must eat all of the time, often causing the palate to become tired and confused. Additionally, the fact that critics are often readily recognized leads to their being offered special privileges and treatment not awarded to the average diner, generating an unbiased review.

Asked about the future of Italian cuisine in New York and whether there’s still room for growth:
“Yes, of course, because it’s beloved, despite other cuisines on the horizon. Italian cuisine will continue to play a major role in America.”

Accomplishments that he’s most proud of:
In terms of restaurants, it would have to be “Le Madri.” The restaurant was an intersection of a concept that he tried to realize in America with Italian food. To foreground Italian regionality and home-cooked foods.

In terms of books (Luongo has authored five cook books.):
He is proudest of  his first book, A Tuscan in the Kitchen. The book put forward his idea that learning how to cook is best accomplished by experimenting while implementing common sense. Cooking requires the development of a palate and taste for preparing food. This is the book that reminds him who he is and where he comes from. “It’s what I’m about,” he says.

Insight that Luongo would offer to newbie restauranteurs to New York:
“You better know what you’re doing before you put your food out there.  The New York consumer is very evolved and has a sophisticated palate.”

What Luongo enjoys doing when he is not in his restaurants:
He enjoys spending time with his family in Westchester, and playing soccer with his youngest son.

When eating out:
Luongo enjoys going to any type of restaurant other than Italian, with the exception of pizzerias. He is a big fan of Moroccan and Indian foods.

If given the opportunity to face off with a chef in a throwdown, he would choose…
If we are talking about Italian food, anyone.” Seconds later his eyes sparkle with mischief, and he says, “well, actually…,” and opts for self-restraint instead, “Let me not go there.”

MORSO
420 E. 59th St.
Midtown East
212.759.2706 / morso-nyc.com/
Full bar, sidewalk cafe and extensive wine list on premises.

Following is a selection of the dishes that I’ve had at Morso over the course of several visits.

Raw artichoke salad

Raw artichoke salad is an excellent start. The combination of artichokes, celery, shredded pear and frisee lettuce offer a harmonious medley of texture and subtle bitter flavors tempered with the sweetness of pear rendered bright by a simple lemon dressing. The recommended Roero Arneis 2010 was an excellent pairing for this course, and one that I’ve gone back to order at other visits.


The Uova dish is a hearty, original and beautifully composed dish and an ideal brunch item. Consisting of a poached egg, merguez sausage and chick pea fries with fontina cheese sauce it is complex and tasty. The merguez sausage was perfectly grilled, but what really stood out for me were the chick pea fries. They were dense, enjoyably crisp and appropriately salted.

The farro salad is a rewarding and aromatic dish with a multiplicity of textures and Mediterranean flavors that include eggplant, dried apricots, toasted almonds and portobello mushrooms.

Not that a carb-free diet is something I would ever remotely entertain, but if extreme circumstances ever forced me to renounce to my weekly pasta intake, I would indubitably forgo the ban for pasta prepared in Luongo’s restaurants. Luongo is a pasta lover par excellence. He has poeticized pasta in the written word–dedicating an entire chapter on his passion for it in his memoir– in multiple places and at the table. And all of his pasta dishes are sheer perfection. Boldly aldente, with sauces that efficiently flavor and coat the pasta without overwhelming it.

Bucatini Cacio e Pepe

The bucatini al cacio e pepe are marvelous. Coated in a glistening pecorino cheese and black pepper mixture, they deliver toothsome forkfuls of satisfaction.

Fettucine alla Bolognese

The Fettucine alla Bolognese are outstanding and represent the consummate winter dish for me. The traditional tomato-based ragu was perfectly balanced in acidity and had a beautiful rich flavor of braised beef and herbs and spices. The fettucine were reliably aldente. In short, sheer, loving perfection.

If there’s anything that I find lamentable about Morso’s pasta dishes is that there are so few (only three) of them on its menu.

On to the main courses:

Sardines

The sardines are a wonderful reprisal of the Mediterranean theme. Served with fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomato pesto and a generous bed of orzo, it’s a healthy powerhouse of flavor for those who enjoy the oiler, Omega-rich fish varieties.

Maiale

The roasted pork chop with butternut squash gratin is a great seasonal choice. Spatzle, winter greens and an apple-sage sauce make a seasonable pairing to the tender cut of pork.

The braised duck breast is a winning dish. Triumphantly succulent and ingeniously paired with hybrid rice, roasted pears, dried cranberries and sweet and sour pomegranates it’s a rich and inspired dish with flavors that fragrantly linger on the palate after consumed.

 

Neapolitan Cheesecake

A slice of creamy Neapolitan cheesecake was a tasty and fittingly indulgent ending to one of my meals. Desserts offerings vary daily.

Each meal was perfectly paced by a courteous and well-versed wait staff, and unfolded in an airy and elegant dining room accentuated by mood lighting and a blithe décor inspired by 1960s Italian poster art.

Morso on Urbanspoon

 

“Better Than Wine”: Cheese and Beer Pairings

BY ERIN PALISIN

92Y, 1395 Lexington Ave.
Upper East Side

(212) 415-5500

Beer and pizza.. Beer and burgers.  Beer and…cheese? Although typically most people think of wine when they hear cheese, it turns out that beer serves as a versatile and downright delicious pairing for the cheese lover in us all. The night’s instructors (Martin Johnson of The Joy of Cheese and Maggie Fuller of 12% Imports) showed a great deal of both knowledge and passion for their respective fields and provided a very educational and fun setting for the evening.

The event featured nine beer and cheese pairings that were each discussed in detail by the instructors. The instructors were also eager to make this an interactive experience and encourage as many questions as came up. One “student” asked a particularly useful question: “Is there a specific way we should be tasting cheese or something specific we should be looking for when tasting.” We all learned that the key to a good cheese tasting is simple: let it sit on the tongue for a moment before chewing and think of what the cheese reminds you of. Most cheeses get their flavor from the diet of the cow, goat or sheep that the milk comes from. If you taste a hint of thyme in your cheese, you are most likely correct and chances are that it was part of the animal’s diet. Taste is one of the most powerful memory triggers. Who knew that cheese could evoke such emotion and bring back a specific memory or experience?

There are a few pairings and pieces that were of particular interest to this taster. We started the evening off with the L’Amuse; a smoked gouda variety. I have never been a big fan of gouda but I have never tasted a gouda quite like this one. Instructor Martin Johnson described this as one of the most “underrated” cheeses out there. It seemed like we started the night with dessert first as the L’Amuse had a very candy- like flavor to it with a subtle hint of butterscotch and a salty finish. The beer pairing for this cheese was the Dormal Amber Ale of Brouwerij Hoften in Belgium. Both this beer and the second beer were bottled with corks and preserved a very champagne-like quality of these bubbly, herbal ales going very well with the dessert like cheeses they were paired with.

Another very successful pairing featured two domestic products: the Extra Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese and the Stillwater Cellar Door beer. The cheese, from Dodgeville, WI is a three-time “Best in Show” winner at the annual American Cheese Society’s awards event. Its nutty and smooth flavor was finished with a surprising “crunch” that we learned is actually an amino acid crystallization that is born throughout the aging process. The Stillwater Cellar Door ale was my favorite drink of the night. Brewed in Maryland the hint of sage and herbal tones in this beer made it crisp and very easy to drink.

Although we will likely never stop thinking that wine and cheese are a great pairing, hopefully the beer and cheese trend will continue to gain momentum. With several specialty cheese shops and countless numbers of bars and restaurants with craft beers on tap here in New York, we have plenty of opportunity to put our taste buds to the test. As our instructor’s put it, “Beer and cheese speak at the same volume.” That is neither one over powers each other and they can each stand out in their own right. Cheers!

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High-priced mediocrity- Review of Via Quadronno

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

VIA QUADRONNO
25 East 73rd. Street

between Madison & 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
, Manhattan
212.650.9880Fax: 212.650.9801 / Email: info@VQNYC.com
viaquadronno.com/press.html

Hours
Mon – Fri: 8am – 11pm
Sat: 9am – 11pm
Sun: 10am – 9pm

Interior of Via Quadronno

Interior of Via Quadronno

When I decided to invite to dinner my friends the anthropologists, in one of their yearly cameo appearances in New York, I chose the restaurant Via Quadronno.  It was close to their hotel. It had a reputation for fine food,  serving authentic Northern Italian fare.   Since I had recently been introduced to the joys of Irish pig-keeping, I was delighted to find the restaurant’s emblem was a sprightly flying pig, emblazoned on the wall directly opposite our table.  The restaurant explained:

“Mankind trained dogs and pigs to sniff for white truffles, assisting in the quest for this heavenly treat. Wild boars don’t need training: they instinctively know how to locate truffles, for they have been enjoying them for millennia. It is the boar’s nose for truffles that helped fuel his reputation as the undisputed gourmet of the animal kingdom

I should have had the sense to pay attention to this very broad hint that pork or bacon or ham would be the thing to shoot for at Via Quadronno.

But we were foolish, or let’s say I was foolish.  I was seduced by the convenience of the location, barely two blocks away from my friends’ hotel.  And by the brilliant flashing blue lights of their Christmas decorations—bright blue teardrops, lights set in trees, constantly appearing to drip and fall down the branches, brilliantly illuminating the place. It was just gorgeous, gorgeous. Of course, I reasoned, a place that pays this kind of attention to detail and presentation would also have only delicious specialties. We could hardly go wrong.

Well.  At first it was fine. We got a charming young waiter, evidently Italian, a weightlifter with amazing tattooed arms,  who was very eager to help us choose red wine and to urge us to go for a bottle as opposed to a series of glasses.  And the wine was delicious- a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008 – as its blurb stated, it was “smooth with a lingering, slightly peppery finish. “  Bravo to the peppery finish!

We loved the wine.  And it fuelled our conversation.  We were determined to pay homage to the spirit of the flying pig overhead.

My friends, who had just spent time conducting anthropological interviews for a relief agency, with Central American disaster survivors, noted  that their local guides tended to be their cabdrivers, often the first point of contact for a foreigner.  Similarly, in Ethiopia,  as I said, my driver, a former colonel under Haile Selassie,  got us both out of a bad brush with the army, out in the desert ,  and continued to send me Christmas cards a decade after I had left.

But no matter how entertaining the conversation, the meal – minus pork, bacon or ham- was nearly a disaster. They wanted to love the food, so did I, but we couldn’t.

Luckily, I was the one who took the worst hit. (Or made the wrong choice.)   Gnocchi with pesto was the consistency of library paste, both the sauce and the filling, which quickly got cold and lifeless.   I could scarcely finish half of it — and I never turn down a good meal.  My friends also ate slowly and with evident hesitation- very uncharacteristic.  Signifying dissatisfaction.   One had the risotto, which she said, delicately, was nothing special;  her husband’s opinion of his petto di pollo was that it was a fair piece of chicken but nothing that should give the restaurant four stars.  It could have been lifted from the plates of a fair to middling diner.

Secondly, the wine! We were determined to enjoy ourselves, if not with the food, then with the wine. But, when we finished the first bottle the restaurant didn’t have a second bottle of the same vintage, and offered us a different kind, with a screw top.  We all felt uncomfortable with screw top bottles (especially at these prices), despite the fact that the wine was acceptable.

We wrapped up this dismal meal with some excellent butter cookies and cappuccinos, but this perfunctory dessert alone could not save the meal.

In sum: despite the lovely ambiance and the charming waiter, we spent a great deal too much on mediocre or bad food at this time.

If you’re a local, and you can navigate the menu and the timing of their freshly-cooked meals, grabbing the right time and entrée, you can undoubtedly get good food here.  But I found myself thinking of my dearly departed original neighborhood Twin Donuts, where a breaded chicken breast would be called the Chicken Don Blue (their version of Cordon Bleu; they also had a Veal Don Blue) and would cost a cool $5.95.    Now that’s a meal, and a deal.

Coda:  And on the homeward route to northern Manhattan., I relived the conversation. My cabdriver, a charming Nigerian named Mike, a student of New York history via the Encyclopedia of New York City and Gotham, was lively, funny, and very sharp.  He corrected me on points of local history such as the origins of the name Spuyten Duyvil.  A wonderful ride.   Even poor food could not entirely spoil this evening.

But don’t order the gnocchi!

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Paris on a plate: A Review of Sel et Poivre

BY ELENA MANCINI

853 Lexington Avenue
(between 64th & 65th Streets)
Upper East Side
seletpoivrenyc.com

seletpoivre5

Nestled among Upper East side retail boutiques and Lexington Avenue mid-scale eateries stands Sel et Poivre,  a charming French bistro serving Classic French cuisine with contemporary flair. Established in 1989, by the dynamic and dedicated husband-wife team, Executive Chef/Owner Christian Schienle (originally from Austria) and welcoming hostess Pamela Schienle, Sel et Poivre is an elegant neighborhood bistro and a refreshing departure from the over-priced and pretentious, glamor-scenes in the Manhattan restaurant-scape.

The menu features a broad range of French bistro classics as well as a selection of pastas and Mediterranean-inflected dishes, most of which graze just above or below the $20 range.

A great way to begin the dinner is with the Fish soup ($7.75), a flavorsome tomato-based broth with deep seafood flavors harmoniously melding together and distinctive notes of mollusk and octopus. Although it was served with a platter of toasted slices of baguette, shredded Swiss cheese and rouille (red pepper aioli) I preferred to savor the delicious seafood flavors pure and without the accompanying condiments.

For a seasonal appetizer, the celery root remoulade with beets ($7.95)  is an excellent choice. A bed of ruby red beets  provided a meaty pedestal for a toothsome chiffonade of celery root with a cumin-seasoned remoulade sauce. The sauce was imaginatively seasoned with cumin.

The entree of skate was the pinnacle of this dining experience. The beautifully composed dish consisted of a wing tip of skate prepared with  lemon, beurre blanc, and a drizzle of capers.  The delicious and delicate skate was accompanied by a dome of steamed basmati rice. These high-quality ingredients combined for a symphony of bold, simple flavors on the palate ($17.95). This dish was well paired with a superbly dry German 2007 Weingut Himmel “Riesling Spatlese Trocken.”

A terrine of chocolate with raspberry coulis was a worthy coda to this symphony ($6.75). The rich, creamy chocolate lingered on the palate furnishing echoing the flavors of this delicious indulgence long after the deed was done.

Inspired cuisine, relaxed and intimate vibe and affordable prices make Sel et Poivre an obvious neighborhood choice and a worthwhile destination for everyone else.

Sel et Poivre has a full bar with an wide array of French and international wines. The staff is knowledgeable about pairings.

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Manhattan’s Maine Squeeze: A Review of Luke’s Lobster

BY NICOLE MANCINI

Luke’s Lobster
East Village
: 93 E. 7th St (1st Ave) 212-387-8487
Upper East Side
: 242 E. 81st St. (2nd Ave)
212-249-4241 /
lukeslobster.com

Lobster roll, Maine Root soda, Miss Vickie’s Chips; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Lobster roll, Maine Root soda, Miss Vickie’s Chips; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Maine seems to be the new hotspot for travelers and foodies alike. According to this month’s Travel and Leisure issue, Maine is the second most searched U.S. state on TravelandLeisure.com so far this year. Anthony Bourdain recently did an episode on the state, featuring the epic cuisine of local fishmongers and the abundance of restaurants in Portland. But for those of us who can’t make the trip to this lauded destination, Luke’s Lobster of New York City is providing us with a taste of Maine.

Luke Holden is the owner and mastermind behind this lobster goodness. He grew up in Maine; his father was a lobsterman and is currently the owner of Portland Shellfish. Everyday they bring fresh lobster from the shores of Maine to the concrete jungle. For just $16.00 Luke’s offers their signature lobster roll, your choice of Miss Vickie’s chips, a pickle, and Maine Root soda (yes, the soda is from Maine too!). This lobster roll does a lobster proud. While other lobster rolls shred the meat down to nothing and lather them in mayo, Luke’s lets the lobster take front row center. Chunks of it are stuffed into a buttered, but not over buttered slice of bread. There is a smear of mayo on the bread and on top are pieces of bright red lobster-left in chunks so big that the claw is still in tact, and sprinkled with secret seasoning. They also offer shrimp and crab rolls- I had the latter which if you’re a crab lover- this is the roll for you.

To end things on a sweet note, Gifford’s ice cream is available, and you guessed right, it is also from Maine.  I’ve tried the award winning Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate and Sweet Maine Blueberry two great flavors that live up to their names.


Shrimp roll, crab roll, and lobster roll; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Shrimp roll, crab roll, and lobster roll; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

I recently was chatting with a couple that vacations in Maine every summer. I asked if they had tried Luke’s Lobster, and they said eating a lobster roll outside of Maine is ‘sacrilegious’. But I told them, ‘No, Luke’s brings the lobster from Maine and the owners are from there!’ to which I received a look of ‘Hm, maybe I’ll go against my religion.’ And right you should, because they are damn good.

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Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon

Manhattan's Maine Squeeze: A Review of Luke's Lobster

BY NICOLE MANCINI

Luke’s Lobster
East Village
: 93 E. 7th St (1st Ave) 212-387-8487
Upper East Side
: 242 E. 81st St. (2nd Ave)
212-249-4241 /
lukeslobster.com

Lobster roll, Maine Root soda, Miss Vickie’s Chips; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Lobster roll, Maine Root soda, Miss Vickie’s Chips; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Maine seems to be the new hotspot for travelers and foodies alike. According to this month’s Travel and Leisure issue, Maine is the second most searched U.S. state on TravelandLeisure.com so far this year. Anthony Bourdain recently did an episode on the state, featuring the epic cuisine of local fishmongers and the abundance of restaurants in Portland. But for those of us who can’t make the trip to this lauded destination, Luke’s Lobster of New York City is providing us with a taste of Maine.

Luke Holden is the owner and mastermind behind this lobster goodness. He grew up in Maine; his father was a lobsterman and is currently the owner of Portland Shellfish. Everyday they bring fresh lobster from the shores of Maine to the concrete jungle. For just $16.00 Luke’s offers their signature lobster roll, your choice of Miss Vickie’s chips, a pickle, and Maine Root soda (yes, the soda is from Maine too!). This lobster roll does a lobster proud. While other lobster rolls shred the meat down to nothing and lather them in mayo, Luke’s lets the lobster take front row center. Chunks of it are stuffed into a buttered, but not over buttered slice of bread. There is a smear of mayo on the bread and on top are pieces of bright red lobster-left in chunks so big that the claw is still in tact, and sprinkled with secret seasoning. They also offer shrimp and crab rolls- I had the latter which if you’re a crab lover- this is the roll for you.

To end things on a sweet note, Gifford’s ice cream is available, and you guessed right, it is also from Maine.  I’ve tried the award winning Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate and Sweet Maine Blueberry two great flavors that live up to their names.


Shrimp roll, crab roll, and lobster roll; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Shrimp roll, crab roll, and lobster roll; Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

I recently was chatting with a couple that vacations in Maine every summer. I asked if they had tried Luke’s Lobster, and they said eating a lobster roll outside of Maine is ‘sacrilegious’. But I told them, ‘No, Luke’s brings the lobster from Maine and the owners are from there!’ to which I received a look of ‘Hm, maybe I’ll go against my religion.’ And right you should, because they are damn good.

Share/Save/BookmarkSubscribe

Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon