Palermo – at street level

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Finding Sicily on a map is as easy as bumping into a tourist with a selfie-stick. It’s the brioche-shaped soccer ball being kicked in the tuchus by the boot of Italy. And to add insult to injury, due to its highly desirable location between Africa and Europe, the largest island in the Mediterranean had to endure an abundance of wars and rulers. But there was an upside: whether it was the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans or the Romans, as each civilization fled, they left behind an indelible culinary influence which has set Sicily apart from the rest of the world. And even by Sicilian standards, the mecca of eclectic food is concentrated on the streets of Palermo.

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Tuna sausage bruschetta

Salva, our guide for the evening’s munch march, welcomed us to the “carb civilization”, and then whisked us away from the iPhone-wielding throngs to a web of back-alleys. Our first stop was to sample three popular bruschettas. The fist was topped with a yummy, creamy, dreamy almond and basil pesto. The second – a tart and tangy local olive tapenade. But the third was tough to guess. What looked like dried black forest ham was actually a slither of tuna sausage! (Probably the first time you’ve ever seen those two words together, but long before cattle farming became commonplace in Sicily, the only source of protein was from the sea.) A complex mix of meaty umami with a very faint hint of salty anchovy, brightened by the segment of lemon and shredded mint – Sicily’s undisputed preference over parsley.

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Potato crochettas and Panelles

Our next treat was more than just a street-food snack. Panelle (chickpea fritters) reappear as a side dish in countless Sicilian restaurants. The gloriously golden discs of delight (often shaped by the bottom of a square olive oil can) are usually served with a portion of potato crochettas, or a half-n-half mixture of potato and chickpea crochet-ters. The perfect companion to a chilled bottle of Birra Moretti.

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Pani câ muesa

Having been invented on the island, I thought it was merely a matter of minutes before we’d be munching on an array of aranicini. But because the cocker-spaniel-colored rice-balls stuffed with meats and cheeses are as pervasive as espresso bars, we didn’t really need much help finding them. Less abundant (and clearly less tourist-friendly) are the pani câ muesa. But before I translate this, Salva’s family stood watching him on his sixth birthday as he bit into his first pani câ muesa. “It was like a right-of-passage. My Palermitan bar mitzvah!” Then, in a dramatic gesture, he raised his hands and sank to his knees on the cobble-stone streets in praise for whichever of us was brave enough to try the veal spleen and lung sandwich. First boiled and then fried in lard, the thin offal shreds are stuffed into a sesame bun. Even though it looked a little like a lamb gyro sandwich, the spongy, chewy, oily texture devoid of much taste (beyond the lard) hardly warranted a second bite. I believe the word is…”interesting”.

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Pani câ muesa (spleen and lung sandwich)

The mozzarella in carozza, however, required no coaxing or convincing at all. Imagine biting into a crisp-battered, deep-fried, soft-bread sandwich stuffed with bechamel-smothered mozzarella and ham? An unparalleled thrill in every smoky, salty, cheesy, molten morsel. (Not sure I can ever look a regular croque monsieur in the slice again.)

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Sfincione

Focaccia (a derivative of the word “fire”) is one of the oldest fire-grilled breads in Italy. Even older than pizza, (in fact, pizza is an evolution of focaccia), the sfincione is a fluffier, spongier version of focaccia topped with a simple sauce of tomato, onion and anchovies. According to Salva, not only does the dough have to sit for 12 hours to oxidize, but like all Italian sauces, the topping has to be prepared the day before as well – which is astonishing given that this absolutely delicious Sicilian Christmas snack can be devoured in under 12 seconds.

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Gelato burger

If you had anticipated some sort of cannoli to conclude the tour, you’d be in pretty good company, but it is considered a faux pas for Sicilians to eat cannoli’s in the summer. Not only do the sheep have a harder time finding fresh grazing – which yields a very intense ricotta, but the gelato is just too darn good to ignore. Instead, we gorged on what American tourists refer to as a “gelato burger” – a sweet brioche sliced open with two scoops of the creamiest, smoothest, most dangerously addictive gelato ever. Salva’s only rule: we could pick any two flavors – so long as one of them was pistachio!

Legacy Records – review

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Perpetually groovy Manhattan hotspots Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones have a new baby brother. Chef Ryan Hardy of the Delicious Hospitality Group birthed his newest Italo-Seafood supper club Legacy Records in early March. The restaurant is visionary in many respects. Not only did San Francisco designer Ken Fulk do an absolute number on the new space, with a high-end tribute to art deco and mid-century luxury using liberal helpings of emerald green, gold and mahogany, but the far west location somewhere between the Javitz Convention Center and DHL’s distribution hub at the base of a condo tower is definitely out there – that is until Hudson Yards becomes the city’s newest it neighborhood.

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Legacy Records

Being able to snag a table at one of New York’s newest establishments delivers more than just bragging rights. First month jitters, growing pains and teething troubles often yield their own uniquely entertaining take-out stories, and Legacy Records is not immune. As we tried to gain access via the very masculine brick-and-steel Henry Hall condo lobby, a sign directed us to a side entrance, 50 feet away. Once there, a contradictory sign directed us back to the condo lobby. Then just as we marveled at the magnificently clubby, yet airy crescent bar and the staggering array of multi-leveled brass trumpet flower arrangements decorating the all-day dining café, we were suddenly immobilized by the instantaneous ambience destruction of a smoke alarm with intermittent deafening sirens and a pulsating cascade of flashing lights. Not exactly the tribute I had in mind for a former recording studio.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 6.26.00 PMAs you circumnavigate the bar, a series of bold and funky artworks by Mickalene Thomas adorn the walls that lead to a somewhat less formal dining area flanked by a row of windows looking out onto a concrete wall as high as a prison yard. My hunch, hope or suggestion might be for a vertical garden to slightly diminish the claustrophobia.

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Razor Clam Crudo, Legacy Records

The service has also not quite found its groove yet. After our waiter bragged that the butter was “especially imported”, a server seemed to think that it just came from “uptown”. (Turns out he clears tables at a different location for lunch and got his butter origins confused.) The only reason I’m making such a big deal about the butter is because it is indeed imported from France, and is accompanied by a cocoon-shaped dollop of rosemary-infused lard which collectively transforms the house-baked sprouted seed bread into a sublime and decadent feast. But the kicker came later in the meal when one of the bussers who was so intent on replacing our plates and flatware mid-course, that one of our table guests – who had 4 remaining mouthfuls to go – found himself at the defensive end of a tug-of-war.

“New plates,” the busser kept insisting.

“Not finished,” we kept replying.

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Diver Scallop Crudo, Legacy Records

But the kitchen is indisputably pitch-perfect. The highly recommended Crudo for the table arrives in a multi-level ceramic sculpture resembling an architectural model of a Santorini cliffside villa. It includes a Razor Clam in a wonderfully tart and tangy saffron espellette, a delectable lime-yogurt flavored Diver Scallop – diced but still in the shell, and sweet but heat-loaded, sashimi-smooth slithers of Fluke, thanks to some citrusy jalapeno. I felt a little sorry for the Japanese Sea Urchin that got drowned out by a blasting chorus of Dungeness crab under a shellfish-flavored aioli.

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Japanese Sea Urchin Crudo, Legacy Records

Some of the other small plates included San Daniele Prosciutto, hand-pulled Mozzarella and a charcoal grilled Pigeon, but we unanimously went for the seasonally appropriate and utterly rewarding Sunchokes. I cannot ever recall ever enjoying such dark and crispy lobes of sunchoke that gave way to soft and tender artichoke hearts and anchovies in a leafy, mushroomy salad.

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Sunchoke Salad, Legacy Records

The half dozen pasta options are also more intriguing than your Italian go-to staples. We had to skip the pea and leak Raviolo Doppio and the cuttlefish Spaghetti in favor of the wondrous chestnut Tagliatelle with shards of duck ragu in a rich rosemary and liver sauce. And I hereby commit to trying the über-popular shellfish Risotto next time.

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Honey lacquered Duck for Two, Legacy Records

The mains are the usual carousel of Italian RCB’s (Ribeye, Chicken, Branzino) with a Duck for Two as the absolute showstopper. The honey-lacquered roasted bird gets paraded around in her birthday suit featuring a dark mahogany crust with a rosemary plume before being whisked away for dissection and plating. “Our” duck made 2 separate appearances by 2 separate waiters, revealing that she was perhaps selected for objectification and exhibition purposes only. Regardless, I predict that the duo of super tender breast slices bordered by a nutty, spicy and delectably sweet skin are sure to elevate this dish to billboard status before the summer is over.

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Gelatos, Legacy Records

Desserts include a Rum cake and other equally odd bits and bobs, but the popular must-haves are the Gelatos served in cracker-crispy house-made cones. Right now, flavors like Bananas foster, Chocolate fudge and Yoghurt rhubarb were all she wrote, but I have a strong feeling that this repertoire will continue to grow as the temperature rises.

What better way to usher in the spring than a fresh new hit in a hip, new hood.

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/

 

Locanda Verde review

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By definition, a “Locanda” is an inn or guest-house, somewhere you can either eat or spend the night. The thing is, even though Andrew Carmellini’s sedate, sophisticated yet utterly sumptuous taverna Locanda Verde is located right inside Robert De Niro’s Greenwich Hotel, if push came to shove and I needed to bed down for a few hours after having gorged myself on “cicchetti” (small plates brimming with delectables), I would much rather do it right there on the marble counter, surrounded by some of the most dependably delicious house-made pastas and a bevy of full-bodied Barolo’s.

The L-shaped space at this Tribeca favorite is enormously welcoming with intermittent wine-racks partitioning the various dining areas. The only aspect that might be considered somewhat pretentious, are a certain species of diner who believe this to be a ripe sighting-ground for the likes of Hugh Jackman or Susan Sarandon. But trust me, the real stars are all on the menu. It’s all about Carmellini’s devotion to recreating an always-satisfying, urban Italian experience – regardless of whether you have only been here once, or one-hundred-and-once. His ingredient simplicity and restraint from over-fancying traditional dishes is what continues to make this a tough table to secure.

The Sheep’s milk Ricotta with sea-salt and herbs served with country toasts couldn’t possibly be a plainer dish. But once it arrives in a circle, surrounding a miniature birdbath of olive oil, you just want to dive in. When that sumptuous creaminess hits your tongue just after you bite down on the crusty bread, each of your taste buds races to be the first to define it. Is it (ever so slightly) sour? Maybe. Salty? Just a little. Creamy? Obviously!

The Insalata D’Andrea is another rather conventional-looking plate, but the sweetness of the apple and the tang of fennel and Asiago cheese would surprise anyone who would think this is just a salad. The Marinated Beets were a touch on the too-soft side for me, but the pistachios added some vital crunch.

Each of the house-made pastas are worth crossing Canal street for, but the all-time winner has to be the Pacherri with Sunday night Ragu. I’m never sure to which Sunday night they are referring: last week, last night, last fall? Who cares. All I know is – Sunday must have been a great night for cooking. The Dorade al forno is another standout. They fillet it and section it lovingly into convenient slithers amongst a buttery garden of tender artichokes and fennel with the slightest essence of sour lemon.

Keeping the citrus element alive, we moved on to the sublimely smooth wedge of Lime Tart with Buttermilk Gelato, when that all too familiar end-of-meal depression began to sink in – just like Sunday nights when I was still a schoolboy. Aaah.

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com/

Locanda Verde - Lime Tart with Buttermilk Gelato

Lime Tart with Buttermilk Gelato