Several years ago, the revered restaurant San Domenico located on Central Park South moved to East 26th Street across from Madison Park. Owned by father-daughter team, Tony and Marisa May the place was a bit of an enigma — modernistically designed by Massimo Vignelli, cavernous, and re-named SD26. My husband had gone for lunch several times, and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until last Friday that I decided to check it out. I had a splendid time, and the risotto was one of the best I’ve ever had. It certainly was one of the healthiest! Made without the requisite butter and cheese, Mr. May’s “new-style” risotto is instead “mounted” with extra-virgin olive oil and stirred until every grain of rice is perfectly cooked, toothsome, and voluptuous. Prepared with fish fumet and white wine, with a touch of garlic, scallion, and herbs, we tried one version with periwinkles (tiny sea snails) and another topped with pencil thin asparagus; the epitome of Spring. It’s easy to be skeptical, but easier to be wowed by the pristine quality of the result. We began our meal with paper thin slices of bottarga (a southern Italian delicacy of dried tuna roe) sprinkled with lemon zest and droplets of Sardinian olive oil; and followed our risotto with olive-oil poached cod with polenta taragna, baby calamari & squid ink, accompanied by a few glasses of very good Arneis (a white grape variety from the north of Italy.) Bomboloni (custard-filled doughnuts), panna cotta with balsamic reduction and strawberries, and zabaione millefoglie with wild berries and caramel sauce, finished our “girl’s night out” with great satisfaction. Tony’s chef was a fabulous woman, Odette Fada, who for many years was the only three-star female chef in New York. Together we invented olive oil ice cream before anyone did (sometime in the 1980′s) for a press event sponsored by the International Olive Oil Council. Today the chefs at SD26 are a trio of very handsome young men; the culinary equivalent of the “three tenors” all hailing from interesting places in Italy. Their food speaks for itself. I look forward to many more meals at SD26, especially when the outdoor seating opens up and I can pretend I am, once again, dining al fresco en Italia.
We ate lots of delicious things during the two nights of Passover. But perhaps the most delicious, and unusual offering, was a two-ingredient haroses, which got everyone’s attention. It is a Persian version of the symbolic recipe served, with matzoh, to represent the mortar used in Egypt. Generally is it an amalgam of chopped apples, walnuts, cinnamon, bound together with sweet wine. But this new (or very old) haroses is made with only date honey (or date syrup or date molasses) and lots of finely chopped walnuts. It is sticky and tar-ry and wonderful to drizzle on almost anything. My approximate recipe is 2 cups date molasses (or date honey) stirred with 3 cups of very finely chopped walnuts. Date honey is the honey mentioned in the Bible (not honey from bees) and can be found in any Middle Eastern market. I will now make it is staple in my pantry. We also enjoyed Arthur Schwartz’s wonderful potato kugel and a long-simmering tzimmes made with sour prunes, carrots, sweet potatoes and a generous, succulent chunk of flanken.
Cultural nourishment included the simulcast of Manon Lescaut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (starring Anna Netrebko); and a movie about the artist Gerhard Richter at the Film Forum — one of my favorite places in the city. They pop their popcorn in peanut oil.
We also ate our first “frozen dinner” in decades: “Butter Chicken” which we bought at Costco. Butter chicken is a very famous dish in India. This was a great version and we served it alongside a mound of basmati rice and drank tea. Not bad for a weeknight dinner.
May your coming week be filled with great tastes and nourishing experiences.