Homeward Bound

We left Washington, Virginia on Monday morning, bellies and minds still full from the previous night’s amazing meal, and headed to Charlotte, North Carolina.  From the initial planning stages of this trip, we reserved Charlotte as our stop to sample some southern barbecue.  In particular we were curious to try the  “whole hog” mix of pork seasoned with the thin, vinegary sauce that East Carolina is known for.  However, the seven plus hour drive, and our increasing awareness that Isabela has had enough of our journey up and down the east coast, threw a wrench in this plan.  Our chance to try some BBQ was stymied.  Perhaps the theme of our next road trip will be “Barbecue in the United States.”  We could travel through Memphis, the Carolinas, St. Louis, Texas, Virginia, stopping at various BBQ pits, restaurants, and festivals to sample each establishment’s wares … but I digress.  After a restful night in Charlotte and an Ali-like return to the ring by Obama, we awoke energized, hungry and excited to move on to our next, and what would be our last, food related stop on our journey — Hot Atlanta.

We rolled into the ATL on Tuesday afternoon.  That night we had reservations at Top Chef All-Star winner Richard Blaise’s newest eatery The Spence.  I decided even before we arrived that I would love everything about this place.  The design, concept, and menu intrigued me.  The Spence is located in the “Midtown” section of Atlanta near Georgia Tech.  The modern and funky interior has a bit of a NYC feel with an open kitchen, high ceilings, communal tables, modern lighting and floor to ceiling curtains.  I fell in love with the open-air wood topped bar.  A refreshing departure from the usual stainless steel eye soar you see in most restaurants. The reclaimed wood element is carried through to the kitchen line.  Another far cry from the “Continental” or “Beverage Air” commercial equipment counter tops that grace most restaurant kitchens.  As I watched the “symphony” of chefs work their stations, retrieve their mis en place and plate their food, it was obvious that this open kitchen was put together to achieve a certain look and feel rather than for practicality.

The vibe of the restaurant was like a bustling NYC restaurant with great energy and a hip play list pumping in the background.  Cleverly noted on the menu as to what was the inspirations that day, the small plates and reasonable price point allowed us to sample much of what The Spence has to offer.  We feasted on:

Bone Marrow, Tuna Tartare and Fried Quail Eggs

Soup of Kabocha Squash

Shredded Kale Caesar Salad

Pork Trotter Empanadas with Kimchee

Veal Sweatbread Schnitzel with Lemon and Onions

Braised Beef Tacos, Avocado and Guajillo

Lobster Knuckle Sandwich and Chicharron

Pecan Treacle Tart, Milk Jam Ice Cream

Mint Sponge Cake, Sweet Tea Ice Cream and Lemon

The Spence is a little outside the box and a definite must if you happen to find yourself in Atlanta.

After traveling like fugitives for the past two and a half weeks, the next day our initial thought was to get on the road and put this trip to bed.  However, there was one more place in Atlanta that I wanted to check out — The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar.  Who could forego a place with the name The Optimist?  The experience was true to its name – – very favorable indeed.  The Optimist is located in an old ham factory. Yes, a ham factory.  Not sure what goes on in a ham factory but what goes on in The Optimist is nothing short of brilliant.

Again we sampled much of what was on the menu:

CALGARY COCKTAIL:
Boyd & Blair potato vodka, clam juice, tomato, spices, “oystershire” sauce, up with celery salt

Smoked White Fish Chowder

Peel and Eat GA Shrimp, Come Back Sauce and Lemon

Crispy Long Beans, Sea Salt,  Buttermilk-Dill Mignonette

Fried Clam Roll, Kimchi Vinegar, House Pickles  (as my wife pointed out was reminiscent of Rhode Island-style fried calamari with vinegar peppers)

Fish and Chips, Ale Battered Haddock, Malt Vinegar Aioli

Corn Milk Hushpuppies, “beignet style,” Honey-Butter

Everything was subpurb!  This place was the perfect match between food and design.  And who would of thunk that there is an amazing seafood restaurant in land-locked Atlanta.

Until next time ATL…

My Bucket List Is Shrinking

Many people have a bucket list.  Some may take the time to meticulously write down the things they want to do before they die in great detail and take pleasure in crossing off each item as it has been completed.  Other’s bucket lists are more amorphous.  A collection of loosely developed ideas kept in the back of their minds.  My bucket list is a cross between the two.  There are certain ideas that I have and goals that I want to achieve in my life and then there are the concrete things that I need to do before I kick the bucket.  I have been fortunate to have completed some of the ‘must do” items on my list such as dining at Guy Savoy  and Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, climbing the Great Wall of China (11 times), riding an elephant into the Thai jungle, eating a seven course snake dinner in Vietnam, chewing on crispy fried scorpions in Beijing, apprenticing in the best restaurant in the world, The Fat Duck in England, cooking for Julia Child’s birthday dinner in Maine, and “stage” at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville.  Also on my list is dinner at Patrick O’Connell’s famed Inn at Little Washington.  As of last night I am able to say that this item has been completed.

We left Philly, cheese steak in hand, around noon on Sunday and began making our way to Virginia. The majority of the ride was pretty uneventful and what we have come to expect over the last two plus weeks of traveling.  As we got closer to Virginia however, my anticipation (and anxiety) about dinner grew.  I first learned about Patrick O’Connell and the Inn at Little Washington after leaving Chef Allen’s restaurant in Aventura. I decided to head north for the summer to work in Maine at the Goose Cove Lodge.  The chef at the time, Robert Evans, had just completed a two year stint working at the Inn.  His experience was evident in the food we were cooking — precise, calculated and mindful of where the ingredients came from.  His technique was flawless and his approach to each ingredient was almost religious.  Ever since this time, I knew I had to visit this place.

We arrived at the hotel around 4:00 pm. We quickly changed and drove to the restaurant for our 5:30 pm (yes, 5:30 pm) reservation.  The drive was beautiful.  The Inn is located in Washington, Virginia, a tiny village in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We drove through rolling hills, passed many farms, pumpkin patches, vineyards and wineries.  Finally, we reached our destination.

The Inn is stunning.  The outside looks like a colonial home complete with a two level front porch.  We entered and were taken aback by the beauty.  The interior is richly appointed with layers of elaborate wall paper and tapestries, antiques and comfortable, intimate seating areas.  The beautiful furnishings continue into the restaurant with luxurious damask table coverings, sparkling silverware and gorgeous china.  Everything worked effortlessly together but, as I will soon describe, could not over shine the dining experience.

We were quickly shown to our table which was located, not in the main dining room, but on a back porch overlooking the garden.  It was a beautiful room with a gorgeous view.   Although the dining room was full, we were the only ones on the porch.  Perhaps the fact that I told the maître d’ that we were bringing an infant had something to do with this (they really know what they are doing).  Or maybe it was due to the reservationist looking up my name to see that I was in the business, a detail that was pretty apparent by the “right this way Chef DeRosa”.

Nestled into a cozy corner, we opened the menu which was personalized with our names.  After reviewing the sumptuous offering, we decided on the “Gastronaut’s Menu.”  This ten course tasting menu was nothing short of amazing.  After a few amuse-bouche, the courses began.

Truffle Dusted Popcorn

A Tin of Sin: American Osetra Caviar with Peekytoe Crab and Cucumber Rillette

Lemon-Lime Lobster Largesse: Chilled Maine Lobster with Caramelized Endive, Citrus-Sake Gelee

Maine Day Boat Scallops Saûteed with Tomato Gnocchi, Capers, Brown Butter and Lemon

North Pacific Cod in an Asian Inspired Broth Perfumed with Ginger

Pappardelle Pasta with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Blenheim Apricots and Ribbons of Country Ham

Pan Seared Duck Breast with Wild Rice Pilaf, Seared Foie Gras and Caramelized Virginia Figs

Pineapple-Lemongrass Sorbet with Pink Peppercorn Granita

A Miniature Blueberry Crisp with Limoncello Pudding Cake and Berry Rapture Frozen Yogurt

Our more than helpful server precisely suggested wine pairings with each course which enhanced our experience.  As we ate our way through this spectacular menu we kept thinking that we had eaten our favorite bite until the next course was presented.  This is a dinner that I will not soon forget.

This amazing meal was toped off with a tour of the kitchen.  Having read about this kitchen for some time, I could picture it in my mind even before I entered.  As the manager escorted me through the dining room, I knew this would be a memorable moment.  The doors opened and I could hear opera coming from the hallway.  Yes, the kitchen was executing a full dinner service in harmony to classical music. I was introduced to Chef Stephen Lyons, the Executive Sous Chef, and my tour through the perfectly manicured heart of the restaurant began.  We chatted as if we knew each other for years:  food, ingredients, textures and flavors.  He asked me to come with him on the line to show me the mis en place, food, grills and ovens and how they write menus based on the brigade system.  As we progressed through the stations walking “behind” the young chefs, each one responded “oui chef” in concert, all thoroughly aware of their surroundings and our presence.  We continued discussing stories of life, children, living in small towns, working for celebrity chefs and laughed at common kitchen banter.  I was throughly impressed with the finesse of the young women chefs in “garde manger” and their expert handling of each plate.  It seemed as if the food danced it’s way onto the plates with careful precision.  Sometimes we forget that in a world driven by economics, people who are truly passionate about their craft are magical in their approach to perfection.

The team at the Inn at Little Washington are true masters of their craft.  From the friendly valet, to the smiles at reception, to the attentiveness each service staff displayed, to our knowledgable and overly patient server.  And the Pièce de résistance — the kitchen and their warm hospitable way of allowing a visiting chef to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Thank you for a memorable evening and an inspiring journey through your home…

To the City of Brotherly Love

Its cold, very cold.  The last few days in Rhode Island have been quite chilly by this Floridians standards.  In the low fifties and rainy for most of the time with a couple of days of brisk sunshine was about all I could take from a weather standpoint.  Although the weather sucked, it was sad to leave.  We packed so much in to this short stay my head is still spinning.  Introducing Isabela to family and friends, playing with Isabela’s cousin and future partner-in-crime, Sophia, visiting pumpkin patches and farm stands, family dinners, walks in the park, and something called the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo, were all great fun and concluded the Northern leg of the trip.  On Saturday morning, we packed the car and began the trip back down south to some warmer weather.

Initially, we thought we could make it from Rhode Island to Washington, Virginia in one day but after looking at a map we decided that this nine hour drive was not such a good idea, especially if it was to conclude with a two and a half hour dinner at the Inn at Little Washington.  A quick search on Apple Maps revealed that Philadelphia was roughly half way to Virginia.  Some juggling of reservations, tweeting with chef and owner Kevin Sbraga and a few spirited phone calls with Hotels.com later and we were booked.  Off to Philly we went with a reservation at Sbraga one of Esquire Magazines top 20 Best New Restaurants in 2012.

Philadelphia

As we all know, Philly is known for cheesesteaks *(As a NY Giants fan I will not comment on the EAGLES).  This oozy, cheesy, steak and cheese creation was on my mind as we left Rhode Island.  I began to think of the last time I was in Philly and what local place had the best cheesesteak.  Were we going to stop at Jim’s Steaks on South Street or Campo’s Deli on Market.  I had a few hours drive to decide.  I was also itching to try a more refined restaurant in Philly — Sbraga. Opened exactly on year ago (congratulations on your one year anniversary) Spraga is the namesake of Kevin Sbraga the winner of Top Chef Season 7.  I could not wait to sample this Modern American Restaurant.

Hotel Monaco

After checking in to the Hotel Monaco, we made our way to the restaurant for our 6:15 reservation.  Yes, we eat early these days to ensure that the little one doesn’t throw a fit while papa is devouring his goose liver. The table was ready upon our arrival and the staff accommodated our stroller.  A quick glance at the cocktail menu and I ordered the Knob Creek Rye, Doulin Rouge, Maple- Bacon.  This cocktail sounded, tasted and finished as expected — smoky, sweet and the perfect note to begin our dinner.   Mama had her nerve calming, traditional stroller pushing vodka and soda as we began our meal.

Octopus Deliciousness

First Course:

Venison- foie gras terrine with sweet and sour eggplant
Shrimp bisque, butternut, tapioca, popcorn

Second Course:
Pumpkin tortellini, escargot, tom ka gai
Octopus, pri pri, green beans, tapanade

Third Course:
Meatloaf, carrots hazelnut, crust mushrooms
Lamb, brussels sprouts, peanuts, corn porridge

After the third course, Isabela showed us who was boss and we made a quick exit taking our dessert to go.  Our server suggested which desserts would travel well and boxed them up for our departure.  Back to the hotel for the second half of the Gator game, Yankee Game and South Carolina and LSU SEC barnburner.  We put Isabela in her bassinet and finished our dessert.

We are now off to Virginia to cross one more thing off my bucket list — dinner at the Inn at Little Washington. But not before a quick stop at  Jim’s Philly Cheesesteak on the way out of town. Shhhhh, As I’m writing this neither Amy or Isabela are aware of this impromptu stop…

Rhode Island — Quirkiest Place in the Northern Hemisphere?

Dels Lemonade

My wife is from Rhode Island.  Consequently, I have had the opportunity to spend some quality time in the good ol’ Ocean State.  This trip is no exception.  Although it is the smallest of the fifty states (it takes less than an hour to drive from one end of the state to the other) Rhode Island has some quirky characteristics that keep me intrigued.  The State of Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams (no, not the pitcher, that is Roger Clemons), it has the longest name of any state – The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Providence is the largest city in the state, and the most famous Rhode Islander is Pauly D from the Jersey Shore.

Pumpkin Latte

Other details that are uniquely Rhode Island include the appearance of a Dunkin Donuts on every corner (BTW – the Pumpkin Latte is a definite must), Del’s Frozen Lemonade is a favorite summer drink (which, in my opinion, is much better with a bit of Vodka), there is a thing called NY System Wieners (which are not from NY and, as I would learn on this trip, do not taste anything like a NY hot dog), Federal Hill is the Italian restaurant capital of the world with seemingly more than 100 Italian eateries on one street, milk shakes are called cabinets and the best milkshake is some thing ironically called and Awful Awful, a water fountain is referred to as a bubbler (kind of makes sense) and the Rhode Island accent can only be described as a cross between Joe Pesci and Ben Affleck.  During this trip, I had the opportunity to experience some of these Rhode Island oddities first hand.

Wednesday, we felt like some Italian food so off we went to Federal Hill (Rhode Island’s Little Italy). My sister-in-law suggested a Rhode Island staple Angelo’s Civita Farnese.  Angelo’s is a cafeteria style Italian diner that sells local Italian favorites including braciole and gravy (served here with french fries), veal and peppers, and pastina soup (red or white).  The pastina soup was my favorite of the dishes we tried. Pastina is tiny pasta. In the white version of the soup (the one we had) the pastina is cooked in a chicken broth. You eat it with a healthy serving of parmesan cheeses.  I am told that the red version has a tomato base which tastes a bit like watered down tomato sauce.  I guess it is a Rhode Island thing.

On Friday, it was the famous (or infamous) New York System Wieners that I sampled.  Although they did not sound too appetizing — small hot dogs with lots of onion and some type of secret meat based sauce — my father-in-law raved about them.  Despite the name New York System,  these dogs are not like any type of New York hot dog that I have ever seen and, apparently, have nothing at all to do with New York.  They are uniquely Rhode Island.  So where did the name come from?  I tried to get some clarification from the man behind the counter but he was less than helpful and I am even now more confused than I was before.  Nonetheless, I ordered two wieners and some cheese fries.  The wieners were the smallest hot dog that I have ever seen and they were cooked on a rolling oven(like at Seven Eleven across the

The Dogs

street).  The man making the dogs lined them up on his arm (filthy) and dressed them with mustard and the “famous” meat sauce.  I asked him to hold the onion and bit into my firs NY System Weiner.  They were OK. Not the amazing experience that I expected but I could definitely see the draw if I was half in the bag and on my way home from a bar at 3AM.  Although I am happy for giving this RI thing the old college try, it is not something that I need to experience twice.

Til next time — you stay classy Rhode Island…

    

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” — Lao Tzu

“All Aboard”

We have now traveled over 1500 miles and are half way into our trip. The last leg of our journey traveling north has taken us from Manhattan to Long Island, out to Orient Point, cross Long Island Sound into New Haven Connecticut and finally to Rhode Island — or as I like to call it “The Spags Estate”.

This leg started with a drive from Melville, NY, where my aunt and grandparents live, through Long Island’s wine country to the eastern most point of Long Island, Orient Point. Here, we boarded the Cross Sound Ferry that would give a break from driving and spit us out in New London, Connecticut.  The ferry ride, in and of itself, was quite an experience.  The weather was less than optimal for a boat ride and the choppy sea made me feel like a greenback on an episode of The Deadliest Catch. While stepping outside to get some air, I was able to take in the sights of coastal New England for the first time this year.

“Point Orient”

The brisk salt air, docked fishing boats and vibrant colors of the changing leaves made me excited to be away from the Miami heat and in the midst of the New England fall season.

On our way to Rhode Island, we stopped in Stonington, Connecticut.  Stonington is a picturesque coastal New England town with a quaint main street aptly named Water Street.  This seaside street is lined with old colonial homes, shops selling a myriad of nautical items and restaurants serving traditional New England seafood fare.  In our rush to meet our noon ferry reservation, we had not yet eaten and began to look for a place to stop for lunch.

Noahs’ “worth a detour”

A mural painted on the side of a building stating  “Nor-Easter Diner” piqued our interests. This mural belonged to a place called Noah’s restaurant.  We ordered chowda’, steamers, deviled egg sam’miches and cod cakes to satisfy our craving.  The food was simple, local and unpretentious.  Of course the last thing anyone needs to do is walk through the kitchen on the way to the restroom, but that’s usually my “M.O.” for “checking out the place” and on this dining experience it was the same recipe.  But this time I happened to walk by just as the baker – cook – sugar maven was removing a pie from the oven. Immediately, I was hit with a wonderfully buttery, almost nutty fall smell with a hint of cinnamon.  Yes, it was a first of the season Pumpkin Pie! (Insert the theme song from Peanuts Thanksgiving day special “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”) We’ll take one of those I said; almost as loud and direct as I would from the pass on a Friday night in the restaurant rockin’ the cadence call.

Daddy’s Girls

Back on the road we reached Amy’s parent’s house in Rhode Island around five o’clock.  There we were greeted by family who had not yet met Isabela and a wonderful home cooked meal.  Great food, spirited conversation and lots of love for Isabela rounded out the evening.  The perfect end to our Northern journey.

“Grandma and Grandpa Spags”

Eli…The Other White Meat

“Playing with Food”

The last couple of days have been filled with a flurry of activity that, while exciting and memorable, has actually been quite exhausting.  On Saturday, weary from our travels, we made the decision to stay put on Long Island with my grandparents and aunt and allow them to dote on Isabela a bit.  Having our fill of Southern food, and anxious to get my hands on some fall ingredients, I decided that I would cook dinner for the family.  My aunt suggested a market close by called Fairway.  This place was nothing short of amazing. It made Whole Foods look like a road side farm stand.  From the unbelievable selection of fresh produce, to the cured olive bar, to the handmade mozzarella station, I was enamoured with the possibilities of what I could create.  After perusing the offerings at the fish counter I decided on bouillabaisse, a traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. Fairway had a beautiful selection of cod filets, littleneck clams by the dozen and some sweet shrimp that were just the right thing for a brisk fall day.  These ingredients reminded me of a recipe I once made with Julia Child at Goose Cove Lodge in Maine where I worked one summer.  She taught me the importance of making the “Soupe de Poisson”  by sweating the shrimp shells, leeks, onions and tomatoes and simmering them for about an hour, straining and reserving the liquid to cook then cook the seafood (See recipe below). To accompany the bouillabaisse we found some freshly baked ciabatta and I decided to make a classic rouille.  Amy chose to make her “infamous” antipasti of olives, cured meats, peppers, artisan cheeses with Ligurian olive oil.

Back to my grandmothers we went and started preparing dinner.  Lisa, a chef friend of mine who was working in the Hamptons this summer, stopped by to meet Isabela and brought some Long Island sweets and a nice bottle of wine.  We all sat in the kitchen around the island and watched the Florida Gators win, laughed, reminisced and snacked as we prepared the evenings feast.  It’s days like this that remind me of how I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother as a child — listening to the elders tell stories and laugh all the while enjoying great food. Today, the torch had been past to us. This time my grandparents were the ones watching and enjoying our time together and I couldn’t be happier to be cooking for them.

“Bouilliabaisse”

Although I was raised in Central Florida, I was born in New York and will always be a New Yorker at heart.   The Mets, Nicks and the Giants are my teams.  A die-hard Giants fan since as long as I can remember, sadly I have never been to a Giants game in Giants Stadium, until now!  When I was plotting the course for our road trip, I purposely scheduled our stopover in NY to coincide with a Giants home game (the other option was to first stop in Rhode Island to see my wife’s team the New England Patriots .. sorry babe).  We awoke early, kissed Isabela goodbye, left her with my aunt and grandparents, drove through Manhattan to pick a few friends and headed to the Meadowlands.   As we exited the Lincoln Tunnel and were approaching the stadium my anticipation grew.  A short tailgate due to the chilly and rainy weather and we were at our seats for kickoff.  What a beautiful stadium, we had perfect seats located just in front of the VIP area that housed many bars, food stations and lounges.  Even though the stadium was packed this area seemed to have enough room for all to sit, relax and for the girls to stay warm. Although it was a shaky start, the GMEN pulled off a 41 to 27 win. Eli looked amazing, Bradshaw was a stud and Cruz hauled in 3 TD catches. A perfect Trifecta!

“Giants Stadium- House that Eli Built”

Still high from my excitement of my Giants game, duty called.  Apparently Isabela was running the show at my grandparents’  house and it was time to relieve the babysitters.

I am so thankful to have this time with my family here in New York and for everyone to see Isabela for the first time. Until next time I leave you with…

“True Giants Fans”

Julia says it best:

This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with: not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat….the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared. Or, in the words of the famous gastronome Curnonsky, “Food that tastes of what it is”. (from My Life in France)

Here’s to you, Julia!

Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse with Rouille

Inspired by Julia Child

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup each chopped onion and leek
  • 4 cloves mashed garlic
  • 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • Fresh herb sprigs: thyme, parsley, fennel fronds and basil (in any combination)
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 3 – 4 pounds fish heads, bones, trimmings, shrimp shells
  • 1 1/2 pounds each peeled shrimp (use the shells for the stock); wild cod, halibut and/or sole cut into chunks, and debearded, scrubbed mussels or clams
  • Toasted rustic bread
  • Rouille sauce (recipe below)

Heat the oil in a tall pot (I used an 8 quart stockpot) over medium heat; add the onion and leek and cook gently until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, water, herbs, saffron, salt and fish bones. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that the broth bubbles slowly without boiling. Cook 30 minutes, then strain the broth into a large bowl or another pot and discard the solids. Pour the broth back into the stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, a minute or two. Add the rest of the fish and shellfish, cover and simmer until the mussels or clams open. Taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed. Serve the bouillabaisse with toasted bread and rouille on the side.

Rouille

  • 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper
  • 1 roasted hot red chile pepper or ground cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small peeled garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs or finely chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • Fine sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Puree everything except for the olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil while processing to form a  paste.

New York State of Mind

“Whatchoo looking At”?

Friday – October 5, 2012 – Ahhhhh NYC, the “Big Apple,” the “City That Never Sleeps,” “Welcome to the melting pot, corners where we selling rocks, Afrika Bambaataa shit, home of the hip-hop” … so happy to be back in the belly of the beast.  Ordinarily, I would have arrived in “the City” armed with reservations at a swanky hotel, a list of dinner reservations at the newest and most innovative restaurants, and my name on the list of a couple hot spots, all the result of a lot of planning and some shameless string pulling.  Ippudo *(for noodles), Eataly *(for a day of gluttony) and Le Bernardin *(to see the four stars recently and consistently reviewed by New York Times) would have been on my short list of places to hit.  But these places will have to wait.  With Isabela Grace dictating our eating schedule, sleep patterns and basically every thing we do these days; this is a different kind of trip.

“Tom Collichio’s Riverpark”

We entered NYC via the Battery Tunnel and went straight to visit my family on the Eastside of Manhattan.  After a quick feeding, and a not so quick diaper change, we decided to wait out the traffic to the Island.  As Tom Collichio’s newest outpost, Riverpark, was in the neighborhood, we headed over for an early dinner.  Quickly sat with a stroller and room to spare we assertively ordered a few appetizers to share, glass of wine for mama and a heavy handed Manhattan for me.  Himachi and avocado, octopus with clams were both good, seasoned well and nicely presented. Mushroom consume for my aunt poured table side, a smoky pork chop and brussels sprouts for mama and I had the steamed Branzino. Such a far cry from our early visit to Cracker Barrel. This meal left us full, energized and refreshed.  Very nice to see some technique, clean preparations and fall ingredients simply done.

“New York State of Mind”

Back in the car and headed to Long Island to see the grandparents.  Isbabela showed us once again who’s in control of this road trip. Thank God for bumper to bumper traffic, a quick diaper change and some Grateful Dead as we cruised into Melville, Long Island only to see Grandma waiting on the front stoop to greet her great granddaughter.  Priceless!

Until tomorrow – I’m cooking dinner for the family and watching football…