Saturday, February 11, 2017

ALLORA ALLURES YOUR ITALIAN TASTE BUDS



I heard of a new restaurant that opened at the Bay Terrace Shopping Center called Allora Italian Kitchen and Bar and could not imagine it would be different from any other local Italian eatery.   Why would you expect a Corporate Chef named Steve Koutsoumbaris to run the kitchen of what turned out to warrant a label of “finer dining” of Italian cuisine that you might expect in any city’s Little Italy?


I went there with a few friends.  Luchia Lee is Taiwanese American, her husband Ken Howell is a vegetarian.  Allora looks enormous when you enter.  On the left is a large bar area complete with tables and chairs.  A few lounging chairs and tables sit in front of a fireplace located in the middle.  The main part of the restaurant has a few dining areas, one of which sits near two brick pizza ovens and a room dedicated to wines.  Beyond that is a terrace which I’m told will open for the Spring season.  




We decided to have a drink in front of the fireplace, not just to warm up from the outside weather (It was just an excuse since we parked directly in front of the door).  Here came the first test.  Limoncello.  Would it be imported from Italy where the special sweet lemons are grown?   My friends each had a glass of red Italian wine.  Then the Director of Mixology Daniel Rothberg came over to tell me about some of his latest concoctions.  Galera Sappore has a base of Absolut Elyx Vodka and Violet Liqueur, fresh lemon sour, and a splash of beet juice for color, finished with an aromatic torched rosemary sprig.  That is the one I chose.  Next time it’s Bocce Bell – Stoli, Amaretto Luxardo, fresh orange juice, Peach Bitters, a dash of club soda, and garnished with Brandied Amarena Cherries. 

First up were some appetizers starting with a Burrata, a ball of mozzarella with a creamy ricotta in the middle.  Mozzarella is made on the premises as is their ricotta cheese, which has many uses as Italians love to dollop their dish.  It was served with roasted tomato, pomegranate seeds, and smoked almonds.  There is usually a balsamic glaze which is a no-no for me. 




Ken was treated to a Crostini Trio Crostini Trio:  Eggplant Caponata; Whipped Ricotta, Hazelnut & Honey; Wild Mushroom and Taleggio Cheese.  Veggie heaven then came down in the form of “grilled and roasted”.  We all loved it as we did the Beet Salad with shaved fennel, pistachios and a Pesto Ricotta. 






Now, it’s time to “non-veggie” beginning with Nonna’s  Meatballs made with beef and pork, “Sunday Gravy” (Gravy is somewhat defined as “sauce”)  and whipped Ricotta.  Luchia was quite impressed on how soft and flavorful they were.  




For whatever reason I decided to order the Octopus.  I did expect the “chewiness” that came along with it and was totally shocked at the soft texture!  Steve later came over to explain his cooking preparation (which he bragged about passing on to some top chefs who were as surprised as well).  Hey, he is Greek! 






Pasta and pizza are among the top sellers here and I can certainly understand why.  All of the pastas are made on the premises.  What’s better than having fresh pasta?  I’ll tell you.  There was an item called Gnudi.  What?  Think about having gnocci, those pillowy pastas made from potatoes and flour.  Instead of using potatoes, they use ricotta cheese.  OMG! It is served with Taleggio Cream, Prosciutto, and Shiitake mushrooms (prosciutto served on the side so that Ken could indulge as well). Another pasta:  Pappardelle topped with a Short Rib Ragu and Whipped Ricotta.  Smiles from both myself and Luchia.





One small pizza for all of us to be gratified.  What is a Detroit Style Pizza?   A cross between a Sicilian and Chicago deep dish.  We went for a Grandma with mozzarella, roasted tomato and bread crumbs.  My pizza habit tends to be scrumptious on the first slice and then I want to simply remove the toppings from the second and toss out the crust.  Not this one!  The thick crust is crunchy on the outsides and soft in the middle.  Steve shared how the dough was prepared in order to make it “airy” and adding a bit of cheddar cheese for extra flavor.   
  



I have another test.  Osso Buco made from a veal shank.  The meat was perfectly cooked coming out soft and “falling off the bone”.  Sauce (gravy) was wonderfully savory.   Cooked with roasted root vegetables and Trofie Pasta (thin, short and twisted).  What is the most important part but this dish…the marrow.   I used a knife at first and did not find it necessary to spread on anything.  I then simply took the now bare bone and sucked it out.  All of the savory-ness from the cooking seemed to melt into the marrow. 



  

I realize that we have “pigged out” at this point.  Thanks to being able to take home leftovers, it was not an issue.  We just had to experience some desserts which except for the gelato are another “made on the premises” treat for the eyes and mouth.  


Cannoli Nachos: deconstructed cannoli using Cannoli Crisps, pastry cream made with ricotta cheese, chocolate flakes and chocolate chips.  Apple Napoleon:  using a crispy Phyllo dough, cinnamon apples, a mascarpone cream, (Did you expect ricotta?) and topped with pistachio gelato.  Having a fondness for hazelnut gelato, I requested a dish of that.  Wherever they get the gelato from…it’s totally authentic and doesn’t taste like there is “flavoring” vs the real thing. 






What can you expect in the way of service?  Keep in mind that we were here on a Tuesday evening.  Plates and silverware was cleared and replaced after each course.  We all had gotten up to view the pizza ovens and chef at work.  When we got back to the table, the napkins were refolded with silverware placed atop.  Ken had never seen this and I had to explain that it is not typically done and depends upon what the Corporate or Executive Chef wants to wait staff to do.  I think that it gives a more caring touch to dining out giving a more caring and VIP feeling.   


I was going to order coffee but I told the waiter that I was “on a diet”.  In the meantime, I will go back to speak with both Steve and Daniel to obtain the lunch and bar bite menu along with an interview.  

I went back to check out some of the great cocktails that the Mixologist, Daniel has been concocting as well as the Bar Bites menu.

















Since Steve came up with the Bar Bites menu, I took a few photos of him
He is standing in front one of two pizza ovens.

This is where they keep the wines.

This is a hand cranked slicer to make meats such as proscuitti come out very thin. Heat of an electric machine keeps it fresher and cooler.



 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

THE JOY OF SOY MILK



There have been many attempts to come up with the perfect soymilk maker and it looks like a company called Sanlinx perfected so much that you can make fresh soymilk in 20 minutes and a quicker clean up.  Soyajoy G4 is the product. 

Previously Soyajoy G3 was great.  However, this one has a larger capacity (to make 7 cups), an all stainless steel cooking and grinding chamber and filter-less bottom heating.  As the website says, “Each has a microprocessor, temperature sensor, water level sensor, boil-over sensor and advanced solid-state control technology to continuously monitor control heating power and blending sequence for maximum heating without burning the milk at bottom. The G4's Perfect Grind technology combines the blade design and grinding chamber geometry to constantly stir up and draw the largest pieces to the blades for better grinding, overcoming the weakness of most other filter-less makers.” In other words, a one-piece construction with the blade attached.

Although the machine has the capacity to grind beans that are not soaked, soaking provides you with less time to process.  There are five pre-programed buttons (soaked beans, dry beans, raw juice, grains, porridge ) on top as the Soyajoy can also be used to make milk from other grains and seeds as well as porridge.  Perhaps you love the taste of almond milk or up for making a delicious pea soup.  A sixth button is a “keep warm”.   

How to you make the soy milk? You will find two packages of what are called Laura beans, a soy bean product that they say are the best for both taste and “whiteness” of the milk.  A video on their website shows someone using one and half cups (plastic cup provided) of which is first washes and soaked for “6 to 16 hours” or “overnight”.  Fill the chamber of the Soyajoy with water to lines that show min./max and then add the soaked beans.  Add beans into chamber and place the head atop.  Plug in the machine and press the button for “soaked beans”.  You will hear a “beep” and 20 minutes later hear another signally its completion.  Remove the head and rinse it off immediately to make it easier to clean.  You don’t necessarily have to watch a video as instructions are provided.
There is a pitcher and wire mesh calendar provided with the kit.  This way you can strain the milk using a spatula to press down and catching what is called “okara” or pulp.  3/4 of a tps of sea salt and about 4 tablespoons of sugar are added and stirred.  That’s it.  Place in a container…preferably one made of glass and let it cool before refrigerating.  Check out recipes to see how to flavor the milk in case you want chocolate or vanilla.

Soyajoy’s website allows you to purchase products needed to make tofu.  Nigari, for instance, is a coagulator that breaks the soymilk into curds and whey as the curds, after being pressed, turn into a cake of tofu. 

Cost wise?  Probably cheaper than what you might think and a lot less than the price of buying store bought soymilk or other non-dairy milk products.  As a dairy milk person, for me there is no substitute.  However, my palate was quite satisfied and did not seem as “watery” as some store bought that I have tasted.  I was, as they said, quite easy to make.  I will be experimenting for tofu and the attempt to make bean curd skin.  Check it out on www.soymilkmaker.com 

Come to the Secret Theatre old chum

Over the years, the Kander and Ebbs’ musical “Cabaret” about 1930s Berlin has been a feast for local theatre groups since its Broadway premiere in 1966, and the story of artistic escapism in a time of creeping fascism feels especially poignant today.
Long Island City’s Secret Theatre offers a fresh treatment by director Hunter Bird with a more raucous and risqué script, and the immersive and intimate theater-in-the-round performance brings the heart of the sleazy Kit Kat Klub directly to the audience.
Larry Owens portrays the iconic emcee as a stereotypical drag queen inviting the audience to take a break from the swirling news cycle with the opening. “Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome! Leave your troubles outside. So life is disappointing, forget it! In here, life is beautiful!”
He introduces the lasciviously dressed girls, and then the boys — some of whom are also lasciviously dressed as girls — and even the boys in pants are adorned in black leather and lipstick, giving the 1930s German hotspot a sense that “anything goes.”
Cliff Bradshaw, a writer, (Jesse Weil) and Ernst Ludwig (Jeff Hathcoat) meet aboard a train to Berlin where Cliff is looking to teach English in order to make enough money to stay. On Ernst’s advice, Cliff takes a room at the home of Fraulein Schneider (Sue Lynn Yu), a high-spirited 60-year-old.
Cliff meets Sally Bowles (Natalie Walker), an English woman who performs and hosts at the Kit Kat Klub where she sings, “Mein Herr” and “Don’t Tell Mama.” Sally moves in with Cliff — despite being uninvited — eventually leading to thoughts of marriage, made urgent when Sally discovers that she’s pregnant.
Fraulein Schneider gets involved with a Jewish green grocer, Herr Shultz (Mark Coffin) who gifts her with a pineapple as they sing “It Couldn’t Please Me More” (“A Pineapple for Me”), but the relationship becomes problematic as the Nazi party is about to take over.
Yu is the most polished performer in the cast, with both her vocals and characterization. Coffin, although he did sing well, lacked the sort of “miskite” character that backs up the song “Married”. Then again, Bird chose these characterizations.
Fraulein Kost (Alexa Polla), another renter at Schneider’s, plays a significant role in “Cabaret” as she consistently spends her nights with sailors. Fraulein Schneider objects, saying, “Don’t let me catch you.” Kost tells her that she needs the money to pay her rent, and Schneider is “trying to overlook it.” The next time that Schneider catches her is also when Kost sees Schneider with Schultz in close communication, already knowing that her being with a Jew is unwise for the times. When Schneider and Schultz sing “Married,” Kost solos the song with German lyrics, perhaps to prepare us for what is to come.
As Act I ends, Kost begins to sing, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” as many characters reveal their patriotism toward Nazi Germany, including one who removes his shirt as we see a swastika tattoo on his arm. Bird chose the shorter version omitting, “Oh Fatherland, Fatherland / Show us the sign / Your children have waited to see / The morning will come / When the world is mine. / Tomorrow belongs to me!” which may have especially resonated in the present situation.
But Bird did include one of the most controversial elements of the show. The rendition of “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” uses a gorilla mask and includes the original ending, “But if you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all,” a lyric which was changed when the show was on Broadway after a backlash.
The height of Owens’ vocals actually comes near the end when he sings “I Don’t Care Much.” The final song, “Cabaret” starts out strong but gets lost as the ensemble seems to take over, with Walker lacking a microphone. She gives us a “Liza Minelli style” in her speaking voice, and most of the time her vocals are clear and precise.
Set in the round, members of the band, piano, bass and drums are placed in different areas of the audience, and may even be beside you.
The floor is used for the full stage with front and side areas depicting an apartment, rooming house, dressing room and off stage section of the Kit Kat Klub, which is given a “main stage.” Kudos goes to musical director Dan Garmon and the rest of the cast and crew.
Although they advertise that one needs to be 13 years of age to view the show, I think that the teen would be quite embarrassed to see this with his or her parents. One of the props that gets more than enough attention is a blow up male doll which is anatomically correct. I was surprised it didn’t get a blurb in the bio portion of the program, which also lacked a list of songs and the characters who sing them.
Cabaret continues to perform from Thursday, Feb. 9 to Sunday, February 19. You can reach the box office by calling 718-392-0722.
Posted 12:00 am, February 9, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

PREVIEWING LUNAR NEW YEAR AT GOLDEN PALACE GOURMET



January 28 marks Lunar New Year Day with the Year of the Rooster, a day to share with family, friends and lots of traditional food.  Why wait until then to dine at yet another Chinese restaurant.  This time it was Golden Palace Gourmet that serves “authentic Northern Chinese food, handmade noodle and dumplings”.  Not all Chinese restaurants are of the same cuisine as years ago we had gotten used to the basic Cantonese style or the spicier Szechuan.   I don’t eat alone as I venture into Asian restaurants with Taiwanese-American Luchia Meihua Lee and her husband Ken Howell, who does not either understand or speak Chinese.  
 
Guan Jing is the owner of Golden Palace, located at 140-09 Cherry Avenue in downtown Flushing.  Ms. Jing owns a few other restaurants that are located in Manhattan.  The cuisine represents a city in China, Liaoning, located in the Northeast near North Korea.  That may be the reason that Kimchi and another spicy appetizer of shredded potato in hot sauce was automatically brought to the table.  I requested a small glass of milk just in case.   As it turned out, the potato appetizer seemed spicier than the kimchi.  Now you get that I don’t necessarily enjoy hot spicy foods.   Luchia had no difficulty.   



Ken is a vegetarian.  I am not and it is always interesting being able to taste vegetarian dishes.  Yes, we pigged out as we usually do and then take home the leftovers.   The Crispy Lamb with Chili Pepper sounded pretty good to me now that I gained a bit more tolerance to the “hot”.  I think that seeing the red and green hot peppers should have alerted me but my problem is that I didn’t realize that cumin was a main spice.  I don’t favor the taste of cumin and am a bit allergic to it.  Luchia thought it was delicious.  




One of Ken’s choices was the sautéed Potato, Green Pepper and Eggplant that was in a vegetarian brown sauce.  I was able to taste this one.  Great alternative to other proteins, I truly loved the flavors.  



Although I was skipping beef for a while, I noticed a photo of Fried Beef with Scallions.  The chunks of beef were on bones.  I love eating food on bones…so much juicier.   The brown sauce made the dish even more savory.  



Another vegetable dish. Not sure of the name of this one made with bean curd skins sliced up to look like a semi-wide noodle.  These are just one of many handmade noodles created on the premises.  The dish contained green beans, mung bean noodles and scallions.   I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t eaten the saucy or spicy foods prior as in comparison, it tasted bland.   That’s not to say that Ken didn’t appreciate it.   Personally I think the sauce used for the sautéed potato dish would have added a greater flavor.  



Guan Jing stopped over many times to inquire about our enjoyment of the food.  That is when I heard about the dumplings made on the premises and then looked at the menu.  Ms. Jing does understand and speak English but it was a lot easier to have Luchia speaking with her and translating to me with any questions that I had.  



The choices of dumplings were longer than any other restaurant I’ve been to.  I’ll just list: Seafood dumpling with pork, egg and chives (This is the one that I ordered); Seafood Dumpling with pork; Sour Cabbage Dumpling; Leek Dumpling with pork; Tomato Egg Dumpling (sounded like a good one for breakfast); Fish Celery Dumplings; Radish Beef Dumplings; Fennel Dumplings; Green Dumpling – spinach, scrambled egg and vermicelli ; Lamb Dumpling.  What I mostly treasured about these dumplings was that they were not only packed with the ingredients but were comparatively thin skinned to most that I have eaten.  It allows me to enjoy the steamed dumpling without the heavy amount of flour.  You can buy the dumplings wholesale frozen with a price range from $15 to $22 dollars for 50 pieces depending upon your choice.
 
Since Golden Palace is authentic, you won’t be able to get ice cream for dessert.  There are “Sweet Dishes” one of which is Pumpkin Rice Cakes.  The rice gives glutinous texture vs. the chew of rice and not overly sweet.   I just think we should all have a sweet new year.  Gong Xi Fa Cai.
Golden Palace is open 7 days a week from noon until midnight (718-886-4383).