I love restaurants, but nothing can replace a feast with friends in a beautiful home. This weekend, my family’s long time friend Nicole was in town from Miami and invited a few people over to share the plethora of incredible food items she had been collecting since Friday. Nicole isn’t just any food lover – she’s a trained and experienced chef who, like me, can make a weekend out of researching quality food spots and navigating the city to find them. She definitely showed me up last night.
When my sister and I arrived to Nicole’s New York home-away-from-home last night, I was stunned by the overwhelming sight of plate after plate of my favorite foods. I was there to meet her children, but my priority soon shifted to eating the bright white globe of fresh buratta surrounded by basil, and a salad of golden yellow and deep red heirloom cherry tomatoes marinated in fragrant extra virgin olive oil. A stack of Amy’s nut bread and the softest, freshest Frech baguette from Fairway Market lay next to a plate of Murray’s cheeses – one of which was a deliciously creamy, mild blue called “Caveman” and was instantly added to my brain’s subconscious list of “favorite cheeses”. An inch to the left, there lie a platter of beautifully transparent slices of fresh Scottish Salmon placed on crispy bialys. Delicately sliced italian meats, a bowl of sheep’s milk ricotta with truffle honey, a refreshing cucumber orange avocado salad, and a thinly sliced apple salad with blue cheese and crushed candied almonds covered the rest of the little available space on the table. I arrived full from brunch, but all bets were off the second I saw this array.
My jaw dropped in disbelief when Nicole alerted me to the three pastas she planned to prepare after I had stuffed my face with buratta – a raviolini with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, a butternut squash ravioli simply prepared with butter and freshly grated parmesan, and a long pasta with rock shrimp, crab, and a simple sauce made of onion, garlic, tomato paste, cream, and thyme. I knew that I couldn’t let my stomach stop me from tasting her creations made with the freshest noodles (stuffed pasta from Eataly, noodles from Murray’s) and ingredients (rock shrimp and crab from The Lobster Place). They were all astoundingly good – professional quality in a layman’s kitchen – and demonstrated her preferred method of cooking, which is my preferred type of eating: a few high quality ingredients that result in a masterpiece of simple and heartwarming food.
The thought of dessert was frightening, but when I saw the stacks of pastry boxes adorning the labels of the city’s best bakeries, my will-power dissolved in thin air. As Nicole unveiled each box, I grew more and more impressed by the fact that not only did she have the heart to share this all with her friends, but that she also managed to gather these things from all corners of Manhattan in two days while lugging around grocery bags and her two kids! The amount of dessert was endless, but I was in pure bliss: my favorite Jacques Torres chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip, and chocolate chocolate cookies; a coconut cream pie, an award-winning Brooklyn Blackout cupcake, a peanut butter chocolate cupcake, a key lime angel food cupcake, and a moist square of gingerbread from Two Little Red Hens; a custardy, light mille crepes cake from Lady M; banana cake, pineapple upside down cake, and a pistachio cupcake from Billy’s Bakery; italian rainbow cookies and ricotta cheesecake from Veniero’s Bakery; and my new favorite discovery – banana pudding and coffee pudding from the new East Village spot Puddin’. I surprised myself with what I gravitated toward – instead of my usual chocolate frenzy, I was in bliss over the creamy concoctions: coconut cream pie, mille crepes, and the banana pudding. After a bite of almost everything that lay before me, I had no other choice but to force myself to stop in fear of spontaneously combusting.
the crime scene
No, this is not a series of lies. Nicole truly purchased and prepared all of these things, and we really ate all of these things. The cab ride home and the remainder of the night was a painful one of belly rubbing and swearing off dessert for the rest of the week. Sadly, after my peanut butter bar snack today after lunch I’ve already failed at my own game, but the feeling of gluttony was 100% worth all of the amazing food I was able to try. Nicole, you’re welcome back to New York anytime – but warn me in advance so I can work up the stomach space.