Sunday, December 3, 2006

A New York Feast

I so love to travel. I like to move and do and taste. The flavors of other cities are what I love most about travelling. Yes, I go to the museums, see the sites, shop, etc. But I also want to taste things that I can't get at home every day, experience feasts that leave imprints in my memories of those places.

I've spent time in most of the continental states, all but a few in the New England area that I plan on getting to soon. When I was a kid my family, Dad, Mom, Sis and me, would pile into our 1976 VW Microbus and travel cross country to camp in Idaho, Montana or the Dakotas to go rock hounding. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of waking up to the chilly morning air high in the Rockies in Motana and stepping out of our tent to the smell of bacon and eggs on the camp fire to greet us. Sure, I can get bacon and eggs every day if I want, but not so often cooked over an open fire on a cold morning in oh, so very Big Sky Country.

I've been to Toronto, but that's about it for crossing the borders so far. I went with my friends to a Sci-Fi convention. It was a great trip with much discovery and many memories I will hold for a lifetime. I was introduced to Single Malt Scotch in Toronto. Oh, my! And Marche: The Movable Feast. Now there's a place for an amazing breakfast. We went to 360, the restaurant at the top of the CN Tower. The food was marvelous from what I remember. That was the morning after learning about scotch. I do recall that the view from up there was amazing.

Some of my friends and I are planning a trip to Great Britain next year. We have a spreadsheet. Our trip is so that well planned. Yes, we are geeks. But it's what we're good at. Anyway, the couple I'm traveling with has been there so they have already scouted out the great places to eat. Woof! I can't wait to get going on that one....

I recently went to New Jersey for a two day training seminar on a new project I am heading up at work. New Jersey. Yawn. What's to do? My first night was Halloween. I had the best cab driver to the hotel. I had mentioned that I didn't think I would get to see any trick-or-treaters. It was a nice night, about 70F around 6pm and it was full dark. Since the price for that particular trip was already set, he decided to go off the usual route into some of the neighborhoods. I saw fairy princesses, loads of super heroes, a few witches and some mighty but tiny line backers. It was a nice way to spend the drive, slowly moving through the neighborhoods of Clark, NJ. Once I arrived at the hotel and got settled in it was well past time for a meal. Without transportation I was stuck with whatever the hotel had to offer so went to the restaurant. I almost never get decent seafood where I live so like to take advantage of it when I'm on a coast. I had the crab cakes with a Cajun sauce. They were light, fluffy and fully packed with delicious crab. Along with that was a portebello risotto with garlic and lemon. Now that was fine, heady with garlic and earthy mushroom flavor, brightened up with a hint of lemon. I had wandered down to The Valley Mill Grill in the Crowne Plaza without much hope and was very pleasantly surprised.

The next evening, the company hosting the training had arranged dinner for all of us at an Italian place in New York City, right in the heart of the Theatre District. I've been to New York once before for a long weekend of site seeing, shopping and eating. I managed to see a show on Broadway, my first and, hopefully, not my last. So a trip to Manhattan for dinner was about the best thing I could think of to do with an evening.

We went to a place called Carmine's. I was told it is a New York institution. And I now believe that. It is a warm, friendly place with beautiful dark wood walls, theatre curtains separating parties and pictures of New Yorkers hanging all over the place. We were shown to our table where bread and wine were already waiting. A short while later we were served salads, Caesar and Carmine's House. They brought 2 giant platters of both and started them at one end of each table. I took a bit of each and passed the plate down. I felt like I was in my Grandmother's dinning room during Passover with my whole family passing the plates of goodness around. Next was a deep dish pizza pan full of hot antipasto. There were stuffed mushrooms, asparagus wrapped with eggplant and sauteed, baked clams and a smallish serving of pasta with chicken and cheese. There was more wine, a light, lofty red that paired well with everything I had tasted so far.

Now it was time for the pasta course. I thought we were nearing done, but I was so wrong. We were served a rigatoni with sausage and broccoli on one platter and penne alla vodka on the other. Again, I chose small serving of both. Don't want to overdo it too early in the meal. The rigatoni had a bold flavor, using the ripest tomatoes available and an excellent Italian sausage. The penne was smooth and creamy with a mellow vodka flavor in the foreground. That sauce was inspired. It had body and soul, warmth and love poured into it.....And there was more to come.....Entrees of chicken scallopine with lemon butter sauce, salmon and an Eggplant Parmesan that was reaching toward the sky. MMmmm...then desert. How could the meal be complete without freshly made tiramisu and tartufo? And, again, we passed the plates filled with so many flavors down the table.

We talked and laughed and ate for hours. As I looked down the table at the end of the meal, I realized that Carmine's, with it's warm glow and intimate serving style, had just taken 25 strangers and turned them into friends for an evening. We weren't just customers anymore and the trainers were no longer only people I needed information from. The wine, the food and conversation brought all of us to a comfortable level of friendship that pushed our business aside for the evening. Thank you, Carmine's, for letting me taste a new experience with an old way of feasting.

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