Festa Dei Sette Pesci or The Feast of Seven Fishes originates from south Italy and literally means what it says: It is an elaborate meal consisting of seven kinds of fish. Seven, representing completion, in the realization of God's promise in the birth of Jesus. The holiday is also known as the Vigilia di Natale or the Vigil of Christmas, the decadent wait for midnight, and for some, the start of Christmas mass.
Our tradition is to spend this night at home with our best friends, Imani and Ray. We riff loosely on all the rest but try to stick to fish. This year, we were joined by Massi, one of Michele's oldest friends from Rozzano, and his family. We had a full house of four kids and six adults. It was a party and we were complete at ten.
And a party is not a party at our house without pork so we started with a platter of prosciutto, salami, mortadella, pecorino, parmagiano reggiano and a bottle of Etude Pinot Noir, courtesy of the Rosarios.
Our meat lust sated, we quietly began with the first two fish, smoked rainbow and lake trout, on crackers with creme fraiche and garnished with dill.
The third fish, crab cakes, were plated simply over a bed of arugula with balsamic viniagrette.
The fourth, grilled scallops with endive, went too fast for me to get a shot but they were perfectly seared and creamy, the perfect compliment to the bright endive.
Five, six and seven were lobster, baby scallops, and flounder tossed in a red-sauced linguine.
And, for good measure, we threw in a whole, salt baked red snapper.
That made eight.
Like I said, our Christmas Eve is a loose, modern version of the traditional celebration, off the cuff and imperfect, like us and our motley crew of friends and family. I could go on about the bottles of wine or the four courses of desserts or the snow that was falling outside as we ate and laughed together but that would be overkill. The Seven Fishes sums it up. We were complete and content and perfect in gathering together around a tradition that we hope will last a lifetime.
This Sunday, before our one year anniversary party at Va Beh', we gathered up the kids and drove out to our friends Lorenzo and Simona's home in New Jersey for lunch. It was their daughter's fifth birthday, their parents had just arrived from Tuscany and they wanted to kick off the holidays with a small gathering.
We walked in, to this. It was a sign of things to come:
Across the room, these stood near the Christmas tree like neat little gifts:
...waiting for their chance to be roasted on the open fire
We all felt like this:
And we gathered around the fireplace and watched the fire spit and crackle, with prosecco in hand, and talked and laughed and waited for the meat to sear, while the kids played and ran all over the house.
When the steaks were ready, perfectly roasted potatoes were pulled out of the oven. The kids stopped playing. Everyone was hushed as we made our plates and found a place to sit and eat. The meat was wild and rich and full of the smoke and flavor of the wood. The potatoes were perfectly cooked in just olive oil and salt and were the perfect yin to the yang of the meat. And I felt like I was in a dream or in a Christmas song. The food, our friends, the joy of the children all made me feel overwhelmed with gratitude. It was a fantastic way to start the holiday.
One year ago today, we opened the doors to Va Beh'. In many ways, this year has been a blur punctuated by highlights: our soft opening the day after Christmas, New Years Eve with friends and family, springtime and Va Beh's discovery by the locals, hot summer nights with our doors flung open to the sights and sounds of construction across Flatbush Avenue, the opening of the Barclay's Center, our one year anniversary party last week.
As a family, this has been an incredible journey. We have a new understanding of sacrifice, hard work and passion. We have been challenged with maintaining a healthy balance between our personal and professional lives. And, we have come out on the other side of this year with a greater love that I count as my most precious blessing.
Seersucker is an American restaurant in Carroll Gardens. It has recently become my favorite place for brunch. The food is outstanding and a lot of other people agree. There is always a long wait.
Still, I decided to meet my friend Colin there for a lunch meeting today. I assumed that a weekday meal would be better experience. I was not disappointed.
I won't wax too poetic here and I will limit my outpouring to the one item that illustrates my experience today: the gorgeous heirloom tomato soup. It was perfectly rich without being heavy. Warm in color, temperature, texture and flavor it was the perfect antidote for the cold outside. Spicy, the soupwas beautifully balanced with a finish of fruity olive oil.
This was not the only reason that Seersucker soared for me today. Without the throngs of waiting people weighing it down the music, the light, the space itself harmonized with the simple and straight forward food in a way that is not as apparent during a Saturday afternoon rush. I may never come back during the weekends again.
Last week, UB40 headlined the first reggae concert at The Barclay's. Michele had ordered premium tickets for us before the arena even opened so he was super excited. He has always loved reggae. It is his favorite music. Me? Not as much, but like a good wife, I went along for the ride.
And what a ride it turned out to be! Maxi Priest opened the show and warmed up the crowd with classic songs like "You're Body Can't Lie to Me" and some of his new material, which was actually very catchy. Shaggy went on next and ripped a hole in the place. He literally changed the energy in the room with strong performances like "It Wasn't Me" and "Boombastic" sprinkled with funny, dynamic interludes. Even I was on my feet. He was charismatic and funny and entertaining and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed his set. Beres Hammond came on next. He's an old-timer. His set was more subdued with classic loves songs, but full of energy and emotion. Couples were slow dancing in the aisles.
By this time, it was 11pm. The concert was an hour behind because of technical difficulties and too much time taken between set changes. The crowd was coming down from their high and many were walking out of the arena before the headliner, UB40, even got on stage. It was a shame because the band bore the brunt of the production issues. Their set began abruptly and was shortened dramatically and their unhappiness about this was clear. They rushed through their material without any real attempt to engage the crowd. The more they sang, the more people left until there was a continuos stream of folks heading towards the exits. I have never seen anything like this at a show, a headliner crooning not just to an uninterested crowd but to a crowd that was leaving in droves as he sang to them. It felt like that last, never-ending song at the end of a church service that gives everyone permission to say their "God bless you's" and head out. We walked out at the start of "Red, Red Wine", their last song. It was a sad, colorless version of the dynamic song that we all grew up hearing on the radio.
Later, we sat over our own glasses of red wine at Blue Ribbon Brooklyn, subdued and puzzled about how a show that had started so strongly could end so dismally. Still, we had a great time and I ended the night liking reggae a little bit more.
Having a kid has made us reluctant creatures of habit, to some degree. So, when we are working and running around Park Slope during the day, with Jada in tow, we always go to one of two places for lunch. Rice Thai Kitchen is our go-to spot for "noodles", Jada's favorite food.
This place is not fancy. It is a casual neighborhood joint with a little more flavor and flair than your average Chinese restaurant. Service is minimal but easy to overlook at a $6.99 price point. They are consistent. Every dish that we have ever ordered has been the same every time and that is no small feat. Their chicken pad thai is our go-to dish for Jada. It is not too wet or too sweet and probably the most balanced version of the dish in the neighborhood. Mike and I share the basil chicken. Fragrant with basil and onions and perfectly al dente slices of peppers, this spicy dish always warms us up and gets the blood flowing. For these reasons, lunch at Rice Thai Kitchen has become something that we look forward to, less of a habit and more of a ritual.
One of the best things about having a restaurant in Park Slope is the proximity to Asia's school. Most days, she walks in to Va Beh' right in time to try the daily specials. Last night, we shared risotto alla Milanese.
The name speaks for itself: This distinctive dish is native to Milan, Michele's home town. It gets its rich, red color from the addition of saffron but the flavor is very elegant and light.
According to legend, this dish has an exact birth date, 8th September 1574. The event is chronicled in the Milan City Government Resolution of Recognition of Communal Denomination: “That date had been set for the wedding of his daughter by theBelgian master glazer Valerio di Fiandra, who was working on the stained-glasswindows of the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral, and for whom it apparently had a special meaning… During the wedding dinnerappeared a rice dish coloured with saffron, a material that the crewof Belgian glazers, following Master Valerio, used to add to different colours to bring about particular chromatic effects. The rice prepared in that manner, perhaps as a joke,was enjoyed by everyone just as much for its flavour as for its colour; in those times pharmacological qualities were attributed to gold and, when this metal was lacking, to yellow substances”.
It will be on the menu for the next few days so come by or try this recipe at home.
Ryan has been taking piano lessons for the last three months. He loves it and is doing so well that my mom was inspired to give Jada lessons for her second birthday.
Students usually start at three years old, but always the advocate for her children, my mother talked the teacher in to giving us a free evaluation because Jada is already so musically inclined.
Miss Katherine, the teacher, was respectfully skeptical. Most two year olds cannot consistently follow instruction or sit still for an hour, but she would try.
Well, Jada sat down next to Ryan at the piano and took over the keys! Miss Katherine tried to go with flow and channel Jada's momentum by asking her to touch the black keys and then the white keys. Jada completely ignored her and the evaluation turned in to a free style duet with her cousin!
The enthusiasm is definitely there but we are going to wait another year for Jada to take formal lessons. In the meantime, she can live vicariously through Ryan, watching him play and practice. She has her own little piano at home too. Everyday, she sings "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" while "playing" it, with perfect pitch and to her own beat.
Lately, date night has been a quick drink at Blue Ribbon Brooklyn, at the end of a long Friday or Saturday night shift at Va Beh'. The bartender there makes the best French martini in NYC, beautifully balanced, just strong enough with only a blush of Chambord and a hint of pineapple. Michele has a classic Stoli orange on the rocks. Both are usually ready on the bar before we can even have a chance to place our order.
We're usually holding hands as we sip our drinks but we probably chat more with Dan and Sean and the other bartenders, managers and customers than we do with each other. It's that kind of place, "where everybody knows your name" and all that, the perfect little detour before we finally head home.
Shout out to The Rolling Stones, who will be playing at The Barclay's Center on Saturday. Fifty years of lips and licks, odes to appetite and all things animal, tactile tunes like "Brown Sugar" on albums with names like "Sticky Fingers". A band after my own hungry heart and ahead of its time. Salute!
It was very busy at Va Beh' last night. Michele and I knew that we were in for a ride: Andrea Bocelli was playing at The Barclay's and there is no better precursor to a night of opera than an authentic, Italian meal.
Bocelli is from Tuscany. As a nod to him and that beautiful region, I am featuring our crostini di figati, chicken liver crostini, and a simple recipe that works well for the home cook... We wouldn't dare give ours away. :)