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August 3, 2010 / joyful plate

July Joy

Given the record temperatures this July in NYC, eating and drinking in air-conditioned restaurants was just about the only civilized way to beat the heat! Here are a couple of meals that mattered.

Brown, lower east side-61 Hester St/near Ludlow.

We’ve been to Brown a number of times, this visit was one of the best. My first joy was discovering Txakoli (also referred to as Txakolina). I was in charge of choosing a crowd-pleasing wine for our guests, but wanted to make sure I satisfied my sense of discovery as well. I scanned the whites… gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, riesling… and then stumbled on Txakoli. After a quick chat with the waiter, I was curious. Txakoli is an indigenous wine from the Basque Country in North West Spain (not far from Albarino land). It’s a bone-dry white high in acidity that’s slightly frizzante, with a nose that’s floral and feminine. Just my style for a summer white. And, it paired perfectly with the snapper and beet crudo (ceviche) served on top of arugula with sea salt. The beet reduction was artfully swirled on the plate, but beyond the glamour of it all, it also tasted decadent and dessert-like.

(P.S.- Txakoli is a very good value and we were lucky to find it at UVA in Williamsburg – apparently, it’s made in small quantities and not imported much here).

When we were ready for our next wine, I ordered a sylvaner from Nahe, Germany. The producer is Weingut “Hahnmuhle”, a family run winery making biodynamic wines. Sylvaner may have been out of vogue, but it’s in with me- it’s a dry white, a Spatlese (so the grapes are picked later in the season giving them lots of ripeness), aromatic and perfect to linger over with banana ice cream and a simple chocolate cake.

The food at Brown was both delightful and nourishing – and the wine, simple and elegant. We’ll be back for sure.

Maialino, Gramercy Park

Another joyful day in July was spent having lunch at Maialino, Danny Meyer’s Roman trattoria overlooking Gramercy Park. Now that I am enjoying my new freelance schedule I am reveling in long lunches-and did so a couple times during restaurant week. Maialino was the best by far.

I had the carciofini fritti (fried artichokes & anchovy bread sauce), which was a treat, but the moment of silence was reserved for the Malfatti al Maialino, the suckling pig ragu and arugula. This dish took me back to my days working in the Italian wine business, where we’d visit tiny trattorias in the countryside eating handmade pasta. This one was so buttery and delicate, and the suckling pig added a lovely salty component that was surprisingly subtle. I enjoyed drinking the Kerner from Alto Adige, Italy along with it (another very nice dry aromatic white), but this experience was all about the food.

The dessert was a lesson in sensory exploration- Panna Cotta alla Salvia-sage custard & raspberry compote. Even writing this a few weeks later, my taste memories are still fresh. The custard was unbelievably creamy, and the sage- a smart and sexy twist. La vita e bella.

The record high temperatures in NYC this month made most of July a blur, but fortunately these two memorable food experiences added some joy to my plate.

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