New York City

I'm lucky enough to have traveled quite a bit in my 20s -- living in Europe definitely facilitates that -- but no matter how much I travel, I can't seem to find a city that tops New York City. It's quite possibly my favorite place in the whole world, and for so many reasons -- it's alive, it's exciting, it's truly the city that never sleeps -- and it's the home of many things I love. New York is where you find the New York City Ballet (more on that later) and the Metropolitan Opera House; it's the headquarters of Bon Appetit Magazine and Food52 and my blogging idol, Deb Perelman of the famed Smitten Kitchen; it's packed with good food, with variety, boasting any cuisine you could ever want; it's where you find some of the best bakeries in the country (Momofuku Milk Bar! Dominique Ansel Bakery!) It's the home of many of my closest friends, too, which makes the city even more special. I was fortunate enough to have spent a couple of days there when home for the holidays in the U.S (lucky for me, Rhode Island is about a 3.5 hour train ride from NYC). Here are the highlights. 

REUNION WITH RACHEL
First things first! While in NYC we were graciously hosted by our lovely friend Rachel, who also happens to be an incredibly talented opera singer. Rachel has been in NYC for a few months first rehearsing and then performing the role of Countess Almaviva in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Le Nozze di Figaro; you can see a clip of her singing that role here, if you're an opera fan (and even if you're not, listen anyways -- you'll never hear a voice as beautiful). Here's Rachel posing like the diva she is with a statue of famous composer Giuseppe Verdi in the city:

We also got to hang out with Rachel's lovely husband Rasmus and three adorable kids, Lydia, Johannes and Karl the latter two of which are twins, just like me and my sister. In addition to a few edible gifts from Paciotti, I also baked up a batch of Flourless Cocoa Cookies from Erin Jean McDowell, author of The Fearless Baker. The cookies were the fudgiest, most chocolate intense cookie I've ever baked, and went over pretty well with the littlest members of the family. Bonus: they are mysteriously gluten and dairy free, for anyone with food allergies. You can get the recipe here.



DINNER AT CHEF'S CHOICE
Our first night in New York, we reunited with our friend Anna, who you may remember from this post or this one here. Anna and I became friends in college, and then studied abroad together at the University of Bologna all the way back in 2009. She is the sunniest, happiest, funniest person I know, not to mention a fellow foodie and incredibly talented baker and cook. Per Anna's suggestion, we dined at Chefs Club, a restaurant that invites visiting chefs to take over the space and the menu for anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months. The chef in charge when we went was Chef JJ Johnson, whose food combines African, Asian, and American cuisine. Chef Johnson's menu went over so well that his stint at Chefs Club was extended from October to the end of the year to keep up with the high demand for reservations (good sign!) After a bit of deliberation -- decisions, decisions -- we opted for the steamed dumplings filled with braised oxtail and served with a taro root sauce; con'con, or sticky rice served with eggplant curry, coconut, and basil; udon noodles with goat, peanut sauce, and bok choy; and fresh-baked roti, served with pine nut scallion, chickpea, and eggplant sauces, with a sunny-side up egg. It was all stellar, top notch food -- I'm still dreaming about the steamed dumplings -- and my only complaint is that this menu won't be available in 2018, when a new chef arrives. Boo!


LUNCH AT IZAKAYA IDA 

The next day Rachel, my sister and I headed to Izakaya Ida for lunch. Izakaya specializes in ramen, which sounded pretty good given the freezing, single digit temperatures in New York that week. We ordered a pickled eggplant and jalapeño dish to start, then ordered the Tonkotso Miso ramen (ramen with pork broth, pork, soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, scallions, mushrooms, and corn) and the Shoyu ramen (soy based ramen with pork, soft boiled egg, maboo shoots, scallions, and dried seaweed). The ramen arrived in huge bowls, filled to the brim with lots of noodles, thick slices of pork, and the broth! It was thicker than your usual broth and spectacularly flavorful (I've just had lunch but I'm hungry thinking about it) and was just what we needed on a ice cold day. If you find yourself in New York, make this a stop on your culinary itinerary. 


COOKIES AT LEVAIN BAKERY

When Levain Bakery opened in 1995, their focus was baking and selling artisanal bread. It wasn't until a few years later that the owners of the bakery developed the recipe for their 6 ounce chocolate chip walnut cookies, meant to offset the rigors the Triathlete Marathon they were training for. They began to sell their cookies in the bakery -- smart move -- where they have since become legendary. Turns out you don't need to be a triathlete to enjoy these cookies -- the line stretched outside the door of the tiny bakery when we arrived (always a good sign). We finally managed to make our way inside, where we were greeted by a crowd of people (the bakery was so packed you could barely move!) and the scent of freshly baked cookies, the trailer for the actual Levain cookies. And oh, they didn't disappoint -- the chocolate chip walnut cookies are as big as baseballs, purposely underbaked to keep them nice and soft, with a crisp exterior and a gooey, ultra chocolate-y interior. These are the stuff dessert dreams are made of.


MAGNOLIA BAKERY 

Magnolia Bakery came to fame in the early 2000s, at the height of the cupcake craze here in the U.S. The bakery is still known for its cupcakes -- everything from simple yellow cake with chocolate buttercream to more elaborate peanut butter and jelly to pistachio -- but actually, there is a new dessert in town. In the past few years, Magnolia Bakery has gained fame for its southern-style banana pudding, or vanilla custard mixed with cookies and freshly sliced bananas. I was lucky enough to sample Magnolia's Banana Chocolate Pudding back in 2015, my last trip to NYC, and I've never forgotten it. This time around, Magnolia was offering Banana Chocolate Peppermint Pudding, their holiday option. I was hesitant -- peppermint and banana seemed to be an odd pairing -- but my sister, Rachel, and I all loved it. It was a perfect mix of chocolate and peppermint with a hint of sweetness from the banana, thick and creamy as banana pudding should be, with a few chocolate cookies thrown in for an extra chocolate kick. Yummm.

THE NEW YORK CITY BALLET 

My sister and I do not follow football (soccer) despite living in Italy, and have never, ever, understood the appeal of the much loved American football or baseball, but we do love ballet. In particular, we love The New York City Ballet, in the same ardent way most people we know love the Patriots. A little background for those of you who aren't familiar: the New York City Ballet was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kerstein. It is known for its neoclassical style, embodied in the many innovative pieces choreographed by Balanchine himself, and has the largest repertoire of any American ballet company. We were lucky enough to attend their production of The Nutcracker, which was spectacular -- the sets and the costumes were stunning, and the dancing was stellar and, impressively enough, still fresh, incredible given that the NYCB performs this production 49 times in its 5 week run. The highlight however for me was getting to go backstage at Lincoln Center courtesy of ballerina-baker, the lovely and talented Jenelle Manzi. Jenelle is a member of the company, but also an avid baker, baking up gluten and dairy free desserts that she shares on her social media and shiny new website, www.jenellemanzi.com. We had messaged a bit on Instagram and when I told Jenelle we would be at the Nutcracker matinee we were able to meet up at the end of the show. It was so fun to finally meet Jenelle and chat (not surprisingly, the conversation was mostly food related) plus it was incredible to stand on the stage at Lincoln Center and get a view of what the dancers see every night.  My sister and I both worked hard to keep our cool as we spotted some of the top ballet dancers in the world warming up on stage (!!!) Thank you Jenelle!


DRINKS AT GALLOW GREEN

Our last stop in New York City was at Gallow Green, where we met up with our friends Shash and Shamini. Shash and Shamini are siblings and friends from Rome -- Shash is now working in New York City (lucky guy!) and has been living there for a couple of months now, while Shamini was in town visiting him. Shash took us to Gallow Green -- one of his favorite discoveries in the city so far -- for drinks. Gallow Green is a rooftop bar housed in the McKittrick Hotel; it's a blink-and-you-miss-it sort of place (see photo below) with no obvious signs indicating its presence. There are no reservations (first come, first serve) and it has an exclusive feel to it; after your hand has been stamped to okay your entry, you have to be escorted to the bar's entrance by a Gallow Green employee, and are then escorted again in a dark elevator up to the bar. Lead up aside, the bar itself is pretty simple -- the space is cozy, with dimly lit with fireplaces, an extensive drink menu, and a food menu. I stuck with my usual -- Prosecco -- and spent my last hours in NYC catching up with two of my favorite people. Not in the mood for drinks? Gallow Green also offers a theatrical experience called "Sleep No More," which Shash has called "the coolest thing he's done in NYC so far." Read more about it here
And just like that we were back on the train heading towards Rhode Island! I was sad to leave -- there really is no place like New York for me -- but also energized and invigorated after my trip to the Big Apple, ready to get back to Rome and tackle some of my New Year resolutions and keep up the work on this blog (recipe idea #1: try and recreate Magnolia Bakery's banana pudding). I hope everyone has had a healthy and happy start to the New Year! Stay tuned in 2018 for more travels and recipes!



























































































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