supper club: november

This weekend, I hosted an edible ode to my favorite chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I have long loved his London-based, Jerusalem-born, spice-driven cooking. In his world, it's all fresh ingredients and innovative flavor combinations. It's the most exciting food I know, and his recipes are among the only that I will (mostly) follow to a T. In specific, this meal was inspired by recipes from his latest cookbook, Jerusalem. As always, I tried to keep the menu seasonal and sustainable. With a number of vegetarians in the mix, the meal was conceived as a rustic, mostly plant-based "friendsgiving" - and I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity to cook for such an amazing group of friends.

[slideshow]

Menu:

Whiskey Moscow Mules

Roasted almond stuffed dates

Homemade pickles - cauliflower, carrot, radish

Roasted cauliflower, hazelnut, celery, pomegranate and parsley salad*

Mejadra - Green lentils, spiced basmati rice, fried onions*

Hoisin, chili and garlic roasted brussel sprouts (recipe)

Roasted butternut and winter squash with cilantro garlic and spiced yogurt sauce (recipe)

White wine, cardamom and saffron poached pears*

Spice, chocolate and citrus zest cookies with lemon glaze*

*Recipe taken from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem

eater's digest: the toucan and the lion

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo For as long as I can remember, breakfast has been my least favorite meal. I used to eat my mother's leftovers - everything from carrot cake to reheated chili - for breakfast on the weekends. It was a culinary victory over the practical constraints of weekday morning sustenance. So, in theory, I always have appreciated the transitional meal of brunch, which made it socially acceptable for me to eat savory while my friends and family opted for sweet. Unfortunately, many restaurants seem to miss the brunch boat, simply serving both breakfast and lunch options, rather than embracing the creativity of this fusional meal. Among the few restaurants that I feel "do it right", an increasing number are asian-influenced, like the East Village's The Toucan and the Lion.

The first unusual aspect of the Toucan is its comfortable, design-y ambiance. It feels more like eating in your very chic friend's kitchen than a hip new restaurant.

Feet swinging over the cozy carpet (when was the last time a restaurant had carpet?), we perused the menu of reinvented classics. The Lion Stack, a duo of corn pancakes served with sunny side up eggs, bacon and salsa verde had instant savory draw. The golden-brown cakes were perfect - both crumbly and moist - with a mild sweetness that balanced out the dish's bolder flavors.

The Short Rib Benedict was a heavier spin on this already-rich breakfast classic. It lacked the spices and acid of my favorite asian meat dishes, but was still a filling, comforting choice. On the other hand, the seemingly unexciting Huevo Burrito turned out to be outstanding. Spicy and veggie-centric, it did not succumb to the dry or sloppy, wet extremes of other breakfast burritos. Rather, it neatly satisfied from the first bite to the last.

The one must-order dish on the menu, however, was the Taro Hash. Lighter and less greasy than your typical morning potatoes, this cilantro-topped, spiced dish inspired audible raves from multiple tables in the restaurant. (We literally negotiated who would nab the last bite.)

Even if the Toucan isn't the absolute "best" brunch I've tried in New York, it certainly is one I'll return to again. If only because - innovative cuisine aside - it was an unusually hype-free weekend meal. No long lines, no excessive day-drinking - just good food in a cozy, tranquil environment.

The Toucan and the Lion 342 E 6th Street 212.375.8989

au marché: open season at the new amsterdam market

The uncanny warmth of spring in New York City has inspired a flux in outdoor activity, from tanning to rooftop barbecues. Among the most celebrated gifts of the unexpected sunshine is the bounty of the city's markets. With more than 50 greenmarkets in New York City alone, everyone from the Brooklyn hipster, to the Upper West Side nanny, to the Wall Street mogul has access to a cluster of occasion farmstands in their neighborhood. But those who prize quality over convenience will attest that not all vendors are made equal. Despite the popularity of the notable “greenmarket” conglomerate – including the inimitable Union Square Greenmarket – independent cooperatives continue to be standout crowd-pleasers, such as the Hester Street FairSmorgasburg or the DeKalb Market.

My personal favorite stop for outdoor shopping is the New Amsterdam Marketopening for the season on Sunday, April 29th. Reviving the site of the historic Fulton Street fish market, NAM recruits an impressive range of entrepreneurial edibles, from food trucks to spin-offs of brick and mortar establishments, artisanal Brooklynites and farmers from both New England and the Tri-State area.

An added asset of NAM is its accessibility to bikers, since the waterside market sits along the East River bikepath. Among the worthy pit-stop snacks : the refreshing and savory “cold grilled cheese” from Morris (ricotta, zucchini, cucumber and mint on grilled sourdough) or the delicious brain freeze of red plum shaved ice by People’s Pops.  For those with less of an appetite, there are plenty of outstanding take-home treats, including the slightly sour and hearty Finnish Ruis bread by Nordic Breads or the award-winning Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar from The Cellars at Jasper Hill (which will make the bright orange block cheddar of your childhood slink away in shame).

Beyond its edible offerings, the New Amsterdam Market strives to re-invent the traditional New York "public market", with an ambiance as pleasing to a graphic designer or urban planner as any food enthusiast. And if that doesn’t sell you…the abundance of free samples should seal the (delicious) deal.

New Amsterdam Market Every Sunday on South Street, 11-4 Btwn Beekman Street and Peck Slip

 

*Photos by Lauren DeFilippo