Thursday, December 30, 2010

db Bistro Moderne - Manhattan

Lean with Envy
Could this be happening? My husband, Bubba, had nonchalantly mentioned that while he was in Manhattan for the holidays, he and his family had eaten at a “really nice” restaurant. But I didn’t get the full scoop until later, and once I did my pangs of regret were only matched by pangs of hunger. The “really nice” restaurant was only one of the most successful, respected, suber (= super + uber) chefs around, Daniel Boulud’s, db Bistro Moderne. And that was only the beginning. Why not go for the full-blown, red carpet treatment? I'm talking complimentary bottles of champagne, appetizers and a dessert menu in its entirety that would make even Willy Wonka's how it happened.

Back story: My sister-in-law, Keri (the opera singer) had rented out a room when she first moved to Manhattan a few years ago, owned by an eccentric, older woman whose shelves were stacked with valueless volumes and walls decorated in artists’ canvases. She provided reasonable rent to inspired, young talent, so Keri and her husband shared the place with another couple, who both happened to work at Thomas Keller’s, Per Se – she was a pastry chef and he cooked on the line.

So needless to say when we stayed with Keri that Christmas, I found myself in the same space with my version of superstars, and the best part was that the pastry chef had been baking like mad to bring her family treats for the holidays. Emerging from the kitchen with broken pieces of rosemary shortbread, she offered them up saying, “They’re cracked so can’t use them in my gift packages.” One bite and I was tempted to run in the kitchen and throw every other tray to the ground, adding, “These look broken too” as I shoveled baked goods from the floor into my mouth. Their fractured pieces had made my heart whole…full of happy, herbaceous, artery clogging love.

Flash forward: to Christmas 2010 and Ms. Pastry Per Se had now become the executive pastry chef at db Bistro Moderne in the theater district...and that is how my husband came to revel in the high life for a few hours. Champagne was delivered and tarte flambée (a pizza-like pastry with fromage blanc, bacon and onions) came to the table without ordering.

Plus, Bubba loves a nice rack…of lamb and said it was probably one of the best he's ever had. And believe me, he's quite the connoisseur. They should call him Shari Lewis for all the lamb chops he’s had his hands in.

Since the pastry chef was their “in”, dessert was the main event. A taste of every item on the dessert menu was sent out. Bubba’s recollection was foggy (and believe me I grilled him), but he recalled, “There was a lot of chocolate and the desserts were all neatly rolled up...kinda of geometrically cut.” When I led him to the online menu, there were only a couple of items that were included in his visit and he raved about both:

1) APPLE MILLE-FEUILLE - Apple Confit, Confiture De Lait, Rum Ice Cream

2) VANILLA POACHED PEAR VACHERIN -Toasted Almond Chantilly, Marzipan Mousse, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Pear Sorbet


Take out: Bubba did bring me back a slender, gold bottom box and inside rested some unexpected jewels…an exquisite row of house-made treats – fudge, dark chocolate and one item whose spiced scent had intoxicated my nostrils since I’d opened the box: cinnamon marshmallows. As someone who has never enjoyed marshmallows (not even in novelty form like S’mores), these brought new perspective as they dissolved on my tongue. Granted, they were homemade and prepared by a four star kitchen, but I could now say me and the "marsh" were mellow. Boulad had changed my mind and even though I hadn't been at the table, I still sat impressed from afar.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Forno's of Spain - Newark, NJ

Layover Leftovers

We were officially on our way to Spain to see my sister-in-law perform in Sevilla (she’s an opera singer, don’t ya know?), but before we left the States, our four hour layover in Newark allowed enough time for my mom (in Jersey) to grab us for dinner. Forno’s was fitting fare to say the least, known for its classic, Spanish cuisine and only about 10 minutes from the airport. After seeing crowds pour in from 5pm on, I knew we were about to be properly schooled...old school.

Enough fancy floated around the table for us to be impressed with waiters dressed in vests and bowties fawning over us (“Is your preference white or red sangria?”), while busboys bustled, bringing baskets of warm rolls, followed by garlic bread, followed by greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette…and that was all before we even had time to read the menu. Entrees were a bit pricey (high $20-low $30), but along with the impromptu items from the start, dishes of saffron rice, veggies (green beans and cauliflower) and thinly sliced, crispy "papas" were lavished upon us during dinner.

Fish here was fresh and fabulous, plucked from the ocean and cut into thick filets. My mom snacked on sautéed snapper with garlic, olive oil and red chili flakes. The chili brought some bite, but otherwise it was a bit flat - an acute case of seasoning sickness, though I can’t fault the fish, because that was one quality catch.

My hubby went for halibut, grilled to perfection and topped with paprika and pine nuts. Thick, substantial and masterfully handled like a fine steak, my meat-and-potatoes man never once asked, “Where’s the beef?” Served with boiled taters, I realized how much these people loved their carbs (two types of bread, rice and papas, plus a potato with dinner?) - my kind of people!

As for myself, I went for the sole Francaise. Flaky, white filets were dredged in flour and egg, then doused in butter and lemon to combine the guilty pleasure of comfort food and fish’s natural ability to remain light = sole food.

By the time we got up to leave, there was an hour wait. We hugged our goodbyes and my mom happily claimed my leftovers that wouldn’t make it across the Atlantic. Forno-cation ( = Forno + vacation) had been one righteous rendezvous, leaving us relaxed, content and sleepy for the long flight. Next stop...Spain.