Just a few weeks ago a book tour to the US took me to three cities, New York , Pennsylvania and Minneapolis . It was just a few days before the war broke out and on the face of it everything seemed normal, but somehow there was an uneasy calm. I was staying in the centre of Manhattan around the corner from the theatre district near Times Square .
News headlines were endlessly snaking across the Radio Building . Huge brash signs and posters everywhere, screaming, bouncing, gyrating, flashing to get your attention.
This is New York, incorrigible, shameless, endless hard sell but so exciting. New Yorkers seemed to have bounced back after September 11th, , restaurants were full again but underneath many are still traumatized. Nineteen months later many people still find it almost impossible to talk about the experience. Others can’t stop, each struggles to find release from the horror.
Despite the buzz, restaurateurs are very apprehensive, now that war has broken out there’s more talk of recession. People are spending less, ‘eating in’ is the new ‘eating out’. A foodie friend, who can usually be relied on to have her finger on the gastronomic pulse of the Big Apple, explained that apparently in this era of fiscal constraint New York is awash again in simple gastronomic pleasures. Fancy hamburgers are the hot new dish, short beef ribs and pork belly are all around town. “Destination dining” has given way to the cult of the neighbourhood restaurant. Home cooking is the trendy phrase among the members of the cognoscenti.
Even the city’s most lauded and adored Italian chefs are focussing their considerable energies on the safest time- honoured favourite- they’re opening pizza joints.
When I was there everyone was flocking to Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, the newest spin-off of Babbo owned by the dream team chefs, Mario Batali, Jason Denton and Jo Bastianich, whose restaurant Esca I’ve waxed lyrical about before in these columns.
Opened recently, Apizz is another hot spot for gourmet pizza. Here there are oblong pizzas, scissored into portions according to the customer’s whim and sold by the 1lb- a Roman idea. There are 20-30 different types of chewy burnt crust and generous toppings of earthy ingredients like artichokes, wild boar, homemade sausages and salami. This is a cash only establishment- another interesting development.
The buzz words are local, earthy, bio-dynamic, hand made, neighbourhood, craft, fresh squeezed ……. Several of the young chefs are not just liasing with the farmers to raise their really good produce, but are actually getting involved in growing produce and raising animals themselves.
Casare Casella’s spit grilled sausages served with white beans and a sprig of rosemary at Beppe are made from pigs reared on his own farm.
Danny Meyer, owner of Grammercy Tavern and Craft says”all the best food is about slow cooking cuts of meat” I had a superb lunch at Craft where the food is served ‘family style’ in bowls and platters along the centre of the table. Chef Tom Collichio’s short ribs were quite simply sublime, I bought his book on the strength of it just to try the recipe.
New York is awash with terrific restaurants at present, sadly one simply doesn’t have enough time on a short trip even though I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday and sometimes afternoon tea too.
For those of you who can take advantage of the current cheap airfares, don’t miss Lupa, another of Mario Battali’s places, great gutsy Italian food.
Union Square Café is still a great favourite , meriting top ratings in the Zagat Guide to new York City restaurants, and if you are down in that area at the weekend go to the Farmers’ Market in Union Square to get a glimpse of the food scene and then after an amble through the stalls reward yourself with a mug of hot chocolate with a home-made marshmallow melting on top, at the City Bakery.
And finally, for a real neighbourhood restaurant seek out the place all my foodie friends are whispering about, Prune 54 East 1st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, where maverick chef Gabrielle Hamilton is quietly becoming a new cult.
There’s so much more but I’ve run out of space - next week breakfast in the Big Apple.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria – One Fifth Avenue Tel 212 995 9559
Craft – 43 East 19th Street (between Broadway and Park avenue ) Tel 212-780- 0880
Gramercy Tavern – 42 E. 20th Street , (between Broadway & Park Avenue S. ) Tel 212 -477- 0777
Lupa – 170 Thompson Street (Bleecker and Houston Station) Tel 212-982-5089
Babbo- 110 Waverly Place, (between MacDougal St & 6th Ave. ) Tel. 212 -777- 0303
Grammercy Tavern – 42 East 20th Street (Broadway and Park Avenue ) Tel 212-477-0777
Prune- 54 East First Street (between 20th and 21st Streets) Tel 212-677-6221
Esca – 402 West 43rd Street ( 9th Avenue ) Tel 212-564-7272
Beppe- 45 East 22nd Street (between Broadway and Park Avenue South ) Tel 212-982-8422
City Bakery – 3 W. 18th St. (between 5th & 6th Avenues) Tel 212- 366 -1414
Apizz – 21 Eldridge St. (between Rivington and Stanton Streets) Tel 212- 253-9199
Zagat Survey 2003 New York City Restaurants - published and distributed by Zagat Survey, LLD, 4 Columbus Circle, New York, New York 10019, Tel. 212 977 6000, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org. www.zagat.com
Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course Cookbook has just been nominated for a James Beard award in the US , published by Kyle Cathie Ltd UK , Gill & Macmillan in Ireland and published by Penguin in USA as Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook.
Darina’s back to basic recipes.
Florence Bowe’s Crumpets
A great standby, 'Crumpets' can be made in minutes with ingredients you'd probably have in the house. They are also the ideal solution if you've got nothing in the tin when a friend drops in for tea, because they only take a few minutes to make and children love them.
My Auntie Florence makes the best crumpets I know, the problem is one always eats too many!
If possible allow the batter to stand for an hour before using.
Use a non-stick pan – makes it easier.
Cook over a medium heat – you may need to make one or two first before you get the heat just right.
Don’t turn the crumpets on the pan until the bubbles burst, otherwise they will still be semi-raw in the centre.
Makes 15 approx.
½ lb (225g) white flour
¼ teasp. salt
½ teasp. breadsoda
1 teasp. Bextartar (cream of tartar)
2 eggs, preferably free range
8 fl ozs (250ml) milk
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
1 oz (30g) butter
Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter. Drop the eggs into the centre, add a little of the milk and stir rapidly with a whisk allowing the flour to drop gradually in from the sides. When half the milk is added, beat until air bubbles rise. Add the remainder of the milk and allow to stand for one hour if possible. * Drop a good dessertspoonful into a hottish pan and cook until bubbles appear on the top. It usually takes a bit of trial and error to get the temperature right. Flip over and cook until golden on the other side. Serve immediately with butter and homemade jam or better still apple jelly.
* They are usually lighter if the batter is allowed to stand but I've often cooked them immediately with very acceptable results!
Braised Short Ribs
2 tablesp.salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large, meaty beef short ribs, (about 4 lbs), cut in half (ask your butcher to cut each rib in half, since smaller ribs are easier to handle, this will leave you with 8 short ribs)
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
8 fresh hot cherry peppers
4 fl.ozs sherry vinegar
16-24 fl.ozs (450-650ml) home-made chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
Heat the oven to 350F/180C/regulo 4
Heat the oil in a large deep ovenproof casserole over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Salt and pepper the ribs and cook them, in batches, until they are nicely browned on all sides, about 20 minutes.
Remove the ribs and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme, and salt and pepper to the casserole. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then add the peppers. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender and browned, 5 to 10 minutes more.
Return the ribs to the casserole. Add the vinegar and enough stock to come up the sides but not over the ribs. Bring the braising liquid to a simmer. Add the tarragon and remaining thyme, then transfer the casserole to the oven and cook at a very gentle simmer (just an occasional bubble) for 1 hour. Turn the ribs and continue cooking until the meat is tender and comes easily away from the bone, about 1½ hours more.
Transfer the ribs and vegetables to a plate. Bring the braising liquid to a simmer and skim off the fat. Reduce the liquid slightly (just so it has a little body), then return the ribs and vegetables to the casserole. Simmer just long enough to reheat the ribs, then serve.
Cherry peppers are about the size of large cherry tomatoes and are sweeter and fleshier than normal chillies. They are also known as Hungarian peppers and can be found by that name bottled. You could also substitute with a red chilli –about 3 inches long and not too narrow – red chillies are sweeter than green, being riper.
Another alternative would be to use an equivalent amount of red bell peppers and a pinch of red chilli flakes.