This weekend was a pretty good foodie doozie. And, rather than dramatizing three lovely dining experiences that occurred over the three weekend days in three separate yet exhausting to read, and write posts, I thought I’d keep it simple and stick to the arguably best part: The Pictures.
Of course, it’s me you’re dealing with, but I’ll try my best to keep the long-winded tangents to a minimum. I give you, friends, my weekend in food.
Friday: El Porron
Winters in New York, or any city that reaches frigid temps for that matter (it was SIX degrees here yesterday!) discourage many of urbanites’ favorite behaviors. Lazy afternoons spent in lush park greens, hours passed by strolling in and out of downtown shops, breezy mid-day meals enjoyed at a sun-dappled sidewalk table, and the fervored anticipation of waiting in line for a great new opening – all of these enjoyable activities are rendered torturous by the winter’s cold sting.
There is one behavior that the acrimonious winter weather does encourage, however, and that is exploring the ten-block radius in which you live. It was this desire for friends and I to stay close to the area of the East Sixties we call home on Friday night that led us to El Porron, a casual yet inviting Tapas restaurant from which I could literally view my own front door.
Like any good tapas restaurant, El Porron had a variety of sangria to lubricate its diners’ dinner talk and whet their appetites. This sangria had great flavor, and was loaded up with “sangr-apples” and “sang-rawberries,” though sadly lacked the wonderful element of “sangr-ineapple” or “sangr-oranges.” Still, no one was opposed to starting the meal off in this fashion, with several pitchers of deep red sangria weighing our table down.
Since we had such a large group, our best bet was to order a wide variety of tapas for the table, and everyone get a bite of each item. My absolute favorite of the evening were the Vieras con Tocino en Salsa de Esparragos, or, for those of us who don’t speak Spanish, pan seared sea scallops served in a smooth, velvety asparagus cream, topped with crispy bacon crumbles, toasted breadcrumb, and permeated with hints of garlic.
I’ve had my fair share of scallops – Uva’s seared scallops wrapped in speck could set any seafood lover over the edge – but I have zero hesitation in calling these the best scallops I’ve had to date. The meat was unbelievably tender, and practically dissolved on your tongue, releasing buttery juices tasting of garlic and bacon, enveloped in an asparagus sauce whose texture and sweetness that underscored the savory crust and sweet meat of the scallop perfectly. This dish is a testament to how important it is to cook food correctly - the strongest point of the dish was the skill with which the scallops were cooked – there wasn’t a hint of dryness, toughness, or a cold raw center; just warm, decadent perfection.
Another memorable small plate were these veal meatballs. I guess I was a sucker for soft, savory, succulent dishes on Friday night (okay, every night), because these Albondigas de Ternera, or Spanish veal meatballs, had all of the same assets working for them as the scallops did, despite being entirely different in both components and preparation. These meatballs were irrevocably tender, having been simmered in a basic stew of leeks, carrots, celery, and tomato. And no, I’m not ashamed to admit that I immediately preferred these to the traditional Italian variety as soon as they hit my lips. I’m pretty sure they were loaded up with garlic too!
Finally, a surprise dessert was brought to the table for the birthday girl of our group. As a gracious guest of honor, she shared her Chocolate Souffle with everyone at the table, and we each took a decadent bite. Chocolate souffle, when done well, is my absolute most dangerous dessert weakness, and this was no exception. The center of the cake was perfectly oozing with molten chocolate sauce, while the cake surrounding it was dense and rich. A scoop of quickly melting vanilla ice cream was the perfect refreshing accompaniment to the sumptuous cake.
It’s hard to imagine not only having room to indulge in an equally sensory meal just a day after El Porron, but also having the good fortune of having two impressive noshing experiences, back-to-back. Next up was Saturday afternoon at Daisy Mae’s Barbeque, a little slice of heaven in the midst of Hell’s Kitchen.
Now, the verdict is still out on whether or not Daisy Mae’s should be referred to as a “dive.” My vote is yes – you walk in this place, and are hit with the unexpected – a top Zagat rated barbecue restaurant that is essentially a wooden shack, with a large take-out counter and a small bare-bones back room for those who choose to stay. Others will argue that it’s casual and minimalist, and the food speaks for itself – and this argument is certainly justified. But regardless of what your first visual impression of Daisy Mae’s is, there’s no argument on what your first olfactory one will be – utter delight and instant hunger. The smell of this barbecue is sweet, smoky, tangy, and just plain undeniable.
We ordered the only way you can at Daisy Mae – cafeteria style. Armed with our red trays and a beer each, we made our way back over to a large wooden table and hastily examined our haul. I went for the pulled chicken, some of the best I’ve had. The chicken was tender and juicy, with thick chunks of meat holding up a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce bath. Comparatively, the pulled pork was drier – as in, smokey, staying, and not slathered in sauce – still delicious and well executed.
To go alongside, I ordered some collard greens, which I had never had. Though they were less than memorable, they were not bad as I expected them to be (I do like veggies, but my prejudices still remain). I also scored high with this amazing corn concoction – a sort of creamed corn that was also both spicy and cheesy, with smooth melted NY state cheddar kicking it up big time. The only way to describe it is unreal and it completely redeemed the collard greens if both were enjoyed on the same fork. And hey, that’s a fool-proof way to get your serving of green vegetables.
Also on the table were kicked-up baked beans, made from a variety of three different types, from the looks of it – black beans, red beans, and kidney beans, in a tangy, slighty singed, caramelized sauce. And right behind that? …
THE Mac and Cheese - creamy, with sharp melted cheese filling and encasing tender macaroni elbows. It was just too good, too rediculously good… And then, bringing it all together, was the smoky barbeque beef brisket. We all agreed that this wasn’t as tender as we would have liked, but the sauce was dead on – almost a cross between the sweet barbeque sauce of the pulled chicken, and the smoky and spicy flavors of the pulled pork.
And then it was over to Tenth Ave and 45th Street, to a little watering hole called The Pony Bar, where a rotating selection of craft beers and cask ales were thrown up on a board behind the bar. Our barbeque feast was washed down with several glasses of punchy hard apple cider, IPA’s, and ales. The perfect relaxing cap on a tasty afternoon!
Finally, last but not least, Sunday saw the used-to-be-rare-but-now-increasingly-more-common treat of my being cooked for in my own apartment. The Iron Chef whipped up a new dish that I had never heard of – Italian Egg and Pasta Scramble - which brought to light the little-known tradition of eating pasta for breakfast, which is quite common in Italy, but rarely engaged in the States. This dish is made exactly how it sounds – boil up some semolina-based noodles, like a spaghetti or linguine and cook until aldente; whisk together a couple of eggs with salt and pepper, stir in some cheese, like a parmesan or mozzarella, and herbs, like basil, or herbs de Provence. Then melt some butter in a large saute pan, and add in some chopped garlic and shallot, sauteing until tender. Toss in the pasta and coat well with the butter; then add the eggs, and continue to toss the pasta until the egg cooks, coating the pasta. The result?
Rich, cheesy, creamy deliciousness (keeping in the theme of the weekend)! A little nest of pasta-breakfast heaven, convincing this foodie that the idea of having pasta for breakfast need not be as taboo as Americans make it.
So there you have it, a weekend in food. I hope all of your weekends were just as delicious!