Friday, March 30, 2007

The Little Owl

And I thought the restaurant Prune was small! The other night I went to a charming restaurant called The Little Owl in the West Village of Manhattan that I’ve heard a lot about. It’s hard to get a reservation because it’s maybe only 12-14 tables, and they are booked for the prime seating hours almost a month to the day in advance. They do keep three or four tables just for walk-ins because it is important to them that people be able to stop by, but these get taken quickly.

We had a 5:45 reservation (secretly my favorite time to eat) and there was already a crowd outside. It was a gorgeous crisp Spring day and it was fantastic to sit in this cozy space as the sun set, the lights dimmed, and the kitchen, which is behind a wall of glass, came alive.

The menu and wine list are influenced by Spain, Italy and America. We started with Gravy Meatball Sliders—small meatballs, either pork, beef, or veal, each in a mini bun. I got the pork which was so light and juicy. We also ordered an appetizer of Spanish Fideos with fava beans, roasted pepper, and olives. Fideos is spaghetti that has been cooked in a frying pan and served almost as a torta; here the pasta was mixed with the other ingredients creating a lovely salad with a bite of Piment d’espellete a wonderful dried Pimento spice. I also ordered the Wedding Soup which was made with Escarole, polpetti ( small meatballs ) and egg, though the main ingredient seemed to be cheese. This was a little heavy, and after the sliders it was too much. I should have had the Bibb salad with beets, butternut and parmesan, but somehow the name of that soup spoke to me, I was tempted, and I fell. Oh well.

The entrées were fabulous. I had the grilled halibut served over a bed of asparagus risotto. My friend had the pork chop with parmesan butter beans and wild dandelion. The pork chop had been brined and was delicious. My halibut was cooked perfectly but I would have loved a little drizzle of something on the fish. We shared a side of grilled asparagus with parmesan and toasted bread crumbs which could have made a meal by itself.

The wine list was great. I ordered the crisp, refreshing 2005 Vietti Arneis which was served really cold which I love!

We ended our meal with a pear crisp topped with mascarpone gelato. I’m not much of a dessert person but that was a really good crisp. Everyone else was ordering the raspberry beignets which did look amazing. There was a good cheese selection too… next time.

And there will be a next time for sure. I loved this place and, as the weather gets warmer, it will be no problem to wait outside if need be. But make a reservation, it’s worth the wait.

The Little Owl
90 Bedford st
New York, New York 10014

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pizzeria Mozza

Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles is the latest venture of Nancy Silverton ( Campanile, La Brea Bakery) and Mario Batali (Babbo, Del Posto). The executive chef is the talented Matt Molina. Mozza was a hit before day one with people burning up the phone lines for reservations and lining up on opening day. I’ve eaten there three times now and all I can say is, do believe the hype. I love it best for a late lunch and I especially love to sit at the bar or at one of the counters facing the wood burning oven.

The menu is very simple. There are antipasti, insalate, carne, bruschette, panini, a different special each day, and, of course, pizza made in a wood-burning oven, a rarity in Los Angeles. Nancy worked tirelessly to get the pizza dough right and it has improved over the past few months and is pretty much a success in my opinion. My favorite pizzas are the margherita with mozzarella, tomato and basil; the bianco with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere & sage; and the egg, guanciale, radicchio and bagna cauda. Besides the pizza there are other great dishes: the rucola, funghi and piave salad is amazing, and I love the antipasto of roasted carrots and cumin honey. The bruschetta with chicken livers, capers, parsley and guanciale was totally addictive.

I’m a big fan of Italian wine because they are the greates with food; the wine list here is brilliant. The Vespa Bianco from Joe Bastianich, a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon and picolit grapes produced in the Friuli region of Italy, is so crisp and refreshing that it works with everything on this menu. I also loved the red Aglianico del Taburno La Rivolta from Campagnia. All the wines are under 50 dollars.

Desserts are equally genius. The one that I have not stopped thinking about is the biscotti with pignoli and rosemary— a rich butter cookie with this caramel-like topping of pignoli and rosemary. The blood orange sorbet was refreshing and a great way to end the meal

Soon to come right next door is the more formal restaurant, Osteria Mozza, with a center island which Nancy plans on making into a mozzarella bar. The menu will be much more extensive. I can’t wait for it!

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Farro and Langoustine at E. Baldi

Ever since I discovered the Italian grain farro a while ago, I’ve been seeing it on restaurant menus around the country. The other day I went to the restaurant E.Baldi in Beverly Hills for lunch and they had a truly superb dish using this grain: farro with white beans, thinly sliced celery, the most delicately poached langoustine I’ve ever had, basil, and tomatoes with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. It was served at room temperature and was just delicious. I loved it so much I am going to try and re-create it this weekend for a friend who loves food almost as much as I do. If you have not yet discovered this grain, get with it; farro is sure to be coming to a restaurant near you.

E. Baldi
375 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Rustichella d’Abruzzo Whole Grain Farro Grain is available in Whole Foods across the country

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Lunch with Stéphane Reynaud at The Spotted Pig

Not many things could tempt me to attend an all pork press lunch, but when I got my invitation to celebrate the launch of Pork & Sons, a cookbook by the great chef and restaurateur Stéphane Reynaud I marked the date in pen on my calendar. Pork & Sons is published by Phaidon Press, the house that brought out two recent favorites of mine: The Silver Spoon, and Breakfast, Lunch and Tea. Pork & Sons is another hit. If his fame has not reached your ears, Stéphane Reynaud is co-owner of the restaurant Villa 9 Trois in Montreuil, France. He comes from a long line of pig butchers and farmers from Saint-Agréve which is in the Ardeche region of France.

The Spotted Pig, scene of the fete, is a charming restaurant in Manhattan’s west village with a talented English chef, April Bloomfield. April cooked for us upstairs in the private dining room. We started with a glass of Pol Roger champagne and pigs’ ears sliced very thin, deep fried, and served at room temperature. They were crisp and flavorful and perfect with champagne. They were insanely good, though when I asked, I was told that the recipe is not in the cookbook.

Our first course was pork rillettes in individual ramekins--the best rillettes I’ve had outside of France. April served them the classic way with cornichons, mustard, and chewy bread from Sullivan Street bakery. I was instantly transported back to long, memorable bistro lunches in Paris. April also sent around one of her trademark dishes: popovers made with lardo which were so impossibly light that they melted in your mouth. Our main course was also killer: roasted rack of pork served with a hard cider and apple butter sauce. This one is in the cookbook and everyone at my table said that they were going to make it as soon as possible. Stéphane came to our table just as we started this course and told us that one of the reasons he loves pork so much is that it can be paired with an incredible variety of flavors. This sauce had a touch of ginger and cinnamon in it, which left an amazing aftertaste but at the same time was also quite simple. Get the book just for this recipe. We had a fantastic Crozes-Hermitage that went well with everything.

This is a cookbook for any pork lover, and it might even convert people who are wary of serving pork. There are so many wonderful recipes plus charming stories to go with them. There is also another delight--the sources in the back which Reynaud calls Piggy People We Like. He lists butchers, producers, and other sources for the best pork in Europe and the US. Considering that this is the year of the pig, the timing of Pork & Sons could not be more perfect.

Pork & Sons
Stéphane Reynaud