Wined and Dined at Una Pizza Napoletana

Bene is a new Italian culture magazine that will be distributed in “150 of the best Italian restaurants in the United States, starting May 15th.” Why am I telling you this? Well Bene’s Editorial Director, Joanna Goddard, wrote me recently to see if I wanted to write for them. “Umm,” I wrote back, “You know I’m not Italian right?” She wrote back “yes, not a problem” and then offered to take me to dinner. This is the story of that dinner.

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As you can tell by the picture above, Joanna took me to Una Pizza Neopoletana. This made me very happy because I’ve never been to Una Pizza Neopoletana but I’ve heard all about it. It’s on the same block in the East Village as Hearth, one of my favorite New York restaurants. Joanna met me outside and then we went inside to talk business.

Joanna: Let’s talk business.

Adam: Ok!

Joanna: I think we should order two pizzas–two different kinds and we can each have half of the other’s.

Adam: Excellent.

Joanna: I really like the Filetti–I had that when I was here with my cousin.

The filetti is described as having “fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.”

We also ordered the Margherita: “San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.”

Here they are, hot from the oven. First the filetti:

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Then the margherita:

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These pizzas were absolutely, undeniably fresh and delicious and wonderful. “Mmmm!” I moaned in ecstasy.

“So anyway, we’d like you to write, maybe, starting–”

“MmmmMMM!” I continued to groan.

“–and we really like your humor so we’d like–”

“ARRRRRM!!! ERRRRM!!! YUMMMM!!”

“–unless you’re too busy writing your book.”

“AAOHOU:HYOAU:YH UOAYHA:OUHY!!!!”

“Adam?”

“Oh, yes, I’d love to write for you.”

This is what we’d call a successful business meeting. It was even more successful because I didn’t have to pay which, actually, is the only set-back to dining at Una Pizza Napoletana: the price! Each of those pizzas cost close to $20. That’s pricey for a small pizza. But it’s a divinely authentic small pizza and you have to decide what your values are. If your values involve getting taken to dinner, then head straight to Una Pizza Napoletana–you won’t regret it.

Color, Light and Indian Food at Milon (aka “The Upper Left”)

Mark and I stood, last week, facing the building you see in the blurry picture below:

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We were on 1st Ave. and Mark sang the praises of a meal he’d consumed in this very building a few weeks earlier. “I just can’t remember which restaurant it was,” he said. “The upper left or the lower right?”

Just as he said that a man emerged from the lower right. [Note: You can’t tell by the picture, but there are two restaurants below the restaurants you can see.] The man said “Hello” but it wasn’t clear he was talking to us. Then he did something I’ll never forget. He took a piece of paper, crumpled it up and threw it at Mark. “Come to my restaurant,” he said. “It’s very good.”

In my history of dining I’ve seen many tactics used to lure diners inside: all you can eat shrimp, topless dancers, free hot fudge sundaes. But paper throwing?

“Let’s go to the upper left,” I said and Mark concurred.

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My Last Meal at The 2nd Ave. Deli

I know I’m late to the game, but for those who may have missed it: The 2nd Ave. Deli is no more. This is very sad for several reasons: (1) the place had character; (2) the place was old, a landmark, a living relic; and (3) it had the city’s best chicken soup, coleslaw and challah bread.

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That’s a picture I took on an early visit there in October, 2004. I’d since returned several times, semi-religiously, as a way to fend off an oncoming cold. Some people believe in Coldeez, I believed in the 2nd Ave. Deli. Now I share Michael Stipe’s pain when he sings about losing his religion.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me at the 2nd Ave. Deli the last time I visited, just a few weeks before I learned of its demise. As a way of preserving the past, I’m going to try to recreate for you–using the 2nd person (oooh!)–the experience of eating there, with some James Frey flourishes for dramatic effect.

You walk to the silver doors underneath the blue archway.

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You immediately notice the sign announcing a reward to find the killer of the deli’s original owner, Abe Lebewhol.

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You go inside and in the vestibule there’s a section of the Automat mounted, museum-style, on the wall. You go through another door and there’s the host stand, angled to the left, and sometimes a crowd of people, certainly a crowd of people to your right lining up to buy overpriced slices of meat. (Once I went and an old Jewish woman accosted me outside: “X.99 a pound for turkey? That’s outrageous! Why do I keep coming back?”)

The host or hostess (usually a smily Jewish woman with black curly hair) asks you how many and you say one. You’re offered the table–my personal favorite–right near the door, with a large window behind you. You sit and study the menu, which overwhelms you at first with the options and the prices.

Then a grizzled old man with tufts of white hair shuffles over to your table. He calls you Sonny. “Sonny,” he says, “What are you having?”

You tell him you want: soup and half a sandwich. Matzoh ball soup and half a pastrami sandwich. “On rye?” he asks. “Of course,” you say.

“Anything to drink?” he asks looking up, eyebrow arched. “Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry,” you answer with flair as it’s the soda of choice for Jewish deli-dwellers since the first pogroms in the early part of the 20th century.

“Thank you, Sonny.” He shuffles away.

A busboy comes with a glass of water, a plate of challah, coleslaw and pickles:

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The 2nd Ave. Deli was mighty generous with its pre-soup offerings. And the coleslaw, as stated earlier, was the best in New York. Why? Bad coleslaw is saturated with mayonnaise; great coleslaw is spiked with vinegar, tart and peppery, and–most importantly–crisp to the tooth. The 2nd Ave. Deli’s coleslaw was all these things: I’d never eaten a brighter coleslaw. The Mayor of Coleslawland should keep the flag permanently at half mast now that the 2nd Ave. Deli is gone.

Your waiter returns with a large white bowl studded with noodle bits (not long strandy noodles, but chopped up bits of noodle), carrots and a matzoh ball. He then pours the chicken broth on from a silver server, which swishes the city’s best chicken soup to life.

What made it so great? The soup had honesty, the soup had integrity. It wasn’t the hypersaturated cosmic yellow of the Carnegie Deli’s, or the watery, muted yellow tastehole of Katz’s. [Haha, I just coined that term: tastehole.] The 2nd Ave. Deli’s chicken soup was brimming with life, with the melted spirits of happy Jewish chickens enlivening the broth that felt so good on your cold winter lips. Soup, in its basest form, is flavored water. But the soup at The 2nd Ave. Deli transcended this, it was its own thing–its own substance–pure as mother’s milk and served with far less guilt.

I mourn the loss of this chicken soup, though I reckon I can recreate it with the 2nd Ave. Deli cookbook. It won’t be the same. I need that shuffling waiter, the throngs at the counter, the waxy waitress with her hair in a painted brown-red bun. I need people who look like Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron, talking loudly and haggling with their waiter. “You charged me for an extra soda.” I need paper placemats and lemon in my water. I need the 2nd Ave. Deli but it’s no longer there.

It will be missed.

Where Do Vegetarians Go When They Die? Angelica Kitchen, Of Course

When I think vegetarian, I think my friend Lisa. Our debates about vegetarianism have gone on for the entirety of our seven year friendship. You can meet her on Saturday if you come to our 2nd year anniversary party and she’ll espouse the benefits of a meat-free existence as I mock her over her shoulder. Yes, Lisa and I have a friendly feud about meat-eating vs. not meat-eating but there was once a time I tried to meet her halfway. I tried to take her to Angelica Kitchen, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant in the East Village.

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After all our bickering, you’d think she’d appreciate the gesture. But when we walked in she sniffed the air and immediately requested that we leave. “It smells too much like food in here,” she said. “I’ll smell like food for the rest of the night.”

Smilla has her sense of snow, and Lisa has her sense of smell. She doesn’t like places that make her smell like food. So we left and didn’t look back. I’d forgotten that it existed until I had plans with another vegetarian friend last night: my friend Jason. He lives in the East Village so I suggested Angelica Kitchen. “I love Angelica Kitchen!” he said. We were on.

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Lisa’s Birthday Dinner at Hearth

There’s a scene in Annie Hall (my favorite movie) where Alvy Singer buys Annie lingerie for her birthday. “Oh ho ho,” says Annie. “I think this is more a gift for you than it is for me.”

The same could be argued about Lisa’s birthday dinner. I tried to defer to her wishes (“Where would you like to go?” I asked her) but she simply said, “I like food, Adam, so wherever you want to go is fine by me.” So can I be forgiven for taking her to the place I secretly wanted to return to? Where Lisa and I enjoyed an outstanding meal last April? I think I can. And I think Lisa can too. Here she is taking a picture of her food with her new digital camera, a birthday present from her mom:

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Won’t you join us for the rest of Lisa’s birthday dinner?

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A Weekend of Celebration: Meals at Mo Pitkin’s, August, Le Gigot and Beet

Ever since news of my book deal leaked its way on to the internet [Ok, so it was leaked by me, but still–there was leakage] the food blog media and my screaming fans are desperate to know whether I’ll still be the same old Adam or whether fame and fortune will change me. Let me set you straight right now: of course it’s going to change me! You losers are history. From this day forth, I’m sitting at the cool table and you nerds better do my homework or I’ll give you a wet willy and pants you in the gym.

Just kidding! It’s still sweet little ole me. Humble as apple pie. [And in case I ever did get a big head, I could go back and re-read this person’s nasty review of me at Blogratingz that says: “[Adam] can’t write about food to save his life. A recent post about a German restaurant was peppered with such evocative adjectives as ‘delicious’ (twice) and ‘funky’ (also twice). Add to this lack of originality his delusion that he is funny, and what you’ve got is probably the worst food writing since ‘Where’s the beef?'” That last line actually made me laugh. And though it’s nasty, it’s well written. Delicious, even, and funky. I give it a 5.]

Where were we? Oh yes. My big head. Celebration. This was a weekend of celebration (see post title). It involved celebratory dinners at:

Mo Pitkin’s!

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[That’s me and Diana out front with a stranger.]

August!

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Le Gigot!

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and

Beet!

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Won’t you join me as I reflect back on my weekend of binge-eating? Click the button to see all that was consumed.

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An East Village Evening: Koi and Veniero Pasticceria

When Diana and I made plans to see “A History of Violence” on 2nd. Avenue Friday night, we came across the obstacle of “where will we eat for dinner?” My brain entered Terminator mode and brought up a map of 2nd avenue and tried to determine, with various graphs and charts, what was near the movie theater. And then a word came into my head: “Koi!” I said.

“Koi?” asked Diana.

“Yes, Koi,” I said. “I seem to remember that next to the movie theater is a restaurant named Koi.”

“Ok,” she said, “There we shall go.”

And so we met on Broadway and walked over to Koi. Sure enough it was right next to the movies, just like my brain said it was:

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People on menupages.com love Koi. Go read the comments. I’d link to it, but I’m lazy. I’m not being coy. (Rimshot!)

The reason they love it, they say, is because “it’s the best sushi in New York.” Having eaten at Tomoe Sushi, I was interested to scan the competition. So Diana and I ordered “Sushi for Two.” It cost $40. It came with salad or soup. We each had salad, but my picture didn’t come out too well. Then we had sake:

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The sake menu was large and the waiter steered us to his favorite which turned out to be our favorite too.

“Mmm,” we said, “This is good sake.”

Sake acts for sushi like wine acts for other foods. It enhances the experience.

When our platter came, our neighbors gawked at our table:

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“What’s that?” we heard them ask the waiter.

“Sushi for 2,” the waiter said.

“We’ll have that,” they decided.

And they made a good choice. This sushi was top notch–definitely as good as Tomoe, and more variety. We were never bored. And Diana had fun critiquing my sushi skills. She saw me put ginger on a piece of sushi.

“I thought ginger was for between pieces, to cleanse your palate,” she suggested.

Was this true? I didn’t know.

“Oh,” I said sheepishly.

“I mean, I just heard that,” she said. She was very kind in her criticism.

Then she taught me the difference between sushi and sashimi. Now I forget it.

So we loved our meal—it’s perfect if you’re going to the movies right there. After the movie (which was a terrific movie, by the way, we really enjoyed it), we searched for a place to have coffee. We stumbled upon Veniero:

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I went here last year with my high school friends Amy and Dana. I’d forgotten it existed and then there we were. The place was hopping.

When you walk in, there’s a giant display case full of pastries. And the room has a very old feel to it, in a great way. It reminded me of Friendly’s or some other classic dessert like place. Plus the menu was really funny:

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[If you click that picture, above, it will get bigger.]

Here are my favorite descriptions:

“Miniature Pastries: A miniature fantasy that envelops the senses.”

“Tiramisu: Literally translates to ‘Pick Me Up.’ It’s just what our version of tiramisu does to you, the original Veniero’s recipe for the true tiramisu cake. You will feel Italian espresso, of course, mocha cream, for sure, whipped cream, certainly.”

These sound like treatments at a spa, not desserts in the East Village! But that’s what I liked about the place. I also liked the prices: check them out! Most desserts are in the $3 to $4 range. To quote Monty Hall: “The price is right.”

Here’s Diana with her desserts:

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She had two miniature ones (they enveloped her senses): a cannoli and a strawberry tart. She was very happy with her choices.

I had the “Pasticciotti: A house specialty for many years. A sweet pastry tart filled with baked vanilla soft custard.”

The picture I took of it didn’t come out, but it was indeed very tasty. I was happy with my choice.

And so, should you be in the East Village for a night of movies, sushi and Italian desserts now you know where to go. You can thank us later!

Whistle a happy tune at Prune

So I did Prune for brunch when I got back from Europe and Lisa and I loved it. Remember?

I was soon set on the idea of eating there for dinner. My friends Molly and Colin, from my program, told me how much they loved it last time I saw them. And then yesterday in the NYT, Prune’s chef/owner Gabrielle Hamilton wrote a really sweet and loving piece about her Italian mother in law. When Lisa called for dinner I said, “Why not Prune?” and she agreed.

The staff at Prune is among my favorites if not my top favorite in the city. The hostess is a ball of energy and fun and bursting with good humor. The waitress was kind, helpful and deeply enthusiastic about the food. We were sat at a table right near the front (I called and made a 6:30 reservation at 5 pm and so it’s worth calling ahead because many show-ups had to wait an hour or more.) We were immediately presented with boiled peanuts:

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Lisa tore one open and hot oil sprayed on her white shirt.

“Ugh,” she said.

The peanuts were seasoned with cayenne and cumin and were a really interesting start, but I’m not going to rave about them. If you’re someone who likes boiled peanuts, you might rave, I just appreciated the gesture of them serving something so unexpected and yet so familiar.

The waitress talked us through the menu. The main menu had appetizers and main courses, as most menus do. There was a separate section for sides because, as the waitress explained, “everything’s served a la carte.” (Yet, when you look at the pictures of our mainplates, you’ll see how unnecessary sides proved to be.) Additionally, there was a bar menu with bar snacks that were cheaper than the appetizers and yet equally alluring.

From the bar snack menu, I suggested that Lisa and I share the goat cheese with buttered bread and pickled onions:

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When I pictured it in my head, I didn’t picture this. I kind of pictured miniature goat cheese sandwiches or something less rustic but I loved how rustic it turned out to be. Doesn’t that presentation kind of look like a painting? I’d never had “hard” goat cheese before. I tried to convince Lisa that you could eat the rind and I emphasized my point but eating bits of the rind myself. They tasted kind of funny; a bit like poison. I asked the waitress if you could eat the rind and she said she wasn’t sure, she’d ask the kitchen. When she came back from the kitchen she said, “Well it won’t kill you if you do, but it’s not recommended.” Lisa smirked.

So vegetarians, pay attention here, I have great news for you. Prune’s menu looks a bit unfriendly to vegetarians if you look on menupages. Sure, the sides are veggie friendly but none of the main courses. But Lisa had been to Prune once before and she remembered they made her, last time, a beautiful veggie plate that she raved over. She asked the waitress to do the same and look what they gave her:

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I of the anti-veggie camp drooled over the vast array of sides and beautiful vegetables that adorned Lisa’s plate. I’m a huge fan of variety and here was a taste of everything Prune had to offer the vegetarian. Looking at the menupages menu now, here are some things I think you can identify on that plate: shaved artichoke and celery salad with parmesan, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice; cold spicy eggplant; cauliflower, capers, brown butter; potato galette. There were also radishes with butter, an unusual combination to say the least. I picked from Lisa’s plate most greedily.

For my plate, I took the waitress’s suggestion and ordered the roast suckling pig with pickled tomatoes, blackeyed pea salad, & aioli.

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I think that photo gives you a good sense of what you get at Prune. An extremely generous portion of “meat” (or featured item) and then beautiful, unusual and exciting to the eye and palate sides. Those pickled tomatoes were dotted with jalapenos so there was a big kick to them; the aioli was garlicky and creamy and went brilliantly with the pig. And as for the pig, it was prefectly moist and succulent and flavorful. For the record, my doctor’s appointment to get my cholesterol checked is Monday the 29th at 10 am. Report to follow.

For dessert (and how could we not get dessert?) we shared this heaven-on-earth delicious chocolate bread pudding with mmmmmmm sauce (I don’t remember its name):

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What a perfect dessert. Compact, flavorful, rich, decadent, easy to share. And the sauce, oh the sauce.

With the check came two Lychees another Prunish touch:

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It’s gestures like these that add up to make for a magnificent evening. I think the title of someone’s review on Menupages says it best: “Do you want chandeliers or food?” He goes on to write: “If you want food that will leave you smiling all evening, try Prune. I’ll be back!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.