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Entries in Panna Cotta (2)

Wednesday
Jan042012

Dinner With the I.M.O.M. at Alloro

As you know, John and I are always on the hunt for excellence in Italian cuisine. But we also enjoy inventiveness. No one, especially not John, will dispute the appeal and deliciousness of a well-made plate of Veal Parmesan. Or a spectacular, pancetta-speckled rice ball.

But what about something different?

Many of you may be able to picture the contents of an Italian restaurant menu in your head. It never changes, and what starts with Insalata Mista, rolls through Calamari Fritti and Zuppa di Pesce, and winds up somewhere around Osso Bucco. The road map remains the same regardless of season or availability of ingredients.

I like it when people shake things up. I like salt shakers, drinks you shake, polaroid pictures...but it's rare that I find an Italian restaurant that thinks outside the box of penne.

Enter Alloro and the I.M.O.M. What is the I.M.O.M? He is the International Man of Mystery, just not Austin Powers. But similar....Every now and again the I.M.O.M. jets in from Rio or Morocco to take me out to dinner and catch up on exotic happenings in our lives. Like what happens when your neighbors in suburban New Jersey start complaining about your generator. NO! I mean crazy stuff like international living and cotechino.

What is cotechino? I'll get to that.

The I.M.O.M. even carries the giant purple bag that follows me everywhere, especially when it's training season. Side note: You can fit a lot of cotechino in the giant purple bag.

We decided to jet to the Upper East Side to try out Alloro, an Italian restaurant that I was recommended to try by one of my Full Throttle coaches who enjoys giving me restaurant recommendations while making me sprint around Central Park at alarming speeds. My brains are usually addled during this process, so anything he tells me I believe.

And he told me that Alloro's menu was inventive and seasonal. No veal parm here (sorry, John), but you might get a parmesan foam gracing your homemade ravioli.

Before I continue, a word of warning: These are TERRIBLE photos. Seriously, the worst. The lighting was VERY dim and I don't like using my flash...I feel like it disturbs the other diners.

To begin, I selected the Insalata di Salvatore (pictured above), named for Salvatore of Salvatore and Gina, the owners. The presentation was a delight, to say nothing of the taste. Arranged linearly, this salad was a wealth of seasonal herbs and greens (I even detected mint!), accented with pomegranate seeds and blanketed by fresh Parmeggiano Reggiano.

Mysteriously, the I.M.O.M. chose the Salmon Tartar: two healthy cylinders of freshest pink salmon accented with bean sprouts and cubes of soy ginger gelatin. I have to say, I think they could market soy ginger as Jell-O's next flavor...tangy and salty but also deep and flavorful.

For my main meal, I chose the Duck Ragu over Penne. The ragu was decorated with foie gras and - get this! - chocolate flakes!! You mix the whole thing up and what you get is a juicy, salty, ducky, fatty, sweet mess. It would be nice to take a bath in it. Ducks and all.

The I.M.O.M. selected the Homemade Ravioli stuffed with Cotechino. This photo was too blurry and ridiculous to post, so I must describe it accurately. Eight large ravioli arranged in a line arrived on a long, slender plate. A foam of parmesan (that I admit to being suspicious of) graced the tops of the pasta like snow on a roof. Cutting into a ravioli revealed a center densely packed with cotechino. Cotechino is pork – chopped pork that is lightly salted and seasoned. It's not an overly salty pork like bacon. It's more like thickly cut pancetta, but milder. A dessert meat...And a dessert meat accented with a snowy bluff of parmesan foam that was, how do I put this?...AMAZING. So good. I need to foam all my cheeses. NOW.

For dessert we selected the Pomegranate Panna Cotta which arrived in a swirly dish accompanied by ginger gelato and a tiny cannoli, stuffed not with ricotta filling but with a pignoli nut butter/cream. This medley had a little bit of everything, and while they say that if you're a jack of all trades, you are also a master of none, I would argue that this dessert mastered all three of its intended sweet purposes:

1. Thick creaminess with just a slight tang in the panna cotta;

2. A little crunch with a warm nutty filling from the cannoli;

3. And cold, spicy refreshment in the ginger gelato.

Finally, a look at the loo:

I would say overall, I wasn't too impressed with Alloro's ambiance. I wanted it to be a bit more modern to match their intriguing cuisine....something like Rouge Tomate, but on a smaller, cozier scale.

The bathrooms were pretty much the same, although I did get a charge out of the inspirational hand-holding artwork and the fancy, cut-glass soap dispenser.

Overall Dining Experience: Heat

Alloro
307 East 77th Street
NY, NY 10075
212-535-2866

Wednesday
Oct262011

A Trio of Desserts at Dovetail

You know the saying, "Eat dessert first." The word "first" implies that you might need something (for example regular dinner) after because your dessert entree was not sufficient. Or not satisfying.

If this is the case, you have obviously been eating dessert first at the wrong establishments. Allow me to help you out with that.

I'm the type of eater that goes to a restaurant and immediately flips to the dessert menu. I want to see if I should plan my main meal around dessert.

Factors to consider include:

1. How hungry am I – if dessert looks really good, should I get an appetizer as well?

2. Who am I eating with? Are my co-diners likely to order dessert? Will I be able to steal some of theirs? Will they want to steal some of mine? (Back off, moochers!)

3. How much of the menu do I want to try — is it a new place, or somewhere I have been before?

4. How many of the desserts do I want to sample? Often more than one look appealing and if I can't count on anyone else to help me out with them, I must adjust my "real" dinner accordingly.

As you can see, there are many factors in play. Sometimes the desserts look so good you must give up on real dinner altogether and just go all in. For dessert.

Dovetail is just the restaurant for this kind of thing.

The above dessert is the Cinnamon Toast Panna Cotta. Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert translated as "cooked cream". It usually has a jello/pudding-like consistency with a creaminess that can't be beat.

In this case, the cream was accented by concord grapes, the teeniest cinnamon toast triangles, a smear of rich berry preserves and some fun foam. I really liked the foam. I'm not sure it tasted like anything, but it was cool. The rest of the dessert was fantastic - the cream was perfectly balanced by the intense flavor from the grapes, while the tiny toasts added a bit of crunch and spice.

Next up was the Frozen Pumpkin Pie. This was a deconstructed pie, as the various components of the "pie" were arranged linearly along a swash of cranberry reduction. It was a sight to behold, but not for long once my fork got a grip on its chocolatey accents (both from cracker pieces and moist, dark chunks of cake). The pumpkin scoop seemed like a combination of pie filling and ice cream as it had a heartier consistency than regular ice cream. Solid, pumpkiny and perfectly spiced. Cranberries and little marshmallow puffs accented the dish to give a blast of tang and sweetness.

The above was actually a little dessert "appetizer". I love it when I get dessert appetizers. Unexpected, pretty little treats. They make me feel special. Every girl wants to feel special, you know?

This little guy accomplished that with a dollop of celery sorbet atop cute cubes of yellow vanilla cake. I was a little obsessed with the celery sorbet. The celery flavor was so refreshing. Savory, but sweet at the same time, perhaps helped in that regard by the cake. Tiny, perfect, special.

There was also a Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflé that I could not photograph, as it left the table by way of fork-to-mouth so rapidly, a camera snap couldn't keep up.

A personal-sized ramekin of bittersweet chocolate was pierced gently with a knife by our server. Into this crevice was poured a fine caramel sauce of perfectly balanced sweetness. One small globe of chai ice cream was positioned on the perimeter, ripe for the dipping.

As you can see, there was no need for real dinner. This dessert dinner was more than enough. We left satisfied, happy, and very, very full. Of dessert.

Overall Dessert Eating Experience: The Dark Knight