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Posts Tagged ‘dining’

New York Dining

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Last night we decided to eat Indian. It may seem a strange choice for New York, but is it? In a city where you can eat anything, why not dahi puree, peas and paneer or a masala dosa? Off we headed to a place with plenty of recommendations we’d pulled off the internet. Found it easy enough, and in we walked but something made my spine stiffen as we entered. It was 8.00pm but not busy. I was seated yet again on a banquette, but this one was terrible. I was dwarfed by my partner sitting straightbacked on a high chair. With my breasts threatening to rise and fall in a plate of rogan josh I felt miserable. Partner suggested swapping seats. That made it marginally better, except now I had to sit upright like a giraffe while he sloped. I was twitching, like a caged animal, sensing danger. Then the menu came and the reason for my ill ease registered. The smell when I walked through the door reminded me of a hospital, not a restaurant – disinfectant! There were no cooking smells at all. For an Indian restaurant this is unusual: a good one fair reeks of spices, onions, chillies and ginger and a fair commotion can generally be heard coming from the kitchen. As soon as I saw ‘fattoush’ and ‘parmigiano’ on the menu (I kid you not) I baulked. Now fattoush as a salad might eat quite nicely with Indian food – I’ve no idea – but I didn’t want to find out. We excused ourselves politely and fled out the door as another waft of disinfectant filled our nostrils. A backward glance at the chef, arms folded over belly standing in the kitchen with nothing to do, convinced us that we had had a lucky escape.

The rules: if a restaurant is empty at prime dining time, there’s probably a very good reason – the food is bad. If the chef is visibly not cooking in the kitchen it probably means the food is all prepared ahead ready to be microwaved when ordered, or worse still, if you can’t smell food it’s possible the food was trucked in from somewhere else. If the seating is uncomfortable at the beginning of the evening, think of how it will be in one hour’s time. If there are matches on the menu that don’t pique your curiosity and sound bizarre, the chef probably doesn’t know his onions from his scallions, and if the place smells of disinfectant – RUN!!!

Breathing the fresher air out on the street, while waiting for a cab to transport us some place else, I idly puruse a menu posted on a restaurant window right where we are standing. It reads well. Italian. Burrata on the menu. Homemade pasta and lots of fish. We stuck our noses in. It was busy and buzzy. It smelled like my Italian mamma’s kitchen. We wanted ‘in’, but we decided to hedge our bets. We booked a table for 8.30 then quickly walked one or two blocks along to check out a Spanish tapas bar which had been our second choice of the evening. It was pumping, lively and loud, full of the glorious smells of sizzling shrimps, garlic, red wine, and fried croquettes. We wanted in here, too. But we made the decision to book it for lunch the following day as the table offered was tiny and the space crammed, and to return to the Italian spot for dinner. What a great choice. We had lucked in on two exceptional restaurants. Let me share them with you so you know where to get good food next time you’re in New York

Tarallucci e Vino
Union Square 15 East 18th Street New York
Tel 212 228 5400

I could have had the sage fritters with anchovies, or the spinach and red endive salad, capra verde, walnuts, pear and white balsamic vinaigrette, or the crispy fried hazelnut crusted goat cheese, roasted beets and walnut vinaigrette, but I didn’t. I couldn’t resist the burrata cheese – call it an addiction if you like – served with a warm vegetable salad and orange glaze. It was a little bit soupy, with tiny nuggets of zucchini no bigger than a skinny fingertip, slim asparagus, snow peas, fava beans and baby corn. And in the centre, a melting white lava of burrata. To die for?

Just about. The pointy little bread rolls brought to the table first hadn’t just been reheated, they had been cooked to order and were magnificently crisp and the sesame seed focaccia tasted of gorgeous fresh sesame seeds (as opposed to rancid ones). These were served with a fresh green and fruity thick olive oil. My dining companion ordered the carpaccio of beef with braised fennel, arugula, mustard vinaigrette with a parmesan mousse and a sliver of croquante. The mousse was much firmer than expected, very buttery, but the lingering flavour of aged parmigiano, without any fustiness, made up for it. The dish as a whole was overwhelmingly savoury, sending all the umami taste buds into a frenzy.

Mains were duck pasta, made with layers of pasta sheets and rich chunks of duck sauce – pronounced ‘divine’ by dining partner (he didn’t share, mind). I ate all my lamb, too, a roasted rack with fava beans, roasted cherry tomatoes and a fresh buttery oregano emulsion. Rich and tasty, the meat was cooked to medium-rare, although a little rarer near the bone. As good as it was, American lamb (and I generalize because I can) does not compare with New Zealand lamb, the latter being sweeter, less fatty and not as gamey. We had to pass on the cheese course, but next time we’ll leave room as the choice of sheep, cow and goat cheeses, served with the likes of acacia honey, green tomato mustard, pumpkin ginger compote, Lambrusco jelly, lavender honey and plum or pear mustard sounds like a delicious meal all on their own.

Details about our Tapas experience next!

Queenstown – a great food destination

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

QueenstownI’ve just had a gorgeous spring weekend in Queenstown. It used to be the place to go for extended skiing weekends, or, late summer for a wine crawl, but it most definitely now stands alone as a great food destination, too, – it’s HOT! Taste magazine held a reader’s dinner at Lake Hayes’ Amisfield Winery, about 10 minutes’ drive out of Queenstown. After salmon nibbles and bubbles we were seated indoors with a fire roaring away, but the days are getting warmer, and the outdoor elongated dining courtyard set around a water feature is the place to be in fine weather. The high altitude, cool climate and long summers of Amisfield’s vineyards help winemaker Jeff Sinnott produce a classy Pinot Noir. The 2006 vintage teamed with a superbly cooked roast of highland beef on a creamy mash of white beans and chard executed by Exec Chef Jason Innes went down a treat. This was preceded by a carpaccio of crayfish with NZ grapefruit, tiny asparagus points and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil – light, spring-like and divine matched with Arcadia Brut NV. The award-wining food at Amisfield centres on locally grown food, much of which is organically grown. Flavours are fresh and uncomplicated. Remember to book, and, be aware that the restaurant is only open for lunch or early evening dining.

Lucky old me, I stayed in luxury accommodation: Alta Vista, a 3-bedroom serviced apartment managed by Touch of Spice. Situated high above Queenstown, with to-die-for views looking out over sparkling Lake Wakatipu framed by majestic snow-capped mountains, it’s a brisk steep walk to the centre, but just a 3-minute car ride back up the hill! It is, I decided, good for the soul to stay in such a place, the air as crisp as an apple, the food a treasure-chest of irresistible goodies, and the wine imminently drinkable.

Touch of Spice is a relatively new company specializing in personal concierge services available at 14 stunning homes they manage in the Queenstown area. A personal chef is available to come and cook for you, or you can be left to your own devices. Guess what I chose? Yep, that’s right, a personal chef – for one night anyway! Along with Taste magazine’s editor Suzanne Dale and husband Dennis, we supped on a truly memorable dish of scampi which had been split and grilled, followed by lightly cooked venison washed down with local wines. All we had to do after dinner was toddle off to bed – no dishes, no driving. Bliss.

Leungo LippeBut you couldn’t keep us out of the heart of Queenstown for long – we were headed to the newly opened Botswana Butchery to taste the fare of chef Leungo Lippe. Located in the historic Archers Cottage at 17 Marine Parade just metres from the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the restaurant is cuter than cute, with an assortment of tables and seating, leather couches and cosy nooks, including grand dining chairs in plush fabrics, and colours of hot red, lime green and warm gold. Don’t worry – it’s harmonious, but interesting and stimulating. Cleavers seem to be the thing, embedded in the main door as a handle, arranged as an art installation on the wall and shaped into tuille biscuits served atop small squares of layered cake. The menu. Here’s the thing. My heartbeat rose at first glance – I could have chosen any one of the eight starters, and likewise of the 8 main courses. I settled on Westcoast crayfish springroll with coriander, tamarind aioli and petit salad, followed by roasted duck confit of duck leg, puy lentil and shiitake mushrooms, buttered spinach and thyme jus. I could just as easily have chosen tart tatin of celeriac, leek and potato, marinated Mediterranean vegetables, lime and herb mascarpone and celery pesto – a great vegetarian option. How we managed dessert is a mystery. I think the excellent Pinot Noir must have helped the digestion!

As is my tradition, we made a stop next morning at Joe’s Garage for a late breakfast. If Botswana Butchery is exceptional and classy dining, Joe’s Garage then is homely, slightly grungy, but with just the right smells of freshly ground and brewed coffee, fried bacon, sizzling tomatoes and toast. It draws in the punters time and time again.

Queenstown is an ever-changing hub of gastronomy and viticulture. I leave all those bungey-jumping and white water rafting adventures to the tourists and those snow-capped mountains and ski-fields to the fleet of foot. My pursuit is…well, you already know, great food and wine, and there’s no shortage here.

For further information on Queenstown – www.queenstown-nz.co.nz

Botswana Butchery

Amisfield Winery

Touch of Spice