Monday, October 24, 2011

Eataly, New York City

When my daughter kept texting me about this neat Italian market I should visit, I was a bit surprised at what I thought was her continued misspelling. My spell check continues to go crazy.  Eataly is a very large 36,000 square foot building – totally open inside -  with different restaurant “areas” specializing in pasta and pizza, fish, desserts, and vegetables. Everything is homemade of course from fresh local ingredients using traditional Italian techniques. And there are tons of Italian and some local food items to buy and take home.  Olive oils, risottos (so many kinds…), vinegars, canned beans, dried pastas, fresh pastas, cheeses, wines, beers, coffees, cookbooks, and on and on.

This is a very, very cool market.  If I lived in the area I would come here often to either pick up some great ingredients to cook at home or to have lunch, dinner, coffee, or to have an aperitif while watching mozzarella being made.  As an out-of -towner I would and will come for lunch and pick up some Italian food gifts for friends and for myself.  Located at 23rd and Fifth Avenue, right across from Madison Square Park, this whole area has gone from seedy (in the 1990’s) to very appealing and a destination point.  Madison Square Park itself has undergone a total transformation and has an intriguing history.  New York is continuing to surprise me with the revival of so many areas.  First the Meatpacking District and now, just a day later, the Madison Square Park District.

It was good I had a focus for lunch because this could be an over-whelming place.  So, continuing on my quest to find the perfect pasta with tomato sauce, I headed to the pasta area. The lines were a bit long so I opted for a seat at the bar since I was a single and ordered a Spaghetti al Pomodoro.    Italian wines by the glass were plentiful and my very handsome Italian waiter and I decided on one and then he brought Italian bread tied up so cutely in parchment paper, and olive oil for dipping of course. 

Another woman was soon seated next to me.   From Los Angeles, she was a distributor of Italian cheese and was checking out the market.  She proceeded to order a Pizza Margherita plus the Pasta Pomodoro.  Goodness…   And she did eat pretty much everything!  Perhaps she is also a runner.  I would run in order to eat that much but my knees just wouldn’t take it.   Well, I do love to watch other people enjoy their food.   We had a great discussion about Italian food and cheese and enjoyed critiquing the food.  I thought my Pasta Pomodoro was very good.  The freshly made pasta was perfectly al dente and just the right texture.  But I would like to see last night’s sauce from Scarpetta with today’s pasta…

You would think pasta with tomato sauce is the newest delicacy.  While we were still eating and conversing a woman who was just leaving noticed that we were having the Pasta Pomodoro and stopped and said that she had also had the pasta and was wondering,  “Did we think it was a bit salty”?   I can see that I could enlist some others on my quest.  There are obviously others that understand my obsession.

Tonight:  Back to the Meatpacking District for dinner on this trip’s last night in New York.  Pastis at the corner of 9th Ave. and 12th St. has great atmosphere.  It is a quintessential French bistro with very typical French bistro food.  I have to say though that the food flavor doesn’t quite have that “je ne sais quoi”?  Sometimes you just have to have sourdough bread in San Francisco, bistro food in France and steamed crabs on the Eastern Shore.  I think it must be the water.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meatpacking District – Day 2

Today I want to see what the latest evolution has brought to the Meatpacking District – from slaughterhouses to sex shops to fashion central – gracious! The place must be experiencing some identity issues.   So I put on walking shoes and head back across town through the increasingly busy and increasingly young Murray Hill District, stroll through Times Square, as usual gawking at the spectacular billboards (where is the Calvin Klein underwear model ad that is always here?) skirt the Garment District wishing I knew someone in the know, pass through historic but still a bit run down Chelsea and then finally arrive at 14th and Washington Street in the midst of what I try to envision as a former bustling commercial meatpacking area.  Things are quite calm and quiet - actually kind of nice after the bustle of Midtown.  What I am not seeing is what one travel site describes as:  “West 14th Street, the Meatpacking District’s main artery, has turned into a Rodeo Drive of sorts.”  Uh, I don’t think so.   Instead envision warehouses and old buildings with first floors converted to a series of stylish small boutiques and restaurants.  The new,  hip Standard Hotel is a bit of a landmark and while I’m sure the hotel is a great addition to the area, the building itself reminds me of a 1950’s badly done low-rise office building in a suburban strip mall.  Perhaps it is just too hip for me.    However the attached restaurant – the Standard Grill - looks very appealing and I will definitely return at some point for lunch or dinner.

There are however some nice boutiques, the Chelsea Market is worth a trip to the area on its own merits, and there are great restaurants.

Everyone in the area is very pleased and proud of the newly opened High Line; a mile long elevated linear park straddling parts of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District – from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street.  The original High Line was built (opening in 1934) to elevate railroad tracks above ground to improve safety on the streets.  Hitherto, with freight trains on the same roadway with horse, motor and pedestrian traffic, 10th Avenue was known as Death Avenue and men on horses would ride in front of trains waving red flags. With the elevated tracks, freight cars were able to connect directly to factories and warehouses and trains would roll right inside these buildings.   By the 1960’s, as rail shipments saw large declines due to interstate trucking, the high line was used less and less and finally was abandoned.   In the late 1990’s efforts started to preserve the High Line and renovate the elevated area as a public open space – really quite an imaginative use!  It does spruce up the area and provides a great place to view the Hudson River.  And there are street vendors, sidewalk artists and the occasional musician trying to make a buck or two.   But I think I have had my fill of the Meatpacking District for at least the afternoon. We will be back tonight for another dinner in the area but until then, off to Eataly to work on my pasta quest.   (to be continued…)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meatpacking District, New York City

I do remember never daring to venture into the Meatpacking District when living in NYC in the early 80’s and after a bit of research into the area after my recent visit, things are coming back to me…    In the early 1900’s, the area was home to slaughterhouses and packing plants but by the 1980’s, it had become a center for drug dealing, prostitution, sex clubs etc. etc.  Oh dear.  Well, you can imagine my reticence when my daughter said I really should spend some time in this area – “there is the new Diane von Furstenberg headquarters and boutique, the Chelsea Market, a big new Apple store, several boutique hotels and many of the newest “in” restaurants including:  Pastis, Buddakan, Spice Market, Scarpetta, and the Standard Grill.”  What a turnaround.  The area is I guess now quite fashionable; more boring perhaps but at least visitable.

We started with dinner at Scarpetta.  I love this restaurant.  It is small, intimate, busy, but a bit loud.  The food is excellent.  Appetizers we enjoyed were:  a tuna susci – raw tuna with marinated vegetables, beautifully presented; a roasted beet salad; and a braised short ribs of beef appetizer with faro risotto.  The white wine we ordered was an Italian Falanghina 2009 by Taburno – very crisp and flavorful, similar to a Pinot Grigio but more interesting.  For a main course I thought this would be a great place to start my new quest:  the search for the best of one of my all time favorite dishes - pasta with tomato sauce.   It was an auspicious start - Scarpetta has a good one – labeled simply “spaghetti with tomato and basil”.  There is Parmesan cheese incorporated in the sauce, which made for a great flavor.   The only negative was that the homemade pasta was a bit too gummy for my taste.  But tomorrow is another day and hopefully another pasta.  (to be continued...)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dogmersfield Park, England

We are staying in the countryside about 40 miles outside of London at the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, in the village of Dogmersfield.  When we arrive, we take an afternoon four mile stroll through the grounds and surrounding countryside:  cross the meadow, skirt the keeper’s cottage, continue along the cow and separate bull enclosures (don’t bother the bull!), past the pigsty (quite neat and tidy I must say), a short crossing through a bit of forest, coming out by the canal complete with swans, pass under a charming stone bridge, then another, then another, hop over the wooden fence to continue on the path back to the meadow leading to the Manor.   I do love the English countryside.  I could live here…

We see the Manor in the distance – still nary a person in sight.    The geese are plentiful however.  Oh my, they must be eating everything in sight.  I must ask the woodsmen to be a bit more alert.  As we return to the Manor through the last vestiges of the crisp September afternoon sun, I am hoping the staff has been diligent while we were out.    There is always so much to be done:  the silver polishing, the beating of the comforters, the hearths to be laid.  And of course we have guests coming for dinner tonight…

All right – well just for a moment I forgot myself.  I suppose I’ll just have to wait for the start of the second series of Downton Abbey – but sadly not until January 2012 in the U.S.

I know that most of these old estates have incredible history.  Dogmersfield Park is no exception. On the travel route between the coastal port of Southampton and London, this estate is where the future first wife of Henry VIII met her future husbands.  Catherine of Aragon was on the way from France to London and met Henry VII’s sons, Prince Arthur, the heir to the throne, and Prince Henry, his younger brother, at Dogmersfield. Arthur married Catherine but then died at the age of 15.  At Henry VII’s death, young Henry was proclaimed King and he then married his brother’s widow.   This was allowable in the Catholic religion but Henry later used this as a rationale for divorcing his long time queen and thus was spawned the great HBO series “The Tudors”! 

There are of course many historic properties in England offering accommodations and many I'm sure more charming and intimate than this.  However, even though this is a large hotel and is a bit skewed towards the corporate clientele, the Four Seasons has done a great job of maintaining the sense of the “old manor” even though the current building is essentially a very well done renovation of the Elizabethan style house originally built on the site in 1728.  For leisure activities there is of course hiking, and skeet shooting which I highly recommend - wellington boots and waterproof mackintoshes provided!  The service and food at the hotel is top drawer.   The estate is close to Windsor Castle and to the village of Chawton, where the home of Jane Austen is open to visitors and where she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.   Unfortunately I was too busy skeet shooting and having tea and scones in the library and imagining myself as the lady of the manor and so did not get to Chawton…