I have always taken New Year's resolutions very seriously. This year, though, too many are whirling around in my head: Blog more often. Listen to my acccountant. Start each day with sun salutations. Meditate. See more of nature. Teach my son to cook. Let my friends know how much I appreciate them.
I have always taken New Year's resolutions very seriously. This year, though, too many are swirling around in my head. Blog more often. Listen to my acccountant. Start each day with sun salutations. Meditate. See more of nature. Teach my son to cook. Let my friends know how much I appreciate them.
I don't know if I will be able to stick to all of these (with apologies in advance to my accountant, who deserves better), but I know that the first is likely to happen only if I come clean. I have been hiding from you, dear readers. If I have blogged so little lately, it's not just from lack of time — though that has certainly been a factor — but because I've been avoiding the subject that has occupied most of my thoughts for the past several months.
After 12 years of shared adventures that brought us the most beautiful gift imaginable, our perceptive and funny son who seems to have been descended from Buddha, Philippe and I parted ways last year. Though the agony of ending a marriage is not something I would wish on anyone, this past year has brought some unexpected joys. I have been spending more time with Sam, whose unique vision of the world teaches me about love and tolerance every day. My friends in Nice have rallied round, proving that I have truly made my home here in the past six years even if the door to Paris is always open. After many years of dabbling with yoga I have finally become serious about it, relying on my twice-weekly classes to calm my overactive brain and keep my body in balance. I have also found greater pleasure than ever in my cooking classes, which bring me into contact with people whose curious minds and lasting relationships inspire me.
Still, when December came, I have to admit I was relieved at the prospect of turning the last page of the calendar and seeing a new number that seems full of promise: 2011, the year when anything might happen. To celebrate, I decided to spend the last two weeks of 2010 in New York, America's most brash and confident city. My mission was to teach a cooking class at The Culinary Loft, see good friends, visit my book agent with a new project and of course eat as much as I possibly could in the limited time that I had.
At all of this I succeeded, even if the record snowfall slowed me down just a little, forcing me to climb over snowdrifts and wade through sludge to reach my destinations. Having worked up a hearty appetite I consumed far more great meals than I can describe in detail here, so instead I will share a few highlights of my New York eating, in more or less chronological order. After so much good food washed down with plenty of friendship, it's hard not to feel optimistic about the coming year. Happy New Year to you all!
1. The lamb burger at Balaboosta
This was not the only lamb burger I tasted in New York — I also had one at the Breslin, chef April Bloomfield's restaurant in the fashionable Ace Hotel — but I will venture to say it was the best. Plump and juicily pink with an oozy herbed goat cheese filling, it came with a topping of caramelised onions and a bowl of Middle Eastern pickles on the side. All of the food we tried at Einat Admony's popular new restaurant convincingly evoked the Mediterranean, though to me the hummus and baba ganoush seemed a little naked without olive oil.
2. The grilled cheese sandwich at The Spotted Pig
The restaurant — actually more of a quirky pub — where British chef April Bloomfield made her name is notoriously hard to get into for Sunday brunch. Though we arrived as the restaurant opened at 11am, part of our group was missing and we waited more than an hour for the second sitting. Our reward was a table by the window, where we proceeded to munch our way through the menu, starting greedily with a plate of vanilla cream-filled donuts (as deliciously decadent as they sound). I'm not sure if the grilled cheese sandwich was the best dish on the table that day, but it was what I ordered and there are few things I love better than gooey cheese between two slices of bread, especially when that bread happens to have a crispy golden cheese coating. The chicken liver pâté on toast was a close runner-up, as was the incredible banoffee pie, so rich that we shared it between six.
3. Cookies at City Bakery
I have a bit of a cookie obsession, and nowhere can I indulge that habit better than in New York, where the cookies are bigger and better than anywhere else (or so I imagine, at least). Over a couple of weeks I was able to try almost the entire range of cookies at City Bakery: first the melting chocolate cookie, which struck a glorious balance between brownie and cookie, then the chocolate chip cookie pictured here (very good in a classic way), and finally the oatmeal currant cookie, which I took on the plane with me along with the bakery's smoked tofu and avocado sandwich. "You're smart," commented the flight attendant when I told her I wouldn't be needing the main course, and indeed I was.
4. The pork belly sandwich at Num Pang
The fact that I didn't think to take a picture of this sandwich is a sign of how extraordinary it was. Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi) are all the rage in New York, but Cambodian sandwiches are more unusual, especially when they involve pork belly and fruit like pickled rhubarb or pickled Asian pear. In this funky hole-in-the-wall spot near Union Square, the grease dripped unabashedly from my sandwich as I savored the slow-cooked layers of meat and fat, its wobbly, almost oyster-like texture offset by crunchy pear. For the less carnivorous, the grilled king mackerel with leeks is superb and there is also a vegetarian offering (perhaps roasted salt and pepper yam with sautéed chard and cipollini onions). Oh, and did I mention the ginger-spiked hot apple cider with pieces of apple bobbing on top? Perfect for a frosty winter's day in New York.
5. Union Square market
Market veteran that I am, I didn't expect to come across vegetables I had never seen before at a winter market in New York. But there they were: dramatically pink watermelon radishes, dumpling squash straight out of an oil painting, and parsley roots with unruly hair. My friend Peter went around the market expertly picking out herbs and greens for our Christmas dinner, the first of which would feature in a bright salad dressed with lemon and olive oil, and the second in a layered gratin. He also chose local apples for the world's best apple and quince pie (yes, everything in New York claims to be the world's best, but here I am not exaggerating).
6. Oscar the lobster
Weighing in at 1.5 lbs, modestly sized Oscar gave his life so that we could make spinach and ricotta ravioli with lobster and tarragon sauce on Christmas day. He was one of hundreds of lobsters being scooped up for $15 a pound at Chelsea market, where all the fish and seafood gleamed with rarely seen freshness. Though we were sad to end Oscar's life, I think we showed him due respect, saying a prayer for his crustacean soul before stabbing him between the eyes for a quick (and, we hoped, painless) death. RIP, Oscar.
7. The bagel with cream cheese and lox at Tal Bagels
Not many tourists venture to the northern fringes of the Upper East Side, and over my week-long stay here I became very fond of this low-key area even if it's not known for its great restaurants. An exception is this down-to-earth bagel emporium, which I discovered while taking a walk by myself in the blizzard the day after Christmas. I ordered the pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese, lox and red onion, not expecting the filled bagel to be as cartoonishly tall as the pastrami sandwich at the Pastrami Queen not far away. At nearly $10 it certainly wasn't cheap, but it more than satisfied my bagel craving, and I enjoyed watching the regulars stream in and place their familiar orders. Next time, I would try one of the many flavored cream cheeses, which looked tempting in their metal tubs, and perhaps skip the smoked salmon. (I forgot my camera that day, so failed to record this sandwich.) Incidentally, if you do find yourself in this area, be sure to visit the fascinating cookbook shop Kitchen Arts and Letters. I spent hours there poring over new and used books with my food writer friends.
8. The roasted carrot, avocado and sprouts salad at ABC Kitchen
This stylish spot, attached to the vast furniture and decor shop ABC Home and overseen by the celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, wins the prize for restaurant that I worked hardest to get to. If the snowstorm allowed us to bypass the usual two-month wait to obtain a table here, it also made crossing Union Square on foot almost impossible. Blinded by the falling snow, I could no longer tell sidewalk from street - but nothing was going to get in the way of a good meal. Shaking off my blanket of snow I joined my friends in the full dining room, where we shared a series of small plates as well as a spicy clam pizza and the bowtie pasta with kasha and veal meatballs. All were delicious, but this salad charmed me with its winning combination of ingredients presented in an unusual way. Also spectacular was the sundae, presented in deep bowl: three scoops of salted caramel ice cream topped with candied peanuts and popcorn and chocolate sauce. A good reason to brave a blizzard.
9. Sushi at the Greenwich Grill
I love this Tribeca restaurant so much that I ate there twice during my stay: once on the main floor, where the food combines Asian and European flavors in a surprisingly successful way, and later at the very discreet sushi bar downstairs, which seems to be known only to the Japanese community and a few locals. Because the lighting was dim I was not able to take pictures, but suffice it to say that this was the best sushi any of us had eaten this side of Tokyo. We ordered the Koi menu with a mouthful of octopus, miso soup and ten pieces of sushi for $32 each, but with drinks (I adored the yuzu martini) and many little extras off the daily specials —crispy fried squid, avocado with sea urchin — we more than doubled that price. It was well worth it for the quality and freshness of the expertly prepared food.
10. The sticky bun at Spice Market
We didn't have a full meal at this vast restaurant with a vaguely Indonesian decor, but stopped in for tea and an afternoon cake. As always, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has put together a tempting menu that doesn't neglect desserts. Shivering at the sight of the waitresses in their backless dresses, we warmed up with this sticky bun studded with apples and pecans. Totally unnecessary given that we had been eating all day, but full of gooey goodness nonetheless.
A last word
Ordering a red velvet cupcake at Crumbs one day (another reason to like the Upper East side), I was taken aback to see that it contained 500 calories. What might have been a late morning snack became my lunch. Chain restaurants in New York are obliged to list the calorie count in the foods they serve, which I can't help but think detracts from pleasure. I shudder to think of the calorie count in a croissant, yet the French seem to know how to consume them in moderation without being "warned". At the same time, I can see the benefits of forcing fast food companies to be straight with their customers. What do you think of this law? Do you think that people should be informed of the calories contained in baked goods and fast foods?