It takes a great man to make a great paella. Manolo "Lo Lo" Manso is just that man. His newest venture, Socarrat Paella Bar in New York's Chelsea offers one of the most sublime versions of this Spanish classic that I've ever tasted.
And what is it about Lo Lo's technique that makes his paella worthy of royal regard?
Well, first off, the shellfish, beef and chicken were all cooked to perfection. And, of course, the rice was moist and fragrant. The bright green fava beans and roasted red peppers were colorful and tasty. But, in the end, it was the crispy, lusty, golden carmelized grains of rice creating a seductive crust at the edge of the pan -- known as "socarrat" -- that inspired us to scrape up every little snap, crackle and pop as we swooned with delight.
I've been so darn busy that I plumb forgot my own blog's 5th birthday. That's right folks, half a decade of VittlesVamp postings have been yours to treasure and love.
And, if you send me fabulous birthday gifts, you might just get another few years of postings out of me! Bubbly, caviar and diamonds are all more than acceptable. Heck, I'd even been delighted with a set of Ginsu Knives. (Can they really cut through a nail, a tin can, and a radiator hose and still cut a tomato paper thin?)
(This little ditty is meant to be sung in a childlike taunting fashion in an elevator descending from a passport/visa agency while dancing wildly in the style of Elaine Bennis. Please note that it it best to do so alone, although if security cameras are rolling, one can only hope that the performance does not end up on YouTube.)
You might have wondered where I've been as of late. Roaming around a foreign land, enjoying local delicacies? Caught up in the making of a 10 course dinner for 200 guests? Simply lost in reverie after another life-altering reflexology session?
Not at all.
I've been in Philadelphia. Forget about the "bat signal," Mama Vamp just puts in one phone call and I'm instantly Philly bound. In this case, the call was to inform me that she needed to go into the hospital for surgery and would require my tender loving care during recuperation. No more needed to be said. I packed my bag and boarded a train.
On Monday, when she went under the knife, I was more than a bit anxious. This wasn't major surgery, but it was surgery nonetheless. A three hour surgery at that.
While she was in the operating room, I tried to distract myself with business calls and alike. I even wandered over to the foodie hub that is Reading Terminal Market, but even the site of a Famous 4th Street Deli Chocolate Chip Cookie didn't tempt. I grabbed a cup of reviving java from the market's Olde City Coffee outpost and hightailed it back to the hospital to wait it out.
A couple of hours later, Mama Vamp's doctor emerged to let me know that all had gone well. Mama Vamp would be fine and I could see her in a half-hour or so, after she was out of OR and the effects of the anesthesia had worn off.
I felt my insides unclench and my shoulders move to their rightful place. Mama Vamp was going to be okay. Thank goodness.
After holding her hand and chatting until she got up to her hospital bed, she insisted I leave and take care of myself. She wanted to conk out and I couldn't blame her.
I figured that I deserved a nice meal and a strong cocktail to take the edge off of the day. Luckily, one of my favorite restaurants in the City of Brotherly Love wasn't too far from the hospital -- Osteria. I walked over, grabbed a seat at the bar and attempted to savor a pizza graced with sugary grilled figs, gorgonzola, mozzarella and salty speck.
It was lovely, but somehow joy was not to be found in Mudville -- or even Osteria -- that night.
In fact, joy was not found until two days later, when I finally brought Mama Vamp home from the hospital and was able to take care of her VittlesVamp style. Unsurprisingly, that included cooking. In this case, cooking up a big pot of nutritious, warming Beef Stew brimming with vegetables and fresh herbs.
Don't know if it was the stew, my company, or Mama Vamp's own fortitude, but the woman is well on the road to recovery, and I'm back in New York. Needless to say, I'm checking in a couple times a day and I'm quite glad she has enough stew to see her through.
Never was I more convinced of the B & W's powers of peacemaking then when I brought a box of these bi-frosted delights to a recent business meeting, where major dispute was expected to break out at the boardroom table. Instead, after one bite into these tender cakey treats, slathered in sugary, rich vanilla and dark chocolate icings, contention turned to accord.
Perhaps it's time America turned to the Black & White Cookie to solve its political problems. I suggest starting each and every session of Congress with a plate of these half-moon goodies and glasses of milk. Frankly, it would be worthy of tax-payer dollars if they inspire across-the-aisle agreement.
So, when a handsome Italian-American Brooklynite offered to show me Bensonhurst's best pastry shop, bakers of the ultimate Cannoli, I said "Sì, voglio davvero uscire con te." (Okay, maybe my Italian isn't that good, but he got the idea.)
In order to make sure that we didn't just load up on sweets, we paid call on Sunset Park's Chinatown en route, stopping at Park Asia for some dim sum classics, including Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves and Rice Crepes with Pork Spareribs in Black Bean Sauce (pictured above).
Sated, we hopped back into the car and journeyed into the heart of Brooklyn, securing a miracle of a parking spot right in front of our dessert destination: Villabate-Alba Pasticceria.
As we stepped in the door, the heady aroma of fresh baked goods was intoxicating, and the colorful pastry selection was drool-worthy.
Still, I was way too full to even consider a single bite. My companion looked disappointed and then starting pointing at different pastries, asking the clerk to pack them up to go.
He was adamant. There was no way that I was not going to try Brooklyn's -- if not the world's -- finest Cannoli.
Once I arrived home, I placed the box in the fridge and waited until later that night to open it and reveal its cream-filled treasures...
Clearly, this was going to have to go right back into the fridge...but not before I tried one little bite of the Cannoli...
Delizioso!!!! Magnifico!!!! Divino!!!!
It took all my strength to let go and put the Sicilian treat down. Needless to say, the Cannoli, Sfogliatelle and the rest of Pandora's Box is back in the fridge. We'll have to wait to see if I dare open the box again. Thinking a few trips to the gym will be called for first.