Category Archives: Food At Its Best

Crazy good meals, dishes and recipes we’ve had in our lives

Royal Flushing. Five Stops in the Other Chinatown.

CHRISTINE:
Deciding on the spur of the moment to head off on a foodie odyssey, a quick internet search pulled up an interactive map of 20 Great Dishes from the New York Times.   http://tinyurl.com/brkd8j3

We hopped on the subway and plotted our course, circling, starring and strategizing to make the most of our time and appetite.   Our first stop was Nan Shian Dumpling House, previewed as a popular place.  Rounding the corner, we saw the crowd, knew we had found it and started to devise Plan B.  With a 30-minute wait, we took our chances and dashed off to the next nearest spot:  Yipin Chinese Cuisine for cold sesame noodles.  We grabbed an order to go, sampled them as we waited to cross streets, hightailed it back to Nan Shian in time to hear our name called.

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LUC:
Oh man, those soup dumplings are good stuff.  Filling even tho they were little hollow dough balls filed with broth.   Love the broth.

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CHRISTINE:
Our next stop was the Golden Mall, as several spots were listed at that location, including our pick:  Lanzhou Handmade Noodles.  This ‘mall’ no shiny retail emporium.  Down some dodgy stairs, are barely defined spaces with make-shift kitchens — hot plates cook stoves and propane-fueled griddle tops.  The area where Lanzhou’s hand-pulled noodle man stretched and bounced the long strips if dough barely gave him enough space to spread out his arms.  We tried not to be too put off when he took on his next task and began taking out the garbage.

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LUC:
Golden Mall looked like a subway station but not as clean  There was at least a 90 percent chance it wasn’t deserving of the posted A grade.   We told ourselves: if it’s good enough for the New York Times…
The noodles were in fact delicious.  While we were eating, a crowd of eager eaters were gathering across the way — not even a hall way, more like an aisle.  The place was plastered with photos of celeb foodies. We took a closer look and saw pictures of none other than Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern — who is my adventurous eats idol.  The place was also on the Times’ list, so we grabbed the recommended dan dan noodles with pork to go.  Chewy, fresh noodles are made to order.  The sauce was rich and delicious and the pork very flavorful.  In between, we stopped for Bubble Tea, which is an acquired taste to say the least.

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Next we hit an authentic supermarket.  What would be definitely be a PETA nightmare, with live turtles countless amount of inhumanely  treated fish and frogs a foot-deep in a plastic tub, the supermarkets in Flushing are not for the faint of heart.  The frogs are not the nice French ones, but big bullfrogs you find in a reedy pond.   Instead we shopped the for noodles. The rice and wheat noodles were stacked to the rafters in every conceivable variety.  We took home rice vermicelli in bulk (which we have yet to make). Outside the display of dragon fruit was a barrage of color.  Almost like the color of a Starburst fruit chew.
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Though foreign and familiar at the same time, flushing definitely transports you to another world.

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Mamma Mia (Part Due) by Luc

Back to the courses … one of the most important parts … of course!

“Spaghetti of the Farmer” with tomatoes that were grown there is one of the courses we make. They make 1000 bottles of tomato sauce each summer. It’s really a working farm and everyone in the family helps out. It’s a family business and for a day, you’re part of the family as you stand in their kitchen, eat on their terrace and watch as they go along with their daily lives – children going to the beach; village ladies braiding garlic, and a daughter coming into the kitchen for a snack; Chiara’s father came back with family dog and going to work in the garden.You were invisible and were taken back 100 years and just observing the family going along with their daily lives. But, it’s certainly not like we weren’t there – as we were treated like kings and queens. Like you were royalty made to feel good and welcome.

Spaghetti of the Farmer

The sausage that was made from the pigs they raised on another property, which had been in the family for 10 generations.For the pasta with sausage and peppers, Chiara softens the peppers in peanut oil to make sure you can digest them more easily.

Sausage and Peppers

With every course they poured – not for me, of course – their own wine, which they make without sulphates. It can not be transported, except the cellar to the kitchen. From what I heard it was wonderful – or at least it seemed that way from how much they were drinking.

Fine wine

Helping with service

We all sat down. The size of the portions was gigantic. That’s Italy. And that, was a lunch of a lifetime.

Post Script

Chiara invited me to come back to work in the garden and roam around as I wanted.  I without a doubt accepted the offer.

In the garden

The face of Chiara just lit up when she saw me. I sat down to a few slices of lemon cake. Today’s guest were a traveling UN. I met people from Canada, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Australia and Cleveland. I started off working in the garden with a family friend. I though heard something that sounded like a cow moo-ing. I saw Chiara’s farther emerge holding an onion stalk. It was a thin tube with a bell-like bottom. He started blowing into it and gets me one. Suddenly we start blowing them all around the garden. I get one for a boy I met from Canada. We started blowing the onion stalks all around the garden.

Herb garden

My visits to Mamma Agata were major highlights of our trip to the Amalfi Coast. I will remember those moments forever because they’re funny, interesting and insightful. If there was a best part, I’d have to say it was getting to go back was eat the whole, gigantic meal over again. Guess I have to make that two lunches of a lifetime.

Mamma Mia (Numero Uno) by Luc

Luc at Mamma Agata Cooking School, Ravello

After winding among the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast to the town of Ravello, we pass a café with the older gentlemen of the village playing poker under a carved-out rock made into a crescent moon.

The entrance to Mamma Agata Cooking School doesn’t look like much: just a stone wall with a little door. On the red door there are white, wide brushstrokes – so many of them it looked like they kept testing the paints. Did it a million times, but all the same color.

We ring the bell. A helper-outer answers it. Says ‘hello’ with a warm welcome.
We were the first ones alone on the terrace with a beautifully set table overlooking the sea. Then suddenly, Chiara pretty much the warmest person you will ever meet — never met a person as warm as that — greeted us with a big ‘hello’ in such a way that no one can replicate it. People started arriving and everyone was so nice. Chiara introduced each one as they arrived and gave each a little nickname – “The Newlyweds” or “The Couple from North Carolina.” Hearing my name is Luc and that I’m from New York, she dubbed me “Luca the Lion King” – since she loved seeing the Lion King on Broadway. It felt like you were automatically part of their family.

Chiara gives us the whole run-down of everything we could possibly need to know. The history of Mamma Agata – the cooking school and the chef.

We start with a slice of Mamma Agata’s signature lemon cake.  I’m not usually a big fan of birthday cake. I’d rather have chocolate cake – only the ganache kind, not the spongy one. This was the moistest cake, I or, I think, anyone has, would or will ever taste.  It was such a joy to have that cake. It was the starting point and everything took off from there.

We go into this old little home kitchen yet it had funny industrial touches. A small, two burner stove in one corner with this gigantic industrial black stove with flames that just flared in the center of the kitchen.

Teacher's Pet

And center stage behind it was Mamma Agata. She was frying eggplant. You could smell how delicious it was going to be. I was lucky to get the best spot in the room. There were fans on the other side of the kitchen and every time she cooked something, the fans would blow the smell toward me!

The first dish we made was Eggplant Parmesan. It wasn’t a typical lesson – it was less hands-on and more of a demonstration with the best tips on cooking that you could ever receive – practical, helpful, useful in making any food more delicious. There is no doubt that these tips are from 200 years of tradition.

For the eggplant parmesan, we learned that you slice the eggplant, but not too thin. Sprinkle with salt all over it to draw out the water. Then you wash all the salt then wring out the eggplant of all the water to keep it from getting mushy. The amount of layers – all the cheese, sauce and eggplant – at least five layers went into a clear baking dish. You had to see it to believe it.

Eggplant Parmesan in the making

The finished Eggplant Parmesan -- As delicious as it looks

When we took a break, we explored the garden that was really a farm on a cliff-side hill. The best way for me to describe it was like tiers on a cake.  One tier down you have zucchini and tomatoes. The next level is the wine cellar. Next level is lemon groves. Then lemon groves again. There were turkeys and chickens and bunnies and cats and dogs. It was a sight to seen. The views were un-, un- unbelievable. It was amazing. It was such an experience. I don’t want to tell you everything, because you should book and experience it for yourself.

Luc

Terraced garden

View of gardens and Amalfi Coast from Mamma Agata Cooking School

Barber’s Shop

Luc and Chef Dan Barber

Luc and Chef Dan Barber

Blue Hill at Stone Barns menu

Luc: Within moments of sitting down, the servers came out with a selection of vegetables, mounted on something that you would not find any type of food on. it was a solid block of wood with nails poking out of it. They put the vegetables in the middle of the nails and made it look like a shish kabob.

Nail Bed Crudite

After they came out with the vegetables, they gave us a menu, but the menu. menu not usually find in a restaurant, more like you would find in a grocery store — but not an ordinary grocery store. The restaurant cooks with fresh and local foods and ingredients that they grow either on site in their fields and greenhouses or buy from local farmers. The menu had listed every food available in the kitchen. The server came over to us and asked what you’d prefer, what you disliked. The rest was up to the kitchen to make each meal different for every table.

The icing on the cake (not that we actually had cake), was going into the kitchen and meet Chef Dan Barber.

Afterwards we went to the farm and saw the sheep, the chickens and the great greenhouses — even saw the same little vegetables, like icicle radishes, we had.

Greenhouse

Greenhouse of greens

Radishes

From farm to fork

Christine: Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of those transporting experiences. Not just that it’s an hour drive out of Manhattan to the rolling hills alongside the mighty Hudson. Arriving at the compound also includes stepping back in time to a day when farms like this one populated the region. The beauty of the dining room and impeccable service are present-day standard-bearers as are the innovative approaches to creating a memorable experience.

The food is truly great. The novelty of how a meal is composed is part of the specialness. As Luc describes above, the menu does read more like the line up of the finest and freshest ingredients stocked by a gourmet grocer. With that as a guide — for both table and kitchen — the dishes begin to arrive and arrive and arrive, a near endless parade. Surprise and delight, I kept saying over and over. First those little vegetables on the bed of nails, followed by luscious little beet burgers, cooked-to-perfection arctic char that even Luc liked as he was not previously a fan of that fish.

Beet Burger

Beet Burger

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Artic Char

Artic Char

They call the approach “farmer’s feast,” multi-course tastings around the day’s harvest. What a day it was.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hill, NY 10591
914-366-9600

A Ham of a Night


Luc: We went to Againn (pronounced A-GWEN) in Washington, D.C. The ham is amazing. It has a great flavor. A bit salty with a nice smokiness, but very light. All their ham is smoked and cured in the restaurant itself. It was so good, I ate mine and my friend’s. I recommend the ham we had: Allan Benton’s 14-month country ham with sheep’s milk ricotta, frantoia olive oil. Also comes with great chewy-and-crispy toast. I just ate it plain (with my fingers).

Christine: We salivated as the waiter pain-stakingly described the daily roast — pork loin with the belly, rolled and seasoned with rosemary and cooked for hours to achieve a moist meat on the inside and crispy cracklin on the outside. It was easy among a table of six to order the minimum two portions. Along with dumplings, a delicate gnocci with luscious cheese and bacon (I’m sensing an obsession here on both sides of the kitchen). Of all the generally delicious items (highlights were the mushy peas that came with the fish and chips; butterball potatoes that came with the pork roast and with the hearty grandmother’s chicken), the most delectable, plate-licking is the heirloom apple sauce. We didn’t hesitate for a second when we raved and they offered to bring us some more. Everyone put it on everything. We also devoured the Banoffee Pie with the same gusto. Bananas, caramelized milk, graham biscuit, cream, ganache. Beyond delicious.

Againn, pronounced ‘aguinn’ {ah-gwen}, loosely translates in gaelic as: “at us, “with us” or “are you going?” A “contemporary British Isles pub,” the restaurant “proudly serves sustainable seafood, organic meats, and produce from select local farms.”

Againn
http://www.againndc.com
1099 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 639-9830

Chef of the Century — Part Two

The Chef of the Century – Part Two

L’atelier means workshop and each morsel at M. Robuchon’s is a masterful creation. We couldn’t resist immortalizing each in pictures, Luc and I taking turns from different angles. Luc started with Iberico ham, thinly sliced from the leg we could see from across the counter. For me, one of the day’s specials: carpaccio of cabillaud (cod) with lime, chili flakes and chopped ciboulette (tender and sweet young chives without the bitterness of the American garden variety). Mathilde had two of her favorites: a mozzarella, tomato and eggplant Napoleon and brandade de cabillaud, cod mashed with potatoes accompanied with tomato toast.

Collectively, we thought the best of all were the extraordinary clams. Both in presentation and flavor, they were amazing. We ordered two. Clams on a bed of sea salt and pink peppercornsCollateral damage
Executive Chef Philippe Braun makes the rounds, or the squares, greeting customers over the straight-lined counters. Seeing Luc there savoring these dishes, taking pictures, he pauses and inquires as to how we are enjoying the food. We fawn, of course. Mention of the blog truly delights Chef Braun and prompts him to extend an invitation for Luc to visit the kitchen at the end of the meal.

In the meantime, we inquire about the kitchen minion who has been whisking non-stop for much of our meal. He’s making puree. “Of what,” I asked naively, as any native would know that ‘puree’ on its own can only mean potatoes. Almost instantaneously, three red enameled Le Creusets vessels materialize. One adorable petit pot of puree for each of us (I bought a set later) eliciting moans of the When Harry Met Sally variety. Luc devouring puree

Chef Braun also treated us to treats – a tasting plate of desserts – and, for Luc, a crisp cellophane bag of house-made caramels. As we were about to leave, Chef Braun made good on his offer to give Luc a tour of the kitchen. With my SLR around his neck to record his peek behind the culinary curtain, our little foodie climbs Mount Olympus.Luc and Chef Braun

Jamon

Luc’s Look at L’Atelier

Luc on L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon: As soon as I got into the kitchen, I felt the heat, but with all the distractions it could have just as well have been winter. The smell was as if you were in kitchen heaven. There was a gigantic square grill with about seven chefs preparing one dish each. The ham was cut so precise it was as if they used a machine, but it was done by hand.

The chefs were very nice and were great at showing me what they were doing to prepare a dish. It was cabillaud, one of my favorite fish. Fresh from the grill, they showed me what seasoning they add, how cut it and how to arrange it on the plate.

Everything in the restaurant was truly a masterpiece. It is an amazing experience for a foodie.

5 Rue de Montalembert (corner of Rue du Bac)
Paris 7th arrondissement
Telephone: + (33) 1.42.22.56.56
http://www.joel-robuchon.com

Chef of the Century — Part One

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Wandering the Paris quartier of St. Germain, we find ourselves on a street we’ve frequented many times, Rue de Montelambert, and walking past one of our favorite restaurants in Paris: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Deigned the Chef of the Century, M. Robuchon is without exaggeration a gastronomic divinity, Zeus of the culinary Mount Olympus.

L’Atelier is a lacquered jewel box. Its trays are counters as there are no tables, giving everyone a view of the glossy-tiled open kitchen. It doesn’t take reservations other than for one hour at the beginning of each service. Then, you’re on your own to wait for what could be hours. And, people do. I don’t blame them.

Interior

Interior

We pause to pay homage, relish the memories of past repasts and the fabulous food we’ve had there. (Funnily enough, L’Atelier is next the Hotel Port Royal, as I was to read the next day, natch, where Paul and Julia Child stayed when they first arrived in France.). We remind Luc that he’s been there before, but wouldn’t really expect him to remember as he was asleep in his push chair (British for stroller as we were living in London at the time). Luc looks at us and his eyes tell us he wants in – so we book a reservation for early lunch the next day.

5 Rue de Montalembert (corner of Rue du Bac)
Paris 7th arrondissement
Telephone: + (33) 1.42.22.56.56
http://www.joel-robuchon.com