Sunday, May 27, 2007

chapel hill, duma!

The best way, to learn a language, they say, is to immerse yourself in it. I spent the past few weeks learning Italian by traveling with a few, and sitting at dinners, and riding in cars, when the only words being tossed about were in a language other than my own. And it really works! I experienced the local, beautiful, delicious food of the Research Triangle (North Carolina) with una banda dei Italiani, and it was bene, molto bene.

In Chapel Hill, there is una piccolo piazza where all the food is terrific, "the corner of yum and delish," I like to call it. For breakfast, you hit 3 cups, local coffee haven, where coffee is shade grown, locally roasted and seriously good. For lunch, you can head next door to Sandwhich, where a sign prooudly announces that SLOW FOOD = GOOD FOOD. As you are sitting there eating your pancetta, mozarella and arugula sandwich, you can see one of the owners of the local Chapel Hill Creamery arrive with the day's delivery of fresh handmade cheese. Sit outside and enjoy the ridiculously good weather, then head around the plaza to Locopops, where they make a multitude of popsicles using local ingredients, with such flavors as Mexican Chocolate and Honeydew Balsamic Mint.

By now you'll be ready for dinner, and you'll head into Lantern Restaurant. Really, you are not allowed to eat dinner anywhere else, go to Lantern, go directly to Lantern (Do not pass go, do not collect $200). Chef/owner Andrea Reusing is creating completely local, seasonal, Asian infused American food. Every single thing on the menu is a homerun. I recommend everything, and since it's seasonal, the things I had won't be there when you go, but whatever is there will wow you. Start with a Junebug (it's a cocktail), and if you can, do like we did and share all of your appetizers. Don't be shy about taking the last boccone (bite) of the pig's head terrine shmeared on hot pane (bread) served wrapped in a banana leaf. And don't be scared of the sea urchin sauce on the scallops sashimi--I promise it's wonderful (taste the crack of sea salt as you bite in).

If anyone, Italian or otherwise, invites me back to this neck of the woods (I didn't even mention the pickled pig's ear salad I had at the BBQ, or the emu in balsamic and fregole (strawberry) sauce I had in Raleigh), I will say without hesitation: Si! Andiamo! Or as the Piedmontese say, Duma!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

le pigeon

Going to a new city is a chance for reinvention. In NYC I often think it would be nice to go to a restaurant and sit at the bar by myself. To treat myself to a nice meal and a nice wine, and maybe eat in silence, and maybe become BFFs with the bartender, and maybe make a new friend. The reality is that if I am not out with friends, I try to eat at home--it's the thrifty thing to do, and it insures that I cook at least now and again.

With a few hours to kill in Portland, OR, I had the opportunity to be the eater I always mean to be but never get to be. I did some reconnaissance and scoped out a hot new culinary mecca called Le Pigeon. I sat at the bar, and watched the two chefs work their magic. Barely breaking a sweat as they danced around the hot grill, they flipped and salted and toasted and sprinkled with panache.

It was a terrific meal--innovative and delicious, both simple and new. I started with a raddichio salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette, follwed by a delicate and pink rabbit on a bed of wild mushrooms, and polished it all off with--get this--honey apricot BACON cornbread with maple ice cream and BACON. Dessert + BACON = : )

And I drank my Riesling and I had good conversation with the patron next to me (another local chef, a hoster of supper clubs, and a maker of his own salami), and I was fabulous. And then the cab took me straight to the airport and I arrived back in NYC rumpled and stiff-necked, and back to my old tricks.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

eggstravaganza

Ever the symbol of spring, regeneration and new possibility, the egg is also delicious and versatile. You may not know, unless you attended the eggstravaganza at my office last week, that more than about 5 eggs in one sitting isn't a great idea. In an effort to showcase the turkey eggs my colleague got her hands on, we designed a potluck lunch centered on the theme of eggs. We had frittata, caprese with hard boiled eggs, deviled turkey eggs, egg salad tea sandwiches, bread pudding, meringues, key lime pie, homemade cinnamon ice cream, and flan made with turkey eggs. This induced a coma-like state in nearly everyone present; the office was very quiet that afternoon, and none of us have touched eggs since.

The egg salad sandwiches were mine, and they were made special (and tasty) by the addition of fresh lovage from the farmer's market. Lovage is an herb that smells a bit like celery, looks a bit like flat leaf parsley and tastes not quite like anything else I know.

Egg Salad Sandwiches

Hard boil 10 fresh chicken eggs
Peel off shells and chop eggs in coarse chunks
Spoon in several tablespoons of mayo, to desired consistency
Stir in minced red onion
Stir in one tbsp of coarse grain dijon mustard
Stir in chopped lovage, about a handful
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a whole grain pumpernickel type bread (something dark and nutty)
Watercress is a nice addition
Cut into rectangle or small square shapes
Eat with your pinky out, all fancy-like

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