Friday, July 25, 2008

Positively West 4th Street

Everyone has a secret luxury, and I indulged myself in mine just the other day. As my friends know, I am a luxury-loving girl, especially when it comes to things like the big three—truffles, caviar, and foie gras. Those are not secrets and I enjoy sharing them with friends. My secret luxury is something I keep to myself: I love having scrambled eggs and a perfect cappuccino at Sant Ambroeus, a chic, expensive Italian restaurant in the West Village. I don’t get there often, but every time I do, I love it.

It’s the only place in New York where I can have a breakfast and pretend that I’m at a cafe in Italy. (That’s probably because Sant Ambroeus is a branch of a famous café with the same name in Milan.) I bring my New York Times and sit outside when the weather is nice and have a quiet hour to myself. Of course this is New York and on my recent visit a huge refrigerated truck was parked in front with its engine running. Luck was with me though and the driver returned and drove off.

The scrambled eggs are served with the shavings of reggiano-parmigiano cheese that softens perfectly after hitting the warm eggs. There are also roasted potatoes and a watercress salad to make things even better. The cappuccino is the right kind of hot and has the right balance of milk to coffee.

Maybe to some, luxury is breakfast in bed, but I find mine on West 4th Street.

Sant Ambroeus
259 West 4th St,
NYC, NY 10014

Monday, July 14, 2008

Middleton Farm raspberries

I went to northern California for July 4th, but before making the drive up the coast I stopped at my favorite station of the cross for lunch, Chez Panisse in Berkeley. My friend Amanda came up from Los Angeles for this because she loves food and Chez as much as I do. I’ve almost always had an ingredient or dish there that blows my mind and this meal was no exception. Between the delicious lunch and dessert they brought us a bowl of Middleton Farm raspberries. Amanda put a raspberry in her mouth and I saw a blissful look appear on her face. She could not believe how delicious it was. Our server came over to take our dessert orders, but Amanda was literally speechless. I told the server we needed a little more time at which point I popped a raspberry in my mouth and was also enraptured. This is what a raspberry should taste like. We were still talking about those raspberries days later.

Eventually, Amanda decided we had to locate Middleton Farm and pay them a visit. I put my friend Fletcher in charge of that project and he found them in Healdsburg. Perfect…we were going up there on Sunday to visit friends anyway. Nancy from Middleton Farms returned our phone call and said she’d be at the Sebastopol farmers market that day and to meet her there.

Well, we got a late start and never made it to Sebastopol so we decided to go to the farm itself, thinking maybe Nancy would be back from the market. As we approached the farm Amanda spied a hedge of blackberries and made me stop the car. Just as she had started picking a few a large white truck pulled up and I told Amanda, “you are so busted.” Of course it was Nancy behind the wheel looking very unhappy. Before she could say anything, I introduced myself and asked if we could see her raspberry bushes. She obliged but was naturally somewhat suspicious.
Middleton farm is charming and old fashioned, the way I imagine all of Healdsburg was long ago. Nancy took us around and I asked her what varietals her raspberries were. She endeared herself to me by saying that she wouldn’t tell me. I loved that. As we approached the hedges she warned us not to pick any, and I realized I’d met someone who might be even bossier than I am.

We came back to her little farm store which was filled with garlic varietals, onions, peaches and plums. We talked for a bit and I could see that Nancy was as passionate about her farm as she was feisty. Her husband passed away a few months back and except for one or two helpers, she does this farm on her own.

I saw a sign for the eggs that read, “eggs from our gorgeous Hollywood quality stars.” They were the best eggs in Healdsburg Nancy told me, explaining that her chickens ate bread and cheese and not just any cheese, really fancy cheese.

We bought some of everything including black raspberries. The prices are not cheap, and friends later said that she is the most expensive vendor in the farmers’ market. But everyone agrees that her produce is the best even if she can be difficult. I think she is fantastic.

As we were leaving Amanda and I admitted that we had picked two raspberries from the hedges. Nancy said she knew we would but warned Amanda not to pick any more blackberries on our way out because she was harvesting them the next day. We left with big smiles and ate raspberries one by one all the way back.

Middleton Farm
2651 Westside Road
Healdsburg, California 95448

3 Pommes

Monique Duveau knows everything-- at least everything about food. She recently took me shopping for dinner in Paris and we stopped in at Three Pommes, a specialty vegetable shop to get a lettuce called salanova that is shaped like a rose. It comes from the gardens of Alain Passard, the chef of Arpege, and of course I loved seeing it as I’m always on the lookout for unique foods grown in small quantities. The lettuce was indeed rose-shaped and the green and red heads were neatly packed in a crate. It was sandy but tasty, similar to bibb but with a denser texture.

Everything else in the shop was also listed by name and origin, which thrilled me—tiny button mushrooms, amazing cherries, carrots covered in dirt and so on.

On a second visit I met the owner and told her how much I loved her shop and she asked if I had tried the strawberries. She told me that everyone considers the Gariguette strawberries to be the best, but she had found someone to the east of Paris who grows Manille strawberries. They were incredible, the essence of what you imagine a strawberry should taste like with a silky texture and a heavenly perfume.

I also tried her heirloom tomatoes. They were flavorful and the texture was good but nothing beats tomatoes grown all over the states when they are at their best in August.

It’s a dream to find a vegetable store like this in Paris, and I wish someone would open one in New York. Though I always prefer shopping at farmers markets, a store like Three Pommes helps small growers with their distribution and leaves them time to grow more and travel to market less. I’m in favor of this. May such a place come to my neighborhood soon?

3 Pommes
25, rue Mouton-Duvernet
75014 Paris