Pat Tanner, Mixologist?
I am a good cook but a terrible cocktail maker. Even when I religiously follow cocktail-making instructions, something almost always goes awry. (Exceptions: I produce excellent Pimm’s cups and on one and only one occasion mint juleps, a fluke I’ve never been able to replicate.)
So out of desperation on a recent hot, humid mid-summer day, I started improvising with disparate ingredients that happened to be at hand. I didn’t expect much, but the resulting Arancino cocktail proves that necessity really is the mother of invention.
The inspiration was Arancino Morelli, a sweet liqueur from Piemonte made from infused orange rind. A gift from my daughter Alice, who recently honeymooned in Italy, it’s a delectably thick, sticky-sweet digestif similar to its cousin, limoncello. But that just wouldn’t do on a blistering afternoon. So I poured some over ice and topped it off with Pellegrino. But the genius part, if I may say so, was adding several dashes of lavender bitters.
The bitters were also a gift, last Christmas, from the fiance (and soon to be husband) of my younger daughter, Elizabeth. For the beauty shot at the top of this post I gussied up the drink with orange twists and sprigs of fresh lavender, which I will repeat when I serve it to friends. Hopefully, it will wipe my past missteps from their collective memories.
NYC Restaurant Week Lunch @ Lincoln Ristorante
You know how sometimes when you dine out during Restaurant Week (assuming you’ve been able to snag a reservation – no easy task) you can feel like you’re not getting the full-on experience or the best of what a place has to offer? That is decidedly NOT the case at Lincoln, Jonathan Benno‘s modern Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center. The ravishing 3-course lunch (a mere $25) even includes as an amuse these hot, tender, two-bite cheese fritters:
(Actually, the amuse appears after the breads – focaccia and country Italian with sesame seeds, plus a saucer of olive oil and a whipped puree of white beans, lemon, and garlic.)
Diners choose among 2 first courses, 3 mains, and 2 desserts. Since there were two of us, we got to try almost everything – passing up only the rigatoni pasta with marinara, spicy pork sausage, and caciocavallo cheese (which only goes to show how appealing the choices are). First up: creamy, soft buffalo milk burrata with terrific heirloom tomatoes, arugula and – upping the interest factor exponentially – soft, pickled grape hyacinth bulbs (lampascioni). This specialty of South Italy has a haunting bitterness that appeals to me. The plate is brushed with herb salsa verde.
The salumi platter, the other starter, includes silky, top-quality prosciutto, spicy coppa cotta and a good-size slab of tender, flavorful, house-made head cheese (barely in frame at the top of the photo). The unexpected component here is molten cippolini in pilacca, a zippy Puglian sauce of fried red chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil.
For her main course, my lamb-loving friend chose lamb shoulder, spectacularly braised to unctuous softness along with Swiss chard and piquant green olives, then topped with a mix of breadcrumbs, pecorino, and lemon zest. Although not very photogenic, this was our favorite dish.
But running a close second was my zuppa alla Tarantina, the centerpiece of which is flaky flounder fillet in a sea of tomato-saffron broth dotted with chickpeas, mussels, and tiny clams. The saffron in the full-bodied broth is pronounced without going overboard. I had to fight the urge to bring the rimmed bowl to my mouth to lick the last drops.
Desserts are every bit as appealing. The pretty creme-fraiche crostata features summer berries inside and out. The blackberry compote is to die for, and the quenelle of buttermilk gelato ain’t shabby either.
The other Restaurant Week dessert is Chef Benno’s take on a custard-filled dessert from the town of Lecce in Puglia. His version has layers of sponge cake encasing lemon curd, topped with toasted almonds. Underpinnings of figs and fig marmalata are good enough to stand on their own.
Diminutive cinnamon biscotti that come with the bill are the final lagniappe. But the restaurant offers one other component that enhances its Restaurant Week lunch even more: 2 four-ounce pours for $12, a white to go with the first course and a red for the second. Both are lovely wines from the Marche region – Verdicchio de Matelica and Sangiovese Morelli.
I should also mention that service here hits that sweet spot between cordiality and professionalism and that the striking, comfortable space is modern yet exudes warmth.
It’s possible that Summer Restaurant Week reservations have all been taken at this point, but I recommend Lincoln Ristorante any time of the year, for any meal.
And from the this-is-why-I-heart-NY file:
Serendipity! Happening in the courtyard just outside the restaurant was a rehearsal for a Lincoln Center Out of Doors concert – what would that evening be the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World. About 80 contemporary musicians were scattered on three sides, and (as you might just be able to make out) singers in full concert dress black were stationed inside the pool!