5.29.2016

SPRING has sprung: Vai Restaurant


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We have been teased with sunshine and warm weather, and even oppressive intense heat. On those pleasant sunny Sundays, New York City streets are flooded with revelers, soaking up the sun and inhaling the first tastes of spring. Brunch culture flourishes as windows open to the rising temperatures, sun filters in spaces, and outdoor seating becomes a must.
With the change in the season comes a change in the brunch menu at Vai Restaurant. With the expertise of Chef/Owner Vincent Chirico, the small upper west side Mediterranean-inspired restaurant celebrates the season with the freshest ingredients that sing spring with euphonious and delicious melodies.
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Chef Chirico presents fleshy bright delicate Muscat grapes, fragrant Thai basil, salty cured meat, and voluptuous burrata in a chilled appetizer, and satin soft fingerling potatoes piled with succulent and perfect charred octopus with just enough heat to compete with spring weather in a warm appetizer.
Textures play tag in a sumptuous hamachi crudo, decorated with silky avocado and grapefruit gems ready to burst at the touch, while deep green asparagus and velvet pink fat-lined meat nestle runny bright yellow egg yolk and wide briny flakes of cheese.  
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A shallow bowl of pearlescent white polenta supports a plump poached egg hidden beneath earth tones of ramps and mushrooms, laced with large chips of cheese.
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And dessert is just as smooth and fresh, light but decadent with an ombre of chocolate and just enough sweetness to end.
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Each of these offer a taste of spring amongst the other dishes featured on the menu. Not only is spring highlighted in the seasonal ingredients that are featured on the brunch menu and brunch prix fixe, but also the textures and aesthetic of the dishes bring to mind that whimsical playfulness and flirty feeling of the season.
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4.03.2016

MangiaMore: lightened HUMMINGBIRD cake

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I generally equate coconut cake with Easter. In fact, there has been the rare occasion that I have eaten coconut cake outside of Easter or that I did not enjoy coconut cake on Easter. The two just go together in my mind—like peanut butter and jelly would, if I could eat it. Cake and holiday meld to one (but not really).
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This Easter, however, was one of those rare occasions when coconut cake was not devoured on the holiday. This year was a little different. Why? Who knows? Perhaps, spring break sprung and there was so much to do, or a newish job caused sharp ups and downs, or downtime is the new norm. Perhaps, we have all been more wary of sweets and what we eat (by all, I mean everyone in my family except for me). Have no fear; cake was still involved.
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Hummingbird cake has been a hot topic here for the last couple weeks or so—something about a yoga teacher needing the southern specialty for her mother’s birthday. The anecdote sparked interest and a Google search (or two), and eventually, led me to make a lighter version Hummingbird cake for Easter.
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At first, I was alarmed by the quantity and the diversity of the fruits that come together to compose this cake. A lighter version means less oil and more fruits (more banana and applesauce). Sure, I have had banana bread and banana cake, I have made applesauce cake, and I am mildly familiar with pineapple upside-down cake. But all three—together— sounded nuts.
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That is until I ate my first slice. Banana is the only really prevalent flavor in the layers of not-so-sweet cake. It is not intense, but round and full, reminiscent of the banana bread I am familiar with. The applesauce vanishes into pure moisture, holding the dense cake together. And the pineapple pieces are only discernible when encountered, but the studs are sweet and tangy, like the scrumptious cream cheese frosting blanketing the cake. This recipe was a breeze (once the bananas were ripe enough—we put the bananas in a brown paper bag with a super ripe avocado) and definitely an easy classic.
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3.29.2016

re.CAP: EASTER

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Timing is everything. Or nothing.
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Easter came early this year— almost like an afterthought before the actual thought. It crept up on us, shocking like the mystery that it celebrates. Acting much like the weather: temperamental, moody, unpredictable, and early. It’s been an up and down of temperature—unseasonably warm one day and typically cold the next.  Lions and lambs fighting and ending in an oddly unbalanced stalemate.  Hot and cold like the most passionate affair or weary teacher. But Easter came and went, as did March—quickly, quietly, and early (by early, I mean, time is moving forward faster than I could have imagined or even hoped in darker times). And now it’s gone.
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Easter ushers a breath of fresh air after stale Lent, dark with deprivation and reflection, and quarter three, full and dense with symbolism and five-paragraph essays. The death and darkness of Lent and winter months culminate in Resurrection and the rebirth of spring. Easter is a moment of new beginnings and celebratory feasts.
And feast we did.
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Timing is everything.

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