Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bits & Morsels goes to P.J.'s and Il Brigante

Arugula pizza at Il Brigante.

Meet me at P.J. Clarke’s or Il Brigante. A good friend of mine lives half the time in Los Angeles and the other half as a New Yorker. He often tells me he prefers New York because when he walks out of his home in L.A., he feels like he's the only person in the world. In New York you are never really alone. Being lonely is another story. During these summer months when the city empties out, the streets get very quiet and some restaurants lack that certain noisy quality that diners have grown to love.

Two restaurants which are busy all year round, even the week of July 4th, are P.J. Clarke’s and Il Brigante. And both are genuinely warm places with good souls. You won’t find any snippy reservationists, and regardless of how busy they are, the wait for a table is never too long.
P. J. Clarke's chocolate chip cookie souffle. Il Brigante's Tiramisu.
Il Brigante is an interesting choice. It's located at 214 Front Street near the South Street seaport. For lunch Il Brigante is usually packed and the restaurants that surround it are usually empty. Il Brigante serves up tasty and wholesome Italian cuisine. Everything from the pizzas to the pastas are fresh and not overly layered with a million calories worth of cheese. Il Brigante is owned by Venanzio Pasubio who hails from the Calabria region of Italy. He is molto passionate about the quality of his food to the point that there is no microwave in the kitchen, he doesn’t use any frozen ingredients, and he does most of the shopping for the restaurant himself.

Il Brigante is named after a Robin Hood figure from Italy. In the back of the restaurant there is a wood burning oven which produces pizza that is light with the perfect amount of texture. If you have time for a leisurely lunch, order the pizza margherita and a tricolor salad. The tricolor salad at Il Brigante is especially refreshing because they toss in crispy fennel. If you are pressed for time, order a pizza topped with arugula. Lately I have been ordering that combination; in my head it makes the pizza more nutritious and healthy-er. For dessert you must have the tiramisu. It is homemade, and unlike many restaurants which tend to spike their tiramsu with too much rum, Il Brigante's version is cool and creamy bliss.

Even though I have plenty of Italian joints in my neighborhood, I find myself drawn to the charm and quality of food at Il Brigante. It’s definitely worth a trip downtown.
Clockwise from top left: Il Brigante's owner Venanzio Pasubio with a sculpture of Il Brigante; Margherita pizza; Pizza with arugula; White pizza with prosciutto; Miguel preparing the tomatoes; The menu.
Il Brigante. The brick oven.
Clockwise from top left: Insalata Tricolore; Arancini; Fresh watermelon; Arugula pizza in the process of being eaten.
P.J. Clarke’s is always hopping. There are now a few locations in the city but I always go to the original at 915 Third Avenue. The front of the place is mainly a bar with the dining room in the back. The kitchen stays open until 3:00 am, so for late night dining there is no better choice. There is a slightly more formal dining room located upstairs, called the Sidecar. P.J. Clarke’s has been open for 125 years and the good food and gracious service is a testament to that. Seriously, P.J. Clarke’s has better service than some fine dining establishments.

Not once did I have to search for our waitress and our water glasses were constantly refilled. There is something about the room that just makes it easy to talk to people (regardless of whether you are with friends or dining alone). The food is American bar fare done right. Besides serving fish and chips, burgers, and macaroni and cheese, they also serve omelettes and salads. For dessert you must order the chocolate chip cookie soufflé. Imagine a thick soft chocolate chip cookie served warm and drenched in hot chocolate sauce. [P.J. Clarke's]
Looking in to P.J. Clarke's. Half and Half - mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.
Clockwise from top left: Caesar salad; Farmer's omelet; Fish and chips; Apple cobbler.
Another reason to eat watermelon. Recent studies have shown that watermelon contains certain ingredients that just may cause a similar side effect to that of Viagra. If that doesn't convince you, watermelon is loaded with nutrients that help our immune and circulatory systems. [Science Daily]

It’s very easy to go overboard when eating ice cream
especially in this heat. The Skinny Cow is a brand of frozen treats that includes natural tasting ice cream sandwiches and fudge pops. A Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich has only 140 calories and they really do the trick. [Sugar Savvy]

Recently, Oprah Winfrey decided to cleanse her body and refused to ingest any animal products, meat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and gluten in her diet. She did this cleanse for 21 days and blogged about it. If you want to try a cleanse on a smaller scale, try giving up one of these items for a few days and taking it from there. [Oprah’s blog]

The recent salmonella outbreak
that was thought to be cause by tainted tomatoes may actually be from jalapeno peppers. Investigators are looking at foods that are commonly served with tomatoes to pinpoint the cause of the salmonella cases. [WSJ]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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