Tag Archives: Italian

Sorella So Really Good

I have this weird love hate relationship with the Lower East Side.  I Hate, with a capital H, that I can never get a cab anywhere in the Lower East Side.  Seriously, I think what Paula Cole really meant was “where have all the cabbies gone”?  But I do LOVE the neighborhood, and in particular, the neighborhood gems.  And one such neighborhood gem that I cannot get enough of is Sorella, because Sorella is so really good.

Sorella is a modest Italian restaurant on Allen Street that serves small plates.  This rustic yet chic restaurant is dimly lit for a touch of romance.  It has this homey feeling that makes you feel comfortable right away.   The same can be said of the service.  With a few key recommendations from the waitress, we knew we were awaiting a great meal.

Similar to tapas, small plates are meant to share.  This is my favorite way to eat because you get to try so many things, and so many of Sorella’s things are exceptional.  Don’t get it twisted, Sorella may serve small dishes, but they pack a big punch.

We started with a few meats and cheeses, because the joys of salty meat and creamy cheese are hard to pass up.  The prosciutto was delicate and mild while to soppressata was dense and salty.  Paired with creamy cheeses, honey and hazelnuts, this was the perfect way to start our meal.

I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time passing up Brussels sprouts.  Sure, I maybe a parent’s dream come true, but I’m really just a humble vegetable eater.  Can you just picture the devious smile across my face?  Well, you should try cause it’s awesome.  Just like the Shaved Brussels sprout salad I had at Sorella.  This salad was the perfect balance of flavors.  The mild Brussels sprouts were the perfect base for the crunchy croutons, salty capers, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet onions and creamy cheese.  Piled high, this salad was a big mountain of excellence.

After the Brussels Sprout salad, we ordered the Beef Carne Cruda.  But this was not your average Beef Cruda because this beef was imported from the Hearst Ranch in California.  That’s right, Hearst, as in Hearst Corporation.  The Owner and Chef of Sorella, Emma Hearst, imports her beef from her family’s cattle ranch in California.  Seriously cool right?  As if that isn’t cool enough, rumors are floating around about her opening a steakhouse in New York using the beef from her family’s cattle ranch too.  While these are just rumors right now, I’m still crossing my Bite-Sized fingers that this becomes a reality one day soon.  One more thing, Emma Hearst made the list of “30 Under 30” by Zagat, and no one can argue that this 24 year old is seriously deserving of such exciting recognition!

Okay, back to the beef.  The bright red, supple meat is garnished with simple fried onions and accompanied by side salad of shaved celery and radish.  So simple, yet so good.

I had never heard of Pici pasta (pronounced peachy), but after a solid recommendation from the waitress, I knew I wanted to try it.  Plus, how do you really resist a pasta called Pici?  The thick, doughy noodles swim in a bowl of hearty pork ragu, ricotta and pepperoncini.  This is an unusual dish that I would make my usual meal.

Agnolotti are ravioli, and these ravioli were Bite-Sized. No truly, they were tiny, but seriously divine.  The agnolotti were soft and pillowy.  Stuffed with beef short ribs and drizzled with sage butter and parmesan cheese, these baby ravioli were robust bites of comfort.

A side of broccoli was a must, especially after we found out it was fried and covered in a spicy aioli.  Reminiscent of Japanese style broccoli tempera, these bites were unexpected for an Italian restaurant.  It was like a surprise party for my tastebuds.

A trip to Sorella wouldn’t be complete with dessert, because dinner isn’t really done until you have dessert.  But especially because they have a gelateria next door called Stellina.  We ordered 3 scoops of gelato, and each was better than the last.  Seriously, this was THE best gelato I have ever had in the United States.

We also ordered cheesecake.  I know, I was surprised we weren’t too full also.  But, we weren’t so cheesecake we ate.  The light and airy cheesecake was shaped like a pyramid and covered in a delicate layer of smooth chocolate.

If your mouth isn’t watering, I think you might be sick.  So, please make sure to call the doctor.

Sorella
95 Allen Street
New York, NY
212.274.9595

On Top of Spaghetti…

On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.  Children’s song or cruel, cruel nightmare?  Definitely nightmare.  The meatball is clearly the most important part of the duo.  Sure spaghetti is a great base for meatballs, and a great accessory to a Halloween costume, but spaghetti is an afterthought to good meatballs.  Good meatballs are the new boyfriend that make you forget your ex love, Carb-y ever existed.  Well not ever, I mean, I am human.   But sometimes you have to kick the carbs to the curb, and I have a recipe for meatballs that does just that.  Of course, if you aren’t ready to move on from spaghetti, that’s okay too.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

The secret behind these awesome meatballs is no secret at all, it’s veal.  Veal is a very tender cut of meat, so what you end up with is tender meatballs.  No knife required here, cause these babies are soft enough to cut with your fork.  Now that’s what I’m talking about. 

Veal Meatballs (Serves 4)
Ingredients
1 lb. ground veal
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
½ tsp. oregano
3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
1 egg
3 tbsp. Tomato sauce

Tomato Sauce
Ingredients
1 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes (whole peeled)
1 28 oz. can of Crushed tomatoes
1 medium red onion, diced
5 gloves of garlic
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions
Start the sauce first.  The longer it cooks, the more flavor it develops.  Plus, you will finish cooking the meatballs in the sauce.   Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté for about 10 minutes or until translucent.  Add the garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to whip it out! Add the tomatoes and then blend until your desired consistency.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, add the whole tomatoes to the blender and pulse until your desired consistency.  I like my sauce a little on the thick side.  Add the tomatoes to the pot and reduce heat to a simmer.*

Once the sauce is made, it’s time to start working on the balls! Add the veal to a large mixing bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and mix with your hands.  Once incorporated, roll into golf ball sized balls.  Add 2 tbsp. of olive oil to a pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add some balls to the pan.  Only add a few at a time, or the temperature of the pan will cool down and the meatballs won’t cook evenly.  Brown the meatballs on all sides.  Once they are cooked, add them to the sauce.  Once all of the balls are cooked and have been added to the sauce, let the sauce simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.  Serve naked, and by that I mean without pasta.  Or actually naked, whatever you prefer.  Be careful though, those balls are hot!

*This recipe makes a lot of sauce! So, if you have extra, which you will, pour it into a plastic container and freeze it.  Save it for a rainy day, when you don’t feel like cooking.  We all know homemade sauce is so much better than jarred anyway!

Skinny Spaghetti

There’s only one thing this girly girl likes to twirl more than a giant party skirt, and that’s a fork full of spaghetti.  If I could have one wish granted from a genie it would be that all carbs would be calorie free, and if the genie told me that was greedy, I would happily accept pasta as my calorie free carb of choice.  Or pizza? No, I’m gonna stick with pasta.  But alas, I don’t have a magic lamp to rub, so it looks like I am sh*t outta luck.

There is nothing comparable to a big old bowl of starchy spaghetti, but there are alternatives.  Don’t worry; I’m not getting all “hippie dippie tofu fake spaghetti” on you.  Yes, that is a real term.  But, I am forgoing the flour for something a little more figure friendly.  Zucchini, if cut properly can transform into silky strands of spaghetti.  How you ask? Let me tell you – the solution is simple and it’s just one word – Julienne.  Julienne is a type of knife cut in which the food is cut into long thing strips.  These thin strips usually resemble shoe strings.  But if you ask me, spaghetti sounds way more desirable than shoe strings any day of the week.  The easiest way to julienne cut your zucchini is to use a mandolin.  But since the good ones are really expensive and slightly dangerous, they aren’t the most popular kitchen appliance for the average Joe.  Of course, I have another solution for you – a julienne peeler.  Not only is this little tool effective, it is totally reasonable.  At $8, it would be silly not to buy this easy to use utensil.  And of course, there is always the option of practicing your knife skills and cutting these bad boys by hand.

No matter the tool to get the job done, the once average zucchini is now spaghetti, and that’s seriously magical.  If you thought skinny and spaghetti didn’t go together before, think again.  This recipe will fill you up and trim you down.

Skinny Spaghetti (serves 2)
Ingredients
4 medium-large zucchini
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of tomato sauce

Directions
Prepare a large bowl of ice water.  (Once the zucchini is cooked, it will need to be cooled down immediately to stop the cooking process.)  Boil a large pot of heavily salted water.  When the water is boiling, add the julienne cut zucchini for 1 minute.   Remove immediately and place into the ice bath for 1 minute.  While the zucchini is cooling off in the ice bath, heat 1 cup of your favorite tomato sauce.  You can use my recipe for a chunky tomato sauce, or use a jar of your favorite! Once the zucchini is cool and the sauce is hot, add the zucchini to the pot and toss in the sauce.  Serve with some grated parmesan or mozzarella.

A Tale of Two Cities

This is a tale of two cities, if cities were restaurants.  One bad, one good.  But at least you know upfront there is a happy ending to this story.  I’ll start with the bad: The Mermaid Inn.  This classic NYC establishment gets a Bite-Sized Thumbs down.  If only my thumbs were bigger.

I was so excited to have a feast of oysters at The Mermaid Inn in the East Village.  I even tweeted about it.  Not that that says too much; I tweet about everything food related. But still, the excitement was there.  We got to the restaurant, and we were seated in the garden on a gorgeous night.  I saw an iPhone app for oysters on the menu and since I am in love with my iPhone, I was thoroughly impressed.  I thought to myself, we are off to a good start.  Little did I know the good ended there.

We ordered the Grilled Romaine Salad, half a dozen West Coast Oysters, and the Bay Scallops to start.  The salad was so underdressed, it could have gotten a ticket for public nudity.  There was a miniscule amount of lemon dressing on the lettuce, which was then covered in Parmesan cheese.  I took 3 bites before waiving the white flag.   If I want to eat plain lettuce, I’ll go back to camp where is the food is inedible.  It’s hard to comment on the Bay Scallops because there were so few of them on the plate.  Seriously, there were 4 of them, and since Bay Scallops are the size of nickels, you can understand how this is unacceptable.  There was, however, an overwhelming amount of the mediocre Summer Corn Succotash.  Lucky me.   The oysters were tasty, but since there is no prep work in oysters, other than shucking, it wasn’t enough to save the meal.

After the poor showing of appetizers, we didn’t want to stick around to be inevitably even more disappointed with the entrees.  So, we told the waitress we were unhappy with our appetizers and asked if the entrees had been fired.  She said no, and asked us if we wanted the check.   Did she apologize and send the manager over? Nope, she just brought us the check, in its entirety.  Well, ain’t that a swift kick in the pants.  This is a true testament to service, or lack thereof.  If the waitress had tried to recover the meal, I assure you we would have stayed.  *Disclaimer: This is not something I have ever done before or advocate doing.

Is this a reflection of all The Mermaid Inn restaurants? I am not sure.  But I am certainly not going to find out!  As another one BITES the dust…an OBG saves the day.

OBG.  What’s that you asked?  An OBG is an “oldie but goodie.”  And Lil’ Frankies is an OBG.  Located just a few short blocks from the mediocrity that is The Mermaid Inn, we knew that Lil’ Frankies was going to be the chocolate to our heartbreak.  Since we didn’t need appetizers, we skipped right to the entrees: Mezzi Rigatoni Polpettini Ragu and Spinach Gnocchi Pomodoro.  The Rigatoni was perfectly al dente and the polpettini, which are mini meatballs, were out of this world.  They were tenders little pearls of meat.  The Spinach Gnocchi tasted like a garden pure deliciousness, and you know how I love my Gnocchi.

So, thank you Lil’ Frankies for being an OBG, not to be confused with ODB.  That would just be weird.

The Mermaid Inn
96 Second Ave
New York, NY
212.674.5870

Lil’ Frankies
19 First Ave
New York, NY
212.420.4900

I L’ove L’artusi

L’artusi is one of those great West Village restaurants.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  Great music.  Great Atmosphere.  Great Food.  And I can’t put enough emphasis on great, which makes it the perfect setting for just about any occasion.  The music is fun for a birthday but not too loud for a date.  That balance is key! The space is as exquisite as it is extensive; you can sit downstairs near the bar, in the backroom by the open kitchen, or upstairs near the wine cellar.  And most importantly, the food is heavenly. 

L’artusi even knows their food is stellar.  Their tagline is “L’arte di mangiare bene” which means “The art of eating well.”  Now, that kind of confidence really gets me going.   But it’s not just talk; L’artusi can walk the walk.  Their food is always special.  My love for L’artusi only grows with each and every visit.  And this most recent visit was no exception.

To start, we ordered the Dayboat Scallop Crudo.  The crudo was dressed in sea salt, olive oil, lemon and espelette.  Espelette is dried red pepper powder, similar to paprika.  This dish is light and airy with a hint of earthiness from the smoky espelette and spicy olive oil.

 

The Hamachi Tartar is one of my favorite appetizers.   The hamachi is paired with lemon, chives and ginger to create a refreshing dish.  These flavors play together so nicely.  This dish will stimulate your palette without leaving you in need of a palette cleanser. 

 

The Panzanella salad was a no-brainer.  I mean, how can anyone turn down pancetta, tomato, watermelon and basil?  Panzanella is usually a salad of bread and tomatoes, but I didn’t miss the bread one bit.  The watermelon was crisp, the heirloom tomatoes were juicy, the basil was sweet and the pancetta was salty.  I would be doing this pancetta an injustice to just call it salty, though.  The pancetta was thick cut, almost like a spare rib.  It was delicate but rough.  This is how pancetta is meant to be served. 

 

The Orechiette, which means “little ears” in Italian, are the perfect vehicle for the spicy sausage ragu.  The peppers and basil add a touch of sweetness, which is topped off with creamy parmesan cheese. 

 

The special pasta, which was homemade Fettuccine with portobello mushrooms, egg yolk, and shaved parmesan cheese, was sensual.  The pasta and mushrooms were light, while the egg yolks and cheese were creamy. 

 

Charred Octopus is one of my favorite things to eat, if cooked properly.  It’s not an easy dish to cook, but L’artusi knows how to do it well.  The meat is actually meaty and tender.   It is paired with simple baby potatoes, chilies, olives and pancetta.  The potatoes absorb the salty flavors from the olives and pancetta which offsets the smoky flavor from the grill. 

I don’t usually order steak in an Italian restaurant.  It’s like ordering a bagel at the diner. Sure, the diner has bagels, but you know the bagel store has better ones.  I hate to be proven wrong, but boy am I glad we ordered the steak at L’artusi.  The steak was cooked to a perfect medium, with charred crust and tender meat.  It was served with a creamy salsa blanca and crispy potatoes. 

So, I’ll leave you with this: L’arte di mangiare bene.  If eating well is an art form, and we all know it is, then L’artusi is the Met. Luckily, you don’t have to buy tickets to visit this exhibit.

L’artusi
228 West 10th Street
New York, NY
212.255.5757

Party in the City Where the Heat is On

When I think about Miami, I think of palm trees, night clubs, and of course, Will Smith…I mean how can anyone not love that song, or love to hate it at least.  (Apologies now if you are still singing this song at the end of the day.)

Palm trees and night clubs are great, but never do you hear someone say Miami has great food.  Miami is just not a front-runner is the culinary world, and no, I am not hating on Miami because I hate on the Heat.  (Let’s Go Knicks!)

Don’t get me wrong, Miami has great restaurants, just not that many.  They are hard to come by without a little hard work.  And lucky for you, this Bite-Sized Blonde did all the hard work this weekend.

My first stop in Miami was Casa Tua, which means “your home” in Italian.  This hotel, which is really more like a private residence, has only five private suites.  I didn’t stay here, but I did have the privilege of dining in the restaurant.  Yes, you heard my correctly, PRIVLEGE.  This restaurant is special, and you feel that the minute you walk into the lush garden terrace.  The restaurant is designed to feel like you are in someone’s home; it is adorned with photographs and bookshelves piled high with books and trinkets.  Even the menus are special, decorated with personal photographs for an intimate feeling.

I would be remiss not to mention the enormous open kitchen that embellishes the dining room.  Although I didn’t sit in front of it, I had a pretty good view; Cameron Diaz and A-Rod were at the table next to me.   While this Bite-Sized Blonde might not be a celebrity, I was certainly treated like one.  The service was outstanding.  Our waiter, well versed in the menu, helped us pick a perfectly hued Rose and well as a number of exceptional dishes.  He made sure they were stacked so we could savor each and every one.

We started with The Branzino Carpaccio with Pink Grapefruit and Toasted Hazelnuts, which was enhanced by crisp scallions.  The carpaccio was everything that carpaccio should be, light, refreshing, and delicious.

We also enjoyed The Grilled Octopus with Borlotti Beans, Celery and Red Radish which was tender and creamy from the beans.  The celery and radish added a unique element of texture to the dish.

Spinach Salad is usually something I stay away from in a restaurant with endless options.  But as it was a recommendation, I decided to ignore my initial instincts and give it a chance.  Boy am I glad I did. This spinach salad was anything but ordinary, with prosciutto, fresh figs, fried red onion and balsamic dressing.  The spinach, along with a few sprigs of basils, was cut into beautiful ribbons, mixed with the fresh figs and fried onions, tossed in the balsamic dressing, and then wrapped up in the prosciutto like a beautiful present.   Gosh, I love an early birthday gift.

The Casa Tua Tuna Tartar was prepared more like a beef tartar, with olives and capers.  It was an interesting take on a classic dish.

The Tagliolini with Maine lobster and fresh tomatoes was a dish I couldn’t pass up, and do you really blame me?  The sauce was sweet which complimented the succulent lobster so effortlessly.

For the grand finale, we ordered the Grilled Waygu Skirt Steak with Baby Cipollini Onions and Roasted Mini Sweet Bell Peppers.  The juicy meat was smoky and woodsy from the rosemary yet sweet from the onions and the peppers.  When such a simple dish has such complex flavors, you know there’s a great chef behind it all.

Casa Tua is a great restaurant, and not just for Miami.  This restaurant would be successful in New York and Los Angeles.  You know why? Because exceptional food, outstanding service and a warm atmosphere are like love, universal and hard to come by.

Casa Tua
1700 James Ave
Miami Beach, FL
305.673.0973

You Know What They Say About Big Meat

Torrisi Italian Specialties – by day, a sandwich shop that is anything but regular and by night, a distinctive restaurant.  You would think Superman was behind this creative concept. This 18-seat restaurant is located in Nolita.  The shop turns from an Italian deli into a restaurant at 5:00 pm, which is when you can come in and put your name down for a table for one of three seatings: 6:00, 7:45 or 9:30 pm.  They don’t take reservations by phone, but I promise it’s worth the extra effort.

Torrisi has a pre-fixed menu that changes daily.  You get 4 antipasti, a pasta course, a main dish, and a tray of house desserts.  At $50, it is a great deal.  The warm mozzarella is an antipasti staple, and for good reason.  This grapefruit sized sphere of deliciousness is drizzled in olive oil and dusted with fleur de sel.  It is breathtaking.  Forget a diamond, just put this work of art on a ring for me and I’ll be a happy girl.  The cheese is served with garlic toasts.  They are heavily dusted with tomato powder and then covered in herbs.  Good thing this cheese can stand on its own because I did not enjoy the toast.  The tomato powder resembles cheddar cheese powder for popcorn.  And, I was afraid to smile for 20 minutes for fear of all the herbs being stuck in my teeth.  The garlic toast was, however, the only disappointment of the night.

The second antipasti was a scallop dish.  The scallops were thinly sliced and then drizzled with the braised broccoli.   The braised broccoli had such a deep, concentrated flavor, which accented the light scallops perfectly.  It was unexpected, and you know how this Bite-Sized Blonde likes to be kept on her toes.  The scallops were followed by a homemade pepperoni – topped with a lightly cooked egg yolk and served next to an herb salad.  The second my fork touched the egg, it exploded onto the plate. The pepperoni, looked like a meatball, and at first, tasted like a meatball. And then bam! There’s a pop of pepperoni flavor to wake up your palate.    Fried spring onions, served in with a chive yogurt sauce, were the last of the four antipasti.   This lightly fried nibble was like a sophisticated bloomin’ onion.  Need I say more? After antipasti, we got a small cup of grapefruit sorbet as a palette cleanser.  It’s all in the details baby, and this is an important detail that cannot be overlooked.

There is usually only one pasta dish of the night, but this Bite-Sized Blonde was lucky enough to sample two of the incredible pasta dishes Torrisi has to offer.  The first was the Dirty Duck Ragout.  I saw the Dirty Duck Ragout on an episode of Unique Eats and knew I had to try this dish.   The Dirty Duck Ragout is smoky and rich.  It is balanced by perfectly cooked Germelli pasta.  The second pasta dish, which was not on the menu, was Chicken Liver Ravioli.  Now, before you think I’m nuts for loving this, hear me out.  Chopped liver is made from chicken liver, which is exactly what the ravioli filling tasted like.  It took on a hint of carmelization to bring the liver to another level.  The ravioli were complimented by a light and sweet tomato sauce.

Your main is a choice of surf or turf, and we went with the turf.  We got the Bone-In Short Rib and the BBQ Lamb in a Molasses Vinaigrette.    The Bone-In Short Rib looked like a piece of meat for Fred Flintstone.  You know what they say about big meat, big…flavor.  The rib was intensely flavorful from the grill.  The BBQ Lamb was also delectable.   It was smoky yet light.  The molasses vinaigrette was a bright addition to the dish.

The dessert at Torrisi is a sampling of house pastries, including rainbow cookies and cannoli.  They’re good, really good.  But this Bite-Sized Blondes likes something I can dig my fork into.  Of course, I ate every single cookie anyway.

Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry Street at Prince
New York, NY

212.965.0955