Friday, April 18, 2014

The Boathouse in Central Park: A Lakeside Lunch

One of the most famous and romantic icons of Central Park is The Boathouse Restaurant. True to its name, rowboats drift about the adjacent lake, as they have for over 150 years. Perched on the edge of 'The Lake' in Central Park, the restaurant was built in 1950 to replace an original Victorian boathouse that burned down. Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created the Lake from a former swamp, for boating in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. Six rustic landings originally dotted the water's edge, and a number of kisoks functioned as ticket booths where visitors could hire rowboats, gondolas and multi-seat boats. As interest in rowing grew, the Lake needed a proper boathouse, so in 1874, Park architect Calvert Vaux designed a rustic building on the eastern shoreline on the spot where the boats are stored today, to provide covered space for docking and storage. With its charming Victorian touches, the building also featured a second-story terrace that afforded beautiful views of the Ramble, however the boathouse fell into disrepair by 1950 and was soon torn down. Fortunately, investment banker and philanthropist Carl Loeb and his wife Adeline generously donated $305,000 to help create The Loeb Boathouse that stands in Central park today.

Rowers on 'The Lake' in Central Park

A Scene from 'When Harry Met Sally' at the Boathouse Restaurant

The new, red brick and limestone Boathouse Restaurant, the structure you see today, is also the site of many movies, including 'Sex in the City, '27 Dresses' and 'When Harry Met Sally' — the quintessential Central Park love story where Sally's luncheon with her friends takes place at The Boathouse Restaurant — a memorable scene that was shot on location. On a beautiful sunny Spring afternoon in NYC, it's also where we nestled down for a leisurely two-hour lunch, before heading off for an amble through 'The Ramble' and wander through the Central Park Zoo, Strawberry Fields and finally ending up at an evening performance at Cabaret with Allan Cummings and Michelle Williams. After all, "Life is a Cabaret Old Chum...Come taste the wine, come hear the band, come blow your horn, start celebrating — right this way, your table's waiting.."

The menu at the Loeb Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park

A glass of Cotes de Provence Rosé

A twist on a NYC classic - a Pretzel Roll

Waiters at the Boathouse bring fresh bread and rolls in a wicker basket

Boathouse Salad with Red Oak Lettuce, Smoked Almonds and Cabernet Vinaigrette

Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi with green apples, pickled radishes, Tobiko caviar and jalapeno wasabi vinaigrette

Heirloom Tomato Salad with English Cucumber, Kalamata Olives, Red Onions and Imported Feta Cheese

Linguine with Littleneck Clams, White Wine, Garlic, Parsley and Peperoncino

Spiced Atlantic Monkfish with Israeli Couscous, Mangoes, Grapefruit, Scallions and Cilantro 
in a Coconut Curry Sauce

View of the restaurant from across the lake in Central Park

Boathouse Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes 
Serves 4

1 lb Crab Meat, jumbo lump
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill and cilantro
1 cup Panko japanese bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Gently mix the crab with the herbs, mayonnaise, half the bread crumbs, and the salt and pepper. Form the mixture into cakes as big as you like. I made mine about three inches wide. Coat each cake with the remaining bread crumbs. Heat a shallow layer of oil on medium-high heat in a heavy frying pan. Cook several crab cakes at a time, turning once, until crispy and golden on both sides. Repeat until all crab cakes are cooked, adding more oil if necessary. Serve with a dollop of Caper Remoulade Sauce.

Caper Remoulade Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp whole-grain mustard
1 tsp tarragon vinegar
1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
2 tsps drained tiny capers, chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 scallion, very thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, then set aside, covered, in the refrigerator until required.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The King Cole Bar at The St. Regis NYC

The story of St. Regis begins during New York’s Gilded Age, where America’s first aristocracy rose to prominence. Among this elite group of families were such illustrious names as Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Rockefeller. One of the leaders at the helm of this new high society was the matriarch Caroline, of the renowned Astor family. Visionary and tenacious, it was her son Colonel John Jacob Astor IV who was inspired to develop his vision of a private estate featuring technological advancements of the time and elegant touches such as butler service. These innovations debuted in 1904 when The St. Regis New York hotel opened inside Astor’s classic Beaux Arts landmark, located on 55th Street and Fifth Avenue, and ushered in a new era of lavish soirees and notable names, which have come to personify luxury and style.

The hidden jewel of the St Regis, the 30-foot long mural in the King Cole Bar

If the St. Regis is the grande dame of Midtown Manhattan, the Old King Cole Bar is its hidden jewel, a wood paneled room tucked away off the lobby and presided over by the beloved Maxfield Parrish mural over an elongated carved oak bar. The 30'x8' mural entitled 'Old King Cole' was commissioned in 1906 by hotel owner John Jacob Astor for his 42nd Street hotel, The Knickerbocker. The hotel was short-lived and the mural finally made its home at the St. Regis in 1932. Since then, Old King Cole has watched over many events including the birth of the 'Red Snapper' in 1934 and more recently received a $100,000 cleaning in 2007, which completely restored the masterpiece to its former glory.

Detail of the King Cole Bar Maxfield Parrish mural with John Jacob Astor IV 
portrayed as the King

"The bowl carriers"

"The Fiddlers Three"

"Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl
And he called for his fiddlers three"

In 1934, St. Regis bartender Fernand Petiot introduced the "Red Snapper," which was soon to be known as the Bloody Mary. Petiot began working on vodka and tomato juice cocktail in Paris in the late 1920's before coming to The St. Regis New York. The famed cocktail as we know it was created when Serge Obolensky, a well known man about town, asked Petiot to make the vodka cocktail he had in Paris. The formula was spiced up with salt, pepper, lemon and Worcestershire Sauce, but since "Bloody Mary" was deemed too vulgar for the hotel's elegant King Cole Bar, it was rechristened the "Red Snapper". While the name might not have caught on, the spicy drink most certainly did and over the years it has become the signature cocktail of the King Cole Bar. Today, the Bloody Mary remains the signature cocktail of the St. Regis, with each hotel crafting its own interpretation of the libation. Having just enjoyed a matinée performance of La Boheme at the Met, we went in search of a late afternoon cocktail and made a bee-line for the King Cole Bar, to drink in the ambiance and bask under the luminous glow of the Maxfield Parrish mural. Cheers.

Fernand Petiot, the bartender at The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar who perfected the recipe for a vodka-and-tomato juice cocktail he dubbed the Bloody Mary

The refurbished Maxfeild Parrish mural

The King Cole Bar cocktail menu 

The classic Hendricks Gin Martini with a wheel of cucumber

The Mary Terranea made with Grey Goose, St. Regis Bloody Mary mix, 
extra virgin olive oil and basil

One of The St. Regis bar snacks, a bowl of hot and spicy wasabi peas

Also a bowl of mini bite-size pretzels

The NYC St. Regis Red Snapper (aka Bloody Mary)
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of the King Cole Bar

4 oz premium vodka
1/3 gallon Bloody Mary mix
4 lemon or lime wedges, for garnish
4 stalks of celery with fronds, optional

Fill each 12-ounce Bloody Mary glass with ice. Add 1 oz of vodka and 11 oz of Bloody Mary mix per serving, and garnish with a wedge of lemon and stalk of celery if you like.

The Signature Bloody Mary Mix
Makes 3 Gallons
Recipe courtesy of the King Cole Bar

Juice of 3 lemons
10 1/2 cups tomato juice
5 oz Worcestershire sauce
10 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp ground celery salt
2 tbsp whole black peppercorns

Pour the ingredients into a container and shake well. Use immediately or seal and refrigerate. Strain peppercorns from mix before adding alcohol. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Babbo: Mario Batali's NYC Ristorante e Enoteca

Opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in 1998, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca is an indulgent celebration of the best in Italian food, wine and hospitality. Tucked away on Waverly Place in a former carriage house just steps from Washington Square Park in the heart of Greenwich Village, Babbo is the restaurant that launched Mario Batali's career. Despite opening its doors over 16 years ago, it's still one of the hardest reservations to get in the city. The menu is a roster of Chef Batali’s lusty creations, incorporating the best and freshest seasonal produce, Italian cheeses, meat, game and seafood, accented with finest Italian olive oils, traditional aceto balsamico and other exceptional ingredients that surprise and delight. Some restaurants revel in exquisite subtleties. Babbo blessedly, goes straight for the tummy, adding one big taste sensation on top of another, gilding already delicious dishes with extra bits of texture and final flourishes of flavour. Although co-owners, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich, have branched out considerably since they opened Babbo, the restaurant remains their cherished centre of gravity — the jewel in their culinary crown. And it's nothing short of magnificent.

The one and only Mario Batali

Babbo's glorious interior with it's grand centre table and vase of fragrant cherry blossoms

The split-level dining room, suffused in soft honeyed amber light, dark woods and a bustle that never quite recedes, Babbo can be frenetic and noisy, with a lively rock n' roll soundtrack that veers from Led Zeppelin to Radiohead, streamed from Mario Batali's own iPod. Our server George explained, Mario and Joe like play music that they listen to, so that eating at Babbo is like eating at their home. As Bastianich says, "We don’t just feed our diners, they become part of the Babbo experience, sharing in the rich culture of the Italian table. Eating in our restaurant is like spending a little time in our world." One of the culinary highlights of our week in New York, I was looking forward to spending some time in their world. Arriving with our reservation made a month before, we were seated at one of Babbo's coveted main floor tables in the heart of the action, and just 2 tables away from where Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen were dining with daughter Lilly. Trying not to stare, we ordered a bottle of "Basti-Brut" as our server George called it — a “Bastianich Brut” sparking Chardonnay from Babbo's impressive wine list, one of the most extensive collections in the city, presided over by Bastianich and Beverage Director Alec Steidl.

We enjoyed a bottle of "Basti Brut", as our server called the “Bastianich Brut” sparking Chardonnay, as we perused Babbo's menu

Babbo's fabulous menu features an extensive array of Antipasti, Primi, Secondi in addition to their 7-course Pasta or Traditional Tasting Menus

An amuse-bouche of Crostini di Ceci - whole chickpeas tossed with black olive tapenade

Babbo's homemade crusty bread with olive oil for dipping

Babbo's dinner menu is a symphony of Batali's iconic dishes. Antipasti such as Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and spicy limoncello vinaigrette, Marinated Fresh Sardines with caramelized fennel and lobster oil and Prosciutto San Daniele “Riserva” with black pepper “fett’unta.” Ted and Mary had the Baby Wild Arugula with parmigiano and aceto manodori! It looked fabulous, so we ordered it to, along with the Grilled Octopus and one of Babbo's newer dishes, Uovo d’ Anatra Duck Egg with White Beans and Duck Sausage. With almost 20 of Batali's ethereal homemade pastas as Primi on the menu, and a mouthwatering selection of Secondi, we decided to share one serving of the Black Spaghetti with Royal Red Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies, so that we could venture into a Secondi, or main course, with some room in our ever-expanding tummies.

Baby Wild Arugula with Parmigiano and Aceto Manodori  

Uovo d’ Anatra Duck Egg with White Beans and Duck Sausage

Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette 

Black Spaghetti with Royal Red Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies 

We ordered a bottle of Friulano Adriatico Bastianich 2011 to enjoy with our dinner

Choosing some wine for our meal, we selected another "Basti", a Friulano Adriatico Bastianich 2011, which paired beautifully with the Whole Grilled Branzino, and my cousin Diane's Sea Scallops with Favetta, Asparagus and Citron Agrumato, one of Babbo's seasonal specials celebrating Spring. My husband ordered the “Brasato al Barolo” Braised Beef with Porcini Mushrooms and served over Polenta. Next time I may try Babbo's 7-course Pasta Tasting Menu, providing I don't eat for a week before. But for tonight, no Italian feast would be complete without a dolce, so we shared one of the desserts made by Gina DePalma, the pastry chef, a wonderfully light, fluffy and fragrant Olive Oil Cake and Gelato with a drizzle of Capezzana extra virgin olive oil and finished with espresso and macchiatos. Not the last table to leave the restaurant, we were among a handful of well-fed stragglers, drunk on Babbo's fabulous food, delicious wine and stellar service — a one of a kind experience, one both delicious and unforgettable.

 “Brasato al Barolo” Braised Beef with Porcini Mushrooms

Whole Grilled Branzino with Spring Radishes, Olives and Lemon Oregano Jam

Lemon Oregano Jam for the Branzino

Orange, Olive and Pepper Salad accompanied the Grilled Branzino

Sea Scallops with Favetta, Asparagus and Citron Agrumato  

Olive Oil Cake and Gelato with drizzle of Capezzana Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

After dinner biscotti

A selection of sugars for our espresso and macchiato

Babbo's Macchiato

We were one of the last dinner guests to leave

Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Soppressata & Green Chilies
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Mario Batali, Babbo NYC

Soppressata is a cured salami from Calabria, which comes from locally-raised hogs. During treatment, natural flavours such as cumin, black pepper, red pepper and chilli peppers are added to the meat which is then aged. If you have trouble finding soppressata, you may substitute chorizo or another spicy cured meat.

1 lb black spaghetti
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
6-ounces fresh rock shrimp
1 cup soppressata or chorizo, chopped
4 tbsp jalapeno pesto (recipe below)
1 cup scallions, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Jalapeño Pesto:
3 cups Jalapeno peppers, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup red onions, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make the jalapeño pesto, place all ingredients in a food processor until puréed. Reserve any leftover jalapeño pesto in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the spaghetti to the pot and cook until tender but al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté garlic, rock shrimp and soppressata until the garlic is toasted and the shrimp are cooked just through. Add 4 tablespoons of the jalapeño pesto.

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauté pan. Toss gently to coat the pasta with the sauce. Divide pasta evenly among four warmed plates, sprinkle with scallions and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy Mario Batali, Babbo NYC

Kosher salt
1-pound shelled sweet peas, fresh or frozen
2 cups mint leaves, 16 leaves reserved for garnish
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 recipe Basic Pasta Dough
1 recipe Basic Tomato Sauce
1-pound spicy merguez lamb sausage, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound Grana Padano cheese, for grating

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Set up an ice bath nearby. Submerge the peas into the boiling water and cook until tender yet still bright green, 1-2 minutes. Remove the peas with a slotted spoon, reserving the boiling water, and plunge them into the ice bath to cool. Once the peas have cooled, remove them from the ice bath and allow to dry on a plate lined with paper towels. Using the same water, blanch the mint leaves for just 10-15 seconds. Transfer immediately to the ice bath. Drain well.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the peas, mint, Parmigiano-Reggiano and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and pulse to form a smooth paste.

Using a pasta machine, roll out the pasta dough on the thinnest setting and then cut the pasta sheets into 3-inch squares. Place 1 tablespoon of the pea filling on each square and fold over to form rectangles. Continue filling and shaping until all the pasta and filling are used. Cover and refrigerate until needed or place on baking sheets between layers of dish towels and freeze overnight. The next day, place in freezer bags and store up to 1 week.

In a medium saucepan, bring the tomato sauce to a boil. Add the sausage, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour, skimming off the fat as it is rendered from the meat. Remove the sauce from the heat, cool briefly, and pulse it in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a 12-inch skillet and keep warm.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss gently over high heat for 1 minute. Add the reserved mint leaves, toss 1 minute more, then divide evenly among eight warmed dinner plates. Grate the Grana Padano over each plate and serve immediately.