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Entries in scallops (2)

Friday
Feb042011

Magically Mind Blowing Tuna Bolognese at Esca

My husband and I went to Esca last week. Located in the theater district, on 43rd and 9th avenue, Esca is one of many classy NYC restaurants owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich (others include Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa , Casa Mono and Otto, to name a few)

The chef of Esca, David Pasternack, is a well known seafood fanatic and avid fisherman. And it's a good thing this guy knows his stuff, because the menu at Esca is 99% seafood. In fact, I think there is only one non-fish option. So if you're the type of person who goes to a seafood restaurant and orders the rack of lamb, don't bother coming to Esca. You come to here to eat fish, fish, fish and only fish.

The service and vibe of this restaurant is just a tad pretentious. They're very serious in here-- serious about their wine, intensely serious about their fish. The place, in general, seems to lack a sense of humor. We were a little uncomfortable at first, but half way into our 5 course tasting menu with wine pairing, all we were thinking about was how great the food was.

There was a deliciously fresh Crudo of Hamachi with olive tapenade, juicy seared scallops with a tangy and refreshing salad of arugula, grapefruit and blood orange and delicate Weakfish with a stew of tiny Beluga Lentils and lip smacking balsamic glazed Cippoline onions. Each dish was fantastic. But the real highlight was the pasta course: Spaghetti with Tuna Bolognese.

I don't know if David Pasternack has a signature dish, but if he does, it's gotta be this one. When you taste the Tuna Bolognese, you feel you are tasting a totally unique recipe that has been perfected and mastered. There is nothing I would change about this wonderfully warm, fragrant sauce laced with the heady flavors of fresh herbs, a trace of sweetness and a faint hint of cinnamon. It is creamy and delectable, each bite more satisfying then the next.

And what is so baffling is how MEATY the sauce is. Never in a million years would you suspect that this was not a classic meat Bolognese. Pasternack should be given an award, not just for creating such an awesome recipe, but for being such a talented magician. This man has figured out how to turn fish into meat. Surely this must be one of the great culinary achievements of all time!

When I got home, I immediately opened up my copy of the Esca cookbook to see if this mystical recipe was in there. It was. Along with this quote from Pasternack: "I love a classic Bolognese sauce. But in a creative moment, I figured...I might as well see what a Bolognese sauce would taste like made with tuna instead of meat. It succeeded so well that a lot of people can't tell the difference."

So true. And the recipe was pretty surprising. It turns out there actually was some meat in there--a hefty dose of pancetta. But that was cool with me...every magician has his secrets. What I really couldn't believe was that there was also Mackerel in the dish--what I consider to be the world's fishiest fish. The fact that this man had managed to transform Mackerel into a mellow meat sauce elevated him to Genius Chef status in my mind. 

I called for an emergency dinner party the following night so I could try and reproduce Pasternack's culinary magic trick. It was a success, tasting almost exactly like the version we had at Esca. And I didn't tell anyone my secret until all of the plates were clean... 

Click here to check out the fabulous recipe for Tuna Bolognese

 

Saturday
Sep122009

Elegant and Extravagant Sit Down Dinner in NYC

 

What: Catered Sit-Down dinner for 14 Guests
Where: Client's Apartment on the Upper West Side

Row of uncut RavioliThe search for delicious began when I got a call from a client who I hadn't heard from in several years, asking if I could cater a dinner party for 14 people at his apartment. It was great to hear from this client after so long, so I knew I had to cook to impress!

We decided on a great menu:

  • Seared Scallops with Foie Gras and Candied Fennel
  • Sweet Potato Ravioli with Prosciutto and Fried Sage
  • Braised Veal Breast with Polenta Cakes and Sauteed Spinach
  • Chocolate Armagnac Cake with Fresh Whipped Cream

I cater all sorts of dinners. Sometimes, clients want something as simple as a roast chicken, string beans and some mashed potatoes. But other times, as you can see from the menu above, people want to go all out. When you invite guests to your home, and offer them a menu like this, you are treating them to a very luxurious, decadent dining experience. It makes for a really special night. It sure is nice to have a private chef cooking for you!

Scallops with seared foie gras, plated and ready to go

I love cooking dinners like these. First of all, I get to work with gorgeous high end ingredients like foie gras. It is thrilling to walk into a store and buy a very pricey goose liver. It's also a great way for me to be creative and show off some of my cooking skills. I get to really flex my culinary muscles.

I discovered years ago that I love making fresh pasta. It is a very intimate and rewarding cooking experience. You take a mess of flour and a couple of eggs (maybe a little olive oil, maybe a pinch of salt), and you gradually bring it together, kneading it for about 10 minutes, until it becomes a beautiful smooth dough. It's really very magical. (I'll do a post dedicated to making fresh pasta sometime soon.) Anyway, I always serve a pasta course for a sit down dinner, because people really appreciate handmade pasta. It's sooo delicious.

Veal breast about to go into the oven for a slow 4 hour braise

Finished batch of uncooked raviol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the guests at the party was an expert on Spanish wines, and the guests drank about 8 bottles of a fancy Spanish wine. The expert declared it was probably the best wine Spain ever produced. Woah. Must've been some damn good wine. It's times like these when I start wishing I was a guest at my own party!

The scallops were really excellent. I get my scallops from an amazing fish place at the Union Square Greenmarket called Blue Moon Fish (http://www.bluemoonfish.com/). They're local Long Island scallops and they're incredibly sweet and juicy. I seared the seasoned scallops in a little butter and olive oil, then covered them with a big slice of foie gras that had been simply seared and topped with some fleur de sel. The dish was finished off with a nest of candied fennel (cooked in pernod, sugar and lemon juice) and a sauce made from a reduction of fresh orange juice, vanilla and a considerable amount of butter.

I served the ravioli in a rich, creamy sauce made from butter, heavy cream and sage (ok, this is not the healthiest meal. But why do you think great food tastes so good?).


Plated ravioli, topped with prosciutto and fried sage

I love braised meat. The veal breast, which I had slowly braised for four hours in veal stock, chopped carrots and onions, had that great earthy and comforting taste that all slow-braised meats do. On top of the polenta cake (which was fortified with marscapone cream and an amount of butter that shall remain nameless), and surrounded by garlicky spinach, it was the perfect main course for this happy, sophisticated and boisterous crowd.

And then the chocolate cake. A recipe from my Baking Bible: Dorie Greenspan's: Baking: From my Home To Yours (Amazon Link). It's a very rich, dense, flourless chocolate cake made with ground pecans and prunes steeped in armagnac. Buy the book. Best baking book ever.

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