Felidia and the Queen of Croatia
The Three Tomatoes are not the “ladies who lunch” crowd, and those three martini lunches that are so prevalent in Mad Men came before our time (no doubt a good thing). Most days you will find us at our desk juggling a deli salad as we multitask. So it was a rare treat indeed when we went to Felidia (Lidia Bastianich’s first NYC Italian restaurant) as guests of a friend who wanted us to experience Felida’s prix fix lunch, meet its charming chef, and have dessert with the “Queen” of Croatia. And we just want to say, it doesn’t get any better than that.
“Authenticity” is the word at Felidia’s
While we don’t often eat lunch out, we do dine out several evenings a week. But somehow Felidia escaped our radar even though it’s been tucked away in a beautiful town house (lots of mahogany, cozy and intimate) on East 58th for twenty six years, which in a fickle city like NYC, is a life time. Felidia’s owner is celebrity chef, TV personality, and bestselling cookbook author, Lidia Bastianich . She also owns Becco on West 46th and a couple of other Lidia Restaurants outside of New York. While Lidia was not there on our visit, getting to meet and chat with the incredibly charming (you know those Italian men) Fortunato Nicotra, know as “DoDo”, who has been the executive chef of Felidia’s since 1995, was a delight. But first the fabulous food.
The prix fix $29.50 lunch menu (appetizer, main course, and incredible dessert selections) makes us question our sanity about those deli lunches which with delivery tip, are typically $15 these days. We started with mouth watering appetizers that included Ravioli con Il Cacio e Pere (Pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli, aged pecorino, crushed black pepper) and Capesante Saltimbocca (Maine Diver scallops wrapped in speck, Jerusalem artichoke) followed by a choice of five main courses including Scaloppine di Pollo al Limone (Chicken breast scaloppine, preserved lemon and caper sauce served, breadcrumb spinach) and for calf’s liver lovers, an amazing Fegato Trifolato al Balsamico (Sliced calf’s liver , polenta, farro, shallot gratin).
When we couldn’t decide which of the awesome sounding desserts we wanted, Do Do sent over four – squash tiramisu, passion fruit sorbet, wild strawberries and lemon crepe, and chestnut chocolate pudding. We will have to jog 100 miles in the next week to burn away the calories. But the highlight of the meal was getting to chat with Chef Fortunato (Do Do).
Authentic food and what a famous chef eats at home
Do Do was born in Sicily and then moved to Piedmont, Italy, which is where he earned his Chef’s stripes. He is an expert in the foods of other regions of Italy as well, including Lidia’s roots in Istria (Croatia) and the Friuli region of Northern Italy. The menu changes often to reflect Italy’s diversity. For example, the second week of December the menu will be Sicilian and the following week it will feature dishes from Friuli. Do Do is a big believer in the “authenticity” of food. And as he said, while you cannot re-create Mama’s meals, which were based on local and fresh foods, like fish that had just been caught, you can stay true to the essence of the foods.
So then we asked this high profile chef what his favorite meal is to cook at home, expecting some exotic menu, and he said steak — grilled on his barbecue. Every Saturday night he takes an aged steak (porter house or rib eye) rubs it with salt, ground pepper and porcini powder (which he grounds himself — do not, he said, buy it ground because you don’t know what’s in it.) When it comes off the grill, he slices it, seasons with sea salt and sprinkles it with a good olive oil. Yum.
Wanda, whose company is Tasteful Croatian Journeys, has been planning tours to Croatia since 1995. She was one of the first to specialize in this beautiful country (which up until 1990 was part of communist Yugoslavia). She has been recognized with Conde Nast’s Croatia Top Destination Specialist Award. After meeting her, we know why. Tasteful Croatian Journeys is a boutique luxury tour companyspecializing in “independent, customized, tasteful travel experiences for the intellectually curious and sophisticated travelers who are looking for extraordinary lifetime experiences”.
Located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia’s beautiful coast line and beaches, culture and history quickly made it a top vacation destination for Western Europeans. Now American’s are discovering its charm too, like our tomato pal who introduced us to Wanda. Croatia is a rich “mosaic of Roman, Germanic and Slavic heritage, history and ingredients which produces exciting culinary results too,” which is part of what has made it such a fast growing destination, says Wanda. And they have great wines too which are now making a comeback from the days of communism. In fact, it is believed the zinfandel grape originated in Croatia. Oh and every year, she and Lidia charter a sailing yacht with crew, and spend ten days sailing a few of the thousands of islands off Croatia– and Lidia cooks all the food. Now those are two super tomatoes!
Here’s to fair winds, great wines, and fabulous food.