Category Archives: Restaurants

Restaurant reviews and opinions.

Eataly!

I love all things Batali. I love his approach and enthusiasm for simple, pure, high quality ingredients. I love his zest for life and all things Italian. I love his larger than life personality.  I love his cookbooks. I love his food. I love his restaurants.

Eataly is Mario Batali’s latest, greatest undertaking to bring the finest ingredients Italy has to offer to the above average New Yorker. Simple, pure, and high quality do not come cheap. Eataly will delight gourmands and cooks alike. Located at 23rd and 5th in a city which pretty much offers the world on a platter, Eataly takes its place among the finest markets in New York City.

Rob and I decide to shop at Eataly and have our main meal of the day in the marketplace this last day, a Sunday, that we are to spend in the city. The market is jam packed with New Yorkers shopping for their nightly meal and with curious tourists. Eataly features a cafe and several restaurants which are open to the shopping area. Enjoy your meal while gazing around at the seafood market or fresh mozzarella being made in front of you, or turn your back to the gaggle of shoppers and quietly watch the line cooks.

After touring the seafood beds, vegetable stands, shelves of chestnut and forest honeys, preserves, jellies and jams, bushels of fresh almonds, morels, chanterelles and countless other fresh mushroom selections, heirloom tomatoes, bakery and racks of fresh hot cross buns and loaves of soft olive oil bread, a deli counter of Parma hams, prosciutto, and pancetta, a restaurant quality butcher counter with items like pig cheeks and veal porterhouse steaks, a salumi counter, fresh mozzarella made that morning, prepared foods and salads to take away, wine and beer selection, kitchenware and cookbooks, a drool-worthy selection of dolce, including limoncello cakes, hazelnut tarts, truffles, elegant chocolate cupcakes and other Italian sweets, coffee, more varieties and styles of dried pasta than I even knew existed, fresh pastas, a large olive oil and vinegar selection, and local product and produce when available, we chose to have a seat, a meal and a well earned glass of wine at Manzo.

Manzo is the most formal of the eateries in the market. The restaurant features the meat of the United States and former Babbo chef Michael Toscano uses all parts of the animal. Manzo is a complete dining experience with antipasti, pasta, mains and dessert courses.

Settling into high-backed stools at the bar overseeing the mise-en-place, we peruse the menu and select the mozzarella di Bufala Campana with prosciutto and fettuna as our appetizer. Manzo uses products sold in the market and we had seen the mozzarella being made in our earlier tour. A lovely half bottle of Barbera Briccotondo Fontanafredda is poured into large balloon glasses and we settle back to enjoy each others’ conversation and the buzz of shoppers all around. Curiously, this is not noisy or crowded, and is quite a pleasant atmosphere to dine in.

I’m hungry for pasta and spot a dish on the menu that I hope is reminiscent of a dish I had at Batali’s restaurant, B and B, in Las Vegas on my last visit. Spaghetti alla Chitarra with lobster, tomato and basil. Rob orders Cacciucco, a fish stew, with lobster, scallop, ramps, red chillies, and fregula.

The bufala arrives with thin slices of prosciutto drizzled in good olive oil and Tuscan bread toasted and brushed with olive oil and garlic. The bread is chewy and softened with the oil. The salty ham and mild, fresh cheese is simple and amazing bite after bite. Service is nicely paced to the slow side, allowing us to savour the antipasti and our wine.

Our mains arrive. My pasta is perfectly al dente. The lobster meat is succulent and plentiful. The tomato sauce is orange, rich, and accented by onion, garlic and basil, the perfect marriage. Rob’s stew arrives as a pile of lobster meat on a bed of couscous-like pasta, ramps, chilies, and a perfectly seared sea scallop. Our server arrives and from a pitcher, dispenses a fragrant, deep red broth over the fish. The broth is decadent. It tastes of roasted lobster shells distilled of all of their lobstery essence, with rich, deep flavour. The dish has thin rings of fresno chillies added for eye candy but they add a sweet back heat. Unexpected and delicious.

The portions at Manzo are perfect, allowing us room to share a dessert and cappuccinos. We choose the limoncello torte, with lemon liquor, yogurt and cranberry. The dolce comes with a few pieces of a super-sweet, nougaty meringue.  This is perfect because the pudding-like cake and the cranberry relish have just enough sugar to make them palatable. Perfectly tart. Cappuccinos do not disappoint. We have had the most excellent coffee in Rome and have come to expect it in any Batali restaurant. Fabulous meal on all counts.

 

 

 

Night-time nosh: Spitzer’s Corner

After our huge lunch at Katz’s deli on our first day in New York, we were not hungry for a big meal in the evening. We ventured out around 9pm to the corner of Rivington, steps away from our hotel. Spitzer’s Corner is a Lower East Side neighborhood joint.

Spitzer’s at night.

The vibe is young, the decor urban rustic, the volume set to 11. Long wood plank tables provide a communal dining experience as well as an awkward exit from the table, especially for the ladies. Do not wear a skirt. We were penned in for the duration. Conversation is difficult unless you are interested in your neighbour’s chat. We were not, and yes, Tony it is you, by the way.

 

Communal tables.

The beer was local, cold and good, and the sandwiches were inspired and perfect for a light meals. Spitzer’s is a great way to try new beers. They have 40 on tap and more in bottles. The sliders, apps and small plate selections compliment the brews. The Pickle Guys, a Lower East Side purveyor of pickles, supply the half-sours.

 

mmm…beer.

At 9 pm we were advised of a 20-30 minute wait. After a comfortable 10 minutes with a Chelsea Blackberry Wheat beer, locally brewed, we were seated.

 

A bowl of half-sours.

We ordered a bowl of the pickles and a sandwich each. I opted for the Salt-Baked Shrimp (cucumber, housemade tartar sauce, parsnip, scallion, arugula) and Rob chose the Braised Pork Belly (ginger, soy, garlic, chilies, cucumber, scallions, arugula).  The sandwiches were both well made and peppery with arugula. We shared an interesting Sea Dog Blueberry wheat beer from Portland Maine, paid the bill and went out into the bustling Saturday night in New York City to recover from the noise.

Katz’s Deli NYC

We left sunny, warm spring-like Ottawa at the very civilized hour of 11 am. After a quick and bumpy ride, we arrived in the Big Apple just after noon to a cloudy day. Our flight landed at Newark NJ, so we taxied to Manhattan. The ride gave us a bit of a view of the Lower East Side where we are staying for the weekend. Neither of us is familiar with this part of the island.

 

Lower East Side NYC

We reached our destination, the Hotel on Rivington, unpacked, grabbed cameras and set out on foot to Katz’s Deli two blocks away. Katz’s is famous to New Yorkers for it’s fabulous deli offerings and famous to the rest of us because this is where Meg Ryan had her famous public orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally”. We recently watched Anthony Bourdain chow down here on “No Reservations” and decided that Katz’s was a must this trip.

 

...in all its glory.

Katz’s Deli NYC 2:10 pm Friday. The place is chaos. We enter through a single door over an inlaid  stone  surface, all but worn away with time and foot traffic. Two uniformed but casual security people hand us a green ticket each. “Don’t lose it, it’s your only way out.” they say as we are being hustled further inside by the swell of people coming into the joint behind us. Directly in front of us is a deli counter four rows deep with people. Menus are overhead and small.

 

"I'll have what she's having."

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the ordering process that we can suss out immediately. Rob overheard somebody say there was waiter service at some tables. After circling the area like sharks for 20 some minutes and glaring at a well dressed ignoramus hogging a table for four with one empty glass on it and his nose in a book, to no avail (guess they are used to that in the big city), we pounced on a table with two gentlemen in mid-rise from their seats, with two other couples breathing down our necks.

 

Busy, busy!

We waited nearly ten minutes for a waitress, when the manager came over and explained that we were not actually in the table service area, but he kindly sent a waitress over anyways. Phew! We are hungry hungry hippos at this point.

We order several deli classics to try but we have no intention of finishing the generous deli portions. Sandwiches are served on rye and club bread. They come naked (ask for mayo at your peril warns the paper placemat menu). No sides, no accompaniments. Pricey at $15.75. Rob opts for the corned beef and I chose the pastrami, both on club bread, so we could compare. As well we ordered potato salad, pickles, fries and noodle kugel.

The pickles arrive first, a large plate of bright, crisp half sour pickles, tasting of cucumber, pickled green tomatoes, and classic, excellent, slightly crisp garlic dills. Inexplicably, the noodle kugel arrives next, hot and steaming. Noodle kugel is much like bread budding except wide, flat egg noodles are used instead of stale bread to soak up a sweet custard. Like good bread pudding the ingredients condense into a uniform sweet chewy layer at the bottom. The kugel is crusted with toasted slivered almonds dusted generously with cinnamon. The dense interior, light on the fork, is studded with peaches and plump golden raisins. Delectable.

 

Sour, half-sour and green tomatoes
Noodle kugel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With dessert out of the way, we prepare for lunch. Arriving next at our table is an unappetizing plate of potato salad. Never in our experience has there been such a large discrepancy between the looks and the flavour of a single menu item. Rob took one for the team and ventured a hesitant bite. I was not going to waste the calories and as I waited for his verdict of which I was already quite sure, I was surprised to hear him exclaim “This is really good” What!? Katz’s potato salad is not made in house. Sally Sherman supplies the salad to many area kosher delis. The potatoes are steamed, sliced and  seasoned with salt and vinegar, then amply dressed in a mayonnaise vinegar sauce. This potato salad is white. There is no paprika. There is no parsley. There is no pepper. White and gloppy. And wow! So this is what classic New York kosher deli potato salad must be. The internet is rife with foodies trying to decipher the secrets of this salad.

 

Umm... yum?

Hot and fresh from the fryer, the steak-cut fries arrive crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside. These are surely what ketchup was invented for.  Our waitress is back in seconds and places our sandwich orders on the table. We both apply a generous squirt of spicy brown deli mustard and go into the hunch. My pastrami is smoked in-house and is lean with just enough fat to moisten the excellent club bun. The meat is succulent and thickly hand sliced directly from the steamer upon order. This is the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had. It certainly out does the pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli, which while excellent, relies on quantity for impact.

 

Pastrami... meat on a bun.

The corned beef (a version of the same pastrami that has been pickled in a secret dry cure for over a month) had a mellower flavour, was beefier and less juicy in texture, and while excellent in its own right, the pastrami ruled the day.

 

Corned beef, bun removed for your viewing pleasure

$15.75 for meat on a bun? Absolutely. This is the definitive standard by which all others are to be measured. This isn’t steamed over Shopsy’s or the thin sliced, rainbow streaked, over processed meat from your local grocer. This is craft and calling, made perfect by repetition and tradition.

 

...the aftermath