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 www.whinesisters.com 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!)

Dinner and Chili Lights

Had a fabulous dinner with family recently.  A place in the East Village called Panna II Indian Restaurant.   According to the scuttle, the place is owned by brothers who were cooks on a freighter who abandoned ship and never looked back.  No idea if it’s true, but it makes the place even more fun, don’t you think?

First thing you see upon arriving at 93 First Ave, is three restaurants in the space of well…one.  One is downstairs and the other two are upstairs.  They all immediately try to get you to choose theirs, but we stuck with the one on the right upstairs as that’s where our group was meeting.  (I also heard that most people believe that there’s really only one kitchen for all three restaurants and like the brothers’ story, it makes for conversation.)

Inside it’s like entering a dimly lit cave festooned with literally hundreds of chili pepper and
twinkling lights.  Very cool, but definitely requiring a bit of ducking for those of us over 5’5”.  Tables are crammed together, as is often the case in Manhattan restaurants, so if you sit next to the wall, once you’re in—you’re in.   Which meant I couldn’t rise to greet folks when they arrived, but no matter, it was well worth being landlocked, so to speak.

There’s no liquor license so those in the know, not me—but fortunately I was eating with people who were regulars—bring their own beer and wine.  There’s apparently a great store next door, although I never actually saw it.  (Another three doors down is supposedly one of the best Indian markets in town).  Anyway, once everyone arrived and drinks had been poured it was time to study the menu.

I learned to eat Indian food when I was living in Vienna and have loved it ever since.  And I not only eat it out, I cook it in.  So I know my way around a menu, but I’ll have to say that this place had some fabulous new entrees I hadn’t seen as well as the old familiars.   We started with poppadoms and then ordered a round of samosas which arrived hot and perfectly fried (meaning once you’re finished you don’t feel like you’d dunked your head in a vat of grease).   The pastry was tender and the potatoes and peas spiced perfectly.

I ordered chicken Kashmir, which also arrived fragrant and hot.  And I must say I savored every bite.  In addition, I’d asked for it mild and it did in fact arrive without the spices that make my lips tingle.  I love Indian food, but what can I say, if it’s too spicy it doesn’t love me.  Everyone else was oohing and ahhing their entrees as well.  Not to mention sharing bites.  And the festive atmosphere made for a perfect evening.

And one of the best parts of the meal—in a crazy NY way—was the moment when the hundreds of chili peppers dimmed and a disco version of “Happy Birthday” broke out over the loud speakers.  The twinkling lights went on over-drive and I wanted to break into Saturday Night Fever mode.

The moment passed however, and it was back to good food and great company.  A perfect evening.

I’ve heard that it’s crowded on weekends so reservations are a must!

Panna II Indian Restaurant

93 First Ave.  (Between 5th and 6th Streets)



(all photos from Panna’s website)

The Importance of Being Earnest

For most of the time I was growing up, we spent our summers in Creede.  An old mining town in southwestern Colorado, it is now days noted for its fly fishing, and somewhat surprisingly for its repertory theatre company.  And since I have loved the theatre from the time I could first recite a line, I was delighted whenever my parents took us to see a play there.

And of all the plays I saw over the years, by far my most favorite was a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  As the years have passed, my passion for the play has not diminished.  I have seen several other versions and always laughed just as loudly at the antics of Algernon, Jack, Cecily, Gwendolen and the inestimable, Lady Bracknell.

I even suffered through the movie (okay, Rupert Everett is in it, so there really wasn’t much suffering).  So you can imagine my joy when the Roundabout Theatre announced a new production of Earnest.  And to make it even juicer, internationally acclaimed actor Brian Bedford was slated to both direct and act—playing the part of Lady Bracknell.

Needless to say I was among the first in line to purchase tickets.  And when the reviews arrived—most of them stellar—I was even more excited.  There’s something wonderful about a favorite play. Seeing it again is like visiting old friends.  Sometimes with new faces, but nevertheless people you already know and love.  That said, there is also the anticipation that maybe this time somehow the magic will be lost.

Fortunately for me, the production at the American Airlines Theatre was superb.   And I fell in love with Wilde’s comedy of errors all over again.  Every word is brilliantly written (Wilde is one of my absolute favorite writers), and in the hands of this cast, they literally sing out across the stage.

Santino Fontana (most recently at the Roundabout in Sunday at the Park with George) played Algernon with just the right glint in his eye.  Although he lacked the suave sophistication that Everett brings to Wilde’s characters (he was also in a wonderful movie adaptation of the Ideal Husband) he still captures the essence of the character with a wry playfulness that endears him the audience.

David Furr playing the role of John/Earnest Worthington was spot on as the stick-in-the-mud dying to break out and totally infatuated with Gwendolen.  Both Jessie Austrian and Charlotte Parry playing the women with whom John and  Algernon besotted were well-cast.  The scene with the tea and sugar cubes was excellently choreographed and wonderfully played.  Especially when it finally culminates with the two women on the steps, arms linked, casting “the look” over their shoulders at their befuddled gentlemen friends.

And of course there’s Lady Bracknell.  I was honestly afraid that Mr. Bedford would overshadow the rest of the cast.  The character has that potential all by herself.  Add to that an actor of such superior caliber and the potential is there.  But instead, Bedford simply inhabits Bracknell, breathing life into her effortlessly. Although each and every word and gesture was letter perfect and there were definite moments when he stole the show, he was still very much part of the ensemble, which made for a wonderful performance overall.

The scenery was whimsical and yet accurate to period.  The costumes were fabulous.  Especially Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell’s.   And yet, it must be said that in the end—it was all about the writing.  And of course—The Importance of Being Earnest.

A Lovely Night

Okay, one of my favorite things about living in Manhattan is being able to come out of a late running play or movie and still be able to find a great place for a drink or bite to eat.   Recently, after seeing the fabulous Million Dollar Quartet, my husband and I stopped by a restaurant on west 44th called Osteria al Doge.   Billed as featuring Venetian cuisine, the restaurant offers a quiet, spacious ambiance that’s perfect for winding down after a night at the theatre.

We opted for space at the bar and initially were planning only to have a late-night drink but after being seated and seeing other couples around us with mouthwatering food, we decided to give the food a try.   The people next to us had some fabulous looking bruschetta, and there were other delicious sounding appetizers like rosemary focaccia,  carpaccio, and a spinach salad with goat cheese and walnuts.  But in the end we opted for the Pizza Margarita.  Now one would think that pizza with basil, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes would be a no brainer for any chef, but I have to say that I find that often times it’s not as good as it should or could be.

So you can imagine our delight to find that the pizza delivered to up was to quote Mary Poppins “Practically perfect in every way.”   The crust was both crisp and tender, a must for me.  The cheese freshly melted, with the basil and tomatoes adding bright, fresh flavor.  To complement the food, I had a glass of excellent cabernet and my husband had an Italian beer.  And the service was superb!  When we came in they cleared a place for us at the bar,  offered our drinks immediately, and then when the pizza came, divided it ahead of time onto two plates to make eating at the bar easier (and to keep my husband from eating more than his fair share.)

And then as the perfect topper for the evening, the bartender brought us a plate of biscotti, sugared nuts and little meringues.  The biscotti—almond vanilla—was amazingly delicious, and my husband made short work of the meringues.  It was a delightful surprise.

All in all it was a lovely night.  Million Dollar Quartet was great fun.  The renditions of songs by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Cark Perkins were spot on, and the thinly woven plot was fresh and interesting.  And then the food and charm of Osteria al Doge provided the perfect setting for a little after theatre magic.

If you’re over on 44th check out Osteria al Doge:

142 w 44th street between 6th Ave. & Broadway, 212 944-3643

I promise you won’t regret it!  What’s your idea of a perfect evening out?

A Maze of Italian Goodness

So last weekend, in the mood for a little adventure, we boarded the N train and headed for Mario Baltali’s Eataly.  Located in the Toy Building at 200 Fifth Ave. between 23rd and 24th streets, Eataly is a sprawling 50,000 square foot market hall style emporium where Italian food lovers can shop for imported ingredients.  Owned by Batali and partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti, the market is modeled after the original in Tuscany.

Now I’m a big fan of food halls.  Or at least one in particular.  Harrods in London.  A mecca for all things epicurean, I can think of nothing more delightful than spending a morning picking out delicacies to make a picnic of.

Eataly is a bit more congested and certainly not laid out in as linear a fashion as Harrods Food Hall, but it is every bit as entrancing. Especially if you’re fond of Italian food.  The space is arranged sort of wheel like, with the five restaurants forming the inner part of the wheel and the various food departments at the end of the spokes.  While finding your way around can be a bit of a challenge.   It’s worth the effort, with an end result of some pretty spectacular food options.

Departments include pasta (fresh and dried), bread (organic), cheese, meat, seafood,  produce, olive oil along with sauce and condiments, wine, coffee,  beer and housewares.   Boasting over 700 regional Italian wines, and over 400 diverse varieties of cheese, the market also offers Felipe Saint-Martin, head chef pastaio, from Piedmont and Organic stone-ground flour from Don Lewis’ Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corner.

We decided on a simple menu for our first time out.   For our main course we chose agnoletti stuffed with pork and veal, as well as some quattro formagi agnoletti to mix in for variation.  On the advice of a friendly patron in line, we also bought some of the butternut squash ravioli, topping them all with a brown butter and sage sauce.

To accompany our pasta, we bought lovely heirloom tomatoes and fresh bufala mozzarella to make a caprese salad.  We already had olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but had we needed either we would have had a plethora to choose from.   A little pan rustica finished off the meal.  And I have to tell you everything was amazingly delicious.

Partly, I suspect, because of the fun we had ‘forming the menu’ as we walked amidst the fabulous foods of Italy—at Eataly.

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10010

info@eataly.com, T: 212.229.2560