Heaven Must Be Like This.

Summer is for long walks, to get tans, to take each moment a little slower than the last, and most of all to eat ice cream. Ice cream is one of those sweet reflection desserts. It is like with every lick or each spoonful a quick transport to a happy place flickers in your members and when the ice cream is absolutely delicious a sense euphoria comes alive in you and you feel compelled to chase it like a drug.

So the story goes,

I was walking on the Upper East Side of New York City and I passed by an ice cream shop called Van Leeuwen. The sign on the door read, “ice cream + vegan ice cream + coffee.” Now I have always been under the impression that vegan ice cream was a gimmick and should not be mentioned in the same sentence as real ice cream, and it was these words that initiated my hesitation, but I was coaxed in anyway by a reliable source.

Upon entering I asked for a sample of ice cream, but due to Covid all samples have been discontinued until further notice, which is also known as, “take my word for it that it is good.” With no samples I had to ask the most appropriate question “is the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream amazing?” The Van Leeuwen employee replied, “its very good.” With that statement my reluctance grew more intensely. It grew because everyone knows that “amazing”and “very good” is as close as the north is from the east, sure not a grand distance, but far enough to be recognized. Then the employee said something that calmed all of my misgivings about this ice cream, and what he said was, “if you dont like it bring it back immediately and we will find you a flavor that you do like.” And so, it was with that statement that I dove right in to the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and although it didn’t need it I added chocolate sprinkles simply to commemorate the weekend.

With my second taste, my brain tapped into the creaminess that was simply undeniable, the ice cream coated my tongue with a depth of of flavor that registered a dark chocolate that was perfectly sweetened. Brownies so delicately entangled with semi-thick small burst of fudge that it took my brain on a ethereal ride; one bite ice cream, the next bite brownie, and the next bite fudge, it was an unadulterated party for my palate.

This ice cream with no preservatives, nothing artificial, this flavor gluten free, not a hint of fabricated colors or enhancers, just simply delicious and completely enslaving, left me smiling like I just hit the food lottery.

I always fancy myself to believe that because God loves me so much that He will have all of my favorite things on earth also in heaven waiting for me when I arrive. However, in this case it is the owner/maker of Van Leeuwen who has earned their spot in heaven and even if God doesn’t say it to you, I am here to write, well done good and faithful ice cream maker, you have done my tastebuds a wonderful service.

Not quite Chef-Boyardee, but close.

Yes, we are still in a quarantine, and yes only some people are wearing their mask in New York City, and yea it remains super humid outside, but amid all of those disenchanting situations when the night falls the concrete jungle remains just as busy and social as ever.

Restaurants are closed for inside dining and the streets of the jungle have turned into sidewalk cafes, that make the sidewalks crowded, the wait long, and take-out the best option out there.

On the docket for tonite was take-out pasta from a three year old restaurant called in Biogi Venezia located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Take out pasta dishes only and it is up to you to find a sidewalk table and chair or grab your food and prepare to eat it while you watch Chris Tucker in the movie Rush Hour (a true classic if I do say so myself).

What I opted for tonight was yet again the Pasta Bolognese, made with a thick sauce, lamb, pork, beef, and scratch made thick spaghetti noodles. Unfortunately I have to write that upon first bite, I felt no love or should I write I tasted no seasoning. No salt, no pepper, no Worcestershire sauce, absolutely nothing, my chagrin led me to do the unthinkable and that was to grab the salt and the shaved parmesan cheese and pray to the food gods that those insufficient side samples camouflaged as season would add a sapor that would excite my palate just a smidgen, but my attempt failed and the food gods turned a blind eye to my efforts.

The smell of the pasta was extremely reminiscent of beef-a-roni by Chef Boyardee, yes the cook had a hat on like Chef Boyardee, but I am confident that I didnt see him open a can of it in the open kitchen. But the noodles were gummy like Chef-Boyardee, the flavor profile was nil like Chef-Boyardee, could it be that it was Chef Boyardee and I was given the 52 fake out?

It has a fancy name, and an intriguing chef who told me himself that he had been cooking for 55 years, but unfortunately it tasted like he was a quarantine cook, who had never cooked before, who got excited about the concept of cooking from scratch and decided to charge his friends for the experiment.

Biogi Venezia you missed the mark here with this Bolognese. The thing is Biogi, I dont suggest you remove this from the menu, but I do suggest you get a focus group who will give honest feedback so you can go back to the drawing board and potentially drum up something more appetizing.

Better luck next time Biogi, better luck next time.

No Additives Needed

Let me start by writing that I have not dined in a restaurant since March 10th and the struggle has been real. To not have the dining out experience of being waited on, to chat it up while my food is being prepared, to have someone check on me and see if all is well is a luxury that I have truly missed.

Going out today to North Italia in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania was like going out on a first date. I was overly excited, slightly giddy, and a tad nervous. The idea of being waited on by people in mask, how would it all go down is what I whispered to myself. I mean under a pre-Covid situation to be confronted with multiple persons with gloves and masks would look like a highjack situation that I clearly was not going to make it out of unscathed. But now here we are in the midst of a Covid society and to see only eyeballs and foreheads is the way we operate in this new normal.

So how does a restaurant function in this wonky environment and how does the restaurant not only build that food connection, but the personal connection that speaks you are safe here, you are welcome here, and you will be satisfied? Well you do it the North Italia way thats how. You welcome people with such a warm greeting that somehow we see the smile hidden behind the mask. Yes they are wearing gloves, but they are showing that cleanliness doesnt mean less engagement. The inflection in the waitresses voice displayed that she was happy to see me as I was her and we never even met. She approached us with an attitude that screamed North Italia knows you could have stayed home and cooked, but we appreciate you taking the time out to trust us with your dining experience.

So first up on the menu was the White Truffle Garlic Bread, just writing it causes me to salivate. It is always a treat when bread comes to the table, but it is something loving about the bread when its hot, when its thick cut, when it lightly toasted so the edges are crispy and the center is warm and chewy, when it is lightly flavored with garlic, and the accoutrement of trufle takes you to a delightfully savory place that your tongue will be forever grateful for.

Second on the dining table was the Grilled Cauliflower. Now I like to think of cauliflower as the quintessential adult vegetable. I mean it doesn’t hold the beauty that broccoli carries, yet you eat it because although its not as vibrant as its sister broccoli it has the ability to grab hold of flavors broccoli can only dream of. And so when you add a fried egg atop for creaminess, pancetta cream for texture and saltiness, breadcrumb for a slight grittiness, what you have is a stroke of genius in a cast-iron bowel.

Last up, house recipe Bolognese. In case you were wondering it seems to me that when they write “house recipe” that means that the ingredients are top secret and can only be shared with someone super cool like Dr. Fauci or something. Nonetheless my tastebuds tell me the beef and maybe some pork for fat flavor had cubed carrots, fennel, super ripe tomatoes, a hint of sweetness, and plethora of other flavors that needed nothing to be added other than my fork.

North Italia is so confident in the flavor profiles that salt and pepper were not even on the table, neither did they offer it. No one came by to offer extra cheese, because the amount present in the pasta landed on perfection. The pasta was so delicate, so light, so airy, the meal left me satisfied, but not so full I felt compelled to push the car home.

North Italia you checked all the boxes during this Covid dining experience, you were safety first, you were compliant to all cleanliness rules, your service was pleasing, and your food was delectable. Well done North Italia, well done!!