Dropping in at Porsena

January 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Ever since I learned that Sara Jenkins of Porchetta was opening a pasta restaurant in the East Village, I was looking forward to the opportunity to see how the very talented Jenkins would translate her pork prowess to pasta and other mediums. So when looking for a nearby dinner spot with two friends on Saturday, I quickly suggested Porsena and they gladly agreed to give it a go. We walked into the restaurant right around 8pm expecting a wait as we did not have reservations. As a nota bene, we learned that Porsena does accept reservations, so I’d definitely recommend going that route if possible.

Luckily, the friendly hostess told us we could probably snag three seats at the bar as a group there was being seated shortly. It took about half an hour for their party to arrive and to migrate from the bar to their table, so we had plenty of time to peruse the menu and short but well-assembled wine list. We settled on a nice Cannonau which the bartended presented to my friend Craig, who is certainly a wine guy. When Craig suggested upon smell that the wine as corked, the friendly bartender who served us promptly smelled and tasted it, agreeing with him and quickly replacing our bottle.

As for the menu, I would say the pastas are definitely the strongest category so we focused our efforts there and threw in a few starters for good measure. We started with a wilted escarole salad, which packed a nice burst of acidity and salt thanks to a garlic anchovy dressing, and a salt cod and potato dish (almost like a spread) served with toast points. Along with several dishes, we found the salt cod to be a bit under seasoned but salt and pepper quickly solved that problem bringing out the inherent flavors nicely.

Upon consulting the bartender, she quickly recommended the Annellini with Spicy Lamb Sausage and Mustard Greens, we rounded that out with the Lasagna al Forno which we’d heard good things about and the Penette with roasted cauliflower, olives, capers, garlic, toasted breadcumbs. All three were declicious but the annellini definitely stole the show. It was hard to pinpoint the exact source of the heat – it almost had an asian undernote to it like Sriracha, but it worked beautifully in the slightly creamy sauce that coated the wide rings of perfectly cooked pasta. The lasagna, which did away with tomato sauce in favor of just bechamel with meat ragu, was nicely puffed from baking when it arrived at the bar, had a wonderful crust of cheese and bread crumbs that remained crisp even as it slowly deflated.

All in all, it was a wonderful meal and came at a very reasonable price (about $40 per person before tip for 2 apps, 3 pastas and a bottle of wine). I actually believe dining at the bar may have improved our experience as things in the dining room seemed a bit more frenetic and less efficient, which I attribute to still being relatively new. I especially liked seeing Chef Jenkins in the pass expediting food in the open kitchen and a large wooden table just a few feet away that would be a cool spot for a larger group of 6-8 people.

One interesting topic of conversation over dinner, was the font of the restaurant’s logo which can be found on the menu link above. My friend Emily and I determined it was reminiscent of both a Western and a Swiss Chalet both circa 1950 in the best of ways. Still trying to figure out how those two came to mind or if in fact there is some common stylistic theme there…

Invaluable Ingredients

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Eeek! The holidays plus a new job have made me quite the negligent blogger over the last month or so. Hence in the spirit of New Years Resolutions and just because I’ve missed it, I’m back!  Over the last few weeks, one recurring theme in my meals (apart from those at celebrations, etc) has been convenience. While I’m all for a quick and easy throw together dinner, I never like to sacrifice delicious results. With that in mind, I thought I would share a few favorite ingredients that I try to keep on hand that make even the most basic meals more inspiring. All of these boast a good shelf/fridge life and most are inexpensive with the exception of a few splurges.

Leeks

Whether it be pasta, quiche or pizza, leeks time and time again prove to be a delicious addition. Just thinly slice the white and light green part of the leek. separate the rings and rinse well to remove any mud or dirt . Then throw the leeks in along with any other ingredients you are using. Here are a few of my favorite combinations:

– Spaghetti with Leeks and Italian Sausage
– Leek and goat cheese quiche
– Pizza with leeks, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella

Black Truffle Salt

While truffle salt is certainly considered investment, the tiniest sprinkle will dress up any dish. Based on my estimate, you would probably spend less around 50 cents to a dollar per use depending on how many servings you are seasoning, which seems like a much better deal. I prefer this brand, the best price for which I’ve found on Frenchy Bee. As a salt lover and a truffle lover, there are few things I like more! I made truffle salt twice baked potatoes for Christmas Eve this year when I thought of it as a last minute addition and our guests were completely wowed.

– Roasted Fingerling Potatoes (toss with olive oil and truffle salt before roasting)
– Sprinkled on omlettes and scrambled eggs
– Mixed into a twice baked potato filling (top with gruyere cheese before broiling)

Pancetta

I keep a package of diced pancetta from Trader Joe’s in my fridge at all times. A small amount of pancetta will add a lot of porky richness to a dish and a little goes a long way. I enjoy adding it to sauteed cauliflower or green beans just to ensure no vegetable in my house remains entirely healthy. Of course, it’s also wonderful in pastas and on pizza as well.

Cream of Balsamic Vinegar

I purchased a bottle of this thick, sweet balsamic reduction a while ago at Chelsea Market’s Buon Italia. If you visit New York, I can think of no cooler place to explore, especially in rainy or cold weather as it is indoors. Since it’s purchase, I’ve drizzled this on everything I can imagine that would be enhanced by a sweet yet tangy kick. Like the truffle salt, a little goes a long way. Here is a very similar product to the brand I purchased that can be ordered online.

– Drizzle over flatbread or pizza topped with prosciutto, fig and arugula
– Toss with a salad of arugula, parmesan and a sprinkle of lemon juice and olive oil
– Top off a bowl of sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream

Parmesan Cheese

This is a no-brainer but don’t underestimate good quality, freshly grated parmesan cheese. I grate it over everything – soups, pastas, pizzas, risotto, eggs – and keep it permanently stocked in my fridge.

Chili Flakes

For those who like a little spice, good quality chili flakes are a great thing to have on hand. In addition to the typical pizza topping, I enjoy using them in almost any pasta for an extra flavor dimension. For a special appetizer, pour a nice quality olive oil into a shallow bowl and sprinkle in freshly grated parmesan and chili flakes and serve with a baguette or focaccia.

Frozen Pizza Dough

I find the Whole Foods frozen pizza dough to be a lifesaver on nights when I know cooking time will be scarce. It is a blank slate for creativity based on your own pizza predilections and what you find on hand in your fridge. Sweet and Breakfast Pizzas are also fun options with this as your base. If placed in the fridge in the morning or the night before, it should be perfectly thawed by dinner time. In a real pinch, I have even found that many NYC pizzerias will sell a pound of their dough for a few bucks which is cheaper and healthier than buying a whole pie.

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