The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Spicy Tuna Takumi Taco

I finally made it to Smorgusburg this past Sunday. With the original Brooklyn Flea three and a half blocks west of our apartment in the Winter, and three and a half blocks east in the Summer, I have never felt much need to trek up to Williamsburg for the Flea relocated there, and have never held much desire to see its food-centric offshoot, Smorgusburg, which opened last year in May, 2011. On a lazy Sunday, however, when it was a little too cloudy for the beach, Alex and I decided to venture north to the ‘Burg for a gluttonous morning at what has become the quintessential, open-air, artisanal Brooklyn food market.

The highlight from Smorgusburg was the Spicy Tuna Taco from Takumi Taco. Japanese-Mexican fusion: an epic combo in my book. And no wonder I liked it so much. Founder Mark Spitzer is the executive chef atBond Street, one of my favorite Asian-fusian restaurants in the city, home to the Wasabi Bloody Mary (with Citrus Vodka, Wasabi, Shichimi Cucumber, shaken and served in a martini glass), the Spicy Crispy Shrimp (with Yuzu Calamanci Vinaigrette and Chipotle Aioli) and the swanky ambiance that has kept my girlfriends and me coming back for years. Takumi Taco packs the same punch of flavors into fusian street food, and it works perfectly in the Spicy Tuna Taco: Sashimi grade big eye tuna with jicama, avocado, cucumber and spicy mayo in a crispy gyoza shell. It took a lot of willpower not to go back for a second. Luckily, there were plenty of other tempting items to try.

Zucchini Bread

The first thing I learned to bake was zucchini bread. My mother has been making it since I can remember, and growing up, my sister and I would try to help when we could (mostly to lick the bowl, but sometimes to do some mixing too). The first time I made it on my own I was very careful to follow the recipe exactly, leveling each measuring cup and not straying a pinch from the instructions. It was probably the last time I was so precise!

Today, I have trouble following recipes closely, mostly because I like to improvise. My zucchini bread has definitely fallen suit, having seen some great – and not so great – variation over the years. I’ve finally landed a variation of the original that I like best. See below for the original Spiegel recipe with my simple, optional modifications for this semi-sweet, all-purpose bread that makes a great breakfast, side or dessert.

A few key ingredients in this bread make it what it is. The zucchini, of course, is the defining ingredient. Shredded, it brings moisture and a binding property to the flour, sugar and eggs. The less expected crushed pineapple is the magic ingredient, however, packing the already moist bread with bursts of sweet, juicy, chunks of fruit. I like to use some of the pineapple juice in place of some sugar and oil, and I compensate for the lost heft of those two ingredients by adding some non-fat plain yogurt. I also like to use two thirds whole wheat flour and one third white flour, for added texture. However this zucchini bread is made, the combination of zucchini, crushed pineapple, and spices – nutmeg and cinnamon to be specific –  is the heart of this comforting, summer recipe.

I’ve impressed a lot of friends over the years with my zucchini bread, and have even made friends over it, having tricked all of them into believing that I’m a half-way decent baker. This bread is almost fail-safe, however, and with the years of practice I’ve had baking it, I should hope it tastes as good as it does!

For the recipe and what to cook next

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: White Anchovy Crostini from Hillside

Covering only six blocks, Vinegar Hill is one of the smallest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Nestled between the Navy Yard and Dumbo, the tiny Historic District is comprised of three, distint stretches of cobble stone streets, lined by brick, Greek Rival row houses. On Hudson Street at the corner of Water Street sits theVinegar Hill House, one of my all-time favorite restaurants in the city. Elegantly rustic, the restaurant is cozy and beautiful, and the menu, changing weekly “based on the best ingredients purveyors are carrying,” offers exquisit comfort food.

Two months ago, Vinegar Hill House opened Hillside, its sister restaurant next door. While Hillside works as a great place to wait for a table at Vinegar Hill House with a glass of wine or an appetizer, this wine bar, with its little but lovely menu, is a wonderful destination on its own. Last Thursday, Alex and I met there on a beautiful summer night, and watched the sky grow dark over the old smoke stacks and brick buildings outside the window. Over a few glasses of Muscadet, we shared a summery dinner that confirmed this little sister restaurant is already as brilliant as its elder. We started with a Peach and Ricotta Salad with baby heirloom tomatoes, followed by an Anchovy Crostini, and finally Pork Ribs with Apricot over French lentils.


The Anchovy Crostini was far and away the best thing that I ate last week.  A thick, white fillet almost melted onto a thin spread of slightly sweet butter on top of a slice of toasty bread. A garnish of roasted red pepper tied the sweet and salty flavors together. It was perfect. If you’re dubious of anchovies, the rich, meaty fillet in this dish will quell any skepticism. While the menu may change like its sister restaurant, I hope they keep the anchovy crostini on a regular rotation!

Three BK Food Trends Worth the Hype

With a new food trend popping up almost every day, it’s hard to know which ones are worth checking out, which ones are worth dropping everything for, and which ones are totally overrated. Here are three Brooklyn food trends that deserve the hype.

Pok Pok NY

When news that Portland favorite Pok Pok was opening in Brooklyn, a flurry of food-lovers could barelycontain their excitement. Chef Andy Ricker must know a thing or two about New Yorkers: he reigned in our chronically fleeting attention by opening Pok Pok Wing this March, and ramped up our curiosity by only offering Wings and Papaya Salad. When we were just about over the wait and ready to move on, Pok Pok NY’s doors opened on April 18. Instantly lines never seen in the Columbia Waterfront District were forming — two, three, four hours long — for Northern Thai Food worth every bit of the anticipation.

The food at Pok Pok is complex but tastes simple. Each spice and ingredient is listed under each dish on themenu, from Burmese curry powder to pickled garlic to Naam Phrik Num (spicy green chili dip). Somehow, despite the wonderful complexity and number of components, no dish tastes overwhelming or over-the-top, and nothing is over-seasoned, too sweet or too oily. The laid-back vibe — plastic tablecloths, cups and plates; a tent-covered interior and umbrella-shaded exterior — compliments the casual cuisine. But casual is not to be confused with ordinary, because Pok Pok NY is anything but.

Although I would have liked to order everything on the menu, I resisted and will happily return to try what I missed. The long lines aren’t so bad with an Umesho Cooler (Japanese Ume Plum wine and soda). If the Papaya Pok Pok with a side of Sticky Rice, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (the same served at Pok Pok Wing), the Muu Kham Waan (Niman Ranch Pork Neck) and the Cha Cha “La Vong” (Vietnamese Catfish) are any indication, every single dish at Pok Pok is a masterpiece worth waiting for.

Rockaway Taco

I really didn’t want to believe the hype on Rockaway Taco. Hipsters invading Rockaway? I wasn’t interested. Last year the New York Times couldn’t get enough of it, so, in protest (read: for no good reason), I stayed away. This year, I can’t get enough. Rockaway Taco is in every way worth the subway ride (or Rockabus!) down to the beach.

If you get one taco, get the fish taco. If you get two tacos, get the fish taco again. In my opinion, it’s the best. Add guacamole, obviously. And don’t miss out on the fresh pineapple juice, served with crushed ice and mint.

Dough

And since I like to end everything with something sweet, the last Brooklyn food trend that definitely lives up to its reputation is Dough: the amazing doughnut shop in Clinton Hill. Is it wrong that the first thing I consumed in 2012 was a Dulce de Leche doughnut from Dough? After which I consumed Hibiscus doughnut? I guess in addition to ending everything with something sweet, I like to start with something sweet too. And what better way to start the day, or the year, than with a doughnut, the ultimate dessert-for-breakfast?

If you can’t make it to home base in Clinton Hill — Lafayette Ave. and Franklin Ave. — don’t worry. Dough’s decadent delights are popping up all over the city, from Bittersweet coffee shop just a few blocks away in Fort Greene, to Culture Espresso in midtown, to Veggie Island in Rockaway. Wherever you find them, be sure to try a few of the exotic flavors, like Earl Grey, Blood Orange or Lemon Poppy Seed. Doughnuts will never taste the same.

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Summer is the season for BBQ, and this summer, Texas BBQ seems to be getting a lot of attention in New York. Hill Country Barbecue Market, which opened five years ago in June of 2007, is in the spotlight once again, after Pete Wells of the New York Times gave it two stars (and “BBQ snob” Daniel Vaughn acknowledged it had all the right pieces but fell victim to one of New York’s biggest clichés: it was rushed). There’s more to Texan cuisine, however, than BBQ, and food-forward Brooklyn is now home to New York’s most recent Texan import: the Kolache.

Brooklyn is the ultimate haven for specialty food shops. From Brooklyn Brine Co.’s pickles to the recently opened gourmet mayonnaise shop Empire Mayo, you can find pretty much any specialty food you want in Brooklyn. Up until two moths ago, however, Texans looking for a taste of home couldn’t find one important part of their morning routine: the Kolache. Czech in origin, a Kolache is a round, doughy pastry with a sweet or savory filling, and is apparently a popular breakfast on-the-go in the Lone Star State. When Texas native Autumn Stanford moved to Brooklyn, she was shocked to find that with all its specialty food shops, Brooklyn was missing these “neat-to-eat” pastries.

Stanford started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for what would become Brooklyn Kolache Co., the one and only Kolache establishment in the borough. It opened in March of 2012, on Dekalb Avenue at Bedford Avenue in BedStuy. With its big, open seating area and sizable garden out back, there’s more space and exposed brick at Brooklyn Kolache Co. than you’re likely to find anywhere closer to Manhattan. In addition to Kolaches, you can find Pigs in a Blanket and Cinnamon Rolls — who can argue with that comfort-food combo? Coffee comes from Kitten Coffee, a gourmet coffee roaster right up the street, which, incidentally, founded the firstBarista school in the New York.

I had never tried a Kolache before I visited Brooklyn Kolache Co., and like many firsts, this one was one to remember. I started with a Cherry and Cheese Kolache: the dough was fluffy and slightly chewy, and the smooth, sweet-cheese filling was the perfect anchor for the tart, cherry topping. Next I tried the Sausage, Cheese and Jalapeno Kolache, which I could see becoming an addictive hangover cure.

Whatever the filling, the dough itself is the main event. Slightly sweet, it compliments both a sweet and savory middle, and the ratio of dough to filling — heavy on the dough, light on the filling — leaves no confusion as to who’s boss.

The cafe is bright and casual, with funky art covering the walls and mellow music playing at a perfect volume for getting some work done or for enjoying a peaceful breakfast. Light pours in from french doors that open to the lovely back yard, where more tables can be found for lingering over these decadent Texan treats. Follow their website’s suggestion: “Stop by and try one!” Somewhere between a bagel and a doughnut, a Kolache is a cross between two New York staples, and this Texan treasure is working perfectly in Brooklyn.

Stuck in the City This Summer? Spend a Night on the Canal

That’s right: the Gowanus Canal. Sure it’s a Superfund site, but all the more reason to show it some love. As a neighborhood, Gowanus is transforming. Like other Brooklyn neighborhoods, Gowanus has seen factory spaces and warehouses repurposed as lofts and condos, a new chapter beginning in 2005 when a residential boom took off against much of the community’s wishes to retain the industrial purpose and feel of their narrow neighborhood. Three years later, the Bell House, a converted 1920s warehouse turned music venue and event space, opened its doors, and today, while it’s not quite like neighboring Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill or Boerum Hill, — all indisputably gentrified at this point — Gowanus is moving further and further from its manufacturing roots.

Two recent additions to the neighborhood are accelerating Gowanus’ otherwise gradual transformation.Littleneck, a seafood joint on Third Avenue, and freshly opened Lavender Lake, a massive bar with a laid back vibe, are both a stone’s throw from the charming draw bridge that crosses the canal. The grimy water and vacant lots nearby only amplify the lure of both restaurant and bar.

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Littleneck serves clams, of course, but highlights include the Maine Lobster Roll, well-priced oysters and the tastefully nautical theme. The door handle is a dock cleat and inside fishing accessories deck the walls, but nothing risks feeling overdone. The short, straightforward menu leaves little room for error. Fries are a necessary side to the meaty lobster roll, which is served with only a touch of mayonnaise. The New England Clam Chowder is light on cream and heavy on potatoes, and a Pea Shoot Salad with golden beets makes a refreshing appetizer or side to any dish.

When dinner’s over, around the corner awaits two-week-old Lavender Lake. Between the enormous, double-decker patio and the even larger bar hall, you won’t have trouble finding a place to sit, but you may never want to leave once you settle in. An old horse stable, the space itself really impresses, and the backyard is the perfect place to kick back and forget you’re in the city for a few hours. Wooden planks render the feeling of sitting on a dock, and umbrellas shading picnic tables heighten the lake-side experience (Also check the best foldable picnic table reviews).

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If you’re lucky and can take a peek behind the wood picket fence, try to steal a glimpse at the largest garden gnome you’ll ever see. Apparently it was sitting upright, peering over the fence onto the patio when the bar first opened. But the owners thought it might detract from the ambiance, so the gnome had to lay back down, out of site. While admittedly creepy, the gnome would certainly have marked Lavender Lake’s territory. I hope they keep it around for special occasions.

Occasion or no occasion, if you’re looking to escape the city for a little while but can’t make it out of town, a great night awaits you down by the Gowanus canal.

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Watermelon Salad

Watermelon salads are all the rage these days. The watermelon-tomato-feta combo became increasingly popular over the last few summers, and this summer it seems to be dawning every food magazine and menu around. And why not? Watermelon is uniquely refreshing and makes a great side to everything from hot dogs and burgers to grilled chicken or fish. With its distinct flavor, watermelon tastes unlike anything else and its juicy composition and light, subtly grainy texture is equally singular.

While I enjoy the popularized tomato and watermelon combination, it’s not my first choice. I appreciate the acidic quality of a tomato to balance out the sweetness of the watermelon, but if the tomato is too sweet it loses the effect. I prefer the crunch of a cucumber instead of the commonly used tomato.

Last night I made a Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint salad with a Yogurt-Feta dressing. I added a touch of diced red onion and was liberal with the mint leaves- they really enhance both the watermelon and the feta topping, and round out the overall refreshing essence of the dish. The yogurt-feta dressing provides a welcome tang with the sweet watermelon, heightened with a squeeze of lemon juice. See below for this quick easy and healthy recipe.

For the recipe and what to cook next…

Los Angeles: 3 Nights, 24 Dishes

Few cities can compete with New York when it comes to dining, but LA is definitely a worthy contender. Last weekend I spent three nights in the City of Angels with three of my favorite ladies, my favorite faux-cousin and my favorite former boss. Spending time with my friends made the two red-eyes in four nights well worth it — and so did all the food we ate! In three nights, I tried 24 dishes. (And that was just dinner — there was also brunch, ice cream, poolside cocktails, lunch salads and many glasses of wine.)

On night number one I ate at Red Medecine, night number two at Ink and night number three at Son of a Gun.  Each restaurant’s menu consisted of seasonal dishes for sharing, and share we did. From Sweatbreads to Lobster Rolls to getting some of the last legal Foie Gras in CA (I don’t even like Foie Gras but we couldn’t resist ordering it while we still had the chance, a mere week before it was illegal to buy), we really had it all. The precise intention, superior caliber and distinct rarity of each ingredient made every single dish nothing short of an artistic masterpiece.  Every course was spectacular in its own right, but my standouts include the Akaushi Beef from Red Medecine; the Sugar Snap Peas, Octopus and Poutine from Ink; and the Linguine and Clams from Son of a Gun.

Here’s the list of 24, from three of the best restaurants in Los Angeles:

Red Medecine 

SNAP PEAS / soymilk custard, verbena,
mint coconut water

AMBERJACK / red seaweed, buttermilk, lotus root,
tapioca, succulents

DUNGENESS CRAB / passion fruit, brown butter,
black garlic, vietnamese crepe, hearts of palm

SWEETBREADS / prune, leeks, mustard, chicory,
smoked bone marrow

AKAUSHI BEEF / pistachio, lettuce stems, celery,
fermented tea

BRUSSELS SPROUTS / caramelized shallots, fish sauce,
vermouth

Snap Peas with soymilk custard, verbena, mint coconut water

Amberjack with red seaweed, buttermilk, lotus root, tapioca, succulents

Ink

beau soleil oysters, oyster leaf, mignonette ice

burrata, trout roe, apricot, persian saffron

sugar snap peas, a mojo of itself, coffee, cardamom, coconut

shishito peppers, almond-bonito sand, tofu mustard

hamachi, dashi sponge, soy-yuzu, radish, rice cracker

foie gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce

brussels sprouts, pig ears, lardo, apple

soft shell crab, tarragon mayo, caper, potato

octopus, ink. shells, young fennel, pimenton

halibut, embers of zucchini and potato, tomato dashi

poutine, chickpea fries, yogurt curds, lamb neck gravy

wagyu beef, carrots, tendon, horseradish tofu

apple, caramel, walnut,burnt wood ice cream

Beau Soleil Oysters, oyster leaf, mignonette ice

Sugar Snap Peas, a mojo of itself, coffee, cardamom, coconut

Shishito Peppers, almond-bonito sand, tofu mustard

Hamachi, dashi sponge, soy-yuzu, radish, rice cracker

Foie Gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce

Soft Shell Crab, tarragon mayo, caper, potato

Octopus, ink. shells, young fennel, pimenton

Son of a Gun

lobster roll, celery, lemon aioli

puntarelle, fava, artichoke, pecorino, lemon

kennebec french fries, malt vinegar aioli

linguine and clams, uni aglio-olio, chili, breadcrumbs

frozen lime yogurt, graham crumble, toasted meringue


I do have to admit that after so many small plates, meant to share, that came out as they were ready; after too many upgrades on street food and too many deconstructed desserts, I was really ready for a slice of pizza. For my next trip to LA, I’m going to skip the multi-mini-course feasts and keep it simple. I’m going to look for some of the other food the city does best, like tacos, sushi and frozen yogurt — each meal on its own, one at a time, and preferably not to share. That said, there’s little better, in my opinion, than sharing food with friends, no matter how precious or plebeian. So would I do it all again? Yes!

This Flamingo Stole My Heart

Elad Lassry, Chilean Flamingo, 90028, 2007. Chromogenic print, 14 × 11 in. (35.6 × 27.9 cm). Edition no. 3/5. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo 2008.194a-b © Elad Lassry

Artichoke Bruschetta

Eating out and ordering in are facts of life in New York City. The restaurants are too many and the hours between work and sleep and work again are too few to cook. And perhaps most importantly, our kitchens are just too small. Those of us who can’t give up cooking must cope with inches of counter space, miniature fridges, and cupboards that hold little more than a lone frying pan. We must become masters of improvisation and substitution: a pot makes a great mixing bowl, and a stepping stool an excellent cooling rack.

One of my favorite recipes that requires just one pan and a cutting board is Artichoke Bruschetta. Using only one receptacle and one surface, it’s doable in even the tiniest of kitchens, and all of the ingredients are available at almost any bodega in the city (let’s not get into the ordeal of grocery shopping in New York. Suffice it to say that your corner, or the next corner’s, bodega should carry everything you need for this recipe).

For the recipe and what to cook next…

“Caesar” salad and sweet potato fries

One of my favorite meals is a caesar salad with a side of sweet potato fries. For some reason, this meal is settling to me — after a long day of traveling (or a long day of partying), if I’m out at a pub or — as of late — if I’m home and feel like making something fast, reliable, and for which I probably have most of the ingredients, in some variation or another.

I really like kale in a caesar salad — preferably black kale but any kale will do. So will iceberg lettuce. I’m partial to kale, however, because if it’s slightly steamed, it really holds the dressing well, which is, of course, the most important part! Depending on what I have around the house, I’ll cut up bread into big hunks, toss those in olive oil and pepper and toast them in a pan. Last night I actually had the perfect bruschetta toasts from a dinner earlier in the week, so I chopped those up and threw them in. Sometimes I’ll add strips of grilled chicken (that don’t need much, if any, seasoning, since the dressing will do the work), and sometimes I’ll throw a few anchovies on top. Finally, I always grate an excessive amount of parmesan cheese all over the salad.

I make a faux-caesar dressing because it’s fast, easy, delicious, and I usually already have all the ingrediants in my fridge. I start by mincing garlic, and mix that together in a blow with olive oil, lemon juice, and either some white or red vinegar. Depending on what I have or what I can find easily, I’ll either add anchovy paste, or the anchovy-infused olive oil from anchovies in a tin, and then I add a good amount of dijon mustard. I whisk all of these ingredients together, and when I’m just about ready to serve the salad, I add the egg and continue to whisk vigorously. Just before serving the salad, I pour the dressing on top and mix. The last step is grating a little more parmesan cheese on top.

Sweet potato fries are the perfect partner to this caesar, and the baked ones I make are not only easy, but they’re also pretty healthy. I peel and cut the sweet potato into long strips, lay them on a baking sheet, douse them in salt and drizzle them with olive oil, and stick them in the oven at 450 degrees. About 15 minutes in, I remove the baking sheet, sprinkle pepper and thyme on the fries, push them around on the pan, and stick them back in for 20-25 more minutes, or until crispy, but not burnt. Voila! An easy, not-too-unhealthy, and comforting dinner.

Birthday Cake Truffles

Yesterday was a very important person’s birthday (my lovely boyfriend, Alex) so I wanted to make something really special and try something new. I made birthday cake truffles. Truffles spell special, and we are both huge fans of Momofuko Milk Bar’s Bday Cake Truffles, so I tried my hand at my own version of these compact confections of intense sweetness. Decadent and bite-sized, these birthday treats were a really fun take on the traditional birthday staple (cake, of course!).

Inspired by a guilty round of Pinterest scanning, I riffed off a no-bake recipe, including cake flour, regular flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. This recipe called for a white chocolate coating on every truffle, but what’s a box of truffles without the variety? The element of surprise from picking a treat whose inside is a mystery?

So I made four varieties: each only slightly different than the next, but enough to capture the birthday/truffle surprise. I made white chocolate coated truffles, truffles with a layer of jam in the middle, truffles dusted in cake flour and more sprinkles, and – perhaps the best – the simple one with no frills: just the batter (and enough salt to cut the intense sweet!). Happy 26, Alex!

Spring Dinner: Seasonal Pizza and Salad

Endive, Radiccio, Arugula, Pecorino Salad
Asparagus, Leek, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto Pizza
Lemon Sorbet With Lemon-Thyme Syrup & Raspberries 

Spring weather has been gracing New York since February, and finally spring vegetables are here! Monday night I chose a few of the Springtime’s key offerings and put together a delicious and deceivingly simple dinner.

We started with a salad of endives, radiccio, arugula and pecorino. This salad involves nothing but slicing — the endives lengthwise, the radiccio in half and then lengthwise, and the pecorino thin — and tossing — the sliced endives, radiccio and pecorino with the arugula, the juice of a lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil. Salt and pepper and you’re done!

Next we had an asparagus, leek, goat cheese and prosciutto pizza. To make the pizza, I sliced one, whole leek – making use of both white and green – and sauteed half of it in olive oil for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, I broke off the ends of the asparagus spears and cut the edible parts in fourths.  I then stuck the quartered asparagus in the microwave for one minute to cook through a bit. While the leeks continued to cook, I worked on the salad. When the first half of the leeks were done, I removed them fromt he heat and set aside, and sauteed the next half in the same pan, but this time I added a shower of balsamic vinegar.  While this batch was cooking, I rolled my pizza dough out on a floured surface and finished the salad. By the time the second batch of leeks was done, I brushed the pizza dough with olive oil, spread all of the leeks onto the pizza, layered the asparagus on top, and sprinkled chunks of goat cheese all over the pizza. When the pizza had cooked for about 11 minutes in the oven, I removed it and added the prosciutto, and then cooked it for one more minute. So easy, so good!

A few hours prior, I had made a simple syrup with lemon and thyme that I would use to jazz up dessert.  I boiled 1/2 cup of water with 1/2 cup of sugar, and after all the sugar had disolved (about three minutes), I removed the syrup from the heat and added 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme from my thyme plants. I squeeze 1 tablespoon of lemon in and let the syrup sit for about 2 hours before straining, and pouring over lemon sorbet, topped with raspberries. Spring tastes good!

For the recipes and suggestions for what to cook next…

Meredith Marks Jewelery

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of going to Meredith Marks’ trunk show at the Gramercy Hotel.  Meredith Marks is Chicago-based jewelry designer whose line combines practicality with exoticism for a wearable but glamorous look.  A former model who also happens to hold a JD and MBA from Northwestern and certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, Meredith’s own beauty and smarts come through in her work.

I am no expert when it comes to jewelry — except that I adore it like any girl does — but Meredith seems to have created a very special line: one that has struck a  perfect balance of exoticism and simplicity.  From dangly earrings to bangles, from studs to cuffs, every piece is somehow both bold and delicate. The simplicity of her designs makes even the most ornate jewels into everyday pieces.  

Much of her collection is inspired by Indian jewelry, which is typically quite opulent — the more, the bigger, the better. Meredith’s pieces, however, are stripped versions of these often over-the-top, magnificent ornaments, making them accessible for daily wear. Her signature earrings sparkle femininity, and have caught the eye of a growing list of celebrities, including Courtney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler. I was instantly drawn to the Indian-inspired design channeled through a clean and basic composition. Try as I might to pick out my favorites, I was constantly finding new ones that took first place.

Meredith’s jewelry is as inspiring as she is: a mother of two, she built the business from scratch in just a few years and her pieces are now popping up in boutiques from LA to Chicago. I have my eyes set on these smoky earrings for now, but as soon as I keep scanning the collection, I know I’ll find something else that steals my heart.

Kutsher’s Tribeca

Kutsher’s Tribeca, which opened in November, is “a modern Jewish American deli.” Inspired by a classic Jewish country club in the Catskills — Kutsher’s Country Club — it landed on one of the hippest restaurant blocks in the city. On Franklin between Hudson and Greenwich, Nobu Tribeca is down the street, Tamarind Tribeca is kitty-corner, The Harrison is a block south and Locanda Verde and Smith and Mills are a block north. Despite this fierce neighborhood competition, Kutsher’s is holding its own. Its secret? It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Fourth-generation Zach Kutscher opened the restaurant with chef Mark Spangenthal and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow (of Asia de Cuba — a fave of mine when I first moved to the city and fancied big, over-the-top, clubby, Manhattan restaurants. Asia de Cuba has since closed, thankfully marking the end of that decadent habit I shared with my girlfriends.) The food at Kutsher’s is an upscale — but not fancy — version of the Jewish comfort food I wish I had had more of growing up. A Country Club Chopped Salad was perfect with the usual components — butter lettuce, chic peas, apples, walnuts — and some Jewish flare: challah croutons. The Cured Salmon Trio was my kind of heaven, with nova, grave lox and pastrami cured salmon served with a chive spread and pumpernickel bread.

My favorite appetizer was the Crispy Artichoke Alla Judea: fried to a crispiness that didn’t sacrifice or disguise the delicate artichoke leaves and seasoned with lemon, garlic, parsley, greens and shaved parmesan, this dish was impeccably prepared.

Meaty entrees were succulent and sizable. Red Wine Braised Flanken Style Short Ribs, which came with schmaltz mashed potatoes and glazed root vegetables, was enough for two, tender and incredible. Braised Lamb Shanks served atop lentils, roasted tomatoes, currants, parsley and Middle Eastern spices were, as my faux-cousin Casey described them, Fred Flinstone-esque in size and presentation, and as complex and wonderful as they were hefty.

Crispy Potato Latkes are a necessary accompaniment to any meal. My aunt ruined potato latkes for me because hers were so amazing that nothing could ever compare. I stay away from ordering them in restaurants, because I know I will just be disappointed. Not only did Kutshner’s latkes not disappoint, they totally wowed me and take second place in my rank of favorite dishes (first being the artichokes).

Growing up, dessert was a key element to any meal for my family. My grandfather owned a Tastee Freeze in Akron, Ohio, and my mom grew up on soft serve and milkshakes. My dad grew up loving – and to this day adores – rainbow cookies. So I really had no choice but to order the Rainbow Cookie Hot Fudge Sunday, served in a traditional, tall ice cream glass with vanilla and almond ice cream, marshmallow fluff and almond brittle. It was everything I could have ever wanted it to be and more: the perfect nostalgic treat, with a contemporary spin, to top off a perfectly nostalgic but contemporary meal.

A mixed crowd heightened the laid-back vibe at Kutshner’s. I saw a family with kids under the age of 10 and a socialite I recognized from the society pages. The restaurant’s country club roots translated well from the Catskills to Tribeca, its campy origin channeled and upgraded with a sleek, city feel. Birch, brass and geometric beams and sconces, produced an almost futuristic lodge, and, in keeping with many moves to the city, it felt like Ikea had a hand in the furnishing.

I’d like to be a regular at Kutshner’s, and I feel like that’s exactly how they wanted me to feel, in the sincerest possible way.

Francesca on Clinton

Frankies 457 is pretty close to perfection as far as restaurants go. The food tastes like it was made for you alone, and the atmosphere is elegant but cozy, inside surrounded by exposed brick and outside in their wonderful garden. I haven’t been to the west village outpost, Frankies 570, but a few nights ago I visited what used to be Frankies 17 on Clinton Street, and what is now Francesca, the new venture from the same Frankies Sputino team (who also own Cafe Pedlar in Cobble Hill and the amazing Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens).

The Frankies Sputino Italian is so exceptional that I could only have had sky-high expectations forFrancesca, which serves Basque cuisine. I liked Francesca; I didn’t love it. But it’s hard to love anything that you compare with an original that you simply adore. An enchanting nook in what has turned into one fratty neighborhood, Francesca — and much of Clinton Street — is like a little oasis. The menu, like so many new menus today, is designed for sharing. Small Pintxos, Jamones, Para Picar, Salads and Small Plates offer a myriad of ways to start your meal, and if you make it that far and still have room for more, you have another round of choices with Raciones, followed by Cheese and Dessert.

I loved the White and Green Asparagus with Ali Oli and Migas, but could have skipped the Cream Fideua with Idiazabel, which was nothing more than a glorified Craft Macaroni and Cheese (and I specify Craft, because the noodles were identical to those short, skinny cylinders. Following what seems to be the trend of this post, I’ll take the original, please). The rest of the menu was intriguing — I am hardly familiar with Basque cuisine — and the setting so inviting that I would definitely go back (even if I wished I was going back in time to when Frankies 17 occupied the space).


My one Basque experience was a surreal one, a few years ago when a friend and I had stopped in Biarritz on a road trip from Bordeaux to Madrid, and eventually to the Naussannes, a tiny village near Bergerac in the South of France by way of seaside Cadaques. Biarritz lies in a Basque region, and on our night’s stay in the town, we decided to drive to nearby Bayonne, a Basque town across the border in Spain. We weren’t quite sure what we happened upon, but the entire town was celebrating in city center — parades, music and fireworks abounded. We had no choice but to join in the fete, although we had no idea what we were celebrating!

Francesca may not have quite lived up to this surreal Basque festival — or its sister restaurants — but it’s definitely worth a trip, if for nothing else than respite from the circus the Lower East Side becomes every night.

Chuko

No one knows how to dress these days. Is it hot out or cold today? Should I wear jeans and a t-shirt, no jacket? Flats and a sweater? Or will I be burning up and wish I’d worn a skirt? But my legs haven’t seen the light of day in months! They aren’t ready for exposure! So what does one eat when one doesn’t know what to wear? I’ve shivered on a patio trying to enjoy early summer fare and felt itchy and unseasonable sporting wool socks and spooning a slow-cooked, root vegetable stew. The other night I had a Goldilocks moment: Eating a crunchy, spicy brussels sprout salad and a steaming bowl of ramen in the stark interior of Chucko — a ramen joint in Prospect Heights which opened in August of 2011 — seemed just right.

Chefs and owners, Jamison Blankenship, David Koon and James Sato, of the meatpacking district’s Morimoto, have traded glitz for simplicity, with a straightforward menu — bites and ramen — and not one piece of decoration in their “sauna-esque storefront.” There’s no alcohol to be had, but bars aplenty surround the restaurant — perfect for grabbing a pre-dinner drink while you wait for a table.

It was a tough decision between the Kale Salad and the Brussels Sprouts, and next time I’ll get both, because while I vowed to try the kale on my next visit, there’s no way I could walk into Chuko and not order the Brussels Sprouts. Fried in fish sauce and sprinkled with roasted peanuts, this crispy dish is a firey wonder. Mix and match your ramen broth, noodles and toppings, but take the sage advice of the waiters, who are as enthusiastic about the food as you will be by the time you finish your meal. If there’s one perk to cold weather, it’s an excuse to eat ramen at Chuko. But even as the weather warms — or does whatever it’s doing these days — I expect to be dining at Chuko all year round.

Lemon Yogurt Tea Cake

This lemon yogurt cake is the perfect partner for a hot pot of tea and a lazy afternoon, or the perfect tea party treat to share with friends. Made with all-purpose flour and half as much almond flour, the cake is thick and moist, but not at all dense. The zingy lemon of the icing brings out the subtle lemon flavor of the cake itself. It’s definitely one of my favorites!

Mad Men Party: Deviled Eggs & Onion Dip

In honor of the two-hour premier of Mad Men tonight, some friends and I are doing what everyone else is doing: gathering for a Mad Men party, with cocktails and era-appropriate snacks. It’s just too much fun to pass up. I couldn’t resist this perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite appetizers: deviled eggs. I also made a caramelized onion dip, which I’ll serve with whole-wheat pita chips.

I’m excited to get to the party and see what else is in store; and mostly I’m excited to see what Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Betty, Roger and Sally are up to! If you need a Mad Men-inspired snack for tonight’s premier, these two appetizers are simple to make and totally retro-fabulous.

Shelsky’s Smoked Fish

Appetizing (noun) is most easily explained as food that you would eat with a bagel: from smoked salmon and whitefish to homemade salads and cream cheese. This Jewish American food group gave rise to the appetizing shop, which reflects Jewish dietary laws that prohibit selling or consuming meat and dairy products together.  Appetizing shops sell dairy and fish, and delicatessens — traditionally — sell cured and pickled meat. Early in the 20th century, Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought appetizing cuisine to New York, and today that legacy is an emblematic food of the city: a bagel with lox and cream cheese. What says New York more than that?

Ironically, the bagel-lox-and-cream-cheese legacy has actually contributed to the slow disappearance of appetizing shops, which used to be a dime a dozen in New York. The ubiquity of this classic New York combo has cast a large shadow over the other important components of appetizing — whitefish salad, pickled herring, sturgeon, and sable, to name a few — and the shops have become nearly obsolete. Russ and Daughters, a stalwart of the Lower East Side, has been “appetizing since 1914″ and is thankfully still going strong. It is one of the only remaining stores in a neighborhood that used to be home to more than 30 appetizing shops, and happens to have some of the best whitefish salad on the planet. Brooklyn, for all its specialty food shops and Jewish roots, was sorely lacking an appetizing shop north of Prospect Park untilShelsky’s Smoked Fish opened in Carroll Gardens.

Peter Shelsky opened the store because he was tired of schlepping into Manhattan for whitefish, and he is restoring some heritage to the borough in the process. For a brilliant combination of all of the best that Shelsky’s has to offer, the “Brooklyn Native” is the perfect sandwich — Gaspe Nova, smoked Whitefish Salad, pickled herring, and sour pickles are served on a bagel or bialy. I am partial to the bialy, which is every so slightly toasted so as not to sacrifice the fluffy middle. The sandwich begins with a layer of creamy whitefish salad, which, made with chopped cucumber and celery, has just the right amount of crunch. Next comes two layers of Gaspe Nova so fresh it practically melts in your mouth. Not overly smoky, this Nova goes really well with the next layer, a slightly sweet piece of pickled herring that is much meatier than the salmon, offering a unique consistency in addition to the new flavor. Finally, a few sour pickles top off the salty stack, all enveloped, of course, by the bagel or bialy. The distinct texture of each component in the “Brooklyn Native” is an integral part of this sandwich’s character.

Other Shelsky’s sandwiches, like the “Member of the Tribe” (Gaspe Nova, scallion or plain cream cheese served on a bagel) or the namesake “Peter Shelsky” (Gaspe Nova, sable, pickled herring with cream sauce and onion, scallion cream cheese served on bagel or bialy) offer similarly complex, flavor-packed options. “The Great Gatsby” (pastrami cured salmon, horseradish cream cheese, honey mustard, and red onion) or the “Dr. Goldstein Special”(duck fat-laced chopped liver and apple horseradish sauce served between two schmaltz-fried potato latkes) take tradition to a whole new level. For those new to the cuisine, Shelsky’s sandwiches are a great introduction to the world of appetizing — a world that will hopefully see a revival in the city where it really came of age. Head down to Carroll Gardens (historically not a Jewish neighborhood, as it were), for a taste of authentic appetizing, and some of the best sandwiches this side of the bridge.