The last few weeks have been classified as “The Birth Month”. If you know me then you know that the one time of the year I treasure most of all is my birthday and what an extravaganza it has been! The thing that makes me fall in love with cooking is that no matter what race, gender, job, status or city you live in, the one thing that will bring you together to laugh, cry or just be merry is: FOOD.
When I look at the last few weeks whether it was grabbing a sandwich at the distillery in Toronto, a surprise restaurant for my birthday, the champagne tasting at a random winery in the middle of nowhere miles from Toronto OR drinks at a Guns N Roses concert…I realized that a common theme and where I feel my happiest is usually when I am eating food or appreciating great drinks with old friends, new friends or even strangers. You can have a baby, go through a break up, lose your job or get a new job and what do you do? You call someone you love and you share some good food to celebrate or commiserate. We argue, we fight, we get confused...but when we come together with food and drinks all is right with the world! You would think in Ireland they could have just had a potato food festival mixed with Whiskey tasting in each town a few times a year and that probably could have solved half the troubles (To the right is a sculpture from the Distillery in Toronto)
February has been about adventures and enjoying life and I’m thinking you’ll want to hear about some of the adventures! I pride myself on my Irish story telling however I sometimes get in trouble. There is no doubt I embellish and add twists and turns for amusement. Some may say embellishing isn’t telling the truth but to see my friends’ faces light up or laugh makes it worth it.
We took a trip to Lady Gaga’s parent’s restaurant on the upper west side. I didn’t have high hopes after many failed reviews BUT I feel the reviewers were overly harsh. Given it’s the parents of Lady Gaga you would think she could have used her connections to hire them a good web developer. You can see from the website - awful frames and pictures. Honestly? It gets a 0 out of 100. That being said the restaurant is just finding its groove. The food wasn’t up to par but the price also wasn’t that of a top restaurant. Don’t get me wrong I think they need some work and timing issues to avoid disappointment but the staff and chefs were adorable. We met Lady Gaga’s mum and the head chef and it turned out one of the sous chef’s trained at FCI so we chatted them up for a good long time. It wasn’t food that made me “Gag” (a) that’s for sure but what it lacked in the food department, it made up for in service and charm. The wine list left a lot to be desired and honestly I will probably eave it for another year before going back to try again. I have added some pictures below of the food we enjoyed during the trip to Joanne Trattoria. above is some great focaccia, the family meatballs and a sea food dish.
The next adventure: Japanese chef serving Italian food (See above for some pics). My surprise birthday dinner took me to Basta Pasta, 37 W.17th street On entering the restaurant I noticed that each food station is an open mini kitchen, and the guest can see everything as it’s made. If you go there, you MUST try the Parmigiano Reggiano with Parma ham served table side from the real Parmigiano Reggiano wheel ! (See picture below). The highlight of the trip was when the Japanese waiter who considered himself a bit of an Elvis busted out a Ukulele and sang happy birthday with all his friends. Some things are priceless !
We continue the adventure with the Birthday Celebrations at my cooking school. What would you expect an Irish persons FAVOURITE food to be? Potato, right? I follow ever cliché there is on the planet and I love, love, love the potato. As Irish luck would have it, the weekend of my birthday, I flipped my French culinary book open and we were learning “POTATO”.
At this point I would like to thank the Spaniards for introducing the potato in the 16th Century to Europe and maybe not the Mexicans for the disease that caused the famine. To be honest, the Mexican’s gave me Tequila for amazing Margaritas and mole, so I think they redeemed their country since the famine.
I walked into cooking school and got a warm welcome with fresh coffee, Lamington birthday presents and share cake and croissant’s with my newly found cooking friends. Chef David explains today’s foods, which range from Potato Puree to Dauphin. One word – heaven. Whilst others left the end of the session saying “OMG I cannot eat another potato for a year,” I left saying, “Jesus, I cannot wait to get home to finish those potatoes!” I will aim to post the potato class to the FCI section asap so you can all learn about the techniques used in Potatoes week!
My friends are all pretty similar: Type A women with great jobs, very opinionated and they all LOVE wine and champagne. Take that personality and give them wine and you get VERY LOUD women who become very animated.
The trip to Toronto last Thursday kicked off with a trip to Jamie Kennedy's - Gilead as it is important to eat before the consumption of alcohol ! Jamie Kennedy has created a café that invites me back again and again. He sources all his food locally and if you meet him you can see he is laid back and no drama. I specifically go there to indulge on the yogurt and granola; if you make it Toronto it’s a MUST. For anyone looking for a romantic getaway from NY, he will be opening a new restaurant near Niagara called Windows. It’s funny that although he is considering Canada’s top chef that he still potters around the Gilead as if he was a farmer grabbing a coffee on his way to dig up some veg. He gets my vote.
5 over-caffeinated Ladies (OK, maybe I was the only one over-caffeinated) + a car + a map and what do you get? No, not 5 girls lost BUT 5 Ladies HYPER and on a mission to taste wine. (OK, some of us *cough* may not be the “best” at map reading but that is what GPS IS FOR). It does annoy me sometimes that women are projected to be bad map readers, esp when they only thing they have is an iPhone with shitty AT+T signal that craps out at the most crucial decision points for turning left or right….yup there’s a nerve hit right there haha.
Prince Edward Wine Countryin Ontario is a larger area than I expected and the ranges and types of wines produced are vast. The folks we met take much more care about the process, chemistry and love needed to produce good wine. It’s not about mass producing but locally providing good Canadian wine, being proud of that and enjoying life. One good article I read lately was around decanting…to decant or not to decant…Interesting
We aimed to hit 4 wineries and you will soon learn why 2 was the most we could get to. I kept saying all February, “It ALWAYS snows on my birthday!” but in NYC I was disappointed with no snow. We left Toronto to head to the Prince Edward Country and the snow got heavier and heavier! Our first winery was called “Sand Banks” . We decided to go to this specific vineyard after we had tasted this full-bodied wine at Christmas and had fallen in love. Normally when you go to taste you get to taste maybe 3 types, however, after we kicked snow like a kid outside we burst into the winery full of energy. It's amazing how the sentence “It’s my birthday,” invokes love in everyone. The kind server laid out 5 wine glasses and proceeded to take us on a trip of all their red and white wines. From the light and fresh Cabernet Franc to the full-bodied Baco Noir Reserve. We left with 10 bottles of wine and had a little more merriment than when we walked in.
Our next stop was the champagne vineyard – Hinterland Wine. Sometimes when you walk into a place and feel the energy of the people and their space you just know you will love them. Our adventure at Hinterland lasted 3 ½ hours, and let’s just say that I was slightly slurring my words after our visit here. What makes small businesses so great is that the owners know every little detail of the process from picking the soil, the grapes and the space to every detail of production.
My favorite sparking joy was the Les Etoiles 2008 – Its made with 50% chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. The taste is a fruity explosion of flower and fruit! The 2nd was the Riesling 2009. They took a Riesling and completed secondary fermentation in the bottle, and then the wine is aged on the Lees (The yeast cells fermented in the bottle). They wait 14 months, remove the Lees and voila ! Light apple-y wine on the nose with a strong red apple fruit taste on the palate.
The couple gave us a guided tour through the process and the highlight was when someone in our group asked for the Dressage …..hrm, well, I think we all quickly realized she meant ‘dosage’ not dressage as it would be slightly weird for the champagne house to dress horses.
We finished the day enjoying homepage veal burgers and amazing homemade Pavlova thanks to Steph !. If you want some good links try BBC Food its one of my favorite sources for recipes. Also Gordon Ramsey posted some good tips fordesserts
One gift I received was both tasty and beautiful. If you live in NYC you must go to Marie Belle. The signature chocolates are topped with cute, eccentric, colorful designs of women on bicycle’s, or drinking champagne, you hardly want to bite into it…well for maybe a second and then you enjoy pure taste of Chocolate ganache. Each one comes with a unique flavor and taste of spices, like the cardamom and cinnamon and several fruit-based choices like mango, coconut, and lemon.
From finding this treasure, we headed to the Marie Belle tea room and in back—the Cacao Bar has their famed hot chocolate. You can order this in either the European (made with water) or American (with milk) variations. The spicy hot chocolate is spiked with cinnamon and chipotle chile—piquant, though not as fiery as Jacques Torres's "wicked" hot chocolate but packing 72 percent pure Colombian cacao and thick enough to lick like sauce from your spoon.
One great new link I stumbled upon was Pepin’s blog, really great find !!!!
Apologies for the lack of posts lately! I am hoping to get caught up and give you all the restaurant reviews, cooking techniques and updates soon.