Milanese Meal in NYC

Guess what I had for dinner last night?

Fillet on a bed of sauteed spinach and roasted potatoes – da Umberto

JUST KIDDING! I haven’t eaten a steak since my 21st birthday and that was…just a few years ago. This is a snapshot of Hubs’s perfect steak dinner.  Even for a non-meat eater like myself, I thought this looked just delicious.

We had a great meal last night at da Umberto in Chelsea.  Da Umberto is an understated gem situated on a side street with a simple glass storefront. Our dining companions, Sandi and Mike, used to live 2 blocks away and had always wanted to dine there, but never had. It is the anti-scene. Inside, there is a dimly lit, elegant dining room and a menu reminiscent of a classic Milanese restaurant.

We were seated next to the antipasti bar, a rainbow of vegetable delights beautifully displayed, and begging to be ordered. The contents disappeared so quickly, I didn’t get a chance to snap a picture. You’ll have to use your imagination: roasted magenta beets, bright green broccoli rabe, perfect button mushrooms, roasted corn, eggplant caponata, caramelized brussel sprouts, and I can’t remember what else…

Mixed Grilled Seafood on a bed of Charred Corn – Grigliata Mista da Umberto

After a simple, fresh arugula salad, I had the mixed grilled seafood plate (grigliata mista) for dinner. It was a classic preparation – scampi, squid, a small piece of orata and salmon, all lightly drizzled with olive oil, lemon and some fresh herbs and grilled to perfection. What our dining companions ate, I cannot tell you. I was far too absorbed in my plate.  And in honor of our recent trip to the Maremma, Hubs ordered a yummy, medium-bodied, pepper-y red wine from Bolgheri.

I was already feeling quite full when the waiter wheeled over the dessert cart. Again, a lovely presentation: a beautiful ceramic bowl of tiramisu, ricotta cheese cake, goblets of frutti da bosco, chocolate mousse cakes and more. We could not resist and shared a chocolate and vanilla ice cream tartufoDelightful. I can’t wait to go back.

Red Cat Pepper Pasta Back Again

In case you didn’t notice, there are a LOT of peppers in this picture

CSA Pick-up 9/22/12. Extreme close up of peppers (bell peppers and jalapenos)

What’s a gal to do with these beauties? I’m all good on the “putting up” front. I’ve got more frozen julienned yellow, red, and green bell peppers than I know what to do with from previous pick-ups.  I thought back to a recipe from the Red Cat restaurant cookbook that Hubs and I used to prepare somewhat regularly. We also used to be Red Cat regulars and remain big fans.

Red Cat cookbook

The recipe for Bucatini with Peppers and Anchovies was salty, savory and full of texture, but always a little greasy.  The recipe also called for Italian frying peppers, which I would never have on hand and would inevitably require a special trip to the store.  Over the years, I’ve also tried to prepare  meals with  protein as the centerpiece, rather than carbohydrates. So the recipe fell to the wayside. But I thought about dusting it off and refreshing it with some of my surplus CSA ingredients.

Here’s how I updated it: I substituted fresh bell peppers for the frying peppers and used a fresh jalapeno in place of the dried chili flakes to add heat. Oh, and I used spaghettini instead of bucatini – bucatini are a long, tubular pasta shape and generally a specialty pasta. I also used less panko than the recipe called for. This, combined with the juicy bell peppers made for a moister dish than previous attempts. This recipe is going back in the rotation, with my recent updates. One tip: don’t be afraid of the anchovies. They lend flavor, saltiness and depth to the sauce. The dish does NOT taste fishy at all. Ask Hubs.


200 grams of spaghettini, or other long, thin pasta that you have on hand
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 anchovy fillets, minced
2 large red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise
4-5  pepperoncini  (the chartreuse-colored, jarred peppers you find in the grocery), sliced horizontally
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 cup panko, or dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmiggiano
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon)
Handful chopped parsley
1/2 lemon


Cook the pasta according to the package directions to al dente doneness.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide, deep, heavy saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and anchovies and cook for about 3 minutes, mashing the anchovies until they disintegrate. Add the bell peppers and jalapeno and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until the peppers soften. Add the pepperoncini, stir and remove the pan from the heat.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, pepper flakes and parsley.

When the pasta is nearly done, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. I recommend using a glass measure cup, because it has a handle and you can scoop up the water easily without burning yourself. When pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the anchovy and pepper mixture. Add half of the the bread crumb mixture, along with a splash of the pasta water. Squeeze the lemon half over the pan, using a small strainer or your hand to catch any seeds, and toss to combine.

Divide the pasta among shallow serving bowls. Top with remaining bread crumb mixture and serve. Add a splash of olive oil if pasta is dry.

Yield: 2 generous servings


Epilogue: Night Out at Northern Spy

A quick epilogue on our meal at Northern Spy Food Co in the East Village.  The name of the restaurant is taken from a local NY state heirloom variety of apples. We tried to pick some this weekend during an apple-picking expedition at Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington, MA, but no dice.

Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington, MA on Saturday, September 22, 2012

I liked this sign.

Night Out at Northern Spy

I had Northern Spy Food Co in the East Village on my restaurant hit list for some months, long before it was featured in Food & Wine. It had been recommended by long-time foodie and friend, Dave Wyman. Dave has an impeccable palate, so I implicitly trust his recos. Northern Spy did not disappoint. Yes, it’s your now standard “farm-to-table,” seasonal, local joint, but it has the distinction of superior execution.

With sister-in-law Rebecca and her husband in tow, we had enough people at the table to justify sampling almost every dish on the menu. Some highlights included the Fried Green Tomatoes with crabmeat on top, the Kale Salad, corn side dish (a bit of a surprise since local corn season is over, and an interesting entree of Smoked Carrots with Freekeh. Between the tomatoes and corn, the menu was still suspiciously full of summer favorites. But everything was so yummy, all doubts of freshness and ingredient origin disappeared.

Corn with roasted peppers, feta @ Northern Spy Food Co

Like the corn dish above, the chef takes a heavy hand with cheeses of all kinds. The Kale Salad was also particularly tasty and likely due to the generous helping of Pecorino cheese on top. Rebecca’s carrot entree, however, had flavors of a totally different kind. The carrots tasted like they were marinated in barbecue sauce – most unexpected

Smoked Carrots wild spinach, freekeh, almonds@ Northern Spy Food Co

The french fries fried in duck fat were also a hit. Yes, I admit, I tried them, despite my no meat stance. I rationalized that it was for research purposes only. Fortunately, did not feel sick afterwards despite this transgression.

Duck Fat Fries

And with that, I ceased my picture taking. My dining companions rightfully chided me and reminded me to get back to the real purpose of the evening – enjoying our meal and the company.

Next post: tomorrow’s CSA pick-up and back to the pots and pans.


Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington, MA on Saturday, September 22, 2012

Epilogue: The name of the restaurant is taken from a local NY state heirloom variety. We tried to pick some this weekend, but no dice.


1 Star Dining with a 2 year old, aka “The Meal That Did Not Turn Out as Planned”

I’m going to do a quick flashback to our August vacation in Italy. As I mentioned, we dined out a lot and cooked very little. In Italy, you can have a great meal at an everyday pizzeria or trattoria, so I didn’t do much research in advance on where to eat or reserve a table. But I did have my eye on one spot that I dreamed of dining at: La Pineta.

La Pineta is a renowned fish restaurant housed in a typical Italian beach club. Think Flamingo Kid on a smaller scale. It’s directly on the beach in the village of Marina di Bibbona, along a strip of sandy beach adjacent to a pine forest. It is attached to a bar/cafe and and a row of small cabanas, overlooking 3 rows of beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent by the same establishment.

You would never in a million years think this was the site of a 1 star Michelin restaurant. But wait. You enter the restaurant and the tables are covered in fine linen and beautiful stemware. There is an air of elegance in the dining room, but not stiffness. Your eyes drift to the blue-green Meditteranean sea just beyond the white sandy beaches, umbrellas and sunbathers. It is a beautiful setting, in the simplest terms. I like this review on a travel blog called Mapitout-Tuscany, too.

I was quite pleased to have secured a table with only a few days notice at peak season. With much anticipation, I discussed the meal with Hubs and baby Sam. The morning of our scheduled lunch, Hubs awoke feeling ill. He thought it was something he ate the previous night, but  the symptoms evolved into something flu-like. Ever the trooper, Hubs rallied around 11 AM and we hopped in the car to head to the beach club/knock-your-socks-off restaurant. We got to the beach, squeezed into a parking spot with assistance from an employee (who later turned out to be one of the head waiters) and hit the beach. Hubs was not feeling it, so he hung out in the shade while Sam and I frolicked in the surf. Lunchtime rolled around and Hubs had taken a turn for the worse. He begged off lunch, but insisted that I go ahead without him, but please take Sam because he couldn’t manage. Yup, me and my 2 year old dining companion.

I was torn – husband turning green, whiny toddler, stomach grumbling, reservation waiting – so I plowed on. Sam and I cleaned up for lunch and presented ourselves to the maitre d/head waiter/parking attendant. I apologized profusely for the shrunken dining party. He shrugged it off as he seated us at a corner table. I sensed my dining companion getting antsy, and knowing I couldn’t study the menu forever (though I wanted to), asked for advice on what to order. Everything, and I mean everything sounded awesome. I settled on a plate of raw seafood to start (crudo) and then a whole fish sauteed in a delicate tomato sauce with rosemary as my secondo. Only 2 courses for me – didn’t want to keep the little one waiting too long. For Sam, I ordered 1/2 portion of fresh pasta with a light tomato-based sauce speckled with mullet. No kids menu here. And a glass of vermentino for me, of course.

Sam’s lunch: straccetti di pasta fresca con le triglie. Fresh pasta with red mullet

Another head waiter popped by and asked if Sam would eat “alici”, or anchovies (there were 3 head waiters who worked the room as a team). I said let’s give it a try, and lo and behold, the munchkin had a few bites of fresh anchovies with juicy cherry tomatoes. Within a few minutes, our table was covered in treats. A basket of freshly baked breads and focaccia and another plate with carta da musica (crisp, thin flat bread). I thought we were set, but Sam got curious and started exploring the cabinets near our table which stored the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. Despite this chaos, no one batted an eye. The dining room staff could not have been more gracious.

Sam at La Pineta

Sam’s pasta arrived and my plate of crudo. I was in heaven. Raw langostines, delicate deep red shrimp, and several types of fish drizzled lightly with olive oil and sea salt. Oh, and a separate plate with an oyster, because not everyone likes oysters. Sam had a bite or two of pasta, but was preoccupied. We managed to get through the first course and then it got a little dicey. I broke down and agreed to let him play with iPhone, but where was iPhone. Uh-oh. We went out for a walk to find it and also check on Hubs.

Hubs was slumped in a chair in the cafe. He asked how much longer. Again, not the way I planned this meal. Sam and I hurried back to the table and my whole fish was ready. The Head Waiter expertly deboned it table side and presented it with a flourish. He also topped off my wine glass. I hurriedly ate the delicate white fish, all the while feeding Sam his pasta and nervously scanning the now full dining room hoping we were not disturbing anyone. I was cursing myself for having even ordered a second course, but had felt obliged to do so and then couldn’t leave the dish untouched, right? Oh, the obligations of fine dining! I made my way through 3/4 of the fish and felt full and satisfied that no one would be offended. The waiter asked if I’d like dessert (and he wasn’t joking). I declined and asked for the check. He passed by with the wine bottle and offered another splash – I am sure I looked like I needed it.

Hubs joined us as I paid the bill. The kind waiter dropped off a small plate of mini-lemon tartlets and asked if Hubs felt better. They didn’t even charge us a service fee for Sam. I was touched by how respectfully the staff treated us. And after paying the bill, I was stopped mid-stride while exiting the restaurant so that the chef and owner could say hello (center in photo below).

When does that happen?? It was an amazing meal, as much for the service as the ambiance as the food itself. And not to mention the company.

Hot Town, Summer in the City: Dinner Out @ Jeffrey’s Grocery

While Dan’s been keeping it real and hyper-local, Hubs and I have been letting the others do the dirty work for us. On a sultry summer night, we hit a West Village hot spot called Jeffrey’s Grocery for dinner.  And when I say hot spot, I am not only referring to desirability, but also the temperature. The restaurant has an open kitchen which is great for the curious diner, but it doesn’t help you dry  on a hot summer’s night. The restaurant’s on a cute corner in a historic building, and you almost feel bad for the struggling AC. Jeffrey’s Grocery is a sister restaurant to Joseph Leonard’s, Fedora and Perla. Media darling owner Gabriel Stulman is a lover of all things local, sustainable and hip.

Sitting at the corner of the bar with 2 friends, we started our meal with oysters on the half shell and the Coho Wild Salmon appetizer. Our bartender and waiter had the obligatory pencil-thin mustache and an easy smile. He insisted on the Salmon appetizer, which was good, but not a stand out. I also had a glass of rose’ cava served in an old school champagne glass.

From “Sometimes I Crave” – Jonah Crab Salad

For our entrees, we had roast chicken, Jonah crab salad, pork loin and an outstanding side dish – Roasted Creamed Corn. Let me tell you about this Creamed Corn – it was awesome. It was creamy and rich and crunchy all at the same time. The chef topped it with popcorn. Nice touch, I thought.  Thank you to blogger Yijia for taking the photo above last month. Check out Yijia’s review of Jeffrey’s Grocery here.

Dinner was good, with a festive ambiance and tasty flavors. Definitely worth a return visit in the fall when the mercury drops.

Lobster and Friends

Had a fun dinner out last night with Hubs and dear friend Luiz Biagiotti visiting from Sao Paolo. In the midst of a thunderstorm, we waited and waited for a table at the John Dory Oyster Bar. Happening spot, but the no reservations policy can be a drag. Apart from the great company, the highlight of the meal was this eye catching Lobster Thermidor.

Lobster Thermidor at John Dory Oyster Bar

I had never tried this dish before, so I was excited to find a willing partner in crime with Luiz. Lobster Thermidor has such a great old school ring to it – feels like a dish one would eat on a Pullman car back in the day when rail travel was civilized and elegant. Apart from being easy on the eyes, this dish was rich and very flavorful. The lobster meat from the tail had previously been removed, sauteed with a cream sauce, then replaced and sprinkled with bread crumbs and broiled. According to Wikepedia, the traditional French preparation also includes melted Gruyere cheese on top, so I guess this was a “lighter” version.

My thoughts: The lobster meat from the tail was very tasty – cream and bread crumbs added to already sumptuous lobster meat, how could you go wrong?? And I loved the  veggies in the skillet. They prepared fresh English peas and white green beans in a tasty butter sauce. The one critique I’d give is that the lobster meat itself was a tad overcooked. When we cracked open the claws to get to the rest of the good stuff, the lobster was rubbery and not worth the effort. The staff at theJohn Dory also neglected to give us tiny forks to scoop out the claw meat. Maybe they knew…Sorry, John Dory. Nonetheless, it was a festive departure from your standard boiled lobster.

By the way, did you know there is an overstock of lobster this season? It’s selling for $3.99/lb in Maine, perhaps less even now.