Spring has sprung in New York, giving way to lighter jackets, unexpected rain showers and the promise of al fresco frolicking. Early spring also brings religious holidays of all kinds, and I attended two lovely Seders (for which I prepared these) and helped host a rockin outdoor Easter party. Fear not, in addition to my rain-drenched strolls and matzoh ball carbo-loading, I found time to have some delicious bites (and sips) along the way...
1. "Spring Time at the Waiting Room" (A cocktail) (My friend's Apartment, New York, NY)
I know it seems borderline blasphemous to begin this taste list with a beverage, but trust me, it was worth it. As I frosted cupcakes, deviled eggs and prepared toasts with herbed ricotta, the hostess with the mostest was busily juicing cucumbers, smacking mint leaves (apparently the best way to emit flavor from the herb) and heavily pouring white rum for this splendid concoction. As a rule, I detest rum, but this variety, Brugal Extra Dry, lacked a rummy flavor; and laced with herbs and cucumber, it was a bracing invitation for summer.
2. Combination Meat Plate (Veselka-2nd Ave, New York, NY)
Post-fête, I was in need of some serious protein and starch. 4+ hours of running around, sipping cocktails and force-feeding people deviled eggs had taken a toll, and I knew that Veselka's stuffed cabbage and pierogies were the only remedy. Not only does the combo plate involve my two favorite Veselka offerings: pierogies and stuffed cabbage, it also comes with a cup of soup (borscht is the way to go) and salad with their tasty dill dressing. The pierogi's outer chewiness conceals the mouthwatering stuffing, in this case creamy seasoned potato and savory shredded meat. When dipped in lashings of sour cream and topped with caramelized onions, a Veselka pierogi is the ultimate dumpling dreamboat. A close second is the stuffed cabbage, with the thin leaves rolled and packed to the gills with a flavorful combination of beef, pork and rice, then slathered with rich Mushroom gravy. It's hard to lose faith in New York when you realize you can order this plate of food 24 hours a day.
3. Short Rib Taco (Tacombi, New York, NY)
Ever since my return from California, I'd been loath to explore the NYC Mexican scene. Tacombi assuaged my fears. Surrounded by the well-heeled Nolita crowds, this easygoing joint is an oasis of sorts, with its great micheladas, a permanently stationed taco truck and an open atmosphere. Although few authentic taco joints I've been to offer a short rib taco, Tacombi's was really a tasty bite. The meat was tender and a long braise gave way to flavors pleasantly streaked through with chile and spice, while minced onion and refreshing cilantro brightened things up. Back on the taco train with gusto.
4. "Roasted Beets, Consomme, Dill, Buckwheat" (Calyer, Brooklyn, NY)
In Michael Pollan's book Food Rules he asserts that meat should be used as a seasoning, a concept I found exemplified in a dish at Calyer. A cavernous white bowl arrived containing beautiful baby beets, sprigs of dill and a slick of sour cream around the edge, sprinkled with crunchy buckwheat crumbs. The sausage consomme was then poured in, and my mind was blown. The clear sepia liquid, simultaneously rich yet light, embodied the meaty flavor of sausage with no fatty texture or taste. The dill kept the dish fragrant, and the combination of beets and sour cream felt familiar and comforting. Gathering it all together in a spoonful hit every note, with the broth seasoning the other components, and the buckwheat providing earthiness and texture. This was a dish to be pondered, which I did while licking the plate.
5. Cherry Jones Pizza (Paulie Gee's, Brooklyn, NY)
I'd long anticipated a trip to Paulie Gee's and a trek through the "spring" chill was definitely worth it. While all of our pizzas were divine, after trying the "Cherry Jones" I knew I'd found my pizza avatar. The crust was thin and blistered, from time in their gorgeous tiled pizza oven. Fresh mozzarella oozed into the crust's edges, filling every crevice and ensuring ever-cheesy bites. Soft, melty Gorgonzola was sprinkled on top, its salty pungency permeating without overpowering. Liberally applied Bing cherries provided another element; the sweet and tangy flavor played off both cheeses, and fruit's slight chewiness added texture. Finally, the pizza was adorned with paper-thin slices of Prosciutto, added post-baking so as to keep the meat supple instead of crunchy from the heat. After each sip of wine or a brief dalliance with another slice, I returned to this masterpiece, always hoping for that transcendental bite when all four components came together.
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