Tag Archives: Lidia Bastianich

Lunch at Del Posto

Del Posto. Sometimes You Just Want to be Pampered

That was one reason I chose this Italian fine-dining collaboration between Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianch for a recent weekday lunch in NYC. And Del Posto really delivers on that front, with its over-the-top sumptuous setting and formal but friendly service. The photo below, from the Del Posto website, doesn’t begin to do justice to the room:

Grand white marble staircases leading both upstairs & down are bracketed with sensual curved balusters that evoke the Belle Époque, as do a generously proportioned black marble bar and the intricate floor you see in the photo. Windows that soar to impressively high ceilings are swathed in luxurious drapery and a grand piano is expertly played even during lunchtime. So is it any wonder that my companion likened the feel of the room to a grand luxury liner from another age? That extends to the feature I luxuriated in most: sinking into soft dining chairs of supple white leather with low, curved, wraparound backs and arms.

Another reason I chose Del Posto was because it offers a 3-course prix fixe lunch for $49, which seems reasonable – if not an outright bargain – for a restaurant with one Michelin star and a four-star rating from the NY Times. In the end, the tab turned out to be $82 per person all-inclusive. That included a voluntary $10 supplement, but it should also be noted that it was for a meal without wine or cocktails.

Amuse Bouche, Del Posto

Amuse Bouche, Del Posto

The pampering starts in earnest with the arrival of gifts from the kitchen. (If you don’t count the stool that is brought for your purse.) Clockwise from the bottom, above: triple-strength capon broth with polenta ball (think fluffy matzo ball), arancini, and puff pastry with pecorino. The broth was tasty but, as would be the case with several dishes to follow, salty. But the one-bite rounds of cheesy, buttery puff pastry shattered and melted beautifully on the tongue, putting me in mind of old-fashioned cheese straws.

Baguettini, Del Posto

Baguettini, Del Posto

Our server accurately described the above as a cross between a baguette and grissini. Almost worth the price of admission all by itself.

Vitello Tonnato Antipasto, Del Posto

Vitello Tonnato Antipasto, Del Posto

Course 1: Vitello Tonnato with olive crostone (the black crumbly bits, above), caper shoots, lime cells (!), and lemon basil. This classic cold dish is a tour de force – slices of tender veal enveloped in decadent mayo-like sauce flavored with excellent quality preserved tuna. The hits of lime and lemon basil balance the richness beautifully.

Insalata Autunnale, Del Posto

Insalata Autunnale, Del Posto

My companion chose to start with salad of slow roasted tubers, which notably includes black salsify and foglie di noce (pecorino wrapped in walnut leaves) among its merits.

For the prix fixe lunch, diners choose among 5 antipasti, 5 secondi, and 6 dolci (some with supplemental charges). What isn’t included is primi, aka pasta dishes. Who could dine at a Batali-Bastianich restaurant without having pasta?

Sweet Potato Cappellacci, Del Posto

Sweet Potato Cappellacci, Del Posto

We split a $20 portion of the above “bishop’s hats,” which luxuriate in sage brown butter and a sprinkling of hazelnuts. I relished the slightly crunchy pasta wrappers but found the filling of pureed sweet potato mixed with crumbs from those almond-flavored cookies called brutti ma buoni too sweet. (That’s my fault for ordering it, not the kitchen’s, which is under the direction of Mark Ladner.)

Lamb Chop with Abruzzese Spices, Del Posto

Lamb Chop with Abruzzese Spices, Del Posto

Course 2 (officially, at least): The menu reads, “Slow Roasted Abruzzese-Spiced Grilled Lamb/Carciofi alla Romana & Umbrian Lentils” – and I was thrilled when the above dish was placed before me. (When was the last time you encountered those paper frills to cover the bones?) The chop was perfection. I’m assuming that the puree it rests upon is the form that the carciofi (artichokes) took, although this is not typical. The heritage lentils, while cooked perfectly, were so salty that I couldn’t finish them. But wait! (as they say in infomercials) – there’s more. My server also laid down this crescent-shaped dish next to the chop:

Lamb Neck, Del Posto

Lamb Neck, Del Posto

The menu failed to mention a wonderful bonus of boned lamb neck, which happens to be one of my favorite cuts. Soft, beautifully fatty and almost muttony, it sat on more of what I am speculating is artichoke puree.

Striped Bass, Del Posto

Striped Bass, Del Posto

My companion’s choice was wild striped bass (from South Carolina) with radicchio tartivo, chestnut spuma, & Valpolicella and truffle sauce on the side. Her verdict: good, but a bit tame.

Roasted Apple Hazelnut Cake, Del Posto

Roasted Apple Hazelnut Cake, Del Posto

Grappa Panna Cotta, Del Posto

Grappa Panna Cotta, Del Posto

The same, and nothing more, could be said for both our dessert choices. Both failed to deliver the promise of their menu descriptions. And coffee, at $5 a cup, was surprisingly weak and tepid.

Mignardises, Del Posto

Mignardises, Del Posto

But we ended on an up note: Delicious sweet treats from the kitchen. They included dark chocolate pops filled with olive oil gelato, chocolate bonbons, Averna-flavored caramels in edible clear wrappers (!), and candied melon. Whimsically presented, as you can see, on and in a wooden box grater.

In sum, I would have considered even $82 an acceptable splurge for all this – if only the food had been four stars.  Did I mention that as part of the pampering we were presented at the start with warm, moist, cloth finger towels, and that we were asked to relinquish our (thick, soft, linen) luncheon napkins after the main course so they could be replaced with fresh dessert napkins? The pampering here definitely rates four stars.

 

 

 

Visiting Eataly; Discovering Croatian Wines

I recognize that I am probably the last so-called foodie in the Metropolitan area to haul myself over to Eataly.surely must be the last Italian-American round these parts to do so.

Eataly

Eataly

Last week I made the pilgrimage to that Disneyland of imported Italian foods on 23rd Street & 5th Avenue, the partnership of Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich. I expected to be overwhelmed by its size (a whopping 50,000 sf – and me who gets catatonic at Home Depot!), by flocks of tourists, and by prices in the stratosphere. None of these materialized. Well, I wish the grocery prices had been lower, but I was more than happy to shell out what I did for a memorable lunch at La Pizza & La Pasta, one of Eataly’s 7 eateries.

Cacio e pepe at Eataly

Cacio e pepe at Eataly

I ordered a dish I consider a true test: cacio e pepe spaghettone ($14). This simple dish of cheese and black pepper was perfect, plentiful, and served just as the menu promised: glistening sauce clinging to strands of fat pasta cooked “very al dente, like in Italia.”

The pizza/pasta restaurant comprises two counters and a table area. I arrived shortly after 1 pm on a Tuesday and was told there would be a ten-minute wait for a spot at the counter. Barely 60 seconds later, I was seated. Below is the view from my perch.

La Pizza & La Pasta Counter, Eataly

La Pizza & La Pasta Counter, Eataly

Service was prompt and efficient from beginning to end, without making me feel rushed. Water, slices of Italian bread (just OK), and superbly green, peppery olive oil arrived almost immediately, along with cutlery wrapped in a thick cloth napkin. When I asked my server to recommend a glass of wine, he quite correctly steered me to the Mirafiore Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2010. At $14 it wasn’t the cheapest alternative, but it was a perfect match and a good size pour.

After lunch I roamed aisle after aisle of everything from dried and fresh pasta to fresh produce and kitchenware. And not just Italian: there were, for example, premium Satsuma oranges.

Fresh Pasta Counter at Eataly

Fresh Pasta Counter at Eataly

Then I stopped for espresso ($2.50, including a complimentary gingerbread biscuit) at one of two stand-up coffee cafes, Vergnano (the other is Lavazza). My only disappointment came from the bakery counter: a cold, tasteless baba au rhum.

I have a reputation among my friends for restraining myself from overbuying at markets and Eataly was no exception. Here’s my loot of staples, which came to a grand total of $19.63: a pound of Garafalo pasta, sheets of crisp Sardinian flatbread (as thin as the music sheets it’s named after), a jar of arugula pesto, and a bag of light-as-air “lady kisses” chocolate and hazelnut cookies.

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Croatian Wine Surprises

When I received an invitation from Vina Croatia to attend their tasting seminar in New York on the wines of their homeland, I jumped at the chance – primarily because my knowledge of Croatian wines (like Croatian geography) was approximately nil. No longer – not after an entertaining and enlightening hour led by wine writers Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, known as “The World Wine Guys.”

The World Wine Guys

The World Wine Guys

I could not be more pleased to have made their acquaintance (both the guys and the wines). The whites in particular impressed, including those made with familiar grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer and those made with grapes indigenous to the area, such as Grasevina and Malvasia Istriana.

That last name gives a hint to the upcoming wine-growing regions of present-day Croatia, which is carved out of what had been Yugoslavia. The main four are Istria, Dalmatia, Slavonia (not to be confused with Slovenia), and the Croatian Uplands.

Croatian Vineyard (Wikipedia)

Croatian Vineyard (Wikipedia)

Guess who has a winery in Croatia? Mike Grgich of California’s Grgich Hills. He came to the US in the 1950s and in 1996, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, he went back and established a winery in his native land. Wines like his (red) Grgich Plavac Mali can be sampled in his California tasting room.

Plavac, dalmatian wine

Plavac, dalmatian wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I practically swooned over the one ice wine that was included in the tasting, with its gorgeous light caramel color, floral nose, velvety mouth-feel, and notes of apricot. I’d provide the name but there’s little point because as of now, few of these wines are carried in NJ wine stores. (One that does seem to carry a sizeable collection, although not of the particular wines I sampled, is Madison Wine Cellar.) Meantime, my advice is to be on the lookout for Croatian wines, which are appearing more and more on restaurant lists. When you find one you like, ask your local wine shop to stock it for you. And just so you’re ready to hit the ground running, here are some fascinating facts I gleaned about Croatian wine:

  • Traces of wine making in Croatia date back to 2200 BC.
  • The first laws ever written concerning wine quality and standards were written in Croatia. (Take that, France!)
  • Croatia has more than 800 wineries, 64 indigenous wine grape varieties, and 66 appellations. All this with a population half the size of Manhattan.

Some of the Croatian winemakers were on hand for the seminar. My favorite anecdote was from one who related how the last few generations of his family have been citizens of four different countries:  Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Croatia. And that was without ever moving out of their house.

Gifts for the Foodies in Our Lives

My annual column in U.S. 1 devoted to holiday gift ideas for the cooks and gourmands in our lives is out! Here’s just a taste of what I recommend:

My favorite find from this year’s Fancy Good Show:

 This gift selection of farmstead cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville

And the new Canal House Cooking – all Italian this time! – from Lambertville’s Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer

In addition to the 20 or so suggestions in the column, here are even more:

– A t-shirt or apron printed with “Hope is Delicious” from Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen community restaurant in Red Bank

– Lidia Bastianich’s new book, Lidia’s Italy in America, which includes profiles of and recipes from six New Jersey farms, food producers, and restaurants. btw: some photos are by Christopher Hersheimer

– A sparkly, haute couture apron from Haute Hostess made from ball gown and cocktail dress fabrics. A splurge to be sure, but proudly worn by the likes of Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow

Happy shopping!

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Lidia Bastianich & New Jersey: Perfect Together

I had a chance to speak with Lidia, everyone’s favorite Italian TV chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur, who is crisscrossing NJ with public appearances over the coming weeks. I asked her particularly about the live show she will be doing this Sunday (Nov. 6) in Trenton, and about her personal connections to our fair state.

The occasion is the publication of her latest cookbook, Lidia’s Italy in America, a companion to her new TV series of the same name, now airing on PBS stations.  The book and series showcase Italian-American food entrepreneurs, farmers, and fishermen across the country (and Lidia’s deft adaptations of their recipes), including several here in NJ.  

Me: You held the first Lidia LIVE! show last week in California. How did it go? And exactly how does doing a four-course cooking demo work in large venues?

Lidia: It was very exciting! We had a full house and an enthusiastic audience who really got into it. I am onstage cooking with an assistant. Cameras project it onto a big screen, and one even follows right into the pot. Next to me is set a table for four randomly chosen audience members. I’m cooking and they’re tasting, and they stay there through the entire meal and comment. We have someone from the local [Italian-American food] community warm up the audience; I think that’s nice.

Me: I understand that for the Trenton show, that will be Sam Amico of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, who will demonstrate making his signature pie.

Lidia: Yes, we always ask local resources, like radio stations, who is it that resonates with people in the area. Gary [Amico, also of DeLorenzo’s] was kind of cute when I talked to him. He said, ‘but all I do  is put tomato sauce and cheese on dough…’

Me: You and your family lived in North Bergen, in a small house on the Palisades, after you emigrated from Italy in 1958. What are some of your memories of that time?

Lidia: I was twelve when we came to the US. Catholic Charties found us a beautiful ranch house off Kennedy Boulevard, off the park. At night my brother and I would sit on the rocks looking over to the lights of Manhattan. To us that was the universe. I never could have imagined what the future would hold. I always say that this could only happen in America.

Me: You mention in your new book how much you like and appreciate your fans in the Garden State. What makes us stand apart?

Lidia: New Jersey has a high concentration of Italian-American immigrants, and many founded restaurants and specialty foods stores. My fan base is really big here. Maybe part of it is the proximity to New York. They come over, they taste the food at my restaurants, they follow me. At the same time, they live a suburban lifestyle, with all that means about a strong family life. I get a great turnout up and down the state. Also, I have come many times especially to do fundraising for New Jersey Public Television.

Me: One of the NJ businesses you profile in your book and on the show is Maugeri Farms in Woolwich. What made you choose them, and what was your experience there like?

Lidia: They focus on Italian crops, including great tomatoes year round, and two or three eggplant harvests a year. And it’s family run. On our initial call, we found – lo and behold! – they were already fans. When we arrived, they had already set an abundant table, all laid out for us. It reminded me of my parents’ time back in Italy, where everyone working in the fields would sit down together everyday to a hearty meal served with love. The eggplant parmigiano was wonderful!

Tickets to Sunday’s Lidia’s Italy in America LIVE!, at 7 pm at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton are still available. Doors open at 5 pm, and a booksigning follows the show. The show also includes a question and answer segment. A portion of the ticket sales goes to Autism Speaks, a cause dear to Lidia’s heart.

Lidia will be holding booksignings in Mendham, Clifton, Paramus, and Freehold.

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