Chocolate, Cheese and Wine: A Celebration of Taste

CLAIRE McCURDY

 

Alexandra Leaf


Is it possible to have too much chocolate at one sitting?  I wouldn’t have thought so, but I must confess that I now know the answer is yes. Even if the chocolate is all delicious. Think of the Halloween sack, or hollow pumpkin, or UNICEF box in which you deposited your treats. If you ate them all at once you’d feel a little – say- overwhelmed.

And so it was this evening. But I’m glad I came.

The 92Y had issued a generous invitation to foodies:  “Join us for this walk-around pairing, featuring an array of hand-crafted chocolates, cheeses, pastries and wines.”

“Meet local producers, increase your knowledge of artisanally-made foods, and seek inspiration for your holiday table.”

It did sound wonderful. Unfortunately or fortunately, the spread was almost entirely of chocolate. Hand dipped chocolate. Chocolate brownies. Hot chocolate.  Chocolate martinis More little ovals and squares with cunning little sprinkles of things on top. True, some bonbons were paired with chucks of very aged Gouda, which was a great idea since the intensely salty cheese took the edge off the eternal sweet things. . And there were some wonderful wines and mixed drinks in the center of the room to which you could repair.

Note, I’m not complaining. I wish I had been able to eat each one of my chocolates, leave, take a turn around the block and come back in. But no dice. The Y treated this event with the gravity and officiousness (and possibly, concern for security) that it would treat piano recital- tickets, lines, guided tours up the stairs (not the elevators) and a sharp eye on the participants. So there we all were with our chocolates.  A difficult fate.

The two stars of the evening were Fairway’s Master Baker Sarah Black and Costas Mozouras, Resident Mixologist of Gotham Wines and Liquors. Sarah Black was there to share the  secrets of The Best Brownie in the World.

Sarah Black and Fairway Market are not shy about advertising  its delicious Brownies.  “Kosher under the Supervision of Rabbi Abraham Marmorstein;  Artisanal Baked Goods, passed down three generations from Pauline LaMarche to her daughter Ann Black to her daughter Sarah Black, Fairway’s Baker Director. Offering the best brownie to the best market in the world to customers who know what the ‘best’ means. ”

It was truth in advertising.

And best of all, Fairway/Black customers were cordially  invited to sample a brownie and take one home for a friend.  It was a hit. This take home brownie was solemnly pronounced –if not  the best, right up there close to the top. It disappeared within two minutes. Even the cats sampled the crumbs and pronounced themselves pleased., wandering about looking longingly for more.

Costas Mozouras,  resident mixologist of Gotham Wines and Liquors, accompanied by Mixologist Raoul Segarra,  occupied  the tables in the center of the room the room.  The seductive sounds of shaken ice and liquor drew all.

Imagine that- the star of the show was a wicked- white chocolate martini, with chocolate infused gin (I think) and white chocolate gently dusted around the rim of the glass, It was so very good it was hard not to stay close to the tables for the rest of the evening.

Flanking the martini were the wines.  I picked a Pinot Noir to sample from Gotham Wines’s extensive selections. A Daedalus Pinot Noir 2008 From Willamette Valley, Oregon. It was light  and subtle and best of all, dry- no sticky sweet aftertatste after all the many sweet things I’d imbibed.  It deserved a fine meal to complement it.

Cafe, O CAFÉ,  the first coffee bar in New York to serve coffee brewed  from the highest quality Brazilian beans, also had a fine spiel:   “We make the Big Apple a Green Apple.”

Café owner Fernando Aciar’s just-launched a Brazilian café.   Brazil offers  extraordinary potential for the production of rare coffee beans,  yet to be discovered by the mainstream coffee market.    The café offers you  the opportunity to   “Pair a Bahian chocolate-infused latte with savory pão de queijo, a toothsome roll made from yucca flour and Minas cheese. Come spring, refresh with superfruit (açai, cupuaçu) pulp juices sourced from the Amazon.”

With O Café, I  believe, it was pastries. Undoubtedly they were wonderful. I was a little dazed by this time.

Chocolat Moderne’s Chocolate Atelier is staging a “bloody good time” now, for Halloween, through tonight.   They advertise “bloody hearts, new pumpkin pie bonbons, and new fiendishly hot drinking  chocolate.”

Go, you will not be disappointed.

While the atelier’s chocolates were utterly delicious, the not too sweet hot chocolate was quite wonderful on a very unseasonably cold night.  It also took the edge off the many sticky sweet things I had tasted that evening. I’d happily have gulped it- instead, the piping heat meant that I had to sip it slowly.  Just as well.

Mille Feuille Bakery Café. I’ d say this was the top of the line:  fine French goods. Chef Olivier is obsessed with pasty. “He spent a year at the famous Ritz Cooking School in Paris where he learned how to make delicious pastry During a trip to New York City  in 2009, Olivier and his wife fell in love with this incredible city and conceived of a project: a French style bakery with the homely and welcoming atmosphere of a Village café that would offer French and American pastries with a fine taste, using organic and all-natural products – a combination of the French touch with American openness. “

Macarons, breakfast pastries, dessert pastries- the menu is packed with sweets as well as genteel French lunch and dinner fare. This is one follow-up trip I feel I owe to myself.

Finally another chocolate fest.  R+D Chocolate, which stands for “research and development” — our approach to chocolate making, the result of a Ph.D. in bioengineering, years of training as a research scientist, and an obsession with chocolate.”  “It also stands for “rachel and david Gordon.”

Their pr is truly poetic.  “we turned to making our ideal chocolates. We are obsessed with (dark) chocolate and chocolates that are wholesome, pure, and overwhelmingly satisfying. These are chocolates that are not too sweet, that capture the essence of their ingredients. All of our products are made by hand (by Rachel).    We use only the highest quality ingredients, including locally produced ingredients whenever possible, and we make everything to order in small batches. “

These chocolates were magnificent. I was again tempted to keep hovering but collected myself and bag and made tracks.

As a final treat here is the irresistible abridged list of the flavors one can sample while also suggesting new and different flavors of one’s own.

“Current Menu (all coated in 72% Dark Chocolate unless otherwise specified):

72% Araguani chocolate ganache

Fleur de sel caramels

Raspberry ganache

Lemon verbena ganache

Elderflower ganache

Passion fruit ganache

Chocolate mint ganache

Strawberry pâte de fruit

St. Germain ganache

Lagavulin 16 yr scotch ganache

Black raspberry ganache…………………………………..”

Enjoy

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Upclose with Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone and Why The Big Apple’s Local Dishes Are the Best

Hotel Indigo Invites NYC Locals to Meet Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone and Prove The Big Apple’s Local Dishes Are the Best – Friday, September 30, 2011

EVENT REVIEW & INTERVIEW BY CLAIRE McCURDY

Chef Curtis Stone at Dish on the Dish at Hotel Indigo, NYC

The Hotel Indigo was clearly having a bountiful foodie afternoon. The stream of black-clad New York foodies eddied in and out. The ladies in black and white uniforms with trays of little tiny edibles like a wicked maguro roll with dipping sauce cunningly concealed in the bottom of a tiny cup, or a tiny crème brule garnished with an even tinier mint leaf and seated on a red pomegranate base, efficiently made the rounds. The buzz of conversation and appreciation rose.

Displays of local delicacies– from the five boroughs—were mounted around the room. A magnificent Brooklyn bakery, Brooklyn Bread Guy, Inc., with an amazingly wide variety of breads, rolls, baguettes, was posed next to an importer of olive oils so that one could rip off a chunk of fluffy baguette and dunk it into the olive oil seated at the adjacent table and savor both.  Tumbadour chocolates, also from Brooklyn, created by pastry cook Jean Francois Bonnet, (formerly of Daniel Restaurant) were cunningly decorated to display their contents – an abstract swirl of lime for a lime scented chocolate, for example.  They inspired broad smiles in anyone who came to their table, and everyone did.   A Double Cross Pear Martini made with Double Cross Vodka from Slovakia, the delicious garnish of a Chilean Wild Baby Peach, and wild baby pear juice, was amazing, the juice masking the strength of the vodka.

But all of this was merely the introduction. The star of the day and the event was Chef Curtis Stone, Australian super chef, and star not only of the cutting board in Australia, Britain and the US, but also a media darling.

Described variously as an important ’young gun” chef and by People Magazine (to his stated embarrassment) as “one of the sexiest men alive,” Curtis describes himself endearingly as a kid learning about making delicious meals from his mother and grandmother. He said that family and food were a close association with him. And was it not true that most people, when asked what was the best food they could ever remember, was a dish their mother had cooked?  It was certainly true for him.  A cherished memory, family sitting around the table, eating food cooked especially for the occasion, and the meal featuring his mother’s bread—she is a baker. Curtis likes to bake bread from her recipes.  “Good food,” he said, “has that personal touch.”

I asked him if he had a philosophy of food.  He said that a great meal starts with really great fresh ingredients.  Go looking for the perfect local fresh cheese, meats, vegetables–that’s what he wants to have end up, cooked perfectly, at the dinner table.  And remember the cooking timelines of each food element in order to put together your total timetable for cooking the meal. So that the timing of the cooking all works together.

Curtis has said that he loves soaking up local cultures as he travels, so I asked what was his favorite cuisine. He said that French cuisine would have to be at or near the top of his list. That they used their beautiful local produce and products to create brilliant, flavorsome exquisite meals and had been honing their techniques for hundreds of years—to perfection. And that their elegant foods are an integral part of their culture.

Did he have a signature meal? Curtis commented that as one got to know the history of food one learned about certain striking spots – such as Liguria in Italy- the birthplace of pesto.  The name means “pounded.”   Pesto is the pungent, aromatic, brilliant mixture of garlic, basil, and pine nuts pounded together and blended with olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.  He said that one could really get a feel for the wonderful taste of squashed mashed young basil leaves.  That it was very important to use young basil leaves.  Then the pesto will be powerful and delicious.

Curtis reluctantly acknowledged that he has become a media darling but insists that it was all by accident.  He said he started with a number of segments, (Oprah, Ellen) during which he worked hard to share his love of food, and that it just caught on. People love food! And they love hearing other people talking well about food!

Who was his favorite talk show host? Curtis adroitly dodged that one, saying that Al Roker comes backstage frequently to sample his wares even when he isn’t on the show, and that he loves Curtis’s cooking.

His advice to a new chef just starting out?  Think of assembling your meal as a Sherlock Holmes or treasure hunt experience.  You start with great fresh local ingredients and then start asking questions about them. And going on a hunt for ingredients which will complement the first element.  Find a great bunch of asparagus—then ask, what goes well with this? A beautiful prosciutto? Then what?   Keep building on those initial blocks and you will have assembled the pieces to a beautiful meal.

When I asked Curtis what he felt was the key to success in his restaurants, he said that he always strove for integrity.  He said that a chef and restaurant owner must love his customers and must care for them and their needs from the minute they walk through the door. The chef’s warm attitude must be consistent throughout their time in the restaurant. Love- that’s the key!

And the perfect note on which to end the conversation.  Curtis had served us the dessert, you might say, and the fine cup of coffee

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A Trip to Milan on 45th Street – Review of Gente Ristorante Italiano

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

153 E 45th St. (Between Lex and 3rd Avenues)
Tel. 212-557-5555 / genteny.com/
Midtown East

Monday – Friday 11:30AM – 10PM
Saturday 4PM – 10

Gente, a charming northern Italian restaurant,  is ideally located (E. 45th St.) to catch the voluminous commuter traffic eddying through Grand Central.  But even if it were located in the middle of the Mojave Desert it would be irresistibly drawing the customers in..  And for some of us, who did grow up in the Mojave Desert, culinarily speaking, Gente  would certainly have drawn us in — to sample its wonderful Northern Italian cooking.  Rich, subtle, intense, pungent!  The food would have been a revelation.

For me, growing up in 60’s in the northeast US , far from a major metropolitan area, Italian food in the malls was spaghetti and meatballs soaked in red sauce—or  gravy as they call it in Philadelphia.  Think canned Chef Boyardee.  Not a gourmet experience.

This pasta and indeed, all of the food served at Gente, is as far from the meatballs and gravy as it could possibly get.  It is truly a feast for the senses- brilliantly colored, scented, and of course, a taste sensation.  If I ever again pass the Chef’s  cans in the supermarket aisles, en route to the arugula,  I will swiftly rush past.

Dining Room at Gente

Gente’s  modest exterior belies a very spacious and comfortable interior with a twist—dozens of blown up black and white stills of 60’s starlets, many Italian, which makes it all dramatic and also offsets the warm wooden flooring and tables.  Recently renovated, it is very comfortable and relaxing.  Owner/restauranteur Jay Mitchell, Manager Etnik Gashi and his staff are charming, courteous, ready to educate you about the menu, and determined to get the plates swiftly to your table. 

And it’s a happy crowd inside. When you enter, even as early as 7:00 p.m.,  there is a contented  buzz among the diners, and they tend to linger long past the end of the meal – always a good sign.

I came to Gente with no preconceptions.  My own experience with Italian food has tended to be with the southern red sauce – or with the quixotic food of Venice- and while much of it has been delicious, I knew that this would be quite different.  And it was. What an amazing meal!  Rich with homemade pasta,  and luxurious risotto, , pungent, crisp lightly dressed vegetables,  each plate offered a new taste experience.

 

Salumi platter at Gente

The first dish that came to my table was the salumi platter .  It resembled a garden . A sampler of starters featuring a mini pizza, a mini caprese salad, a hearty bruschetta, white beans, and an incredible bundle  of arugula wilted with oil, lemon, and garlic wrapped in fresh prosciutto.   This last was a meal in itself and a great introduction  to all the courses.

 

Black and white tagliolini with shrimp at Gente

The second plate was tagliolini –a light, but sumptuous homemade pasta – with gigantic wheels of shrimp.  The pasta was black and white, very colorful but entirely natural.  The black pasta partially colored and flavored with squid ink -  brilliant set against the giant pink shrimp, as well as delicious. Left to myself I would have shied away from the squid ink and thus deprived myself of a fine treat.

Risotto with spinach and shrimp at Gente

The third plate was a risotto with spinach and shrimp—here is an alternative version with mushrooms, equally delicious.  As this was my first risotto, and I knew nothing of its composition except that it was of rice and took a long time to cook, I was really delighted to taste a slight crunchiness offsetting the creamy rich sauce. And of course, the wilted spinach and robust shrimp.  Not rice pudding!  And not spaghetti. But a wholly satisfying savory meal to itself.

The meal was served with sparkling Prosecco and ended with homemade biscotti and a luscious liqueur flavored with biscotti, and topped off with cappuccino.  As there were several thunderstorms, I was more than happy to linger, savor the tastes, take in the  crowd and relax.

Given the prime location, Gente’s prix fixe dinner is a pretty reasonable $35, with an additional $7 for a glass of wine. It is a good bargain. If you choose to go ala carte for dinner, the antipasti and salads range from 9$ to $16. Pizza, $18; risotto, $23, pasta ranges from $18 to $24. Secondi (a combination of meat and vegetable ) ranges from $20 to $30; sweets, $9; and aperitifs, $8-10.

My compliments go to this chef and his magic.  And I will certainly be back!

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Keeping things pretty much the same – Review of Peter Mcmanus Cafe’

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

Peter McManus Café is actually a bar—a Chelsea bar’s bar.   Iconic.  Owned and operated by four generations of the McManus family.  A place so sure of itself that it has only recently put up a Facebook page, generally relying on word of mouth from the four generations of satisfied customers. . Burnished long deep brown bar, cut glass mirrors behind the bar, bright green banquette tables and a beer and food menu which changes very slowly if at all- we are talking generations here. It is a dark cave of a place which warmly beckons to all.

Courtesy of http://greenwichvillagenydailyphoto.blogspot.com/2009/04/peter-mcmanus-cafe.html

Peter McManus Café has been a fixture in the neighborhood since1936.  And it continues to draw a crowd of neighborhood folks and auslanders alike from a pack of sharp young lawyers to aging/or aged hippies in overalls, to firemen, or contractors on a neighborhood job, to the odd barfly maintaining a seat on a stool with a certain amount of difficulty.  There are a few women, too, especially at night (read: after 6:00) when bright color and glamour and some intense flirtations enter the bar; but during the day, it seems to be province of men. The place even hosts the out of the way casual customers on their way to the Chelsea galleries, or to the trendy thrift shops in the west 20’s.

The bartender today is a guy whose bushy gray beard and moustache cover the bulk of his face, but he is as warm and genial as his many clean shaven predecessors—probably his father and grandfather.  Joking with everybody, he and his remarks bring snorts and bellows of laughter down the bar even to the corner table where I sit.  The bartender even manages to extend a helping hand to the tippling barfly while pulling generous pints of beer.

McManus does serve mixed drinks, but I saw very few tiny little umbrellas or pink monkeys depending from a glass.  The mixed drinks are very much an afterthought to the fine beer menu which is as long as your arm and begins but does not end with Guinness.  I had a wonderful black and tan- Guinness with lager, which if poured correctly spills into an even split of half black Guinness, half warm golden lager and when you drink it, the two flavors mingle on the tongue.

There’s food, but no fancy chic fusion stuff- –  good basic decent burgers which won applause from my dining companion,  (the chiliburgers are legendary), a giant pile of steak-cut fries, , a few salads which are surprisingly varied and tasty for a meat and potatoes kind of place, and my personal fave, the fennel scented knockwurst and sauerkraut. Smothered with mustard, it was a meal so hearty that I was not hungry until some twelve hours later.

To history starved New Yorkers a bar/restaurant which has survived longer than a season is a rarity; four generations, outstanding and virtually unique.  The bar’s history can be read from its walls.   I sat under a large McManus portrait and at my left hand a foldout picture of Company D, 130th Infantry, where if one could just pick him out was doubtless James J. McManus. No date, but clearly World War II.—we know he served in the Philippines and won two Purple Hearts. I also sat directly in front of a TV playing the Food Channel, tear stained contestants slicing and dicing, running on a loop; and a flashing automated red menu announcing the much touted Goose Island Summer beer. Nostalgia, chic collations, trendy seasonal beer:  All one’s needs taken care of.

Before we left, completely sated, we wanted to check one small niggling detail.  Could the banquette have been covered with red plastic last time we were here? Instead of the current green?  We asked our friendly and convivial waitress..  She sternly told us that nothing of the sort had happened or, would ever happen is she had anything to say about it.  “We don’t change anything much around here at Peter McManus. We like things to stay pretty much the same.”

How could we argue?  A steady port in an unsteady changing world. We felt exactly the same way.

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Keeping things pretty much the same – Review of Peter Mcmanus Cafe'

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

Peter McManus Café is actually a bar—a Chelsea bar’s bar.   Iconic.  Owned and operated by four generations of the McManus family.  A place so sure of itself that it has only recently put up a Facebook page, generally relying on word of mouth from the four generations of satisfied customers. . Burnished long deep brown bar, cut glass mirrors behind the bar, bright green banquette tables and a beer and food menu which changes very slowly if at all- we are talking generations here. It is a dark cave of a place which warmly beckons to all.

Courtesy of http://greenwichvillagenydailyphoto.blogspot.com/2009/04/peter-mcmanus-cafe.html

Peter McManus Café has been a fixture in the neighborhood since1936.  And it continues to draw a crowd of neighborhood folks and auslanders alike from a pack of sharp young lawyers to aging/or aged hippies in overalls, to firemen, or contractors on a neighborhood job, to the odd barfly maintaining a seat on a stool with a certain amount of difficulty.  There are a few women, too, especially at night (read: after 6:00) when bright color and glamour and some intense flirtations enter the bar; but during the day, it seems to be province of men. The place even hosts the out of the way casual customers on their way to the Chelsea galleries, or to the trendy thrift shops in the west 20’s.

The bartender today is a guy whose bushy gray beard and moustache cover the bulk of his face, but he is as warm and genial as his many clean shaven predecessors—probably his father and grandfather.  Joking with everybody, he and his remarks bring snorts and bellows of laughter down the bar even to the corner table where I sit.  The bartender even manages to extend a helping hand to the tippling barfly while pulling generous pints of beer.

McManus does serve mixed drinks, but I saw very few tiny little umbrellas or pink monkeys depending from a glass.  The mixed drinks are very much an afterthought to the fine beer menu which is as long as your arm and begins but does not end with Guinness.  I had a wonderful black and tan- Guinness with lager, which if poured correctly spills into an even split of half black Guinness, half warm golden lager and when you drink it, the two flavors mingle on the tongue.

There’s food, but no fancy chic fusion stuff- –  good basic decent burgers which won applause from my dining companion,  (the chiliburgers are legendary), a giant pile of steak-cut fries, , a few salads which are surprisingly varied and tasty for a meat and potatoes kind of place, and my personal fave, the fennel scented knockwurst and sauerkraut. Smothered with mustard, it was a meal so hearty that I was not hungry until some twelve hours later.

To history starved New Yorkers a bar/restaurant which has survived longer than a season is a rarity; four generations, outstanding and virtually unique.  The bar’s history can be read from its walls.   I sat under a large McManus portrait and at my left hand a foldout picture of Company D, 130th Infantry, where if one could just pick him out was doubtless James J. McManus. No date, but clearly World War II.—we know he served in the Philippines and won two Purple Hearts. I also sat directly in front of a TV playing the Food Channel, tear stained contestants slicing and dicing, running on a loop; and a flashing automated red menu announcing the much touted Goose Island Summer beer. Nostalgia, chic collations, trendy seasonal beer:  All one’s needs taken care of.

Before we left, completely sated, we wanted to check one small niggling detail.  Could the banquette have been covered with red plastic last time we were here? Instead of the current green?  We asked our friendly and convivial waitress..  She sternly told us that nothing of the sort had happened or, would ever happen is she had anything to say about it.  “We don’t change anything much around here at Peter McManus. We like things to stay pretty much the same.”

How could we argue?  A steady port in an unsteady changing world. We felt exactly the same way.

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Peter McManus Café on Urbanspoon

Italian Wine Experts on the future of Imported Italian Wines – Vino 2011

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

“The Future of Italian Wines as Seen from the Point of View of Leading American Wine Professionals”

VINO 2011 ITALIAN WINE WEEK PRESS CONFERENCE

Waldorf Astoria, Jade Room

Vino2011

Cristina Mariani-May at the podium

Representatives of the Italian Trade Commission and the Italian Embassy welcomed the press warmly, saying that even without a crystal ball they would attempt to predict the future of Italian wines.

The news was all good. And the word was that “the future of imported Italian wine is here!   There was a festive upbeat quality in the conversation often missing in discussions of the economy —this is one area of the economy that is booming and will continue to boom.

The speakers were Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News; Jon Fredrickson of Gomberg, Frederickson and Assocs. , Tyler Colman of Dr.Vino.com; Leonardo LoCascio of WinebowSergio Esposito of Italian Wine Merchants; and Cristina Mariani-May of Castello Banfi.

Tyler Colman (Dr. Vino.com) was the press conference’s commentator on social media for wine market marketing.  Colman told the assembled journalists that hard copy, even for classic journals of food and wine such as Gourmet, is dead.

Colman said that one great new US market for wine is the millennials -aged 18-35 and 70,000 strong.  How do they get their wine recommendations?  from friends on line,  blogs, Facebook,Twitter –  there are 4 million potential wine consumers on Twitter alone.   He suggested that the next big thing- might well be buying wine on line.

Cristina Mariani May, Castello Banfi: There has been strong growth in wine drinking around the world over the last 30 years. Since the ’70’s there has been an international  Renaissance in wine drinking:  wines from  Australia, Chile, South Africa were in competition with Italian wines. But they have outpaced the competition.

Wine production also has changed for the better. Young ecology aficionados are searching for wines that are ecologically sound and pure  The future is in “pure “ and “natural” wines .

Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News   and Jon Frederickson of Gomberg, Frederickson and Associates said that the market for Italian wines in general  is excellent especially  in the USA.   And America consumers have shown their appreciation of Italian wines. Italy is the largest producer of table wine consumed in the US. And half of the imported wines in the US are Italian.

Both agreed that the future of Italian wines in the US is very strong. Wine has been the leading import in the US for four decades.   In 30 years Italian wines have doubled their growth.  28 million  cases of wine come into the US each year.

There is a big growth in wine drinkers yearly- 300 ml of bottles; or 13 bottles per capita, leaving much room for growth. One goal is to up US per capita consumption.   And the biggest area of opportunity in the US is likely to be middle America.

Leonardo LoCascio, (Winebow, importer)   One goal of Italian wine growers is to produce inexpensive wines (at $25 a bottle) that taste as good as luxury wines but at a more reasonable price. California wines used to be the leading value wines but Italian wines have already overtaken them.

What’s the news in Italian wines? No surprise.  In sparkling wines it’s Prosecco, Prosecco, Prosecco.  In 2009 Italy overtook France in the production of sparkling wines.

Prosecco is unique; not just a sparkling wine but fruity, light, and aromatic, soft.  Pinot Grigio also is steadily increasing its sales. New trends in general are for whites, and after dinner wines.

LoCascio said one reason for the strength of Italian wines is that the Italian lifestyle is being sold along with the wine- both are simpatico!

Further, Italian wines are diverse, have price appeal, and wine from the great classic estates, over nine centuries old, have a special appeal.

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Happy 2011! The Gotham Palate’s 2010 in Review

BY ELENA MANCINI

On behalf of The Gotham Palate team, I’d like to wish all New Yorkers and TGP readers around the world a happy and peaceful new year. May it be filled with bountiful, pleasurable food adventures!

2010 was an eventful year in the New York City scene. Financial shortfalls did their share in shaping the scene with a broad spate of shutterings–the most illustrious of which included the closing of the beloved institution of Tavern on The Green in January 2010, but the year also brought with it the arrival of highly anticipated restaurant ventures, characterized by the opening of multi-celebrity-chef owned gastromall and eatery, Eataly (It’s an awesome entrepreneurial feat, despite my criticisms of its scale and scope, which I will reserve for a separate post), the proliferation of locavore cuisine and the continued sprawl of eateries offering quirky and unique dining experiences throughout the outer reaches of the city’s five boroughs from Greenpoint, to Staten Island to Inwood and SoBro, formerly known as South Bronx.   and quality of dining initiatives, including the New York City Health Department instituting an across the board health rating system for all New York City restaurants.

As Founding Editor of The Gotham Palate, I am pleased to look back upon another year of collaboration,  palatal journeys, food-centric events, exciting travel and experimentations in reporting. I am grateful to a cadre of talented and committed writers whose generous contribution continue to make this blog a fun and worthwhile venture for me, as well as a continued learning experience. Some highlights from 2010:

Some of TGP's team of writers posing together at first TGP mixer

Some of TGP's team of writers posing together at the first TGP mixer

In mid-March, the team of The Gotham Palate writers, who until then had only benefitted of their virtual acquaintance, finally met in person at the first Gotham Palate Mixer. It was a fun evening of like-minded people getting to know each other,  comparing notes observations of the NYC restaurant scenes, and brainstorming for new ideas in food writing and restaurant reviewing. The conviviality was enhanced by wine, home-cooked pastas, cured meats and dips and spreads, including The Gotham Palate Mascarpone Spread. Click on the image below for the recipe.

The Gotham Palate Mascarpone Spread

The Gotham Palate Mascarpone Spread

This  summer, Nicole Mancini offered a true insider tour of a Little Italy that you won’t find on your Lonely Planet guide, the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue Little Italy. In her piece Nicole does some comparison shopping and tells us where to buy everything from the freshest mozzarella to the most exotic Italian meat delicacies.  To read Nicole’s post, click on the image below.

Nicole Mancini having fun with the oyster shuckers at Randazzo's

Nicole Mancini having fun with the oyster shuckers at Randazzo's

After having spent the last half of 2009 and the first half of 2010 researching on my manuscript, which has now seen the light of print, I am delighted to announce, I rewarded myself with a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Since I could only get away for five days, I wanted to make it as comfortable and relaxing as possible. I was wisely advised to stay at the Paradisius Palma Real. This spectacular, beautifully-kept property offered ocean views of the Playa del Bavaro from all angles, and was rated 20th on the Conde Nast Traveler’s List  of “Top 25. Caribbean Resorts.” Given how great my experience at the Paradisius Palma Real was, I can barely imagine what the number one pick must be like.

Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom - click on the image to order a copy

Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom - click on the image to order a copy

Paradisius Palma Real, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Paradisius Palma Real, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The resort not only did an excellent job at delivering abundantly on the all-inclusive package that comprised of unlimited food service and beverages, but had an inexhaustible array of offerings and included meal service at all hours of the day including 24 hour room service in addition to pool and beach side bars and wait TGP7service.  Bar service included top shelf cognacs and scotches, but what I TGP8found most enjoyable were the Banana Mamas (made with a shot of Mamajuana, a Dominican specialty that is made from rum, red wine and honey infused with tree bark and herbs, said to have medicinal and aphrodisical properties)  TGP10

Legendary bartender at swim up bar

Legendary bartender at the Aqua swim up bar

and Pina Coladas that the jovial staff delivered to my cabana table.

The luxury buffets featured a broad array of fresh fish, fruits and produce and judiciously prepared cuisines inspired from culinary traditions around the globe. Staff was also ready to   Daily fresh squeezed juices included pineapple, papaya, mango and orange. The many food stations include a large active grill, manned by competent cooks that encourage and promptly fills special requests. Other culinary special requests are promptly filled. The resort also features five a la cart restaurants.

The retrospective of TGP’s 2010, continues with international travel courtesy of Claire McCurdy. Claire traveled to Venice this past August,  where she attended the 12th Annual International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale festival. In her food and travel reportage for TGP, Claire cleverly depicts the architectural designs she saw at the exhibit and furnishes a lively account her experiences of Venetian aperitifs as well as some of the culinary high points and low points. Click on the image below to read her blogpost.

Photo by Claire McCurdy

Photo by Claire McCurdy

The theme of travel continued to populateTGP’s exciting year and adventures with Beth Kaiserman’s trip to New Orleans and my trip to Sonoma Valley, California last fall.

TGP12

Beth Kaiserman shares of how while on a family adventure for Halloween, she stumbles upon the hottest place to cool down in Nola. Click on the popsicle for the full post.

Sonoma Valley Hill - from the grounds at Nicholson Ranch

Sonoma Valley Hill - from the grounds at Nicholson Ranch

Wine tasting at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley, CA

Wine tasting at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley, CA

A friendly llama at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley

A friendly llama at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley

A glass of 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estates

A glass of 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estates

At a professional conference in Oakland this fall, I was naturally unable to resist the ninety minute vicinity of the Californian wine country.  The group of friends and I were immediately drawn to Nicholson Ranch a charming vineyard located on the southern tip of Sonoma Valley. It was a lush, welcoming estate amid the hills and had a large pond on the grounds. We opted for an under $4 five wine tasting that included two Pinot Noirs, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot and a Chardonnay. With the exception of the Merlot, all of the wines were to my liking, but I especially enjoyed the 2007  Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estate , a smooth wine with cherry notes  and the Chardonnay. Consensus dictated that we for a bottle of the Pinot Noir for sharing. We enjoyed the gold-medal winning Pinot Noir, undisturbed at a table overlooking the pond  and greeted the sunset witha sense of awe and wistful gratitude. Wishing to prolong the experience beyond the vineyard’s 6pm closing, and the wedding that it was poised to host, I decided to purchase another bottle of the Pinot Noir to take back with me to New York and inquired about nearby lodges. The folks at the Nicholson Ranch knew just the place, the Lodge at Sonoma Resort and Spa, a ten minute drive north of the estate. Our whimsical decision to overnight in Sonoma was wonderfully accommodated with luxury cottage suites, with king size therapeutic mattresses, jacuzzi bath, state of the art TV large screen TV, and an enchanting garden patio area with outdoor furniture.  The lodge also has a bar and a modern elegant restaurant serving local, seasonal cuisine and facilities for weddings and formal events. It was the perfect impromptu getaway!

Armed with a pocket video camera and a desire to “be in the know” Stephanie Amy Collazo traveled on an adventure underground to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to explore the hot new speakeasy, 2nd Floor. Stephanie’s successful advancement through 2nd Floors labyrinthine passages, allowed her to be rewarded with Mixologists Ken Eberle’s, Topsy Turvy, Maiden Prayer and Absinthe Truffle. For Stephanie’s full lowdown on 2nd floor click here. To watch her video interview with 2nd Floor owner and host, Tony Powe, click on the video below.


In December, Carolyn Onofrey proposed a way to turn TGP’s local food adventures up a few daring notches with the launch of her monthly column, “What’s On…?” By focusing on a random block in New York City every month, exploring its histories and eateries, Carolyn brings together her passion for food and the city, and targets with radar-like precision the “must check out” food blocks in NYC for everyone else.

http://www.thegothampalate.com/2010/12/whats-on-doyers-street/

Photo by Carolyn Onofrey

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Happy 2011! The Gotham Palate's 2010 in Review

BY ELENA MANCINI

On behalf of The Gotham Palate team, I’d like to wish all New Yorkers and TGP readers around the world a happy and peaceful new year. May it be filled with bountiful, pleasurable food adventures!

2010 was an eventful year in the New York City scene. Financial shortfalls did their share in shaping the scene with a broad spate of shutterings–the most illustrious of which included the closing of the beloved institution of Tavern on The Green in January 2010, but the year also brought with it the arrival of highly anticipated restaurant ventures, characterized by the opening of multi-celebrity-chef owned gastromall and eatery, Eataly (It’s an awesome entrepreneurial feat, despite my criticisms of its scale and scope, which I will reserve for a separate post), the proliferation of locavore cuisine and the continued sprawl of eateries offering quirky and unique dining experiences throughout the outer reaches of the city’s five boroughs from Greenpoint, to Staten Island to Inwood and SoBro, formerly known as South Bronx.   and quality of dining initiatives, including the New York City Health Department instituting an across the board health rating system for all New York City restaurants.

As Founding Editor of The Gotham Palate, I am pleased to look back upon another year of collaboration,  palatal journeys, food-centric events, exciting travel and experimentations in reporting. I am grateful to a cadre of talented and committed writers whose generous contribution continue to make this blog a fun and worthwhile venture for me, as well as a continued learning experience. Some highlights from 2010:

Some of TGP's team of writers posing together at first TGP mixer

Some of TGP's team of writers posing together at the first TGP mixer

In mid-March, the team of The Gotham Palate writers, who until then had only benefitted of their virtual acquaintance, finally met in person at the first Gotham Palate Mixer. It was a fun evening of like-minded people getting to know each other,  comparing notes observations of the NYC restaurant scenes, and brainstorming for new ideas in food writing and restaurant reviewing. The conviviality was enhanced by wine, home-cooked pastas, cured meats and dips and spreads, including The Gotham Palate Mascarpone Spread. Click on the image below for the recipe.

The Gotham Palate Mascarpone Spread

The Gotham Palate Mascarpone Spread

This  summer, Nicole Mancini offered a true insider tour of a Little Italy that you won’t find on your Lonely Planet guide, the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue Little Italy. In her piece Nicole does some comparison shopping and tells us where to buy everything from the freshest mozzarella to the most exotic Italian meat delicacies.  To read Nicole’s post, click on the image below.

Nicole Mancini having fun with the oyster shuckers at Randazzo's

Nicole Mancini having fun with the oyster shuckers at Randazzo's

After having spent the last half of 2009 and the first half of 2010 researching on my manuscript, which has now seen the light of print, I am delighted to announce, I rewarded myself with a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Since I could only get away for five days, I wanted to make it as comfortable and relaxing as possible. I was wisely advised to stay at the Paradisius Palma Real. This spectacular, beautifully-kept property offered ocean views of the Playa del Bavaro from all angles, and was rated 20th on the Conde Nast Traveler’s List  of “Top 25. Caribbean Resorts.” Given how great my experience at the Paradisius Palma Real was, I can barely imagine what the number one pick must be like.

Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom - click on the image to order a copy

Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom - click on the image to order a copy

Paradisius Palma Real, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Paradisius Palma Real, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The resort not only did an excellent job at delivering abundantly on the all-inclusive package that comprised of unlimited food service and beverages, but had an inexhaustible array of offerings and included meal service at all hours of the day including 24 hour room service in addition to pool and beach side bars and wait TGP7service.  Bar service included top shelf cognacs and scotches, but what I TGP8found most enjoyable were the Banana Mamas (made with a shot of Mamajuana, a Dominican specialty that is made from rum, red wine and honey infused with tree bark and herbs, said to have medicinal and aphrodisical properties)  TGP10

Legendary bartender at swim up bar

Legendary bartender at the Aqua swim up bar

and Pina Coladas that the jovial staff delivered to my cabana table.

The luxury buffets featured a broad array of fresh fish, fruits and produce and judiciously prepared cuisines inspired from culinary traditions around the globe. Staff was also ready to   Daily fresh squeezed juices included pineapple, papaya, mango and orange. The many food stations include a large active grill, manned by competent cooks that encourage and promptly fills special requests. Other culinary special requests are promptly filled. The resort also features five a la cart restaurants.

The retrospective of TGP’s 2010, continues with international travel courtesy of Claire McCurdy. Claire traveled to Venice this past August,  where she attended the 12th Annual International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale festival. In her food and travel reportage for TGP, Claire cleverly depicts the architectural designs she saw at the exhibit and furnishes a lively account her experiences of Venetian aperitifs as well as some of the culinary high points and low points. Click on the image below to read her blogpost.

Photo by Claire McCurdy

Photo by Claire McCurdy

The theme of travel continued to populateTGP’s exciting year and adventures with Beth Kaiserman’s trip to New Orleans and my trip to Sonoma Valley, California last fall.

TGP12

Beth Kaiserman shares of how while on a family adventure for Halloween, she stumbles upon the hottest place to cool down in Nola. Click on the popsicle for the full post.

Sonoma Valley Hill - from the grounds at Nicholson Ranch

Sonoma Valley Hill - from the grounds at Nicholson Ranch

Wine tasting at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley, CA

Wine tasting at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley, CA

A friendly llama at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley

A friendly llama at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma Valley

A glass of 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estates

A glass of 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estates

At a professional conference in Oakland this fall, I was naturally unable to resist the ninety minute vicinity of the Californian wine country.  The group of friends and I were immediately drawn to Nicholson Ranch a charming vineyard located on the southern tip of Sonoma Valley. It was a lush, welcoming estate amid the hills and had a large pond on the grounds. We opted for an under $4 five wine tasting that included two Pinot Noirs, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot and a Chardonnay. With the exception of the Merlot, all of the wines were to my liking, but I especially enjoyed the 2007  Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estate , a smooth wine with cherry notes  and the Chardonnay. Consensus dictated that we for a bottle of the Pinot Noir for sharing. We enjoyed the gold-medal winning Pinot Noir, undisturbed at a table overlooking the pond  and greeted the sunset witha sense of awe and wistful gratitude. Wishing to prolong the experience beyond the vineyard’s 6pm closing, and the wedding that it was poised to host, I decided to purchase another bottle of the Pinot Noir to take back with me to New York and inquired about nearby lodges. The folks at the Nicholson Ranch knew just the place, the Lodge at Sonoma Resort and Spa, a ten minute drive north of the estate. Our whimsical decision to overnight in Sonoma was wonderfully accommodated with luxury cottage suites, with king size therapeutic mattresses, jacuzzi bath, state of the art TV large screen TV, and an enchanting garden patio area with outdoor furniture.  The lodge also has a bar and a modern elegant restaurant serving local, seasonal cuisine and facilities for weddings and formal events. It was the perfect impromptu getaway!

Armed with a pocket video camera and a desire to “be in the know” Stephanie Amy Collazo traveled on an adventure underground to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to explore the hot new speakeasy, 2nd Floor. Stephanie’s successful advancement through 2nd Floors labyrinthine passages, allowed her to be rewarded with Mixologists Ken Eberle’s, Topsy Turvy, Maiden Prayer and Absinthe Truffle. For Stephanie’s full lowdown on 2nd floor click here. To watch her video interview with 2nd Floor owner and host, Tony Powe, click on the video below.


In December, Carolyn Onofrey proposed a way to turn TGP’s local food adventures up a few daring notches with the launch of her monthly column, “What’s On…?” By focusing on a random block in New York City every month, exploring its histories and eateries, Carolyn brings together her passion for food and the city, and targets with radar-like precision the “must check out” food blocks in NYC for everyone else.

http://www.thegothampalate.com/2010/12/whats-on-doyers-street/

Photo by Carolyn Onofrey

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Oh Mama!…A Dominican feast for one and for all- Review of MamaJuana Cafe

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

247 Dyckman St (between Seaman Ave & Payson Ave)
Neighborhoods: Inwood, Washington Heights
(212) 304-1217 / mamajuanacafenyc.com/

New York, NY | Coral Gables, FL | Santo Domingo, DR.

Interior of MamaJuana, Inwood, NYC

Interior of MamaJuana, Inwood, NYC

MamaJuana Cafe

I decided to take my Swedish anthropologist friends to a new restaurant in my own neighborhood, Inwood, in northern Manhattan. – Mamajuana, a Dominican buffet style place has a very good local reputation.  This second time was the charm.  The conversation sparkled and so did the mimosas!

The name MamaJuana comes from a potent Dominican cocktail, of wood shavings and roots steeped in alcohol and honey.  Mamajuana, especially noted as an aphrodisiac, is reputed to cure everything from a toothache to a backache.   Not really a breakfast drink, so sadly we did not get a chance to savor this interesting brew. But the all you can drink mimosas were a pretty good substitute.

I was much struck by MamaJuana’s decorative properties (the bottled brew, not the restaurant).  The restaurant’s Spanish style décor, all twisted wrought iron and dark wood, was set off by bottles of the roots, and by Christmas globes and tinsel.   Not your typical decorator motif..  It’s doubtless unique, at least for the New York City location- (the other MamaJuanas are in Florida and in the DR itself.)  The effect is both festive and mysterious.

It’s a good thing I made reservations. We got there at noon sharp on a Sunday and had our pick of tables; by 1:00 the place was packed out.  Enticing aromas assailed us as we made our way to the table.  And the price was right too.  The buffet was approx. $18.00, all you can eat, complementing the all you can drink mimosas.

Although for a long while we were the only Anglos in the place, which sometimes makes for linguistic confusion, the service was fast, competent and friendly.  Excellent coffee and the mimosas just kept on coming.

The buffet featured a combination of Latino specialties such as rice and black beans and deep fried platanos and steak, and basic American breakfast fare such as French toast and bacon.  And crossover stuff like home fries. To be followed by green salad. And fruit salad or fresh grapes or muffins or brownies for dessert. This was not a low cholesterol spot, but both the chic and emaciated and the hearty eater could put together a very good meal.

We were happy diners, pleased to be having a fine Sunday brunch, satisfied with our food, and with good value for our money.

In short,   we had a wonderful time! Mamajuana was a smash!

Go, and get the brunch!

As we left, a young blonde couple asked us if we could direct them to Papasito’s.  We said, no, but try Mamajuana and the  $18.00 pris fixe.  They yelled “yeah!” and disappeared promptly inside.

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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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