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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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A Wine Geek's Dream Wine Bar

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anfora

© Jamie Tiampo
Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale.

I'm a regular at NYC’s Dell'anima and L'Artusi, the two awesome wine-centric West Village Italian restaurants run by chef Gabe Thompson and sommelier Joe Campanale. Their newest project, Anfora, officially opens tonight. I got a sneak preview of the wine bar at friends-and-family on Friday. Here, the highlights:

1) Campanale has organized his wine list by producer, with an emphasis on sustainable, biodynamic and organic wine. And instead of simply listing wine names and vintages, he has included a photograph of every producer, along with information about the producers and the wines.
2) The stellar by-the-glass selection includes two anfora-aged wines, including Cantino Giardino's Coda di Volpe, an ancient grape grown in Campania since Roman times. (An anfora is a traditional earthen wine vessel used to store and transport wines).
3) Food highlights include lamb ragù sliders with Pecorino Romano and an intense Italian hero with mortadella, soppressata, speck, aged provolone, aioli, mustard and pepper relish. Plus, pastry genius Katherine Thompson has developed amazing sweets, like a rhubarb zuppa inglese.
4) There are also great cocktails, like the Farmer's Friend (rum, rhubarb, mint) and local craft beers on tap.
5) Just two doors down from always-crowded Dell’anima, this 50-seat spot may be the cushiest waiting area in the city with its super-comfy Cabernet-colored banquette seating. And the über-wine-geek will love the quilted topographic maps of wine regions like the Mosel hanging on the walls.

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Cooking with Native Edibles

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soup

© James
Spring Onion Soup from James.

 

The trend of foraging for ingredients continues to grow, even in New York City. To promote the 778 plant species native to the five boroughs, botanist Mariellé Anzelone created NYC Wildflower Week, which runs May 1-9. New York City chefs are featuring dishes made from native edible plants like ramps, fiddlehead ferns and nettles on their menus and hosting salon-style “Wild Tastings” (dinners with guest foragers).  Galen Zamarra of MAS Farmhouse is preparing trout piscator  stuffed with wild ramp and smoked trout mousse and Bryan Calvert of James  is serving an awesome spring onion soup with boar lardon and pecorino. Foragers looking for new recipe ideas should check out chef-author Louisa Shafia’s native edibles cooking class tomorrow where she’ll be teaching guests how to make stinging nettle pesto and lamb’s-quarters-and-pea-shoots soup.

 

 

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Best Dish of the James Beard Gala

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Alaskan king crab

© Michael Muser
Curtis Duffy's Alaskan king crab dish.

 

The past two days have been a blur of eating and drinking as the country's top chefs decended on NYC for the James Beard Awards. Of all the food I've eaten in the last 48 hours I can't stop thinking about the insanely brilliant Alaskan king crab dish Curtis Duffy and his talented crew from Avenues in Chicago were serving after last night's awards gala. I met Curtis earlier in the day and asked if it wasn't a bit ambitious to attempt to pull off a mini version of one of his hyper-creative restaurant dishes for a hungry audience of 1,200. His response: "If I'm going to NYC to cook for the James Beard Awards, I'm going to go big." He certainly did. Lovely chunks of Alaskan king crab were served in a cucumber consommé topped with a delicate three-sugar tuile that was garnished with wild-steelhead roe, kalamansi and lemon balm. The dish was complex, refreshing, artistic and came served in a little plastic cup that conveniently cradled into the top of my wine glass. I was beyond impressed, to the point where I had to have seconds. If that's what Curtis and his team can pull off for a crowd at Avery Fisher Hall, I can only imagine the full-blown version they serve at Avenues.

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Painkiller Tiki Drink Preview

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Cradle of Life flaming cocktail at Painkiller

© Alessandra Bulow
Cradle of Life flaming cocktail at Painkiller.

I can’t stop talking about tiki. Not because of the Tiki Barber sex scandal, but because I recently got an exclusive preview of the tiki drinks that Richard Boccato and Giuseppe Gonzalez (Dutch Kills) are going to be making at their supercool new bar Painkiller, which is opening in early May in New York City.

In addition to smooth daiquiris, flights of mini zombie drinks and all-you-can-eat hot dogs (“They’re not going to be fancy, Grade-A or kosher, but they’ll be free,” said Boccato), they’ll be serving fantastic rum-based flaming cocktails like the Cradle of Life (made with spiced rum, white rum, lime and orange juices and almond syrup; the green chartreuse on top is set on fire, pictured). The menu will also include communal drinks served in custom-made ceramic vessels called Scorpion Bowls. Each Scorpion Bowl will be named after a 1970s NYC street gang, like the Electric Coffin, a large coffin-shaped bowl that will billow steam from a hidden chamber for dry ice in its underbelly.

Boccato got the idea for the Scorpion Bowl names while narrating a friend’s documentary about the gangs and he's continuing the urbanized-oasis theme by asking some of NYC’s classic old-school graffiti artists to tag the walls of the bar.

“Half of tiki is about presentation,” said Boccato. “Tiki bars usually look like a dive, a Disney ride or Grandpa’s basement. We’re going for something different.”

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Dinner at New Delhi's Varq

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jalebi

© Taj Hotels
Varq's haute take on jalebis.

 

For our May travel issue, we polled chefs, sommeliers and food writers around the globe to come up with the 100 best new food and drink experiences on the planet. Varq restaurant in New Delhi made the cut, and it ended up being my most revelatory meal in India.  

Chef Hemant Oberoi, the Taj hotel group's corporate chef and the visionary behind Varq, and his right-hand man at Varq, executive chef Ankit Sharma, have taken India's street foods and traditional regional dishes and modernized them by applying new techniques and introducing new ingredients, like scallops and foie gras--then serving those dishes on Thomas Keller–designed Limoges china in a very glamorous dining room.

Ganderi kebab, minced chicken marinated with spices, gets deep-fried on a sugarcane stick so that it looks like a corn dog and served in a shot glass with amchur chutney in the bottom. Atta raan, perhaps the most theatrical dish on the menu, is a supertender leg of lamb that has been marinated in mace, cardamom and red chile and baked in a saffron-dough shell. I adored his refined take on the street snacks that I'd been dubiously eating the past week. I'd become addicted to jalebi, a sticky, sugar-high-inducing sweet that looks like a mini funnel cake and has the electric orange color of Cheetos. On the street they are fried in enormous cast-iron pans, fished out of sizzling pools of oil and eaten piping hot. At Varq, they are perfectly shaped spirals of warm, crunchy dough, more yellow than orange (the result of less-sugary syrup), decorated with silver leaf and lined up side by side with a pistachio yogurt for dipping.

When I later met up with Oberoi, I asked him why I can't find that kind of Indian restaurant in New York City. He let me in on a little secret: He's planning a stand-alone Varq in NYC for the near future.

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Tasting Tour of Varanasi

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Nadesar Palace

© Taj Hotels.
Nadesar Palace, Varanasi.

 

I became fascinated with Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet and one of the world’s top pilgrimage sites, after reading Geoff Dwyer’s slightly mad book Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. The city, off the River Ganges, is a chaos of cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, cattle and people bathing on the ghats, while just up the river, a burning body is being sent to rest in the same waters. It was the third stop on the Maharajas Express Celestial India itinerary and after a sunrise boat ride along the ghats, a rickshaw ride through the markets and a shopping binge on the city’s famed Banarasi silk saris, I was desperately ready for an escape from the city’s bedlam.

I found it at the new Nadesar Palace, set on 40 acres of mango orchards and jasmine fields. Originally built by the East India Company to house its officers, then turned into the Maharaja’s palace, it is now a 10-room Taj Hotel with marble bathrooms, four-poster beds draped with Schiaparelli pink netting and original art from the Maharaja’s collections. I spent the afternoon with chef Sanjeev Chopra, who took me on a horse-drawn carriage ride past his organic garden before taking me into the kitchen. Chopra has created a fascinating menu totally focused on local cuisine: He spent months visiting the villages, lanes, elite houses and royal kitchen of Varanasi to learn the ancient royal cooking techniques and find lost recipes. He then asked housewives, royal cooks and maharajs from Dharamshals to visit the Nadesar kitchen to cook and train his team. I ate my way across castes, sampling matar ki puri (green peas stuffed in a deep-fried wheat pancake) from the royal kitchen and the ubiquitous street sweet gulab jamun, cottage cheese dumplings soaked in sugary syrup. It was one of the most satisfying, and definitely the most enlightening, meal of my trip.

Recipes

Kosher Recipes for After the Passover Seder

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© Joseph de Leo

Although I’m a hard-core fan and consumer of bacon the rest of the year, during the eight days of Passover I keep kosher. After two nights of amazing 10-course meals at my mother’s home for the seders, I’ll be cooking some lighter recipes for the remaining days of Passover. Here are a few kosher for Passover recipes I’m planning to try:

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Restaurant Seders

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© Lucy Schaeffer

Passover, which begins this evening, kicks off with a dinner called a seder. More and more restaurants and caterers have begun to offer this ceremonial meal, but as my food writer friend Alan Richman points out, “There could be humor in this, as chefs who aren’t Jewish create menus that aren’t kosher, in both the literal and non-literal sense.” So, please, take these suggestions with a bissel (grain) of salt.

 

Abigael’s, New York City In addition to catering more than a dozen seders in synagogues and hotels around NYC, Abigael’s is also offering Passover to Go, with dishes like matzo ball soup accented with sweet peppers and cilantro. abigaels.com.

Spago Beverly Hills, Los Angeles Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant hosts its 26th annual seder tonight, with braised beef short ribs and house-made matzo. Proceeds will benefit Mazon, a Jewish hunger-relief organization. 176 N. Canon Dr.; 310-385-0880 or wolfgangpuck.com.

Sprinkles Cupcakes Candace Nelson’s cupcake empire is serving flourless chocolate cupcakes with a Star of David through April 6th. sprinkles.com.

Plus, from the Food & Wine archives, here are 10 more great Passover recipes, like lemony asparagus soup and honeyed carrots with currants and saffron (pictured).

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A Rye Toast to J.D. Salinger

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© Alessandra Bulow
Rye House Punch at Rye House in NYC

In a tribute to J.D. Salinger, the famously reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, who passed away this week, my colleague Kristin Donnelly and I raised a glass to him last night at Rye House, a new cocktail bar in New York City’s Flatiron District. We especially liked the citrusy but not too sweet Rye House Punch (made with chai-infused Rittenhouse Rye, Batavia Arrack, lemon, grapefruit and Angostura bitters, pictured) as well as the flaky pork belly and smoked Gouda-filled empanadas.

Here, a few rye-based cocktails to toast the author’s life and literary works:
Carra-Ryed Away
Manhattan
Silver Lining

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Shirako (Cod Milt) Season

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© Alessandra Bulow
Shirako (Cod Milt) Sashimi

The morning after a recent menu tasting at Brooklyn, New York’s Zenkichi restaurant, I woke up with a belly full of shirako cod milt (a.k.a. cod sperm) and no regrets. Available only in winter months, shirako is considered a delicacy in Japan and can be eaten raw or cooked.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t initially freaked out when a small bowl of glistening shirako sashimi (pictured, left) was placed in front of me, but I resolved not to be so squeamish when I saw two brawny guys, both former college football players, dig in without hesitation. Topped with thinly sliced scallions and a drizzle of ponzu sauce, the sashimi was slightly sweet and vaguely briny with a smooth custard-like texture that resembled brains.

Then the waiters brought out delicious, lacy clusters of a tempura combining creamy cod milt and crispy green chrysanthemum leaves, topped with a sprinkle of green-tea salt (pictured, below).

Now I’m thinking about going back to Zenkichi for more shirako before the season ends–and I might even bring a friend with me.

© Alessandra Bulow
Shirako (Cod Milt) Tempura

 

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