You might know that I have a long-standing, mostly-love affair with New York City. My parents regularly took my sister and me there during our childhoods (lucky us), I lived on the Upper East Side for three years in the early aughts, and I have hauled ass back there as often as I could since.
The unfortunate fact is that I wasn't what you'd call a big eater when I lived there, so other than a few spectacular meals at gems like Chanterelle (now closed; sob), I missed out on a lot in NY's culinary world. A different story for a different time.
Since leaving in '03, I have most definitely made up for lost time, eating my way around the city as often as I can. From the Greenmarket to any Danny Meyer treasure, I make sure not to waste any of the three squares + snacks I get each day.
One of my favorite truths about New York is that if you just start walking, you will come across something spectacular. Could be a performance, a beautiful sight, a proposal...anything really. Last Friday, after a full day immersed in the BlogHer conference (and a late night on Thursday), I was totally beat. I got a ludicrously overpriced glass of wine from the hotel bar, brought it to my room and put on my pajamas.
"But, wait, dummy. Remember where you are!" I murmured. Chastened, I threw on some clothes, took the elevator down and walked out into the bustling night.
New York in July can be as muggy as Louisiana, and that's not a compliment. But last Friday was one of those perfect evenings in which humidity and sweat are nothing more than ideas, and I walked and walked with a gentle breeze on my arm.
As I approached Columbus Circle, I veered left to head north on Broadway. Past 61st St, the Empire Hotel sign loomed large just ahead, and I was jolted back to the first time I stayed there: on a recruiting trip for the University of Chicago. I can't remember why I chose the Empire, but it likely had something to do with Priceline or Hotwire, but I remember checking in and feeling awfully grown up and professional. Was I 23? 24? A lifetime ago.
If you know that part of New York, you know that the Empire looks out over Lincoln Center, a triangle park apparently named Dante (who ever knew? not me) and a strip of restaurants -Cafe Fiorello, The Smith, and Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud.
I wasn't terribly hungry, but hello. Daniel Boulud people. So I stopped. And irritated the shit out of the hostess when I switched my decision to sit outside versus in -"I've already set you a place at the bar."- and smiled winningly and ignored her peevishness and sat down so happily at a table directly abutting the rail dividing sidewalk and dining area. Perfect.
Perhaps because she was irritated, or perhaps because Boulud Sud was busy, or perhaps anything, but while someone quickly left menus on my table, it took nearly twenty minutes for anyone to return. I didn't much care because New York is the best people-watching outside of New Orleans, but I finally made myself known and ordered a beautiful glass of Benoni Pinot Noir. Of the gods!
Then, before Mr. Wine could leave, I ordered the Crispy Artichokes alla Romana with Nipatella (an Italian herb) Aioli and the Heirloom Tomato Panzanella with Burrata, Stone Fruit and Pesto.
If anyone is going to do fried artichokes right in America, I surmised, Daniel Boulud is a good bet. I was not mistaken.
These babies tasted as if they'd been plucked from Italian soil that morning which, as I find American 'chokes horribly depressing, left me speechlessly thrilled. The batter was light, the fry was perfect with nary a spot of grease in sight, and the aioli was bright and tangy just as it should be.
I was happy that my salad came concurrently because it was lovely to go between bites of each. The burrata was an enormous blob with a wonderfully firm exterior and lusciously jiggly interior. Some burrata just oozes like melting ice cream; it might taste good but you need a spoon and it's awfully unattractive. This one held together just enough; I needed my knife but only slightly.
Though I have paired both tomatoes and peaches with burrata, I've never combined all three. Why not? What have I been waiting for? I am now all the wiser. The peaches and cherries were at the peak of ripeness, and the tomatoes are what you hope for when you pay up for heirlooms (but all too rarely get).
The only erroneous element was the sliced caper berries whose briny tang was too dissonant for my taste. Fortunately there weren't too many, but when I replicate this salad at home, I won't add them at all.
The pesto was gorgeous and added depth, the pine nuts a tremendous textural treat and the bread cubes were neither overbearing nor cut too large. I appreciated the latter especially because it gets my goad when I cut the top of my mouth on crusty edges.
I wished I'd had room to order much more for the menu was a huge bowl of candy available for the taking, but next time. Next time.