This week saw me embrace some simple pleasures here in New York and with my parents in Massachusetts. An active trend of delicious orange-colored items seemed to form, from saffron-hued sea urchin to vibrant carrots and buffalo shrimp. Sriracha spiked deli sandwiches tinted towards red, as did gnocchi Bolognese, but hey, it's all a spectrum man. I was thrilled to consume my two favorite foods: sandwiches and pasta, and should consider a diet of lettuce leaves and tofu until further notice. Just kidding. Read on for another tasty week of fun!
1. P.H.O. Real Sandwich- Sunny & Annie's Deli (New York, NY)
After posting about Banh Mis last week, it may be overkill to praise another Vietnamese (inspired) sandwich in such rapid succession, but I do what I want, and what I want is an Asian sandwich. At all times. From the exterior, Sunny & Annie's resembles many an Alphabet City bodega, but after a bite of this sandwich, one will quickly realize the superiority of this spot. While the true essence of pho lies in its miracle-working protein-saturated broth, this sandwich captures the other elements of the classic Vietnamese cure-all. Inside a chewy bun, thinly sliced roast beef is anointed with spicy Sriracha and sweet hoisin sauces and topped with aromatic cilantro, basil and buttery avocado. Bean sprouts and rings of red onion bring texture and crunch while thinly sliced (and somewhat tasteless) tomato reminds one that this is, in fact, a deli sandwich. Unwrapping the P.H.O. Real before that first bite, one must appreciate the colorful cross section, all the shades of the Pho rainbow.
2. Sea Urchin - Jewel Bako (New York, NY)
When I feel the urge to ball out, sea urchin is often involved. (The Alizé and stretch Hummer come later). If it's good quality, it's usually pricey, but sometimes you gotta treat yoself. Entering Jewel Bako's elegant shrine to raw fish, I knew the time was nigh to throw down billz for quality uni, and ordered a beautiful solitary piece. Wrapped in a thin sheet of seaweed atop a rice throne, the orange delight oozed this way and that, enticing me in its minimalist glory. Slurping down this viscous creature, equal parts sweet and slightly funky, I appreciated both the simplicity of the dish and complexity of flavors. I'm rarely content with just one bite of anything, but after this marine mouthful both body and mind were satisfied.
3. Gnocchi Bolognese - Il Capriccio (Waltham, MA)
When you're craving one dish, particularly a well-worn classic, it is important to locate a perfect iteration of it, or else eternal dissatisfaction will set in. Returning home to Boston, I was jonesing hard for pasta Bolognese, and knew to look no further than Il Capriccio, a family favorite. While I usually envision Spaghetti as my chosen conduit for the taste bud hug of Bolognese sauce, delicately pillowy gnocchi made me forget about my predilections for the thin noodle strands. Rich flavorful tomato held together tender crumbles of meat, while coating each piece of pasta perfectly, even finding its way into the gnocchi's trademark grooves. With nutty shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top, the dish consumed my craving while I consumed every last bite.
4. Buffalo Shrimp - East Coast Grill (Cambridge, MA)
Since I've extolled the virtues of buffalo flavored foods in the past, it stands to reason that if anything is topped with a combination of butter and hot sauce, I will enthusiastically gorge on it. East Coast Grill is one of my go-to spots in Cambridge, and no visit home is complete without some of their tasty ribs and lethal cocktails. Served with classic Maytag blue cheese sauce and spears of celery, these fried buffalo shrimp were everything one could hope for in a spicy crustacean. The outer crunch gave way to soft flavorful meat, and the flavoring was piquant and all encompassing. Coating the shrimp in the cool and creamy dressing inspired the most primal joy, and the brief interlude of refreshing celery brightened the palate in preparation for more. Within less than five minutes, the plate was clean, with only telltale orange fingernails as a reminder.
5. Hay-Roasted Carrots, Yogurt, Dill, Trout Roe - Puritan & Company (Cambridge, MA)
Until recently, vegetable dishes were often relegated to the necessary but unloved category, served blanched, sautéed or deluged in a heavy sauce while the meat and fish got center billing. These days, what was once cast aside with the likes of coleslaw and French fries is now getting its due respect. At Puritan and Co., the vegetable preparations truly embraced the natural flavors while thoughtfully complementing them with additional ingredients. What might be considered a curious cast of components worked beautifully together, heightening the sweet almost caramelized flavor of the hay-roasted carrots. With each satisfying pop, marigold-hued orbs of trout roe (more orange!) steered the taste buds towards saltiness, seasoning the honeyed carrots. Sprigs of fragrant dill performed in harmony with slicks of yogurt, creating a decomposed version of a classic sauce that tempered the roe's intensity. Each bite revealed a new flavor combination, warranting some competitive forkfighting at the table. Were I not picking just one dish, I might include everything we ate, from a simple yet ethereal bib lettuce salad to fork tender lamb with spring vegetables. I may have to make a trip home sooner than expected...