Celebrations: Eleven Madison Park

Toni and I recently celebrated our one-year anniversary at Eleven Madison Park. The restaurant had been on my to-try list for some time, and I’d been especially excited to go since reading about chef Daniel Humm’s playfulness in the kitchen of this haute restaurant.

Courtesy of Todd Coleman, SAVEUR.com

When we arrived, the art-deco space seemed enormous, with its vaulted ceiling as grand as one would imagine possible in the city, and yet it was simultaneously intimate. The number of tables was limited, so the extra room felt luxurious, not necessary to house a crowd. The staff seemed to be a part of a seamless choreography, united by silent, behind-the-scenes communication, that trickled down to the smallest gestures: taking our coats without the need for a claim receipt; attentively letting us know that our table was being set the moment I began to be antsy sitting at the bar; transferring our drinks to the table’s ticket without being asked. These were only augmented by the care they took to make our anniversary as special as it could be—a hand-written note awaited us on our table, and every one of our servers greeted us in kind.

The meal itself was adventurous, if not the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, with each menu item identified only by its primary ingredient. However, its inventive spirit, coupled with the large array of amuses, a choice of butters (cow’s milk and goat’s) to accompany our already lusciously buttery rolls, and the additionally sweet nibbles served after our final course, made the prix fixe price feel utterly worth the experience. Our staff even presented us with homemade chocolate bars, with a cut-to-fit, handwritten “Happy Anniversary” message nestled inside the custom encasement.

And the coup de grace? After the chef himself came out to make his rounds, we were presented with a little mason jar of housemade granola—chef’s favorite—to have for breakfast the next morning.

Celebrations: Being Together with Good Wine

The last time I was together with both of my parents was in February, so I was excited that we were all able to be down at the beach for a few days. My little brother Scott was too busy turning 21 to join us, and what did he miss?

 Dad in a kayak.

Aside from sea and marsh kayaking, fly-fishing on a motor boat that took us out to Cumberland Island, sea turtles, dolphins, and “The American,” he missed the opportunity to drink a wine as old as his big sister. And not just any 24-year-old wine. He missed a Latour.

Yes, that is a Premier Grand Cru Classé from 1986.

Most likely, Scott does not realize what a momentous occasion this was, at least for me. This wine, along with a few others, had been sitting at my grandmother’s beach house for who knows how long, cooking in the south Georgia sun when no one was on the premises to turn on the air-conditioning. So opening the bottle was as much of a gamble as anything. There were, however, a few factors in our favor: the ullage was high (the level of wine was above the neck) and the bottle itself seemed to be in pretty good condition. And I’d texted Stevie to know if the ’86 was drinking. Her one-word response? “Drink.”

Sniffing and tasting the newly decanted wine.

Boy were we well-rewarded. The liquid inside the bottle, a tawny color, neither smelt nor tasted of vinegar. Instead, it possessed the effect of tart, underripe blackberries — tight as the wine was first exposed to air in the decanter and in my glass — as well as notes of walnut dust, leather, and raisins. And it was immediately balanced, surprisingly so, as I’d read that many Bordeaux of that year were highly tannic. Then, the magic that I love about wine began to show itself. As we prepared dinner and let the wine breathe, it was suddenly rejuvenated: full of bright, ripe berry notes, and so incredibly smooth on the palette. No element of this wine overpowered another. I was utterly happy.

Taste-testing corn-fed beef (below) and grass-fed (above),
seasoned with smoky salt from Washington State.

The Latour proved an excellent complement for my first taste of my aunt Emily’s grass-finished beef. Life is really good sometimes.

Celebrations: Mom’s in town!

So, I’ve been a bit remiss in my posting because my lovely mom has been in town! Here are some highlights of our time together, which of course revolves around lots of food:

A Riesling tasting at Terroir, with Paul Grieco and winemaker Ernie Loosen.
Mr. Loosen, who brought over a vertical of his own wines for the tasting from the Erdener Treppchen vineyard, including a 1976 Auslese and a 2006 Auslese Goldkap.
 Our insalata caprese, with basil from my new herb garden!
Yummy succotash with corn, red onion, zucchini, and squash,
baked with lots o’ butta.
Additionally, we discovered a new French bistro, Bistro de la Gare, in the West Village, which provided a deliciously simply meal. Mom’s summer cannelloni were outstanding, with their paper-thin pasta shell overflowing with fresh spinach and the tiniest hint of ricotta. We also visited Fort Greene, hitting up the Flea and the farmer’s market at the Fort Greene park – here, we bought the most delicious cow’s milk cheese from a farm in Connecticut, as well as herbs for my new windowsill garden. 
Then, we had the best meal (Mom’s emphasis) at Bar Boulud after a show, thanks to Josiah’s able skills as a sommelier and the lovely fresh fish we tried. Between Toni, Mom, and me, we tasted almost all of the fish on the menu, which Josiah paired with a beautiful white Burgundy:
coquilles saint-jacques meunière (me)
dayboat scallops, stone ground polenta
purslane, brown butter, hazelnuts

truite arc-en ciel (toni)
local rainbow trout, roasted corn
olive, zucchini, smoked tomato coulis

limande au four (mom)
baked summer flounder, herb salad
glazed market vegetables
lemon buerre blanc

Each of us thought our own dish was the best, polishing our plates. Then we finished the meal with a beautiful apricot tart (the work “tart” vastly under-represents the presentation of the dish – a puff-pastry-like shell surrounded four distinct apricot-halves, served with a tart and refreshing red currant and lemon verbena ice cream), as well as a plate of the macarons and chocolates. Josiah gave us a taste of a Sauternes – not usually a favorite of mine because it can be quite thick and cloyingly sweet; however, this one was tasty with the apricots and rather refreshingly easy on the palette. Bar Boulud is hands down my favorite one of the chef’s restaurants and, in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in town.
And finally, we had an easy, rustic pizza night at Keste, a Neopolitan-style pizzeria on Bleeker Street. The staff is almost entirely Italian; the wine list features wines from the Campagna region; and the pizza is one of the most authentic I’ve had in Manhattan. We ordered the Regina Margherita and the special, a four-cheese white pizza with prosciutto, whose crunchy parmigiano flavor made it my favorite. We washed down not one but two carafes of Falanghina, a medium-bodied white wine I discovered in Rome last year. Following the pizza and wine, we walked around the corner to L’Arte del Gelato for the finishing touches on a great weekend.
And she comes back today!!

Celebrations: Fourth of July Weekend

I spent Fourth of July weekend out in East Hampton, where my aunt Barbara lives during the summer. As usual, it was food-and-wine-filled affair. Toni latched on to the fact that we had a patio and a grill, so we cooked all meals outdoors, thanks to the grill master. The first night, we had blue fish, grilled corn, roasted radishes and potatoes, and blackberry cobbler, all from the local market. 
Little market, long line. 
Saturday night, Toni and I grabbed our rental bikes and headed to Tutto Italiano, an Italian outpost of Citarella down the Montauk Highway, to pick up some pizza dough and the house-made mozzarella. We then selected some grill-worthy veggies at the grocery store, including red peppers, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, and Portobello mushrooms. We roasted them on the grill. Once they were charred, we put the dough over the open flame, using a piece aluminum foil as a makeshift pan. After letting it toast a bit, we added the tomatoes and mozzarella, covered for a moment, and finally arranged the grilled vegetables on top. Although the pizza dough was slightly burned on the bottom (we should have flipped the dough before adding the various ingredients), it was deliciously simple. Good cheese and produce really make all the difference. 
You can’t even see the roasted tomatoes under all that cheese,
but they were delicious. 
Our final night was the Fourth of July, so we decided a traditional barbecue was in order. Barbara picked up some freshly ground beef from the local butcher, as well as some watermelon. Together we headed to the store to pick up some more charcoal (we’d gone through all of it), salt & pepper kettle chips (which hardly made it out of the store), and some ketchup (Barb picked up the reduced sugar variety – she said by accident, though I hardly believe her – which ended up tasting just fine). 
Sharing in the festivities 
With some homemade guacamole to munch on as the charcoal burned, the three of us sipped the lovely bottle of Dashe ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ that Stevie had recommended we bring as a gift. The wine was selected since Barb loves chilled red wines, and Malbecs tend to fill her icebox. Stevie thought the Dashe zinfandel would be a nice alternative, and since it was a 2009, our glasses danced with the bright red fruits that might have dissipated in a later vintage. My grandmother Nena is a Dashe drinker, and I have always associated their juice with its rich, jammy quality. The old vines provided a nice, summery change. 
Stevie’s pick. Verdict = A hot red for a summer night.
We blended some salt, pepper, and chopped onion into our patties, and then threw them onto the grill after having cooked some more corn, onions, and tomatoes. Since the pantry was lacking in the bun department, we ended up tasting a butter croissant – a perfectly decadent burger. We were so full that we finished the meal with nothing more than a little watermelon. What a wonderful way to spend our midsummer nights!
Burger, roasted veggies, and grilled corn – nothing says summer like this!

Celebrations: Fish Tacos for a New Job

To celebrate my new job at Saveur, Stevie invited me over for some lovely fish tacos. Josiah, her bf, had caught a 22-lb. striped bass a few nights before out on Long Island, so she had obviously been brainstorming delicious and creative ways to use up all that goodness filling up her freezer. Enter tacos – fresh, tasty, and easy.

the necessary fixings: radishes, avocado,
cilantro, onion, and lime

Stevie was busy julienning her radishes when I arrived, so I took over fish duties. I gently massage the flesh until it began to flake and fall apart. In a separate bowl, I threw together some whole wheat flour, salt, pepper, and paprika, then heated some olive oil in a pan (we had decided to fry in olive oil based on the recent Saveur article that focused on olive oil’s frying capabilities). Each batch was cooked for about a minute and a half each, then set to drain on some paper towel, sprinkling them with lemon juice while they rested momentarily.

the fish, resting

Then, assembly time. Stevie heated oil in a separate pan to fry up the tortillas, which resulted in crispy, half-moon taco shells. We filled our individual tacos with fish, avocado, radishes for some kick, white onion, and cilantro, then drizzled lime juice over each one. Stevie had brought a Chinon rose for us to sip on – 100% Cabernet Franc and delicious. What a way to celebrate!

‘ze tacos, before they were devoured