Winter comfort foods transition to Springtime spreads – NY, AZ

It may still feel and look like winter in a lot of locations across the US and Canada, but the calendar says spring has officially sprung and it is time to look forward to the fresh ingredients that early spring gardens will supply all of our favorite eateries as soon as the gardeners can get in the ground and plant their favorite herbs and fruits and veggies.

While waiting for these farm to table fresh ingredients to begin arriving, I will finish enjoying the comfort foods of winter that are beginning the cross-over into spring flavors. March into April is like a hybrid season for foodies – mix and match the hearty pastas, the substantial squash, the full-bodied red blend wines with a lightly blanched Kale salad, savory seasoned baked lake trout, and a crisp fruity sauvignon blanc.

To start off this months food review – is a comfort food review from my daughter and guest blogger, Allison:

New York

For awhile, it has been trendy in the city (NYC) to add bacon to anything: cookies http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/nycs-4-best-bacon-desserts-2/, martinis http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/nycs-4-best-bacon-cocktails/, even a jar of artisanal salt http://www.baconery.com. But it was in New Jersey, and with a more traditional breakfast dish, that I became a bacon convert.

Anderson’s 1949 is a recent addition to Montclair’s robust food scene, an oddly playpen-shaped restaurant with oversized tables that are shared European-style by multiple parties. My formerly kosher friend ordered us two dishes to share: the cornbread-clad Chorizo Scramble ($10) http://www.andersons1949brooklyn.com/?page_id=217 and the Elvis Waffle ($10), a sturdy griddle-cake smothered with butter syrup and whipped peanut butter, piled high with bacon flakes, and—to stave off an Elvis heart attack—topped with thick slices of banana. The dish is an impeccable study in contrasts: salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy. We didn’t even bother trying to speak between peanut butter-gummy bites.

The Elvis Waffle at Anderson's 1949 eatery in Brooklyn

The Elvis Waffle at Anderson’s 1949 eatery in Montclair, New Jersey

My extra-crispy-bacon-loving mother had always wondered if there was perhaps some glitch in the genetic transfer, a mutation that predisposed me to sausage instead of fried pork fat. Now I can know that I just hadn’t yet met the right slab of bacon.

To continue on this comfort food eating experience, I return to last weeks blog on Glenmere Mansion, in Chester, NY where I indulged in some pretty hearty dishes. As my daughter made note of, I am a bit of a bacon-a-holic. If bacon is on the menu, it will find its way to my plate. “Bacon and eggs” may be the more recognized breakfast combo, but for me it was always pancakes and bacon. And one of my favorite cold weather flavors is pumpkin. So when perusing The Supper Club complimentary breakfast menu at the Glenmere Mansion my eyes immediately settled on “pumpkin pancakes smothered in an apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of bacon” – it was a slam dunk decision.

Thick fluffy pumpkin pancakes smothered with spiced apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of extra crispy bacon.

Thick fluffy pumpkin pancakes smothered with spiced apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of extra crispy bacon.

The relaxed atmosphere at the Frog’s End Tavern at Glenmere Mansion with its cozy, limited seating, fireplace setting is a perfect complement to the many comfort dishes on the menu. One of my favorite comfort foods is gnocchi – and their homemade gnocchi with shrimp and a light creamy dill sauce hit the spot, on a cool evening with fresh snow covering the property. The next day for lunch, my daughter and I shared a warm pastrami sandwich with a side of home cut fries, and an order of deviled eggs topped with crispy pancetta.

Gnocchi and shrimp dish served at the Frogs End Tavern at the Glenmere Mansion

Gnocchi and shrimp dish served at the Frogs End Tavern at the Glenmere Mansion

A flavorful pastrami sandwich enjoyed at the Frog's End Tavern, Glenmere Mansion

A flavorful pastrami sandwich enjoyed at the Frog’s End Tavern, Glenmere Mansion

Back in NYC, we took in the quaint surroundings of Brooklyn’s Delaware and Hudson‘s prix fixe menu. The menu changes weekly, so it won’t help to share the specifics of what we ate, but come hungry. The sizes of the six appetizers and two first courses leaves you busy trying to figure out how to make room in your tummy for a choice of a main course and desserts – yes that would be plural.

Wild striped bass served on a bed of artichokes, roasted potatoes and onions.

Wild striped bass served on a bed of artichokes, roasted potatoes and onions.

Pork shank, so tender it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth.

Pork shank, so tender it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth.

Arizona

Back in Arizona, where we were pushing temps into the mid-80’s the day spring arrived, I put the comfort foods of winter to rest for another year and focused on a slightly lighter fare. Last month I wrote about my son and his girlfriends visit to Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn in Phoenix. This month found my husband and I making a long overdue visit to this magical oasis in the desert.

The experience starts with complimentary valet parking. Next we were shown to an outdoor fireside table. Even though the temp gauge on the car showed 84 when we arrived, the arid Arizona air makes it feel much colder. The attitude of the entire staff, from hostess to servers, is knowledgeable and professional but relaxed. It is hard to decide which is the bigger pull – the ambience of the outdoor setting or the quality and flavors of the diverse unique menu.

I started with a Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna, served on a 400 degree heated block of Himalayan salt. The dish was served with the tuna raw and I was instructed to move the tuna on the salt block to arrive at my desired level of doneness. My husband started with a Foie Gras Tamale – a liver pate’ served with a chocolate cherry tamale, fla-vor-ful. For an entree I went with the Colorado Lamb Rack with four substantial chops done to a perfect medium rare. My husband had the seared Duck Breast served with roasted veggies, duck confit and mesquite gnocchi.

Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna at Lon's

Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna at Lon’s

Foie Gras Tamale at Lon's

Foie Gras Tamale at Lon’s

Colorado Lamb Rack at Lon's

Colorado Lamb Rack at Lon’s

Duck breast with veggies, duck confit and gnocchi

Duck breast with veggies, duck confit and gnocchi

And if that wasn’t enough, we, okay I, decided after a bit of arm twisting by our server to try their signature dessert, “Lon’s Cowboy Candy Bar” – served with a complimentary Port. My husband passed on the dessert staying true to his New Year’s resolution of no treats, but had no problem indulging in the Port.

Lon's signature dish, Lon's Cowboy Candy bar - a milk chocolate and salted caramel ganache bar served with milk chocolate carmelito gelato

Lon’s signature dish, Lon’s Cowboy Candy bar – a milk chocolate and salted caramel ganache bar served with milk chocolate carmelito gelato

Complimentary shot of Port

Complimentary shot of Port

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to taking in a National Geographic photo documentary at the Mesa Arts Center, my friend who invited me to the event first took me to a great Indian restaurant in Tempe – The Dhaba, serving authentic Punjabi food. The one thing I love about Indian food is it is served family style which allows you to enjoy so many dishes in one sitting. It’s also helpful to eat with someone who likes the same dishes you do. We ordered, Butter Chicken, with saffron rice, so we could dip our onion kulcha (a type of naan bread) into its flavorful sauce. We paired that with a spicy jumbo shrimp and washed it all down with a thick creamy mango lassi.

Other AZ eateries to check out:

DJ’s Bagel Cafe: a great place to grab a filling bagel sandwich for breakfast or lunch. They sure don’t skimp on their fillings and the bagels are made fresh on site. Fountain Hills.

Postino Wine Cafe: four locations in the valley serving a great selection of wine and filling tapas.

Euro Pizza Cafe: an extensive menu. Great value. Front row seat to the famous Fountain Hills fountain.

Winter – a bountiful banquet of food and beverages – part 2: Phoenix Valley and NYC

Living in a popular destination spot like Phoenix, I receive a lot of requests from out-of-town guests as to where to eat when they come to the valley. My family and I have vacationed or lived in the valley for many years and during that time we have compiled a list of several restaurants that have filtered out to be some of our favorites.

Although ambience is a nice asset to any dining experience, it is generally the food that brings us back again and again. Our restaurant list varies from the family owned Los Dos Molinos – a trio of authentic Mexican restaurants known for spicy food and Kick-Ass margaritas; to the fine dining experiences at any one of the Mastro’s Steakhouses in the valley – both of which I have blogged about in the past.

If you’re looking for a romantic evening out, it does not get much better than Lon’s, at the Hermosa Inn, tucked back into a residential area in Paradise Valley, just east of the Biltmore area. A soft glow eminates from lights hung from the low overhanging branches of the many trees that pepper the front outside eating area. Or you can dine closer to the bee hive fireplace on cooler evenings.

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn for a romantic dinner. (copyright Jill Richards)

The food is garden-to-table fine dining American cuisine – the garden being a one acre plot right outside the kitchen, inclusive of fruit trees to kick up both food and cocktails. With to share dishes such as ‘Truffle Mac’ or ‘Blistered Peppers;’ or main dishes such as ‘Dry-Aged Strip with Chimchurri sauce’ or the ‘Pork Chop served with polenta and poached baby apples’ – the whole dining experience is one not to be missed.

If Italian is what you’re craving, I’d recommend checking out Casa Mia. An understated, but newly renovated, small restaurant run by an Italian family, tucked in a mostly empty line of retail spaces just off of Shea on 136th Street. The fact this place is hard to get into without a little forethought, goes to its reputation as being a destination eatery that has earned it’s business through word of mouth. And those are happy mouths sated  by homemade pastas like the melt in your mouth pillows of gnocchi with basil and fresh tomato sauce, or any of their veal or fish dishes. And mama’s homemade bread to sop of all the delectable sauces.

A new Scottsdale favorite to check out is Soi 4 Bangkok eatery. An authentic Thai restaurant with fresh and flavorful dishes like the ‘Neur pad tua’ – stir-fried Angus steak cubes with snap peas and onion rings in mild roasted chili jam, washed down with unique cocktails like cilantro infused vodka with lime juice served in a salty spiced rimmed martini glass. Very friendly service in a sleek contemporary setting.

One of the delectable small plates at Soi 4 Thai restaurant in Scottsdale.

If you head into Fountain Hills, you can again hit the gammet of dining experiences. From your basic Mexican food at Que Bueno: I recommend their patron silver margarita on the rocks with salt that comes in a large thick glass that requires two hands to drink from served with their award-winning salsa and warm chips; to the newly opened Italian restaurant Arrivederci (there are more in the valley) that has a great view of the world-famous fountain; to one of our favorite restaurants in the valley, Alchemy at Copperwynd, offering up one of the finest views in all of Fountain Hills and the valley.

Alchemy restaurant at Copperwynd in Fountain Hills. One of the best views in the valley.

Alchemy has been through several changes over the years, but these days you are assured of a tantalizing menu, fresh and flavorful dishes served by professional waitstaff. For the ‘Crispy Brussel Sprouts’ the chef peels the leaves off of each sprout and lightly crisps them with flavors of Worcestershire gastrique, truffle oil and cojita. Absolutely to die for! The ‘Burrata Panzella’ salad with pumpernickel croutons, figs, butternut squash and roasted tomato vinaigrette bursts with flavor. The ‘Sea Scallops’ – served with a grilled mushroom puree, snap peas, brown butter breadcrumbs and hibiscus syrup are so flavorful they have a hard time keeping up to the evenings demand for them.

If you need a quick pick me up or a late night snack, Senor Taco is our family go to fast food joint. An expansive menu with some creative Mexican dishes to rival a much higher end restaurant. Known for their shrimp burritos, they also go bold with such feasts as the California burrito – filled with carne asada or pollo asado, french fries, sour cream, salsa fresca & cheese.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

My daughter, Allison, hit a few new hot spots in NYC:

Knowing the chef helps

Though I love consuming their artistry in every shape, size, and color, I’ve never managed to befriend any chefs. Luckily, I have two friends with sous-chefs for brothers. In the first two months of 2015, I ate for the first time at both of their restaurants: Txikito, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and Charlie Bird, in the western reaches of SoHo, also called the South Village.

Knowing the (sous) chef doesn’t mean you get a meal for free, but it does mean that every plate you order comes hand-in-hand with an even better one you didn’t; that everyone treats you with an extra dose of kindness; and that you’ll still pay less than the listed price.

Txikito is an upscale Basque tapas restaurant, and the friend whose brother works there is Chilean. Translation: small plates, major flair. It’s been a month, and I can still easily conjure up the languid texture of the “txipiron encebollado” ($16)–a lavish pile of squid ribbons tossed with sweet onions and pine nuts. Plated in the shape of a flattened rose, the octopus carpaccio ($15) was at once rich and delicate, oil-soaked and airy. The kroketas of the day, filled with cheese and salty cod, tasted like warmth itself. But the crowned prince of the night was the Spanish version of French toast, stolen off the brunch menu of Txikito’s sister restaurant La Vara and served up as dessert. Pillowed dough, caramelized syrup, and a whiff of citrus. The evening was blustery, a Monday, but the restaurant was still filled with a happy murmur. Just slow enough though for our chef to bring out one of his dishes himself and pull out the empty chair at our table for a humble hello.

Txikito restaurant in NYC. (picture by gourmet.com)

In contrast, I saw Charlie Bird at prime time. Late on a Thursday night. The restaurant bills itself as a little bit hip hop, influenced by downtown culture and the history of street art and jazz (the name is a fusion of Charlie Parker and his nickname “Bird”). So I was surprised to find the space awash in light, subdued colors: cream tables, bourbon-hued bucket chairs, walls the color of book pages. To our left, lined up above a bank of mustard-colored booth seating, was the bit of pizzazz I’d been expecting: a framed series of hyper-realistic boombox photographs. The only fault critics seem to have found with Charlie Bird’s food is its saltiness. If it’s too salty for them, they can leave the eating to me. Burrata toast ($12), farro salad ($16), gnocchi rosa ($18), crispy smoked eggplant ($10), pappardelle with rabbit ($20), and the rice krispie-laced chocolate budino ($12)–we ate it all and somehow heaved ourselves out of our chairs after. I’ve also read they have an excellent barolo on the menu, but even with the chef hook-up, that was a little too fancy for our wallets.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.