Friday, January 15, 2010

24 hours in Manhattan: a food & fun recap

With guest confirmation emails in hand, my friend Gabi and I hit the road after school drop off here in the Boston area for a 4+ hour drive into the heart of Manhattan. We were headed to the special Martha Stewart Show on bloggers. The entire audience would not only be made up of crazy bloggers like us but we were all asked to blog throughout the show on our laptops or phones. Since we needed to be at the studio by 8:30 am we decided that an overnight in the big apple was in order.

We arrived by 1:00 pm and after a quick freshening up at the hotel, we hit the pavement to find some lunch. Gabi has not spent much time in NYC so it was a little daunting trying to choose where to take her. Since we only had one afternoon, we didn't have too much time to linger. Here is what we hit on our mad dash around town....

A little look-see @ ABC Carpet and Home
Some fun purchases @ Fishs Eddy
A quick walk-in mani @ Dashing Diva Nails
Scouring racks and a boot purchase @ Century 21

Then it was back to the hotel to spruce up for dinner. With no reservations in hand (see this post) and the hour quickly approaching 8:00 pm, we realized that we were going to be lucky to even get a bar stool space.

Our patience and my flexibility paid off. As we were walking towards Union Square from our hotel we passed a restaurant called Almond. If it were not for a really cute Vespa parked outside I would have missed it all together. Neither the name nor the exterior were inviting enough to grab my attention but when we peered through the huge plate glass windows, we both decided that the bleached beach wood panel and toile paper covered walls seemed cozy enough to have a look at the menu. The menu, with it's decidedly french/italian slant, seemed fine enough but it was the stream of people flowing in that made us realize that a) people in this hood seem to like it and b) it may have the last available table we could find on short notice tonight. So we took the gamble and asked for a table for two. We didn't regret it.

Gabi's s: Brussels Sprouts Two Ways in a Caesar Style. The dish was beautiful and full of flavor. 

Mine: Endive, Pear, walnut & Roquefort Salad. These are flavors that always please but the delivery could have been better. The endive was cut into awkward long slices about the same size as the pear. The two were disappointingly indistinguishable in the restaurant's low light. The walnuts were glazed with a sweet caramel which turned out to be the delight of the dish. Unfortunately, while the dressing had a light roquefort flavor, there should have been cheese crumbles on the dish. There were none. 


Gabi's: Wednesday special of Shrimp Scampi via Risotto topped with onion rings. It was a home run. risotto was full of flavor and the shrimp delicious according to Gabi. 

Mine: Heritage Pork Chop with Brussels Sprouts & Gnocco alla Roma. The chop was perfectly cooked with a slight pink hue to the moist and flavorful interior. The Gnocco was a large, about 2.5" in diameter, single gnocco, browned on both sides with a creamy, slightly cheesey flavor in the center. From what I am hearing, this is a take on a rapidly rising food trend in NYC. Gnocco alla Roma is just one of many menu items culled from the streets of Rome landing in NYC these days. In a NYT article just published this week on trendy Italian food moving away from the coveted Tuscan dishes to a decidedly Roman style, Roman Gnocchi were highlighted with both a clear description of how they differ from traditional gnocchi and a nice photo spread.

All in all, Almond was a good value for the money, not a seat at a special NYC foodie joint but it truly didn't disappoint. The meal had some very high points with some somewhat low points but the vibe combined with great service made it a restaurant I'd return to when back in Manhattan.

From my trusted friends at, here is a recipe I am going to try tonight. I will report back in the morning to let you all know how it turned out. And yes, of course, I'll provide pictures of the process!

Gnocchi Alla Romana
yield: Makes 6 first-course servings
Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 2 hr

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup semolina (sometimes labeled "semolina flour"; resembles fine yellow cornmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3/4 cup)
  • 1 large egg
Whisk together milk, semolina, and 1 teaspoon salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until very stiff, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter and 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Beat in egg.
Spread gnocchi mixture 1/2 inch thick on an oiled baking sheet and chill, uncovered, until very firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Cut out rounds from gnocchi mixture with a 2-inch round cookie cutter (push scraps into remaining mixture as you go) and arrange, slightly overlapping, in a well-buttered 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Make a small second layer in center of dish with any remaining rounds. Brush gnocchi with remaining 1/4 cup melted butter and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake in middle of oven until gnocchi are beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Here are some snapshots of the set at The Martha Stewart Show...