Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bits & Morsels revisits the Plaza

Ricotta ravioli with artichokes at The Oak Room.

Last Thursday was ghastly. Teeming rain, raw cold, all night long. My original plan was to meet up with a friend at a holiday party and then shoot for an 8:30 dinner at Da Umberto. We never made it to the holiday party and we were seriously considering canceling dinner altogether. However, braving the weather, we hailed a couple taxis and made it safely to Da Umberto. Located in Chelsea at 107 West 17th Street, Da Umberto is a low-key gem. Keep your eyes peeled as there is no prominent signage on the door.

For 9:00 on a cold and rainy Thursday night, Da Umberto was jam-packed with people noticeably enjoying their dinner. The noise level wasn’t too high so it was surprisingly easy to lay back, relax and have satisfying conversation with my dinner partner. Da Umberto serves classic Italian food with a long list of specials every night. To start, I had an appetizer portion of fresh pasta with leeks and artichokes. I also sampled their creamy polenta with fresh sauteed mushrooms. Nothing beats their warm, stick-to-your-ribs polenta with mushrooms especially on this moist and cold evening. For my main I had the special squash ravioli, which normally comes in a butter and sage sauce. Unfortunately, I am allergic to sage so they were quite accommodating in substituting tomato sauce in its place.

Still, the highlight of the meal was dessert. The tiramisu was light but creamy and had the perfect ratio of coffee to ladyfingers. Da Umberto serves one of the best tiramisus in New York. I know my tiramisu and this was a real treat. Da Umberto, 107 West 17th Street, (212) 989-0303.
The logo in the rain, the menu, the cozy dining room.
Olives at the bar. Mushroom ravioli in a pink tomato sauce.
Pappardelle with artichokes, olive oil, and garlic. Mushrooms with polenta.
Squash ravioli.
Arugula salad with artichoke hearts and pomegranate seeds. Fresh berries.
The best tiramisu. Biscotti.
The dessert table. Cappuccino.
Saturday night I went to see 'The Reader' at The Paris Movie Theater. Rather than the usual madhouse multiplex, The Paris is one of those rare theaters that makes going to the movies a real treat. It has been open for 60 years and every movie they show is usually foreign, fascinating or both. After the movie I hopped on over to the Oak Room at the Plaza.

I have not been to the Plaza since its most recent renovation. The lobby and hallways were lined with Christmas decorations just like I remember. The plaza was sparsely populated on this day; but on any day it is worth checking out the Oak Bar and Oak Room. The Oak Bar for a cocktail or a light snack. The Oak Room for more formal fare like melt-in-your-mouth ricotta ravioli with artichokes.
The Oak Room.
It was festive and very old New Yawk on this Saturday night, replete with piano man playing all the classics. I went for a quick tour of the kitchen and ran into chef Joel Antunes who runs the kitchen of both the Oak Room and the Oak Bar. I was impressed not just by how immaculate it was, but by how spacious and organized it appeared. There is no denying the atmosphere is special with its high ceilings, oak panels, and pure open space. During the holiday season it's the perfect place for a bite and a collective only in New York experience. [The Oak Room]
Christmas trees and decorations throughout the Plaza.
Allan Basorou and chef Joel Antunes. In the kitchen.
Clockwise from top left: A great bottle of white burgundy; Gougeres; Caviar and blinis; Bread and butter.
Caesar salad. Ricotta ravioli with artichokes.
French fries. Mille feuille with praline cream and lime sorbet.
It’s interesting how some restaurants have changed their policy and their tone since we have entered into recession mode. Sometimes reservationists can be a bit snide. Now, when you cancel a reservation ... they try to accommodate you at a different time. Some of these restaurants used to think they were doing you a favor by giving you a 10 PM reservation. [Diner’s Journal]
This isn’t for everyone but there are some benefits to butchering your own meat. Check out this post from Michael Ruhlman about how he butchered a pig and stocked up his freezer with meat. There is something to be said about knowing where your meat comes from and not having to eat the horrible food-stuff that lives in our supermarkets. [Michael Ruhlman]
The days of eating 600 calorie muffins for breakfast are over. A recent survey shows that in the six months since restaurants have been required to post calories, people have been making healthier choices. The best part is that many restaurants are getting the message and they have been rolling out healthier snacks. [Crain’s]

Kid food. Here is a list of ways to eat healthier. They are meant for young children but I think they apply just as much to the older kids at heart like myself. The tips include 1. ordering pizza with light cheese and topping it with vegetables and 2. diluting juice with water. [That’s Fit]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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