Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

Despite the large Italian community we have here in southern New England, there’s no exceptional pizza to speak of. I suppose you could say “them’s fightin’ words!” but if it’s here, I haven’t found it yet. (Fellini Pizza is about the best in Providence.)

So where is the excellent pizza? New York City, of course. OK…maybe I’m prejudiced because I’m a Brooklyn boy, and worked in a variety of pizzerias in my younger days, but there’s no doubt in my mind that if you want the best pizza–or bagel, for that matter–you’ve got to go to the Big Apple. (Even the most excellent “Frank Pepe’s” in New Haven, CT is a mere stop on the way to the real deal.)

Pizza in NYC can be confusing as there are many different varieties to choose from. Brick oven pizzas abound, but there are pizza lovers who won’t settle for anything less than a pizza baked in a coal-fired oven. The extremely high heat of a coal-fired oven cooks the pizza in just a minute, and imparts a crusty, charred flavor you can’t get any other way. There are only about a dozen coal-fired pizzerias in New York City, and many of them have been around for 100 years or more, so it’s definitely a matter of making a special trip to enjoy this style of pizza. (Providence now has its own coal-fired pizza, but it can’t compare.)

Plenty of good, basic pizza, too: the traditional thin, round Neopolitan pie, and the thicker, square Sicilian pie, baked in that Blodgett pizza oven we all knew in our early pizza-making days.

Several years ago, when I heard through the pizza lovers’ grapevine that a “new” pizza was out there, one that was gaining a cult following, I needed to know about it. And more importantly, I needed to taste it!

It’s called Pizza Montanara, and there’s only a few pizzerias in New York City that serve it. The one I go to without fail is PizzArte, on West 55th, and I have to say it’s the ultimate pizza.

 

Pizza Montanara, sitting next to me in the car, just waiting to be devoured.

 

What makes Pizza Montanara so spectacular, quite simply, is that the dough is fried in oil for 30 seconds, flipped and fried another 30 seconds, before they put the sauce and cheese on it, and then they cook it in a wood burning oven. It is not greasy. The frying process puffs the dough up and creates a beautiful pillow-like softness that I’ve never experienced in a pizza before. Imagine a pizza cloud and you’ve got Pizza Montanara.

Where to get Pizza Montanara.

 

I’ve made Pizza Montanara at home, with some success. I poured a few inches of olive oil in a large skillet, stretched my dough into a small pie, and gently floated it into the pan. Using a spatula and tongs, I was able to flip the fried dough over after about 30 seconds, then removed it from the pan after another 30 seconds. It was golden and puffy. I quickly sauced and cheesed it and in the oven it went. But it’s a messy process I’d rather leave to the pros.

 

Every time I post a photo of Pizza Montanara on Facebook or Instagram, my friends don’t believe that this could possibly be a life-changing pizza experience. It is. I just came back from Manhattan, and we devoured 3 pizzas on the ride home. Nothing makes New York traffic easier to bear than a Pizza Montanara in the seat next to you!

Pizza Arte also makes one helluva gluten-free pizza.

 

 

My home town of New York is the greatest city in the world. Over the years, I’ve brought my daughter to the Big Apple to experience the amazing sights it has to offer. We’ve done the museums: from the Guggenheim to the Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney…from MOMA to the Museum of Natural History and the Rose Science Center. Last year, we visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and One World Trade Center. We decided that the Empire State Building was long overdue.

 

The Empire State Building is an art deco skyscraper that, at 102 stories, was the world’s tallest building for over 40 years. Over 4 million people visit it every year, so I’m going to give you a few important tips that are good to know if you’re planning a trip sometime soon…and you really should go.

 

The most important tip I can give you is: buy the VIP Express pass. You can only get them online here: http://www.esbnyc.com/buy-tickets. They cost more, but the time you don’t waste and stress you avoid is worth every penny.

 

Facing south: One World Trade Center in the distance, with a very tiny Statue of Liberty to the right of it.

 

It doesn’t matter how crowded it gets (and sometimes, the line for tickets to the Empire State Building goes out the door at 5th Avenue and 33rd, and around the corner all the way to Macy’s!)…if you buy the VIP tickets, you won’t be standing in that line! Of the thousands of people who were visiting on a recent Saturday evening, we were 2 of only 3 people with VIP passes!

 

 

We walked up to the door and told the security guard that we had VIP passes, and he let us right in, past everyone, to another guard who led us to an escalator to the elevators. When we reached the top of the escalator, we again mentioned we had VIP passes, and they led us to another guard who gave us wrist bands after scanning the tickets we purchased online, and told us: “Show your wristbands to everyone as often as you can.” He meant it!

 

The magical wristband.

 

 

One wave of the wristband, and we were the first to go on the elevator to the 80th floor, where you walk through the “Dare to Dream” exhibit, on your way to the next set of elevators that take you to the outdoor observatory on the 86th floor. Again, there was a line of hundreds of people ahead of us, and again, we waved our wristbands and were escorted to the front of the line and right onto the elevator.

 

 

The MetLife Building–which was the old Pan Am Building (left), the Chrysler Building (center) and the United Nations (right.)

 

From the street to the 86th floor, it took us a total of 10 minutes! Worth every penny of the $65 we paid per ticket.

The 86th floor has an enclosed area, but everyone wants to be outside, where the only thing between you and a long drop down to the street is a fence. We were there at sunset, and the city looked spectacular.

 

Facing west.

 

We chose not to go to the observatory on the 102nd floor (that would’ve required a different ticket purchase), but I had been there before, in my youth. Enclosed by glass and very small, it’s a little eerie up there as the building creaks and sways slightly from side to side in the wind. An old-style elevator takes you up from the 86th floor, and it’s something you should experience once in your life. My daughter didn’t seem too keen on going, so we passed on it this time.

 

Looking up from the 86th floor to the top: dizzying!

 

Of course, what goes up must come down, and that includes the hundreds of people at the top of the building! Once again, wristbands to the rescue: one wave, and we were put on the first elevator down to the 80th floor, where the gift shop was located. One more wave of the wristband, and we were the first on an elevator taking us back down to street level.

 

 

 

The VIP Express pass rocks! I will never go to the Empire State Building any other way…and neither should you!

 

 

 

It’s National Pancake Day!

These pancakes, based on a recipe from chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig and The Breslin in NYC), are made from fresh homemade ricotta cheese. Light as air…and really delicious! I’ve made a few batches of fresh ricotta cheese in my day, but when the family has a craving for these pancakes at the last-minute, a good-quality store-bought ricotta cheese will do.

 

 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup GF flour if I want to make these gluten-free)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh ricotta

 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In another large bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta,  and egg yolks. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry. Fold gently into the batter.

Spray a non-stick griddle with a little cooking spray and drop about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes per side, until golden and fluffy.

pancake

Most everything’s better when you do it yourself, and smoked whitefish salad is no exception. Sure, I can get whitefish salad at my favorite deli when I go home to New York, and it’s pretty good. But they treat the whitefish like they do tuna: they mash the fish to the point where you can’t recognize what you’re eating. And then they add a ton of mayonnaise as filler.

fish1

On a recent visit home, I bought a nice whole smoked whitefish from my favorite supermarket on steroids: Fairway (one of my stops in New York for fish, meat, coffee, and cheese.) I took extra care to really go through all the meat a couple of times to make sure there weren’t any sharp bones left in it. And I left the whitefish meat in small pieces, much like I would with crab meat.

fish2

Interestingly, I didn’t learn how to make whitefish salad from my Jewish New York neighbors. I learned it from my father-in-law in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where smoked whitefish is a favorite treat, caught right in the waters of the Great Lakes.

Buying whitefish at one of many smoke shacks at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Buying whitefish at one of many smoke shacks at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

1 whole 1-lb. smoked whitefish meat, carefully de-boned
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 teaspoons finely minced onion
pinch black pepper
tiny pinch sea salt

Real fish has real bones, so make sure you go through the meat a couple of times. Place the meat in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, but gently to keep the meat from breaking apart.

Spoon onto crackers and enjoy!

fish3

An article recently appeared in Eater, showing how you can make the famous Shake Shack burgers. (https://www.eater.com/2017/5/13/15629654/recipe-shake-shack-burger?yptr=yahoo) But the one thing missing was the “Shack Sauce.” I’m here to help with that!

If I haven’t completely captured the taste of it, I’ve come pretty darn close. I do know that my Awesomesauce makes every cheeseburger I grill taste amazing. It’s also fantastic for shrimp, crab or lobster salad…a dip for veggies or boiled shrimp…a dressing for tacos…and great on salads.

Awesomesauce

 

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate it covered for a few hours to blend the flavors.

These pancakes, based on a recipe from chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig and The Breslin in NYC), are made from fresh homemade ricotta cheese. Light as air…and really delicious! I’ve made a few batches of fresh ricotta cheese in my day, but when the family has a craving for these pancakes at the last minute, a good-quality store-bought ricotta cheese will do.

 

 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup GF flour if I want to make these gluten-free)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh ricotta

 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In another large bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta,  and egg yolks. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry. Fold gently into the batter.

Spray a non-stick griddle with a little cooking spray and drop about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes per side, until golden and fluffy.

pancake

Most everything’s better when you do it yourself, and smoked whitefish salad is no exception. Sure, I can get whitefish salad at my favorite deli when I go home to New York, and it’s pretty good. But they treat the whitefish like they do tuna: they mash the fish to the point where you can’t recognize what you’re eating. And then they add a ton of mayonnaise as filler.

fish1

On a recent visit home, I bought a nice whole smoked whitefish from my favorite supermarket on steroids: Fairway (one of my stops in New York for fish, meat, coffee, and cheese.) I took extra care to really go through all the meat a couple of times to make sure there weren’t any sharp bones left in it. And I left the whitefish meat in small pieces, much like I would with crab meat.

fish2

Interestingly, I didn’t learn how to make whitefish salad from my Jewish New York neighbors. I learned it from my father-in-law in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where smoked whitefish is a favorite treat, caught right in the waters of the Great Lakes.

Buying whitefish at one of many smoke shacks at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Buying whitefish at one of many smoke shacks at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

1 whole 1-lb. smoked whitefish meat, carefully de-boned
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 teaspoons finely minced onion
pinch black pepper
tiny pinch sea salt

Real fish has real bones, so make sure you go through the meat a couple of times. Place the meat in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, but gently to keep the meat from breaking apart.

Spoon onto crackers and enjoy!

fish3

It’s hard to believe that the iconic F.A.O. Schwarz store in New York City is closing, due to rising rental costs. I suppose it’s not as hard to believe when you realize that it’s now owned by Toys R Us. They say they’ll move the store to Times Square or somewhere else in Manhattan where the rent is more reasonable, but it simply won’t be the same for many people, like myself, who grew up going to the store every holiday season.

The movie “Big,” starring Tom Hanks gave F.A.O. Schwarz global fame, when Hanks and Robert Loggia danced on the giant floor piano. Since then, lines were out the door every day for fans of the movie to get a chance to do the same.

toy2

And several years ago,  I secured a reservation for a private tour of the store, led by one of F.A.O. Schwarz’s own soldiers. Before the store doors were opened for the day, we got to tour the entire store and dance on that famous floor piano before the crazy crowds made their way in. A wonderful memory we shared with our daughter and one I hope she’ll never forget.

toy1

It’s not the holiday season. But if you’re in the New York area, you owe it to yourself to visit the original F.A.O. Schwarz location one last time before it goes away on July 15th. It’ll be a sad day for kids everywhere.

The inspiration for this sauce was my attempt to replicate the “Shack Sauce” they use at Shake Shack , a high-end burger joint owned by restaurateur Danny Meyer. Since it opened in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2004, Shake Shack has expanded to many other locations around the world.

I don’t know if I captured the Shack Sauce secret. But I do know that my Awesomesauce makes every burger I grill taste amazing. It’s also fantastic for shrimp, crab or lobster salad…a dip for veggies or boiled shrimp…a dressing for tacos…and great on salads.

Awesomesauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Refrigerate covered for a few hours to blend the flavors.