Monday, December 18, 2006

Ravioli and Sweet Tea in NYC

I bit the bullet. Actually, I bit the Big Apple and took the kids to New York.

Over the last 18 years, my visits to the island of Manhattan have focused on one thing: eating. Each year my schedule is dictated by restaurants, business meetings and theatre, in that order. Every detail of every minute of every visit is planned, plotted, mapped out, and determined by restaurant reservations.

I spend hours devising my restaurant strategy so as to squeeze in every possible dining experience available. I eat for a living. I love food and I love restaurants, they’re my hobby, so when one is in the top restaurant city in the world he must make every meal and every moment count.

This visit my wife and I had three extra passengers on board: my daughter, son, and mother-in law (actually, the boy should be counted as two people). Priorities change, restaurants change, and theatre schedules change. Change is good, right?

I have now seen New York restaurants through the eyes of a nine and five year old (make that two— very active and energetic— five year olds rolled into one).

Theatre, not restaurants, was the main focus of this visit. Our hotel was in Times Square; therefore all of the restaurants surrounding Times Square were fair game.

Twice we ate fairly good Chinese food at a restaurant named Ollie’s on 44th and Broadway where my daughter— a devout sweet tea drinker— had her first experience with hot tea. On the second visit, a late night meal after a show, there was no iced tea available and the waiter poured hot tea over ice and watched intensely as my daughter tried to choke the watery liquid down with the addition of several sugar packets. A spicy orange flavored chicken dish was the highlight of that meal. It was a dish that could hold its own in any joint in Chinatown.

My daughter never gave up on her quest for sweetened tea in Manhattan. At every meal at every restaurant, deli, and café, she asked the server for “sweet tea” only to have the request denied each time.

More than anything else this visit will be known as the trip my son learned about ravioli and gnocchi. In Carmine’s, a bustling, tourist-laden, family-style Italian restaurant (also on 44th), my son ate a platter of ravioli large enough to feed a family of four. He talked about it for the rest of the trip. Whether we were in a deli, bakery, or toy store, he asked whoever would listen, “Do you have ravioli here?”

In Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café, he fell in love with gnocchi. Union Square was the one “nice” restaurant we braved with the kids. I had two business meetings away from the family that mostly satisfied my craving for fine dining: Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park; and Asiate on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel where I ate from the most creative and stunning bento box I have ever seen.

Every time I visit the city I like to sneak away one morning and walk the streets. I’ll usually have breakfast at a locals-only joint and “take in” the city. I feel like a New Yorker for a brief moment, and then it’s out of my system until the next visit. This trip I took the subway to SoHo where I ate breakfast at Balthazar. I have spent several late-night dinners at that French bistro on Spring Street. Some of the city’s top chefs dine there after their restaurants have closed. However, I had never eaten breakfast there.

I enjoyed a breakfast of brioche French toast, apple wood smoked bacon, freshly baked croissants, and scrambled eggs with mushrooms and asparagus in puff pastry. The latter being the culinary highlight of the trip.

Was it fun? Was this trip worse than others due to the limitations? In the end, I learned a lesson that should have known from the outset. I would much rather eat in New York tourist joints with my children than alone in any of that city’s finest restaurants.

Late at night, driving home from the airport after a grueling day of travel, the car was quiet. Separately, we were all reflecting on the previous six days. As we passed a highway sign that stated the remaining mileage to Hattiesburg, my hometown, an excited voice broke the silence. It was my daughter. “Sweet tea, hallelujah, thank you, Lord!”

Breakfast Casserole with Spinach and Bacon

1 lb Bacon, thick-sliced, diced
2 cups Onion, diced
1 cup Red bell pepper, diced
1 Tbl Garlic, minced
5 ounces Spinach, frozen, thawed and dried well
10 Eggs
1 cup Half and half
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Dry mustard
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 tsp Black pepper
6 slices White bread, crusts removed
6 slices Wheat bread, crusts removed
1 /2 cup Butter, softened
2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large skillet, cook bacon until it begins to brown, drain excess fat. Add onion and continue to cook until onion begins to brown. Add red pepper, spinach and garlic and cook two more minutes. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine, eggs, half and half and seasoning. Spread the softened butter on both sides of each slice of bread. Cut the buttered bread into small cubes. Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Place in a buttered two-quart baking dish. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes before serving. Yield: eight servings

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