On the Road with OTK

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Hit the road with OTK on our latest food safari.

Be sure to bring your appetite as we venture outtathekitchen and into some interesting food venues in the big wide world.

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MARCH 12, 2013

Here is the second of four NYC restaurant reviews featuring spots where OTK dined during a recent excursion outtathekitchen.

 PASHA

Turkish Cuisine

70 W 71st St, New York 10023

(Btwn Columbus Ave & CPW)

 (212) 579-8751 

Enter Pasha and step into a sultan’s ante-room. The bar, an elliptical oasis surrounded by deep-cushioned easy chairs upholstered with geometric designs, is bathed in a golden saffron light.  Paprika red walls, warm and energizing, quickly conquered the chill of the damp Manhattan night and put my taste buds in overdrive. I was eager to indulge in Turkish cuisine inside this carpeted lair from the Ottoman empire.100_2905

The dining room was a cozy square with a comfy, surrounding wall bench. Small tables with candles skirted the room.  Above was a ceiling of sky lights and beams which reflected the snowflakes falling out of the city sky, and leaning against each pillar was the waitstaff, impeccably attired and at the ready.  Immediately, two gentlemen presented themselves at our table with water, bread, an olive-y herbed dipping oil, menus, and a richly accented explanation of the specials.

Pasha’s menu was very manageable and reminiscent of Greek, Arabic, and Mediterranean fare. They also offer a lunch and a brunch, and I made a mental note of that. My sister and I shared two appetizers: a zucchini pancake which was a frittata of baked egg and shredded zucchini and herbs, and the Zeytinyagli Enginar ,fresh artichoke hearts braised in lemon juice and olive oil with garden peas, potatoes, and carrots. These Mediterranean flavors atop tangy and lemony vegetables along with the herb-infused oil for the rich ekmer bread were great openers– just the right combination for a first bite of  Turkish cuisine.

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Sitting room in the bar at Pasha

In my entree, a Hunkar Begendi, cubes of baby lamb cooked in tomato sauce with rosemary and oregano were served over a charcoal roasted eggplant puree.The charcoal flavor of the eggplant was deep and earthy, and I enjoyed it spread over the rich flatbread. The tomato sauce was sweet and light with well-developed flavor sof sumac and cumin; the lamb cubes just melted in my mouth. This herbaceous stew of tender meat and vegetables cooked over coals brought me to a world of very ancient flavors.  My sister’s entree was Sebzeli Guvec, a vegetarian combination of green beans, eggplant, zucchini, okra and celery root baked with tomatoes in an earthenware casserole. It was served with a tender rice. The okra was perfect, not gummy or overcooked, and the vegetables made for a great mix of texture, sweetness, and color in a light sauce. Portions were plentiful, too.

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        Welcome to Pasha

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Braised Artichoke Heart in Lemon and Oil with Carrots, Peas, and Fresh Dill 

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Stew of Cubed Lamb with Charcoal Roasted Eggplant Pureé  

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Okra, Zucchini, Greenbeans and Celery Root Braised in Tomato Sauce

Everything on the dessert menu struck my fancy.  I have a hard time turning down pastries featuring walnuts, pistachios, phyllo dough, honey, fruit, and cream combinations. There are also several options of sherbet and ice cream. We opted for the rice pudding and a Turkish coffee– both tiptop.

Service was outstanding, probably because we were there at an early hour, so our extremely polite servers were happy to accommodate our whims and to chitchat.  The action eventually picked up, and Pasha was soon humming with diners, clearly fans of the establishment and local neighborhood folk– no touristy feel here. If you love the traditional kebabs, pilafs, kofte, and stuffed grape leaves, you can find these at Pasha, too.  (For an excellent Turkish dish you can cook at home, click RECIPE .)

Pasha is not fancy, but just exotic enough to be a great combination of fun and fantasy.  Food is comforting as is the warm setting. It was a quiet dining experience, something I had missed in the city restaurants of late. My sister and I were able to have a great visit over special food on our magic carpet ride.

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MARCH 11, 2013

It was fun to step outtathekitchen and into some new eating establishments during my latest visit to NYC.

While the food was quite enjoyable, the company trumped the cuisine in most cases.  

Check out the following accessible restaurants…

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I looked forward to dining out with my friends who were in town for Westminster at a  touristy and mutually convenient Italian restaurant on the west side in mid-town  Manhattan.  Trattoria Dell’Arte somehow manages to attract diners with an enormous plaster nose in the window facing Seventh Avenue.  Eeewww. The art inside the restaurant isn’t any better– gigantic sculptures of lips and enormous canvases with facial, torso, and limb closeups, awkwardly sketched in red pastel a la Da Vinci. Yeah. The meal, though only slightly above average, was a worthy adventure, for the most part.

When entering Trattoria Dell’Arte, be prepared.  You will be overwhelmed with smarmy, over-dressed hosts and hostesses.  I had three– the maitre d’, the floor drone, and the hatcheck girl.  They got the name wrong in the reservation,which caused momentary confusion, but  I was seated promptly at a table for two to await my two friends. Huh? I adjoined the neighboring table together with mine since the host who seated me did not do so.

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Our waiter was a lively, stand up comedic type, hyping each dish as his “absolute favorite.”  His loud and zealous rap was appreciated since the joint was jumping with the pre-theater crowd.  We could hardly hear ourselves think.

For starters, we assembled a build-your-own antipasto plate of a few vegetables, meat, and a seafood. Very nice. I had already scoped out some of the antipasto choices when I arrived  in the front of the house, and I briefly contemplated just going for the antipasto bar for my main meal, but I was just too hungry.  

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For entreés, two of us ordered the Fennel Sausage Pasta with curly gramigna pasta, tomato, and pecorino cheese. The pasta, a kind of half-cavatappi (corkscrew) was freshly made on the premises. This artisanal sausage featured a nicely balanced rosemary and garlic flavor which combined well with the sweet fennel notes in the light marinara sauce. The pasta was cooked a bit beyond al dente, but not at all mushy. Another dining partner ordered a chicken parmesan– a flattened boneless and skinless leg, breaded, lightly fried and topped with excellent parmesan cheese.  Not pretty to look at as it resembled something that had been run over by a truck, complete with protruding leg bone– but the meat was moist, the breading crunchy, and it was neither greasy nor over-sauced. Everybody was happy with their main dish, sharing generously with each other.  The wine lubricated the fun.

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                    Fennel Sausage Pasta with Grimagna and Pecorino Cheese

During the meal, our colorful waiter kept marching by with various over-sized desserts. He started to push the cannoli as his hands-down favorite dessert that he always ordered as it was the best he ever ate. Dessert was definitely on our radar after all that salesmanship, and we went for the chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and lemon tart.  However, he brought a cannoli instead by mistake. When we asked him to exchange it, he generously suggested that we keep it and he would bring the third dessert right along. It never arrived.  So we dug into the cannoli and not reluctantly since we thought we had just scored a bonus dessert. Then we understood why he must have dumped it on our table.  It was truly inedible–  the shells were tasteless pizelle with the consistency of wet paper, the ricotta inside had turned and seemed totally devoid of sugar or marscapone, and the blueberry slop on the side was incongruous and tart on the tongue.  Bleah.  They must have been out of the tiramisu. The chocolate mousse was excellent, and the lemon tart got a B-, but the foul cream on the side was over-whipped nearing the consistency and taste of butter.  Very disappointing.

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Two Desserts to Avoid at Trattoria Dell’Arte: Soggy Cannoli and Lemon Tart with Side of  Whipped Cream 

Overall, the allegria  and raucous guffaws from the large tables around us made the dining experience a somewhat wild ride, but it was more fun than annoying.  Prices were a little high (Menu Trattoria Dell’Arte) and not unexpected; the quality of the fare was below par. I still can’t decide if the service was good or not. Everyone was plenty attentive, but I can’t help but wonder if a little benign neglect would have been preferable.

There is lots to chose from on the  menu, but I would recommend going for an informal lunch and trying the antipasto bar with some excellent bread, cheese, and wine.photo

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JANUARY 20, 2013

OTK took a trip outtathekitchen and into Vermont to visit a famous flour company founded in 1790 in Boston.

In 1984 it moved to Norwich, Vermont where it now has its central headquarters. Come along and visit the home of  The Baker’s Catalogue.

    

On this pilgrimage to Camelot, the headquarters of  the King Arthur Flour company, I visited the Baking Education Center, Baker’s Store, café  and their kitchens.

This visit was particularly meaningful to me. In the early 1900’s, my grandfather Thomas Esersky used to take a train from Claremont, NH to Boston to buy King Arthur’s large bags and barrels of rye, whole wheat, and white flour for his Ward 7 Bakery.  My grandmother Edith made a Russian black bread greatly favored by  the local Polish and Russian immigrant populations.              

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The spacious retail center has an eye-popping array of every flour type imaginable, including gluten-free variations, along with packaged products such as scones and muffins, bread batters, cookies and squares, toppings, flavorings– everything imaginable for preparing baked confections.  Plenty of upscale kitchen gadgetry and gifts galore at every turn, too.

 

There is also a new baking demo area where I  met Lee who had just finished off some basic bread recipes and two kinds of scones, white and wheat flour.   I enjoyed chatting with her (as well as “testing” the free samples. I could not believe how tender and rich the whole wheat scones were).

The highlight of the visit was the chance to go behind the scenes of the whole operation to see where skilled bakers make all the products for the KAF cafés and several nearby food stores.

These guys had been here since 4:00 AM and were still in a good mood. This kitchen looked like a very cool place to work. And it smelled heavenly.

KAF brags a 100% employee owned company.

Angela Fredericks, a 3rd generation baker from the midwest, works massive amounts of beautiful and elastic dough into exactly 3.5 lb loaves

Her grandparents and parents ran Frederick’s Bakery in Sheboygan.

Clouds of puffy and fragrant dough will see another rise before being baked.

These  dough-rising baskets, or brotformen,  are made of coiled willow and are sold for the home baker  in the retail area.

Nearly 40 different varieties of bread are baked on the premises on specific days, (see listing at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/visit/bread.html ), but today featured deli rye and classic baguettes.

There is also an impressive cookbook selection focused exclusively on the art of baking.

      For a listing of the King Arthur Flour series of cookbooks, see

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=king+arthur+flour+cookbooks

And don’t forget to check out the handsome Commemorative edition of the Original King Arthur Flour Cookbook celebrating 200 years of KAF.

Next, it was time for a peek at the spacious education center. Courses are generally booked solid.  I met guest teacher, consultant, and educator,  JamesMacGuire of Montreal.  He was preparing for the upcoming class on brioche and croissants– a challenging level of difficulty here. MacGuire emphasizes the importance of the artisan’s hand in making these French style breads.

When the new center was reconfigured and refurbished, the directors and staff decided to save the original bread oven.  It now sits on the entrance to the property, and there are plans to develop a community oven program.  It is a magnificent piece of masonry and seems to be weathering the Vermont winter well.

                          

Before departing, I treated myself to a piece of  roasted tomato pizza– fresh and yeasty crust with intensely flavored grape tomatoes and basil.

Nor could I escape the allure of  the specialty raspberry and lemon curd filled cupcake.  It never made it back to the car.

I am sure to return to shop and get the salted caramel glazed cupcake next time.

And I picked up a few items from the retail store as well.

No one escapes King Arthur Flour’s digs without some fond food memories and a couple of  treasures from this castle of confection.

–MELorden   

http://www.kingarthurflour.com

Peruse The Baker’s Catalogue and be prepared to experience a baker’s dream.

For an excellent history of the company, see

http://youtube.googleapis.com/v/l3wq5zQtAm4

The website is terrific and there is plenty to explore.

Many thanks to my delightful tour guide, Terry Rosenstock, Public Relations Coordinator at KAF.

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November is an ideal time to visit New Orleans.  It’s quiet and has less of a Disneyland vibe, but New Orleans can’t hide its colorful street life and rhythms easily.  And one of the shining stars of this visit for me was the food of the city.

I had barely arrived at the home of Kit Wohl, cookbook writer, photographer, and  foodie (New Orleans Classic series.  See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kit_Wohl) when a steaming bowl of Crawfish Bisque was placed before me.  Diving face first into the velvety stew and marveling at the nuttiness of the rice on which it luxuriated, I knew then that with such an auspicious introduction, this visit would be like none other.

I was not disappointed.  With Kit as the spirit guide and my sister by my side, I ate my way through five days in a city where everything shimmered more brightly, sounded clearer, and tasted better.  The following is an attempt to capture in a few photos the sights, sounds, and tastes of that wonderful adventure .  There is no denying that spectacle is at the heart of New Orleans, and even in the quiet season, the city still rocks its mojo.

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First stop for an informal dinner was the landmark joint called Frankie and Johnny’s where I shared a seafood boil with the Wohls.

Low on glamor and high on genuine and incredibly fresh NOLA fare.

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The next morning we hit Magazine Street and paid a visit to Vam Foss (http://nola.vomfassusa.com) where  oils, vinegars, and spirits live in beautiful casks. You can sample them all, and the sales folks will package and hand label them for you.   I left swooning. I think my eyes had permanently rolled back in my head. They mailed me my special selections (lemon balsamic, apple cider, and fig balsamic vinegar) in a stylish set of bottles nestled in special holder.

 I passed on the absinthe, however.

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Talk about a specialty shop.

Next– no visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop at a local farmers market.  This was a small one, but it was big on choice, quality, and personality.

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Okra was everywhere.  Gotta get it for making your gumbo.

It was a privilege to dine at Dooky Chase’s iconic restaurant, birthplace of the civil rights movement in the Treme quarter of New Orleans. It’s not a tourist stop and pretty much remains a neighborhood restaurant. The historic dining room was full.  We opted for the luncheon buffet.  The collard greens were my favorites out of all those I sampled during my visit.  Fried chicken and peach cobbler were over the moon.

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 Ms. Leah and Mr. Chase were out and about

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A mighty beautiful lady, Ms. Chase was tending to an okra stew in her humble kitchen. We had a nice chat.

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 At this point, I still had not ventured into trying a fried oyster.  I resisted until hanging out at the River Walk and ended up sharing a few with my sister.  Now I am craving them and can’t understand why I thought I would not like them.

It was hard to not to run into some local color on the streets of the city.  Best way to see it all is to walk, walk, and walk some more.

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This bistro featured jerk chicken, ribs, and sauces with plenty of mojo.

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Put on your dancing shoes.

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Steamship punk artisans in the French Quarter market can design goggles and leather strapping for your next dirigible flight.  These guys and gals were adorable, really friendly,  and original.  Can’t see the bloke’s vampire fangs in this shot.

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I made Kit drive around the block a few times to chase this gorgeous lady down.  She  had spent the night in the emergency room of the hospital where she said they never bother homeless folks like herself.  What a wonderful spirit she had.  She pedaled around town full of optimism, soul, and the grace of God which she enthusiastically shared with me for a mere five bucks. Gotta love her.

Then it was time to do some cooking at Kit’s.  She walked me through a recipe in her kitchen.  A version of southern pepper shrimp that she called BBQ Shrimp, except no BBQ sauces or grills were involved.

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Start with a pound of butter (4 sticks), lots of whole garlic cloves (was that an entire head we used?), and 4 large sprigs of rosemary…

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Take a long whiff.  Soon lemons and lemon balsamic will be added. And then at least a quarter cup of ground pepper.

Don’t forget a dash or two of green tabasco (or red if you prefer).

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2 pounds of shrimp with heads, a good toss, and then into a roasting pan to broil in the oven for 2- 5 minutes.  Pour a glass of beer, ladle the shrimp into a bowl, put on a plastic bib, say a voodoo prayer, and gobble.  Your lips will burn before the third bite.  Just the way they should.

More local fare near Tulane at Dat Dog.  Hands down the best weiner I ever ate– basic German hotdog ( it was roasted) with Creole mustard and Asian slaw. Snapped with each sweet and spicy and creamy bite.  Rolls were rich and held up.   Choose from many sausage and hot dog styles and build your own.

And yup– we had fries with that. They were superb in texture and seasoning.  Had a nice crunch, too.

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A visit to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in the River Walk mall building featured an homage to the famous Cake Lady, Frances Kuyper.  There were very funky exhibits about the history of southern cuisine with a Louisiana focus…

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…and the famous History of the Cocktail exhibit, which has a full room of its own.  Don’t miss this!

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You’ll be thirsty afterwards…

And then it was time for some serious haute cuisine at Chef  Donald Link’s

Herbsaint Restaurant on Saint Charles Ave.

 It was just nice enough of an evening to eat dinner outdoors.

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Since I was in an altered state of culinary bliss, I ate most of my plates before I could take snapshots of each of them. Highlights follow below:

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I suppose you might call this a deconstructed Spaghetti Carbonara, but it was an ethereal version.  The pasta was housemade, guanciale replaced the usual pancetta, and the broken egg sauce was created by me when my fork broke through a perfectly poached and then breaded and deep fried egg!  How’d they do that? It’s a secret. I assure you that there were at least 4 forks navigating through each dish.  I think I licked the plate.

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Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique. The rice had so many special touches– bits of liver, maybe some dried fruit, something spicy, nutty… Hell, I can’t remember anything except that I couldn’t stop eating it.

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More pommes frittes.  Light and crispy with a great pimento aioli.

 We re-ordered these.

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Braised short rib with potato rosti and salsa verde. Melt-in-your mouth and fall-off-the-bone delicious.

I didn’t even get pictures of our desserts. Some sort of buttery brulé in a luscious shortcake crust was one of them.  It vanished off the plate.

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And right on cue, this ethereal New Orleans buggy showed up.  The horse and driver were taking a breather and I popped up to get a few shots (Kit’s magic hand here.)  Sweet nag.  Looks like the whole horse and buggy are floating in air.

I know I was when we left the restaurant.

–Fin

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9 thoughts on “On the Road with OTK

  1. Man, am I hungry! Great photos, great travelogue, such fun to read. All that was missing was the muffaletta from Central Market – Mark and I once ordered one to go and ate it on the return flight to NY while passengers glared at us over their peanuts. Also, did I miss the bread pudding souffle from Commander’s Palace? (We ate ours with such relish, the waiter brought us another, on the house! And yes, we ate that one, too.) Were there beignets and chicory coffee breakfasts? French toast? Damn, I miss that city! Wonderful posting!

    • Thanks for those great food memories, Nancy. You hit the high notes of the best dishes that NOLA is known for. On this 3rd trip to the city, I concentrated on the neighborhood vibe and did cooking in house. I never took photos of our big brunch at the Hickory Cafe and Grill diner, but best grits and bacon I ever ate. I did eat fried oysters for the first time, but passed up the beignet this time. Do macaroons (those tiny pastel stuffed ones) count? I saw a whole different side to city’s food.
      Nice to have you on board at OTK!

  2. What a mouth-watering post! I’ve never felt the urge to travel to New Orleans but now I have at least a dozen reasons to go. Kit’s BBQ shrimp dish hooked me- I’m a new cook and haven’t yet tackled any seafood (other than a simple salmon pasta dish), but I absolutely love shrimp and that looks too good to pass up. Thanks so much for the wonderful post!

    • Welcome to the world of cooking, Beryl. I’d love to hear more about your salmon pasta dish. You’ll love cooking shrimp because it is so fast and luscious. One of my favorite dishes is this easy, very quick, and exotic Thai Red Curry Soup. Give it a try! It’s wildly addictive and great for entertaining:

      Ingredients
      1 tablespoon red curry paste
      1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
      1 8-ounce bottle clam juice (Thai oyster sauce)
      1 1/4 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
      1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
      1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
      scallions/onions/red peppers for color


      Preparation
      Stir red curry paste in large skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add coconut milk and clam juice and bring to boil, whisking until paste dissolves. Boil until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Add shrimp to sauce. Cook until shrimp turn pink and are just opaque in center, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Stir in cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide shrimp and sauce among 4 shallow bowls. Garnish with lime wedges and serve.

      Serve with Basmati rice

  3. Thanks for the wonderful review. Pasha sounds exoticly warm and welcoming, and the dishes very delicious. I hope to make it there while I visit my Mami. I’ll let you know.

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