La Boîte Biscuits & Spices: Art and Spice

Chef Lior Lev Sercarz is a spice master with a playful side. Twice a year he finds inspiration from an artist to create a special series of flavored biscuits. I attended the latest exhibit, Pure Real Taste, with minimalist herb photography by Thomas Schauer. Six photos were chosen to represent the seasons’ collection, one of which decorates the biscuit box, seen in the photo above with the chef. Flavors of the biscuits range from savory to sweet. In this collection: Zuta: wild mint, dates, vanilla; Basil: sesame seeds, basil, dark chocolate; Canella: smoked cinnamon, brown sugar, white chocolate; Breeze: salted butter, walnuts, anise. You can purchase the collection at this link, for $62 (page 2 on the site) or visit the store at 724 11th Ave /51st street. If you do go to the shop, be sure to check out his exquisite spice mixes. There are 40 blends using spices from around the world, providing a shortcut for livening up a simple dish, topping desserts, or incorporating into cocktails. Lior has been providing blends to top chefs, and, upon request, will create a signature mixture for you. Here are some that are available at the store, or online at this link: Apollonia Spice Blend: Fine quality cocoa powder blended with orange blossom; Breeze Spice Blend: Tea leaves, anise, lemon. A zesty floral blend perfect for seafood, duck, mixed greens, desserts. Galil Spice Blend: Flavors of the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, verbena, white cardamon, sage. See more about Chef Lior's background at this link.
 Photographer Thomas Schauer stands in front of one of his pieces, a passion fruit flower.
 More photos by Thomas Schauer.
 My friends Laura and Jude enjoyed the exhibit, one of our stops of the night.
 Biscuits were served at the event.
 A close up view: I believe this one was the Zuta: wild mint, dates, and vanilla.
The boxes set of biscuits for Pure Real Taste. Order one soon!

2013 Michelin Guide: NYC

The winners have been announced! Check out the new Michelin Guide to see which 896 restaurants in New York City are considered the finest. The guide contains full descriptions of each establishment, rated by anonymous appraisers who judge the food based on the quality of ingredients, the mastering of flavors/techniques, the personality and value of the cuisine, and if it is done consistently. A one star rating means good food prepared at a high level. Two stars are awarded to places that are outstanding. Three stars denote a spot which deserves a special journey, whose dishes are distintive and use the best ingredients. This year’s guide also contains the Bib Gourmand section, awarding 126 restaurants a spot based on the pricetag of $40 a person for two courses and wine or dessert. I went to the launch party last week at Capitale, where many of the award-winning chefs came to celebrate. Chef Marc Murphy of Landmarc opened the remarks, then new director Michael Ellis (photo above) told the story of how the Michelin guide started. (I had always wondered why a tire company was involved in cuisine.) Well, it seems that in Europe the Michelin Guide was instrumental for drivers in planning their vacations, so that they could count on finding a restaurant that was consistently good. And, being a tire company, Michelin wanted people to do a lot of driving. Now I get it! You can purchase the guide at this link, or just see the list of winners on the website.
 The bartenders were busy.
 Chef Eduard Frauneder of Edi and the Wolf and Seasonal.
Chef Brad Farmerie of Public, Saxon and Parole, The Thomas (just opened in Napa) with wife Jocelyn.

Amali Restaurant: Greek, Italian, and Turkish Delights

A surprise visit from my cousin a few weeks back led to dinner at Amali to celebrate her birthday. It had been on my list of places to go, especially since I am a big fan of their sister restaurants, Il Cantinori and Bar Six. At Amali the delightful surprises continued, starting with a butternut squash salad which was served raw. Paper-thin slices of butternut squash sat amidst paper-thin slices of sweet apples, tossed with wild sea beans (which tastes like seaweed, but is not), and garnished with flash fried kale. Simple and refreshing, the apple cider vinaigrette played perfectly with the other flavors. (My cousins were so inspired, they made a version of this when I went to visit them upstate with fresh squash from their garden and apples picked right off their tree.) I loved discovering this quick way to serve squash, I had never thought to eat it raw. Our entrees continued the splendor: Whole Grilled Dorade with meyer lemon and fennel fronds (which they, thankfully, deboned for us), Fresh Spinach Pasta with Sweetbreads, and the most amazing dish of all: Goat. We weren’t sure what to expect, so when a  perfect square of meat was presented we were even more curious (photo above). One bite was all that was necessary to determine it’s succulent, flavorful, and tender deliciousness. I just had to know how they made it, and owner James Mallios was nice enough to provide the technique (see below) from Chef Nilton Borges, Jr. I am sure this could be accomplished with brisket, or other cuts of meat, and is well worth the time put into it.

BRAISED KID GOAT with Roasted Carrots, Buttermilk Gel, Carrot Jus, Rye Crumbs
• Braise the goat with red wine and aromatics for 6 hours. Pull apart the goat meat, season it and press it into a block.
• Roasted Carrots: Reduce the braising liquid/meat scraps. Slow poach carrots in olive oil, then pan roast with the braising liquid.
• Carrot Jus: To accentuate the sweetness of the carrots, reduce carrot juice and add thyme. 
• The Buttermilk Gel is made by combining a bit of molecular gastronomy and buttermilk from Battenkill Farms to add another level of flavor.
• Just before serving the goat, pan sear the square to get a crust on top/bottom.

 butternut squash and apple salad with sea beans and fried kale
 Whole Grilled Dorade with meyer lemon and fennel fronds
 broccoli and corn side dish
 pasta with sweetbreads
 a dolled up dessert for my cousin's birthday
pumpkin panna cotta with balsamic ice cream


2E Bar/Lounge at The Pierre: Fall Cocktails

Mixologist Sachin Hasan is debuting five new cocktails in honor of the Pierre’s 82 years in NYC. Starting with tweaked classics that honor the history of the space at 2E Bar/Lounge and lead up to its present and future, they all pack fantastic combinations and some unique ingredients. Photo above shows Sachin pouring the JP Getty’s Gimlet, a combination of Stolichnaya Lemon, Beefeater Gin and St. Germain (finished drink below). Representing the future is the Star of Taj—which has a flame as one of the ingredients. Sachin capitalizes on his Indian background, incorporating herbs and spices for maximum effect. While trying the cocktails, we got a taste of the new menu as well, available till the end of the year. Scroll down through the photos below for details.
JP Getty’s Gimlet
To create the Star of Taj Sachin Hasan lights the Green Chartreuse, Absinthe, and mix of Indian spices: curry leaves, cardamom, and peppercorn. 
The lighted mix gets added to the other ingredients, which were previously shaken: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Creme de Cassis, Passion Fruit and Orange Juice.
Note the flame still going in the glass!
The final step: stirring it all together.
Sampling the menu: From front to back: Quinoa Tabouleh with Quail Egg and Truffle Hollandaise, Seared Tuna with Avocado Pulp and Lobster Vierge, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Paprika and Lemon Creme Fraiche, Curried Shrimp with Green Apple Salad, Bruschetta with Roasted Kabocha and Burrata. 
A closer look at Seared Tuna with Avocado Pulp and Lobster Vierge.
A closer look at Curried Shrimp with Green Apple Salad.
Also on the cocktail menu, Rotunda’s Whiskey Sour: Maker’s Mark infused with Lemon Verbena Tea, Fresh Citrus Mix of Lime, Lemon, Yuzu, Pasteurized Egg White and Old Aromatic Bitters.
Loved this one. The Pierre Sparkle: Tanqueray Ten, Lychee Liqueur, St. Germain, topped with Champagne.


The Latin Road Home: Jose Garces’ Recipes from Equador, Cuba, Spain, Mexico and Peru

If you are a Latin food lover, here is your best opportunity to tast top-level dishes featuring the cuisines from five countries. Iron Chef Jose Garces is throwing a bash on October 9th to celebrate the launch of his new cookbook: The Latin Road Home. The book is a testament to his culinary history, featuring recipes gathered from his experiences as he traveled through, lived in, and founded restaurants based on the cuisines from Ecuador, Cuba, Spain, Mexico and Peru. Honoring this, the event will have a food station set up for each country. Festivities will be held at JG Domestic in Philadelphia, located only steps away from the 30th Street train station. See details and buy tickets at this link. I plan to arrive at 6, and take the last train back to NYC. (I worked with Jose and the fabulous team at Lake Isle Press to design the book, and am overjoyed to see over 2 years work come to fruition.)  Don’t miss this event—and be sure to check out the super recipes in the book. See pages from the book below.

Best Tasting Olive Oils: Euphoria and The Filling Station

Sometimes it seems that olive oil choices are endless, so many different terroirs, wonderful artisanal methods—how can you decide? I’ve made a few discoveries recently that are extraordinary, and will elevate whatever you put it on.
From Greece comes Euphoria, with a smooth, luscious taste that is absolutely heaven on earth. I have savored drops of it on the season’s harvest, made a fresh basil pesto from my terrace garden, plus separated a batch with lots of chopped herbs for drizzling purposes. This is the one to use for dipping bread, drizzling on fresh burata, or to made salad dresssings. The oil is made from the Koroneiki olive, which is known to be high in antioxidants and low in acidity. The dark bottle also makes for a nice gift to tote to your next dinner party.
Closer to home, i.e. Chelsea, come olive oils from The Filling Station, who encourage customers to return with their olive oil bottle and get a10% discount. I went absolutely nuts with the Lemon EVOO. Photo above shows heirloom tomatoes, slice of manchego, and basil on a whole wheat baguette slice, drizzled with the Lemon Olive Oil, which I served to last-minute guests. For a tasty snack, I added a few drops to a Wasa cracker before topping with hummus and tomato. Whatever I tried it on added a super-fresh, zingy lemon taste. I highly recommend keeping a bottle of this around. I’m planning to head back and try these oils one at a time: Black Truffle, Blood Orange, Persian Lime. Also, while at the store in Chelsea Market, my friend Derek and I sampled the flavored salts, and I came home with a bottle of the Strawberry Balsamic (great on baked squash, figs/goat cheese, ice cream, even in cocktails). Items can be purchased from the website, but you can get a taste of everything if you make a trip to the store.

Umbrian Olive Oil: Casa Margherita

As I was writing the last piece on olive oil, Adrian, a friend from my London days, contacted me about his new cookbook. He now lives in Umbria in an organic olive orchard, and has chronicled his experiences into his book, Casa Margherita Cookbook—CUOCO—Recipes Inspired by Umbria’s Larder. The book features recipes from local towns with an emphasis on their signature foods: Perugia’s chocolate, Cascia’s saffron, Trevi’s olive oil. Photos below show layouts from the book, which includes personal photos and insights into the Italian lifestyle. The book can be purchased directly from the website, for about $15. Or, while you are at the website you might want to adopt an olive tree (around $105) which gets you: a gift box with tin of extra virgin olive oil, certificate and olive oil handbook; a copy of Cuoco; and at harvest time, 2 litres of extra virgin olive oil from your very own tree. See the recipe for salt cod fritters below from the book. It could be the perfect antipasto to serve to your next guests.

Serves 4
8 oz salt cod (baccalà) soaked overnight in lots of unsalted water with the bones removed and then shredded in a food processor
2 oz flour
oil for frying
In a mixing bowl add the flour and salt and mix well. Take a tablespoon of salt cod and form a pattie with your hands and dust well in the flour. Deep fry these in batches in hot oil until they are golden brown.

Louis Royer Cognac: Show Me the Proof!

Louis Royer, makers of cognac supreme, featured their 53º Force spirit in a recent cocktail competition hosted by Hanna Lee Communications. Fortuitously, I was hired to design the graphics for the “Show Me the Proof” contest and got to sample the goods. Alone, it is already special, but I experimented adding Vitamin Water Essential (the orange flavor) and passion fruit juice and topping with prosecco for my personal test. On September the official competition was held with mixologists from around the US at Rayuela on the lower east side. Creativity sparkled, and here are the delicious results below.

First Prize, a 2-week trip to France went to Tim Cooper of Gold Bar, for his cocktail Bouquet, designed for late summer to fall sipping.
1 1/2 oz. Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Cognac
1 oz. Lustau Oloroso Sherry
1/2 oz. Velvet Falernum (a rum-based liqueur)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Barspoon of Grade “B” maple syrup
Place all ingredients in a mixing glass and shake with ice. Strain into a double rocks glass over a large piece of ice. Garnish with pear “fan” (3 thin slices of pear)

 Second Prize of $1000 went to Franky Marshall of The Tippler and Monkey Bar for 53 Souvenirs, a wintery mix.
1 1/2 oz. Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Cognac
1/2 oz. Lustau Pedro Ximénez Sherry
4 drops “A l’Olivier” Walnut Oil
2 dashes Miracle Mile Chocolate Chili Bitters
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Stir to integrate. Add ice, and stir again until proper dilution is reached. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over 1 large cube of ice. Optional garnish:  lemon twist.

Third Prize of $1000 went to Lynnette Marrero of Astor Room for Ma Cherie Amour, who was inspired by autunn flavors.
1 3/4 oz. Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Cognac
1/2 oz. “Marques de Rodil” Especial Palo Cortado Sherry
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Cherry Jam
2 dashes of Pimento Bitters
Place all ingredients in a shaker with 3 Kold-Draft ice cubes. Shake and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with orange twist and cherry.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Mitchell Photography, and event photos by Belathee Photography courtesy of Hanna Lee Communications
 postcard graphics, step and repeat, and giant check graphics by Ellen Swandiak