Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Love DiPalo's

 I had to visit one more time before leaving New York. I went to do some cheese shopping to bring a little gift home to James butI happened to walk in just as the day's porchetta was coming out. I couldn't resist. Though DiPalo's wasn't making sandwiches that day the DiPalo daughter at the counter quickly grabbed a fresh baked rosetta roll and piled the still warm meat on top.
"That's the perfect roll for porchetta," her uncle (or father) looked on approvingly and said.
""It's crusty and hollow." He explained.
He was right. That simple sandwich, no condiments or cheese or veggies, was the best lunch I had in all of New York.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Another NY Pork Store: Love At First Sight

 It'd be easy to walk by G Esposito and Son's, except maybe for the giant chef pig that guards the doorway. But stepping in is like walking back in time to when Brooklyn was New York's "real" little Italy.
"Yoo next? What can I get cha, sweethaaart?"
There is no hurry here. The countermen greet every customer like a regular with old jokes, gentle chiding and continuing commentary on the choices available. I might have walked onto the set of the Sopranos. I love it here.
I am almost overwhelmed by the choices. Esposito's makes a variety of cheeses, dried salamis and sausages but they are famous for their housemade Italian sausage, made to order sandwiches (in a shop with no menu board or evidence that sandwiches are on offer) and more recently ready-made Italian favorites like eggplant parmesan, filled pastas, and meat filled aranchini, trying to keep up with the quickly changing and gentrifying neighborhood.
A fixture in Carrol Gardens for nearly 90 years Espositos is an old time "Jersey" pork store a moniker from when Jersey produced the best pork in the area and people cooked at home. I want everything but I have come on a mission to bring authentic New York Italian sausage home to James.
I take the thin coiled sausage of their "plain" flavor (they don't have the broccoli rabe variety I was dreaming of -- I had to go to Faicco's for that) and because I can't resist and I know James will love it half a dozen fennel flavored links. That's more than enough to pack the plane but I go on. My man behind the counter offers up a spicy house cured salami.
"It's dry," he offers. "Kind of like a spicy pepperoni."
I take that and a neatly tied dried Soprasata.
"I like spicy," I explain. "But my husband (a convenient explanation for James -- boyfriend just never seems to do it) not as much."
"My kind of girl," he declares, laughing and packing my goods.
I head towards the subway smiling and carrying a heavy bag.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Italian In Baltimore

My mother made apple strudel. It wasn't delicate pastry. It wasn't beautiful. She didn't make many dishes but my mother made apple strudel for holiday dinners and family events and a couple years ago when she passed away I wanted apple strudel after the service.
I checked the internet and called around and found of all places an Italian bakery, Piedigrotta, that opened long after I lived in the city that reviews declared made a flaky delicious apple strudel.
In heavily accented English and out of practice Italian (Italish? Englian??) we negotiated the platters and arranged for my niece to pick them up. I never went in or met the woman on the phone -- until now.
Hoping the train down for the day my niece Jess picked me up (along with her husband Eric and daughter Juniper) and we went straight to Piedigrotta. Finally. I couldn't believe my eyes.
On the outskirts of Baltimore's campy and cozy Little Italy stood a dream bakery and more. Sure you might see the desserts and gelato first -- that's straight ahead. But turn to your left and be overwhelmed by an enormous array of ready made savories including delicate gnocchi, risottos, vegetables, flatbreads and more to eat at the nearby tables or take home to the family. An enormous selection. We were headed to my brother's where Baltimore favorites pit beef and polish sausage were already on the menu but -- being dedicated food tourists -- we had to try.
"Do you make all of these yourself?' I asked Signora Iannaccone.
"Dis all me" She said smiling. " You no like you come tell me."
I loved it all already. We took home platters (filled to the brim -- I'm sure more than usual for the measly $8 each we paid) of gnocchi, mushroom ravioli, and a stellar pizza rustica -- an Easter holiday savory pie filled with eggs and cheese and cured meats.
La Signora quickly started slicing an egg bread studded with candied lemon and offered us a plate across the counter.
Were we going to have something to eat there, she inquired as she strolled towards the pastry case.
After asking her favorite treat La Signora quickly described nearly every pastry and cookie in the case but she stopped lovingly at a puff pastry creation she called "diplomatica."
"Dis is deh real Italian Napoleon," she declared.
Forks in hand we four settled down to espressos (not the baby) and cakes. It seemed positively unpatriotic not to try the diplomatica with that kind of declaration. And we added a tiramisu cake -- made with soft layers of sponge instead of the usual lady fingers.
La signora's husband, Carminantonio Iannaccone -- by the way, is -- to his own account credited with the invention of tiramisu. The world's supposedly highest selling dessert.
Surpassing it's more familiar cousin, the diplomatica is everything pastry should be -- crisp, flaky, sweet but not cloying with a delicate ricotta pastry cream and tiny slivers of raw sugar adding crunch to spectaularly airy baked layers. After one bite I realize I don't care who invented it, I don't ever want to make it and I don't ever want to live without it.
What is this couple doing on a sleepy side street in Baltimore?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Low On Atmosphere, High On Flavor

 I can't resist the siren call of Chinatown. In any city.
In New York -- though the most authentic and probably best Asian food really shows up in Flushing, Queens -- Manhattan's ever growing Chinatown offers plenty of great cheap choices if you know where to look. Over my days in New York I walk the streets looking for those out of the way or sometimes known dive spots known for food not frills.
Walking in with a horde of Asian school kids pressing in for after school snacks and curious tourists I line up at the tiny front counter at Prosperity Dumpling and order Fujian wonton soup -- deep chicken rich stock with tiny thin skinned wontons that practically float down my throat. Prosperity's "dining room" -- a couple of stools and a counter  -- would make most high school locker rooms seem appetizing so I take my soup and sip as I stroll.

















I actually go out of my way to find Taste of Northern China. I knew that the "restaurant's " name is not on their sign and that the entrance is not on the street with the their address, I still walked by it several times.
Barely a building -- more a vinyl tent attached to an open collection of appliances one might generously call a kitchen, Taste of Northern China has garnered a stellar reputation among eaters willing to saunter past the storage shed and grocery back room atmosphere to order at the tiny perch by the cash register.
 There are soups and huddled Chinese bent over styrofoam bowls but I am here for the skewers. Each about a dollar and quickly grilled by a friendly young girl then sprinkled with the house's spice blend -- cumin and chile and other tastes I can't identify. My favorite, a consensus among blogging visitors, is the fatty crispy lamb. Probably the tastiest dollar you can spend in Chinatown.
Elegant by comparison, the collection of mismatched chairs and cracked formica that is Tasty Handpulled Noodles stills seems inviting to tunnel-visioned diners and Chinese natives looking for big bowls of warming soups and chewy, stretchy deliciously fresh noodles. The broth may be a bit bland -- it's easily bolstered by the chili oil and chopped cilantro on nearly every table -- but when the winds blow fiercely through the city I long to settle at a table that needs to be wiped for steaming noodles and pan-fried dumplings.

Monday, April 6, 2015

New York Cheese Shopping

I didn't think about it but standing at the Whole Foods cheese counter I realized that traveling East brought an opportunity to taste a new range of local cheeses. Eager to share the region's wealth both the cheesemonger at Whole Foods and famed purveyor of Northeast regional cheese Saxelby Cheesemongers in Essex market offered tastes of their favorites from the Hudson Valley, Vermont, Pennsylvania and from the finishing caves in of all places Crown Heights Brooklyn.
 I tasted nutty Jersey girl from Cooperstown Cheese Company, Bonne Bouche from Vermont Creamery, sheep's milk Ewe's Blue from Black Sheep Cheese, award winning Tarentaisewrom Spring Brook Farm. . . and many more. But the real standout, the cheese I couldn't resist was Seven Sisters from Pennsylvania's Farm at Doe Run. Completely new to me it's a tremendously flavorful Jersey milk cheese that tastes like a cross between a familiar Alpine cheese like Gruyere and an aged gouda or parmesan. It's irresistible.
I'm taking a giant wedge home to James.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Greetings

The marble floor in my hotel bathroom has a crack that looks like a jumping bunny. I look down and realized it's Easter. Happy Easter one and all.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Russ and Daughters . . . Cafe

I've been a fan of Russ and Daughter's Appetizing store for many years. So when one of the Russ daughters herself confided in me that they were planning to open a cafe I could hardly wait. But, I wondered, would others be excited? When old-time places are falling by the wayside (or being re-invented with varying success by young and sometimes irreverent chefs) would there be an audience or worse yet would the family try to "modernize" and re-invent what has been so successful for all these years.
On this trip to New York -- my first since that fateful visit -- I learned I needn't have worried. Not only did Russ and Daughters maintain the smoke fish and old fashioned dishes that made them famous and beloved they also modernized a bit, tastefully in a shiny bright 40's (or maybe 50's) inspired diner  that looks like a new version of the old shop. The everlasting line at the door is proof there is no shortage of audience. I settled in at the counter between a couple of New York gals after the dishes they knew from childhood and an art student from China, with little English and curious about the dishes on offer.
I'm always happy to sit down to lox and bagels or whitefish salad and the cafe offers all of my smoke fish favorites on "boards" laid out with cream cheese, condiments, and house-made bagels (the bialy's -- my personal favorite -- are still from Lower East Side stalwart Kossars). But today -- rounding up a pretty successful tour of NY matzoh ball soups -- I had to try.
Now what I really want -- my holy grail of matzoh ball soups --is a completely not kosher for passover combination of egg noodles, kreplach (Jewish wontons?), and Matzoh balls all in a flavorful chicken broth with carrots and celery. I vaguely remember something like that in a deli years ago and I have been looking since then. The grail not achieved, I have to say Russ and Daughters might be the most flavorful soup I found in the city (there are still a few places on my list to try). Rich and chickeny but not heavy or fatty. Heavy on flavor but still light.
I'm sure arguments have started over matzoh balls -- I probably have witnessed a few. Some people like them light and fluffy with a soft delicate texture, deemed "floaters" by the matzoh ball cognoscenti. Others declare "sinkers" heavy dumplings with firm, solid centers the only proper soup accompaniment. Me? I think there is place for both and I am not so fussy about the style of matzoh ball (perhaps because without trying I have made each kind myself) as long as it is flavorful and soaks up the chicken flavor of the soup (and hopefully) the chicken fat in the dumpling batter. Russ and Daughters delivers on flavor and I was glad of it on a cold windy New York spring day.
Along side my soup, kasha and varniskas -- buckwheat groats tossed with bow tie pasta and, at Russ and Daughters though I have never seen it before, topped with a poached egg. My grandmother made this dish and I'm not sure I have had it made this well since she passed away in the 1970s. Kasha is hard to cook. It can be horribly dry or scorch easily. I've only tried once or twice and it always seems to need gravy for moisture and flavor. As it's stirred the poached egg yolk coast the grains and I remember my grandmother's way of beating an egg into the grains they cooked.
"How is the kasha?" The New York gal next to me asked.
"Like my grandmothers," I reply.
"She made it with a poached egg?"
"No," I explained. "But it tastes like hers it feels like hers."
My new friend understood.