Max

Fork and Spoon were recently invited to our first press dinner at Max. We were very nervous at this prospect. What if we hated it? Would people feel our review was credible if we were invited to review the restaurant and weren’t paying for our meal? We decided to continue our review process regardless of the situation. If we loved it we would say so, and if we hated it or disliked certain things, we would say that as well – as we always have.

Max is FABULOUS. Max’s owner, Luigi, is charming and endearing and so passionate about his restaurants, his vision, the food he serves, and where that food comes from.

We thought that, perhaps, the name Max came from one of his children, maybe his father, but no, Max is an Italian magazine. It’s about the hippest trends and the current cool people. After eating here, we can understand the name choice!

Max is a small Italian restaurant in the East Village. Charming and warm, you instantly feel at home when you walk through the doors. There is a lovely dining room in the front, a small bar in the back, with a few more tables, an enclosed patio that seats about 18 more and then a garden dining space (seating 50) that literally transports you to a small palazzo in Italy.

What isn’t made in house is made by small artisans throughout the City and imported from and made for Luigi in Italy. The bread comes from Il Forno in the Bronx. The pasta is made for them in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The extra virgin olive oil, mozzarella, and tomatoes are made for Max and flown into the States. Doesn’t get much more authentic than that. You couple all of these wonderfully fresh ingredients with Luigi’s passion and you understand how this restaurant has been around for so long.

Our adventure began with Salsetta and bread for dipping. The Salsetta is a dipping sauce that is presented to diners while they’re looking through the menu. A little taste of what treats are awaiting you. The Salsetta – loosely translated to a salsa or dip – is made from roasted tomatoes, lemon and orange peels, olives, extra virgin olive oil. Just incredible. So fresh. If the bowl had been a tiny bit bigger, we may have swam in it! If this is what the first step was like the rest of the adventure was going to be great!

Just so you know in advance, this was not a meal for the faint of heart! Excluding the Salsetta, the menu said we would sample 13 different dishes (in abundance) – but there were more – and at least 5 wines. By the way, the wine list is absolutely wonderful.

Our next taste was Crostino Toscano. Chicken liver pate on sliced, toasted bread. The pate was warm and creamy, rich and flavorful. There was a slight undertone of anchovy which cut the richness of the pate with a bit of saltiness.

Next on this adventure, Luigi brought Melanzane a Funghetto to the table. By the way we were mesmerized by Luigi and his descriptions of his dishes – but we digress just a bit – back to the melanzane. This dish is typically a southern Italian dish. The melanzane (eggplant) is cooked in the style of funghetto (mushrooms). First the eggplant is pan fried and then roasted low and slow with tomatoes and garlic and parsley and basil – some folks add capers and olives to the mix. As it roasts the eggplant becomes meaty and rich, taking on almost the texture of mushrooms (see? si!).  Wonderfully earthy dish.

Our next sampling was fabulous, smooth and creamy Mozzarella di Bufala. This mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalo. THe water buffalo milk gives the mozzarella a slightly different flavor – a slight sour flavor. Luigi’s mozzarella di bufala is imported for him from Cilento, Italy, just south of Salerno (just south of Altavilla Silentina, as well, where part of Fork’s Cutlery were forged). Again, attention to detail and ingredients. We asked for more basil so each of us could have a little basil leaf with our mozzarella. This was one of those situations where Fork wished there was a hidden ziplock nearby to scoop up the mozzarella for a treat later. Note to self, stick ziplocks in your pockets!

Next came an Inslata Misto – mixed salad. A little rest before the next push forward. Fresh greens with a light dressing. Perfect at this point!

The ravioli changes everyday. With a small kitchen – and the space needed to make the amount of pasta needed daily – it would be impossible for them to make all the pasta there. The pasta for the ravioli is also made for Luigi in Brooklyn, but filled at Max. This ravioli – let me just say, my tines are swooning just thinking about this dish again – was heavenly. Ravioli di Porcini in Crema Tartufata. Mama Mia! Though the menu said ravioli this was shaped more like an agnolotti – half moon shaped. The pasta was filled with porcini mushrooms. You would think that would be enough. Nope not enough. The pasta was blanketed in a cream and truffle sauce.  Tiny pieces of truffle and cream. The aroma alone was heady. The flavor nearly beyond words. Bravo!

Just a note: One of the other diners didn’t like mushrooms, so ravioli with lobster was brought to the table as well.

Next up? Lasagna Fatta en Casa. House made lasagna. The pasta was perfectly cooked – slightly al dente. The beef inside added a lot of flavor to the lasagna, but was not overwhelming. The bechamel sauce rich and creamy, perfectly blending with the cheeses inside.  There’s a little hint of a spice throughout the lasagna – a spice we promised not to reveal – but it gives the dish a certain warmth that is unmistakable.

Loosen your belts. There’s still more!

Our next pasta dish was Fettuccine al Sugo Toscano.  Yummmmmmy. Al dente fettuccine – again, made for Max in Brooklyn. With a wonderful tomato based meat sauce. A little bit of cream. A lotta bit of flavor.

What I loved about each and every one of these dishes is the earthiness about them. I know there are some folk out there that will see this next statement the wrong way, but there is a wonderful peasant quality to them. These aren’t fancy schmancy dishes, but dishes that you would eat at your grandmother’s table or when visiting friends. I remember  driving through the country side in southern Italy with some of my Cutlery drawer and stopping at a small restaurant. There really was no menu to speak of, and not a lot of choices, but what was served was over the moon good. That is the feeling I instantly felt from Luigi and Max.

Before we get to the last dish in the pasta round, all of the canned tomatoes used in the sauces are imported from the Tuscany region of Italy. Luigi brought a gigunda (a little bigger than gigantic) can to the table and opened it for us to see. These were the freshest and brightest canned tomatoes I have ever tasted. The scent from the can and the brightness of the tomatoes was of a quality that you would never expect from a can of tomatoes. Again, a place where a hidden ziplock bag would have come in handy – though tomatoes would have been far more difficult to sneak into a ziplock and slip into a pocket!

Ok, the last of our pasta endeavor was Spaghetti Chitarra al Ragu d’Agnello. Okay, let’s start with the pasta. The pasta is a like spaghetti, but instead of being round, it’s square. The pasta is cut on a chitarra, which means guitar in Italian. The dough is pushed through the strings, making it square. Now the ragu. Again, fabulous tomato sauce base, this time with a ragu of ground lamb. You could smell and taste from the ragu that this had been cooked for a long time, allowing all the flavors to meld into a deep, rich, hearty ragu.

And again, here, one of the diners was vegetarian, so Luigi brought hergnocchi. And, of course, you can’ bring gnocchi to one person and not bring it to everyone, so we all sampled the gnocchi. Unlike the pasta, the gnocchi is made in-house. Light and fluffy, completely delicious!

Fork has never been a fan of Baccala.  I don’t quite get, catching a beautiful fish, drying it out in salt, and then putting it into some sort of liquid to reconstitute it. And besides, to Joe Stiff, a Baccala was always someone who was dopey! But this Filetto di Baccala al Forno was amazing. Beautifully pan seared baccala (cod fish) finished with a little truffle oil, served alongside the fluffiest, most delicious mashed potatoes this piece of cutlery has ever tried! Luigi, you have won me over on baccala, but only if I have it at Max!

 Our last main course dish was O’Polpettone “E Mamma”. Polpettone is simply a rolled meatloaf. Inside this meatloaf was an egg, ham, mozzarella and parmigiano. For this dish, Luigi served us a regular portion that diners are served when they come to the restaurant for dinner. The polpettone is huge – like a nerf football in size. When you cut into the polpettone, the mozzarella just oozes out. The entire polpettonei s drenched in a deep rich marinara sauce. Now, my notes here say, that the regular mozzarella is made in-house. I may have been a bit tipsy from wine and food at this point, so forgive me if this is not right! Served alongside the polpettone – and almost the star of this dish was a gratin. A simple potato gratin, about 4 ” thick, studded throughout with pieces of pancetta. Oh, ziplock bag, why have you forsaken me!? 

So we have managed to get through all the antipasti, primi and secondi. Now, we’re off to the dolci.

First up, Tiramisu. Max serves their tiramisu in a sundae-type glass. This is a nice change from the usual squares of tiramisu that are usually plopped in front of you. The savoiardi still had texture and were not a mass of mush. The filling was light and airy. The alcohol was not over the top.

We also sampled their Panna Cotta. This was a delicious and decadent dense version of this dessert. It was wonderful. The panna cotta sat in a pool of golden caramel-ish goodness. It was more of a cross between a creme caramel, a flan and a panna cotta. The fresh slices of strawberry just drove it over the edge.

Our last dessert was Creme Brulee. Now, Luigi would like us to believe that this is an Italian dessert. I don’t think that went over to well with Spoon. But this was very good creme brulee. Perfect crack and crunch from the burnt sugar topping, revealing a creamy and rich custard beneath the shatter.

Sigh. We’re full just writing this! Luigi served the most wonderful Moscato d’Asti this Fork has ever had with dessert. La Caudrina. If you love Moscato d’Asti – as I do – buy this one!

Just to drive home our opening remarks – we absolutely loved Max, we love Luigi, we think you should go to this restaurant, over and over again, we know we will! Our opinions have absolutely nothing to do with our being invited to try this wonderful restaurant.

Max also has a location in Tribeca at 181 Duane Street. Try one of them, try them both, but please try them!

Max ~ 51 Avenue B ~ New York, New York ~ 212.539.0111
Max on Urbanspoon

Becco ~ Birthday Celebration 5

Come on, admit it, you’re tired of hearing about my birthday. I am so grateful to my friends and family for making this birthday the most spectacular birthday I have ever had. As part of the celebration that is never ending, Spoon and Olive Fork bought tickets for the 3 of us to see a matinée of the Adams Family. The question then became, ‘Where to have lunch, where to have lunch?’ When the suggestion came out to try Becco, there were cheers, ooohs and aaaahs all around!

Becco has a wonderful prix fixe menu at both lunch and dinner aptly named the Sinfonia di Pasta. A choice of an appetizer, either Insalata Cesare or Antipasto Misto; bottomless pastas, there are 3 on the menu each day; and a fabulous dessert. The pasta is served table side and waiters rove the dining room with large pans full of pasta. You can eat as much or as little as you would like. The cost is $17.95 during lunch and $22.95 during dinner. A fantastic deal. A deal we had fully planned on trying.  Those of you who read our blog regularly, wave your hands if you think we took advantage of this great deal. I really can’t see any hands waving from here, so you all would be right. No such luck! But let me back up a bit first.

Olive Fork arrived first. Olive Fork. actually, was quite early. Would you believe, that during a ridiculously crowded lunch service (matinée day, right smack in the middle of the theatre district), they sat Olive Fork at our table to wait. We were quite pleased and impressed. Lesser restaurants are not that thoughtful, though they really should be. Really, isn’t it that type of service that has diners returning again and again?

Another surprise was the iced tea. Fresh, cold, large glasses and bottomless. Oh, all you restaurants that charge for iced tea by the glass, there’s a reason places like Becco are so successful, they understand treating their clientele well, and 22 cents worth of iced tea is certainly not a strain on anyone’s budget!

Our last surprise was our table. We had a teeny, tiny table, stuffed in between 2 large round tables that were chock full of people. Now, while we are not serving sized cutlery, we certainly are not children’s sized cutlery. This table was so ridiculous. The waiters were literally climbing over us to serve the two tables on either side.  This had disaster written all over it. A request to the wonderful host staff was all it took for us to be moved to another table. It wasn’t much bigger, but it was not as crowded.

Our waitress, Nicole, was lovely. Harried, yes, but lovely.

We didn’t make it through the menu to try the Sinfonia di Pasta. There were far too many glorious dishes on the menu to try. So we decided to split a few appetizers and a main course – which of course turned into 2 main courses! Our first choice for appetizer was a beautiful arugula salad with pears, gorgonzola and walnuts. Lightly dressed. There was a generous amount of pears and blue cheese and walnuts to go with our abundance of arugula. We loved the spiciness from the arugula with the sweet pears and savory blue cheese. Absolutely fantastic!

We had to try the Meatballs. Truly, if an Italian restaurant can’t master good meatballs, you know everything else is going to be terrible! These meatballs were great. They were gigantic -about spalding ball sized. The meatballs were fluffy and light, but still very rich in flavor. They seemed to be meatballs that were cooked in the sauce. It keeps them very tender being cooked that way. The sauce that the meatballs were swimming in was fresh and flavorful. And, of course, we couldn’t help but have a snowy cap of cheese grated over our meatballs!

The one thing we ordered that we had been drooling over on the menu online was the Polenta with Speck.  This is one of the small places we had a glitch. We ordered the polenta with the speck, but what arrived was just plain old polenta with nothing on top! Nicole whisked away the offensive polenta and brought the right dish. So many great things, one small dish, can it be possible? Look at that photo, it was possible. The creamiest polenta you can imagine topped with melted cheese just starting to brown and just when you think it can’t get better – crispy, crunchy speck! If there weren’t so much more to come, we could have just ordered this dish over and over and over and over!

As we were ordering we were craning our necks to watch all the dishes passing by to see if there was something we were missing. One of the things we saw walk past us was the lasagna. This was Lasagna alla Bolognese. This was lasagna that was fragrant and delicious and the cheesy just brown and gooey on top. This was also a gigantic serving of lasagna! Layers of pasta, bolognese sauce, bechamel and spinach. There was a wonderfully warm and earthy touch of cinnamon throughout the lasagna. The lasagna sat nestled between a pool of bechamel sauce on one side and marinara on the other. Definitely worth the food envy we suffered before ordering it!

The other dish that strolled past our table that we simply couldn’t resist was the Osso Bucco alla Becco. This is Becco’s signature dish of a slow braised veal shank. The shank is braised with tomatoes, carrots, celery until the meat is falling off the bone tender. Served on the side of the osso bucco was farrotto tossed with butternut squash. The farrotto was amazing. Farrotto is simply farro cooking the way risotto is cooked – get it? farro risotto, farrotto. Clever. Took me a while to get that too. The farrotto was very really very good. That could have been a dish all by itself.

We had so much osso bucco and lasagna left over, we absolutely had to take it with us.

For dessert – because you all know the Fork, Knife and Spoon motto, there’s always room for dessert – we ordered the special Panna Cotta of the day. Here was our second glitch. What arrived was plain old panna cotta wiggling on a plate. We all sadly looked at it. Nicole must have seen the bewildered look on our faces and looked at the dessert, picked up the plate and came back with the right dessert. Chocolate and vanilla panna cotta. Oh, yum! A layer of rich, chocolatey balanced by the more mellow vanilla panna cotta on top. The panna cotta was drizzled with chocolate. On the side was a scoop of raspberry sorbet. Tangy and sweet and perfect with the creaminess of the panna cotta. The perfect way to end a perfect meal.

One of the nice things about the Becco menu are the page numbers that go along with the dishes! You can find the recipes for most of the dishes on the menu in Lidia’s books so you can recreate your favorites at home.

This is a great place to go before a matinee or evening performance on Broadway. Heck, this is a great place to go any time at all!

The restaurant was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Yes, I said Christmas! Fork was very pleased to see Becco, an Italian restaurant, not being afraid to celebrate a holiday. I don’t think it’s you or I that has a problem with each person being able to celebrate their own holiday, or my being able to enjoy and appreciate your holiday as well as my own. I think it comes from all of these people who are hell bent on being ‘politically correct’. The problem with being so politically correct is that that is usually far more insulting than “Merry Christmas” or ‘Happy Chanukah’. I am taking back my holiday!  Buon Natale! Happy Chanukah! Let us all be safe and prosperous and happy and healthy and kind to each other in the New Year. Here’s to good friends, happy families, fantastic food and merriment!

Becco ~ 355 West 46th Street ~ New York, NY ~ 212.397.7597
Becco on Urbanspoon

Virgil’s BBQ ~ Birthday Celebration 4

Are you tired of my birthday yet? By this time, Fork needed sleep and an Alka Seltzer! But forge on we must!

As a birthday treat, Knife treated Fork to dinner and the theatre. We were both working, wanted a place for a quick bite and that was relatively close to the theatre. At the outset, I must tell you that Knife is a sucker for BBQ – which, I must say is surprising as Knife is allergic to tomatoes!

So when asked the question “Do you mind BBQ?” the answer was heck no, I don’t mind BBQ.

Virgil’s is one of those annoying places that does not let part of a reservation sit. Everyone must be present and accounted for before they let you sit. It isn’t as if there is anyplace for you to hang out and wait either. Your choice is the bar or the bathroom. 

The iced tea is bottomless, but the service was so slow we could not get a quick refill.

While Knife is a BBQ hound, Fork would go to the ends of the earth for Hush Puppies, so it was natural that our quick bite started with Hush Puppies with maple syrup butter. These were really strangely shaped! Fork is sued to little round spheres of hush puppy delight, but these seemed to be piped and cut into the oil. Nice and crisp and golden on the outside. The hush puppies themselves were full of flavor, lots of herbs flecked throughout, more dense than your usual hush puppy, but still addictively good.

Fork ordered the Kansas Fried Chicken. HUGE portion – well half of a very large chicken portion. You can 2 from the sides and you get a corn (SAHARA) bread muffin. Fork chose the Memphis Barbeque Beans and Cole Slaw.  The chicken was better than I had expected. Crispy, crunchy, slightly salty, flavorful outside, and still very juicy and tender inside.  The beans were smokey and tangy. I expected them to be mushy, but they weren’t. Pleasantly surprised at the flavor. The coleslaw was just generic. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. Be VERY careful about the BBQ sauces on the table. After I tried one and burned my mouth to pieces, our dopey waitress came over and said ‘oh, no one came to explain the sauces to you?’ Hmmm, no, you didn’t. I suppose it isn’t HER job to explain anything, just to take the order and collect the tip. The bottles weren’t even labeled. So sauce user beware!

I did ask to substitute a biscuit for the corn bread. Nope. No can do. I can’t imagine it makes one bit of difference whether you have their yucky corn bread or biscuit, but nope, no can do. So I ordered a biscuit anyway. Seriously, what is BBQ without a biscuit. The biscuit was huge and so delicious. very crisp outer shell, and very tender and moist inside. The biscuit is served with more maple syrup butter. So much better than their dried out, sticky corn muffin.

Knife ordered the Memphis Pork Ribs. First, before we talk about the ribs, let’s talk about Virgil’s only serving Memphis style ribs (dry rub only, no sauce) and only pork ribs (not even a baby back to be found). Seems a little odd, doesn’t it? Glad you think so too! That being said, the ribs are terrific. Moist, tender, smokey, spicy, packed with flavor.  The meat falls off the bone. You can try the BBQ sauces on the table if you like your ribs saucy – but try very little first or you will be unable to speak for hours! Knife ordered the pickled beets and coleslaw to go with. The beets were very good. They said they were house cured. Fork isn’t sure she’d bet the farm on that one!

Now for the REALLY annoying part. Our service was SO slow we didn’t have time for dessert. We barely had time to get to the theatre! If you are going pre-theatre, leave yourself PLENTY of time!

Virgil’s Real BBQ ~ 152 West 44th Street ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.921.9494
Virgil's Real Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Bacaro ~ Birthday Celebration 3

Tucked away – and seriously, we mean tucked away – on Division Street just off Canal Street is the absolutely incredible Bacaro.  So wonderful, that Fork has been seriously torn about letting this gem out of the bag! Everyone should eat there, but we want to keep it to ourselves as well! But, we really want this place to do well, so level heads prevailed – GO THERE! GO THERE! GO THERE!

Division Street is just east of Allen Street. It is across Canal Street from Ludlow Street. The restaurant is two or three entrances from the corner of Canal and Division. If you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t find it. Again, find it you should (you need your best Yoda voice here)!

Bacaro is styled after a Venetian ‘bacaro’, which is a working man’s type pub. In a typical Venetian bacaro, cichetti (think snacks) are served along with ombra (think small glass of wine). By the way, the staff is fabulous! Everyone is special, every accommodation is made, everyone is family.

Bacaro, once an aquarium store, is now a two-level wine bar and osteria. You might think you walked into the wrong place, but this is the place! The upstairs has a bar and a few tables. You can eat upstairs or at the bar, but the treasure is really downstairs.  The entire place is done with exposed brick, salvaged barn wood, and once downstairs there are a myriad romantic nooks and crannies. Our drawer of Cutlery ate in the brick-vaulted private dining room which is located just below the sidewalk. Really rustic table with benches, very private, but not dark or feeling out of the way. This private ares is secluded enough for a large party to be boisterous (not that this band of Cutlery EVER is!) but still able to catch peeks at the comings and goings of the rest of the room.

And the food – oh, the food is AMAZING! I sometimes feel as though I cheat you all with mere words and photos. There are restaurants and meals that are so superb that you really must try them for yourselves – this is one such place.

There was so much food and so many pieces of Cutlery, I think we will just run through the dishes and not worry so much about who had what dish.

My only half-hearted complaint about Bacaro is that the names of dishes don’t necessarily match up with what most people perceive of the dish. Take for example the Risi e Bisi. In most people’s minds risi e bisi is an Italian rice and peas dish that is porridge-like in consistency. At Bacaro, Risi e Bisi is rice and peas, but shaped into balls and deep fried.  THey’re about the size of a ping pong ball with the outer shell golden brown and crisp, but the inside is molten and tender and full of flavor.  The downside? There are only 4 little rice balls on the plate – and that mean old Cake Fork swiped one right off the Birthday Fork’s plate.

The big Fork had the Baccala Mantacato. Baccala is salted cod. Here is Fork’s rumination on baccala. First you catch a perfectly good cod. Then you dry it by either curing it in salt or hanging to dry. And then – and this is where my confusion set in – you cook it in a liquid to reconstitute it.  Why not just use the cod as is? But that is neither here nor there for our purposes. The baccala was creamed, which gave it an amazing flavor, not really flaky, not dry at all. The baccala was served over creamy polenta, rich with cream and butter and garlic and Parmigiano.  Yes, it’s creamy over creamy. But this is warm, creamy, homey, delicious. I would never have ordered this dish, but now tried, will order again and again.

Cake Fork ordered the Fritto Misto. Mixed vegetables, battered and fried. What can be bad about anything dipped in batter and fried?! This was a very generous sampling of vegetables.  There were green beans and peppers and onions and zucchini and carrots. All crisp tender inside and golden batter crispy outside.  Served along side these beauties was a garlic aioli. A squeeze of lemon, a dash of salt and these were just wonderful.

Knork – who is a gigantic soup fan – ordered the Pasta e Fagioli. By the way, aren’t the white dishes just beautiful? Everything was served on these sculpted white dishes. The soup was hardy and rich. Thick with beans. Instead of a short type of pasta like tubetini, Bacaro uses a wide flat noodle. Perfectly seasoned, nice infusion of saffron in the broth. 

There were a couple of plates Lasagna Treviso on the table. Dense and rich and so flavorful. Great bechamel sauce and tangy Treviso radicchio, rich smoky flavor from the smoked mozzarella. Gooey and crusty around the edges, like anything bubbling with cheese should be and a nice sized portion made this dish stellar.

And there was Pasta con le Vongole. One of this Fork’s favorite pasta dishes and not one that I would normally order in a restaurant. This recipe completely has changed that. Fresh, sweet clams, halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, onions, fresh chopped parsley and perfectly cooked al dente pasta all swimming in a delicious, clear broth.  There were a surprising number of clams in this dish. All of them in their shells. I know you aren’t supposed to eat shellfish in any month with an R in it, but this pasta dish is a major exception to the rule.

We had an order of  Bigoli en Salsa. Bigoli is an extruded pasta, which is a long thick tube. It is usually – as this was – a whole wheat pasta. There were lots of onions in this dish. And this is where I have to stop. The salsa is made from onions and – mostly – anchovies. I can’t do anchovies. I would love to say I am one of those artists that would suffer for their craft – and I would eat mountains of ice cream, bricks of butter, loaves and loaves of bread. I would try any preparation of nearly any food. But anchovies? Forks and spoons, you are on your own with this one! Although, I was told, that if you are an anchovy fan that this dish is amazing.

We also had Bigoli d’Anatra. Again, whole wheat pasta, but this time in a deep and rich duck ragu.  You could taste the slow cooking and love that went into this dish. Laden with duck, tomatoes, garlic and onions, this dish had great flavor to it. This was one of those dishes – like the pasta with clams – that needed nothing more than a lot of crusty bread and you were all set. 

Fork ordered Stinco di Maiale. Might have been the name. Seriously, how could anyone resist a dish with the word Stinco in it? Maiale is pork, stinco is the shank. This was a HUGE pork shank that had been roasted low and slow. The meat was surprisingly tender. Considering the muscles in that part of the animal that are worked and used every day the shank can be really tough if not cooked properly. This was obviously slow roasted with carrots and onions, some tomatoes for good measure. Served on top of creamy polenta and surrounded by the sauce it cooked in, this was fantastic.

For dessert – and you know there always has to be dessert – we had Panna Cotta. Very light, vanilla panna cotta, slightly drier than what you usually get and really much nicer consistency this way. I loved the speckles of vanilla bean through out the panna cotta. And the sauce? Oh, the sauce was amazing! Stewed cherries. Sweet and tangy at the same time. So worth the calories – though birthday desserts have no calories, n’cest-ce pas?

The wine list is great, the sommelier knowledgable. The cocktails are great.

If you can find this place, you will be very happy you did!  

Bacaro ~ 136 Division Street ~ New York, NY ~ 212.941.5060
Bacaro on Urbanspoon

Barbuto ~ Birthday Celebration 2

Celebration Number Two – Spoon, Knork, Spork, Olive Fork, Olive Spoon, and Cake Fork were gathered with Fork for Birthday Celebration 2 at Barbuto. Barbuto is owned by the colorful and talented chef, Jonathan Waxman, author of A Great American Cook and the soon to be published Italian My Way.

Again, pardon the pictures. Far too much celebrating to have been paying attention! They looked great at the time! Perhaps it was the Cosmopolitans!

Barbuto is located in at the south end of the meatpacking district in a converted warehouse and garage. The space is definitely what you would call industrial chic.  In the warmer months the garage doors are rolled up for outside dining and better people watching.

It’s loud and vivacious. It’s funky and chic. It’s welcoming and fun. There is a private dining room and a chef’s table in the kitchen for parties of 8 or more. Seems like a lot of fun, maybe next time!

There were so many people and so many choices! The menu is local and changed almost daily depending on what is fresh and available.

For starters both Fork and Spoon ordered the Polenta with Wild Mushrooms. We were going to share but then we started eying each other in that mischievous I don’t want to share way and ended up ordering 2 portions. And what a good decision that was! The polenta was soft and creamy, the mushrooms were just delectable. They had earthiness and a meatiness and a certain wonderful tang. This was the perfect beginning to a fabulous meal.

Knork had soup. Knork doesn’t share. But Spoon ignores this irksome habit and just eats right off Knork’s plate with a smile. Knork wasn’t sitting close enough to me to see what kind of soup was had, his tines are little bent and he can’t remember much! We know it was a vegetable soup. We know he was quiet for quite some time so he must have enjoyed it immensely!

Spork on the other hand loves to share. Spork loves to share because Spork wants everyone to share in return! Spork shares so much one of the crostini were missing before I could take a photo. Spork ordered the crostini  of the day, which on this day was with pureed butternut squash. A sprinkling of grated cheese and a drizzle of balsamic made this the perfect few bites to start off.

Olive Fork and Olive Spoon shared an appetizer of beets, black forbidden rice, frisee and grated dry goat cheese. This was really yummy. The forbidden rice had a nice texture, slighty crispy, slightly chewy. The beets were tiny and nicely roasted. The dressing was light and unobtrusive. Really refreshing and delicious.

If you want bread, you have to ask for it. A little strange. Then again, the iced tea, while very good, was not bottomless. Fork and Spoon will never understand how $1 (maybe) of iced tea can cost a diner $12.00!

Now, the main course is so much easier. Fork, Spoon and Olive Fork had the infamous Pollo al Forno – roasted JW chicken with salsa verde. Yes, we’ve all had roasted chicken before, but I guarantee you have never had roasted chicken like this! Crispy, salty skin, moist tender 1/2 chicken that you are more than happy to take home what you cannot finish. THe salsa verde was a nice compliment to the chicken. The chicken is roasted in one of the brick ovens to absolute perfection. Again, we could have shared, but friendships would have ended over the sharing! This chicken alone is reason enough to eat at Barbuto!

Spork had Lumachine – a shape almost like a shell, almost like an elbow, but not quite. The Lumachine was served with a fantastic sauce of roasted cauliflower and cream. Rich, creamy and delicate all at the same time.

Guess what Knork ordered? Steak. How’s that for a surprise. We go to a place with a signature dish and Knork will have anything but that dish.  The hanger steak was beautiful. Perfectly cooked. Perfectly seasoned. Nice sized steak. The steak was served with grilled radicchio. Imagine the bitterness of radicchio with a smokey char. Delish!

Olive Spoon ordered the Lamb Loin. The lamb was served over a rutabega puree. It wasn’t earth shattering, but it was good. Quite frankly, everything was over the moon good!

Potatoes. We need to seriously discuss the potatoes. The name should be changed to Crack Potatoes. Totally amazing. So amazing in fact, that while eating them and fighting over the plate, we ordered more. Fortunately for me, Spoon is generous soul and let me have what was left on the first plate – while ordering the second, mind you – because it was my birthday. The Patate are first boiled, then smashed a bit and then deep fried. Oh, no, that isn’t all, they are sprinkled with salt and pepper and grated pecorino cheese and rosemary. They are totally amazing.

We also had a side of wilted greens with garlic and chilis and roasted brussel sprouts with hazelnuts and colatura. Colatura, or garum colatura, is an ancient Italian condiment – for lack of a better word. It’s made from fermenting fatty fish like anchovies or sardines. The fish is layered in with herbs and salt and left to ferment. The end result is a golden liquid used to give an oh so subtle je ne sais quoi to the brussel sprouts. Fork is not a fan of the brussel sprout, but these were pretty good.  The wilted greens were just sautéed quickly so they were still bright and green and still had a texture to them, lotsa garlic and a nice hint of chilis.

(apparently, Cake Fork is under the impression that I have to taste EVERYTHING in order to write about it. Does Cake Fork not understand WHY I eat with other people!)

The Bomba. Now doesn’t that look like the perfect cake for a birthday Fork to enjoy! And, again, thank you dear Cutlery for not singing! Dense, fabulous chocolate cake sandwiched a wonderful cherry semifreddo. Pistachios, cherries, whipped cream and a candle. I could gush and gush and gush about this dessert, but words simply cannot describe this! I was seriously hard pressed to share this, but Spork gave me that puppy look and there went a spoonful! We won’t even discuss the quick spooned Spoon!

Spoon had the Apple Crostata. Spoon will have an apple anything! Wonderful flakey crust coupled with tender caramel-y apples. Always being one to gild the lily, Spoon asked to swap out the vanilla ice cream for maple ice cream. Really good dessert. Really good ice cream.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding. This was our least favorite dessert. Though I am not a big pumpkin fan, Olive Fork is a big pumpkin fan. The comment from the Olive Fork was that it was too light in flavor and too dry. Personally, this Fork thinks pumpkin is for the birds! 

Both Knork and Spork had Affogato. They too opted to switch out the vanilla ice cream for maple. Affogato quite literally means drowned. A scoop of ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over the top. Heaven in a cup!

I, for one, Chef Waxman, am happy that you put down the trombone and picked up a chef’s knife!

Thanks you Spoon and Knork and Spork and Olive Spoon and Olive Fork and Cake Fork for sharing my birthday with me! It was the perfect celebration!

Barbuto ~ 775 Washington Street ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.924.9700
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