Monday, June 06, 2005


Two great institutions were founded in 1888. One is the one I work for, The National Geographic Society. The other is Katz's Delicatessen on New York's Lower East Side.

I first enjoyed the pleasures of Katz's with my friend Barry when we were teenagers more than 35 years ago. I visited again last week and invited some industry friends to meet me there. It is set up cafeteria style. You go to the counter, and a counterman makes your sandwich. Tipping, once done on the sly, is now encouraged. A sign dating to W.W.II urges you to "send a salami to your boy in the Army" (in New York, that rhymes).

I always have a hard time choosing between corned beef and pastrami. Since Henry and I got there early, I had a hot dog appetizer while pondering the selection. Once our friends had arrived, they lined up behind me. I went for the pastrami, piled high on rye with mustard. The counterman gave me a generous plate of sour and half sour pickles and pickled green tomatoes. I helped myself to a plate of sauerkraut, and bought some potato knishes and fries for the table. Sipped first on a Dr. Brown's Cream soda, and still thirsty, followed with a Dr. Brown's Black Cherry. Regina enjoyed something I hate, but Barry always loved, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray. Yup, celery soda.

Regina brought the table a classic New York black & white cookie to share. On Seinfeld, Jerry said, "Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side. It's a wonderful thing isn't it?"

This was Shane's first dinner ever in New York. I told him he hit the jackpot -- few places are more unique to NY than Katz's. He unwittingly had a taste of tongue. I think he found it "interesting." I find tongue too rich to have by itself, but sometimes have a combo with corned beef.

I'll forgive Sandy for having a hot dog with relish and ketchup instead of the de rigeur mustard and kraut.

If you saw the movie When Harry Met Sally you've seen Katz's. Meg Ryan might have been faking it, but I've seen people with this look there:

"I'll Have What She's Having"

Molto Mario

In New York on business, I was with a colleague who went to high school with chef Mario Batali. He contacted Mario to get a reservation at his flagship restaurant, Babbo.

This was an amazing meal, and thanks to my friend Dan, three of us were treated to Mario's company during dinner and some great extras he served us.

Every element of every dish was exquisite, each new flavor a revelation, beginning with bruschetta topped with chick peas. Then Mario brought us two plates of salume, each with six or more types of cured meats. One plate had his creations and the other his father's. Mario's included a delicious salad of carmelized onions, Cipolle Modenese.

Armandino Batali's Mole

Antipasti we ordered were: Marinated Fresh Anchovies with Watermelon Radishes and Lobster Oil, Grilled Octopus with "Borlotti Marinati" and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette, and
Roasted Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata. Mario also brought us mozzerella with tomatoes and basil. This was not your everyday insalata caprese. The cheese was the most tender and flavorful ever, and there were several varieties of basil. Mario topped this with his own olive oil.

For our Primo, we shared Beef Cheek Ravioli. But since we had been talking with Mario about how gnocchi tended to be heavy "bombs", he insisted we try his, which were light as a feather.

For our Secondi, Dan and I each had Brasato ai Borolo (melt in your mouth braised beef). Charlie had a signature dish, Spicy Two-Minute Calamari Sicilian Lifeguard Style. Evidently a particularly "spicy" lifeguard was Mario's inspiration. These were accompanied by wine from Mario's vineyard in Italy.

A selection of digestives was followed by espresso and Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, Warm Blueberry Crostata, an assortment of Gelati and Sorbetti, and raspberries and figs over mascarpone.

It was fun to listen to Mario and Dan catching up after nearly 30 years while enjoying the meal of a lifetime.