Friday, September 4, 2009

Dinner at Organika

Jon and I walked past Organika about a week ago and were enticed by their promises of local organic Italian food.  So when George, Jon's uncle, offered to take us out for dinner on Tuesday and was looking for something light, I suggested we go there to check it out.  Plus, it couldn't be more convenient to my office!  We had a lovely time sitting outside watching the street scene, ordered a number of things and shared them all, the service couldn't have been more attentive, but the food suffered from a lack of attention to detail.  I hope that with a little more time to work out the kinks it'll become the kind of restaurant I want to hit after work for a quick, reasonably priced dinner.  I like the concept, I like the menu, I like the setting, I only wish I liked the food more.

Also, a word of warning: although the regular menu appetizers are all very competitively priced, they'll gouge you on the specials.  Make sure you ask how much they cost beforehand.


We started with the Selvatico Bruschetta with sautéed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, grana shavings, and truffle.  The truffle was just light enough to bring out the richness in the artichoke hearts and the mushrooms without overpowering them and the light acid salad on the side was the perfect counterpoint.

Next came a Palermitano pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies, capers, and basil.  It was VERY salty and not particularly appetizing to look at but most disappointingly the crust was very soggy and bland.  With Keste just around the corner, Organika's gonna have to step up their game if they want to compete in the pizza department.  I found it to be the most disappointing dish.

Spaghetti Di Farro Alla Carbonara had the requiste chewy texture, I'm always a little trepidacious when it comes to "healthy" pasta and the sauce was creamy, salty, and delicious but it would have benefitted from crispier meat, more onion, and some more parsley for a brighter taste and color.

There's not much to say about the hangersteak special.  It was expertly cooked but it was so salty I could only eat one slice, the guys didn't seem to have that problem, and it came with a pile of salad, all for $22. 

The salmon special, described as salmon caponata with "salmon instead of eggplant" was nothing of the sort.  It was a piece of dry, overcooked fish next to a mound of eggplanty caponata, probably the exact same mix they put on the bruschetta.  Although the caponata was yummy, sweet and slightly sour, it didn't do anything for the salmon, nor vice versa.  The dish seemed like an illconceived copout and another ripoff at $22.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sweet Corn Custard at Shake Shake

I was very excited to try sweet corn custard at Shake Shack last night, I have to admit in large part because Danny Meyer said it was his favorite flavor - one day I will learn to stop trusting the hype. 'Cause I gotta say, I was duped again. I was a little disappointed. It tasted more like buttered sweet corn than sweet corn. A little too buttery and a little too un-sweet corny. And just like the last time, it wasn't refreshing enough. It's just too sweet.

The real question now is whether I give up on custard once and for all and stick to Shack Stacks or if I soldier on and give coffee and donuts, balsamic fig, saffron pistacio, red velvet, and cinnamon almond horchata a try this month. I think we all know the answer to that one...

Rainy Day Risotto

It rained, or threatened to rain, all day last Saturday. So feeling antsy and trapped indoors, I decided to make risotto. It was one of the few dishes I had all of the ingredients on hand for, it didn't require me to turn on the oven which would have only made the apartment muggier, and I wanted something that called for a little effort to distract me from my stir craziness.

The risotto only ended up fulfilling two out of those three requirements (standing over steaming broth for almost an hour, stirring endlessly will make you very hot and sticky, even if it doesn't heat up the entire apartment) but I'm still very proud of the results and would recommend the project to anyone in a similar circumstance. And since it looks like we're in for a repeat tomorrow, this weekend might be the perfect opportunity.

I used Alice Water's recipe from the Art of Simple Food. It's a weird cookbook and I don't necessarily recommend it, but true to its title, for a simple recipe like risotto, she won't steer you wrong. The original recipe serves four. I adapted it for two.

I served the risotto alongside frozen grilled eggplant and zucchini from Trader Joes that I defrosted in the microwave. It was a great accompaniment but if you plan on doing the same, I recommend patting the veggies with a paper towel before you serve them. They're a little oily.

Grate a little cheese on top for presentation (and because I can never have enough) and it's very impressive.

Recipe after the jump.

Risotto Bianco

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, finely diced - same amount the original recipe called for and it wasn't overly oniony at all
  • 3/4 cups risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli) - I've only ever used Arborio
  • 3 cups chicken broth - I used organic, from Trader Joes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine - which can be substituted with a teaspoon of vinegar or a strong squeeze of lemon juice if you don't have wine on hand, I used both lemon and vinegar when I was wine-less and the risotto needed a little more acid and it was great
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese - same amount the original recipe calls for, I love cheese!
To do:

1. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Make sure it's a pan that has easy stir access. Add the onion, and cook until it's soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Add the rice to the pan, stirring now and then, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Don't let it brown. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, bring the chicken broth to a boil and then turn off the heat and keep it covered so it stays warm.

3. Pour the white wine over the sautéed rice. Cook the rice, stirring often, until all wine is absorbed. If you're not using wine, just skip that step and add the acid to your first addition of broth. Add a cup of the warm broth; cook at a vigorous simmer while stirring occasionally. When the rice starts to thicken, pour in another 1/2 cup of broth while adding some salt. (The amount of salt you add depends on how salty your broth is.) Keep adding broth 1/2 cup at a time every time the rice thickens. Don't let the rice dry out. After 12 minutes, start tasting the rice for doneness and seasoning. Cooking until rice is tender but still has some firmness to it—20 to 30 minutes total. The final 1/2 cup addition of broth is the most important. Add only enough to finish cooking the rice without it becoming soupy. But don't let this stress you out, keep stirring and it will be probably fine.

4. When it's just about done, add the butter and cheese and stir to develop a creamy starch. Let it sit for two minutes to really thicken up. If the rice is too thick, add a splash of broth.


Jon and I went to Ippudo for a late (thanks to the wait) dinner on Friday night and I think I may have found my favorite NYC pork buns. I've tried Momofuku's and I've had Fatty Crab's (twice!) but as far as I'm concerned, they both pale in comparison. The pork on the Hirata buns at Ippudo is much more tender and less fatty than their more famous counterparts. The steamed buns themselves are also softer, less tough, like biting into a delicious, warm pillow. But what really got me was the sauce. I can't put my finger on it but there's something in there that's evocative of a Bic Mac. I think it's the mayonnaise combined with the slice of slightly limp, barely green lettuce. And I gotta say, even having not eaten at McDonald's in years, I found it simultaneously provocative and comforting.

That's not to say that I wouldn't have preferred to swap the lettuce for cucumber but just that all of the elements when combined were so delicious and appealing that Jon and I ended up starting and ending our meal with them. We had a second order for dessert.

Of course, I can't forget to mention that sandwiched in between the two bun orders was an incredible bowl of Akamaru ramen. Rich, porky, umami-y - it just kept getting better as the flavors blended together, each one heightening the taste of the other components, never competing. The one bowl along with the buns was plenty for the two of us.  Unfortunately, we also ordered the black cod which was dried out and unappetizing.  So much so that I didn't finish my half of the dish. 

Nonetheless, if only it weren't so obnoxiously loud there, I could eat at Ippudo weekly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I made pizza!

I accidentally stumbled on a tiny farmers' market after a meeting in Brooklyn yesterday and found the most beautiful little eggplant - perfectly firm and not a bruise or discoloration in sight - and bought it impulsively. So of course the moment I got back to the office I started searching on Epicurious for quick and easy summer recipes featuring eggplant. I found this one for Eggplant, Green Olive, and Provolone Pizza and decided to improvise a little.

We don't have a grill so I basically followed the recipe (with delicious and cheap pizza dough from the surprisingly great neighborhood pizza place around the corner from our new place) but used a baking sheet in a hot oven every time the recipe told me to grill. Aside from the fact that it made my already uncomfortably warm kitchen practically unbearable, it turned out even better than I expected.

There's practically no preparation involved. You can leave the eggplants in the oven forever while you do other things (I watched Friends, I'd forgotten how much I like that show) as long as you turn them over halfway through. And the four toppings harmonize beautifully, creating a rich, earthy, salty contrast to the crust. Next time I make it, however, which I will, I think I'll use half provolone and half mozzarella. The slicing provolone I picked up at Murray's was a bit overpowering and salty.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Banh Mi

Inspired by the late hour, my intense hunger, the lack of food in the house, and Jon's and my banh mi taste test on Monday (Baoguette beat Nicky's thanks to their bigger sandwiches, crustier bread, and better veggies) I improvised my own Vietnamese sandwich last night and it was DELICIOUS! And so easy!

First, I fried two eggs and a large, crushed clove of garlic in a little olive oil, over easy style. In the meantime, I toasted (uncut so that it would be crusty on the outside and soft on the inside) a hunk of baguette I had left over from a few days ago, then split it open, spread on a little salted butter, added a handful of flat leaf parsley (I would have preferred cilantro but you make do with what you have), and a drizzle of sriracha. Once the eggs were done I placed them on top and closed the sandwich. It took all of five minutes and was filling, tasty, and a great way to use up food around the house.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Salted Caramel Custard at Shake Shack

A number of elements came together last night to convince me that a stop at the UWS Shake Shack was a necessity:

1) It was over 90 degrees.

2) The A train just wasn't coming and the C offered a welcome respite from the sweltering platform.

3) Jon's in Florida and I was in no hurry to return to my empty apartment.

4) SALTED CARAMEL CUSTARD is Shake Shack's Monday flavor-of-the-day throughout August.

5) I still hadn't been to the UWS Shake Shack outpost. A visit was long overdue.

Inside, I hopped on the "C" line for cold food and ordered a single dip of salted caramel custard in a cup with their seasonal fruit, blueberries, on top. I waited less than a minute in line and less than a minute for my treat, a welcome change from my experience at the downtown Shake Shack, admittedly usually earlier in the day.

The custard was in some ways just what I was looking for. It tasted almost exactly like the inside of a Fran's salted caramel but with a cold, creamy texture that went down like silk. Unfortunately, it wasn't as refreshing as I'd hoped. In the hot weather, it was both a little too sweet and a little too salty to satisfy my thirst for cool. The blueberries helped cut the sweetness, but at $1.25 for approximately 15 berries, they certainly weren't a bargain.

Overall, I'm glad I tried it but if anything, it only makes me more eager to return on Thursday for Sweet Corn.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mexican Hot Fudge

To go along with last night's Mexican themed dinner, I doctored a recipe I found in David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris (the book for those of you who haven't read it, is a fun, if sometimes silly, read, that will make you wish you'd started saving for your trip to Paris yesterday) for hot fudge and made it Mexican. I thankfully disregarded his caution that a little goes a long way and doubled the recipe then added 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and one teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

All I can say is that once we'd gone through all of the vanilla ice cream and the raspberries - I highly suggest the combination- we made quick work of any left over fudge by the spoonful, right out of the bowl. It was so good I even forced myself to lick the pot. It was quick, easy, and the perfect cap to the fish tacos and fresh corn salad we'd had for dinner.

The original recipe is here. Click on the image to make it big enough to use.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A tip.

10 Downing is offering restaurant week dinner menus through August 31. Go now! Request a table inside but near a window so that you get the best of both worlds - the breeze and the street scene plus the cool artwork - and make sure you order the egg raviolo. It's the perfect, light, summery take on pasta carbonara.

The restaurant isn't hooked up with opentable so call them at (212) 255-0300 to make a reservation. It's worth the extra 30 seconds.

Snacks abroad

I love checking out snack foods from other countries. Here is a small selection from the Rhodes airport in Greece during a stop on our return trip from Turkey. Heinz Ketchup! Mushrooms and Sour Cream?