(New York, NY) With our flight departing in just three hours, we had already decided beforehand it would be wise to eat dinner at the hotel. Their restaurant, called Print, caters to local, farm-fresh cuisine. Breakfasts thus far had been pleasant and tasty, but we had yet to experience the lunch or dinner offerings. After a cocktail in the lounge, we were seated at a small table (but not too small) near the back of the retro-modern dining room. (Kudos to the hostess, who mindfully seated patrons with space between tables.) Excitedly, we pored over the menu for something different as our last meal in Manhattan...
Print restaurant is an unusual place, situated to the right of the lobby, past the bar and lounge areas, then back toward the rear of the ground floor. It flows organically from the surroundings, seeming to be more of the hotel than a separate space. Likewise, the furnishing are seemingly crafted from nature, with influences ranging from kitsch to Japanese modernism to typical bistro decor. I am immediately put at ease while titillated with soft music and shocking explosions of wheat grass in carefully situated vessels. I really like this spot, especially the booth which is firm and comfortable (I hate saggy booth seats, where you can hear the crinkle of broken springs, reminding you not to eat too much).
It has been a long day, and I'm not sure if I'm up for a big meal. While Juliet toiled at the trade show, I gallivanted across the breadth of Manhattan, peeking into shop windows, stopping for a quick beer and enjoying a hearty lunch at Landmark Tavern. Looking at the menu (and seeing way too much to like), we decide to keep our last meal simple: appetizer, entree and wine pairings. No dessert, no parade of small plates, and certainly no beef. Right? Well...
Although the Prosciutto beckoned, I could not help but suggest the Grilled Octopus. I know it will be like calamari, which I have been trying on and off for the last year. In fact, calamari is one of those holy grail items for me...when a chef does it right, it is so perfect, so delicious, that I forget I ever disliked seafood at all. But, if the chef isn't up to the task or the calamari is not very fresh, I am very unhappy. Chewing on rubbery circles is no fun at all. It is actually quite sickening, in some instances, though I try to put on a brave face and get through it. So why order grilled octopus? Despite the 50/50 chance it'll be good, there is chorizo, potato and herb puree to help ameliorate the taste and texture. It's worth the risk, I decide.
So glad we did! The octopus arrives in cross-sections, surrounded by chunks of spicy sausage, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with a tiny herb salad. One crunchy tentacle slithers up the middle, obviously the worse for its meeting with chef's grill. I dig in immediately, forking a piece of the octopus into my gullet. The meat is firm but tender, not at all rubbery, and the taste is smoky with heat, influenced by the sausage. Although there are potatoes somewhere in the mix, I dismiss them entirely, focusing on the octopus.
In our throes of enjoyment, we nearly forget our second appetizer...Salvatore's Milk Ricotta with Arugula Pesto on a small crostini. It is creamy, fresh and delicious but, in all honesty, pales in comparison to the octopus. Perhaps it was unfair of us to order such a "weak" dish that could only bask in the glory that is our tentacled favorite? Oh well, live and learn.
This repast is so glorious that Juliet succumbs to reality too quickly. All visions of the Grilled Red Snapper or Arctic Char dissolve under the onslaught of our appetizers. What to do? She decides upon another appetizer as her entree! Despite her new favorite obsession -- Roasted Beets with toasted walnuts, which is on the menu -- she plays it cool by ordering Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Pancetta (Yowza!). I am a little jealous, though I get over it rather quickly when I spy my choice for dinner: Braised Short Rib with mashed potato, carrots, watermelon radish and gremolata.
I know, I know...no beef, right? I can't help myself, though. I've been good over the weekend and I'm a sucker for short ribs. (Again, it's that holy grail thing. A short rib prepared correctly is dynamite; one too-fatty cut can ruin the whole dish for me.) It looks as though I've made the correct choice when the short rib arrives in a wide bowl of dark, lusciously cooked meat on a bed of mashed potatoes swimming in a red wine sauce with carrots, radishes and hunks of other root vegetables. The gremolata -- basically Italian herbs -- provides a green halo over everything. I take one bite and I'm in heaven. The beef is tender, succulent and just fatty enough to retain flavor without being sickening. The veggies are crisp and have soaked in the broth for a bit, imparting the salty flavor that binds everything together.
Although dessert had not been on our radar initially, we decide to share an unusual rice pudding paired with salted peanut ice cream and candied kumquats. As you well know, I worship at the altar of the holy kumquat, so I was pretty excited. When it comes out with candied chestnuts instead, I am pretty bummed. The ice cream is nice and the rice pudding pleasingly home-made, but with the promise of kumquats already broken, it's too late to win back my heart.
With bittersweet memories of a fantastic weekend in Manhattan, Juliet and I share a cab to the airport, enjoying our final glimpses of the famous skyline before boarding separate planes and already planning our next trip to NYC.
After working a full day in the booth, I dash back to the hotel. And by "dash" I mean I walk a block, decide my feet are just in too much pain to continue, flag down a cab and ride in comfort the rest of the way. It probably took longer than if I had just hoofed it, but my feet are grateful for a little rest. Because Jeremy had to check us out this afternoon and I am too much of a germaphobe to change in a public restroom (how do you keep your feet from touching the floor when changing trousers?), the suit I have worn all day today will be suit I wear for my flight down to Atlanta for the next work event. No day off for me this week. I decide such suffering merits a lovely dinner and, perhaps, dessert as well.
Print's menu is quite impressive. They source locally whenever possible (I always wonder what "when possible" means. Is that PR spin on "when convenient and cheap"?) and use organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free...whenever possible. The offerings are truly chefy without being intimidating and even if you're not staying at the hotel, a visit to Print would be worth the hike or cab fare across Manhattan.
We start with an appetizer of smoked octopus with grilled chorizo, potatoes and olives. I adore calamari of any kind - fried, grilled, sauteed, and the idea of trying it smoked was just to tempting. The fact that Jeremy was eager to try it, even though he's still learning to like fish and seafood, made it even more of a thrill. Someone to share smoked octopus with? Great!
We explain to our waitress that we need to eat, pay and leave within one hour and she does a fabulous job of helping us make that deadline. The starter arrives quickly and it is gorgeous with chunks of grilled chorizo sausage, roasted fingerlings, green olives and the herb sauce all framing the octopus. Rings and tendrils of what almost looks (minus a slime factor) like raw octopus. Of course, it's not raw, just sans any coloring from grilling or sauteing. One bite and I am in love, seriously considering proposing to a plate of calamari. The consistency is similar to cooked chicken breast - very solid and not overly chewy like some octopus can be. Interestingly enough, the flavor reminds me very much of when I used to smoke chickens with my grandmother's smoker. Deep, seriously earthy, smokey flavor throughout. If it weren't for the purple and white tentacles on the plate in front of me, I would have sworn I was eating smoked chicken. Slightly chewy smoked chicken. It was fantastic with the herbed pesto and all the fixins.
I opt to have an second appetizer for dinner and choose the goat cheese gnocchi with pancetta. Now I like to think of myself as a gnocchi connoisseur. My step-grandmother made loads of gnocchi when I was a kid. I have made many batches of of gnocchi in my day; when Thomas Keller gives you his gnocchi board after a cooking demo, you are pretty much bound to using it. No slacking. However, when this gnocchi arrives...I hate to say it because it sounds so trite...but Print's gnocchi is a revelation. It is life changing. It is stuffed with goat cheese. So I have tender potatoey dumplings smaller than my thumb stuffed with warm, slightly sweet goat cheese. A moment of silence might be in order now.
After my first bite, I consider asking the waitress for a second order of gnocchi appetizers. They are comforting and warm and remind me of home -- everything you want after working all weekend and I just know Jeremy is going to want a bite and I don't want to share! I reluctantly give him one tiny gnocchi and give him that "hands off buster" look. I finish the small plate off quickly while keeping one eye on his fork hand to make sure it doesn't stray.
The realization hits me that Jeremy will head home tonight and instead of joining him, I will fly down to Atlanta for a full work week. Ten days away from home is no fun and I can feel myself feeling a little teary-eyed at the prospect of saying our goodbyes somewhere between Gates 5 and 6 at LaGuardia. I distract myself with dessert -- rice pudding with salted peanut ice cream and candied kumquats. The rice pudding is slightly gritty, which I do not enjoy, but the sweet and salty ice cream is such a great combo and the candied kumquats are so unusual. The texture is not what I would expect and the flavor seems surprising as well. I realize soon enough the "candied kumquats" are really candied chestnuts. They are tasty, but not at all like kumquats with a completely different mouthfeel.
I'm not sure my rating of Print will be fair. Dinner was rushed (at our request.) I was exhausted and slightly uncomfortable. My mind was preoccupied with my midnight arrival in Atlanta. I was missing my husband already. They were a little slow in clearing plates and the kumquat vs chestnut thing is worth a demerit. That said, our service was prompt, the food was innovative and fun and I would go back anytime.