Adventuring in Astoria

DSC_0046The other day, I was feeling ripe for an adventure. The dreary New York elements were getting to me, and I was starting to anthropomorphize my laptop– a sign that I needed a break from key-tapping. I recruited my close childhood friend (and local rap star) Trevor, for a much-needed out of borough escapade. He had been talking my ear off for months about Astoria’s famed temple to Greek cuisine Taverna Kyclades and although they recently opened an outpost in the East Village, we ventured to Queens for a taste of the original.

Even on a weekday, the spot was packed:DSC_0043 so we decamped to a bar/restaurant next door for a quick beer. They turned out to have one of my favorites:DSC_0036

I’m a sucker for Horiatiki (Greek salad), and the large slab of fresh feta scattered with herb morsels made this one particularly tasty. DSC_0044We also ordered some fried eggplant and zucchini with garlic dip which was rather heavy to say the least…DSC_0047

The out and out winner, though, was the grilled octopus–perfectly succulent and charred. DSC_0049

Feeling thoroughly gluttonous, we decided to inject some culture into our day by way of PS1. After many hallways of yelling video art, I was still dreaming of the octopus…

 

Cortina d’Ampezzo

IMG_6443A week ago, I returned from the Italian Alpine town of Cortina d’Ampezzo with improved skiing skills–I now proudly count myself among the ranks of advanced beginners–and a cache of taste memories I’ll treasure far longer than it’ll take me to descend double black slopes. (Okay, that might be a minor exaggeration.)IMG_6489

Aside from my daily jaunts with skiing master instructor Fabio (banish those assumptions immediately—he was an older gentleman with three children and a penchant for not laughing at my nervous altitude-induced jokes), I spent a lot of time eating at some of the fantastic establishments located all around this ritzy, mountainous area.

Located in Italy’s Veneto region, Cortina possesses an interesting and distinct cuisine. As a mountain town, the winter fare is unsurprisingly hearty and comprised of significant amounts of venison and other game in addition to hearty meats, like this “stinco”–or enormous veal shank: IMG_6463and tongue: IMG_6475, earthy varieties of local mushrooms, and a distinctly Germanic influence. The pastas were out of this world, and I was lucky to sample many previously unfamiliar varieties—no small feat for a self-professed pasta connoisseur.

Some of my favorite typical dishes and ingredients included deer with mirtillo (fresh forest blueberries),  paccheri (a large, cannelloni style noodle). This is a terrible photograph of an incredible paccheri alla vodka: IMG_6462finferle (small local chanterelle mushrooms), pictured here in this incredible paccheri that was filled with mushroom creamIMG_6472 casunziei or casumziei ampezzani—the spelling apparently varies (beet and poppyseed ravioli) (here are two different restaurant’s preparations of the dish:)IMG_6507IMG_6468and Treviso radicchio: Guanciale (pork jowl) was also plentiful, and the two are pictured here in this gnocchi, which resembled no gnocchi I had tried before:IMG_6508 as were multiple varieties of delicious, raw artichoke salad. here’s one covered in shaved parmesan with thinly sliced pears:IMG_6509

The restaurant scene in Cortina is absolutely fantastic—not a shocker considering the flocks of well-heeled Europeans (and a few Americans!) that frequent the area, sporting head-to-toe fur and tans that could rival many a Long Island teenager. Establishments range from rustic and traditional to immersion circulator-employing and Michelin starred, but across the board we were extremely impressed. One particularly enjoyable aspect of dining in Cortina is the preponderance of “rifugi”—old mountain huts located on the slopes which serve hungry skiers high class cuisine.

My favorite places:

Il Meloncino al Caminetto—Located right on the mountain, this rifugio is a magnificent spot for lunch—nestled inside the Alps–, although dinner is worth the trip too. We spent a sun-soaked afternoon chowing down on incredible food (and returned in the evening too!) *the above paccheri alla vodka, veal and this wondrous pasta with sweetbreads, fava beans and guanciale are all from here as is the view in the top photo!IMG_6439

Da Aurelio—The chef here means serious business-employing a range of modernist culinary techniques including steeping oil in local pine:IMG_6476at this mountain range restaurant. The ingredients and inspiration are all local, while the cooking methods are new and exciting. Here is some delicious octopus from Da Aurelio: 
IMG_6473

El Zoco—This is a true homey, rustic Cortina restaurant. The grilled meats are particularly fabulous, as are the sausages.

Baita pie Tofana—We had a sumptuous lunch and some pink bread: IMG_6505at this Michelin starred ski-in, ski-out rifugio. The gnocchi and the round beet ravioli were from here!

Verona: 
On our way back to Milan, before returning to the freezing Northeast, we stopped for an afternoon in fair Verona
IMG_6536IMG_6515where we had a terrific lunch at “Antica Torretta“: IMG_6529IMG_6530

 

 

gbhmulti2how-to-make-courtesan-au-chocolat-03132014-114545Last night, I had the sincere pleasure of seeing Wes Anderson’s newest film

“The Grand Budapest Hotel

Everything, from the gorgeous tableaux in every shot, to the standout performances by, well, everyone was magnificent. As usual, Anderson’s aesthetic was completely spot on, especially in the case of the everpresent Mendl’s bakery, where the girl loved by Zero, the protagonist, works as a baker. If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it for you, but will leave you with this lovely video extra:

 of how to prepare a “Courtesan au Chocolat”,the pastry for which Mendl’s is famous.
*photos courtesy of http://www.thegrandbudapesthotel.com

Williamsburg Eats!

As the resident foodie in my group of friends, I’m often asked for restaurant recommendations. After I ask all the essential questions (price point, cuisine, location…), I can usually present a few good options to the resto requester. Now that I’ve lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the last 6 months, I’ve become extremely familiar with quite a few eateries in the ‘hood. Here are my top 10:

LUNCH/BRUNCH 

Saltiephoto 2 I’m a sandwich addict, and when I’m looking for a fix, I often find myself at Saltie. Their combinations are interesting and unexpected (think sardines, pickled egg, and salsa verde) and the ingredients (and homemade focaccia!) are very high quality. For a filling and refreshing salad, Saltie also fits the bill, with an oft’changing roster of seasonal greens with cheese, roasted veggies, nuts and a tasty dressing. If I want healthy with some carbs, I like to get the Clean Slate which comes on hummus-slicked naan, loaded with pickled veggies, bulgur, and yogurt sauce. For when you crave a hipster sandwich.photo 4

Bakeri Yes, the servers wear light blue mechanic-style onesies, but no, that’s not the only reason I’m obsessed with this artisanal bakery/restaurant. The tiny space is bedecked with cute, rustic touches and the baked goods and sandwiches are, well, fantastic. Everything at Bakeri is homemade, from the fluffy brioche to the jams and preserves and Euro-style sandwiches. Why wouldn’t you want fresh smoked salmon with a side of brioche, dill and caper yogurt sauce, and avocado? When the weather is nice, there are few more delightful places than a table outside next to their bubbling fountain. For when you want all homemade errythang.

 
Pâtes et Traditions It’s not often that you sit in Brooklyn feeling like you’re in Paris. At this corner crêperie, though, you’re immersed in French culture down to the (extremely attractive) French accented wait staff. The savory buckwheat crêpes are fabulous—I particularly like the Popeye (spinach, cream, egg, garlic, Swiss) with ham and the Bergere (goat cheese, Swiss, fig, honey, caramelized onions, rosemary). For an impromptu trip to Paris.

Diner photo 5Diner is known throughout the city for its great food, and although there’s often a wait (particularly for brunch), it’s always worth it. Artisanal is the name of the game, with the ever-changing small-format menu. Everything is thoughtfully prepared and presented, and the space (the restaurant is housed in a 1920s Kullman  dining car) is particularly enchanting. Always get the bloody Mary. For a boozy, foodie brunch.

DINNER

Fette Sauphoto 1 Barbecue spots seem to be opening up right and left, but Fette Sau does it for me every time. Diners choose from large quantities of expertly prepared meats (frequently changing but always including brisket, sausages, and ribs) which are then placed on a silver tray over butcher paper. The sides are delicious as well–particularly the baked beans and crunchy broccoli salad. Order a 14 ounce beer and sip it from an enormous jar with you go HAM on some meat.  For breaking a vegetarian stint.

St. Charles Cellar This spot is literally across the street from my house, but upon entry, I’m immediately transported to an old school speakeasy. The upstairs bar (St. Mazie) often features live jazz musicians while the cellar downstairs has super tasty home-style dishes like fettuccine with tomato sauce, breadcrumbs and basil oil (order two.) The cocktails are very lovely—I go for the Brown Derby—and the pasta specials hit the spot. For a second date with room for dancing.

Allswell photo 3This is basically my go-to treat, particularly for celebratory solo lunches (yes, this happens.) The menu changes rather frequently, but it is always a mix of upscale European-inflected comfort foods like rabbit rillettes with pickles, housemade bread with ricotta, and fantastic pastas. The whole vibe has a Swiss chalet thing going on with lots of wood accents and the coolest wallpaper ever. For that perfect, casual dinner.

St. Anselm Although the wait is always ungodly long (go to Spuyten Duyvil next door for beer and snacks while you await your table), St. Anselm is worth the hype. At this hipster steakhouse, the main courses are deftly prepared on a large grill in the open kitchen, producing flavors I previously reserved for outdoor grills.  Other dishes like the wine braised octopus and their amazing pan-fried mashed potato (yes), are equally excellent. For when you got a promotion or a 4th date and some time on your hands.

Traif At this small plates spot whose name translates to “not kosher”, there’s a lot to choose from and no chance to be bored. The cuisine zig zags all around the globe, with super seasonal ingredients setting the stage for amazing flavors. Order everything that strikes your fancy, particularly if you’re feeling flush with ca$h. For when you have food ADD.

 Aurora For really tasty Italian food, I turn to Aurora. The menu is approachable, well executed, and highly shareable. Sitting outside in the brick walled courtyard is the best (can you tell I’m jonesing for some summer weather?!), particularly when you’re fortified with a glass of prosecco and a lump of fresh, luscious burrata. For when Tuscany beckons.