New York City is the proud home to some of the world’s best restaurants, and anyone with even a basic interest in fine dining has eaten at (or at a minimum heard of) Gotham Bar and Grill. With hundreds of restaurants crowding New York streets and vying for the attention of New Yorkers and tourists seeking a gourmet meal, the fact that Gotham is universally considered one of the best of the best says something in itself. Based on its reputation, I was thrilled that the restaurant’s renowned Chef Alfred Portale decided to share a collection of recipes in his new cookbook, Simple Pleasures, which includes treats served at Gotham as well as a few treasures that have not yet made their way onto its menu.
This cookbook is organized around the classic courses and offers a wide range of food choices that vary in ease of preparation. The chapter on salads, starters and small plates is expansive with recipes for such delights as an Israeli couscous salad with grilled summer vegetables and grilled portobellos, oak-leaf lettuce and toasted walnuts. All of the recipes seems to be light, refreshing and delicious---contrary to any suggestion that fine New York dining is unhealthy, heavy, or fattening.
More advanced chefs are likely to be impressed with the combination of flavors presented in the chapter on soups, sandwiches and pizza since the recipes bring together unique combinations of flavor one might not think would go well with one another. For example, there is a recipe for celery root and caramelized pear soup and another for pumpkin and caramelized onion soup with gruyere and sage. Also included are some more traditional choices such as a tantalizing turkey burger and a lentil soup.
Pasta and risotto fans will likely find pleasure in recipes that call for all types of noodles from linguine to whole wheat spaghetti, to fettuccine, to tagliatelle---and many are mixed with wonderful combinations of vegetables, seafood and beans. One of my favorite recipes in this section is the Chef’s rigatoni with cracked black pepper, basil and fresh ricotta, which combines distinct flavors to create an incredibly savory dish.
Fish lovers will find a lot to be thankful for with dishes centering on striped bass, roasted cod, fluke, halibut, and monkfish, among others. I adore the chicken breasts marinated with lemon, sage and aged balsamic vinegar, which I only tried because I could almost smell it after viewing the beautiful photograph of the completed dish alongside its instructions. Red meat lovers will also find some treasures, including the grilled marinated pork chops and a spicy grilled skirt steak.
The accompaniments and side dishes also cater to a wide range of eating lifestyles. If you are watching your carbohydrate intake you can enjoy a wonderful recipe for escarole, whole beans and apple-smoked bacon along with a simple way to make oven-roasted mushrooms and roasted garlic puree. Those not on the carbohydrate-free band wagon (or who are willing to jump off for an evening) may enjoy the curried cream corn.
Of course, a cookbook would not be complete absent a section on desserts, and this book is no exception. What I enjoyed was the fact that some dessert recipes, such as the lime-cilantro popsicles or poached kumquats, were not only simple but unique and exotic. There were others, such as the chocolate grand marnier cake, that will definitely take some effort to prepare but, based on the rich ingredient list, will be well worth any additional time you might need to spend in the kitchen.
Aside from the wonderful recipes provided, the added bonus is that the fact that book is overflowing with vibrant photographs of the final presentations you can aspire to replicate. While the clear and concise recipes result in a user-friendly book that will be a welcome addition to anyone’s cookbook library, the book is so beautiful that it is worth the price even if it just sits on your coffee table to peruse with invited guests as you eagerly wait for your Chinese food delivery. This is, after all, a cookbook with New York roots!