Monday, March 30, 2009

full steam ahead

if you're jonesing for an indian fix in NYC you have two options; either go to a sit-down restaurant or hit up the local steam-table joint. for my time and money, it's steam-table every time.

"what is a steam-table joint?", you ask.

they are hole-in-the-wall operations, usually owned and operated by a pakistani family. look for brightly lit interiors with ZERO decor, save for large LCDs looping Bollywood movies nonstop. they're open late and cater to the working class immigrant on a budget; mostly cab drivers. all steam-table outposts have a steam-table , that is a counter top that utilizes steam to keep pre-prepared food hot for service. most locations also feature a tandoori oven that is used to make naan, a traditional indian flat bread. various kebabs as well as tandoori chicken are also prepared in said oven.

insofar as steam-table institutions go, Roti Boti clocks in right above the mid-mark; there are plenty better, but even more worse. i order the off menu vegetarian plate - one scoop each of the three veggies they offer daily over rice plus one naan. the portion is HEAPING and the price is MEAGER at $7. if you live in or around the outskirts of Astoria, Queens i strongly suggest giving this place a go; aside from just a few bucks, there's nothing to lose.

Roti Boti
27-09 21st Street
Astoria, NY 11102

(718) 278-7888

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

totally vegged out: cavatelli w/ sausage & peppers over cauliflower "steaks"

a week of pigging out in the mid-west compounded by spring's imminent arrival has guilted me into a vegetarian lifestyle, at least for a bit. i go down this road every pre-spring in an attempt to jump-start my metabolism and shed that winter weight. i'm an omnivore at heart, but going veggie every now and again is great, especially during the warmer months when all sorts of produce are at their best.

i am also a strong proponent of cooking with meatless protein: tofu, seitan, tempeh, mock-meat - they might not taste like meat, but they offer enough texture, bulk, and flavor to create healthy meals that are delicious and filling. i used "Field Roast" vegan sausage in the following pasta recipe, and i was very pleased with the results, as were my guests.

the cauliflower steaks are something i caught wind of while working at Del Posto. they have the same flavor profile as roasted cauliflower florets, however, i find that the individual "steak" portions are more appealing to the eye and can help "beef up" an otherwise conservatively portioned plate.

Cauliflower Steaks

1 large head of cauliflower
canola oil, as needed
salt & pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, as needed

- preheat the oven to 425.

1. cut 1-inch-thick slices of cauliflower, cutting through stem end; set aside on a sheet tray equipped with a cooling rack and season with salt & pepper.

2. heat about 1 TBS of CANOLA oil in a large saute pan until SCREAMING HOT; the oil will begin to shimmer. sear the cauliflower steaks until deep golden brown on the outside; about 4 minutes per side.

3. removed seared cauliflower to the sheet tray, finish them off in the oven until knife-tender; about 8-10 minutes. drizzle with olive oil and enjoy.

-- you will have a whole mess of cauliflower florets leftover from fabricating the "steaks", i suggest you use them to make a puree, or just enjoy them raw as a healthy snack.

Cavatelli w/ Sausage & Peppers

2 (13oz) packages of frozen cavatelli pasta

1 # broccoli florets
4 links vegetarian sausage
1 onion, grated or minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 roasted peppers, sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 anaheim pepper, sliced on the bias
1 TBS fresh oregano or marjoram, chopped

salt & pepper, to taste
olive oil, as needed

1. bring a large pot of salted water up to a roiling boil. blanch broccoli florets until just tender; 3-5 minutes. shock the broccoli in iced water, drain and set aside. keep the water at a boil and cook the cavatelli according to the instructions printed on the package.

2. saute the onion in olive oil over medium-high heat, until lightly brown; 3-5 minutes. add sausage, cook until heated through.

3. add roasted peppers and garlic. saute until fragrant; ~2 minutes. add the broccoli and stock, cook until heated through; 2-3 minutes.

4. toss pasta and the saute veggies in a large bowl to combine. garnish with the fresh herbs, hot pepper and olive oil. serve over seared cauliflower steaks.

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

happy st. patrick's day!

i suppose it's too little too late at this point, but i'd like to share this make-shift corned beef & cabbage recipe with you. this was my first go at it, but i am very pleased with how it turned out.

most recipes should be taken with a grain of salt; i suggest you take this one with a shot of whiskey.

Corned Beef & Cabbage

1 (4 #) corned beef in brine

1 TBS unsalted butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 TBS old bay seasoning
1 tsp ground mustard
1 splash of whiskey
1 (12oz) bottle of beer
water, as needed
salt and pepper, to taste

4 red potatoes, chopped
4 turnips, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
1-2 heads green cabbage, cut into eighths

1. rinse corned beef under cold, running water. cut into manageable pieces; reserve any package seasonings.

2. sweat onion and celery in butter over medium heat. add bay leaves, old bay and ground mustard. deglaze with whiskey and cook until reduced by 1/2. add beer, and corned beef; add enough water to cover. bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. braise, covered over medium-low heat until tender, at least 3 hours.

3. remove corned beef from the braising liquid; cover with foil until ready to carve. strain liquid into a clean pot. add potatoes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and cabbage. bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. simmer until tender; about 30 minutes. taste and season.

4. remove vegetables with a slotted spoon; arrange in a roasting pan. add a few pads of butter and enough cooking liquid to moisten. carve up the corned beef, against the grain, and arrange on top of cooked vegetables. serve remaining cooking liquid on the side.


© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Thursday, March 12, 2009

O.K .Corallo

Il Corallo can be an enjoyable dining experience, once acclimatized to its "charms." the space is cramped and the menu is overwhelming; in addition to several brick oven pizzas and daily meat specials, it boasts an endless array of pasta pastabilities as well as creative composed salads. the service, while pleasant is rushed and quirky as hell; the hostess will NOT seat incomplete parties, you have to wait outside until all of your guests have arrived. moreover, it should also be noted that dinners are only allowed one glass of wine if purchasing by the glass. if you want more, you'll have to buy a bottle.

no complaints, just honesty. don't let the daunting menu and curious service sway your resolve to visit; for top notch pasta at an affordable price, Il Corallo has got this town LOCKED DOWN.

Il Corallo Trattoria
176 Prince St, New York 10012

Taglierini Sorrento -
fresh thin black noodles with shrimp, lobster meat, scallops, clams, fresh chopped tomato, parsley, olive oil, white wine and garlic sauce

a bed of black squid ink noodles add a briny tang to the bountiful seafood medley that adorns it's crown. most of the seafood pastas at Il Corallo are very generous with their portions, this was no exception. the shrimp, scallops, lobster and crab meats were all spot on, however, the shellfish were incredibly under seasoned. they must cook them al la minute while compiling the dish instead of steaming them in wine prior to service and then incorporating them into the required dishes.

Stuffed Rigatoni -
tube pasta stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese in a traditional red sauce, topped with fresh mozzarella and basil.

stuffed shells, manicotti, ravioli; when it comes to stuffed pasta, i usually pass, however i HAD to make an exception for this batch of plump rigatoni. i can't recall ever having stuffed rigatoni before and honestly, i didn't even know it existed until now. this dish was refreshingly simple and traditional, just pasta and red sauce - real east side.

the residual heat from the piping hot pasta and sauce melted the mozzarella cubes down to a gooey goodness. delicious and filling.

Tiramisu -

tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts, and over the years i've had more than my fair share. THIS IS THE BEST TIRAMISU EVER. quote me on it.

a few things that put it a cut above the rest:

-made with a cake-base, instead of lady fingers.
-only ONE layer of cake means more fluffy goodness.
-topped with chunks of shaved chocolate AND powdered chocolate, instead of just the latter.

the custard is as light as a feather and the cake-base is perfectly balanced with the essences of coffee and liquor. please try it.

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Sunday, March 8, 2009

RED ALERT ! - authentic AZN

i order chinese take-out at least once or twice a week, religiously. singapore mei fun, szechwan shrimp, curry vegetables, general tso's tofu - i can't get enough. i must concede, however, that sometimes the local happy garden/golden chopsticks/panda queen/lucky dragon/ect. just doesn't cut it; sometimes i want REAL chinese food. don't get me wrong, i love the americanized stuff, but it lacks the ethnic flair i so often crave.

if you really want to pure stuff, you've got to go to the source - CHINATOWN. beyond the knock-off watches, cramped streets, and foreboding language barrier exists a culinary cornucopia rife with exotic treats on the cheap.

communication can be an issue for outsiders, but it shouldn't be a deterrent; many establishments try their best to extend themselves to anyone with an adventurous palate and the ability to point and say, "that, please. one". a great place to start is "Deluxe Food Market".

Deluxe Food Market
79 Elizabeth St. (Grand-Hester Sts.)

a block-long behemoth; half quick-service food depot, complete with steam tables, roast meats and a sweets station, and half asian supermarket.

i went in with $20 and left with a hefty bag of asian goodies and $2 change.

-1- pork bun the size of a large fist - moist, delicious and under a dollar.

-1- handful of the most amazing pork dumplings, ever - dough so fluffy you'd have thought they were pancakes.

-1- half order of roast duck - plentiful and indulgent.

-1- sizable order of scallion tofu - for health

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

off the beaten path: bistro 33

restaurants are a dime a dozen in NYC, it's almost too easy to get a good meal. but there's a catch; this type of over exposure breeds complacent diners, and complacent diners breed mediocre restaurants. BREAK THE CYCLE - venture off the beaten path. discover a hidden treasure, enjoy its muted charm and esoteric allure. what you find might surprise you.

my girlfriend and i spent this past valentine's day at bistro 33, a franco-jap fusion locale just off of 21st street in astoria, queens.

bistro 33
19-33 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria, NY
, 11105

they offered a 4-course tasting menu with wine pairings as a valentine's day special. the tasting menu both failed and triumphed, however, bistro 33 earned high enough marks to remain on the off the beaten path radar; i'd love to try their regular menu.

Buckwheat Risotto
King Trumpet Mushroom & Black Truffles

Paired with Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley, Chile

an "interesting" dish, to say the least. risotto is a timeless italian classic; simple and to the point with no room for the ostetatious. of course, no up-and-coming chef can leave well enough alone, and as such, wild interpretations pop up on menus all over, and most are rather uncivilized. i won't mince words, the first two bites tasted like dirt - straight up, however, i suppose that's to be expected when you order any buckwheat dish. the trumpet mushrooms and black truffles further muddled this dishes already struggling, overly-earthy flavor profile. texture was this dishes only saving grace; it ranged from properly toothy to uniquely chewy, something i've never quite experienced.

traditional or well executed? - no. playful and overall enjoyable? - sure.

Lobster Ravioli
Stuffed with Maine lobster, fontina, piave, mozzarella cheese
Cognac cream sauce, tarragon oil
Paired with McWilliams Riesling New South Wales, Australia

large, house-made ravioli are seldom a disappointment; these were no exception. plump with lobster and fine cheeses, no one ingredient overwhelmed the other. the stuffing's texture was creamy and luxiriant, but not overly processed; robust shreds of fresh lobster were an easy find. the cognac cream sauce was a lobster stock reduction, no doubt. i'm a sucker for shellfish sauce reductions but they've got to be done right, slowly and with care. bistro 33 successfully delivered.

Tekka Don Bluefin Tuna
Kinshi, tamago, rice

Sake pairing Ichinokura, Junmai Nama

a simple, traditional dish. the tamago, a sweet egg omelet, had been shredded into ribbons, a technqiue i've never seen before. the result, egg noodles - quite literally. the tuna was some of the best sashimi i've had in many moons; sliced uber thin, it was ever so delicate on the tongue. the rice, a shining example of how properly cooked sushi rice should be - humble and unassuming. my only gripe: with a dish like this there's nothing to hide; EASE UP ON THE WASABI.

Hotategai Trio
Scallop Sashimi - arugula, ginger dressing

Tartare of Scallop – meyer lemon, sea salt, fresh parilla leaf

Tataki Scallop – kaiware daikon, den miso glaze

Sake pairing Otokoyama – Tokubetsu Junmai

each more promising than the next:

the shashimi was positively fresh and handled with the utmost care, what more could you ask?

the tartare sang a sweet and sour song with enough restraint as to not take away from the molluscan main attraction.

the tataki, lightly seared and fully flavored had no trouble holding its own against the rich miso glaze or exonerating daikon radish.

Black Bass
Roasted kohlrabi, edamame, mussel nage
Paired with Fontanelle Chardonnay Castello Banfi Estates, Montalcino, Italy

look at that crisped skin, i swear it's better than bacon. this was a really fun and generous dish; a proper portion of bass, an ample amount of muscles and plenty of veggies; edamame and kolrabi no less! kolrabi is similar to a turnip but with a more "green" flavor, if that makes anymore sense. it's almost like a cross between a turnip and broccoli, flavor wise. the menu claimed that the kolrabi was roasted, but i beg to differ; looked and tasted steamed to me. no worries though, save for the veggies, that could have used a proper roasting, this was a well-executed entree.

Pan Seared Duck Breast
Brussels sprouts, lardon, water chestnuts

Paired with Buena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California

okay, where are the water chestnuts and lardon? if you are going to serve brussles sprouts and carrots, just say it; don't mislead the hungry with false hopes of alluring ingredients. deception aside, this was a solid entree. duck breast should ALWAYS be served rare, and rare it was. the skin crisp, the fat unctuous - 100% proper execution. the brussels sprouts had a rich nutty flavor, as any properly roasted sprout should. the sauce was rich but not heavy and had a strong five-spice component.

Triple chocolate bread pudding
White chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hazelnut crème anglaise

again with the misleading menu description. anyone who's ever experienced an elementary school bake sale knows this confection as a "blondie". there's nothing wrong with blondies; they are delicious. furthermore, i don't think bread pudding comes across as any more sophisticated than a blondie, so why fudge (sic) the description? as a bread budding, this dessert is an epic fail. however, as a blondie, it gets a "C", average; next time just be yourself, blondie!

Blue Cheese Fig Torchon
Candied walnuts, balsamic glaze

bold, blue cheese in every bite; THE anti-dessert, i loved it! the dried fig, candied walnuts and balsamic reduction provided enough sweet and tang to chisel through the cheese's feet-flavor defenses, successfully neutralizing a somewhat cloying blue cheese overdose. make no mistake, this dish was a CHEESE dish, NOT a DESSERT. perhaps they should have made that more clear on the menu's description, as i noticed a few diners were put-off by this moldy marauder -- they expected a dessert, but what they got was a crash course in BLUE CHEESE.

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -