I’ve been traveling back and forth between New York and Washington DC for five weeks now, eating well, cooking lots and getting inspiration at every turn. From my walks around old haunts like the Union Square Farmers’ Market and visits to classics like Murray’s Cheese to newer adventures at Union Market in DC, all topped off by a Thanksgiving feast fit for a king, I’ve concluded that perhaps a two month State-side sojourn might not be such a bad thing after all. I’ve learned that baby kale exists (Clifton Greens in London, please, please get to work on sourcing this over there!) and discovered Shrub & Co.’s fruity, tart, eccentric, drinking vinegars. While in New York, I’ve been tempted to go knock on the door at Food52 and see if they’ll let me come play with them for a day in their test kitchens and in DC have marvelled at the fact that my parents have TWO cavernous refrigerators with freezers that can accommodate all of my culinary whims. Oh, and have I mentioned they have a garbage disposal? Sigh.
Anyway, lots of eating and trying new places and the trend I’ve been most struck by is vegetables. What fantastic things chefs are doing with these once relegated to a mushy pile on the side of your plate ingredients. I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that kale is on just about every menu I’ve encountered. If it’s not a kale caesar salad, it’s crispy kale or roasted kale. At Battersby on Brooklyn’s Smith Street, their Crispy Kale Salad was the star of an incredibly impressive meal: sea urchin with clams, cucumber and lime, fregola sardo with tripe, tomatoes and Grana Padano, Scallops with spinach, pistachio and vegetable broth, duck with turnip, radish and miso. All of that, lovingly and perfectly prepared in a postage stamp sized kitchen and the Crispy Kale Salad was the most memorable. I’ve made my own version of it twice now to rave reviews from everyone including my father, who finds kale’s sudden ubiquitousness a bummer.
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, I had a hankering for a meal that would remind me of my adopted homeland. British chef April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig is a favorite of mine but it can be a bit of a scene and I have been promising myself that I will branch out. The Breslin located in the cooler than cool Ace Hotel is Bloomfield’s more adventurous take on nose-to-tail dining. Sculptures and paintings of farm animals and packed into every nook and cranny lest you forget the original form of the dish you are eating. I tried the razor clams with serrano ham and garlic aioli and the beef on toast that was the best version of an open-faced roast beef sandwich you’ll ever have, but the winter vegetable salad with percorino sardo and charred onion vinaigrette was the most exciting dish of the night. Kale, pumpkin with the skin still on (try this technique!), baby turnips, raddichio, little gems, carrot tops, crispy parsnip strips, pumpkin seeds. A huge amount of effort went into this dish and the combination delicious. And while the half a lamb’s head that was offered as a special that evening was tempting, I’m glad I stuck to the veggies. And, as I stepped through the crowds of hipsters using their computers in the hotel lobby, sipping cups of Stumptown Coffee, out onto a snowy West 29th Street, I felt just a little virtuous instead of stuffed.
Finally, with a cold rain coming down on Manhattan’s streets, what better thing to do than pull up a barstool at a new favorite of mine, Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. What a good choice it was! Winter lettuces to start and the grilled sausage with lentils. Both divine but again the lettuces stole the show. Long spears of Cos/Romaine lettuce with what I believe was a dried anchovy powder, liberally sprinkled all over. Pieces of pickled onions, whole tarragon leaves, and thin radish rounds garnished this plate of simple perfection. And, what I love, is that with all of these veggie dishes, I can easily recreate them at home. There’s no special equipment needed, no sourcing of top-quality meat or seafood must take place. A visit to your local market will likely do, and if you can’t find exactly what you need, surely a substitution will do (at Battersby they used kohlrabi in their kale salad – nary a kohlrabi to be found in the DC area but a turnip did the job nicely). So here is my take on Battersby’s Crispy Kale Salad. I’d eat it any time and with just about anything (it was with short ribs the other night – really yummy). Even if you’re not a kale fan, I urge you to give it a try.