Traveling for work means eating out all the time. And sometimes it’s crap, making me miss even the oft-made-fun-of Lenny’s Pizza right below my apartment, or worse, the fried chicken place next to Lenny’s (sorry, Dan!). It’s true, New Yorkers are spoiled when it comes to food.

But while I was in DC (National Harbor, Maryland, technically), I stumbled upon a place called Rosa Mexicana, a (gasp!) chain restaurant. This area is depressingly touristy and I was less than excited to spend my per diem at such a kitschy place, with its bright red and green decor begging for passing travelers to spend some time inside.

I fell for it. And I’m glad I did.

For starters I had pork belly and sea scallops tacos served with citrus-habanero salsa (above). These things were riduculously good. There was a generous portion of perfectly cooked pork belly and the scallops were seared nicely. The fruity sauce lightened things up a bit — a nice balance in both taste and color.

For my main dish, I chose from the single-page menu of month-long specials, which happened to advertise Jonathan Waxman as the culinary advisor to the cozy cantina. I went for the Conejo con Fideos, or flash fried pasta with rabbit, chicken, habanero chili roasted tomato salsa, portabello mushroom and scallions. Ever since my rabbit experience at Al Di La, I’ve been fantasizing about the subtle but delicious white meat. This dish was interesting in a good way. Though not each of the pieces of rabbit looked too appealing, there were enough to quench my rabbit desire. The sauce was light and the pasta itself was thin and delicate with a slight crunch. This monster of a dish actually came with sides: A bowl of rice and scallions along with a bowl of black beans.

Though the atmosphere of this restaurant may be a turn-off, the food is no joke. At least at this location. And we can probably thank Jonathan Waxman for that.

Ragú for All

May 25, 2012

It’s been a while. So I apologize to all two people who read this blog. I’m back!

I hosted a casual dinner party at my apartment last night. On the menu was a pork and wild mushroom ragú served over gnocchi. The recipe, sent from the food gods at Bon Appétit, was time consuming, and I loved every minute of it. It’s a zen-like moment when you’re in the kitchen with criminis sautéing in garlic and oil, pork bits browning in the dutch oven, porcinis soaking in hot water and a towel thrown over your shoulder. Heaven.

Here’s my version of the BA recipe:

  • 1 ounce (more if you’d like) dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces sliced crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt
  • 2 1/2 cups dry red wine (I used a mid-priced bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon), divided
  • 1 pound boneless pork ribs or chops, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (The pork in this recipe was bought from Fleisher’s in Park Slope. I asked for 2 pork chops, bone removed, no problem. I’m in love with this place, by the way.)
  • 6 ounces fresh mild Italian sausages, casings removed (About 2 links. Also purchsed from my main meat source, Fleisher’s.)
  • 1 medium Vidallia onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
  • one 28-ounce can San Marzano or Muir Glen crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup (or more) low-salt chicken, beef or vegetable broth
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • potato gnocchi (Make your own or purchase)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Follow the preparation instructions.

I made the ragú the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight for the flavors to meld. I suggeset that for anyone attempting this recipe. On the evening of the dinner, I just put it on the stove and let it simmer for a couple of hours until the sauce thickened, while I drank wine with my guests, which included Wheat Free Sarah (I made rice pasta for her), Sarah S, Jo Laff and Roommate. They all had seconds of this very heavy meal, which means they either starved themselves for the ensuing porkageddon or they loved it. I’ll stick with the latter.

We paired it with this ridiculously good bottle of Coppola, thanks to WFS herself.

Fine, it was just a friend’s going away party, but still, I was able to cook for people.

After talking through some hors d’oeuvre options with the hostess, Amy Benson, we settled on a mix of vegetarian, seafood, pork and chicken — one appetizer of each — for the Bushwick-based party. Unfortunately for the pesto artichoke chicken hors d’oeuvre, we could not find Fillo shells anywhere, so we were forced to use Tostitos scoops. This appetizer did not make the cut for photos.

Below are the ones that did:

Homemade toast rounds with goat cheese, thinly sliced cucumber, diced cantaloupe and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.

Shrimp that was mingled overnight with a dijon mustard, dill and ginger-based marinade then wrapped in one half of a (recently blanched) Asian snow pea.

Delicious pulled pork served on a buttered and grilled brioche bun with homemade pickles. (Apologies for the blurry shot.)

Tomatoes are best enjoyed during the Summer months so instead of preparing the usual stuffed green bell pepper, I opted for the in-season beefsteaks (most likely grown in New Jersey — a state known for, among other amazing things, it’s delicious fresh vegetables).

To make the filling I sautéed diced eggplant, zucchini, red onion, button mushrooms, shallots, garlic in extra virgin olive oil with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. After the vegetables became tender, I added a bit of red wine and balsamic vinegar and let them simmer for about 20 minutes — allowing the porous eggplant, mushrooms and zucchini to soak up the flavors of the wine and vinegar. I then added cubed kielbasa that I browned while the garden party simmered.

After coring and draining six tomatoes, I stuffed and baked them for 30 minutes. I then topped them with a goat cheese and parsley mix that was left out to reach room temperature.

As a side we opted for — you guessed it — more veggies. But as we know, it’s not so much the vegetables in a salad that make it what it is, it’s the dressing. For that, my roommate, THE Kiley McKinstrie, made a simple but bold dressing of fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, white pepper and parmesan cheese.

For the last of my many birthday celebrations, I was taken to Goat Town in the East Village. Having only been open a few months, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I had heard mostly positive reviews. Upon entering the small space, I was shocked by the beautiful “modern country” decor and the open kitchen with seafood selections displayed on ice.

For the first course, we shared a poached duck egg sprinkled with smoked paprika and served with baby arugula and prosciutto. The duck egg tastes similar to the traditional chicken egg but is larger and, to me, has a more hearty, buttery yolk. The egg was perfectly poached and the arugula added a nice, peppery taste while the prosciutto mingled in a bit of saltiness.

For the next course, we shared a dozen oysters from all over the shores of the United States. These oysters (all of them) were the some of the best I’ve ever tasted, behind only the Southampton oysters my friends and I catch each summer (you really can’t get any more fresh than that).

For the third course we shared a bowl of Maine bouchot mussels steamed in beer with bacon, parsley and mayonnaise. Goat town — I love you.

The night after the amazing Goat Town experience, I headed to Momofuku ssäm bar, also in the East Village. Our party of nine had a reservation for the bo ssäm (ssäm is korean for enclosed or wrapped), which includes a whole slow cooked pork shoulder, a dozen oysters, white rice, bibb lettuce, ssäm sauce (korean bbq sauce), kimchi and ginger scallion sauce. The dish is essentially pork and condiments wrapped in lettuce. It is, however, the best pork I’ve ever experienced and I think a few of the people with me that night feel the same.