Category Archives: New York

Italian Easter Rice Pie

This year for Easter, I made an Italian Easter rice pie.  I’ve written before about the Italian Easter pies, the pizza chiena, or pizza rustica, and the pastiera, or pizza grano.  This is a variation of the pizza grano.  The pizza grano is a Neapolitan wheat pie served at Easter.  My family traditionally made this pie at Easter time.  Part of my dad’s family is from the area near Benevento, Italy, and there they make a variation with rice instead of wheat.  So he grew up with both the wheat and rice pies at Easter.

I wanted to be ambitious this Easter/Lent and make a lot more, but I haven’t had the time.  I had wanted to make hot cross buns, but instead just got some yummy ones from a bakery.  I’m also going to make a pizza chiena.  My grandma has a variation of the pizza chiena that is vegetarian, using mashed potatoes.  I don’t think I will be making that one this year though, as I don’t have time.  Now, I do have a homemade crust recipe, but I can’t publish it or else I may get the malocchio from my aunt.

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Italian Easter Rice Pie

1 1/2 cups whole milk or 1 cup skim/1/2% milk and 1/2 cup light cream/half and half

1/2 cup rice

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 pound ricotta (I use Calabro brand.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 oz. candied citron  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 deep dish frozen pie crust

1 regular frozen pie crust

Cook rice according to package directions (with water).  Add milk and cook on low until milk is absorbed.  Cool.  Beat eggs and beat in sugar.  Add ricotta, orange blossom water, vanilla and citron and stir.  Stir in rice.  Put into deep dish pie crust and top with top crust.  (I used a regular pie crust for the top and cut strips with a pastry cutter.)  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  Cool and serve.

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Little Italy on Its Way Out

Today, there was an article in the New York Post on Little Italy’s becoming extinct.  Of course, this saddens me.  The first stop in America for both sides of my family was Mulberry Street.  But this brings up a larger issue for me–the gentrification of New York City.  I do not like it.  The great thing about NYC is that it used to be the place to find everything, but as a friend of mine said, who is a published, well-respected economist from the Greatest Generation, NYC has lost its relevancy.  I don’t think it is lost yet, but I do think it is happening.  As New York becomes a homogenized city of the young and wealthy from around the country, it will lose its character.  NYC is a mecca for many–in acting, theater, music, writing, finance, etc, but it’s also a home to the many people who lived there and whose families have lived there for generations.  And it will lose its essence if it becomes generic.  Of course, this is happening in a lot of cities in the United States–not just NYC–but NYC is known for having a certain character–and its tourism depends on it.  If NYC becomes generic, why would anyone pay the incredible hotel bills to visit?

New Taste of the Upper West Side

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New Taste of the Upper West Side is coming up in May.  I’ve been to this event, and it is a great way to try food from the area’s top restaurants.  The 7th annual event runs from May 27th through May 31st.  It includes A-list talent such as Travel Channel’s Adam Richman and Food Network’s Alex Guarnaschelli, who will host Comfort Classics on Friday, May 30th, and TODAY show contributor and New York Knicks broadcaster Jill Martin, who will host Best of the West on Saturday, May 31st, with honoree Daniel Boulud.

photo used with permission

photo used with permission

Participating chefs include Jacques Torres, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Christina Tosi and many more.  Some of my favorite places will be represented, such as Gazala’s, Big Daddy’s, Treat House, Sugar and Plumm, The Meatball Shop, Bar Boulud, Blue Ribbon, Porter House NY and Rosa Mexicano.  I have yet to try Red Farm, The Smith, The Lincoln, THE LEOPARD at des Artistes and Parm, so it will be an opportunity to try them.  The event is presented by the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, the area from West 67th Street to West 82nd Street, including the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Historical Society.  New Taste of the Upper West Side celebrates chefs in the area, and all net proceeds from the event go toward neighborhood projects.

Theodore Roosevelt Park photo used with permission

Theodore Roosevelt Park photo used with permission

Favorite Foodie Season

I love the Lenten season in New York City.  That’s a religious definition for the time between Mardi Gras and Easter, but I’m using it as an easy way to define this point in time.  For a foodie, this is a great time of year.  I love the overindulgence of Mardi Gras.  I love the joviality of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and I love the accompanying corned beef and cabbage and Irish soda bread.  I love hamentaschen for Purim.  I love hot cross buns.  I love St. Joseph’s Day zeppole and sfinge.  I love matzo for Passover.  I love Easter pies, the savory meat and cheese pie and the wheat pie.  I love all these things, even though I don’t culturally identify with all the religions and ethnicities.  These are all very New York, though many are old traditions that come from the old country.  I like this time of year because I associate these traditions with the immigrants who came at the time my family came to this country.  It’s what I grew up with and what I remember eating from childhood.  Not just the food, I love the cold grayness in the air this time of year.  I love Catholic churches in the city, so solemn, so graceful, so beautiful.  It’s just a certain feeling, one of reflection, one of mourning, ready for the rebirth that is spring.

Bill Brady: Food Art

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Professional food photographer Bill Brady helps businesses sell a product or a lifestyle by creating a certain mood through his photos.  He writes, “Crumbs wants the public to crave their Crumnuts, T-Fal displays their perfect and dependable cookware, and the Quinoa Board must express that ancient grains equal a healthy lifestyle.”

With his new food art exhibition at the Martin Vogel Photography Gallery, he gets to do the opposite.  “Rather than objectifying food as an object of beauty and desire,” he writes, “food becomes integral in the play of color, light and composition. The result is abstract, sometimes beautiful, other times shocking.”

He adds, “Reducing foodstuff to its lowest common denominator, it becomes the raw material of expression rather than the end product.  Just as a traditional painter uses oils, watercolors and acrylics, I use condiments, sauces and food. Common objects like candy or frozen peas become an elevated mode of expression.”
To see Candyland (pictured above) and other pieces in the collection, visit Food Art from March 6 through April 29 at the Martin Vogel Photography Gallery at the Port Washington Public Library.  The opening reception is Saturday, March 8th from 2 to 4 p.m.  Bill will be lecturing on Monday evening, April 7th at 7:30 p.m.

Dinner: Sparks Steak House

I’m rounding out famous New York City steakhouses with Sparks Steak House.  From the moment you are greeted by the host, you feel the classic, upscale feel of Sparks.  The dark wood and large-framed Hudson River school landscape paintings on gold and burgundy walls evoke a time gone by.  The bar has quite a hopping after work suit crowd.  Clearly, it’s still a place where the good old boys do business meals and deals.

On my visit, I got a steakhouse classic, the sliced tomato and onion salad.

sparks tomato and onion salad

For sides, we shared the creamed spinach and hash brown potatoes.

creamed spinach and hash browns

I got a filet mignon.

Sparks filet mignon

My friend got prime sirloin steak.

Sparks sirloin

For dessert, I got the house special, strawberry Romanoff, a special cream made with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and Grand Marnier.

strawberry romanoff

My friend loved his steak and the sides.  My steak and salad were good.  The dessert wasn’t as great as I’d hoped it would be by the sound of it.  But I highly recommend Sparks as it is a great steakhouse with a classic New York atmosphere and good food.

Japanese Fast Food Coming to Times Square

Wasabi, a London-based Japanese fast food chain, will open its first U.S. location in Times Square at Seventh Avenue and West 40th Street on Monday, February 24, 2014.

From the English site, Wasabi looks like a fun place to get Japanese favorites like sushi, bento boxes and noodle soups.  Everything is made in-house every day.  They use sustainably sourced yellowfin tuna and salmon.  There are at least 50 types of sushi to choose from in the form of hosomaki(thin rolls), futomaki (fat rolls), nigiri (thinly sliced fish over rice), gunkan (torpedo-shaped pieces), hand-rolls and onigiri (triangles of rice wrapped around a choice of savory filling).  Also, the sushi is individually wrapped.

Not sure what fast-food ramen would be like (isn’t that an oxymoron?), but Wasabi has ramen as well as soumen, made with super-thin rice noodles, and tanmen, made with thick rice noodles.

Caffe Dante Revamp

Caffe Dante on MacDougal Street is closing on Sunday for renovations.  It looks as if it will reopen with a different concept.  It’s sad to see it change, as it has been there so long and is one of the Village classics.  I loved sitting in Caffe Dante, writing in a notebook, sipping a cappuccino or eating some delicious gelato.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here, so much so, that when I was gone for a long time and finally returned, the man who worked behind the gelato counter would ask where I’ve been.

Change is the only constant, and with classic NYC restaurants like Gray’s Papaya and Milady’s closing, it’s no wonder that older establishments are looking for ways to survive in the days of the ludicrous rent hikes.

But nothing said the Village like Caffe Dante.

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It’s funny, I took this picture a few months ago when I was walking down MacDougal Street because I said to myself that I don’t have a picture of Caffe Dante and I should take it so that I can remember it.  Well, one doesn’t have to be Sylvia Browne to see that the Village is morphing from a place with ethnic diversity, class diversity, artistic and individual expression to one of stale gentrification.

Gray’s Papaya Closing

So the big NYC food news is that Gray’s Papaya is closing its West Village location due to a rent hike.  It is iconic, known for its super cheap hot dogs.  I admit, though, that I only ate there once, while a student at NYU.  I’m not a big hot dog person, so it wasn’t top on my list.  But it’s always sad to see an iconic restaurant, especially one in the Village, close.

Dina’s Best of 2013

As 2013 ends, it’s a time to reflect on all the delicious meals and treats I had this year in NYC.  There were a lot!  Of course, there was the bad birthday dinner at Dovetail followed by two birthday saves at Quality Meats and Keens Steakhouse.  There were also some firsts.  I had white truffles for the first time.  I also had shaved ice for the first time.  I also had foie gras in its pure form, but I prefer not to remember that.  I returned to steak, as I hadn’t eaten beef in years and ate at a number of classic NY steakhouses–The Old Homestead, Keens and Delmonico’s.  I explored Asian cuisine more–especially ramen.  No, I didn’t get in on the biggest food trends of 2013–the Cronut or the ramen burger–only because I don’t do lines or eat burgers.  The favorites that I am listing here are my favorites of this year, meaning that I ate at the restaurant for the first time this year or tried something new this year.  (So this may not be my list of favorites of all time, just of this year.)  If something didn’t make my list, was it bad?  No, it just wasn’t exceptional.  You’ll notice a lot of trendy restaurants missing from this list.  Why?  Well, no particular reason other than they weren’t exceptionally delicious to me!  So without further ado–

Here are lists of my favorites for the year.

Dishes I go back for:

Balkanika dips

Balkanika dips

Ramen Takumi shio ramen

ramen

Fay Da coconut bun

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Tous les Jours milk bread

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Basta Pasta fusilli with free range chicken ragu, fresh tomatoes and prosciutto

pasta

Reunion totchos

tater tots

Royce white chocolate nama

NAMA white chocolate

My favorite dishes of the year:

Seafood strozzapreti at Saint Ambroeus

strozzapreti

Kale with tomatoes at Saint Ambroeus

kale

Pan roasted hake with braised artichokes, sugar snap peas, turnips and chervil bouillon at Tocqueville

Tocqueville hake

Truffled creamy parmesan grits and sunny side up country egg with squire hill farm’s araucana egg and house cured veal bacon at Tocqueville

Tocqueville grits

Smoked coconut cheesecake at Spot Dessert Bar

coconut cheesecake

Stuffed cabbage at Uncle Vanya

stuffed cabbage

Naga ice cream at Vosges

Vosges

Steak sauce at Quality Meats

QM steak sauce

Shaved ice at Paris Baguette

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Thick-cut smoked bacon at Keens Steakhouse

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Butterscotch sundae at Keens Steakhouse

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Fried calzones at Sal’s

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Baked Alaska at Delmonico’s

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My favorite restaurants this year:  (This includes food, service and ambience.)

Tocqueville

Keens Steakhouse

Delmonico’s

My favorite ramen:

Ramen Takumi

Totto Ramen II (no wait, more space, same great food)

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My favorite steak:

The Old Homestead

OH filet mignon

Keens

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Delmonico’s

delmonico steak

My favorite ice cream:

Vosges