Dinner: Who’s Afraid of Hearty, Bitter Greens?

I had no real agenda for dinner; I figured that since I’d be stopping in four different markets for research for an upcoming article on sorbet, I’d let some market discovery inspire me. And that’s exactly what happened: 

photo-6photo-7                                                  In Gourmet Garage, I discovered a very interesting new line of fresh, prepackaged leafy greens, by a company called Satur Farms. They’re based out of North Fork, Long Island, so it’s all locally-grown, minimally-transported and has the potential, at least, to be vibrant and fresh. It’s also cheaper. Where 6 oz. size plastic containers of Earthbound Organic lettuces go for $4.99, Satur Farms’ lettuce mixes were priced around $3.50. 

Gourmet Garage was sold out of all but Satur Farms’ “stir fry greens,” which is hands down, the most ambitious prepackaged lettuce mix I’ve ever encountered. This is not a mix for beginners. Even I couldn’t visually identify every single leafy green included (although I got most): “May contain Swiss chard, ripini mustards, kohlrabi, chicory, kale, beet tops, amaranth, bok choy, spinach.” 

photo-5Hot damn. That is some mix. So much potential, which I look forward to exploring, but for tonight I decided to keep it fairly simple by sauteing the thickest-stalked greens with a bit of onion and celery in some sesame oil, and mixing in half a container (7 oz.) of these prepackaged Macro-Vegetarian udon noodles, which have a nice, light, pusedo-Asian flavor, and finishing off the whole thing with a healthy squeeze of lime juice and shake of red pepper flakes. I’ll tell you what: It worked!

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Lunch: Enlightenment by Way of Murray’s Bagels

Probably my second-favorite thing about food (my favorite thing being the eating part), is the learning about food part. In particular, realizing the nuances, a fuller range of possibilities, to an ordinary food you thought you thought you had pegged.

photo-1This happened for me recently with the lowly bagel. I’ve never been totally wild about bagels: Too hard, too dry, too much bread. When I do get the stray craving for a bagel, it’s got to be fresh from a first-class bagel shop — such as Murray’s Bagels on Sixth Avenue — and stacked high with cream cheese, lox, red onion, capers, a squeeze of lemon. Preferably the bagel is toasted, not to revive freshness but to just to give it that thin layer of crisp, toast-like crunch inside. 

photo-2I’ve been bemoaning the lack (more accurately, my ignorance) of a good bagel shop in Midtown West, which lead me on an Internet quest, where I discovered that there is, in fact, a whole lexicon to describe bagels: “Doughy” and “large” are the opposite of “chewier,” “small” and “dense.”

Two good things came of this discovery: First, the light-bulb went off and I realized of the types of bagels that I’ve ever had, I have a preference and there’s even words for it. The other discovery is that now that I know the typical words used, I can use that establishment as a launching point into my own creative ethos. Standing feet firmly planted on “doughy” and “large,” I can start to play. And, as a bonus, I’ll never have to order a small, dense thing again.

Breakfast: Honest Tea, Just “a Tad Sweet”

Gonna make this one short and just “a tad sweet.” If you identify with any or all of the following statements: 

photoa.) ever drink tea, hot or iced
b.) prefer diet (i.e. “no cal” or “low cal”) drinks
c.) think most bottled beverages that aren’t diet taste too syrup-y sweet
d.) have a personal vendetta with high-fructose corn syrup
e.) get bored with drinking H2O all the time
f.) have a soft spot for companies with sustainable initiatives

You will like Honest Tea. Lightly-sweetened iced tea (“a tad sweet” is one of their mottos), only 35 calories per bottle, no high fructose corn syrup in sight, started by a couple of business school geeks with a soft spot for sustainability, Honest Tea’s a good egg.

TIP: I love that they posted their original business plan on their website; check the “1998” segment of the “Honest Tea” link above. 

Sunday: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, I Wanted To Love You So Much

Ran into the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck parked next to the High Line in the Meatpacking District on Sunday, which was a.) brilliant strategy on their part and b.) my favorite way to encounter the growing number of artisanal food trucks that are roving the streets of New York City — that is, by chance.

If this whole food truck trend is inspired, at least tangentially, by the ice cream truck that cruised through neighborhoods and past municipal sports fields of our childhood, using its sing-song anthem to alert nearby children to its approach, the colorful, pictorial menu of frozen delights coming into focus — and I think it is — then part of the enjoyment of the roving food truck is the delight and surprise you feel when you happen upon a good one. (Stalking a truck’s location via Twitter and tracking down the Cravings Truck or Koji Tacos in the flesh has its own rewards — but that’s another post.)

photo(3)I am an ice cream fiend, and I’d never had Van Leeuwen’s. So I was understandably excited: Based on the ingredient-sourcing quotient, the artisanal-process quotient and the cuteness-of-design quotient, I was sure I was going to fall in love.

Except that, I didn’t. We ordered a single scoop of the vanilla ice cream“oak barrel aged for three months organic bourbon and Tahitian vanilla” ($3.95, sourced: Papa New Guinea) — and added hot fudge sauce“Homemade Michael Cluizel hot fudge” ($1.25) and a cone with a single scoop of Gianduia ice cream (“Michael Cluizel chocolate blended with Tonda La Giffoni hazelnuts” ($3.95, sourced: Italy and France).

photo(2)The consensus was that the actual flavors of the ice cream were incredibly subtle — there’s nothing wrong with flavors being soft and nuanced, but they should still be specific and discernible — and the texture of the ice cream was off to the point that it felt somewhat watery, borderline icy, and definitely lacked the all-over sensation of creaminess as ice cream melts in your mouth.

It was just kind of “there.” The fudge was good — but the fudge just dominated, killing all flavor of vanilla whenever it made it onto a bite. I think the worst comment was that Van Leeuwen ice cream tasted like light or low-fat ice cream — except that, it’s not. All the calories of full-fat ice cream, while light on taste. I have to imagine that’s a creamery’s nightmare.

I’m going to give Van Leeuwen a second chance — they have ginger ice cream?! — but they’re on probation. One more mediocre showing, and I’m moving on.

Weekend: The Tale of Two Salads (Zocalo and Pastis)

One of my pet peeves is overpriced, prepackaged lunch salads such as this Cesar salad at Dean & Deluca: $8.50 for lettuce, dressing and croutons in a box!

I had two beautiful salads this weekend whose ingredients, overall composition and the setting absolutely justified their price points, $12 and $18, for the Ensalada de Zocalo at Zocalo in Grand Central’s dining concourse and the Seared Tuna Niçoise at Pastis, respectively. Here’s what worked:

photoEnsalada de Zocalo: A Mexican riff on the Caesar salad without trying to be a Caesar salad. I’m not sure of the exact composition of the creamy avocado dressing that this deceptively simple salad is tossed in, but the flavor is fantastic, particularly paired with the squeaky freshness of the queso fresco, or the nuttiness of the slivered almonds and sesame seeds that are generously sprinkled on top. The portion is generous, which is important when the only main components, beyond the chopped romaine, are four large tomato wedges and half an avocado. If the table hadn’t ordered a side of guacamole, I would have gotten busy mashing the half avocado to use as a topping for tortilla chips. All set with the convenience of Grand Central Station, this salad earns its price tag.

Seared Tuna Niçoise: There’s a reason why Keith McNally has photo(3)established a mini restaurant empire in New York City, and his  Pastis/Balthazar concept have inspired dozens of copycats. Every last detail of the French Brasserie concept has been fine-tuned, down to the partied-last-night, slept in as late as possible before hustling to work, vaguely disheveled, possibly tattooed, definitely bohemian, ultimately cool waitstaff.

And Pastis is just a great space. When the weather’s nice, the tall windows are pulled back accordion-like and fresh air breezes through the entire restaurant; St. Germain-style jazz sets the tone. If you’re somehow not sufficiently distracted by your dining company or the fantastic people watching that is the Meatpacking District, you should find something on the racks of international newspapers adjacent to the front door.

photo(2)Now, about that salad. The three thick pieces of lightly-seared ahi tuna alone would cost probably $6 if you were to pick up the tuna at a Japanese market and take it home and sear it yourself. Between the ambiance and the generosity of the protein, the rest of the salad could be mediocre and the still probably worth it, but the rest of the salad is, in fact, excellent.

A perfect Niçoise: a hard-boiled egg, split in half; a half-dozen cubes of boiled potato; crisp, al dente cooked green beans; Niçoise olives, pitted; a handful of cherry tomatoes; small silvers of roasted red and yellow bell peppers; three large anchovy fillets. A riot of color and flavor, that just happens to be good for you, too.