Perfect Saturday Morning

Being in Manhattan there are loads of things to do on a Saturday morning. Not the least of them being to grab a bagel and a schmear and nosh while reading the Sunday Times (half of which is delivered on Saturday—go figure).  Which means that many New Yorkers  (especially those on the West Side) are going to be crying into their lattes with the announcement that the West Side location of H&H Bagels is closing.  It’s the end of an era.

Started in 1972 by brothers-in-law Helmer Toro and Hector Hernandez when they bought an existing bagel shop on Broadway, H&H has come to represent the quintessential bagel.  Warm and chewy on the outside.  Airy, moist and soft on the inside.  In the early 1990’s the bakery moved to 45th and 12th Ave, but the main store remained the on the Upper West Side near Zabars.

When I first came to Manhattan I was told that I absolutely had to try H&H bagels.  So we dutifully took the subway over to the West Side to partake of the magic.  And I have to say they were some fabulous bagels (although you have to take them home if you want them toasted with toppings.).   But being somewhat allergic to long subway commutes , I looked them up online and lo and behold there was an east side outlet.

Off I went to 2nd Ave and 80th, and blissfully bought bagels for the entire time I lived on the Upper East Side.  It was only much later that I was informed that while that location of H&H bagels had originally been owned by the two H’s.  They’d been bought by someone else in the eighties when the original filed for bankruptcy.  (Later indicted for tax evasion, one can’t be all that surprised).  Anyway, my H&H wasn’t actually the H&H.  However, Manhattanites live in their neighborhoods, so I ignored the lack of legitimacy—as far as I was concerned my H&H had great bagels.

But when we moved to Midtown it was no longer worth the commute.  So these days I get my bagels from a shop on the block.  And even though the place next door purports to sell H&H bagels (the bakery at 45th is still open)—I find I like my bagels local—really local (like I can smell them baking late at night when my kitchen window is open).  So while the Upper West Side may have indeed suffered a blow.  Life goes on here in Midtown.  And I’ll take my bagels—toasted with butter—just round the corner, for a perfect Saturday morning.

A Touch of Spain

One of the things I like best about New York City is the wealth of different cultures.  And nowhere is that more evident than in the food offered by the myriad of restaurants throughout the city.  Saturday night we decided to try a neighborhood restaurant specializing in Spanish food.  And we were not disappointed.

Alcala is a small intimate place located near the United Nations serving food from the Basque region of Spain.  With warm paintings and plates on brick and plaster walls you immediately feel the Mediterranean influence.   Seated at a table for two in the front room, I had a view of passersby as well as the comfortable setting of the restaurant itself.  There is also a garden in the back. The two spaces separated by a lovely old wood bar.

But of course the star of any restaurant is the food.  And our meal was absolutely perfect.  To start we ordered pork tenderloin from the tapas menu.   Two portions of perfectly marinated meat topped with peppers on a rustic toasted bread.   The meat was fork tender and the flavors melded together for a perfect bite.   A great starter, and just the right size.

Next up, we split a salad with white asparagus on piquillo peppers with a scallion and olive vinaigrette.  The dressing was light and refreshing and the white asparagus melt in your mouth good.   And again the portion was perfect for splitting.  And a lovely follow-up to the pork.

Along with both our starter and our salad we had an excellent wine.  A tempranillo/merlot blend from 2003.  Montevannos.   I most definitely would order it again.

For the main course, I chose sautéed monkfish in a parsley and garlic sauce with clams and shrimp.  The fish was perfectly cooked, and the shrimp were mouthwateringly sweet.  The sauce was good enough that I wished for a bit of bread to sop it up, though thankfully, for my waistline, I didn’t.   The presentation was also delightful. And the portion size was generous but not overwhelming.

My husband had a paella with chunks of chicken ,beef and chorizo sauce. It too was delicious, the smoky flavor of the chorizo making the dish.  Besides meat and rice, the casserole was full of zucchini, peas, string beans and other vegetables.  Every bite delicious.

And because I am a complete and total fan of anything resembling egg custard, we ordered the flan  for dessert.  And I have to say that it was fabulous.  With a hint of cinnamon in the caramelized sugar it had an almost exotic flavor.   Definitely a nice touch and the perfect ending for a delightful meal.

We’ll definitely be coming back.

Alcala,  342 East 46th St., New York, NY 1001

(212) 370-1866

A Little Bit of Heaven

Okay bear with me people, while I digress for a moment.   This blog is mostly about my adventures in Manhattan and it’s immediate surroundings (hey, I’m a Texan so that means a pretty wide swath of the northeast).  But recently, I was called back to Austin for a flying trip to attend a dear friend’s funeral.  (See for more on that).

Anyway, besides seeing old friends and celebrating the life we had lost.   I also had the opportunity to have a meal on Sunday at my favorite restaurant in the whole world.  And I mean that literally as I’ve eaten at some pretty amazing places around the planet.  Hyde Park Grill, in central Austin was first introduced to me in 1988, by my soon to be (okay he didn’t know it yet) husband.  And I’ve been in love ever since (with both of them).  A draw for all of Austin, I once stood in line waiting for a table behind Lyle Lovett.   And I’m sure over the years there have been many other famous people as enamored of the food as I am.  

Created in 1982 by owner Bick Brown, HPG occupied an old house in Hyde Park (a fabulous older neighborhood in Austin) across from Mother’s (another Austin institution).  Formerly an Armenian Restaurant, according to the HPG website, Brown gutted the then pink house and returned it to its former glory.  Indeed, the ship-lap walls and rooms turned to alcoves provides the perfect habitat for the art the restaurant showcases in exhibits that change every six weeks.  We’ve even got a few pieces we bought from those same artists over the years.

And out front, serving to mark this fabulous eatery is a large silver fork—festooned as befits the season and/or the owners whims.  That fork has held a hamburger, some french fries, a heart, what looked to be Bevo’s horns, a flower, and on occasion the whole wide world.  A friend of ours once lived in a rental house owned by Brown and the various toppers were stored in the backyard.

But as with all restaurants the showpiece is of course the food!  Although the menu is more diverse than when I first started going the mainstay is still the amazing french fries.   Hyde Park fries are so good, that when we moved to Austria for a time, they were one of two recipes I desperately wanted to take with me.  (And I have indeed made them several times—though they’re never quite as good as the ones on site).  Dredged in seasoned flour and then dipped in buttermilk, the resulting crispy bits of heaven are then dipped into their famous sauce (mayo with jalapenos gives you a vague idea of what we’re talking about).   I always ask for extra sauce.

The menu, full of comfort food items like mac and cheese and chicken fried steak, also has a full array of burgers and salads, fabulous sandwiches and some pretty serious entrees including potato crusted tilapia and New York strip (see you know I’d get the words New York in here somehow).   But being a creature of habit I always order the same thing:  the turkey muffaletta and fries.

Just to make your mouth water, here’s the restaurant’s description:  Smoked turkey breast meat, mozzarella cheese and olive/garlic tapenade nestled in a Romano and parsley foccacia bun, then seared until crispy on both sides. Served with Creole mustard and a Kosher dill spear.  O.M.G.  Heaven.   And Sunday did not disappoint.

Hyde Park promotes everything that is good about Austin.  A little bit funky, a little bit artsy, the perfect place for good food and good friends.

4206 Duval St
Austin, TX 78751


It’s All in the Timing!

Okay, so summer, in Texas is a time for grilling.  Hot Dogs, Hamburgers–and in the best Texas tradition, BBQ.   Unfortunately, Manhattan does not lend itself to grilling.  Although we finally do have a small terrace, we’re not allowed to have a grill.  So I’d pretty much resigned myself to heading for Hill Country BBQ  whenever I need a fix.  (They have Kretz’s saugages.)   Anyway, recently we discovered (and adapted) a fabulous recipe from teh NYT for making pork spare ribs in the oven.  And they’re so amazing I wanted to share the recipe with you.  Better than anything I managed on my old Falcon Grill, and that’s saying a lot!

Pork Spare Ribs:

2 spare rib racks (or cut ribs to equal that)

2 Tbs Canola oil

Kosher salt

2-3 tsps dried parsley

4 sprigs time

4 garlic cloves gently crushed

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread 24 inch sheet of heavy-duty foil, shiny side up, on counter.  Place one rack on top, rub it with oil and then generously season both sides with salt.  Place parsley and garlic under the concave side of the rack and two thyme springs on top.  Wrap the ribs in the foil pleating the edges to seal well.  Repeat with other rack.  Place rib packets in a large roasting pan.

Roast the ribs for 30 minutes at 350, then reduce temperature to 250 degrees and cook for 2 hours until the meat has shrunk back from the ends of the bones by ¼ to ½ inch and the ribs are tender enough to pull apart with your fingers.

Remove ribs from the oven and let them cool briefly, then open the foil, being careful of the steam.  Transfer the ribs to a baking sheet.  Raise the oven to 450 degrees.

Slather both sides of the ribs with BBQ sauce (we used Stubbs Mesquite sweet sauce  or if you have it use Salt Lick original BBQ sauce).  Back in the oven 8-12 minutes (we did ten)  Baste again with the BBQ sauce and serve at once with remaining sauce on the side.

These are some seriously good ribs.  Perfect for a summer meal (on the terrace–of course!)