Food Hunter's Guide to Cuisine: April 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Arthur Ave...The Bronx

Described as NY’s real “Little Italy” Arthur Avenue is a must see for anyone who wants a true Italian shopping experience. We decided to take a quick detour, on our most recent trip to NYC, and head to Arthur Ave. Walking through this charming neighborhood we were instantly transported back in time to what it must have been like when the Italian Immigrants first settled here.
The streets were lined with shops selling fresh fish,

pastries and fresh crusty loaves of Italian bread.

The highlight though is the large indoor market that was established in 1940. Here you can find everything from a butcher selling fresh goat; to authentic Italian kitchenware; to a group of Italian men playing cards in the corner. There are produce stands, bakeries and meat and cheese shops also throughout the market.

On our adventure we stopped at the famous Mike's Deli and enjoyed a delicious roast pork and smoked mozzarella sandwich.

If you ever find yourself in or around the Bronx I would highly recommend checking out Arthur Ave it’s truly an Italian culinary treat.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Coconut Cream Easter Egg & Leg of Pork

I no longer ask my mom to cook any of our holiday meals. It’s not that she’s a bad cook, (she did teach me everything I know) it’s just that my husband and I love to cook so much that we hate to let anyone help us. Yes, we are total control freaks in the kitchen…but it works as we turn out some great meals.

Yesterday was Easter and we had 9 people over for dinner. While we were busy in the kitchen all day Saturday; making pasta, baking a ricotta cheese pie and preparing a 17 lb leg of pork

my mom was busy in her own kitchen.

She was making us a 5 lb dark chocolate covered coconut cream egg. It was great. She used an old family recipe for the coconut butter cream and dipped it in dark chocolate. As always she out did herself. It was a huge hit with everyone.

Thanks Mom.

Bessie's Dark Chocolate Coconut Cream Egg

1 stick of butter
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp vanilla
1 lb confectioner sugar
8 ozs shredded coconut

Melt butter in pot, add water and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the confectioner sugar and combine well. Work in coconut. Form into either several small eggs or 1 large egg. Put in refrigerator till cold. Melt chocolate and pour over cold eggs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Getting Reservations at Babbo & How I Met Mario Batali

If you follow my blog at all you know I’m a huge fan of Mario Batali. We cook a lot of his recipes at home and I’ve been to his Las Vegas restaurant, B&B, twice. So of course when I found out I was going to NYC I just had to have dinner at Babbo. Having tried to get reservations on two past vacations I knew this was not going to be easy; but I was determined.

The rule at Babbo is: you can make a reservation a month (to the day) in advance. The reservation line opens daily at 10:00 am EST and closes at midnight. Walk-ins are available but very limited. There are only 6 tables, located by the bar, for walk-ins.

Like I said I was determined to get reservations and would stop at nothing (I’m glad it didn’t come to that). My first strategy was to call just before midnight on the night before my scheduled call day. Technically by the time we got done talking it would be a month to the day. Nice try, but it didn’t work. They wouldn’t even consider it.

On to plan B: Have the concierge at our hotel call. Concierges typically have connections with restaurants and can usually get those hard to come by reservations. Not this time. The concierge was all for helping me, until I mentioned Babbo, then he just laughed.

So it was all on me. If I wanted this reservation, and I did, I would just have to call 1 month to the day and see what happened. I started at exactly 8:00am (Phx time) and got a continuous busy signal. I don’t know about you but busy signals drive me insane and make me even more determined to get through. So, I kept trying and at 8:30 someone answered the phone; only to put me on hold. I stayed on hold for another 30 minutes. When the reservationist finally picked up she only had one available time to offer: 9:15pm. Not ideal, but I took it.

I was going to Babbo!

So I had a month to wait; read and reread the menu; and anticipate the meal. I know I probably drove everyone around me crazy (sorry). I talked about it constantly, but I couldn’t help it. I was so excited.

Fast Forward to this past Saturday night. We arrived at the restaurant 15 minutes early (if it were up to me we would’ve gotten there at noon). Babbo is definitely not set-up for waiting. When you enter the restaurant you’re in the bar area (which holds those walk-in tables I mentioned above) and beyond that is the main dining room. So if the bar is crowded, like it was Saturday night, you are forced to stand in front and practically on top off the walk-ins as they are trying to eat. Very uncomfortable for both them and you. Basically you have two options: 1. Face them and watch them eat or 2. Turn the other way and leave them staring at your behind while they eat. I don’t know about you but It’s not something I’d want to look at during dinner.

This was all but forgotten when I glanced across the room and caught a glimpse of Mario at the bar. He was so close but yet so far. As much as I wanted to, with the crowd it was impossible for me to make my way over to him. So I had to wait for a better opportunity to meet him; which as the night wore on grew more and more unlikely.

We were seated promptly at 9:15 and immediately began perusing the menu. During this time I continued to keep one eye on Mario; making sure I didn’t miss my chance. He seemed busy with customers and we became engrossed in our meal and at some point I lost sight of him.

Our meal at Babbo was excellent; as I knew it would be. We shared the warm tripe alla Parmigiana and duck braciole with asparagus and Parmesan flan for our appetizers. I had the beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver and black truffles as my entrée and my husband had the Chianti stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu. We shared an order of the Italian doughnuts with 3 dipping sauces for dessert. It was all amazing. There’s really not one bad thing I can say about the entire meal. Even the limoncello we had as an digestif was fantastic.

The end of the evening slowly crept up on us and disappointment began to set in. I still had not met Mario and as we made our way to the front of the restaurant I realized he was no longer around. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, he hurried past us heading towards the door.

“Go, go, go,” my husband said as he pushed me forward. “This is your opportunity.”

So I went; caught up to him and tapped lightly on his shoulder. “Would you mind terribly taking a picture with me?” I asked. “I wouldn’t mind at all,” he responded “especially not terribly.” Then he turned to his security guard and said “get the F*** out of my way so I can take a picture with this girl!” We all laughed; a woman at the bar took our picture; and he was

And that is how I got to meet Mario Batali.