Friday, July 22, 2011

New York Restaurant Week Ends Soon: Don’t Miss The Best in Local Dining

There isn’t anyone who’d argue that New York offers THE best dining experience in the world.  So why not take advantage of the fresh, local produce of the season and artisanal food artisans as prepared by the world’s greatest culinary artists?
Now in its 20th year, the restaurants offer a prix-fixed lunch and dinner at the same prices as in 2006—$24.07 and $35, respectively (excluding beverages, taxes and gratuities).
There’s nostalgia to embrace!

New restaurants participating this season include: BLT Bar & Grill, David Burke Kitchen (see Examiner review:, Lincoln Restaurant and Plaza Food Hall by Todd English (see review: 
The program also welcomes back original participants in 1992, such as Aquavit, Capsouto Freres, Mesa Grill and Union Square Café.

According to NYC & Company: “In honor of NYC Restaurant Week’s 20th year, American Express Cardmembers will receive a $20 statement credit when they register and use any eligible American Express® Card to dine out three or more times at participating restaurants during NYC Restaurant Week, July 11–24. To register an American Express Card and for terms and conditions, visit

So hurry, hurry—only three days left.

Chefs Love Their Gardens!
Citizens of Gotham won’t be left at the garden gate come next week, though.

What can cheer New Yorkers beginning July 25th is the just-announced summer union between Gramercy Tavern’s ( executive chef, James Beard nominee, Michael Anthony and Norwich Meadows Farm ( Zaid Kurdich.  Together the two marry their outstanding talents to bring the seasons farm-fresh produce offset by Chef Michael’s dazzling, sweet summertime recipes. What could be better?   Chef Michael will even personally select the sassy, perky produce, including Swiss chard, Orient Express Eggplant and Persian Cucumbers, Hungarian Yellow Peppers and organic eggs.  Sounds like a jewelry box!

It’s just $60, with weekly delivery in Manhattan, South Westchester, and Stamford & Greenwich, CT through August.  Go here for delivery sign up.

This reporter has seen first-hand the enduring respect and mutual love of farm-fresh food shared by Chef Michael Anthony and farmer Zaid Kurdich in 2009.  Asked then to select chef’s most inspired garden or farm for the upcoming book, Homegrown NYC, and without hesitation, Chef Michael named Zaid and Norwich Farms.  The photo session was filled with vibrant vegetable colors and textures – along with an extra serving or two of integrity and admiration.

Enjoy the fruits of their labor!   

You can search a favorite or new restaurant to try by name, neighborhood or cuisine here:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Membership Has It's Privileges: Learn to Cook Italian the Fun & Easy Way

Question: What does Italy and France share besides the glamorous Riviera coastline? 
Answer: An invitation from the member’s only distinctly Parisian-sounding Rue La La to a cooking class at Alta Cucina’s Italian epicurean society.

At the New York City Italian cultural mecca, food enthusiasts meet and share a passion for learning all things amore Italiano -- from top-tier chefs in hands-on cooking demonstrations, tasting freshly prepared food and enjoying regional Italian vintage wines.

Recently, chef Eric Francou led a class of Rue La La members.
Francou is an Italian national, born in Sicily, graduated from culinary school, studied with master of cooking, Paul Bocuse, in Belgium, honed his skills in 3-star Michelin restaurants in the south of France, establishing his culinary bona fides in Rome before bringing his regional Italian cooking charm to the Marketplace restaurant in Roslyn, Long Island. He was named a Top-25 Italian chef in America in 2003.
Chef Eric sold the restaurant in 2009 to pursue international restaurant consulting and teaching. 

He is charming, shy, and unpretentious – and with a movie accent that would make a Fellini fan go mad with desire, he dons his teaching toque with Italian pride and confidence based on experience and love of food.  There is an evident dedication to his culinary cultural heritage: a joy in sharing his knowledge, along with his cooking technique and skills.  Chef Eric throws down the gauntlet to try to cook a delicious, fresh from the market Italian meal.   OK, the glove may be made of the finest Italian leather, but it with unabashed enthusiasm that cooking students and foodies can’t resist the tasty temptation.

Chef Eric was introduced to teaching cooking classes along with his restaurant consulting that takes him from Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to Azerbaijan.  He was in there recently for almost a year, advising on opening two restaurants in the largest country in the rapidly changing Caucasus region.  It was a “Fantastic experience’ chef claims.
In this way, he learns from different cuisines – inculcating and absorbing regional cooking customs -- incorporating them into his portfolio of teaching how to cook different cuisines.
His culinary creativity is always inspiring him to create new dishes based on his solid foundation of traditional culinary gastronomy.

His forte is undoubtedly Mediterranean.
He cooks all-regions of Italy; his favorites he admits are the local Abbruzzian and Roman cuisines.  “There is not too much cream and butter in the dishes,” he explains. 
Overall, chef uses seasonal products. And not too much complexity in his preparation or cooking.  Adhering to the adage “One eats with the eyes first,” he states that presentation is key – “It’s the first thing the guest sees.” 
He believes in simplicity of the dish and balance on the plate.

Teaching remains a driving force for him.  Unlike the yelling, screaming, frothy top chef TV hosts, he believes a good chef is inherently an instructor. 
Chef Eric says he likes to share his cooking techniques and his recipes - - no secrets.
He loves what he does!  “I try to give the students a way to recreate the menu at home – using very easy recipes such as seasonal salads and antipasta that have a lot of flavor,” Describing the classes, he says “I try to give them passion for the food.”

Not surprisingly, chef Eric has developed a loyal following of chef wanna-be’s at Alta Cucina.  “We even stay in touch via email.  They may need an answer to a quick question about what food goes with what or cooking times,” he says.  “We’re like a family.”  He says he can judge the success of the class by the chemistry that bubbles up from the group.   Maybe that is the Prosecco….

With students in place around the stocked high-rise table so all can see the Mondrian-colored prepped vegetables including, red pepper, zucchini, eggplant, onions, basil, lemons, celery, parsley, and bok choy, wait with quiet patience.  
There is a hush as Chef dons his toque and begins by telling his story of his Sicilian home, his experience cooking and the never-ending excitement of the kitchen.  

Soon he is cutting the portabella mushrooms – he doesn’t recommend using tips/stems.
He does suggest using them in bouillon for soup stock, along with onion cuttings.  Nothing edible gets tossed away!

He shows how to dice and cut – taking time to demonstrate how to hold a knife, starting with holding the hand out, making a fist, keep ends out so the produce doesn’t fall apart – and place the knife against the fingers, cutting down and away. No chance to cut the fingers this way. “Never cut or carve towards you,” chef cautioned. 
And no wine is served during the cutting portion of class, either.

For the rigatoni, chef explained he prefers crushed garlic with extra virgin oil. He doesn’t like sliced garlic.  Once the crushed garlic is golden color in pan –throw out from pot. 
Likewise, when onions break down, they get sweet, so no sugar needed in sauce!

Once red pepper begins to sauté he adds crushed tomatoes or canned from San Marzano --always crushed by hand, he shows, as cooks want roughness and pieces of tomato in the sauce.

Outside of your Nonni’s kitchen, (and maybe Eataly!
Alta Cucina is the ideal place to learn Italian cuisine, provide information and experience about the products of Italy. Just as the foodie lifestyle was taking root, and not too long before Del Posto received the first Italian restaurant four-star rating from the New York Times, Alta Cucina was launched in 2008 with the sole purpose of promoting all things Italian.
How Bellissimo!

Today, they provide a team of four Italian chefs who develop their own menus to teach cooking classes, demonstrations and conduct seminar.  They also moderate food and wine tastings.

The do most of the food experiences at their new expanded facility in midtown, according to Alberto Paderi, co-owner of Alta Cucina. “We also do huge wine tastings like the one we did at Ciprianni’s, for example,” he adds.  We can do individual demonstrations, small groups or catering.” He says.
Paderi went on to explain “We started to work social networks in order to expand our audience, beginning with Ru La La.  It’s a win-win.  Members of Rue La La save on the cooking classes that normally run $95 to $100 and their members get to experience the Alta Cucina epicurean society and will hopefully become members here.”  

The classes following a laid back, casual format:  the first hour or hour and a half is spent watching the working featured executive chef.  The pre-cut, prepared meal ingredients are laid out; the chef goes through every step of a three-course meal, followed by hands-on food preparation by the students.
A recent class featured a salad with mushrooms, celery, and citrus dressing; pasta picorato with red onions, peppers, topped by creamy mushrooms, sautéed in a light sauce, ladled over fresh cooked rigatoni.  Dessert was a delicious, easy to make flourless chocolate cake.
Alta Cucina provides everything: from aprons to knives. 

Following all the cutting, dicing, and chiffonading, the students retreat to the bar area for a wine tasting while the chef cooks the meal from the student prepared ingredients.  A little like going to the living room for family talk while Nonni is busy in the kitchen.  When the meal is ready, students return to the long, fully set tablescape for the sit-down dinner with the food they have prepped and the chef has cooked.
Good food, good wine, a shared love of Italian slow food lifestyle makes the dinner conversation flow like the wine and bonding happens. No wonder chef Eric thinks of his students like a big family.  

In addition, students get to take home a ready-made gourmet package of Italian products.
Rue La La offered a free membership to enjoy events and discounts as part of this package.  Rue La La, “is an exclusive, invitation-only enterprise where members are offered exciting, premier brand experiences.  Check them out at their online destination hub for the unexpected:

Alta Cucina is located at 22 East 38th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. 646-415-9031

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mexicue Parks It on Seventh Avenue Food Truck Fav Opens 1st Restaurant

Upstairs dining room @ Mexicue
Long known as Fashion Avenue, the Mexican barbeque food truck phenomenon Mexicue fittingly styled it’s first brick and mortar store, located at 345 Seventh Avenue (29th St), in its “reinterpreted signature orange” on the walls, (see below* for fashion report on color orange) natural wainscotting, “salvaged wood beams and black diamond plate.”  The floors are a dark swirl of slate.  The upstairs offers orange and amber track lighting overhead, wooden bench seating the length of one side and three bistro tables on the other; both sides ending at the full view window overlooking the avenue. 
Step right up & order 

It’s an authentic, natural look that mirrors the simple and strong Mexicue food concept.  The name itself says it best:  Mexican cozying up to BBQ, to fuse: Mexicue.  Can you hear the mariachi trumpets blaring?!

Who doesn’t love the smokin’ earthy taste of southern BBQ served with a spicy mix of a Mexican fire dancing on the tongue?
Not the legions of Mexicue fans who well, queued around the block to get their lips around the finger-lickin’ Burnt End Sliders with cilantro lime cream and house pickled jalapenos, Berkshire Pulled Pork with avocado smash and picked red onion, not to mention the Tacos featuring Alabama Chicken with creamy bbq sauce and cotija, Smokey BBQ Beans with habanero aioli slaw, tortilla strips and cotija or Smoked Short Ribs with Memphis mole, romaine, and cotija. 

From The New York Times ( to midtownlunch to Village Voice, to Examiner
there was so much anticipation and buzz for the restaurant during it’s soft opening according to Mexicue’s store manager, Greg Parsons, the owners Dave Schillace and Thomas Kelly determined to slide up the date of the Grand Opening.  Kelly adds that operationally, they also confirmed the staff and kitchen were good to go.  Parsons claims it is a coincidence Mexicue opened during New York Restaurant Week  But just sayin’

Like many New Yorkers, the owners came to Gotham with a dream.   And their dream was to open a restaurant.  Riding the initial fast lane of truck food frenzy, the two always knew they’d do a restaurant.  While many view the food truck craze as a distant step-child to established restaurants, Mexicue doesn’t seem to view it as either/or.  They will continue to drive their food truck, adding a second one soon, in fact, to bring their fusion food experience to more of their foodie fans.  At the same time, they’ll look to add more brick and mortar restaurants.  “A lot of people vastly underestimate and misjudge the cost it takes to operate a food truck, especially if the food is cooked on the truck,” explains Kelly in answering the question of why take on the expense and responsibility of a storefront restaurant. So rather than view food trucks as a cheaper restaurant, the two smart entrepreneurs are managing their burgeoning food empire, having tested their food concept and cultivating a following.

While acknowledging he’d like to source more of Mexicue’s ingredients locally, doing as much as they can presently with local farmers (digits crossed for garnering more local ingredients…) they do offer a seasonal recipe contest.  Customers are encouraged to submit their ideas for taco or slider menu items using the featured seasonal ingredient and winners will be featured on the menu for a month, receive a Mexicue gift certificate and a Manhattan Messenger bag by Lexdray ( And win $50. (that can buy a lot of sliders!)  Now, the Market Special Contest features sweet corn from Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op.

As kings of the road, Shillace and Kelly know the mean streets of New York so why pick the veritable food desert that is Midtown to put the brakes on and open the restaurant?  “We spent a lot of time in the neighborhood, and the response was always very good,” responds Kelly. 
Manager Parsons said their customers are the hip, energized demographic that is not unlike the owners or the Mexicue staff.  With two exceptions, everything on the menu is under $10 too. There is a big lunch audience who will undoubtedly become Mexicue regulars.  Kelly notes the most popular menu item is the BBQ Brisket slider. 

What does success look like for their first restaurant?  “People enjoying the food,” says Kelly.

Mexicue will be fashionably open on 7th Avenue from 11 am to
Located at 345 Seventh Avenue
Deliveries will begin in a month or so

Follow on Twitter: @mexicue nyc

* By the way, every fashionista knows orange is a vibrant, energizing color statement.  But here’s a little fun Mexicue color factoid.  Did you know that, according to, orange “is a color which symbolizes energy, zest, enthusiasm and creativity. One who wears orange is known to be someone who loves to experiment. Orange is also an appetite stimulant. (Not that you’ll need it at Mexicue!)
The color orange signifies an open-minded approach. It gives vibes of friendship, fun and informality. Sexually speaking, the color orange signifies passion and foreplay, an adjunct to the color red, which signifies erotica. If red is the color of passion, then orange is known to be the 'igniter' of passion.”

Watch out Mexicue diners!  There is so much fun to be had with the hot, spicy and sexy food where you see the Mexicue orange.