Happy New Year!!!!! I am back after taking a short break between Christmas and New Years to come at you bigger and better than ever before! Every year I set aside some personal goals for myself and one of them is to step it up and increase the amount and the quality of food-related content that I feature on this, my little engine that could…themmmguide!!!
During the break I literally ate my way in and around the city celebrating the Christmas holiday with my parents (Dana and Michael) and “aunt and uncle” (Peter and Roothie) who came in from Scottsdale, Arizona and Charlotte, North Carolina (respectively). Good thing I run a lot… or else I think I would swell to Veruca Salt proportions after the few days of feasting we had. Below find a brief synopsis of our food-filled Christmas weekend! I hope you had a lovely holiday with your nearest and dearest!
First on the list was Emilio’s Ballato, a “blink and you’ll miss it” Itailan joint on Houston between Mulberry and Mott. Having lived across the street for over a year and never walking in, I had to take the family to this quintessentially old-school Italian restaurant just a few blocks away from Little Italy. So on a brisk Thursday evening we breezed through the doors and sat down for what was to be an evening of catch-up and planning for the few days we all had together.
Emilios Ballato is a downtown Manhattan institution having been around since 1956. The restaurant recently added a second large dining area to accompany the quaint main dining room but I will always want to sit in the original room (housed on Houston Street) where you are likely to find the owner (Emilio) sitting at his regular table near the kitchen. You are also likely to see any number of celebrity regulars who frequent the place (Billy Joel, Lenny Kravitz) and you immediately take note of the “clubby” atmosphere as the owner greets nearly everyone by their first name (if he doesn’t know it, he will by the end of the night!). Make sure to order the grilled octopus with dressed arugula, ricotta ravioli, veal milanese, pasta bolognese, and the veal chop with grilled beans and roasted potatoes. The meal was delicious even though the service was super slow (they sure like to take their time to let you enjoy your meal and company) and we had a minor issue over my fathers medium rare veal chop (the Chef made a well done strip steak in the interim- a plate my father refused to touch so he waited patiently as we ate our meal until his finally arrived), but other than that the food, ambience, and chianti reserve was totally on point. It’s a shame I didn’t get there when I lived across the street 😦
Next up was a Christmas Eve lunch at DBGB, Chef Daniel Boulud’s casual downtown eatery. I wouldn’t say that I am a regular, but I am pretty damn close and have to admit knowing the Chef and Sous Chef helps out my cause. A quick text to Eddie of our impending arrival and we were sat at the best table in the house (thanks to Aunt Roothie who scoped out the scene from a previous visit)! To say that we were treated like Christmas Eve Gods is an understatement….the five of us all ordered an appetizer and an entrée and then both Chef Jim and Chef Eddie sent us out a barrage of goodies on the house….arctic oysters served on the half shell with a refreshing mignonette, the absolute best steak tartare all of us had ever had in our lives, grilled spicy calamari with lightly spiced chickpeas, a beaujolaise sausage with warm lentils and mushrooms, a chocolate gateau with cocoa nibs, and a blood orange and pistachio parfait that hit the spot! In addition to the goodies we were sent from the kitchen (fantastic!), I highly suggest ordering one of their burgers (ground in-house), one of the numerous house made sausages (my favorites are the thai and chipolata), and also Chef Jim’s famous matzoh ball soup. With a menu that spans a few pages it’s sometimes hard to pick a choice but I guarantee that you’ll be happy with anything you choose.
I absolutely adore DBGB (and not just because I know nearly everyone in that place) and find myself craving their delicious homemade sausages all the time (the blood sausage is to die for!). The place has such a great laid back downtown vibe that coupled with their incredible beer menu and charcuterie selection is a must try for anyone who enjoys meat.
Having stuffed ourselves to the gills Roothie thought we should head over to Russ and Daughters and try to round-up some Christmas morning treats. I should have known better than to think we could just walk right in, get a quick order, and walk right out. Holy mother was this place packed. We squeezed through the throngs of people packed in like sardines to grab a number… 47! Too bad they were on 72 and had to go all the way to 100 then back again. So it was then that we all looked at each other and accepted defeat. I gave my number to a woman behind us and dove towards the door. We will just have to get our whitefish salad, lox, and cream cheese fixes another time.
After an unsuccessful attempt to push back our dinner reservation (a 3 hour meal at DBGB that ended at 3pm did us in), we headed to “the new” Veritas on 20th Street in the Flatiron District. It’s modern fine dining at its best; a place that takes its food and wine seriously without being pretentious or snooty. The wine list is by far one of the best I have ever seen (they have something like 75,000 bottles in their cellars) and the food is perfectly executed and extremely satisfying, but again it’s not too over-the-top (with prices like theirs…sometimes you can find some serious ‘tude, which you don’t find here at all). I went all out on this meal and ordered the “Land and Sea” (roasted bone marrow with butter poached lobster) and the maple-brined Wooly Pig with wilted butter lettuce and charred tomatoes while others at the table ordered the trio of beets (a beet spaghetti, beets with goat cheese, and beets roasted in a beggars purse), seared scallops with sunchoke puree and foie gras, a roasted Belle Rouge chicken with a creamy potato leek cake, and an heirloom apple crisp with cinnamon and creme fraiche ice cream. Complete and total knock-out in my mind although my fathers chicken was a little dry (the chickens are air-chilled not water-chilled so this could have been because of its packaging).
With Chef Sam Hazen (formerly of Tao) at the helm you simply cannot go wrong. And with only 40 seats in the main dining room and a handful of others at the bar, this intimate establishment is perfect for a romantic date, an evening of celebration, or a night out with the parents. With my company supplying nearly everything on the menu, I knew that a fabulous Chef like Sam Hazen would do our products justice. And boy was I right, one of our favorite meals of the entire weekend; Christmas Eve at Veritas was unbelievable.
Waking up Christmas morning was a little uneventful and a lot surreal (our family celebrated Christmas together the day after Thanksgiving and it didn’t feel like Christmas at all!) until Roothie surprised us with three large bags full of hot pastrami sandwiches, pickles and mustard from Katz’s Delicatessen!!!! What a wonderful way to celebrate our lazy Christmas morning by chomping down on ridiculously rich cured meat sammies with copious amounts of mustard and dozens of crisp and juicy pickles! I rarely think of going to Katz’s for a bite, but it’s always nice to know that Katz’s is always around for a traditional deli spread.
Our last and final meal together would be Wallse, Kurt Gutenbrunner’s Austrian restaurant in the Far West Village. When scoping out the Christmas night offerings from a handful of New York restaurants it was Wallse’s menu that immediately caught my eye. A prix fixe menu with selections of foie gras terrine, goose, venison, and gingerbread cake I knew this would be the meal to put us all over the edge…in a good way. Sat at a table in the middle of the room, we all made our selections and waited for our final meal to arrive. Our table was teeming with all sorts of wine/water/and cocktail glasses as we were going to celebrate Christmas the way we like to…..with delicious food and numerous alcoholic beverages! Never have Roothie or I seen the bottom of a wine bottle we didn’t like and Peter and my father were happy to come along for the ride!
To start we were served a comforting and savory chestnut soup that I wish was served in a large bowl and not the small espresso cup we were given. For the first course we were given a choice of a foie gras terrine with slow cooked chicken, a celery root salad and warm brioche from Amy’s Bread that I absolutely adored (my father did not and gave me nearly all of his terrine… something I devoured almost immediately). After that I was served by far my favorite dish I ate all weekend… the lobster spaetzle. Oh my gosh, butter poached lobster mixed into doughy pillows of deliciousness…I DIE! I still can’t get that dish out of my mind and need to figure out how to either re-create it or get back there asap to eat it again. What followed next was a roased venison with brussel sprouts and a potato bacon puree. The venison was perfectly cooked but as my dad pointed out numerous times that evening… the potato puree was served cold, almost like it had been sitting out for a bit too long. Either way I enjoyed the dish and looked forward to the plum pudding with vanilla ice cream to round out our fabulous meal. I heard that the Chef was not in-house that night and if that in fact is true…wow, the kitchen should be proud of themselves (despite the slightly cold entree).
The meal was fabulous and Wallse ranks high on my list of favorites after the enjoyable Christmas evening I spent with my nearest and dearest. I just hope that the lobster spaetzle is always available on the menu for me to dig my face into!
As you can see… we ate our faces off. A feasting of epic proportions in no more than 50 hours! My family got to see my passion for food firsthand and a little snippet of what the restaurants of New York have to offer. But most importantly, we all got to spend some seriously quality time together, something we rarely get now that we are all spread out around the country.
Little did I know that our goodbyes outside of Wallse that night would be short-lived as the snowpocalypse of 2010 came barreling down on the city that next morning leaving my parents and Roothie and Peter worried about making it back home! Thankfully my parents did (on the last flight out of JFK!) but Peter and Roothie didn’t fare so well having spent a lovely Sunday night stranded at JFK airport. But all headaches from their departures aside, it was a weekend of laughter and fun with four of the most amazing people in my life. A huge thanks to Mom, Dad, Roothie and Peter for not only making sure I didn’t spend my Christmas alone, but also for obliging me in my passion of eating and also for paying :)…. XO