Saturday, December 27, 2008

Review: Ristorante Il Melograno

Alberto Tartari, chef and owner of Il Melograno, has recreated a little corner of Italy in his restaurant on West 5lst Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan. Named for the pomegranate which adorns most dishes on the menu, this neighborhood spot is just large enough to seat about 50 or so lucky visitors. Dishes are prepared in the Northern Italian tradition and feature imported Italian ingredients and homemade pasta. They are made to order, fresh and hot.

Americans familiar with southern Italian cuisine might be surprised that the menu offers fish and meat dishes with potatoes, but Tartari's recipes are drawn from the Lombardy region, which encompasses Milano and is close to the border with Germany. Pasta does appear on the menu, but it's often paired with savory meat and cream sauces, also typical of northern cuisine.

As we studied the menu, one item after another caught my attention. For a while, I lingered over the veal ravioli with butter, sage, and Parmegiana sauce, but in the end I opted for a lighter dish, pictured in the photo. This luscious blend of San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and pasta melted in my mouth. If you look closely, you'll see the fresh basil and pomegranates adorning the dish. Rich and Sue tried the eggplant and penne special, Alex had the fresh pappardelle with sweet sausage sauce, peas and truffle oil, and Paul had the osso buco with roasted potatoes. Everyone declared that their dish was delicious.

Somehow we fended off the tempting offers of homemade desserts, such as tiramisu and chocolate souffle cake, and simply sipped some cappuccino. Even after paying the bill, I wanted to linger in this cozy spot with its open kitchen and winking white lights outlining the front window. But as we reluctantly stepped outside, we promised ourselves that we'd return. In fact it happened sooner than even we expected, for a few days later, we met our nephew and his girlfriend for dinner and settled into the now familiar wooden seats and ate another delicious meal. If you go, buon appetito!

501 West 51st Street
(corner of 51st and 10th)
New York, NY 10019
212.757.9290 or

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pizza Wars

Look at that beautiful pizza, fresh from the oven. A brick oven, that is. This was lunch the other day at Zero Otto Nove, a well-known spot on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for delicious Italian food--and it was delicioso. The crust was ultra thin and light and had that requisite salty tang from the yeast. The toppings were fresh and delicious. We tried the classic margherita with a twist--mozzarella, basil, tomato and mushrooms-- and friends ordered the salernitana with escarole. We all agreed. It was perfetto.

But enter another contender--Lombardi's Pizza on 32 Spring Street, near the corner of Mott. We had to try their coal-fired pizza to see if it is in fact better than the wood-fired variety. So we ate dinner there one night with friends and cousins and shared three pies. At one point someone wondered if 3 pies were too much for the 7 of us, but soon, we had demolished everything except a few crumbs and part of one crust.

The difference between the two cooking methods is subtle. The coal-fired oven reaches higher temperatures, up to 800 degrees, so the crust is more charred and extraordinarily crisp. It's also denser, but still has the subtle tang from the yeast. The toppings were fresh and interesting, but Zero Otto Nove had a wider selection and unusual ingredients like the escarole, potatoes, or butternut squash. Here, we ordered one with sweet Italian sausage and red peppers, another with half mushroom and half onion, and a third with classic white toppings.

In balance, I prefer Lombardi's for the slightly denser crust and tangy char, but Rich chose Zero Otto Nove. He insists that the thinner crust is best but I think that a crust drooping under the weight of its toppings is problematic. Who wants to eat their pizza with a knife and fork? He disagrees. How to settle the score? Try another pizzaria, of course. I'm ready whenever he is.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Patti's Paella

Paella a la Valenciana, originally uploaded by Sutanto.

Friends were coming for supper last night and my oven shorted out, so I had to get creative. I had to find a dish that could be cooked in a limited number of pots, wouldn't be labor intensive, and was nearly fool-proof. Besides, I was staying at a friend's house and didn't have my cookbooks, so I did a quick web search and turned up a winner.

Paella is one of those versatile dishes native to Spain with dozens of permutations. After looking at several recipes, I came up with my own version, a little of this and that. The dish was fragrant and savory. The rice was moist, the chicken was tender, and each bite was infused with wonderful flavor. One of its virtues is its versatility. Seafood can be added or deleted. Vegetarians can eliminate the meat and add more vegetables. Chorizo can be replaced with hot or sweet Italian sausage or even kielbasa. The next time around, I'm going to add more spice, but my recommendation is to taste it before serving and adjust accordingly. We ended up adding some hot sauce, which was just the extra amount of heat we wanted. Regardless, the flavor is excellent.


1 tbsp olive oil
14 oz. chorizo
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. paprika or pimenton
2 cups short or medium grain bbrice
1 pinch saffron threads
1 bay leaf
3.5 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1.5 lbs. chicken breasts cut into chunks or whole chicken, split
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tomato, chopped
coarse salt and pepper
1 lb. shrimp with tails on
10 mussels (optional)
10 clams (optional)
1tsp. rosemary
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. cumin
lemon wedges

1. Mix together paprika, cumin, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper and sprinkle on the chicken chunks. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or deep pot. Add chorizo,chicken and the spice mixture and cook until browned. Drain excess oil.
3. Add onion, red and green pepper, garlic. Cook, stirring until softened.
4. Add rice, saffron, tomato, and bay leaf. Stir to combine and coat the rice.
5. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir to blend flavors. Cover. Cook for approximately 20 minutes.
6. In the remaining 10 minutes, add the peas and shrimp. Bury the shrimp deep into the rice and stir. Take a paper towel, place over the pot opening, and put the lid on.
7. When the rice is tender, let the dish sit for a minute in the pot before serving. Serve on a platter with lemon wedges.

Serves 4-6 people.


Patti's Paella on Foodista

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Hungry Gargoyle

This fellow, eager for his next meal, is cheerfully stirring his soup at 527 110th Street in Manhattan. Just around the corner other gargoyles are clinging to the buttresses at St. John Divine, but their purpose is quite different--to scare away the demons and keep the site safe for God. This friendly gourmand just wants to scare away those who want to dip their spoons into his soup. I admire his appetite and tenacity. Buon appetito.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

On the Road--Manhattan

Every picture tells a story. Maybe that's why I was so impressed with Jamal Shabazz and his work. The consumate street photographer, Shabazz finds inspiration in everyday scenes and gets to know his subjects before capturing their image. The two young men are Angel and Jesus, two friends hanging out in Times Square about 25 years ago. They're now adults--Jesus on the right is in prison and Angel is fighting drug addiction. The kids playing on the mattress are part of Shabazz's happy kids series--documenting how innocence thrives even in the most unlikely places. As he talks about his art, Shabazz's respect for his subjects, innate curiousity about them, and his commitment to have an impact on their lives highlight his work.

His photographs are on display in the Street Life, Street Art exhibit at the Bronx Photography Museum in New York through January. To see more of his work online, click on this link:

The Metro Diner

It’s nothing fancy, but the waiters are friendly, the food is fresh, abundant, and tasty, and the prices aren’t bad…for Manhattan. Besides, what’s New York without the deli experience? Rich always orders the tuna on rye with onions, which he declares tastes like none other. I’m more inclined to get the Greek salad, or the hummus plate loaded with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, baba ganough, tabouli, olives and a basket of warm pita bread. The omelets are also winners. I usually get the Greek. The rye toast has the requisite buttery crunch and the hash browns are crisp and savory. Am I making you hungry? Well, what are you waiting for?

The Metro Diner
2641 Broadway # 1
New York, NY 10025
(212) 866-0800

Friday, December 5, 2008

Love Books?

Do you want to buy a book for someone for this holiday? Do you need some suggestions? Get ideas from 37 writers published by Penguin Group, including Khaled Hosseini, Michael Pollen, Julia Alvarez, Stewart O'Nan, Tomie de Paola, Elizabeth Gilbert...
Just click on this link: