Nougatine @ JeanGeorges

For Fork and Spoon, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant is love at first bite. The restaurants are beautiful, warm, inviting, staffed with people who are pleased to be there. Everything is perfect. There isn’t really one thing you can put a tine on.

Nougatine is just another piece of our heart that belongs to Jean-Georges.

It is amazing that those dining in Jean-Georges walk so close Nougatine and most never think to stop and dine there. Nougatine is the slightly more casual, slightly less expensive, but absolutely just as enticing as big brother Jean-Goerges. Uncluttered, ultra-modern, bright, light woods,stark even, and yet it is warm and comfortable, beckoning and welcoming. The acoustics are wonderful. 

Nothing is quick. Nothing is rushed. The staff smiles, is friendly, knowledgable and answer any questions you may have.

Fork and Spoon met here for dinner before seeing a screening of Toast. If you have not read Nigel Slater’s book Toast, please do. If you can see the film, please do. But, back to Nougatine.

While we were looking through the menu, we ordered iced tea. The tea is fresh, cold, nice sized glasses, and they give you one refill. We didn’t ask for a third to just see what would happen. But while refilling the tea, they remove your glass from the table, place it on a tray, pour and out the glass back. Same with the water, which is constantly refilled.

We ordered. Three appetizers and one main dish. We wanted to experience as many dishes as possible.

While we were waiting for our fist appetizer, our waiter appeared with an Amuse Bouche. A shot glass with a warm carrot and ginger soup, accompanied by a perfect rectangle of rye toast with a tiny dollop of mustard butter, a wedge of radish, and chive. Perfectly assembled. Beautiful to look at. Fork is not a soup fan, but this was warm and creamy, slightly sweet from the carrot and a wonderful smack of ginger was stunning. The perfect amount to win you over. The rye toast was crisp, a wonderful tang coming from the mustard butter with a spicy crunch from the radish. Oh, this was so a sign of what was yet to come.

One of our starters was Asparagus Vinaigrette with Sautéed Mushrooms. Crisp, slim, ultra-fresh asparagus all lined up. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, sitting in a pool of a light vinaigrette. On top of these beauties were sautéed mushrooms. Not sautéed so much that they lost their shape or taste. A variety of different mushrooms. So many tastes in one bite.

Now this second starter could not be passed by. Foie Gras Brulee with Strawberry. The top was really and truly brulee’d (is that even a word?). It was almost as much fun to look at as it was to eat. I love that tapping and cracking sound from a brulee. Soft and rich foie gras wrapped around a strawberry – yes, a fresh strawberry. Fork and Spoon had there doubts about the strawberry with the foie gras, but the combination was delectable.

Our third, and last starter was a Field Mache Salad. You wouldn’t think we could or would get so excited over a salad, but look at it. It’s lovely!  Tender field greens, crispy lardons of bacon, a light dressing, sunnyside up egg and snippets of chives. The crisp bacon gives a little extra texture and a smokiness against the peppery greens. And the egg, oh, the egg, once you cut into the yolk and it swims through the salad and mixes with the dressing, you suddenly have a wonderful richness that would not have been there otherwise. Perfect.

For our main course, Spoon and I decided we would share the Filet.  The filet was served over grilled scallions and mashed potatoes. On top of the filet were crispy, fried onions. I am sure some of you are thinking, a filet, so what. I can tell you so what – the filet was glazed with mirin, soy and sesame oil. When I tell you the flavor combination on this tender steak was over the moon good, I ain’t kidding. The flavors of the glaze with the grilled scallions was great. The little pool of the glaze under and around the garlic-y mashed potatoes made them even better. These were silky, smooth mashed potatoes. Almost more of a puree than a mash. This filet was inhaled at a record pace. We had to resist the urge to pick up the plate and lick it! 

We ordered 2 desserts. You know we had to.

First up was a Hazelnut Dacquoise. On top of the dacquoise was a deep, decadent chocolate mousse. So far so good. the mousse was actually in a cone shape. The inside if the cone was filled with a licorice ice, which was startling, overpowering and terrible. It was so in contrast to the delicate, sensual flavors on the plate that it was almost like skipping down the street and running face first into a wall. We scooped that stuff out quickly and put it on a side plate. There was a lovely berry compote to go along with this. Surprisingly light and delicate, this dessert really aims to please – without the licorice ice, of course!

Our second dessert was a lovely little Rhubarb Tart. Sweet and tart rhubarb sitting inside a crisp, flaky pastry. Perfect. Sitting atop the tart was a small creme brulee. The creaminess was perfect with the rhubarb. Strewn around the tart were tapioca pearls, slivers of strawberry and palm seeds. Beautiful for both the eyes and the palate.

One of the wonderful thing about Jean-Georges restaurants is their pleasant fulfillment of all your senses. Nougatine did not disappoint!

Nougatine ~ 1 Central Park West ~ NYC, NY
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Laboratorio Lambiase

We were exhausted. We were excited.

It was the end of our first day in Rome! We had seen the Trevi Fountain, had a little lunch, taken a ridiculously long nap, had a wonderful dinner and now were wide awake and in need of an adventure!

The flat we were staying in was a block from the Church of Maria della Vittoria. We had done a lot of reading trying to gather up as much foodie intel as possible.

In reading, we came across Laboratorio Lambiase. There were raves about this place.  Cars double parked up and down the street, the crowds until the early morning hours, the fantastic smells and tastes. How were a Fork and Spoon to resist?

 

The pastry was supposed to be amazing – particularly a calorie laden pastry called Sorchetta Doppio Schizzo. The name of this pastry alone made this place a necessity.

So we wandered. Took pictures at the Piazza Repubblica, wandered down Via Cernaia, and were beginning to think we had gotten lost, when our noses picked up the most heavenly scents.

This is one of those places if you weren’t looking for it you would never know it was there. Deserted street, no real signage, down the stairs – but once you find it – well, WOW comes to mind.

Down the stairs, a very plain room with 2 tables and along counter. There are a couple of display cases with some sad looking cupcakes, and you think this cannot be right or they must be closing. Raise your eyes, peek into the next room – the bakery – and there is tray after tray after tray of amazing looking pastry.

We had to order the Sorchetta Doppio Schizzo. A sweet pastry filled with whipped cream and smothered in chocolate. It was good. The name is better!

Spoon had a hot chocolate. Fork a Diet Coke (some habits just cannot be broken and besides their small cans had a cute drawing on the side).

Spectacular were the Sfogliatelle! Crispy, crunchy, still warm, creamy inside. Perfect. May be the best either the Fork or Spoon has ever had.

Their pizza must be pretty good as well, at least 2 dozen people walked in and out while we were there buying pizza to go.

There were at least 10 other pastry that needed to be tried, but try as might, we didn’t get back again. This will be the first place we go when we head back to Rome!

Laboratorio Lambiase ~ Vis Cernaia, 47A ~ Roma

Sostanza

This is, by far, my favorite restaurant in Florence. Fabulous food, friendly staff, fabulous food, unpretentious … did I mention the fabulous food?

Sostanza is located Santa Maria Novella. Fork and Spoon took the train from Rome to Florence, visited Santa Maria Novella and Farmaceutica de Santa Maria and realized we were starving. We could have walked to our wonderful B&B Casa dei Tintori (wonderful B&B, by the way, if you’re looking for a great place to stay), but – and this should be NO shocker to our readers – we were hungry!

You know, as we planned this trip, restaurants and places to eat were as important as sites to see, museums to visit, fountains to throw coins into, etc.

Sostanza has been one of Fork’s absolute MUST GO places for years and years, so when Fork convinced the Spoon to run away from home for 2 weeks, this place was definitely going to be on the short list.

Trattoria Sostanza was in 1869 as a tavern, wine and food store. Sostanza is also known as “i’ Troia”, which is the nickname of Guido Campolmi – one of the early owners and a very famous chef who would greet his customers with a hearty slap on the back. His hands were always greasy and sticky from working in the kitchen and his clients would say “ma tu sei un troiao” – “what a slob you are”.  And the nickname was born!

In 1977 the original owners leased the restaurant to their employees. The second generation now manages the restaurant and it has stayed pretty much unchanged.

Sostanza is not a large restaurant by any means, it’s down a windy street, with a very plain front, small interior, and a simple menu. The inside is very much a simple trattoria – wooden table and chairs, tables covered in paper, large marble counter in the front. The kitchen is open and you can watch the chefs going to town.

It’s not a large menu. It’s handwritten and slipped inside a plastic sleeve. Fork and Spoon are pretty sure the menu has not changed much in the 100+ years Sostanza has been in business.  And, as simple as the menu may be, the food is over the moon good.

We asked our wonderful waiter what the most popular dishes were in Sostanza and he said that while Sostanza is widely known for their bistecca, the Pollo al Burro is as popular. We already knew this was a dish we needed to try. When I tell you, that this dish could make you weep, I am not exaggerating. Butter is browned in a skillet, the chicken is floured and then egged and then put into the butter. The chicken is bathed in the butter as it cooks. A hit of salt, more butter at the end and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as it is being served. The nuttiness from the browned butter, the freshness from the lemon and that salty hit – mama mia this was like nothing We had ever had before.

We were invited to come back and watch the chef make this dish, but sadly only had 48 hours in Florence and wanted to fit as many different places to eat in as possible. I would go to Florence just for Sostanza and just to eat this dish! Dad, really, 20 something years and you have never tried this? I have tried to recreate this dish at home and have come pretty darn close! Dad, next time you go order it, you’ll thank us!

Most people know for their Bistecca alla Fiorentina. When you peek into the kitchen, there is a GIGANTIC piece of beef standing there. You could see that this beautiful slab of Chianina beef was recently slaughtered. Pretty daunting, actually. We couldn’t come to Sostanza and pass up the Bistecca. The steak is perfectly charred on the outside. The meat fresh and flavorful, seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. It didn’t need it – it was spectacular. By the way, you can see the beef and the wood burning stove and the cooking going on while on your way to the rest room – you have to walk through the kitchen to get there!

As we were relaxing and smelling and oogling everyone else’s plates go by, we eyed what you see above walk by. We showed a huge amount of restraint by not running over to the table next to ours, forks in hand and begging for a taste. We did, however, ask our waiter and he told us it was a Tortino di Carciofi. Couldn’t resist ordering this dish. What arrived was a delicate egg dish – not quite an omlette and not quite a souffle, certainly not as simple as scrambled eggs. Nestled inside this egg nest were quarters of tender artichoke hearts. Totally amazing.

We were stuffed. Totally and completely stuffed. But, we had to have dessert. After all of that rich food we needed something sweet (at least that’s how we convince ourselves!) These lovely little strawberries were the perfect choice. Sweet, light, spring-like, tiny. Spoon ordered them in cream, Fork in red wine. The perfect ending to the perfect welcome to Florence meal!

If you visit Florence Sostanza is an absolute must!

CASH ONLY!  Dinner has 2 seatings – 7:30 and 9:30 – and you MUST make reservations. Lunch easier than dinner, no reservations are required. Sostanza is open Monday through Friday.

Sostanza ~ Via delle Porcellana, 25 ~ Firenze (Florence), Italy

Procacci

Procacci opened its doors in 1885 on the prestigious via Tornabuoni. The interior is all original workmanship and has a very Art Noveau feeling throughout. These days, Procacci is part of the Antinori  group (Fork’s absolute favorite vineyard. If you have not had an Antinori wine, you must).

From the beginning, Procacci was known for their truffled sandwiches. How were we to resist the lovely art noveau interior, truffled sandwiches, Antinori wines, and a recommendation by dear friends?

Simple answer? We could not possibly pass up the opportunity to stop into Procacci.

When you walk through the doors you are instantly transported to a quieter more gentile time. Small tables for 2 line the left side of Procacci, a counter to the right and a wine bar across the back. Procacci may be very small but everything packs a huge flavor. Procacci is permeated with the small of truffles. The entire experience was amazing.

We ordered 2 of the truffled sandwiches – truffle pieces and butter spread on a small, delicate roll. We also ordered 2 prosciutto cotto and olive spread sandwiches. Prosciutto cotto is the cooked version of prosciutto crudo – which is what we in the USA just call prosciutto.  

The truffle and butter was amazing. The truffle was earthy and rich. The butter sweet. The 2 worked in perfect harmony to make your taste buds stand at attention.

The ham was salty and sweet at the same time, the olive paste salty and briny. Again, a perfect combination.

The bread used for both was fresh and soft. Very delicate and subdued in flavor so as to be an understudy to the starring role of the fillings, especially the truffled butter.

Spoon has become addicted to apricot juice and chose that to go along with our feast. Fork on the other hand could not pass up an opportunity to have a glass of Antinori wine – or, more precisely, prosecco. Delightful.

A perfect oasis in the insane sea of sightseeing! If you’re in Florence and need a little ‘somethin somethin’ in the middle of the afternoon, Procacci will surely help you to understand the meaning of la dolce vita!

If you folks are travelling anywhere, Knopf makes wonderful guidebooks called Knopf MapGuides. They break down whatever city you are travelling to by sections. With each section there are recommendations for restaurants, bars, shopping and when you open the map page it highlights sights not to miss in each section. Totally fabulous! Procacci was listed in there.

Also, we would have been lost going through sites and streets without Rick Steves! His books are wonderful. Self guided tours through most major attractions with not to miss things inside each. He is funny insightful and keeps any trip full of fun and information!

Procacci ~ Via de’ Tornabuoni, 64 ~ 50123 Firenze, Italy

Sora Margherita

Tucked deep inside Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is a wonderful hidden gem of a restaurant.  So hidden, in fact, if you didn’t know what to look for, you would not know where to find it! Off the Via del Portico d’Ottavia is the Piazza delle Cinque Scole. If you approach the Piazza from Portico d’Ottavia make a hard right at the Piazza and there is a doorway. In the summer it has red chenille streamers hanging in the doorway – the kind to keep out the flies. In the winter a plain old doorway – perhaps a chair in front, and what may have been a neon flower above the door to the left and the number 30 above the door to the right.

Wait! Let’s start again! Sora Margherita is not a restaurant. It is a cultural association. You must join the association when you arrive to have member benefits, which include eating at the ‘club’. Apparently, a number of years ago the restaurant was shut down as being too small and cramped. The solution? Become a cultural association and feed your members! Makes perfect sense to me!

 The no-frills Sora Margherita started as a cheap kitchen for hungry locals, but word spread – and compared to the other restaurants in the ghetto is still a place for an inexpensive – but fantastic – meal. There can be very long lines here, but you will find hearty pasta, Roman-Jewish dishes such as the Torta di Ricotta and Carciofi alla Giudea, and a rowdy Roman atmosphere.  Sora Margherita is closed weekends in summer. The reason? According to the sign ‘ tutti al mare ’ (everyone is at the beach).

The tables are nailed-together unfinished wooden tables with plain paper tablecloths. You may not expect much when you sit down, cramped quarters, plainly decorated, the menu written on a piece of brown butcher’s paper. But the carefully prepared and beautifully plated food is a surprise and culinary delight.

Our quest in eating in the Jewish Ghetto was to try Carciofi alla Giudea. Artichokes prepared in the Jewish style. We had been hoping to try both the alla Giudea and alla Romana at the same time for a comparison but Sora Margherita only had the alla Giudea when we were there.  What arrives is a beautiful fired artichoke, served on a square of paper for the oil to drain. There is nothing fancy needed in this presentation, the artichoke is the star. The outer leaves are crispy like potato chips. The inside still tender and moist. Fork, watching around the room, followed suit and ate the entire thing, choke, stem and all. Spoon on the other hand, was far more demure and skipped the choke and the stem!

Next, Spoon ordered the Fettucine Cacio e Pepe e Ricotta. The Fettucine was fresh, made that morning. A giant tumble of beautiful hand made pasta.  The pasta was simply dressed with pecorino romano cheese (cacio) and fresh cracked black pepper (pepe). As if this simple, but delicious, dish needed help, it was then topped with fresh ricotta. A huge portion. The flavors all melded together for an amazing pasta dish.

Fork and our lovely tour guide for the day, Antonella, had the Baccala Fritti. I don’t normally like baccala. Might have to do with the manky way Nonna prepared it for Christmas Eve dinner. Antonella said it was delicious and if I liked fish to try it. Glad I listened. The baccala (dried cod) was plump and crisply fried. The squeeze of lemon over the top gave it a fresh flavor. The down side were a few little bones, but certainly worth it. I do have to admit, though, I have never understood baccala. Catch a fresh fish, dry it out, and before cooking, reconstitute it. Huh? But this was very good.

Antonella also ordered the Aliciotti. Fresh anchovy dressed with lemon juice and olive oil with a simple salad of finochio (fennel) and olives. Fork does not like anchovies. You know, those horribly salty, hairy, brown little beasts they put on pizza? Yuck. But these were small, delicate and fresh. A very mild flavor that balanced well with the lemon, olives and finochio. Fork was pleasantly surprised by these wonderful little fish.

Dessert posed its usual problem. What to get, do we share. Those of you who follow along know the drill! Antonella, with the sweet tooth, insisted, we must have both the Torta di Ricotta e Cioccolato and the Torta di Ricotta e Ciliege and split them!   One was studded with chocolate chips, the other had pieces of cherry throughout. Light, delicate, not overly sweet, the perfect ending to a perfect lunch.

Sora Margherita, Associazione Culturale ~ Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30 ~ Tel:06 6874216

Er Buchetto

Literally translated – hole in the wall – and it is. But is the best hole in the wall you will ever come across.

Er Buchetto is located minutes walking from Termini Station in Rome and down the street from the National Museum of Rome Palazzo Massimo (some of the most beautiful mosaics and frescos and statues you will come across. And, if you are a numismatist, this is absolutely the place for you!)

Er Buchetto is small and unassuming. Only 3 tables that will hold up to 4 people each. One person working. A hairy boar stands guard at the back left corner. In the back right corner is a large fridge, the top part filled with meats and cheeses the bottom simply has two spigots “rosso” and ‘bianco’.

There is a menu hanging on the wall, but there is only one true reason to come to Er Buchetto – PORCHETTA. This was an absolute must for Fork and Spoon. You would expect that a region that has the reputation of creating porchetta, of advancing it, would have more porchetta around. NOPE!

This is fabulous, cheap eats at its best. This is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination. It is clean. The service is friendly. Most importantly, the porchetta is fabulous! You can have a panino to go (2.50€) or to stay (3.20€). You can also have a porchetta plate (4.00€).

Spoon and Fork walked in and the first thing we saw was the porchetta.

No need to ask or pretend to think of anything else – porchetta panini, please, and white wine.

One bite and you swooned. The meat was tender and delicious. Slightly salty, lots of herbs, fall apart tender. The bread was crispy on the outside and very tender inside, soaking up anything that dripped onto it. To top the sandwich off were little bits of the porchetta skin. If you could put perfection between bread, this would be what it looked and tasted like.

They are cut fresh. As they are sold, more panino are assembled.

While we sat and ate, happily munching, we watched passerbys stopping and grabbing a panino. Before we left, all the seats but one in this very busy place were full. Not much talking – this was too delicious to interrupt with a lot of small talk. Spoon and I were content with ‘YUMMMMM!’.

So much so that we asked for 2 more of these delights to take with us on the plane the next day! Beats the heck out of Continental’s ‘cuisine’

So 4 panini, 1 wine, 1 water all for under 20.00€ ~ can’t beat that with a stick! They are open from Noon to 3:00pm and then again from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. If you’re in Rome and need a quick lunch, we beg you, go here!

Er Buchetto ~ Via del Viminale, 2F ~ Rome Italy

Salt & Fat

Now, really. Is there anything about the name of this restaurant that would lead you to believe that it wasn’t wonderful? We can all pretend that we are virtuous when it comes to what we eat, but let’s call a spade a spade … we like salty, we like fatty, we LOVE porky! Salty is not our enemy and comes from many more places than just a salt shaker. Fats, too, don’t necessarily mean transfats or bad fats. Salt & Fat, a new restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Queens, certainly shows the virtues of salty and fat.

To quote their website, Salt & Fat “is a neighborhood restaurant  serving globally influenced New American small plates in a relaxed casual environment. ”  It couldn’t be summed up any better by anyone. Owner and chef, Danny Yi, the former executive sous chef of The Monkey Bar has set the bar high for the New American small plate concept and so far is rising well above it.

Fork and Spoon love small plate dining. It gives you the ability to try so many more things on the menu, and there were SO many things on the menu to try!

By the way, the hostess is lovely. Our waiter, Brian, super. Everyone is friendly and accommodating. The decor is simple. The tables not jammed together crowded. At the time of this writing, they had not received their liquor license yet, but had soda or water for drinks. They don’t serve coffee or hot tea. And (GASP) no iced tea.

Fork and Spoon went to Salt & Fat on a rainy, cold Tuesday night and it was pretty crowded. THe hostess told us that there was a 20 minute wait for tables the previous Saturday night.  Brian came over as soon as we sat down and gave us our menus, explained that with the exception of the last three, entrée sized dishes, everything on the menu was small plates.

While we were looking at the menu and trying to decide where to start, Brian brought over a small paper bag filled with popcorn. Salty, yummy popcorn that had been popped in bacon fat. You know more than one bag was eaten. This is amazing, addictive stuff! If this was a sign of what was yet to come, we were in for a real treat.

As an aside, Spoon and Spork had tried this restaurant already. Fork had seen it and when mentioned to Spoon, laughter erupted as they had just that night been there and loved it. There was much “na na na na” coming from Spork to Fork. So in turn, when Fork and Spoon went, there were texts and photos sent with ‘na na na’ right back.

Silliness aside, we chose 4 small plates to start. Each small plate comes with 3 of whatever the dish is. Each plate is thoughtfully put together and beautiful. As much attention is paid to the plating of the food as to the ingredients in the dishes.

Our first plate to arrive was the Braised Pork Belly Tacos. Crunchy tacos filled with melt in your mouth Hampshire pork belly that had been braised in an amazing broth. Sitting on top of the pork belly nestled inside the taco shell was kimchi, pico de gallo and  queso fresco. The fusion between the Korean and Mexican was seamless, as if kimchi has naturally always been on a taco. Served with the tacos were lightly picked jalapenos. Tuck one of those slices into the taco and you had a spectacular bite of food. SO many tastes and flavors at one time. You know this dish is on the FAT side of the fence, but really must be tried.

Next came the Short Rib Buns. If you like short ribs, this is so for you. The boneless short rib was fall apart tender. The nice sized square of really flavorful beef sat on a steamed bun.  Ticked inside the bun with the beef were thin slices of pickled cucumber. These are pickled just enough to give you that vinegar hit, but still crisp and cucumber tasting.  Topping all of this is an apricot mustard which adds a tiny bit of heat and sweet. Fork’s only negative thought here is that the bun was a little too thick so the flavors of the beef, pickled cucumber slices and mustard and apricot sauce was a little lost.

Next came Korean BBQ Wraps. Fork loves things wrapped in lettuce leaves. There’s something so seemingly healthy about it. You can honestly say you had a vegetable with the meal. Lettuce is a great, not too filling or heavy wrapper for whatever goodness is inside. And inside! Inside this lettuce leaf is a slice of BBQ hangar steak. The steak was so flavorful. The accompaniment to the steak was a thin slice of pickled daikon radish and seasoned miso. Just to gild the lily, sprinkled over the top were fried bits of shallots. Every bite hit a different part of your tastebuds and all of them were smiling!

And last – and by no means least – we ordered Crack & Cheese. Fork’s mouth is watering just typing, that’s how absolutely amazing this dish was. Imagine if you will lightly fried potato gnocchi swimming in a rich, cheesey bechamel sauce and studded with squares of crispy bacon. I don’t think another thing can possibly be said about this dish except OMG, you have to try it!

Dessert seems sparse here – and you definitely need something sweet after the salty and fatty goodness. There is a panna cotta with a yuzu buttermilk sorbet that Spoon says is amazing. We ordered the Rice Krispie Treats with Marshmallow ice cream. Yes, that’s right, marshmallow ice cream. It’s an ice cream (cream being the key word here) and marshmallow. You get the texture and flavor or both. It is truly amazing. Eaten by itself it’s wonderful. Spread on top of the rice krispie treats and it soared. This dessert is truly amazing. Definitely brough Fork back to being a kid, during the summer, with my sister! The only downside of the desserts here – they really need a third, something with chocolate!

I can’t wait to come back here. I can’t wait to bring more people here. I can’t wait for them to be open for lunch too. I can’t wait for you to get there!

Salt & Fat ~ 41-16 Queens Boulevard ~ Sunnyside, NY ~ 718.408.0533
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