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Posts Tagged ‘West Village’

John and I are as choosy with our Italian desserts as we are with our entreés (like pizza). I happen to be a tiramisú snob, and have turned up my nose at quite a few slices, while John will down well-made panna cotta like an Electrolux that’s just had its filter cleaned.

But the cannoli….Ahh…the cannoli. A perfect cannoli is a study in contradictions, a perfect blend of opposites in flavor and texture. As the holding device, the shell represents a challenge: It must be crispy and ever-so-slightly sweet. NEVER chewy or dense. With lots of airy holes for extra crunch.

The cream presents another challenge. First, it has to be ricotta cream. I know….I know, you may be thinking, “Who would fill cannoli with anything else?” If you asked that question, you’re hired!

You might be surprised to learn how many whipped cream filled cannoli I have encountered. And put down after the first bite, because that’s just wrong, people. WRONG.

Assuming that the filling is ricotta based, it should also be rich, thick in consistency and have a definite sweetness that is not overpowering. Light and airy are not characteristics of the filling – those belong to the shell.

Now a final word of caution: NO PRE-FILLING the cannoli shells. If you walk into a bakery and there are a stack of filled cannoli in the glass display case, don’t order them. They could have been sitting there since the Dharma Project’s last food drop.

The shells should be lined up, empty awaiting your order. Then, and only then, do they get their ricotta cream piped into them. This is because cannoli filling will make the super crispy and light shell a soggy, dense mess. True story.

As for toppings or additions to the cream filling, these are traditional and definitely allowed. I’m not a huge fan of succade, or chopped, candied citrus peel, I find that they don’t add much in terms of flavor and are just interruptions in the cream filling. Like speed bumps. I do, however approve of mini chocolate chips, either integrated into the cream or sprinkled on top. These do add flavor, and because they are firm, but not crunchy, an extra layer of texture. Pistachios often make an appearance, as does a nice dark chocolate dip. However, prepping the chocolate dipped varieties usually means pre-filling, so I’m not the biggest fan of this option.

OK, I think I’m done with my pastry-related tirade. Are you still here? I hope so, because Rocco’s cannoli are definitely worth the trip. To the West Village. In the pouring rain. And John doesn’t walk very quickly. So, if you’re going with him, you should know that.

Rocco’s has a lot of other treats that we didn’t sample. We went straight for the cannoli. But you might like to try some of these:

They sure looked tasty.

After navigating the somewhat confusing line (it seems that people just queue up in no particular order, and there’s no number system), we noticed the empty cannoli shells lined up in the back awaiting their creamy centers – a very good sign. We ordered 2, and got them to go.

Probably we should have enjoyed them at on of Rocco’s cafe tables. Instead, we ventured out into the pouring rain (did I mention that John walks slowly?) and to the PATH train to head back to Hoboken.

Both John and I are very impatient when it comes to food. We want to eat it NOW. Whatever it is. Now works. The train unfortunately arrived immediately, even as I was unwinding the intricately-laced bakers twine on the box.

John: “I have never wanted the train to NOT arrive before….” This said as I reluctantly returned the white box to its plastic bag.

Once on the train, all bets were off. Especially the ones saying “No Eating or Drinking on Path Trains”. John dove into his cannoli as I attempted to take photos of them on the moving train. Please keep in mind that we are professionals. You shouldn’t try this at home. Or anywhere.

I held off on eating mine as I wanted to take a nice glamor shot of it once back at my apartment (see the first photo for evidence of self-restraint). But I was curious, so I asked John some questions.

Me: “How is it?”

John: “Great.” (You might not think it, but this is actually very high praise from John).

Me: “Ummm…Could you give me more details? How’s the filling?”

John: “Awesome, man.”

I see.

Once I could sample mine in the comfort and stability of my non-moving apartment, I could tell that John was correct. It was a great cannoli. The shell was fried to perfection, and I detected a hint of cinnamon in the mix that added a subtle flavor. The cream was indeed awesome: a ricotta cream with very tiny and sparingly applied succade and topped with mini chocolate chips. I may have wanted the cream a bit thicker, but the flavor was true to form. The shell even maintained its crispiness throughout our soggy walk home, shattering as I bit into it (this is supposed to happen).

Rocco’s: a great place for awesome cannoli. Man.

Pasticerria Rocco
243 Bleecker Street
New York
New York, 10014

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On our trip to Spasso, I became obsessed with their Ribollita soup. It was, in fact my favorite part of the meal (although John was a huge fan of the gnocchi). I don’t think I was ever more intrigued by a soup. A simple blend of white beans, kale, melty shreds of parmesan cheese and the lightest of tomato broths with….what was that flavor in there?….PANCETTA! Seriously, people, it makes everything betta. Yeah, I said it.

Naturally, I wanted to recreate this for myself in the Laboratorio Semi Moderno (my kitchen).

I dutifully embarked on a little recon mission – scouring the internets and reviewing Ribollita recipes. Which there are a lot of – woooo boy. Anyway, I found two favorites: one from 101 Cookbooks, and one from Epicurious. I did a little blend-a-roo between these two versions and created my own Frankenstein’s monster of a soup, which I now have a heck of a lot of and have been eating every day. Consider halving this recipe if you don’t want a bathtub-full of this stuff (but leave the pancetta amount as is):

Ribollita

What You Need:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 14-ounce / 400 ml can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound / 16 ounces Tuscan kale, stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
2 cans white beans (cannellini beans)
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
4 ounces pancetta or ham, chopped (optional if you want to keep it veggie)
3 cups chicken broth (you can use veggie broth) and 3-4 cups water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Grated parmesan

Crusty, stale bread (like a baguette), cut into cubes and toasted. Kinda like croutons.

What To Do:
Get out your most huuuuuge-mongous pot and heat the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. Then, If you’re using the pancetta (pleeeeease use the pancetta. Unless you’re a vegetarian. And then it’s OK not to), throw the meat into the pot, and let it toast in there for about 4 minutes (stirring).

Add in the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook these veggies slowly for 10 -15 minutes, but don’t allow them to turn brown. Stir in the tomatoes and cayenne pepper, and simmer for another 10 minutes, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken slightly. Stir in the kale, the beans, the 3 cups of chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you are keeping it vegetarian) and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.

Cook 20 – 30 minutes, then stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed.

Before serving, stir in a healthy amount of grated parmesan cheese and top with the toasted bread cubes (I like saying that better than “croutons”). You can even top with a dollop of ricotta cheese like they did at Spasso. I liked that very much, but if you read this blog you know how much I love ricotta.

Why don’t you make some this weekend?

Note: You can cool and refrigerate this soup, but if you do, please DON’T add the parm or the bread cubes until you’ve reheated it and are ready to serve.

Makes a large pot of soup – enough for 10 servings.

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I have two friends named Meg. We are collectively referred to as “Elana and the Megs.” The Megs (Meg L and Meg H) and we try and get together at my apartment for dinner whenever we can. This usually involves cooking experimentation supplemented by copious amounts of wine (and a viewing of Lost when it was still running).

The things we’ve consumed on these evenings are many and include (but are not limited to):

1. Pasta with pumpkin and fried sage in a light cream sauce (a favorite)

2. Lots and lots of salad (especially with figs during their season)

3. Pick and Mix (a term that I learned from a British friend and have adopted. In our case it refers to all manner of veggies, hummuses, spreads, cheeses, fruits, and crackers).

4. All varieties of homemade pizza (sometimes all at once).

5. Tiny pies (from the Small Pie Co.)

6. 18,591 baby carrots

7. Numerous bottles of wine (not an exhaustive list):

For this holiday season, we decided that instead of exchanging gifts, we would have a dinner of wine and cheese at my place. Each person would be charged with getting a bottle of wine and a cheese to go with it.

It broke down in the following way:

Meg L: Something bubbly and a cheese to go with it. Meg selected a Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco and paired it with a goat cheese and orange marmalade. I’m not very well-versed in describing wine (so bear with me), but this Prosecco was nice and light with a touch of sweetness to it. The bubbles and smooth, creamy goat cheese were a good match. And a nice tang from the orange marmalade gave it a little punch.

Elana: Something white and a cheese to go with it. I was on a mission – for truffle cheese (see first photo). I am mildly obsessed with foods flavored with truffles. It’s a problem. Anyway, I headed straight to Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker and said to the friendly cheesemonger who was helping me, “Give me all your truffle cheese.” And he said, “We have four different kinds.” Deciding that purchasing all four might be overkill, I opted for the Peccorino Tartufello, a variety that has a stronger truffle flavor. Then, I wandered into Sparrow Wine and Liquor in Hoboken, showed them my wedge of cheese and demanded a white wine to go with it. They laughed at me. I guess people don’t normally walk in there, brandishing a wedge of cheese and asking for wine recs. Why the heck not? I settled on a Domaine Léon Boesch Pinot Blanc from Alsace. I was told that this wine, as a Pinot Blanc, would be a bit earthier and match well with the truffle cheese. True dat.

Meg H: Something red and a cheese to go with it. Meg H selected the above Cotes du Rhone – a Domain Lafond 2009. I happen to love Cotes du Rhone, and this one was no exception. It was like drinking a bouquet of flowers. In a good way. The cheese she chose was a St. Nectaire, which none of us had ever heard of. It was semi-soft and rather mild in taste, but also rich and dense.

We also supplemented this heart-healthy display of fatty, delicious cheese with some other items: the raisin mostarda (which made its debut at my holiday party. Recipe here) with ricotta cheese and honey, baby carrots (the above count will now need updating) and yellow bell peppers, Trader Joe’s Three Layer Hummus (a fabulous combination of red pepper, original, and cilantro hummuses), and a variety of crackers and breads including these Stonewall Kitchen crackers, which I love.

A good time was had by all. The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I had a wine or a cheese hangover. So, if you’re looking to throw together a cheese plate for New Year’s Eve, or a cocktail party, you might want to consider these contenders. If you’re in Hoboken, definitely pay a visit to Sparrow Wine and Liquor. Javier is more than happy to make a recommendation (especially if you bring an actual wedge of cheese into the shop). And if you’re in New York City and haven’t gone to Murray’s Cheese yet, you might need your priorities re-arranged.

If you have a wine and cheese combo that you love, post it in the comments!

Also, if you happen to know the plural of “hummus” leave that in the comment section, too.

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This week’s restaurant review – L’Artusi on 228 W 10th St.   I had unsuccessfully tried to get in here twice before via reservation – granted each time was for a Friday night.  It is only through Elana’s stalking of the staff at the commonly owned nearby wine bar, Anfora, which secures us an 8:30 reservation.

My first thought about L’Artusi – what a cool space.  Its first floor is bustling with energy.  Dimly lit, yet festive – it offers a bar, a small chef’s table, regular seating and, in the back, a glimpse of the kitchen.  Our table is actually in the upstairs portion of this loft-style joint.  From our spot, I can view the downstairs crown or peep a skylight above.  Off to the side, is one of the more cooler looking private party rooms I could imagine.  Mental note for my upcoming 22nd birthday party.

Part owner and sommelier Joe Campanale, glides over to offer a wine recommendation to accompany our selections off the menu.  Our server applauds our selection.  Everyone here seems to be on the same page.  Already, it appears that we are in good hands.

Getting things started, we order their Ricotta cheese with some wafers and cranberry.  Really wonderful.  The Ricotta is extremely creamy, with a hint of thrill to it.  Yeah, thrill –  there is a little tang or punch to it.   The wafers provide a nice platform to scoop up some cranberries to mix with the ricotta.

Elana and I proceed to then split a dish of roasted mushrooms with fried egg, peppers and pancetta.  Extreme loads of flavor here, with the peppers providing a spicy after punch.  A strong and salty dish, I keep plowing my fork into this pile of goodness until its disappearing act.

We each order a pasta dish.  Elana selects the Mushroom Garganelli.  This is very solid.  It’s pasta in a mushroom, beefy ragu.  I get the autumn squash ravioli in a sage brown butter sauce.  This is excellent.  Great sage flavor here.  The homemade ravioli is thin and fresh, giving way to a warm, sweet squash inside.  We also split the cauliflower ravioli which, if you couldn’t see, is Elana’s “fav.”

For an entreé, Elana chooses roasted quail with butternut squash, cranberries, brussel sprouts and roasted garlic.  The skin on the quail is cooked to a perfect, snapping crust.  The bird itself is moist, and perfectly fatty and salty.  The sweet cranberries and roasted garlic, a kryptonite of mine of sorts, make this the top dish of the night in my estimation.  I opt for the braised short ribs with polenta and parmesan.  These babies are perfectly cooked, and the polenta serves as a filling, plentiful side.

For dessert, we get some olive oil cake.  It is a pound cake with, indeed, a distinctive olive oil taste.  It’s light and moist, with raisins and a whip cream to smother on top.  We also try the cranberry crostata with pecans and vanilla gelato.  Another winner here.

Service is near perfect.  A knowledgeable, attentive and friendly staff.  We never felt rushed despite the busy goings on of the restaurant.

As to the bathrooms, Elana was quite impressed – “the single bathroom (on the upper floor) was an avant guarde little oasis with spray painted circles and subway tiles halfway up the wall. It felt like a walk in art installation complete with porcelain throne and Exlerator!”

Spending a night at L’Artusi was time well invested.  The atmosphere is great, the staff is eager to please, and the food is high quality. Their menu is diverse and plentiful, making a return visit high on my to-do list.

Overall Movie ExperienceHeat

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By now you may have noticed that I go on and on about a certain wine bar in the West Village – Anfora Wine Bar. After my first encounter with one of the Producer Nights held there on Tuesdays, I just kept returning. Couldn’t help myself.

Aside from the wonderful food and welcoming atmosphere, the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful in the wine department. This is mostly due to the Joe Campanale, sommelier and Anfora partner.

I recently attended an exceptional Italian wine class that he taught at the Institute of Culinary Education. Joe has an immense wealth of knowledge on the topic of Italian wine and is an enthusiastic and well-spoken teacher.

On Monday, December 13th, Joe is hosting an Italian wine tasting at Anfora Wine Bar, and I would encourage you all to attend.

There will be wine. Good wine. Italian wine. And a very knowledgeable tour guide to take you through all of it. You can even learn something. For example: what kinds of wine you should be serving at that holiday party you decided to throw even though you haven’t done one lick of shopping for it and your Christmas tree keeps falling over. Oh sorry – that’s my reason! As an added bonus there will be meats and cheeses from Murray’s to complement the wine.

Also, I have looked around and at $50 for wine and food AND education it’s quite a deal.

Did I mention there would be wine? Just checking…

Here is the formal information via the Facebook link:

Taste Italian wines to impress even the most knowledgeable oenophile when sommelier and Anfora partner Joe Campanale walks you through some of his favorite and most unique Italian vintages. Taking place at the newest sexy addition to the Dell’Anima/L’Artusi family, Joe will speak in depth about each distinctive wine and answer your questions as you sip thoughtfully through them. For your nibbling enjoyment each wine will be paired with Italian cheeses and meats from Murray’s so when you bring this party home you can doubly impress your friends with your new wine and cheese knowledge.

Event Details:
$50 for wine tasting and Italian bites with Joe Campanale; tax and gratuity not included.

To Reserve:
E-mail megan@anforanyc.com

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On Tuesday of last week, I learned (via my compulsive Twitter checking habits) that Anfora Wine Bar was having one of its “Producer Nights”. On these nights, they choose a specific wine producer and feature that producer’s wines by the glass for a very good price.

On this particular Tuesday, the wines featured were from producer Thierry Puzelat and included the following: Cheverny Rouge Clos du Tue-Boeuf 09, Le Rouge Est Mis ’09 and Ko Rose ’09.

Before I comment on the wine (which I enjoyed perhaps too much…), I would like to say that I am not a wine expert of any kind. I do know what I like to drink, but I’m happy to learn more about different wines from someone who has more knowledge than I do.

Which is one of the reasons that I wanted to go to Anfora’s Producer Night.

The other reason is that, although I had never been to Anfora, I knew that there would be good food to sample along with the wine, as Anfora Wine Bar is owned by the same wonderful group that owns Dell’Anima and L’Artusi.

So, I twisted my friend Meg’s arm (I think John was golfing…) and we set off for the long journey (a few blocks) to the West Village.

We managed to get two seats at the bar, which was advantageous because our bartender had great suggestions for both food and drink.

As we seated ourselves, a wonderous smell wafted by (probably fanned over by one of the chefs as both Meg and I were looking a little hungry). I stared at the bartender, eyes wide (and probably feverish) and said, “Is that GRUYERE cheese I smell melting?” I think he was alarmed that my nose exhibited such precision, but he nodded politely, smiled knowingly and said that yes, in fact it was Gruyere cheese and it was melting in one of their grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sold! And so it began, first the Gruyere grilled cheese and then the lamb ragu slider (which was named as one of NYC’s best sandwiches), all the while sampling the Puzelat wines. We especially liked the red one (Le Rouge Est Mis ’09).

At this point, Meg and I were happy to take a recommendation from our bartender on the home made ricotta cheese plate. The little pillow of ricotta that arrived was accompanied by slices of crusty bread, and a sampling of honey, mustard and a raisin and caramelized onion jam. We were delighted. And that was before we tried the cheese. The cheese was creamy, flavorful and perfectly salted. The texture was light (not too grainy) and very spreadable.

After this, Meg and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Mostly because we just fought over the last bites of the ricotta. Our bartender suggested some glasses of sherry to smooth ruffled feathers. He poured us two glasses of the golden-reddish-brown liquid and brought us a bowl of olives to enjoy along with it. It was a perfect combination and exactly what we needed with the sherry. And the sing-along of Sherry Baby wasn’t too shabby either.

As at Dell’Anima (winner of our Bathroom of the Month award), the bathrooms at Anfora were in tip-top shape, as you can see from the photo below.

Meg and I left Anfora very happy with both the bar and Producer Night. The next morning, I received this text from Meg:

She made a very good point, as I was just staring in my fridge hoping against hope that some mini cakes and champagne would appear. And that I could somehow convince my small, fluffy dog to bring them to me in bed. Not a chance.

So, I would make you, oh very smart reader, two recommendations. Recommendation the first: Go check out Anfora Wine Bar, either on a Producer Night (Tuesdays) or any other night; and The Second: have your fridge stocked with champs and tiny cakes for the morning after. Trust me, it helps.

Small, fluffy dog optional.

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Kudos to Dell’ Anima, the winner of our September Bathroom of the Month Award!

They scored some good bathroom points with the Xlerator hand dryer, the good smelling candle (even John thought it smelled nice in there), and that wicked cool mirror frame. Everything was on the up-and-up in there as far as our scout (John) could tell.

Just another reason to go back.

Membership in the Bathroom of the Month Club is closely monitored. Points are awarded for cleanliness most of all. Order and neatness also count. Extra bumps up the bathroom scale are given for Xlerator (or, my personal fav, Dyson) hand dryers. But if you have cool towels (like the kind you wash), that’s nice too. Little extras like nice smelling candles, interesting art and decor won’t hurt your chances either.

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