Bring the Restaurant Home

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The obvious reason we eat outside our homes is we are hungry and want someone else to do the work of cooking and cleaning up. But there other reasons, ones that will enrich our lives back in our own kitchens.

Going out to eat can be as utilitarian as a fast-food meal grabbed on the run as we walk through a mall. Or it can be as elegant as joining a loved one and friends at a four-star restaurant with exquisite table settings and deliciously well-made food where we regale ourselves as much by the dining room’s decor as we do by the kitchen’s offerings.

In our celebrity-driven world, we also eat out to gather water-cooler anecdotes about a famous chef’s latest offerings. “You wouldn’t believe what Nancy put on her pizza last night” or “Mario’s linguini with cacio e pepe‘ was incredible!”

Travel to cities outside your own, of course, requires eating out. But that doesn’t need to be just utilitarian.

One of the better ways to experience cultures and parts of the world not our own is to enjoy the local cuisine. In Paris that means the perfect croissant from a small bakery blocks away from the hotel. In Rome, it means a pasta, handmade by the mother of the owner, and in Austin, the pulled pork served on paper plates at a roadside barbecue joint.

Eating out has another advantage: discovering new recipes to use at home. A chef might employ an unfamiliar ingredient that surprises with exciting new flavors or combine flavors that yield an umami effect with memorably, savory results.

A discovery on a trip to New York City

On a recent trip to New York, a friend who is an expert on the food scene made a recommendation that I visit a restaurant on East 12th Street in the East Village called Northern Spy Food Co.

The unassuming space has a country feel that immediately makes you feel at home. Locally sourced produce and meats are put to good use in refreshingly simple and inventive ways.

Meat eaters will be in pig heaven — literally — with chef Nathan Foot’s pork terrine with homemade pickled carrots and celery root, pork shoulder meatballs in tomato sauce and a special of crispy pork belly and potato hash and wild arugula.

Classically trained, Foot described the inspiration for the menu, which changes seasonally, as “being the kind of food I’d feed to my chef friends.”Chef Nathan Foot at Northern Spy food Co.

A tasting of the menu quickly reveals what makes the chef’s friends happy: Select the best ingredients possible and get out of the way by avoiding overly processed, precious techniques and letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

Risotto with butternut squash and mascarpone, a farmers salad with a collection of root vegetables, several soups including navy bean and chilled celery root, sides of quinoa, wild rice (with feta, mint, and lemon), runner beans, collard greens, and roasted potatoes, polenta with braised greens and roasted mushrooms., And there was a dish my friend had enthusiastically recommended, the kale salad.

A valuable lesson to carry home

I use kale frequently but never in a salad because I had always thought the stiff leaves needed to be sauteed or braised. At Northern Spy, kale is presented as nature intended — raw.

Julienned, the kale presents a good base of support for the contrasting qualities of sharp, creamy cheddar, sweet, yielding kabocha, and crispy almonds. Finished with a lemon vinaigrette, the salad is refreshingly light with a hint of sweetness.

I experimented at home and discovered that the salad is easy to make. At home, too, I was able to make slight adjustments that better suited my own palate.

So eating out in New York led to a new favorite recipe at home and a perfect way to remember a memorable meal.

A Salad of Black Kale, Kabocha Squash, Cheddar Cheese and Almonds

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 small kabocha squash, about 2 pounds
1 bunch black or Tuscan kale, washed, stems removed, julienned
1 cup cheese, a good quality English or Irish cheddar, cut into half-inch squares
1 tablespoon whole almonds, roasted unsalted, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cut the squash into quarters, scrape out the seeds and fibers on the inside. Place in a steamer. Add 2 cups of water to the pot. Cover and cook on high heat for 5-10 minutes until cooked but firm, remove, and let cool. Remove the skin and discard. You will need a cup of cooked squash. Reserve the left over portion to use in a soup or as a side dish with a grilled meat.
  2. Cut the cooked squash into half-inch squares.
  3. In a small saucepan, reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool.
  4. Place the julienned kale on the bottom of a serving bowl, sprinkle the squash pieces, cheddar, and almonds over the top and dress with olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, and season with sea salt and pepper.

Variations
  • Chef Foot sprinkles freshly grated pecorino Romano on top of the salad.
  • Add  ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion rings to the salad.

Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, “10 Delicious Holiday Recipes” is available from Amazon. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman’s New York Times food blogBittenOne for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg’s travel site and the New York Daily News online.
Photos, from top:
Kale salad with kabocha squash at Northern Spy Food Co..
Chef Nathan Foot at Northern Spy Food Co.

Credits: David Latt

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