Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lincoln: Opening Night at Benno's new Digs

Tonight was opening night (for civilians like me at least) at Lincoln, the new (Lincoln Center) restaurant from chef Jonathan Benno, formerly of Per Se.  I had seen this note about the opening of the reservations line so I decided to line one up for opening night, being a big fan of Per Se during Benno's tenure there.

I snagged a 9pm resy and had been looking forward to tonight since I got it.  I was not disappointed, as the dishes we got ranged from merely very good to really fantastic. We were seated right away when we arrived ten minutes early because the restaurant was less than half full due to deliberately holding back the number of reservations in the early goings. They mentioned they did only 70 covers tonight with an eventual target of over 200 (225?) for the 115 seat dining room. The menu (revealed below) was divided into Antipasti, Primi (pastas), and for Secondi a Pesce and a Carne section. In addition, there is a Piccoli Piatti which to my delight included the Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, the Eggplant Parm I had read was so good.  I was delighted of course because, being a small plate, I could order it as a side guilt free and not feel like I looked like a glutton.  Which of course I am, but that doesn't mean I enjoy looking like one.

I started with a cocktail, a selection from the "Negroni Bar", which allows you to construct your own variation by choosing the three ingredients, one each from a column of spirits (eg gin), a column of bitters (eg campari) , and one from a list of apertivos (eg Sweet Vermouth, or more specifically Carpano Antica).  I went with the traditional Gin, but then chose for the second two ingredients more obscure selections which I had never before tried, a Chinato for the bitter and a white apertif listed near the Lillet whose name eludes me at the moment.  The one hiccup in the service for the night was that my Negroni was delayed for some time, which was apparently due to me being the first to order something using the apertif so it had to be fetched from a basement somewhere.  The result was certainly one of the best of many negroni variations I've tried so I didn't mind.

Amoung our first bites were creamy saffron arancini with a molten cheese center and a delightfully salty fried olive stuffed with pork sausage. (Here is where I missed my negroni but it arrived shortly thereafter.) Now onto the real show.

I started with I think is my new favorite foie gras dish, perhaps my new favorite anything dish, the "Terrina di Fegato Grasso, Coniglio e Animelle", or Foie Gras, Rabbit and Sweetbread Terrine with Plums and Lettuces:
This was in fact the highlight of the night for me. It had luscious flavors and very pleasant contrasting textures including nicely crunchy large grains of salt. The sweetbread are in the layer at the bottom of the picture, the substantial foie was at the perfect temperature ready to melt in the middle, while I presume the rabbit is in the top layer. This was supremely executed, I can't remember the last dish I had I enjoyed as much. (Btw, how cool is it that the Italian (or spanish) word for sweetbreads is Animelle?)

My wife's first course was the Burrata with Heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, and celery. I didn't want to press my luck so I didn't get a picture, but it looked beautiful, and tasted very clean and pure.

We mostly stuck to the waiter's recommendations: the Terrine, Strozzapreti, Rigati, Melanzane, and Halibut.  I think the only one we didn't get was the scallop dish, which I'm sure would have been great, but the terrine came even more highly touted, and I had my heart set on it in any case. (My heart rarely steers me wrong.) In addition to his selections, we got the lasagna and the aforementioned burrata dish. We also got the braised roman beans, which were superfluous given everything else we ordered; not bad, but not memorable in comparison. In fact, the pastas looked so good between the two of us we got three pastas and only one secondi. Even though they said the pastas were smaller appetizer size portions, at the end we were stuffed and, as much as I'm sure I would have enjoyed digging into the Agnello, it would have been too much for us tonight.

On to our second course, and I apologize for some of the pictures which suffer because I was being quite, um...discreet. My wife got the Lasagne Verdi (recipe here!), which she was sold on as soon as I pointed out its sauce of besciamella. This was her favorite of the night, and my second place behind the terrine. For the lasagna I had to pay heed to my wife's progress to get my second bite before it disappeared, a ringing endorsement from her as I can usually count on finishing plenty of any given plate of her's.
I had the Strozzapreti with zucchini, yellow squash, and squash pesto, a nice dish to cap the last days of summer:
For our final course, I got the Rigati with crab, sea urchin, peperoncino, and sea beans.  This was a delightful dish, redolent of the sea:
And our sole secondi was the recommended halibut with pole beans, olives, baby artichokes, and acqua pazza (crazy water).  The fish was expertly cooked, firm but moist, slightly sweet flesh, with a proper crispy crust. The accouterments were just flavorful enough to not overpower the mild fish and provided some different textures and some slight acidity.
If you are curious, here's a sup-par pic of the Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, or Eggplant Parm:
It is the first eggplant parm I have not been sorely disappointed by, due to both the fact that it was really good and the fact that it didn't think I was getting veal parm only to end up with a soggy heap of nastiness.  Indeed, this was better than most veal parm's I've had, which is a BOLD statement coming from me.

After some exterior shots, as promised the menu for tonight:
With the exception of the terrine, which could proudly fit in, so far the menu does not rise to the level if Benno's cooking at per se, but I also don't think it intends to with its much lower price point and al a carte format catering to theater diners.  I'd compare it favorably to White's Marea, which I've only been to once, but was similarly excellent.  I'd have to sample both more times before I picked a winner.  There have been rumblings about whether Lincoln would be the first four star Italian in NY, as there were with Marea (which got three);  I'd say it's (obviously) too soon to tell.  The kitchen was operating smoothly on this first night, and who knows how ambitious a state the menu will evolve into in the coming weeks.  (nb I would not have been surprised if Marea had earned four stars.)  All I know is that I will be back and will look foreward to what is to come.

And here is the menu, with price points if you care; I might have thought twice about posting them, but I note they have already been outed from their secrecy so I figure it can't hurt to have them here as well.  I had meant to inquire, out of curiosity, if they were offering tasting menus tonight, but I forgot.  I assume they eventually will if they do not already.

Monday, September 20, 2010

MxMo Lime: Marchetti Falcon

This month's Mixology Monday snuck up on me and I very nearly forgot to put up my post.  But fear not, I have an offering. This month is number LI, and for the 51st iteration Doug at The Pegu Blog has proffered "Lime" as the theme. And an excellent theme it is. The acidity and brightness of lime juice are key to balancing the sugar content of innumerable cocktails; the simple margarita, daiquiri, and mojito, or the more complex tiki drinks such as the mai tai or the zombie, just to name a few. I've crafted a lime based drink for you this month I've dubbed the Marchetti Falcon, using as a jumping off point a limey drink I've enjoyed in the past, the Clipper Ship; I think both of these drinks are illustrative of lime's ability to be in the foundation for a cocktail, along with a sweetener and a spirit. I was also drawn to this because it makes use of lime zest as a garnish, which I find more interesting and elegant than a simple lime wedge. (Unless of course you jazz up the wedge as I notice our host has done with his entry for the theme.) Lemons and oranges lend themselves to the twist treatment, but the thinner peel of the lime calls for this different approach. Oh, and this goes without saying, but since the theme is lime I'll say it anyway: the lime juice MUST be fresh. This is of supreme importance with lemons and oranges when mixing, but lime juice oxidizes and loses everything good, and gains evil, even more quickly than its citrus brethren. So, with no further ado, here's what I've got:
Marchetti Falcon
  • 1¾ oz gin (Bulldog Gin)
  • 1 oz Mandarine Napoléon*
  • ¾ oz Lime Juice
  • ¼ oz Luxardo Maraschino
  • ½ tsp Absinthe (Marteau)
  • small pinch salt
  • lime zest for garnish
Shake and double strain, garnish with microplaned lime zest over top of drink.

*I think, it might be 1 oz, but I lost my notes and don't have time to verify right now. That's what I get for my usual practice writing on some random scrap of paper.

UPDATE: I found my notes and it was 1 oz after all, not ¾, so I changed it above. Also it was ½ tsp Absinthe, not a whole tsp.
I cut back on the gin and Mandarine Napoléon a tad because the latter is 80 proof compared to the 40 the St. Germain I was swapping out clocks in at. I had originally tried Mathilde Poires Pear Liqueur instead of St. Germain, which made for a perfectly pleasant drink but it was a little lacking in the richness and complexity I was looking for. I also tried using a dash of Green Chartreuse instead of absinthe for another twist, but the absinthe proved a superior choice. (Even I, with my well documented penchant for Chartreuse, realized the absinthe version was better.) I also bumped up the lime because I tend to like my drinks on the dry side, and also because it was this month's theme, after all. After that bump, it proved a bit too dry (but still better than using only ½ oz), and it also needed just that little extra something.  Enter the maraschino, which provided that extra touch of balancing sweetness, along with its distinctive funk to round out the drink. Cheers!

UPDATE: Check out Doug's limey roundup post, it's now up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Eataly - Batali's New York Italian Marketplace Extravaganza

Batali's Eataly New York, the first US branch of the original in Turin, is impressive.  And apparently quite a hit.  I dropped in around 2:30 and by the time I wandered around getting my bearings and trying to decide what to eat, which admittedly took a long time since there is just so much stuff, all the restaurants had to shut down to prep for dinner service because they had gotten slammed and had run out of food.  They had originally planned to be open straight through, but their popularity on the second day got the best of them.
I had eventually decided to try out the daily selection of crudo and maybe some salmui since the crudo is not something I could grab for later when I received the sad news of the shut down.  But I persevered, despite my jealousy of the diners who got in under the wire, and got some stuff to make my feast at home:
The condimentos I grabbed really added to my meal, Strawberry Compote with Balsamic, Pears Mostarda, and Extra Red Onion Preserve.  There were plenty more that tempted me as well.  I also grabbed a jar of Passata for making pizza and a tub of righteous looking soaked cannellini beans for later.  Come to think of it, one thing I was hoping to find but don't remember seeing was some cured lardo.  I had meant to specifically look but forgot until just now, I'll have to investigate next time.
I grabbed two interesting looking sodas, and they were both awesome; I may already be addicted.  La Nostra Gazzosa is a great and refreshing lemon soda made with Amalfi Lemons. Even more to my liking was the Il Nostro Chinotto made with lemons and Ligurian's Riviera Chinotto as a bittering agent.  It tasted like a real Amaro, but a soda!  I don't know how this has evaded my view until now.  I wish I had this display at my place:
Of special note, at least to my wife and I, is that they serve Cacio e Pepe, her all time favorite pasta which we always get at Lupa.  I envision many future visits.
The grocery items as well as the butcher's counter and fishmonger also had good looking stuff, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Here's hoping this place is so successful they'll be forced to open another down in Tribeca next door to me.

Pizza a Casa - Great crispy thin pizza at home

A week or so ago my wife and I headed over to the Lower East Side for a pizza making lesson at Pizza a Casa, and it was well worth it.  The point of the class is to teach you how to make excellent quality pizza at home in a regular home oven, and it succeeded with flying colors.  To drive the point home the only ovens in the space are two regular electric ovens that are used to cook every one of the dozens of pizzas over the course of the night.  The process it surprisingly easy, fun, and delicious.

Everyone starts out making a batch of dough from scratch, each person ending up with four pizza's worth, which you can cook that night or take home for later.
On each night of the class, they have toppings available to make 10 or so different pizzas of all classes, red, white, dessert, etc.  While you wait for the fresh dough you make to rise, they show you the next steps of prepping the pizza with several pies using dough they made previously.  Starting with a Margherita and then a nice pie topped with thin marinated potato:

Already getting full, it was time for us to craft our own pizzas with our fresh dough.  My wife's first was this great spicy sopressata pizza:
I went with the "Bacon and Eggs" with pancetta, eggs, black pepper and fried sage.  I had a little trouble getting mine as round, but that hardly affects the taste:
Look at that char!  These guys turned out nice and crisp, not at all floppy, just like we like it.  We were beyond stuffed at this point, but we wanted to practice one more and my wife couldn't resist the nutella, pine nut, and banana option:
The options are endless, and we may now be spoiled for take out or delivery pizza, which is no doubt a good thing.  In addition to a packet with the instructions and recipes, we went home with our leftover 5 balls of dough, which we made use of over the next week.  We've actually had a pizza stone and pizza peel since our wedding in '06 that had embarrassingly gone unused until recently, but it's gotten a workout since the class.  Just to prove it works at home as well, here's one I made the next day at home:
See, it works.  (Though I still need practice making it round.)  I ate too much pizza three days in a row.  But it was so good.

A week later we still had one dough left, so on Monday I decided to experiment and made a pizza with it on the grill, mostly because I was hungry and the grill would heat up much more quickly that our slowish oven.  It worked beautifully as well.

UPDATE: Serious Eats recently posted a video showing Bello's "DJ method" for stretching the dough if you want to see how it's done.