The Thursday night before Spring Break ended with a sigh of relief: it had been a month since the opening, an unpredictable, sometimes wild, yet rewarding and satiating month. As we headed to our different holiday destinations, we were prepared for a change in environment, but not a break in our culinary explorations.
Nate and I decided to spend a week in New York, hoping
to get through our papers and exams we had sometimes mildly neglected due to hectic Kitchen days, and maybe also to enjoy some good food here and there. We had an ambitious plan when it came to food: a few restaurants we had to try out, and many dishes we wanted to create and cook. It was a discovery: each meal was more or less planned out (from breakfast to dinner) and we were careful to pace our day accordingly so we would be starved by the time lunch or dinner came around. On Tuesday we ate the house roasted turkey sandwich at Torrisi Italian Specialties, an incredible combination of slow roasted herb turkey with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and for the adventurous, you can add Brussels sprouts to your bun. Wednesday we set off for a few days in the countryside, armed with ingredients for two dinners and granola. We wanted to recreate Nate’s all-time favorite granola (if you ever make it to Canada, here it is: http://www.wildflourbakery.ca/breakfast.htm). We stirred thick oats with sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, wheat germ (we had never tried this and looked at the jar suspiciously), and puffed wheat. We boiled maple syrup, honey and canola oil (next time I want to substitute the canola oil with extra virgin coconut oil), and mixed the syrup with the oats & co. We placed the raw granola on large sheets and baked it in the oven for twenty-minutes. While the granola was still hot from the oven, we stirred cranberries and let it cool. After a half hour the granola had taken a crunchy texture. I made a berry compote with raspberries and blueberries to pour onto the granola and whole-milk yogurt.
But the dinners were the highlight of our week. With a few bottles of wine, some pork and whole fish, we flipped through the Tyler Florence book and improvised our own recipes, according to the ingredients we had at hand. One night we made whole fish, Branzino, stuffed with lemons, thyme and onions, garnished with a Brussels sprout and heirloom tomato salsa. We made lemon creamy mashed Yukon potatoes, along with Brussels sprouts sautéed in pancetta. We attempted to roast artichoke in the oven, rubbed in garlic and lemon, but this unfortunately failed. Two hours later the artichokes stubbornly refused to soften. I think we should have boiled them, but that will be for next time. The following night we cooked pork which we had cut open, filled with herbs and fennel seeds, and then wrapped tight. We couldn’t find string to tie the pork, so instead we sewed the pork with toothpicks. We roasted fennel in the oven and added feta cheese that melted at the contact of the hot fennel flesh. Next was the kale: blanched and sautéed in a little garlic and lemon juice.
This is what we discovered: a new concept for serving food. Because we were running low on dishes Nate decided that we should place all food, including the sides, on the same plate, which turned out to be an oven pan. And then we shared the meal. What if there was a restaurant where we could order a few sides and entrees and have them all arrive on one big platter or wooden plate (I know it sounds extravagant, like a Rabelaisian dish or perhaps a feast from the Satyricon if you are feeling decadent), but why not have all of the colors and flavors on the same platter and then share? Forks are knives would be provided of course. I wonder if Nate’s creative idea stems from his dislike of washing dishes, or if it is simply a way to enjoy diverse dishes and have easier access to mixing and combining flavors on the same plate. Despite my preference for many small dishes in small bowls (this must come from my Japanese mother who likes to spread the table with dozens of small plates), I loved this idea of sharing food among many on one surface. It’s kind of like sharing a big table, a concept I first encountered at the Belgian Pain Quotidien restaurant/bakery (just opened in Philly at 15th and Walnut).
For lunch we decided to go out, exhausted and full from the cooking. We ate Dosas at Hampton Chutney (http://www.hamptonchutney.com/), trying the curry chicken and the vegetarian spinach and roasted tomato and cheese. Both were delicious. The Dosa looks and tastes like a very light, crispy crepe. To me, it was almost like a buckwheat galette, the ones they make in Brittany in the west of France.
Back in the city on Friday we made our way to Aldea for lunch for one of the best meals of the week. Aldea is a Portuguese/Iberian influenced restaurant run by the young, talented and handsome Chef George Mendes. We were treated to a curry emulsion as an appetizer, and then shared the arroz con pato (essentially a paella with duck that is so tender you can cut it with your fork like butter), and salty cod mixed with eggs and olives. For dessert we tasted the banana pudding cake, which tasted like a banana flan on top of a crispy, buttery crust. The portions were small but so flavorful that I didn’t mind their size, if anything they were the expected size of a European dish. The twenty-four dollar three-course lunch menu is not to miss: http://aldearestaurant.com/
On Saturday we braced ourselves for a dinner at Momofuku, Ssäm Bar. The wine and beer charmed us, and then came the food…. The famous steamed buns and crispy pork belly buns, the short rib sandwich which was my favorite (with each bite I took I hoped it would never end), the grilled trout with squash, the very very very spicy pork sausage with rice cakes, and the oxtail dumplings. The flavors of the meal were exquisite, and even as we sweated and sipped water to douse the spicy pork sausage, we couldn’t stop ourselves from eating. I did feel a little too overwhelmed by so much pig, pork this and pork that, but for one dinner I didn’t mind the richness of the dishes. The meal was crowned with a late night stop at the Milk Bar, right next door, where I tasted cereal milk and salty pretzel truffles. Cereal Milk tastes like that milk at the bottom of your cereal. It is five dollars, but I recommend at least trying a sip, or if you have a sweeter tooth, you can order the cereal milk milkshakes.
Our culinary journey, away from Kitchen, came to an end.
But of course, we’ve brought a few tastes and glimpses of our world to Kitchen. Kale was a special side, maybe there will be some fennel some-time soon.