Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

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.

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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.

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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.

It’s always a challenge when you’re on a diet. I’m going no alcohol and low-carb to lose some weight. (Down 6 lbs. in 5 days so far.) My wife needs to include gluten-free food in her diet, though she can have a few carbs. Fish is a great source of protein, and we love it sauteed in a little butter and olive oil with Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Magic seasoning on it. But let’s face it, that gets old after a while, and we all know there’s nothing tastier than fried fish.

Rather than using a heavy beer batter like I used to do (damn good and easy to do:http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-en), I came up with a very light gluten-free-flour-based seasoning that gave the fresh-caught local fish we bought incredible flavor and crunch without a carb overload and without gluten. Damn good, and I have to say, you’d never know the difference.

There are many gluten-free flours out there now, and all you need to do is substitute them cup-for-cup in any recipe you have. I’ve tried Bob’s Red Mill (OK), King Arthur (better), and Pamela’s (very good–what I used for this recipe.) I’ve just ordered the latest: Cup 4 Cup, created by chefs that include the famous Thomas Keller, which we tasted at Mario Batali’s Del Posto restaurant in New York City recently. They have about 12 different pasta dishes on their menu, and each one has a gluten-free option using the Cup 4 Cup flour. They were fantastic!

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1 cup flour (all-purpose or gluten-free)

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon granulated onion

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon paprika

2 eggs

fresh locally caught fish fillets of your choice (I used fluke and ocean perch)

Organic GMO-free canola oil or avocado oil for frying

 

In a flat bowl you will use to dredge the fish fillets, combine the flour, salt and pepper, parsley, oregano, granulated onion and garlic, and paprika.

In a separate flat bowl, scramble the 2 eggs.

Pour about 1/2″ of the oil in a pan and heat to medium-high heat.

Dip the fish fillets first in the eggs, coating well. Then dredge in the flour mixture, pressing down on both sides, so the flour mixture really sticks to the fish. Then shake the fillet lightly to remove the excess flour and gently lay the fillet in the hot oil. Fry until golden.

We made a quick and delicious tartare sauce using mayonnaise, dill pickle relish and Maille sauterne mustard.

 

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…and New Bedford’s Brick makes a good pie.)

 

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 “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.

 

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.

 

So 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.

 

What makes Pizza Montanara so spectacular, quite simply, is that the dough is fried in oil 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, which lasts only a minute, 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.

My signature pizza: marinated beef tenderloin with chive blossoms. Not Pizza Montanara, but not bad!

My signature pizza: marinated beef tenderloin with chive blossoms. Not Pizza Montanara, but not bad!

 

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.

 

I’ll be “living the live” in New York City this weekend. PizzArte already on the list for Friday night. Looks for the photos. I can’t think of anything better than an amazing Pizza Montanara before I go on my no-carb diet next week!

Porchetta is a savory, fatty, herby, delicious slab of pig that is slow roasted…a favorite in Italy. Porchetta is also the name of a small eatery on the Lower east side of New York City, the baby of chef Sara Jenkins, where they serve this Italian classic almost exclusively, with lines of people winding down the block, waiting for their taste of pig heaven.

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Traditional porchetta is made from a hog that is butchered, boned and roasted. Porchetta in New York City takes the pork loin, wraps it with the belly and skin, and slow roasts it in their special Combi oven. The result is nothing short of fantastic.

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Both methods are way too big for my kitchen, so I took a page out of one of my favorite cooking magazines, La Cucina Italiana , where chef Jenkins described how a homemade version of porchetta was possible using boneless pork shoulder.
Well, I didn’t have a boneless pork shoulder, dammit! I had two beautiful pork tenderloins…not nearly as fatty, and no pork skin to wrap them with. I knew that I would have to be extremely careful not to totally dry my pork out.

Before...

Before…

Ingredients:

10 small fresh sage leaves
3 fresh small rosemary sprigs, leaves only
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons wild fennel pollen (see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 pork tenderloins (2 1/2 to 3 lb total)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Finely chop the sage, rosemary and garlic. (I place them in a food processor.) Place mixture in a small bowl and add fennel pollen, salt and pepper. Stir together well.

Rub the herb mixture all over the 2 tenderloin pieces. Tie the tenderloins together with butcher twine. (Usually one end of the tenderloin is fatter and the other thinner. Line them up so that one fat end is tied with one thin end, making the pork package of equal thickness.)

Set pork fat side up in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil.

Roast the tenderloins, basting with the wine and pan juices every 15 minutes. Cook until pork has an internal temperature of 140 degrees.

After!

After!

Despite that it came out somewhat awesome, I plan on using a pork shoulder next time. Leftovers make great sandwiches!

Anyone that plans a trip to New York City for the holidays with the kids (or even without the kids) better end up at FAO Schwarz, if they know what’s good for them! It’s a great store with loads of history and two huge levels of candy, toys, games, and the world-famous “Big Piano,” as seen in the Tom Hanks movie “Big.” Toy soldiers greet you at the door, inviting you into a world as far away from the hassle of Manhattan traffic as anything on 5th Avenue and 58th Street could be!

Most people don’t know that they can get a 45-minute private tour of FAO Schwarz, one hour before the store opens, guided by their own toy soldier. It’s a really fun experience that we had a couple of years ago, when my daughter turned 5 years old. But you can’t just show up. And there’s limited space. (We found that signing up for a tour after Christmas was the way to go.)

We found out about the private tours from a small ad in a local magazine: Time Out New York. There was no web address…just a phone number. I called…I made an appointment for the tour…it cost a ridiculously small amount of money…and we were in!

We showed up at our designated time and met our Toy Soldier, who led us through the entire store, giving us all kinds of information about the toys and the history of the building itself. The awesome part was that we were the only ones in the building, with the exception of store workers getting things ready for another day’s enthusiastic crowds.

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And the best part of the tour: we got to dance around on The Big Piano privately, before the store’s doors opened up and the wild crowds rushed to get in line to take advantage of their 3 minutes on the piano. We got almost 15 minutes to dance around, take pictures and simply have a great time.

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If you’re trying to think of what you can do to bring your next holiday trip to New York City to whole new level, this will make you a real hero with the kids.

Here’s a link I found with more information:

http://www.fao.com/shop/index.jsp?categoryId=3810526

And by the way…tip the toy soldier well. He still has to pay the rent!

Anyone that plans a trip to New York City for the holidays with the kids (or even without the kids) better end up at FAO Schwarz, if they know what’s good for them! It’s a great store with loads of history and two huge levels of candy, toys, games, and the world-famous “Big Piano,” as seen in the Tom Hanks movie “Big.” Toy soldiers greet you at the door, inviting you into a world as far away from the hassle of Manhattan traffic as anything on 5th Avenue and 58th Street could be!

Most people don’t know that they can get a 45-minute private tour of FAO Schwarz, one hour before the store opens, guided by their own toy soldier. It’s a really fun experience that we had last year, when my daughter turned 5 years old. But you can’t just show up. And there’s limited space. (We found that signing up for a tour after Christmas was the way to go.)

We found out about the private tours from a small ad in a local magazine: Time Out New York. There was no web address…just a phone number. I called…I made an appointment for the tour…it cost a ridiculously small amount of money…and we were in!

We showed up at our designated time and met our Toy Soldier, who led us through the entire store, giving us all kinds of information about the toys and the history of the building itself. The awesome part was that we were the only ones in the building, with the exception of store workers getting things ready for another day’s enthusiastic crowds.

toy1

And the best part of the tour: we got to dance around on The Big Piano privately, before the store’s doors opened up and the wild crowds rushed to get in line to take advantage of their 3 minutes on the piano. We got almost 15 minutes to dance around, take pictures and simply have a great time.

toy2

If you’re trying to think of what you can do to bring your next holiday trip to New York City to whole new level, this will make you a real hero with the kids.

Here’s a link I found with more information:

http://www.fao.com/shop/index.jsp?categoryId=3810526

And by the way…tip the toy soldier well. He still has to pay the rent!

On Thanksgiving morning, we did what we weren’t supposed to do: woke up late and arrived just 20 minutes before the Macy’s parade started, huddled in the crowd just in front of Radio City Music Hall.

As fate would have it, a police barrier was opened up to the public–kids had the first row–with adults behind them. Our 5-year-old daughter got right up front, and my wife snagged a photo of Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian on the Food Network float. (I was a few rows back, taking family videos of the event.)

My advice if you ever plan on going to New York City for Thanksgiving: skip the blowing up of the balloons the night before. It is a madhouse that wraps around a half a dozen city blocks and once you are in, there is no way out until the very end. If you’re claustrophobic, or have a sick or tired kid, you are absolutely screwed. The police show no mercy because they’ve heard every excuse you can think of a thousand times before. Can’t say that I blame them.

We found a way out by heading down to the subway station below the American Museum of Natural History (where all this takes place) and came up the other side of the street out of another subway entrance.

As for Thanksgiving Day and the Macy’s parade: the weather was perfect and our daughter had a great time. We’ve done the parade once. And now we’re done!

Geoffrey Zakarian on the Food Network float.

On Thanksgiving night, we had our dinner at Zakarian’s restaurant, The National, located on the first floor of The Benjamin, our hotel for the weekend. Unfortunately, like many restaurants owned by Iron Chefs (Bobby Flay a prime example), the menus don’t reflect the creativity that you see on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” show. Our meal was a prix fixe dinner that featured steak. And although it was beautifully cooked…it was steak. I can get that anywhere.

What did shine was the service. The manager, Noble, made sure that we were happy with our wine selection and that our 5-year-old daughter was offered something other than the adult prix fixe menu. And when our choice of a white Rioja tasted off, he quickly brought a bottle of another variety that absolutely hit the spot. As we were waiting for our table on that very busy night, a busboy saw that our little girl was hungry, so he brought over some bread, butter and jelly, and gave her a seat at a small table to enjoy  it while waiting. Excellent service.

Not that I’m an Iron Chef stalker, but the next night, we had dinner at Restaurant Marc Forgione, located in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. Everything about this restaurant told us we were in the capable hands of a creative master. The restaurant was beautiful. Our server, Brad: friendly and totally professional. And the food: absolutely amazing. Appetizers consisted of chili lobster on Texas toast, with a sauce so good, you wanted to soak every bit up with that thick bread. Kampachi tartare with avocado, Schechuan buttoms, toasted pine nuts and Saratoga chips to scoop with: rich and smooth. A that-day creation of trout on a cedar plank was out of this world. A main course of perfectly cooked squab, bacon, brussels sprouts was real cold weather comfort food. And the most challenging meal for me: the veal tenderloin with Boudin noir, a pork blood sausage that was really intense. But hey, I didn’t come here to have my hand held. I came here to get slapped around a bit! And that’s exactly what this dish did.

Desserts were equally incredible, my favorite combining my two favorite desserts, bread pudding and pecan pie, into one amazing sweet, gooey treat.

And unlike other high-end restaurants, there was no problem when we requested something simple for our fussy daughter’s meal. A plate of home-made pasta with butter and cheese arrived at the table, and my daughter called it “the best ever.”

Marc Forgione the restaurant was only half the story. Marc Forgione the chef was a really cool guy who stepped out of the kitchen often, checking on tables to make sure people were satisfied with their meals. We had a table right near the open kitchen door, so we saw him and his staff at work during our entire meal. And when my daughter handed him a drawing she made of him in his kitchen, he offered to give us a tour. We grabbed that opportunity in a heartbeat! He came back to our table several times more, just to see how we were doing. Great guy. Great talent. Great restaurant.

With Iron Chef Marc Forgione in his kitchen.