Obica, Mozzarella Bar in NYC

Obica was founded in 2004 to showcase the mozzarella di bufala of the Campagna region of Italy, a mozzarella with DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) designation.  It was patterned after Tokyo’s sushi bars.  The owner, Neapolitan Silvio Ursini, wanted an Italian restaurant that presented Italian food in a similar way.  Obica now boasts locations in the UK, Japan, Dubai and the United States.  I visited the Flatiron location here in NYC for lunch, specifically to try the mozzarella.  I got two appetizers,

carciofini, or roasted marinated artichokes

 

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and caponata alla Siciliana, or Sicilian eggplant casserole.

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I also tried the Bufala Classica (right) and the burrata al tartufo, mozzarella with black truffle.

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Ursini’s goal is to present fresh Italian food in a simple way.  I think the dishes I tried reflect that idea.  The bufala mozzarella is fresh, and the burrata, creamy with a nice earthy bite from the truffle.

Two for Tuesday: NYC Bagels

OK, it’s not really fair to compare any NYC bagels to Russ & Daughters, but I just so happened to eat a Russ & Daughters bagel and a Black Seed bagel.  So I thought it would make a good Two for Tuesday.

Russ & Daughters is a classic NYC institution.  Its original location is on Houston Street and it also has a cafe nearby on Orchard Street.  I went to the original because I just wanted a bagel.  And I got a toasted onion one with scallion cream cheese.  Excellent bagel.  If you are visiting NYC and want to try the most authentic bagel, this is it.

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Black Seed Bagels is a more recent newcomer to the NYC bagel scene.  It’s located in Nolita, Battery Park City and the East Village.  I went to the Nolita location.  The bagels here are a combination of New York and Montreal style.  They offer standard bagels– plain, sesame, poppy, rye, everything, salt and multigrain.  I’ve had bagels in Montreal, and I don’t think they quite measure up to Montreal’s time-honored bagels.  I had about the same style bagel as I did at Russ & Daughters–plain with scallion cream cheese.  It was a good bagel, but not special and a bit pricey.  The schtick here is the artisanal bagel sandwich like ricotta, apple, honey or smoked trout, hard-boiled egg, arugula and dijon mustard.  I admit, they do sound good, so maybe I’ll have to try one next time.

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Sessanta, Southern Italian in Soho

I was walking through Soho and decided to stop in for some pasta at Sessanta.  Sessanta is another restaurant in the trend of regional Italian cuisine.  Its focus is on Southern Italy, particularly the Neapolitan area.  The menu has items that are similar to other regional Italian restaurants like burrata, fritto misto, meatball, malloreddus, branzino.  Other dishes are standard Italian and Neapolitan like eggplant parmesan, spaghetti with tomato sauce and linguine with garlic and olive oil.   My friend and I were walk-ins on a Saturday night, and it was crowded but not overwhelmingly so.  Not too hungry, we didn’t order a full meal.  Even though we ordered only entrees, we thought we would get bread with the meal, but we didn’t.

I got the malloreddus with sweet sausage ragu, whipped ricotta and pecorino sardo.  It was good.

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My friend got the busiate with Spanish octopus, cherry tomatoes, capers and oregano and thought it was good but not great.

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Song e Napule, a Neapolitan Eatery in New York

Formerly Pizza Mezzaluna, Song e Napule is a little hole-in-the-wall eatery on the North side of Houston Street in Noho serving up cuisine from the city of Napoli, Italy, and the Italian region of Campania.  Classic Neapolitan items on the menu include burrata, calamari, insalata caprese, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs in tomato sauce, and of course, pizza.

During our recent visit, we got grilled calamari to start.  I love squid, and grilled squid is one of my favorites.

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They even serve a Neapolitan dish, paccheri genovese, which is with a veal and onion ragu.  This is a dish my family has made for generations (with a different pasta), and it was interesting to see it on a menu.  However, it was somewhat different from the way we make it and a bit more peppery.  Ours is more oniony.  My dish came with parmesan already sprinkled on it.  I don’t usually like that when I go to a restaurant because I’m not sure what quality of cheese they are using.  However, it was probably OK here.

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My friend got the linguine with tomato sauce, arugula, shaved parmesan and pepper flakes.  It was good, but there was a bit too much arugula on top.

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It was a nice gesture to give us a small panna cotta to share.  I think that’s because it took a long time for our entrees to arrive.

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I Trulli, Puglian Cuisine in New York City

The trend in New York these days is regional Italian food–not the “Northern Italian” cuisine found at so many of the city’s Italian restaurants but the food from Italy’s 20 regions.  I Trulli is the cuisine of Apulia or Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot.  It is named after the trulli, or circular, white, stone hobbit-like houses found in Alberobello and other cities in Puglia.  While I Trulli has been open in New York for a number of years, this was my first visit.

The menu at I Trulli has some interesting Puglian classics, but the majority of it is characteristic of Southern Italy or Italy in general.  For example, the malloreddus from Sardinia, cavatelli with broccoli rabe (they add almonds); spaghetti with meatballs and tomato; penne with ricotta, tomato and basil; eggplant parmigiana; veal Milanese; chicken parmigiana; broccoli rabe with pepperoncino and more.

It’s hard to see our bread for the evening, but it came with ricotta cheese, the current condiment of choice at Italian restaurants in the city instead of the typical olive oil.

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The focaccia was very good–fresh and with pronounced tomato flavor.

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We got the fritto misto for antipasto.  This pic is not the best–it kind of looks like a huge fried grasshopper–sorry about that.  But it was fried calamari and whitebait, a general term for small fish–which may have been sardines.

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We also got the panzerotti, which are the smaller, Puglian version of calzones.  I got the classic tomato and cheese, and they were very good.

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I thought it would be fun to try a salumi and cheese plate as well although none of these were from Puglia.  I got the mortadella; talleggio, a cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy; and crotonese, a sheep’s milk cheese from Calabria.  All were very good.

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For my entree, I wanted to get the orecchiette because those are characteristic of Puglia, but I didn’t want to eat rabbit ragu.  So I got the cavatelli with broccoli rabe and toasted almonds.  It was good.

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My friend got the malloreddus with saffron, sausage and tomato.  It was good as well.

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The Myth of the Italian Pastiera

The Italian dessert served at Easter, the pastiera, or pizza grano, has its origins in the myths of the ancient world.  In fact, it stems from a legend straight from Homer’s Odyssey.  According to legend, because the siren Parthenope could not lure Ulysses to crash on her shores, she jumped to her death in the waves, but the god Poseidon saved her by bringing her to the Gulf of Naples where some fishermen rescued her.  Every spring, she would revisit the people of Naples.  The people gave her seven gifts:  flour to symbolize wealth, ricotta to symbolize abundance, eggs to symbolize fertility, grain boiled in milk to symbolize the harmony of animal and vegetable, orange-flower water typical of the area, spices and honey to symbolize the sweet siren’s song.  These are the ingredients in the pastiera.

St. Joseph’s Day Sfinge

St Joseph

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!  Many cultures celebrate March 19 in honor of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe), the husband of the Blessed Mother and the patron saint of workers and pastry chefs. In New Orleans, Italian Americans have parades and a St. Joseph’s Day table. There are two pastries that are popular on this day. One is zeppole–not the fried dough balls from street fairs. Known as zeppole di San Giuseppe, this Neapolitan pastry is a choux that sandwiches a custard cream, often with a cherry on top. The other pastry, known as sfinge from Sicily, are also made from a choux pastry of a more rounded shape and filled with a ricotta filling.

This year, I got sfinge, my favorite, from two NYC-area bakeries, La Guli in Astoria, Queens,

sfinge, St. Joseph's Day, La Guli

and Rose &  Joe’s Italian Bakery, also in Astoria, Queens.

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The bakeries are around the corner from each other, so you can easily sample both.