Friday, May 26, 2017

Markt - New York City - Foodie Alert!

On a gorgeous but busy Friday afternoon at the start of Memorial Day Weekend in New York City, I took a friend's advice and dropped by Martk restaurant in Chelsea to taste, in particular, their mussels.

Markt Restaurant
676 Sixth Avenue (@ 21st Street)

Just missing the noon day rush, I sat at the bar and ordered a pinot grigio while I perused the menu of this Belgian brasserie.

In regards to mussels, the restaurant offers a heaping 2.2 lbs of these beauties in the shell, steamed with sliced onions, celery, and fresh spices and with it comes a bounty of Belgian frites. Your sauce/herb options are: Blanche - steamed in Belgian white ale, Creme et l'ail - with garlic and fresh cream, Vin blanc - steamed in white wine, Provencale - tomato, fresh basil, peppers, and onion, Coriandre - cilantro, curry and a dash of cream, or Moules Thai - coconut milk and lemon grass. Going with the very friendly bartender's advice, I chose the Coriandre.

Oh my gosh, there were enough mussels for an army but they were so plump and juicy and the broth was so "bottle this up right now and sell it" delicious, that I was tempted to order a second helping!

And the frites were golden, crispy fries from heaven. I polished off the entire cone-full. I'm definitely coming back to try their other versions of mussels. But a reminder, this is not just mussel beach...the lunch menu ranges from beef tatare to hamburgers and lasagna to macaroni and six cheeses with black truffles. Plus I need to taste their Belgian beers.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

44 & X Hell's Kitchen and the Dear Effin Hansen - New York City - Foodie Alert!

44 & X Hell's Kitchen
622 10th Ave @ 44th Street
(212) 977-1170

I'm constantly on the lookout for new and exciting restaurants in the theatre district area of the city and earlier this week, when joining my friend Jon for dinner, I'd realized that it had been years since I visited 44 & X Hell's Kitchen. I had previously enjoyed dinners there but somehow it had fallen off of my radar.

Located on the northeast corner of 44th Street and 10th Avenue in New York City, I had forgotten what a beautiful restaurant this is. With Crisp clean lines, 44 & X has an elegant cottage feel that takes you far away from the crazy, hectic energy of Manhattan. We surprisingly lucked out and landed a table without reservations. The menu, billed as seasonally inspired re-imagined American classics, offers everything from buttermilk fried chicken to Vermont cheddar macaroni and cheese to turkey and wild mushroom meat loaf, wrapped in bacon. Gourmet comfort food. For starters Jon had the Mediterranean salad . . .

Mediterranean Salad

.  .  . which was bright with a beautiful balance of herbs and uber fresh ingredients. As Jon said, "It was very refreshing." And I had the Maine lobster taco with charred tomato salsa and avocado relish with cilantro.

Maine Lobster Taco

Usually, when it comes to lobster I'm a purist and don't want it served with anything other than a side of clarified butter and and a wedge of lemon but this dish was wonderful. The lobster was definitely the star of the dish and sang out loud and clear.

For an entrée Jon had the crispy sea bass with chanterelle mushrooms, braised asparagus, and artichokes with a saffron mussel broth . . .

Crispy Sea Bass

. . . which he said was excellent. The sea bass was crispy and the addition of the saffron mussel broth was delicious. I had the grilled braised short ribs with basil mashed potatoes and a black truffle port wine reduction.

Braised Short Ribs

I could have ordered a second dish, it was so perfect. The meat was flavorful and fork tender and the basil mashed potatoes were heavenly. Speaking of heaven . . .

. . . the waiters are not only cute, but extremely professional and courteous. When he turns around you see the humor, considering we are in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York.

Well, I'm not forgetting about this restaurant anytime soon and when friends, who either live in the city or are visiting, ask for another great dining recommendation near the theatre district I'm going to sing out . .  . go to 44 & X Hell's Kitchen. Speaking of Broadway musicals, they have clever and interesting cocktails with names that are a play on titles like . . . the Dear Effin Hansen made with Effin black cherry vodka. Fun!

Bon Appetit!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Venice - Carnivale - 2017 - Part 2

Carnival in Venice runs from February 11th through February 28th. So a decision had to be made, experience the opening ceremonies and the first half, or the second half and the closing ceremonies. I chose the first half.

Across the canal is the Cantinone Storico
And arriving in Venice a few days early to settle in, it gave my travel partner, Bud, and I, a chance to explore new restaurants and museums. Jet-lagged and our bodies realizing that we were about to have dinner at 3:00am New York City time, right around the corner from our airbnb overlooking Peggy Guggenheim's garden's, we thankfully discovered this charming restaurant.

Cantinone Storico
Dorsoduro 661
+39 041 523 957

Greeted with open arms, we sat down and immediately were offered an amuse bouche of a deep fried tangy olive served on a stick. We ordered the house white wine, which was crisp and refreshing and then decided to share an order of the mixed vegetable starter . . .

. . . which was so fresh, simple and delicious. Bud ordered a special of the night, a red snapper with veggies and scallops, which he loved.

And I ordered the spaghetti with lobster. I was in heaven.

For some reason I didn't think the dish was going to be prepared like this. But I can handle a lobster in the shell, and crack it even though it's swimming in a slippery tomato sauce - hey, I am from New England. Plus they offered plenty of wet naps. The pasta was al dente so it had just enough bite and the lobster was cooked to perfection and had such a sweet, buttery quality. And to top off the meal, the restaurant offered us glasses of limoncello on the house. How nice was that? The front of the house staff were so friendly and patient with us as we struggled to keep our eyes open and decipher the menu. We had such a great experience, we went back a second time.

The weather the 8 days we were in Venice was beautiful. Warm days, cool/sometimes chilly nights.

Basilica San Marco

And there's a light in Venice that I've seen in no other part of the world. No wonder so many artists and photographers come here to capture it.

The clock tower in Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco seen from our water taxi

Under the noon day sun, Venice was glistening. To the right in the picture above you can see the Doge's Palace and it had been years since I had toured it so a visit was on the "must list."

The Golden Staircase leading up to the Doge's Palace
It's truly a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Outside you can see the Bridge of Sighs named so because prisoners would pass through the windowed enclosure, seeing daylight for the last time before their incarceration in the dungeons, and supposedly would sigh.

A couple in costume with the Bridge of Sighs in the background
Other buildings and museums that you would love to visit can be accessed through the Venezia Unica card. You'll be able to purchase entrance to museums and cultural events, skip the long lines, and use it for water taxis too. Visiting the link will explain all it has to offer. You can create what you want to do and see, in advance, and purchase it online with discounts.

Not to be missed, and this was the first time I had seen it, is the massive Museum Correr, housing the Imperial apartments of the former King of Italy, (among other collections and installations.) Built in the 19th century, this tour takes you along the entire second floor of the bell tower side of Piazza San Marco. And when we purchased tickets to this museum, the Doge's Palace was included. A bargain! And at the entrance, which is where this sign is, at the back of the piazza and up the flight of stairs, is a really sweet and quiet restaurant where you can enjoy a lunch and look out over Piazza San Marco without the fear that a pigeon or seagull will scoop down and grab your lunch. (Which they do!)

During this period of Carnival, every turn you'd take you'd run into either street performers or people dressed up in costumes.

This was a reminder that we needed to get ourselves to the Rio Di Cannaregio for the opening evening ceremony of Carnival. This year's theme was "The Sea Queen resurfaces in Venice to be reflected in the moon." It's like Cirque du Soleil on water/the canal and in gondolas. There was a 6:00pm and an 8:00pm show.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images (Carnival 2016)

Trying to make it to the 8:00pm show, below you can see we were just two small canals and bridges away from the event when everything came to a halt. We were gridlocked, with people struggling, coming and going. The police had to keep everything moving.

A dense crowd of carnival lovers trying to make their way across a small canal/bridge.
DIZZY NOTE: Not the greatest scenario for those of us with balance issues or if you have claustrophobia or fear of crowds. My concern was the weight of all the people on these ancient bridges.

Here's a photo, courtesy of my professional photographer friend Kim Hull, of the opening ceremony. Some of the sea creatures were suspended on wires above the canal and flying above us.

Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

The next day was the Masquerade Water Parade, which passed right by our apartment.

Even with all my trips to Venice there were still more museums I hadn't visited, like Ca' Rezzonico.

A stunning palace on the Grand Canal, construction was completed in 1756 for the Rezzonico family.

The grand ballroom

And within the palace was this exquisite sculpture by Antonio Corradini.

Veiled Sculpture by Antonio Corradin

How in the world did he chisel and sculpt the thin veils over her face? Simply amazing.

Caffe Centrale
I couldn't make a trip to Venice and not visit my favorite restaurant Caffe Centrale.

Caffe Centrale
+39} 041 88 76 642
via Piscina de Frezzaria no. 1659
Private entrance:
For water taxis and gondolas: Rio dei Barcaroli

Here you can see that the restaurant opens up to the canal. Arriving by gondola, how romantic is that?

Here is the same view from inside.

Housed in an ancient building, the decor is modern and stylish with a nod to their heritage. Notice the Murano glass chandelier above.

After ordering a couple of pinot grigios, Bud and I shared an appetizer of cold vacuum-sealed roasted pork, seasoned with orange, Marsala sauce and walnuts. So light and classy. A great tease for what was to come.

Bud ordered the chunks of tenderloin with carrot cream, vegetables and potato mousse.

And I chose their rib-eye with sauteed seasonal vegetables. I should have taken a snap of our plates after we were done. It looked like we licked our plates clean, it was so enjoyable. Caffe Centrale is hip, beautiful, casually elegant, and the food is fantastic.
What a great way to end 8 fabulous days in Venice during Carnival. If you stay for the latter half, you'll witness the Flight of the Angel where a beautiful woman in full costume flies downs to Piazza San Marco from the top of the bell tower and there are many costume competitions which take place in the piazza. But just strolling through the alley ways, you'll bump into plenty of people dressed for the occasion.

It's always hard for me to leave Venice but I'll be back again, soon.

Arrivederci Venezia!