Villanelle 

There are a handful of restaurants in New York City that I refer to as hidden gems. These hidden gems you all learn about through various ways. What you are unaware of are the city’s precious gems. Some restaurants I enjoy so much, I tend to keep them as little secrets for myself to enjoy. Such is the case with Villanelle

Yes, the name sounds exotic, but this restaurant is much more than a clever name. Chef Nick Licata creates his own Villanelle at the namesake Greenwich Village restaurant and truly represents the meaning of word. Like the 19 lined poem depicting pastoral scenes of Italy, Chef Licata has a 19 item menu that highlights the freshest ingredients from the neighboring Union Square Farmers Market. 
My first visit to Villanelle was during the opening week in early March. Of course I was warmly welcomed by eager staff with gleaming smiles. I made myself comfortable at the bar, and the bartenders made sure I was comfortable too. Hospitable and absolutely delicious, my immediate impression was ‘I must return’! 

A few weeks later, I did return and sat at a table. Once again warmly welcomed. The difference this visit, though, was my sense of familiarity. I couldn’t help having repeat dishes from my first visit like Chef Licata’s crispy octopus. Known as his signature dish, the octopus is steamed for two hours before gently fried; served with a mouth watering pomme purée and coveted spring favorite, nettles. The house made cavatelli with black pepper is served with fresh market asparagus and a hen egg. Similar to a carbonara, the cavatelli has a subtilty that contributes to its appeal. The silky slow poached Arctic Char with sorrel, dill oil and plenty of roe is a dish I hope will be on the menu for some time. 

On my most recent visit, I once again opted for the bar. Just missing their newly launched oyster happy hour which is from 5:30pm to 7pm, I instead enjoyed the Cured Thai Snapper. This tartare style dish is accompanied by radishes from the farmers market, though that may change based on availability. The snapper is cured in a curry pulp, which is made from banana, kaffir lime leaves, kombu, thai chilies, and offers a refreshing kick! 

Desserts at Villanelle are some of the most delicious I’ve had. Chef Licata and Chef de Partie Christian Grindrod have collaboratively exposed a broad range of flavors from ingredients found at the farmers market. They bake parsnip root then butter-braise it, and serve it with white chocolate. It’s skin, thinly shaved, turns into a delicious crisp that encases the vegetable. It makes for a creamy, buttery dessert that is rich, uniquely flavored and utterly satisfying. A watermelon sorbet is served under a baked meringue crisp with fresh shelled peas which is served with a soft meringue, mint oil and fresh mint. Think pavlova, but with components more interesting than fruit. 

One of my new favorites, Villanelle is a restaurant I look forward to visiting again and again! 
Villanelle is located at 15 E. 12th Street between University Place and 5th Avenue, 212-989-2474, http://www.villanellenyc.com @villanellenyc. The restaurants serves dinner Monday – Thursday 5:30pm – 10:30pm; Friday & Saturday 5:30pm – 11:30pm; Lunch Monday – Friday 12:00pm – 2:30pm Closed Sunday. Happy Hour Monday – Friday 5:30pm – 7pm offers six East Coast oysters and a glass of wine, beer, sherry or cider for $15. 
Original publish date, May, 2017 

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Panzanella!

img_3439The Italians love their pasta. They also love their Panzanella. Variations of this dish are known throughout the boot of Italy, though, there is nothing quite like savoring the flavors of this dish – especially in the Summer. Tomatoes are ripe and plentiful, and gatherings with friends are many. Preparation for Panzanella is easy for the novice cook, and the freshness in flavor is bound to impress anyone. Paired with a crisp bottle of Roero Arneis, the fruit forward notes provide a subtle balance while still offering a bit of a bite. Raise a glass, send off the Summer season in style!

1 (12- to 16-ounce) loaf sourdough bread

2 to 3 large heirloom tomatoes

1/2 large cucumber

1 medium red or yellow bell pepper

1/2 medium red onion

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper, to taste

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Instructions

Slice or tear the bread into roughly 1-inch cubes. I usually leave the crusts on, but you can remove them if you prefer. You should have about 10 overflowing cups of bread. Tear your bread for a more rustic presentation.

Spread the bread cubes over a baking sheet. Bake in a 300°F oven until hardened on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking.

Chop the tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper into bite-sized pieces. Peel, and deseed the cucumber.  Slice the onion into thin slices and soak in a bowl of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes while assembling the rest of the salad.

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a small bowl and whisk together.

Combine the bread and chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over top and thoroughly combine.

Let the salad sit for 1/2 hour to 4 hours: Let the salad sit at least half an hour before serving, or up to 4 hours. Stir occasionally so the juices and vinaigrette are evenly distributed.

Add fresh basil just before serving. This salad is best eaten the day it’s made.

Mangia!