Scouting: Kalustyan's

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

few weeks ago, before the tree lots appeared and a random trip to the Kips Bay seemed like a good reason to leave my cozy spot on the sofa, I took a little journey south to check out Kalustyan’s. I came across the listing for this specialty food shop on Yelp and the reviews were glowing, so naturally I had to visit this foodie haven for myself.

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

One of the distinctive features of New York grocery stores is the space, or lack of it really, and Kalustyan’s is an outstanding example of efficiently using every square inch to offer a huge selection in a relatively tiny space. Narrow little aisles packed floor to ceiling with boxes, jars, and cellophane packages of tea, dried fruit, whole grains, mushrooms, seasonings, jam, and sauces. I can see why Saveur consistently refers readers to the shop for help sourcing ingredients not commonly found in American grocery chains, and a Bon Appétit writer mentioned it in an article about creating custom spice blends.

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Kalustyan's, Kips Bay, New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Honestly, you could lose entire days examining the options in each category, especially the house-brand spice blends. I left after more than an hour feeling a little dazed by the possibilities and carrying a small sack of farro and a jar of mango chutney. I have ideas for both items and I have this amazing shop to thank for the inspiration! So, while a trip to Lexington and East 28th isn’t always the most convenient for me, you better believe that I’ll be keeping Kalustyan’s in mind the next time I’m looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Kalustyan’s | 123 Lexington Avenue; New York, NY 10016 | Mon - Sat 10:00 am – 8:00 pm; Sun 11:00 am – 7:00 pm

Scouting: Salumeria Rosi

Salumeria Rosi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

We’ve lived in our neighborhood for more than a year and I’m still surprised by the hidden gems I’m just discovering. My excuse for missing Salumeria Rosi all this time is one that might only make sense to other city dwellers: I’ve literally passed its burgundy awnings and fragrant rosemary bushes hundreds of times, but on the subway headed to some other destination. It’s a ridiculous reason, I know, but I never knew it was there!

Salumeria Rosi   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

I finally got my act together earlier this week and stopped by the restaurant/market hybrid, which specializes in imported Italian products. The shop is named for the Rosi family and the preserved meats the family’s Parma-based company, Parmacotto, produces. I learned that salumi is a broad term for – essentially the Italian counterpart to French charcuterie - and can refer to everything from prosciutto and pancetta, to cappicola, salami, and mortadella.

As a start in my education I took home a small sampling of aged Prosciutto di Parma, soppressata dolce, and salame calabrese. I paired the slices of salty, sweet, and spicy salumi with creamy goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and of course some great semolina Italian bread I picked up from the bakery. Maybe next time with a slice or two of melon, if I can find a good one in the produce section?

Salumeria Rosi   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi reminds me why New York is such a great city for food lovers. In addition to the variety of salumi options, the market also carries small plate accompaniments and garnishes like caponata, marinated artichoke hearts, and delicate breadsticks – one stop shopping for a gorgeous spread. An authentic slice of Parma right in my backyard anytime an Italian feast is called for.

Salumeria Rosi | 283 Amsterdam Avenue; New York, NY | Deli: Mon - Sun 11:00 am - close; Restaurant: Mon - Fri 12:00 pm - close, Sat & Sun 11:00 am - close

Scouting: Ottomanelli Bros.

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher | Image: Laura Messersmith

Around the Messersmith household we like our birthdays low-key, but meaningful. No giant surprise parties, or blow-out trips – just a quiet dinner of favorite dishes, followed by a chocolate cake that only makes an appearance when it’s sure to be decorated with candles.

Since Mike’s birthday is first up (mine follows twelve days later) it’s my responsibility to see to the trimmings, and since nothing says “I love you” to my wonderful husband quite like red meat I set out to find a place to procure some steaks.

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher | Image: Laura Messersmith

Research led me to Ottomanelli's on York Avenue, a family-owned and operated butcher shop. According to their site, members of the Ottomanelli family have been in the butchering business since 1900 and if the small brass chart of a cow placed just outside the shop’s front door is any indication they take their meat seriously.

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher | Image: Laura Messersmith

I was on the hunt for a fairly standard cut – filet of beef – but I could have picked up NY Strip, Cornish game hens, or ground turkey in addition to the variety of sandwiches and charcuterie available. The two filets I bought were carefully measured and lightly trimmed before being carefully wrapped and labeled for my trip back across the park.

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher | Image: Laura Messersmith

Tonight’s menu, thanks to the Ottomanellis: steak au poivre with balsamic roasted brussels sprouts. I think that will get another year off to the right kind of start – don’t you? What are your birthday traditions? Any special dishes that make the day a little brighter?

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Ottomanelli Bros. Butcher | Image: Laura Messersmith

Scouting: La Boîte à Epice

La Boîte à Epice   | Image:    Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice | Image:  Laura Messersmith

I sometimes think that understanding why certain ingredients in a recipe are there and how they work is half the battle when cooking. Does the cocoa content make a dark chocolate bar taste better in this cookie than say, milk chocolate or semi-sweet? Would a finishing salt or using a vanilla bean really pump up the flavor? These are questions answered through experience (aka trial and error) but also by knowing the options.

New York, thanks to the many, many nationalities and ethnicities that call it home, offers a huge array of ingredients and this fall I’ve decided to explore my options and check out some of the international groceries and specialty shops around the city.

My first stop on this odyssey was La Boîte à Epice. The creation of Chef Lior Lev Sercarz; roughly translated it means "The Spice Box" and contains more than 40+ specially blended spice mixes with evocative names like N. 34 Orchidea, N. 23 Tangier, and N. 7 Pierre Poivre. The mixes are made of everything from Fleur de Sel, rose blossom, cocoa, and tea, to lemon grass, saffron, star anise, and sumac – in some cases I had never even heard of the ingredient. Fenugreek? Annatto?

La Boîte à Epice  | Image:   Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice | Image:  Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice   | Image:    Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice | Image:  Laura Messersmith

I think I opened every jar on the rack and found myself both delighted and overwhelmed. I’m accustomed to using herbs and spices individually in classic combinations – basil + oregano + garlic; rosemary + thyme + lemon zest.

So, looking at a mix like N. 13 Galil, which has verbena, white cardamom, and sage I was stumped. Chef Lior to the rescue! He has written a cookbook – The Art of Blending – full of gorgeous photography and delicious recipes in collaboration with other well-known chefs and food personalities to help beginners like me. Whew!

I’m excited to make some selections with N. 33 Mishmash (crystalized honey, saffron and lemon) topping my list. I can already see my culinary horizons expanding!

La Boîte à Epice   | Image:    Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice | Image:  Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice   | Image:    Laura Messersmith

La Boîte à Epice | Image:  Laura Messersmith