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Thursday
Oct212010

Anfora Wine Bar



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.

Wednesday
Oct202010

You Deserve a BK Today



This past Columbus Day proposed a serious dilemma for me: what to do with myself? I had the day off from work! On a suggestion from our friend Steve (you may want to follow him on Twitter, he's very entertaining), I was inspired to make it a Brooklyn day and explore a bunch of different areas, starting with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in Prospect Park.

I had never visited the Botanical Gardens and I really enjoyed it. Columbus Day gifted me with some wonderful weather, and I was able to stroll amongst the flowers, trees and buzzing bees... until I got hungry. Which, as you may know by now, happens with alarming frequency.

The next dilemma was: where to lunch? I checked my trusty phone and realized that somewhere else I had never before visited was nearby: the Brooklyn Larder. So I departed the park and headed onto Flatbush Avenue in search of it. I would have stopped at Franny's and enchant you all with more pizza tales of finely baked crusts and tomatoes, but - alas - they were unfortunately closed.



However, Brooklyn Larder did not disappoint. First, a confession: as a graphic designer, I occasionally experience visual overload. It's a good thing. It happens when I walk into a place (could be a shop, a museum, a nice street or a gourmet food market) and there is just SO MUCH to look at. So many cool things. So nicely designed. It's like frolicking in a daisy field or something. For my brain. Anyway, that's what this place was like for me. I literally had to hold myself back from buying everything. Instead, I took a deep breath and ordered lunch.

Me to friendly girl behind counter, "What should I eat?"

Friendly girl (not at all put off by my question), "Hot or cold?"

Me, "Hot."

She, "The grilled sandwich with sauteed greens, olives and Taleggio cheese."

Me, "Fire that up. Please. And a cookie. Maple ginger. Throw that in there too. Please."

I grabbed a seat at the window-bar area and very soon, my meal was brought over to me (very nice of them considering it's a deli and I definitely could have walked up there to get it). Here is my lunch:



Lunch was perfection. Truly. The sandwich bread was fresh and nicely toasted - crispy on the outside (and still warm) and chewy on the inside with just the right amount of sandwich filling. The cheese and olives paired wonderfully, neither overpowering the other. As for my cookie, well I was a fan. It had REAL chunks of ginger in it! I expressed my enthusiasm about this to the friendly girl behind the counter (in much the same way as I expressed my enthusiasm for fried pickles at Joe Doe). Her look was appreciative, but also seemed to suggest, "Well, of course. Why wouldn't there be?" Fair point, fair point.

This seems to be the mantra and general offering of the market: fresh ingredients - either served or packaged (their range of perishable packaged foods like cheese, meats, and duck liver is extensive). They get all their food items that aren't baked or made on the premises (many of them are) from places close-at-hand. In fact, you can read more about the cookie-baking process and the master mind behind it here.

Before I left I bought a few more things: a huge loaf of sourdough bread from Scratchbread, and a little package of Apple Cider Caramels from Liddabit Sweets which I will talk about later.

After this, I decided to venture out in search of pie. I had been hearing about Four and Twenty Blackbirds Bakery for a while and wanted to go find it. This bakery also gets excellent reviews, but unfortunately for me was closed on that particular day.



Oh well. So onward I walked to Park Slope! Where I discovered that there is an Almondine Bakery! Yes, folks, I do live in a hole. However, the sight of this bakery prompted me to walk to DUMBO (I got some good exercise that day) and go to the Almondine Bakery there. So I did. I first heard about Almondine when I was researching French macarons in New York. I was obsessed with this little cookie. Not the coconut variety called "macaroons", but a little, flavored sandwich cookie made with meringue and a filling of choice. Almondine's  macarons are very good. I'm not an expert on these little cookies, but I do like the following features: 1. a meringue cookie that has a delicate (breakable) outer crust that yields nicely to a much softer and flavorful interior, and 2. A filling that actually tastes like the advertised flavor. Almondine achieves both. They also have a nice line-up of other pastries, croissants and tarts.



Then, it was back on the subway to the 'Boken to examine my purchased treats from Brooklyn Larder. First, was this gargantuan loaf of sourdough bread from Scratchbread. I decided to make dinner out of this beauty. So I cut it into thick slices, fired up the broiler and melted some Gruyere cheese on those bad boys. The bread was delicious. The crust is especially thick and flavorful, while the inside is chewey and nicely textured. The "sour" part of the sourdough is pronounced, which I like. It is a statement bread. I just made that up, but I think it fits. I definitely liked it, and have been eating it for breakfast (toasted with honey) and lunch (toasted with hummus and roasted tomatoes) too.



That about wraps it up for my day in BK (I have rhymed TWICE in this post. Can you find them both? GO!).  I leave you with a few random images in parting, and I would also encourage you to head over the bridge (if you are not already over there) and visit all the aforementioned establishments. Bring me back some cookies.

Tuesday
Oct192010

FINE ARTichoke (A Review of Artichoke Basille's Pizzeria)



Pizza month continues - and this week's review is of Artichoke Basille's Pizzeria.  Elana and I went to their newer location on 17th street and 10th avenue.  I had walked there from the PATH station on 14th street and 6th - which, ordinarily, would not be considered a long walk, however it was pouring.  By the time I stepped inside, my sneakers were absolutely drenched.  This place had better be worth it.

This Artichoke location is only a couple of months old.  As a result, they were still sorting out the whole beer thing/liquor license I guess, because I could only get soda.  Not a huge deal.  I love fountain soda with pizza.  Despite its apparent young age, the joint is broken-in quite nicely - it has an old Italian pizzeria feel to it; a long mahogany bar, small black and white tiles for the floor, and wood seats.  There are flat screens to watch the game, and somewhat loud music playing.  Typically, this would have been an annoyance, but for the outrageously good lineup of tunes. The Pretenders, Michael Jackson, Toto (Rosanna and Africa) - my night was officially turning around.

There is an Artichoke slice shop located immediately next door, where one can mix and match slices.  The main section, however, restricts one from doing so - only pies.  And judging by the size of our neighbor's pie, only one was necessary.  They are fairly large at 16 inches across, and somewhat pricey as well at $24 for the Margherita pie.  Artichoke's style of making pizza is what I would classify as American.  Previously, I had discussed the three ways that most Italian pizzerias make pies - (1) Neopolitan (2) Hybrid Neopolitan/American (3) American.  What makes Artichoke an American pizzeria, to me, is the oven they use: Baker's Pride ovens.  These type of ovens are found in many pizzerias across the country.  Go into your local pizzeria and, chances are, you will see a Baker's Pride oven doing the cooking.  These ovens cannot get quite as hot as well functioning brick pizza ovens.  The result of this is that the pizza will take longer to cook.  The pizza is also more evenly cooked the American way.

Artichoke's Margherita is definitely evenly cooked.  It is also awesome.  The pizza is tastily burnt, and HUGE on flavor.  Along with the mozzarella, Artichoke adds Parmesan.  Its tomato sauce is simply wonderful.  Very oily (which I love) and fresh. They also throw in a healthy dose of basil leaves.  All of this, as previously noted, is cooked to an absolute glorious crisp.  And, due to the amount of time this sucker was cooking in the oven, the pizza is extremely hot.  This is another difference between pies made the American way vs. the Neopolitan way.  Although the American pie is not exposed to the high, volcanic temperatures that the Neopolitan pie is exposed to, it spends a much longer time in the oven.  It has to in order to get cooked.  The result, especially in Artichoke's case, is a very hot pie all the way through.  The beginning, middle and crust of Artichoke's pie is crispy throughout.  This stiffness is demonstrated in the below photos.



Here, the inflexibility is, in my opinion, incredible.  They really put the "pie" in pizza pie.  Just look at that slice on the left as well.  There is even a crust to the cheese; a noticeable snap accompanying every bite, yet never once it is overdone or bitter.  It has been baked to perfection; teetering on the brink of being burnt, but never crossing the line.  This pizza is worth every penny.  Really just some fine craftsmanship.

Service is just fine, an attentive and friendly staff frequently checked up on us to see how we were doing throughout the experience.



As for the bathrooms, Elana had this to say, "I liked the art that greeted me when I entered, as well as the subway tiles: very iconic NYC. What I first thought was an Xlerator turned out to be a paper towel dispenser, but it was well-stocked. Other than that, everything was clean and on the up-and-up."

As dedicated pizza enthusiasts, even the entire Margherita pie was not going to stop us from going next door to try their Artichoke pizza.  I mean, after all, the name of the place is Artichoke, right? Unfortunately, since it was raining out, we didn't have the most luxurious of accommodations to try the slice.  We took turns shielding each other from the rain with a golf umbrella while we each sampled the slice.  In addition, the roofs of our mouths had been carelessly scorched due to our inability to temper our hunger vs. the Margherita pie's hot temperature.  Even speaking to each other was a challenge.



The actual artichoke slice was a different experience.  Extremely thick in size, and moderate in temperature, this slice is a gooey, white mess of taste.  It was not as positively received as the Margherita Pie, but that could have been an impossible hurdle to clear.

Stationed on the wall between the restaurant and the slice shop is a picture of Oscar the Grouch, as seen above.  I wish I had more to say about this, but I really don't.

I am absolutely going back to this place.  I loved it.  Artichoke was worth the walk after all.  Definitely one of the "heavy hitters" as far as pizza is concerned.

Overall Movie Equivalent - The Big Lebowski

Monday
Oct182010

Buon Viaggio - a Week in Italia



Buon pomeriggio! That means "good afternoon" in Italian, which I'm sure you guessed. Anyway, some exciting news here at John and Elana: I (Elana) am going to Italy. On Friday. With the fabulous and worldly Marmo (my mom).

Yes, it's true! I am going to let Marmo run me ragged in the streets of Italy, shuttling me from one place to another, eating and drinking one thing after another. Sounds like torture, no? No! I'm psyched. Above is a loose schedule that we will be attempting to maintain.

Traveling with my mom is like being first mate on a very tightly run ship. NO SLACKING! Get back and swab that deck! I mean, drink that cappuccino! My mom has, in fact, earned the title The Little General for her ability to boss people around and take charge of events, trips and just about anything else. In this case, I am quite happy to be bossed around, and I have completely released myself from any duties EXCEPT reporting back to you! That's correct, I will be posting from afar so you can travel with me. Kind of. Cool, yes?

Additionally, there will be a CONTEST while I'm away (read: FREE STUFF). All you have to do is post a comment on the blog (anywhere on the blog) during this time and you will be entered to win a prize. What is this prize, you ask? I have no idea! But it will be something Italian, and I will personally bring it back from Italy. For you (whoever wins). Bene?

Oh, and just so you know, John will be maintaining normal posts around here while I'm gone. Please make sure he doesn't burn the blog down, k?

Links to check out in the meantime:

Ristorante Paris

Antica Trattoria dell' Orso

La Monte Carlo Pizzeria

Pizzeria Dar Poeta
Monday
Oct182010

Something Simple - Roasted Brussels Sprouts



A happy Monday to you! On this fine day, we are talking about sprouts. Of the Brussels variety. I never thought much about Brussels sprouts until I had them roasted. When you roast a Brussels sprout, it becomes a sort of green-vegetable French fry. They get crispy and brown on the outside, while still remaining soft on the inside. Add to that some sea salt and you really do have a round, greenish-brown French fry. And, you can use them on a pizza. Motorino does it. And so do I (I'll show you on Friday). But first, let's roast.

What You Will Need:

1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts

Olive Oil - about 2-3 Tablespoons

Sea Salt (use your discretion)

What To Do:

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse off the little sprouts in a colander like so:



When they are nice and squeaky clean, trim them up a bit by shaving off the base of the sprout ( just a tiny bit) and removing any brown or otherwise unhealthy-looking leaves. And then cut them in half, length-wise. They roast a bit faster this way, plus the cut side will turn all nice and toasty golden-brown.

Once this is done, place them either in a cast iron deep dish pan, or onto a baking sheet. Coat them with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt. Make sure you mix them up a bit (you can use your hands) so that all the little sprouts get some oil & salt.



Place your clean, oiled and seasoned sprouts in your heated oven, and set your oven timer for 35 minutes. It may take longer than that, but it's a good idea to give them a check at this point and note progress. Are the sprouts turning brown? Is there smoke billowing out of your oven and your sprouts are a crispy char that resembles the remains of Pompeii? At this juncture I'd like to remind everyone how fond I am of safety goggles. And fire extinguishers. But let's hope that reminder is unnecessary.

Your sprouts should be turning a nice brown color. If they are not quite as brown as you would like, give the pan a little shake to move them around a bit and encourage a nice, even tan, and leave them in the oven for a little bit longer. How long, you ask? Let's try 5-10 minutes. But keep an eye on it.

Once you've achieved your desired level of toastiness, take your sprouts out of the oven. You can add a touch more salt at this point if you think they need it, and even a dash of fresh pepper.



These guys make a great side dish. You can serve them up just like this (add some toasted pecans for crunch and even some grated Parmesan over the top if you are looking to get fancy).

OR since this is still PIZZA MONTH, you can use them as a pizza topping. So for now I am putting my sprouts in a Tupperware container in the fridge because on Friday, you will see how they make a pizza topping.