This week saw two instances of that oft flavorless item, chicken breast, prepared to fantastic perfection, four (!) fine dining experiences, and one gratis snack to round things out. Summertime in New York is a strange time, with the weekends rendering the city a barren wasteland, and the heat doing nothing to prevent this. Torrential downpours haven't helped, but my dining experiences definitely have. Come rain, come shine, come more Paula Deen drama, I'll be there chowing down like a boss. And away we go...!
1. Insalata Crudi - Barbuto (New York, NY)
This may come as a surprise, given my weekly postings about pasta, dumplings and deep fried errythang, but I love a good salad and frequently craft meals heavy on the lettuce and raw veggies. The components of Barbuto's insalata crudi change seasonally, and the version I had recently showcased carrot, asparagus and pecorino cheese; a perfect segue from late spring to summer. Thin intertwining ribbons of carrot and asparagus were a feast for the eyes and stomach, the plate resembling the most artful giftwrapping detritus. The vegetables were delightfully crunchy, their freshness playing off the small scattered morsels of salty Pecorino. Crisped breadcrumbs adorned the salad as a final flourish adding heft and texture. A tart lemony vinaigrette tied the dish together, providing acid in contrast with the cheese and a refreshing sparkle to the vegetables. On a menu as enticing as that of Barbuto's, it took willpower to reign myself in, but sometimes a girl just needs a salad. Only sometimes.
2. Gindara Saikyo Yaki (Fillet of Cod Fish Steeped in Saikyo Miso) - Robataya (New York, NY)
Unless I'm in a headphone-induced vacuum powerwalk situation, when I stroll around my neighborhood, the East Village, I'm consistently amazed by the sheer volume of restaurants in the area. I've probably passed Robataya hundreds of times, but only recently became aware of its existence. Embarrassing, I know. While the performative aspects of the restaurant (a traditional call-and-response approach to Japanese grilling) are entertaining, they in no way outweigh the food. The star of our grilled dish plate parade was the cod, so tender that it broke into thin panels with only slight urging from the chopsticks. On the hot grill, the white miso had slightly caramelized, creating a slightly funky flavor both savory and sweet.
3. Tahini & Pita - Zizi Limona (Brooklyn, NY)
Sometimes the best things in life are free. Rarely does this occur in New York, but at Zizi Limona, a visiting friend and I had such an experience. Searching for cover and sustenance amidst sheets of rain, we ducked into this cozy haven for some Middle Eastern fare and light hipsterwatching. After placing our order, we soon received a small plate with triangles of steaming hot pita; fresh off the restaurants large grill; accompanied by smooth tahini paste. Chargrilled and blistered on the outside, with a cratered fleecy interior, each bite of pita yielded a satisfying chew, a far cry from the flabby white pillowcases so often passed off as the real thing. The earthy sesame flavor of the rich tahini played off the smoky pita, whetting our appetites for the delicious lunch to come, and restoring our rain-drenched spirits.
4. Paella del Huerto - Tertulia (New York, NY)
At its worst, paella is a surf and turf hodgepodge, with rice simultaneously burnt and soggy. At its best, it transports one to another place, just a spoonful of rice indicating the literal melting pot of other ingredients. While Tertulia's star paella ingredient of chicken is unconventional, it took my family and me (including my father, a paella fiend) on the journey we hoped for. Shortgrain Bomba rice was perfectly cooked and deeply flavorful; a savory preview of coming attractions which included juicy chicken, mushrooms and chorizo. The sausage's flavorful oil permeated throughout the massive dish, melting into the rice, while crumbles of it packed a spicy decadent wallop and united forces with the umami-laden mushrooms. To hell with tradition, my father wagered this chicken paella against the best of Barça.
5. Roast Chicken for Two- The NoMad (New York, NY)
It may seem cliché to endeavor a description of the NoMad's much lauded roast chicken, but who can omit a love affair when discussing ones week? When that herb-plumed courtesan sidled up to our table, emitting her superior brand of Chanel #5 (a combination of fragrant rosemary, nutty unmistakeable truffle notes and whiffs of meaty pan juices invigorated by that controversial lady herself--foie gras), I was left powerless, ogling after the cast iron pan that had been swiftly whisked away. The dish returned, having slipped into two more comfortable somethings; the breast expertly carved onto a clean white plate, and the dark meat presented in a small cast iron dish. The former was enthroned in a pool of burgundy gravy and accompanied by bright green peas, while the latter glistened under the lights after a quick fricassé with shallots and butter. Under the breast's dark brown skin lay a wonderworld of brioche crumbs cooked with foie gras and black truffles, the intoxicating flavors melting into the unspeakably tender meat. One half bite and one is sold, as the tastebuds absorb the rich gameyness of the liver and nutty aromatic truffle imbued into that decadent layer of brioche and otherwordly chicken below. Should the gullet yearn for a respite from heaven, one turns to the cast iron dish, the careful butter-coated strips a conduit to other countries, where this is the preferred chicken meat. I leave, heart pounding, or is that my arteries?